Astronotes: June 13 - June 26, 2004

June 25

Satellites Spy Really Slow Landslides

In a state where ground movement is nothing unusual, researchers have found the slowest landslides known. Ultra-slow ground movement around San Francisco was recorded with powerful new space-born imaging techniques. The downhill movement is attributed to seasons of heavy rainfall.

In what is perhaps the most detailed study yet of the active landslides in the East Bay hills, researchers found that the slides were moving between 0.2 and 1.5 inches (5 to 38 millimeters) per year.

The work was led by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and is detailed in the June 25 issue of the journal Science.

Using high-resolution "interferometric synthetic aperture radar," the scientists analyzed data collected between 1992 and 2001 by two European Remote Sensing satellites. Not surprisingly, during the period of heavy rains brought on during the 1997-1998 El Nino years, when seasonal precipitation increased by 200 percent, the researchers found that sliding rates increased by as much as 30 percent.

The researchers charted the time lag from the onset of heavy rains to the acceleration of the landslides, noting that most slide movement occurs during the latter part of the rainy season, when subsurface water pressures may be high.

Unlike standard optical images, radar interferometry uses radar waves that are reflected off the ground, detecting slight shifts in distance between the satellite and the ground from which the signal was bounced back.

-- Staff

June 22

Report: NASA Doesn't Grasp Program Costs

"NASA lacks a clear understanding of how much programs will cost and how long they will take to achieve their objectives," according to a new report released by the federal government's General Accounting Office (GAO). "NASA's basic cost-estimating processes...lack the discipline needed to ensure that program estimates are reasonable."

The study, titled "NASA: Lack of Disciplined Cost-Estimating Processes Hinders Effective Program Management," was requested by Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Ranking Minority Member Bart Gordon (D-TN). The GAO reviewed 27 programs, 10 of them in-depth, according to a statement released by Boehlert's office today.

"The GAO report's findings, when coupled with NASA's failure to pass an independent financial audit for the past three years running, suggest that NASA needs to get its financial house in order," Gordon said.

NASA officials concurred with the recommendations in the report and, in an appendix in the report, listed steps the agency has underway to implement them. The recommendations include having NASA develop "an integrated plan for improving cost estimating" and establishing "a standard framework for developing life-cycle cost estimates."

"This is something that started out as a 'bad news' story that appears to be heading for a happy ending," Boehlert said. "The report lays out in detail the problems that have repeatedly plagued NASA's cost estimating over many years. Congress needs to be aware of these problems when evaluating NASA's proposals. But NASA does have concrete steps underway to improve the situation."

Boehlert credited NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe for leading that effort.

-- Staff

Rehearsal for ISS Spacewalk Postponed

MOSCOW (AP) _ Space officials postponed Tuesday's planned rehearsal for a spacewalk outside the International Space Station (ISS). The ITAR-Tass news agency said the spacewalk, scheduled for Thursday, would likely be delayed as a result.

But Valery Lyndin, spokesman for Russian mission control, said only that no new date for the rehearsal has been set. Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and American astronaut Mike Fincke were ordered to resume their regular schedule.

The spacewalk has already been delayed twice, ITAR-Tass said. Earlier NASA found problems with U.S. spacesuits. This time, ITAR-Tass said, the Russians said they needed more time to study the program for the walk. There was no immediate official response to the report.

During the rehearsal session, the crew put on their spacesuits and practice all procedures in the station up to opening the hatch. The spacewalk will involve replacing a power control and circuit breaker box that in April shut down one of the gyroscopes that stabilize the station.

Padalka and Fincke arrived April 21 for a six-month stint at the station, whose assembly has been on hold since the Columbia space shuttle disaster in February 2003.

-- Associated Press

June 21

Earth's Oceans Flow Like Jupiter's Clouds

Scientists have found a striking similarity between certain ocean currents on Earth and cloud bands in Jupiter's atmosphere.

Both flows involve currents, or jets, moving at different speeds or directions along stable regions called zones.

"We think this resemblance is more than just visual," said Boris Galperin of the University of South Florida. "The energy spectrum of the oceanic jets obeys a power law that fits the spectra of zonal flows on the outer planets."

Galperin studies turbulence theory and applies theory and numerical modeling to analyze planetary processes. He said there is a similarity in the forcing agents for planetary and oceanic circulations. The study maintains that both sets of zonal jets -- the ocean's bands of currents and the bands of Jupiter's clouds - are the result of an underlying turbulent flow regime common in Nature.

"The implications of these findings for climate research on Earth and the designs of future outer space observational studies are important," Galperin said. The research will be detailed in Geophysical Research Letters, published by the American Geophysical Union.

-- Staff

June 19

High-Flying New Father

The newest addition to NASA astronaut Michael Fincke's family, a baby girl, arrived just in time for Father's Day, but she will have to wait a few months to meet her pop in person. That's when Fincke comes back to Earth.

Sitting 225 miles out in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS), Fincke - part of the two-man crew of Expedition 9 - listened via telephone as his wife Renita Fincke gave birth Friday morning to their daughter, Tarali Paulina, in Clear Lake, Texas. NASA officials later arranged video conferences so Fincke, reportedly the first U.S. astronaut to be in space while his child is born, could see his wife and daughter.

Fincke said Tara, the beginning of his daughter's name, means star in the Indian dialect of his wife's family. The couple already has a son Chandra, which means moon.

"So my wife had already given me the moon, and now she's given me a star," said Fincke, who is in the midst of a six-month mission aboard the station.

He and Expedition 9 commander Gennady Padalka launched into space on April 18 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

-- Tariq Malik

June 18

Cassini Spacecraft Makes Final Course Change to Saturn

PASADENA, California (AP) _ The Cassini spacecraft successfully completed what is expected to be its last course-correction maneuver before reaching Saturn, NASA said Thursday.

The maneuver, performed Wednesday, adjusted the course Cassini will take to pass through a gap between two of Saturn's rings when the craft enters orbit on June 30.

"This should be our final approach maneuver. It's on to Saturn and orbit insertion," said Earl Maize, deputy program manager for the mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

During the maneuver, Cassini's main engine burned for 38 seconds to slow the craft by about 8 mph (13 kph). Tracking data will be evaluated over several days to ensure that the path is correct.

"All indications show that everything is on target," the National Aeronautics and Space Administration statement said.

Cassini, a $3.3 billion project involving NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, will explore the Saturn system for years. It carries a probe named Huygens that will enter the atmosphere of the ringed planet's big moon Titan early next year. Recent Cassini News

-- Associated Press

June 15

Mars Suits You Just Fine? Radiation Protection Needed

If humans are ever to strut their stuff across Mars, live and work there, radiation protection is a must. One energetic solution to suit design is possible use of anti-radiation fabric already woven into society here on Earth.

Researchers are studying Demron™, originally developed to protect rescue and medical personnel in responding to incidents and accidents involving x-ray and gamma radiation.

Garments made of the fabric are produced utilizing nanotechnology.

Radiation Shield Technologies, Inc. of Coral Gables, Florida, creators of Demron™, notes that the special fabric material is a product of a controlled manufacturing process involving exact molecular configurations needed to block radioactivity.

Along with Mars suits, as well as Homeland Security needs for radiological defense, Demron™ is being eyed for use in high-flying commercial airliners.

The material can be made into flight uniforms to combat cosmic radiation exposures in flight - rates that are hundreds of times greater than at ground level. Furthermore, the anti-radiation fabric is a good addition to the exterior of aircraft as paint to protect frequent flyers from cosmic radiation on the way to those Sun-baking beach resorts.

-- Leonard David

June 14

China to Send Female Astronaut by 2010

BEIJING (AP) -- China hopes to send its first female astronaut into space by 2010, newspapers reported Monday. She would work as a researcher at a planned Chinese space station, the reports said, adding that the pilots of China's spacecraft will still be men.

China launched its first manned space mission last October. The government says it will send a pair of astronauts late next year in its second manned mission. A space station also is planned.

The government said in March that it would recruit women as astronauts after lobbying by the official All-China Women's Federation.

Hundreds of Chinese women have flown for China's air force and civilian airlines.

The United States and Russia are the only other countries that have sent manned spacecraft into orbit, and both have sent women into space.

-- Associated Press

Missed something from last week? Astronotes Archive

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: Staff
News and editorial team is the premier source of space exploration, innovation and astronomy news, chronicling (and celebrating) humanity's ongoing expansion across the final frontier. Originally founded in 1999, is, and always has been, the passion of writers and editors who are space fans and also trained journalists. Our current news team consists of Editor-in-Chief Tariq Malik; Editor Hanneke Weitering, Senior Space Writer Mike Wall; Senior Writer Meghan Bartels; Senior Writer Chelsea Gohd, Senior Writer Tereza Pultarova and Staff Writer Alexander Cox, focusing on e-commerce. Senior Producer Steve Spaleta oversees our space videos, with Diana Whitcroft as our Social Media Editor.