This Week @ NASA

Latest Edition of “This Week @ NASA” (Posted May 26, 2015)

Upcoming Activities and NASA TV Coverage
Tuesday, May 26
  • Announcement of Instruments for Europa Mission. NASA will announce on Tuesday, May 26, the selection of science instruments for a mission to Europa, to investigate whether Jupiter’s icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life. The announcement will air live on NASA Television and at 2 p.m. EDTfrom the NASA TV studio at the agency’s Headquarters. NASA received 33 proposals for science instruments to fly onboard a Europa mission, which would conduct repeated close flybys of the small moon during a three-year period. Participants in the announcement will be: John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters; Jim Green, director, Planetary Science Division, NASA Headquarters; and Curt Niebur, Europa program scientist, NASA Headquarters.
  • Birthday of Late Astronaut Sally Ride. Scott Kelly tweeted, “Remembering former colleague #SallyRide on her birthday. 1st American woman to fly into space. You inspired many.” LINK
  • 2 p.m. - NASA News Conference on the Selection of Science Instruments for the Europa Mission (all channels)
Wednesday, May 27
  • Space Station Module Relocation to Make Way for Commercial Crew Spacecraft. The International Space Station Program will take the next step in expanding a robust commercial market in low-Earth orbit when work continues Wednesday, May 27, to prepare the orbiting laboratory for the future arrival of U.S. commercial crew and cargo vehicles. NASA Television will provide live coverage of the activity beginning at 8 a.m. EDT. NASA is in the process of reconfiguring the station to create primary and back up docking ports for U.S. commercial crew spacecraft currently in development by Boeing and SpaceX to once again transport astronauts from U.S. soil to the space station and back beginning in 2017. The primary and backup docking ports also will be reconfigured for U.S. commercial spacecraft delivering research, supplies and cargo for the crew. On Wednesday, robotics flight controllers at the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will detach the large Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), used as a supply depot on the orbital laboratory, from the Earth-facing port of the Unity module and robotically relocate it to the forward port of the Tranquility module. This move will clear the Unity port for its conversion into the spare berthing location for U.S. cargo spacecraft; the Earth-facing port on Harmony is the primary docking location. Harmony’s space-facing port currently is the spare berthing location for cargo vehicles, so this move frees that location to be used in conjunction with Harmony’s forward port as the arrival locations for commercial crew spacecraft.
  • World Science Festival in New York, NY. Ever wonder how rockets launch or spacecraft land when coming back from space? Curious about the technology that gives us those spectacular images of other planets and distant stars? Join NASA scientists and educators at the World Science Festival for answers with hands-on activities. Experiment with infrared cameras, make seltzer rockets, see models of the James Webb Space Telescope. And learn about future explorations to Mars and other parts of the solar system and the advancements in flight and technology that will help us explore space. Open WednesdayFriday 10:00 AM–5:00 PM and Saturday 10:00 AM–6:00 PM LINK
  • 8 a.m. – Live Coverage of the Relocation of the ISS Permanent Multipurpose Module from the Unity Module to the Tranquility Module (all channels)
Thursday, May 28
  • World Science Festival in New York, NY. LINK
  • Pioneers in Science: Ellen Stofan. Great minds inspire greatness. The World Science Festival Pioneers in Science program offers high school students a path toward greatness through a rare opportunity to interact with world-renowned scientists. This year, students from around the globe will engage with NASA Chief Scientist and leading planetary geologist Ellen Stofan. Stofan is one of the premier experts on the terrain of Titan, Venus, Mars, and Earth. During this intimate gathering, students will have the opportunity to ask Stofan about her career, her inspirations, and NASA’s science programs. This event is open to the general public for remote-viewing at
Friday, May 29
  • World Science Festival in New York, NY. LINK
  • 8 a.m. - ISS Expedition 43 In-Flight Interviews (all channels)
News Highlights
  • ISS – There were nearly 250 articles about the Dragon cargo craft’s return to Earth on Thursday, including pieces from NBC NewsThe GuardianAP, and Time. Cuts to commercial crew included in the House Appropriations bill were covered by USA Today. A video of the Aurora borealis filmed from the space station was also featured on several websites.
  • Solar System & Beyond – News that NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) found the brightest galaxy was covered by outlets like ABC NewsTech TimesWired, and UPI. A new Hubble image of a star nicknamed “Nasty” also received some press attention. There were also several articles about the newestimages of Ceres.
  • Earth – The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Big Science Blog posted an item about a soil moisture map from SMAP, which began science operations last week. The House Appropriations bill that cuts Earth science funding was reported on by VoxNational Journal, and Space News. A couple DC-area outlets also reported on how NASA satellite imagery was assisting Virginia vintners.
  • Aeronautics – DoD’s Armed with Science Blog posted an item about the ecoDemonstrator.
  • Mars – An interview with Ellen Stofan, in which she talked about NASA’s Journey to Mars, was posted on the website of Italian news organization Corriere.
Press Releases & Web Features May 18-May 26
Solar System & Beyond
Ceres Bright Spots Seen Closer Than Ever – May 20
NASA’s Dawn mission captured a sequence of images, taken for navigation purposes, of dwarf planet Ceres on May 16, 2015. The image showcases the group of the brightest spots on Ceres, which continue to mystify scientists. It was taken from a distance of 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers) and has a resolution of 2,250 feet (700 meters) per pixel. “Dawn scientists can now conclude that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice,” Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission from the University of California, Los Angeles, said recently.

NASA’s WISE Spacecraft Discovers Most Luminous Galaxy in Universe – May 21
A remote galaxy shining with the light of more than 300 trillion suns has been discovered using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The galaxy is the most luminous galaxy found to date and belongs to a new class of objects recently discovered by WISE — extremely luminous infrared galaxies, or ELIRGs. The brilliant galaxy, known as WISE J224607.57-052635.0, may have a behemoth black hole at its belly, gorging itself on gas. Supermassive black holes draw gas and matter into a disk around them, heating the disk to roaring temperatures of millions of degrees and blasting out high-energy, visible, ultraviolet, and X-ray light. The light is blocked by surrounding cocoons of dust. As the dust heats up, it radiates infrared light.
Hubble Observes One-of-a-Kind Star Nicknamed ‘Nasty’ – May 21
Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have uncovered surprising new clues about a hefty, rapidly aging star whose behavior has never been seen before in our Milky Way galaxy. In fact, the star is so weird that astronomers have nicknamed it “Nasty 1,” a play on its catalog name of NaSt1. The star may represent a brief transitory stage in the evolution of extremely massive stars. First discovered several decades ago, Nasty 1 was identified as a Wolf-Rayet star, a rapidly evolving star that is much more massive than our sun. The star loses its hydrogen-filled outer layers quickly, exposing its super-hot and extremely bright helium-burning core. But Nasty 1 doesn’t look like a typical Wolf-Rayet star. The astronomers using Hubble had expected to see twin lobes of gas flowing from opposite sides of the star, perhaps similar to those emanating from the massive star Eta Carinae, which is a Wolf-Rayet candidate. Instead, Hubble revealed a pancake-shaped disk of gas encircling the star. The vast disk is nearly 2 trillion miles wide, and may have formed from an unseen companion star that snacked on the outer envelope of the newly formed Wolf-Rayet.  Based on current estimates, the nebula surrounding the stars is just a few thousand years old, and as close as 3,000 light-years from Earth.
Hubble Revisits Tangled NGC 6240 – May 22
Not all galaxies are neatly shaped, as this new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 6240 clearly demonstrates. Hubble previously released an image of this galaxy back in 2008, but the knotted region, shown here in a pinky-red hue at the center of the galaxies, was only revealed in these new observations from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys. NGC 6240 lies 400 million light-years away in the constellation of Ophiuchus (The Serpent Holder). This galaxy has an elongated shape with branching wisps, loops and tails. This mess of gas, dust and stars bears more than a passing resemblance to a butterfly and a lobster.

NOAA’s GOES-R Satellite Begins Environmental Testing – May 21
The GOES-R satellite, slated to launch in 2016, is ready for environmental testing. Environmental testing simulates the harsh conditions of launch and the space environment once the satellite is in orbit. The GOES-R satellite and its instruments will undergo a variety of rigorous tests which includes subjecting the satellite to vibration, acoustics and temperature testing as part of this process. The GOES-R satellite is scheduled to be launched in March 2016 aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. GOES-R represents a significant improvement over current GOES satellite observations and will provide higher-resolution images of weather patterns and severe storms five times faster than today, which will contribute to more accurate and reliable weather forecasts and severe weather outlooks.
International Space Station
Critical NASA Research Returns to Earth Aboard U.S. SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft – May 21
SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:42 p.m. EDT Thursday with almost 3,100 pounds of NASA cargo from the International Space Station, including research on how spaceflight and microgravity affect the aging process and bone health. Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return a significant amount of cargo to Earth. It is the U.S. company’s sixth NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission to the station and carried more than two tons of supplies and scientific cargo when it lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14. NASA also has contracted with American companies SpaceX and Boeing to develop their Crew Dragon and CST-100, respectively, to once again transport astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory from the United States in 2017.

Watching Worms Will Help Humans Age More Gracefully – May 22
The plot of many a science fiction TV series or movie revolves around the premise that people traveling long distances in space age more slowly than their counterparts on Earth. Now, tiny worms who spent time aboard the International Space Station could help humans understand more about the effects of aging in space for real. Many studies document changes that happen to the human body in microgravity, including a decrease in heart function and loss of bone and muscle. The mechanisms behind these changes still are not well-understood and also may play a role in the rate at which organisms – including astronauts – age in space. A recent study called Space Aging, with samples returning aboard the sixth SpaceX resupply mission, will compare the health and longevity of roundworms aboard the station with others remaining on Earth. The roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is about 1 millimeter (some 0.04 inches) long with a life span of only two months, making it an ideal model organism for such a study.
NASA’s Curiosity Rover Adjusts Route Up Martian Mountain – May 22
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover climbed a hill Thursday to approach an alternative site for investigating a geological boundary, after a comparable site proved hard to reach. The drive of about 72 feet (22 meters) up slopes as steep as 21 degrees brought Curiosity close to a target area where two distinctive types of bedrock meet. The rover science team wants to examine an outcrop that contains the contact between the pale rock unit the mission analyzed lower on Mount Sharp and a darker, bedded rock unit that the mission has not yet examined up close. Two weeks ago, Curiosity was headed for a comparable geological contact farther south. Foiled by slippery slopes on the way there, the team rerouted the vehicle and chose a westward path. The mission’s strategic planning keeps multiple route options open to deal with such situations.

Mars Rover’s Laser-Zapping Instrument Gets Sharper Vision – May 22
Tests on Mars have confirmed success of a repair to the autonomous focusing capability of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. This instrument provides information about the chemical composition of targets by zapping them with laser pulses and taking spectrometer readings of the induced sparks. It also takes detailed images through a telescope. Work by the instrument’s team members at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and in France has yielded an alternative auto-focus method following loss of use of a small laser that served for focusing the instrument during Curiosity’s first two years on Mars.

NASA’s CubeSat Initiative Aids in Testing of Technology for Solar Sails in Space – May 20
With help from NASA, a small research satellite to test technology for in-space solar propulsion launched into space Wednesday aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, as part of the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. The Atlas V sent the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane on its fourth mission, which also is carrying NASA’s Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space (METIS) investigation that will expose about 100 different materials samples to the space environment for more than 200 days.
Students Help Solve Mystery of City’s Clogged Storm Drains – May 21
It isn’t every day that you hear about students who help a city solve a long-term and costly problem with their infrastructure. And it isn’t every day that you hear about those same students becoming grand prize winners in a national science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, contest held by a Fortune 500 company. But that’s exactly what happened to this elementary school in Mississippi. Nicholson Elementary is a rural school in the south-central town of Picayune. At Nicholson, 98 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches. And like so many schools in the country, Nicholson has faced numerous budgetary cuts. With those cuts, its teachers have had to rely on nationally accessible programs and projects to help provide enrichment activities for their students. The “Solve for Tomorrow” contest hosted by Samsung focuses on getting students excited about STEM as education and career paths. The contestants must use STEM in solving a problem, and the winners receive technology products and/or grants as awards. Pollitz believed her students would benefit from participating in the contest, so she got them involved by taking them to Picayune’s city hall to find out what problems the students might be able to help solve. As it turned out, Picayune had an issue with flooding and water drainage; the pipes would become clogged at some location, but the city had no way to find the exact spot.
Supersonic Decelerator Gets a Lift to Prepare for Launch – May 22
NASA teams are continuing preparations for the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) test off the coast of Hawaii June 2-12. This week the team completed a number of key pre-test procedures, including a successful mate between the test vehicle and balloon support systems. So, you may be wondering what this LDSD technology is – and why it’s important to future missions to Mars. Put simply, it’s about mass, speed and safety. NASA is planning ambitious robotic and human missions to Mars, which will require larger, more complex spacecraft than we’ve ever flown before. They’ll need to haul sizeable payloads to accommodate long stays on the Martian surface, and must fly back and forth more quickly to minimize human exposure to space radiation. That means finding new ways to slow down when our spacecraft reach their destinations, effectively countering those faster flights and payloads of greater mass.

NASA Joins ‘Civic’ Hacking Challenge to Foster Positive Change – May 22
Hacking is not a term often associated with drought prediction, carbon emissions reduction or any number of other initiatives that increase quality of life for people around the world. But that is exactly the direction NASA is hoping hackers will direct their talents – hacking for change. NASA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), in concert with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the City of Houston, is collaborating with Code for America for the third annual National Day of Civic Hacking on June 6, giving citizens the opportunity and tools to foster innovation and economic growth. More than 50 state and local events across the country will incorporate technology and publicly-released data to solve problems faced is a variety of spheres – from an individual neighborhood to the global community. Participants can put this technology and data to use to effect positive change and demonstrate the value of civic hacking.