April 1 -- April 30, 2005

April 29

Airlift to Mars

NASA's Mars ReconnaissanceOrbiter (MRO) is winging its way toward the red planet. That is, via a C-17Globemaster aircraft headed today for the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Rolled out of facilities atLockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, Colorado, the huge spacecraft has beenboxed up and given all the tender loving care required.

"We want to get thespacecraft down there...get propellant loaded...and launch. And we can't do thatfrom Denver," Kevin McNeill, MRO program manager at Lockheed Martin SpaceSystems told SPACE.com.

Loaded with science gear,the MRO is being readied for liftoff with a launch window that opens August 10.Lockheed Martin's Atlas V launch vehicle -- designated AV-007 -- is now at Cape Canaveral and being prepped to hurl MRO across interplanetary space.

At 4,800 pounds (2,180kilograms), MRO weighs as much as two Toyota Corollas. It is three times theweight of the Odyssey spacecraft now orbiting Mars.

Tim Gasparrini, mechanicalsystems manager at Lockheed Martin, said that the shipping container featuresits own environmental control system to keep an eye on temperature andhumidity. Also, ultra-pure nitrogen is pumped in to keep MRO instrumentssuper-clean during transport.

Once in Florida, MRO isslated for sets of tests to assure all systems on the Mars craft are in tip-topshape for launch.

MRO carries six primaryinstruments, including a zoom-lens camera system to reveal Mars as neverbefore. During its global mapping mission, a ground-penetrating radarexperiment will also probe for signs of underground ice and liquid water -resources that might prove convenient to future human explorers.

-- Leonard David

April 26

Complex HydrocarbonsFound in Titan's Air

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- A close flyby of Saturn'sbig moon Titan by the international Cassini spacecraft revealed an upperatmosphere brimming with complex organic material, a finding that could holdclues to how life arose on Earth, scientists said Monday.

Cassini flew within 638miles of Titan's frozen surface on April 16 and discovered a hydrocarbon-lacedupper atmosphere.

Titan's atmosphere ismainly made up of nitrogen and methane, the simplest type of hydrocarbon. Butscientists were surprised to find complex organic material in the latest flyby.Because Titan is extremely cold _ about minus 290 degrees _ scientists expectedthe organic material to condense and rain down to the surface.

"We are beginning toappreciate the role of the upper atmosphere in the complex carbon cycle thatoccurs on Titan," said Hunter Waite, a professor at the University of Michigan.

Scientists believe Titan'satmosphere may be similar to that of the primordial Earth and studying it couldprovide clues to how life began.

The $3.3 billion Cassinimission, funded by NASA and the European and Italian space agencies, waslaunched in 1997 and took seven years to reach Saturn. The European Huygensprobe carried aboard Cassini was released on Dec. 24 and plunged to the surfaceof Titan in January.

-- Associated Press

April 25

Bright Meteor Surprises New England

A bright light that waslikely a meteor sparked a flurry of frantic phone calls to police departmentsSunday night across New England, a spokeswoman for the Federal AviationAdministration said.

Called a meteor shower insome news reports, the flash was more likely a single object seen fromdifferent angles. It was spotted from as far north as Portland, Maine, and as far south as Long Island, New York. Some witnesses apparently mistook the skyshow for a plane crashing in Connecticut, the FAA's Holly Baker said.

"We've checked allaround. There are no aircraft unaccounted for," she said.

An emergency managementofficial in Massachusetts speculated that the object was part of the Lyridmeteor shower, which peaked Friday morning.

"I highly doubt thatthis object had anything to do with the Lyrid meteor shower," said JoeRao, SPACE.com's Night Sky columnist.

"The characteristicsare all wrong; Lyrids are not known for producing brilliant fireballs likethis," Rao wrote today in his Skyway E-Mail Advisory, a newsletter hesends to astronomy enthusiasts. "More likely it was an erratic chunk ofstone or iron, probably related to something out of the asteroid belt."

Firefighters in Branford, Conn., responded to several reports of a possible plane crash in Long IslandSound in the Thimble Island area, but a search did not turn up anything and wascalled off a short while later.

-- The Associated Press and SPACE.com reporting

April 21

Beamed Into Space: WhaleSongs

From the deep ocean intothe depths of space, the first live whale songs are to be broadcast into thecosmos on April 22 - Earth Day.

Providing the service isthe Deep Space Communications Network, a private organization located near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Making use of a large dish antenna, the group will blast thewhale songs out to some 3.5 light years into deep space covering an estimateddistance of 18 trillion miles.

The distance the whalesongs signal could go into the universe beyond the 18 trillion miles -- andstill be detectable by other non-terrestrial systems -- "is an ongoing matterof speculation," said Jim Lewis of Deep Space Communications Network.

The Sirius Institute,located in Puna, Hawaii, contracted the Deep Space Communications Network toperform the duty.

Members of the whale choruswhose songs will be sent live into space are from pods of Humpback whales offthe coast of Maui. Whalesong.net (http://www.whalesong.net/)will provide the live feed of whale music making use of an underwatermicrophone in the Pacific Ocean near Maui, Hawai'i.

Michael Hyson, researchdirector for the Sirius Institute, said that dolphins and whales are the oldestsentient race on the planet, and it's about time they shared their songs withthe universe.

Humpback whale songs areincluded in the gold records that are attached to the still-outbound Voyagerspacecraft. But this is the first time that live whale songs will betransmitted into space.

-- Leonard David

April 20

Russian Astrologist Sues NASA

NASA hasbeen taken to court in Russia over its plans to crack open a comet.

Marina Bai,a Russian astrologist, filed a lawsuit last month with the Presnensky district courtin Moscow, demanding that the U.S. space agency call off its $311 million Deep Impact mission.  As reported inMosNews.com, Bai is also asking for 8.7 billion rubles ($311 million) incompensation for moral damages.

"The actions of NASA infringe upon my system of spiritualand life values, in particular on the values of every element of creation, uponthe unacceptability of barbarically interfering with the natural life of theuniverse, and the violation of the natural balance of the Universe," Bai saidin her claim.

DeepImpact, which is already in space, is scheduled to collide with Comet 9P/Tempel1 on July 4th of this year.  The spacecraft will be used to digout a crater in the comet.  Scientists will then hope to learn what atypical comet is made of. 

Thedistrict court dismissed the Bai's case, but the Moscow City Court took up theappeal and will rule following a hearing scheduled for May 6.

BennyPeiser, a researcher at Liverpool John Moores University who follows asteroidscience and the surrounding media and public attention, said even some Russianscientists have jumped on this court case, calling the space mission an act of"vandalism that cannot be justified."

"I canonly hope that this irrational technophobia is not a sign of things to come inother parts of Europe, which is already falling worryingly behindinternationally in science and technology, never mind space exploration,"Peiser told SPACE.com.

-- SPACE.com Staff

April 18

European Probe Followinga Moon Shadow

The European Space Agency's(ESA) SMART-1 has begun imaging the Moon in a search for lunar peaks of eternalsunlight.

Not only are there areas athigher elevation on the rim of polar craters that see the Sun more than half ofthe time. There are also areas in the bottom of near-polar craters that do notsee direct sunshine where ice might potentially be trapped.

In collaboration withastronomers from the University of Arizona in Tucson, the SMART-1 team hasanalyzed SMART-1 images to look for potential sites at the Moon's north polefor emplacing future telescopes on the Moon, explained ESA SMART-1 projectscientist, Bernard Foing.

This early robotic phase ofreconnecting scientists with the Moon is expected to provide benefit to futurelunar exploration, Foing emphasized.

"If we can confirm peaks ofeternal light, or pairs of sites exposed to sunlight at any moment, this couldbe an advantageous location to install a solar power infrastructure to feedfuture robotic/human outposts and colonies," Foing explained.

-- Leonard David

April 15

Second Primordial StarFound

Astronomers have examined astar they think was among the first created after the universe began. It isonly the second known example of such a primitive object.

Theorists say the universebegan with the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago. For some 2 million years,stars could not form. Then things cooled enough for knots of gas to condenseinto the first stars. The gas present then was raw, primordial. It was mostlyhydrogen and helium, with traces of lithium, helium and deuterium.

The first stars werecomposed of these raw materials, the thinking goes. Within the furnace of eachfirst-generation star, heavier elements were created, then cast into the cosmoswhen the stars died explosively. Subsequent generations of stars created moreand more heavier elements, including all the stuff that makes planets and livingthings.

The first stars should havebeen virtually bereft of iron, for example, while iron is common in latter-daystars like our Sun. They are challenging to find and study, because all that'sleft are the burnt embers of their previous shimmering glory.

The newly studied star,named HE1327- 2326, contains 300,000 times less iron than the Sun. It issimilar to one announcedin 2002.

The investigation was ledby Anna Frebel of the Australian National University and is detailed in theApril 14 issue of the journal Nature. The results should helpastronomers learn more about the initial era of the universe, said RogerCayrel, of the Observatoire de Paris-Meudon in Paris.

-- Robert Roy Britt

April 12

Russia Celebrates 44thAnniversary of Yuri Gagarin's Flight

MOSCOW. April 12 (Interfax) -Tuesday,April 12, is 44th anniversary the world's first manned space flight performedby Russian cosmonaut Yury Gagarin on April 12, 1961.

Gagarin blasted off fromthe Soviet Baikonur space launching site and flew around the Earth aboard theVosktok-1 space rocket. His flight lasted 108 minutes.

Ceremonies marking the 44thanniversary of Gagarin's flight will take place across Russia.

A spokesman for Russia's Space Mission Control has told Interfax that link-up between the Roskosmosleadership and the 10th crew of the international space station, where Russiancosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov and NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao, are stationed isscheduled for Tuesday.

-- Interfax

April 7

Public Hearings onPrometheus Space Nuclear Power

NASA's need for spacenuclear reactors under its Prometheusprogram involves development of a Programmatic Environmental ImpactStatement (PEIS). Part of that process solicits public input regarding spacenuclear reactors to produce on-board power for instrument and propulsion needsto support the Vision for Space Exploration.

NASA has slated two publicscoping meetings to provide information on the Prometheus PEIS and to ask forpublic comments. These meetings are:

  1. April 19, 2005, from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. and 6 p.m.-9 p.m. at the Florida Solar Energy Center; H. George Carrison Auditorium; 1679 Clearlake Road; Cocoa, Florida 32922;
  2. April 26, 2005, from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill; 400 New Jersey Avenue, NW., Washington DC 20001.

-- Leonard David

April 5

Dust in the Wind of aSupernova

Astronomers have discovereda dusty wind that blew off a star right before it exploded into a supernova.This is the first time that a wind has been observed from this type ofsupernova precursor.

The dust-filled gale wasdetected around SN 2002ic, a Type Ia supernova about a billion light years fromEarth. TypeIa supernovae occur when a small compact star, called a white dwarf,gobbles up mass from a companion star. At a certain point, the mass becomes toogreat and the white dwarf explodes.

Because Type Ia supernovae are uniformly bright, astronomers have used them to determine how fast theuniverse is expanding. The data - somewhat surprisingly - say that theexpansion is speeding up.

To confirm thisacceleration, scientists want to learn more about how the Type Ia bombs tick.Rubina Kotak and Peter Meikle from Imperial College London were interested inSN 2002ic because it was the first Type Ia in which hydrogen had been observed.

When the scientistsmeasured the speed of this hydrogen, they realized it was moving too slowly tobe ejecta from the explosion. Instead, it must have come from a wind blowingoff the white dwarf. Subsequent measurements in the infrared discovered hintsof dust grains wafting in the wind.

These results were to bepresented at the Royal Astronomical Society annual meeting April 5.

-- Michael Schirber

April 4

Shuttle Rollout Delayedto at Least Wednesday

The rollout of shuttleDiscovery to the launch pad has been delayed until no earlier than 2 a.m.Wednesday.

High humidity in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, where the orbiter has been stacked with itsexternal tank and solid rocket boosters, has slowed work on heat-protectiontiles, NASA spokeswoman Jessica Rye said.

"We always do some minor step-and-gaptile bonding once we get to the VAB," she said.

Workers are doing finalchecks and closeout work in areas around the points at the ship's nose andwhere the orbiter attaches to the tank.

"That's just a typicalthing we would do over there," she said. "We usually just have more time as faras that's concerned to worry about Mother Nature and humidity."

Most tile work is donewhile the ship is in its hangar. Discovery rolled from its hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building a week ago. Usually, it takes five days to get a shuttle ready inthe Vehicle Assembly Building, Rye said. This time, seven days were allotted,though the work is taking longer. The launch planning window for Discoveryextends from May 15 to June 3.

-- Chris Kridler, Florida Today

Published under licensefrom FLORIDA TODAY. Copyright ? 2001 FLORIDA TODAY. No portion of this materialmay be reproduced in any way without the written consent of FLORIDA TODAY.

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