This Week @ NASA

Latest Edition of “This Week @ NASA” (Posted April 14, 2016)

Upcoming Activities and NASA TV Coverage

Thursday, April 14

    • 8:30 a.m. – ISS Expedition 47 In-Flight Event with the Associated Press and the European Space Education Resource Office for ESA wit Tim Kopra and Flight Engineer Jeff Williams of NASA and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of the European Space Agency (Starts at 8:40 a.m.) (all channels)


Friday, April 15

  • USA Science and Engineering Festival Begins in Washington, DC. April 15 is a “sneak peak” day for school groups, homeschoolers and military families. The festival is open to everyone April 16 an April 17. The NASA booth has cool technology, models, virtual reality, and hands-on activities related to: Aeronautics, Journey to Mars, Earth, Solar System and Beyond, International Space Station, and Technology. There is a scavenger hunt for prizes and speakers giving TED-style talks. More information:
  • Marshall Space Flight Center Rocket Fair. Student teams participating in the Student Launch competition at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will give technical presentations of their rocket’s design and payload. The launch competition takes place Saturday, April 16. More information:




Press Releases & Web Features April 4-11


John Grunsfeld Announces Retirement from NASA (April 5)

John Grunsfeld will retire from NASA April 30, capping nearly four decades of science and exploration with the agency. His tenure includes serving as astronaut, chief scientist, and head of NASA’s Earth and space science activities.  Grunsfeld has directed NASA’s Science Mission Directorate as associate administrator since 2012, managing more than 100 science missions — many of which have produced groundbreaking science, findings and discoveries.


NASA Receives Webby Nominations for Three Sites, Social Media Presence (April 5)

NASA’s principal website received its eighth Webby Award nomination for government website, and the agency’s social media team has received its second nomination for NASA’s social media presence. Two other NASA websites were nominated: Spacecraft 3D, for education and reference, and Experience Curiosity for government and civil innovation. Both were created at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California. The NASA/JPL Global Climate Change site was honored in the science category. More information:





The Turbulent North Atlantic (April 5)

The Gulf Stream waters flow in somewhat parallel layers, slicing across what is otherwise a fairly turbulent western North Atlantic Ocean in this March 9, 2016 image collected by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite. The turbulence — made visible by the pigmented phytoplankton it entrains — extends across the whole North American Basin from Anegada to Bermuda to Cape Cod.


Earth Expeditions: Oceans Melting Greenland (April 7)

This year NASA takes you on a six-month world tour with major new field research campaigns to study regions of critical change from the land, sea and air.



International Space Station


NASA’s Veg-03 Seeds Planted in First Lady’s White House Garden (April 7)

Space-age plant seeds prepared by research scientists at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida were planted in first lady Michelle Obama’s White House Kitchen Garden on April 5. The seeds are from the same lot of ‘Tokyo Bekana’ Chinese cabbage seeds for the Veg-03 plant experiment bound for the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft this month during its eighth Commercial Resupply Services mission.


NASA Cargo Headed to Space Station Includes Habitat Prototype, Medical Research (April 8)

Tucked in the trunk of the latest commercial cargo spacecraft to head for the International Space Station is an expandable structure that has the potential to revolutionize work and life on the space station. SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft is delivering almost 7,000 pounds of cargo, including the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), to the orbital laboratory following its launch on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:43 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission is SpaceX’s eighth cargo delivery through NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon’s cargo will support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations taking place on the space station during Expeditions 47 and 48.


Dragon Capture Makes Six Spacecraft at Station (April 10)

While the International Space Station was traveling over the Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii, astronaut Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency), with the assistance of NASA’s Jeff Williams, successfully captured the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft with the station’s robotic Canadarm2 at 7:23 a.m. EDT. Dragon’s arrival marks the first time two commercial cargo vehicles have been docked simultaneously at the space station. Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft arrived to the station just over two weeks ago.  With the arrival of Dragon, the space station ties the record for most vehicles on station at one time – six.



Journey to Mars


Orion Drop Test Series Begins (April 8)

Engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, kicked off a series of nine drop tests of a representative Orion crew capsule with crash test dummies inside to understand what the spacecraft and astronauts may experience when landing in the Pacific Ocean after deep-space missions. The high-fidelity capsule, coupled with the heat shield from Orion’s first flight in space, was hoisted approximately 16 feet above the water and vertically dropped into Langley’s 20-foot-deep Hydro Impact Basin. The crash test dummies were instrumented to provide data and secured inside the capsule to help provide information engineers need to ensure astronauts will be protected from injury during splashdown. Each test in the series simulates different scenarios for Orion’s parachute-assisted landings, wind conditions, velocities and wave heights the spacecraft may experience when touching down in the ocean.



Solar System & Beyond

Behemoth Black Hole Found in an Unlikely Place (April 6)

Astronomers have uncovered a near-record breaking supermassive black hole, weighing 17 billion suns, in an unlikely place: in the center of a galaxy in a sparsely populated area of the universe. The observations, made by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini Telescope in Hawaii, may indicate that these monster objects may be more common than once thought. Until now, the biggest supermassive black holes – those roughly 10 billion times the mass of our sun – have been found at the cores of very large galaxies in regions of the universe packed with other large galaxies. In fact, the current record holder tips the scale at 21 billion suns and resides in the crowded Coma galaxy cluster that consists of over 1,000 galaxies.


Icy ‘Spider’ on Pluto (April 7)             

Sprawling across Pluto’s icy landscape is an unusual geological feature that resembles a giant spider. As shown in the enhanced color image above – obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015 – this feature consists of at least six extensional fractures (indicated by white arrows) converging to a point near the center. The longest fractures are aligned roughly north-south, and the longest of all, the informally named Sleipnir Fossa, is more than 360 miles (580 kilometers) long. The fracture aligned east-west is shorter and is less than 60 miles (100 kilometers) long.  To the north and west, the fractures extend across the mottled, rolling plains of the high northern latitudes, and to the south, they intercept and cut through the bladed terrain informally named Tartarus Dorsa. Curiously, the spider’s “legs” noticeably expose red deposits below Pluto’s surface.



Mission Manager Update: Kepler Recovered from Emergency and Stable (April 11)

Mission operations engineers have successfully recovered the Kepler spacecraft from Emergency Mode (EM). On Sunday morning, the spacecraft reached a stable state with the communication antenna pointed toward Earth, enabling telemetry and historical event data to be downloaded to the ground. The spacecraft is operating in its lowest fuel-burn mode. The mission has cancelled the spacecraft emergency, returning the Deep Space Network ground communications to normal scheduling. Once data is on the ground, the team will thoroughly assess all on board systems to ensure the spacecraft is healthy enough to return to science mode and begin the K2 mission’s microlensing observing campaign, called Campaign 9. This checkout is anticipated to continue through the week.





NASA Invests in Two-Dimensional Spacecraft, Reprogrammable Microorganisms (April 8)

NASA has selected 13 proposals through NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC), a program that invests in transformative architectures through the development of pioneering technologies. Among the selected are: a concept for reprogramming microorganisms that could use the Martian environment to recycle and print electronics; a two-dimensional spacecraft with ultra-thin subsystems that may wrap around space debris to enable de-orbiting; and a method of computational imaging that leverages extrasolar intensity fluctuations to detect “echoes” from planets and other structures orbiting a distant star.


NASA Reaches Out to Universities for Small Satellite Technology Collaborations (April 8)

NASA is once again extending an opportunity to teams at colleges and universities with campuses in the U.S. to propose small spacecraft technology projects to be conducted in collaboration with NASA researchers.  The Smallsat Technology Partnerships solicitation is being issued by the Small Spacecraft Technology Program, as an appendix to the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) NASA Research Announcement (NRA) for 2016. Small spacecraft, as small as the size of a four-inch cube, represent a growing field of space research in which universities have often led the way.  Small spacecraft, or smallsats as they are commonly called, can provide an alternative to larger, more costly spacecraft as the platform of choice for rapid in-flight technology demonstrations and testing, or specialized scientific research and exploration.  Using innovative approaches, smallsats can be developed relatively quickly and inexpensively and have opportunities to share a ride to orbit in the company of larger spacecraft.