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Entries in Space (20)

Tuesday
Feb212012

Astronauts Wanted: Experiment in Hawaii to Test Mars Menus

NASA/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Researchers are looking for six able-bodied volunteers and two backups to be cooped up for 120 days and nights in a make-believe Mars base early in 2013.

The experiment is called HI-SEAS -- short for Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue & Simulation -- and would have the would-be astronauts live in a habitat amid the volcanic rubble on Hawaii's Big Island. The researchers are interested in finding out what real astronauts might eat, and whether they would cook and consume enough to sustain themselves on a long mission.

"Anyone eating a restricted diet will soon get tired of it," said Jean Hunter, a professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell University and an organizer of the experiment. "Astronauts on long missions generally don't eat enough. That's good for a diet on Earth, but bad in space, because all the problems of microgravity, like bone and muscle loss, are exacerbated if you don't get enough calories."

The researchers would make the experiment fairly realistic -- the crew members would have limited communications with mission control, and wear makeshift spacesuits whenever they went outside. Inside, they would be limited to the food supplies that had been packed in their habitat -- long-lasting staples such as flour, sugar, beans, rice, olive oil, dehydrated meat and cheese.

Even though NASA has no specific plans for a Mars expedition, it is funding the preliminary research.

Applications for HI-SEAS will be accepted until Feb. 29. Candidates must be nonsmokers in good health, between the ages of 21 and 65, with bachelor's degrees in engineering, math or appropriate sciences. Special consideration will be given to those who could use the four months for related experiments in geology or long-duration spaceflight.

"This could make a difference for Mars missions, or it could be helpful to future astronauts at lunar outposts, who might spend most of their careers there," said Hunter.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan032012

First Meteor Shower of 2012 Hits Skies Wednesday Morning

Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- If you're up early Wednesday morning and the weather is promising, bundle up and go outside. The Quadrantid meteor shower, the first of 2012, should be at its best between 3 a.m. and dawn, Eastern Time.

The Quadrantids are often the most intense of the year's regular meteor showers, but also one of the shortest. They happen when Earth passes through the narrow trail of debris left by an asteroid called 2003 EH1, so they only last a few hours. If it's clear, astronomers say you could see 60-200 streaks across the sky per hour.

Because of the direction from which they come, the Quadrantids are a northern-hemisphere phenomenon. And because of the timing -- the shower peaking as the moon sets -- the best seeing should be in the eastern half of the country.  

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec202011

NASA Kepler Probe Finds Two Earth-Sized Planets Orbiting Star

NASA [dot] gov(BOSTON) -- NASA's Kepler space telescope has found two new planets orbiting a distant sun-like star, and the researchers who made the find say these two are the size of Earth or smaller. That's a first in the search for extraterrestrial life.

If the discovery holds up under scrutiny by other scientists, it could be a very big deal. Earth-sized planets are considered critical in the search for life elsewhere in the universe, but until now, scientists said their instruments were not sensitive enough to detect them.

"Theoretical considerations imply that these planets are rocky, with a composition of iron and silicate," wrote Francois Fressin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the leader of the team that made the discovery. "The outer planet could have developed a thick water vapour atmosphere."

The team is published its report Tuesday online in the journal Nature.

The two newly-found planets, called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, are much too far away to be seen directly. They circle a star about 950 light-years away in the constellation Lyra, which appears high in the sky over North America on a summer night. Scientists measured the miniscule dimming of their host star as they passed in front of it, and then did the math to figure out how large they are likely to be and in what orbits they move.

Kepler-20e and f are probably too hot to be friendly to life -- they are so close to their sun that one of them circles it in just six Earth days, and the other does it in 19. But the simple fact that they've been found, say the scientists, is reason to expect that others like them exist.

"It demonstrates for the first time that Earth-sized stars exist around other stars, and that we are now able to detect them," said Fressin at a news briefing Tuesday.

Linda Elkins-Tanton of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington said the larger of the two planets, Kepler-20f, was especially intriguing.

"If it was formed with water, which I think is possible, it could have been habitable in the past," she said.

"We would be remiss if we did not do our best to find more planets just like our own," said Alan Boss, a colleague of hers at the Carnegie Institution, in an email to ABC News. "That does not mean that we necessarily think that only exact Earth twins could be inhabited, just that we at least had better be able to find Earth twins, and then along the way we will be certain to uncover all sorts of other types of exoplanets that should be habitable, and perhaps even inhabited."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Dec022011

Strange Object Crashes through Massachusetts Roof

Hemera/Thinkstock(PLYMOUTH, Mass.) -- A mysterious object fell from the sky this week, crashing through the roof of Michael’s Wholesale Furniture Distributors in Plymouth, Mass., leaving a small hole in the roof and scattering debris throughout a closet, but otherwise leaving workers unharmed.

The cylindrical hunk of metal was about six inches long and weighed roughly five pounds. It crashed through the roof either Wednesday or Thursday, according to local authorities.

The origins of the object are currently unknown, with Plymouth Police telling a local affiliate that they could “only speculate,” and admitting that they, “have no clue.”

Federal Aviation Administration inspectors have determined that it is not an airplane part, saying that it most likely came from a piece of heavy machinery, possibly an industrial chipper/shredded. However, the manner in which the object got high enough, and fast enough, to cause that much damage, remains a mystery.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Nov252011

Mars Rover Curiosity Set for Saturday Morning Launch

This artist's concept depicts the rover Curiosity, of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, as it uses its Chemistry and Camera instrument to investigate the composition of a rock surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)(BREVARD COUNTY, Fla.) -- Mars beckons space age explorers, much as the New World lured Christopher Columbus. NASA answers the siren call again Saturday -- launching the $2.5 billion nuclear-powered Mars Science Laboratory, nicknamed Curiosity.

It is the most ambitious and complex robotic rover built to explore the Red Planet. The goal: find elements that could prove whether life ever existed on Mars.

The Saturday launch window opens at 10:02 a.m. ET, and there are daily opportunities after that until Dec. 18. NASA said Friday the weather is 70 percent go for launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, just south of the launch pads from which space shuttles left for 30 years, and before them, Apollo moon missions.

Curiosity is set for a nearly nine-month trip to the Red Planet. Getting there is only the start; when the spacecraft plows into the thin Martian atmosphere, that's where the spacecraft designers will be tested.

Curiosity weighs one ton and is much too heavy to land on airbags like NASA's previous rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. So it will be slowed by a heat shield and parachute, then gently lowered to the planet's surface on cables suspended from a rocket-powered sky crane. It is the first time this design is being used, and mission managers have openly confessed they're uneasy.

Of 38 missions to Mars since the beginning of the space age, NASA counts 24 failures. The Russians have never yet had a full success.

This mission, if it succeeds, will answer questions for NASA scientists who are planning to send humans to Mars, some day. How would a manned mission work?

"The key is pre-deploying spacecraft and rovers -- getting infrastructure in place to make the most of the time we have to explore the planet," said Bret Drake of NASA's Human Space Flight Team.

Drake said we just won't know enough to go to Mars for another 30 years. It would take 180 days to get to Mars, 180 days to get back, and the astronauts would spend 500 days exploring the planet. The logistics are daunting. Problems like protecting astronauts from the radiation found in interplanetary space have yet to be solved.

Astronaut Mike Gerhardt is testing concept rovers and systems that could be used by explorers on Mars. A 900 day mission? He would go in a heartbeat.

"Once you get there, think how exhilarating it would be," he said. "You would be discovering a new planet."

If all goes well, Curiosity will land on Mars Aug. 6, 2012.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct202011

Another Satellite Headed for Earth

An artist's impression of the ROSAT satellite in space. It is expected to re-enter the atmosphere this weekend. (German Aerospace Center)(HOUSTON) -- A German satellite called ROSAT, launched in 1990 to map X-rays in the sky, is now in a decaying orbit, and Germany's space agency said Thursday it was likely to be caught by the outer layers of the atmosphere sometime Saturday or Sunday.

Like NASA's UARS satellite last month, ROSAT is large enough, and sturdy enough, that pieces of it are likely to survive re-entry. The German Aerospace Center said the odds that somebody, somewhere, could get hit are one in 2,000 -- though your personal chances of being that unlucky someone are more like one in several trillion.

"The main thing we worried about was people getting the wrong message and people panicking," said Mark Matney of NASA's orbital debris office in Houston, which tracked UARS and is now watching ROSAT.

Where and when will the satellite come down? It’s hard to be precise. Like UARS, it passes 53 degrees north and south of the equator on each orbit, which means it gets as far north as Edmonton, Canada, and as far south as Punta Arenas, Chile.

"It will not be possible to make any kind of reliable forecast about where the satellite will actually come down until about one or two hours before the fact," said Heiner Klinkrad of the European Space Agency. "In the final phase, ROSAT will be 'caught' by the atmosphere at which point...it will go into 'free fall.'"

After that, some pieces of debris could fall in a narrow oval about 300 miles long. But NASA reminds people that 70 percent of Earth is water, and much of the rest is desert, mountain, tundra or open farmers' fields. Despite the much-debated population explosion, we humans only live on a low percentage of the planet's surface.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Sep242011

NASA UARS Satellite Crashes Into Earth: Location Unknown

PRNewsFoto/NASA(WASHINGTON) -- The abandoned 6-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) entered the earth's atmosphere early this morning but where it crashed remains unknown, according to NASA.

In an update posted on NASA's website, the "decommissioned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite fell back to Earth between 11:23 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 23 and 1:09 a.m. EDT Sept. 24."

Officials said it entered the atmosphere somewhere over the Pacific Ocean but the "precise re-entry time and location are not yet known with certainty."

On Friday, officials predicted the satellite would be passing over Canada, Africa and Australia, and vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.

However, NASA said earlier that the risk to public safety is very remote. So far there have been no reports of injuries.

NASA said some 26 chunks of the old satellite—which is roughly the size of a bus—are likely to survive the descent, and fall at hundreds of miles per hour over an area of some 500 square miles. The agency said it knows of no case in which people have been hurt by space junk.

"We believe that the risk is sufficiently low that no one needs to change their behaviors," NASA's Mark Matney said.

Bill Ailor, principal engineer at the Aerospace Corp., studies incoming space junk for the Air Force. He said pieces of other satellites have come crashing down into villages, farms and random datelines around the planet.

"I actually think a lot of this kind stuff comes down and nobody knows what it is and just thinks it's junk and ignores it," Ailor told ABC News.

Ailor and his colleagues study satellite components in a lab to figure out what will burn up and what will become a potential threat—just like the pieces of the UARS satellite.

But according to Nicholas Johnson, NASA's chief orbital debris scientist, any one person's chances of getting hit by debris are tiny—something like 1 in 21 trillion. The chances that of the 7 billion people on Earth, one of them, somewhere, could be hit are more like 1 in 3,200.

Despite those odds, Ailor said that a hazard is a hazard.

"Five hundred pounds of stainless steel represents a hazard—if you're standing under it," Ailor joked.

Launched in 1991, the UAS satellite is the largest NASA satellite to fall back to Earth uncontrolled since Skylab in 1979.

Skylab was much larger—about the size of a house—and debris fell in the Australian Outback and the Pacific.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Aug052011

NASA's Juno Spacecraft Launches to Jupiter

NASA/KSG(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) -- NASA's Juno spacecraft launched Friday on a five-year trip to Jupiter.

"Three, two one, zero, and liftoff with Juno on a trip to Jupiter," called launch commentator George Diller.

The spacecraft, carried on an Atlas 5 rocket, left from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, rising quickly into muggy skies. It was delayed nearly an hour by a suspected helium leak, and by a small boat in the nearby Atlantic that wandered too close to the launchpad before the Coast Guard could chase it away. It was NASA's first launch since the final space shuttle mission last month.

The $1.1 billion Juno project is meant to survey giant Jupiter -- it is 318 times as massive as Earth, with a diameter of some 485,000 miles -- to determine how it formed, how it became so large, and see whether there is oxygen in its thick, cold atmosphere.

The ship is expected to reach Jupiter in July 2016 and orbit the planet, passing over its poles, for at least a year. When its mission is over, the plan is to send the ship plunging into the planet's clouds. NASA doesn't want it wandering around among Jupiter's 50-some moons and possibly crashing into one of them.

Landing on Jupiter is out of the question. Scientists say there's probably no actual surface there to land on. While smaller worlds can't prevent their atmospheres from escaping into space, Jupiter appears to be all atmosphere -- with swirling clouds of ammonia and methane, which form distinctive bands visible in pictures and become thicker and thicker the deeper one goes.

If one could dive into the Jovian atmosphere without being crushed, one would find pressure and temperature increasing to such levels that the atmosphere becomes liquid and eventually metallic, creating powerful magnetism. Deep down in the center, some scientists think there may be a rocky core no larger than Earth.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May252011

Kennedy's Space Challenge, 50 Years Later

NASA/AFP/Getty Images(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) -- Fifty years ago Wednesday, a fresh-faced president named John F. Kennedy -- just four months into his presidency -- asked Congress for the funding required to send American astronauts to the moon.

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth," President Kennedy said at the time. "No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."

Eight years later, on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., with three men on board. Then, on July 20, the president's goal was realized when the spacecraft and its crew of astronauts -- Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong -- touched down on the moon.

"I'm at the foot of the ladder," Armstrong told Mission Control as he descended from the lunar lander to the moon’s surface.

With his right hand on the ladder, Armstrong continued, "I'm going to step off."
 
Then, in an image that would become forever ingrained in the minds of millions of Americans who watched the event live on television, Armstrong planted his left foot to the moon's surface.
 
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," he said.

The Russians beat the U.S. into orbit, but Americans won the race to the moon.

Fifty years later, critics say NASA has no timetable for returning men to the moon or to any planet. And though the American shuttle program is scheduled to end this summer, astronaut Mark Kelly, commander of the STS-134 shuttle mission, remains hopeful.

"It's something we need to continue, focus on, invest in," Kelly said last week from Space Shuttle Endeavour, which is currently docked at the International Space Station.

The final American space shuttle mission is slated for July 8.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
May232011

Endeavour Crew Chats with Tucson School Kids from Space

NASA(TUCSON, Ariz.) -- Elementary school classmates of the youngest victim of the deadly January Tucson, Ariz., shootings that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. severely wounded, chatted Sunday with space shuttle Endeavour astronauts Mark Kelly and Mike Fincke while they were in orbit.

The Sunday night talk at Mesa Verde Elementary School was a priority for Kelly, the father of two teenage girls, and the husband of Rep. Giffords. Kelly has been haunted by Christina's death, and he told ABC News' Diane Sawyer earlier this year it agonized him when he thought about it.

One thing Kelly could give was his time, and that's why students crowded into school on a Sunday night to talk to the astronauts. He told them that when he was Christina's age, "I was watching Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, and I told myself that if I worked really hard, maybe one day I would have the opportunity to fly in space, and I did work hard and it did work out. It was those early Apollo astronauts like Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan that inspired me."

Endeavour Cmdr. Mark Kelly Answers Questions From Orbit

Q: How long does it take to get to space?

Kelly: We go from zero to 17,500 mph in 8 minutes and 20 seconds. When those main engines start, it's like being on a runaway train that is going 1000 mph.

Q: How fast do you go?

Kelly: Right now, we are going 17,500 mph. We see a sunrise and sunset every 45 minutes. If you go outside in spacewalk, it is in the vacuum of space. Even though you are going fast it is not like sticking your arm out the window of a car. You don't feel the air rushing by.

At the end of the session, Kelly showed the students a scrapbook he brought into space for them that he would give to Mesa Verde Elementary School after Endeavour lands in June.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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