February 6 -- February 28, 2005

February 28

SMART-1: Reporting ForScientific Lunar Duty

The European Space Agency's(ESA) SMART-1 spacecraft reached its operational orbit on February 27. Theprobe's electric propulsion engine has been switched off.

This week will be used todetermine the exact whereabouts of the ESA lunar orbiter as it circuits theMoon, along with instrument checkout and calibration - all in preparation foran extensive lunar science data collecting phase, said Bernard Foing, ChiefScientist for ESA's science program.

ESA's SMART-1 mission wasextended by one year, pushing back the mission end date from August 2005 toAugust 2006.

The European spacecraft isexpecting company around the Moon. Probes from Japan, India, China, as well as from the United States are under development. "We hope that SMART-1 willindeed serve as precursor to the new lunar exploration fleet," Foing added.

SMART-1's electric thrusterhas worked very well, exceeding its specifications, noted Sven Grahn, VicePresident Engineering & Corporate Communications for the Swedish SpaceCorporation, the prime contractor for SMART-1. "It is an extremely'well-behaved' child of ours, Grahn told SPACE.com. The probe has had veryfew glitches, with all of those quickly solved. The spacecraft's autonomy - theability to take care of itself on its own - "has worked like a dream," he said.

 -- Leonard David

February 25

Astronauts: Taking it inthe Kidneys

A nasty nanobacteria hasbeen identified that may put astronauts at high risk during their spacetravels.

Writing in the Februaryissue of Kidney International, lead researcher Neva Ciftcioglu calls for amajor initiative to investigate the nanobacteria.

As a novel self-replicating,mineralizing agent, nanobacteria is seen as a potential culprit in kidney stoneformation among astronauts. More to the point, health is a major concern forspace explorers, particularly given the prospect of future exploratory missionsto the Moon and Mars and beyond.

Ciftcioglu, a UniversitiesSpace Research Association researcher at NASA's Johnson Space Center, reported that nanobacteria were found to multiply five times faster in microgravitycompared to normal gravity on Earth. The finding supports earlier discoveriesthat microbes have radically different behavior in weightless environments.Nanobacteria could also possibly be an infectious risk for crew members livingin close quarters.

Further testing for thepresence of nanobacteria in human bodies, Ciftcioglu and her researchcolleagues report, can help reduce the risk for kidney stone formation inastronauts. Such research is sure to benefit the nearly one million Americanswho are treated for kidney stones each year.

Leonard David

February 23

GlobalFlyer AttemptDelayed

The goal is to set anaviation world record for the first solo, non-stop, non-refueledcircumnavigation of the world.

However, a hoped forliftoff this month of Virgin Atlantic's GlobalFlyer aircraft has now been pushedoff into March.

The plane is set to departfrom a Salina, Kansas airport. But the latest weather forecast there showsunacceptable ground winds and turbulence during the aircraft's ascent. Bothpresent significant risks.

GlobalFlyer's pilot,adventurer Steve Fossett, said in a statement: "What a disappointment. As eageras I am to start this flight, everything must be right."

Once in the sky, the VirginAtlantic GlobalFlyer is capable of speeds of over 285 miles per hour (250knots). The around-the-world flight should be completed inside 80 hours. Theroute will begin from the Salina airfield and then follow the jet stream windsacross the Atlantic to the United Kingdom.

From there, Fossett willhead south-east across the Mediterranean and the Gulf before turning easttowards Pakistan, India, China and Japan. The final leg of the journey willtake the plane out over the Pacific towards Hawaii before crossing the westcoast of the United States and returning to the Kansas launch site.

The next weather window forthe attempt could be in the March 1-3 time period, according to projectofficials.

-- Leonard David

February 22

Poor Weather DelaysJapanese Rocket Launch

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's space agencyannounced Tuesday it will postpone the launch this week of its H-2A rocketbecause of poor weather conditions at the launchsite.

The domestically designedH-2A rocket was scheduled for launch on Thursday from the southern island of Tanegashima. But the weather forecast calls for high winds and lightning that day,forcing the date to be set back to Saturday at the earliest, said Emi Takizawa,a spokeswoman for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The launch is a crucial onefor Japan's space program, which has been grounded since an H-2A carrying twospy satellites was detonated in mid-air after a malfunction shortly afterliftoff in November 2003.

The H-2A launch vehicle isthe workhorse of Japan's space program.

-- Associated Press

February 19

Return to Flight LaunchDate Pushed Back

CAPE CANAVERAL - Shuttle program managersrecommended Friday that NASA move the target launch for the first post-Columbiamission back one day to May 15 to get better lighting during flight.

Lighting conditions thatday will enable NASA to capture the clearest images of the shuttle's redesignedexternal fuel tank during Discovery's nine-minute ride to orbit and as the tankfalls away from the orbiter in space.

Senior NASA officials areexpected to approve the change. The Space Flight Leadership Council is set tomeet Friday to discuss the issue with shuttle program managers.

If the shuttle launches May15, liftoff would happen at about 3:50 p.m. Lighting conditions will remaingood enough to allow a launch through June 3. After that, NASA would have towait until July.

NASA is hoping to get thefirst two shuttle missions off the ground, if possible, by then. That couldfree the agency to resume construction flights to the International SpaceStation later this year.

That's important becausethe agency faces a tight schedule to get in the 25 to 30 flights necessary tocomplete construction of the orbiting lab. President Bush has ordered theagency to finish that work and retire the space shuttles by 2010 as part of thenew Vision for Space Exploration.


Published under licensefrom FLORIDA TODAY. Copyright ? 2005 FLORIDA TODAY. No portion of this materialmay be reproduced in any way without the written consent of FLORIDA TODAY.

February 15

A Falling Cry From Titan

Europe's probe to Saturn's moon Titan hasdelighted researchers seeking to learn more about the hazy satellite, returninghome images of its surface and data on the local atmosphere.

But NASA's Cassinispacecraft - the mothership that relayed Huygens observations to Earth - alsorecorded sounds that, while no symphony, play a crucial role in reconstructingthe probe's descent and landing at Titan.

Researchers compressed afour-hour signal tone heard by Cassini as Huygens plummeted to Titan's surface intoan audio clip that spans about one minute. It spans a period of time beginningwhen Huygens deployed its main parachute and runs through about one hour afterlanding.

The Huygens audio clipbegins with a choppy gurgling sound that eventually becomes a steady whistlerising in pitch about 43 seconds in. The signal's frequency changed as Huygensrocked and spun under its parachute canopy during descent, researchers said.

"After landing, thetone is far less rich because the probe has stopped moving," explainedRalph Lorenz, a co-investigator for the Huygens surface science package at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. "Overall the signal was veryrobust."

The Huygens probe was builtby the European Space Agency (ESA) and landed on Titan on Jan. 14. The jointCassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and its moons is a cooperative effort betweenNASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency.

Click here to listen toHuygens' Titan descent as heard by Cassini.

  1. Huygens Loses Communication Line With Cassini Spacecraft

-- SPACE.com Staff

February 14

Moon Crater: A Mark ofRespect for Deceased Lunar Scientist

Graham Ryder was a premierlunar scientist who pioneered many of our most important concepts about theMoon and its evolution. He passed away on January 5, 2002, as a result ofcomplications from cancer of the esophagus.

At the time of his death,Ryder was a staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas.

"I was a close friendof Graham's and when he passed away three years ago, I thought that he deserveda crater named for him on the Moon," said Paul Spudis, a space scientistat The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. A candidate has to be deceased over three years to be considered, hesaid.

Spudis and APL colleague,Ben Bussey, had recently finished work on a new Clementine Atlas of the Moon.Clementine was a U.S. Defense Department probe that orbited the Moon in 1994,producing invaluable lunar imaging and data sets. In working with thatinformation, the APL researchers were familiar with a number of craters thatapparently did not have names.

"I noticed a nicelyprominent, bright rayed crater on the floor of South Pole-Aitken basin on thefar side of the Moon," Spudis told SPACE.com. "One of Graham'sscientific interests was the cratering history of the Moon."

This particular feature,Spudis added, is a very bright ray crater -- meaning extremely young --formedon the basin floor of the biggest, oldest basin on the Moon - the SouthPole-Aitken basin. "It seemed to nicely symbolize both Graham's scientificinterests and his contributions to lunar science," he said.

Spudis suggested the craterto the International Astronomical Union (IAU) subcommittee through the U.S.Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona - keeper of the nomenclature data bank.They approved it after a recent meeting, he said.

The crater name is headedfor approval by the full IAU assembly in 2006.

-- Leonard David

February 10

NASA Shuffles ShuttleCrews

A former Kennedy SpaceCenter engineer who is now a NASA astronaut will make her first space flight onemission earlier than previously planned, the agency announced Wednesday.

Joan Higginbotham, selectedas an astronaut in 1996 after working as an engineer at KSC for nine years, hasbeen assigned to a mission designated STS-116.

The mission, tentativelyscheduled for spring 2006, will deliver the third port truss segment for theInternational Space Station.

Veteran astronaut MarkPolansky will be mission commander. Joining Polansky and mission specialistHigginbotham will be first-time pilot William Oefelein and mission specialistsRobert Curbeam, Nicholas Patrick and Christer Fuglesang. Fuglesang is a Swedishastronaut from the European Space Agency.

Higginbotham and Polanskypreviously were assigned to a mission designated STS-117, a flight commanded byveteran astronaut Rick Sturckow. The crew for that mission now includes rookiepilot Lee Archambault and mission specialists James Reilly, RichardMastracchio, Patrick Forrester and Steven Swanson.

The second starboard trusswill be hauled to the station on that flight.

The shuffling among crewsis because of shifting mission objectives after the 2003 Columbia accident andPresident Bush's directive to complete construction of the station and retirethe shuttles by 2010.

-- Todd Halvorston, FLORIDA TODAY

Published under licensefrom FLORIDA TODAY. Copyright ? 2005 FLORIDA TODAY. No portion of this materialmay be reproduced in any way without the written consent of FLORIDA TODAY.

Solar Sail FlightSlipped

The Cosmos 1 countdownclock has to be adjusted.

The Planetary Society'ssolar sail sendoff courtesy of a Russian submarine-launched rocket was targetedfor liftoff in the March 1 to April 5 time frame. But the sail's blastoff"has slipped a bit", said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of ThePlanetary Society.

In a project update,Friedman said that the sail -- dubbed Cosmos 1 -- will launch in April.

"The testing on theflight spacecraft has gone well, but some corrections and fixes have beenrequired. To enhance reliability, extra precautions have been implemented inboth the hardware and software of the spacecraft," Friedman reported."We do not rule out other small slips if we take a few extra days here orthere in flight preparations, testing or last-minute checks. Unlike launchwindows for planetary missions, ours is not fixed by celestial mechanics, so wehave much more leeway in setting a date.

Cosmos 1's mission goal isto perform the first controlled solar sail flight as the spacecraft ispropelled by photons from sunlight. The Space Research Institute (IKI) in Moscow has overseen the creation of the flight electronics and mission control softwarewhile NPO Lavochkin, one of Russia's largest aerospace companies, built thespacecraft.

Once the spacecraft is inEarth orbit, a set of 8 triangular blades are to be deployed by inflatabletubes.

And from there, hopefully,it's smooth sailing!

-- Leonard David

February 9

Space Case for iPods andCell Phones

About the only place todayyou can't spot an Apple iPod is on the International Space Station. Itstherefore fitting that if the digital music player couldn't go to space,everQuest Design would bring space to the iPod... or at least its carryingcase.

Adapting theirSoyuz parachute-constructed messenger bags firstintroduced in April 2004, everQuest is offering smaller size holsters andcases specifically designed for cell phones, PDAs, digital cameras and yes,even iPods.

Liketheir larger cousins, the new compact Soyuz series features swatches ofspace-flown parachute that returned astronaut Michael Foale and cosmonautAlexander Kaleri from the ISS to terra firma. Black Cordura nylonexteriors and soft black cotton-nylon linings insure your device has its ownsafe touchdown. EverQuest is selling two models: a cell phone holsterand a wider e-device case. Both the holster and case are held closed with velcro;the case also has elastic side panels for a snug fit. Each ships with a Certificateof Authenticity signed by Kaleri testifying to the origin of the well-traveledfront flap material. Additional detailsand ordering information can be found at collectSPACE.com.

February 8

ESA Gets Green Light toDeploy Mars Express Radar

The European Space Agencyhas given the green light for the MARSIS radar on board its Mars Expressspacecraft to be deployed during the first week of May. Assuming that thisoperation is successful, the radar will finally start the search for subsurfacewater reservoirs and studies of the Martian ionosphere.

ESA's decision to deployMARSIS follows eight months of intensive computer simulations and technicalinvestigations on both sides of the Atlantic. These were to assess possibleharmful boom configurations during deployment and to determine any effects onthe spacecraft and its scientific instruments.

The three radar booms ofMARSIS were initially to have been deployed in April 2004, towards the end ofthe Mars Express instrument commissioning phase. They consist of a pair of20-metre hollow cylinders, each 2.5 centimetres in diameter, and a 7-metreboom. No satisfactory ground test of deployment in flight conditions waspossible, so that verification of the booms' performance had to rely oncomputer simulation. Just prior to their scheduled release, improved computersimulations carried out by the manufacturer, Astro Aerospace (California),revealed the possibility of a whiplash effect before they locked in their finaloutstretched positions, so that they might hit the spacecraft.

Following advice fromNASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which contributed the boom system tothe Italian-led MARSIS radar instrument, and the Mars Express science team, ESAput an immediate hold on deployment until a complete understanding of thedynamics was obtained.

February 7

Let the Space War GamesBegin!

The military's Super Bowlof space wargaming is underway at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, taking placeFebruary 5-11.

The objectives of thewargame will center on exploring options to employ space forces, command andcontrol of those forces and examining space technologies and concepts.

The details of the scenarioare classified and set in the year 2020. The game pits friendly"blue" forces against enemy "red" forces with a worldwiderange of conflict that stresses space systems.

Dubbed the Schriever IIIwargame, the high-tech simulation is named after General Bernard Schriever,developer of America's ballistic missile program and the Air Force's initialspace program.

Now underway, the SchrieverIII wargame is designed to explore critical space issues in depth andinvestigate the military utility of new space systems. The first two spacewargames -- "Schriever 2001" held in January 2001 and "SchrieverII" in February 2003 -- were significant successes identifying systemcapabilities and requirements, according to a U.S. Air Force Space Command newsrelease.

The Space Warfare Center at Nellis is conducting this effort on behalf of the United States Air Force,the Department of Defense's executive agent for space.

Approximately 250 militaryand civilian experts from approximately 20 agencies around the country as wellas Australian, Canadian, and Great Britain officials are invited to participatein the wargame, with the welcome list out to NASA, the Department of HomelandSecurity, the Department of Transportation, the Department of State and theDepartment of Commerce.

-- Leonard David

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