Astronotes: October 3 - October 16, 2004

October 14

NASA Wants Your Help Counting Contrails Today

NASA is looking for volunteers to help count contrails, the high-altitude condensation trails produced by jets.

The idea is for students, teachers and parents around the world to tally the wispy cloud-like structures Oct. 14 and 15 and report them to the space agency via the Internet, with an ultimate goal of helping scientists understand how they affect weather and climate.

Contrails form when water molecules, already in the air, condense and freeze on small particles in jet exhaust. Whether one develops and how long it lasts depends on the temperature and moisture content of the air.

The white streaks, which spread out and sometimes become indistinguishable from natural clouds, have become a common feature of the sky in many locations at certain times of the year.

The crew of the International Space Station noted the absence of contrails when airplanes were grounded after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A study performed in following days, when U.S. skies were clear of airplanes, found contrails have a small but measurable effect on daily temperatures on Earth. The temperature range was more than one degree Celsius (about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) larger than when contrails were present, scientists reported in the journal Nature.

One day, scientists might be able to predict contrail formation, and airliners could be rerouted to avoid creating contrails, say scientists involved in the counting project.

The NASA effort, dubbed GLOBE, is billed as a hands-on K-12 science education program. Information on how to identify, count and report contrails is available here.

  • Related: Rocket Exhaust Leaves Mark Above Earth

October 13

Who's Better for Science, Republicans or Democrats?

Are scientists better off with a republican or a democrat as president? According to an article in the October/November issue of the Industrial Physicist, neither gets high marks. Further, the article shows that the United States position as a global leader in scientific discovery is eroding.

In 1992, around the end of the Cold War, the federal government spent $104,300 on physics research for each U.S. physicist with a Ph.D., as measured in 2004 dollars. By 1996, the figure had fallen to $60,600, according to the National Science Foundation. It has since leveled off.

"Physical science funding has remained flat in real terms for 15 years, but it is spread among more and more physicists," said Kei Koizumi, director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Perhaps a surprise to many: Physics support per scientist dropped 38 percent during the Clinton era, according to the article. It is about 3 percent lower than when President Bush took office.

But there's more to the numbers than meets the eye. The Clinton administration pushed technology more than science, said Neal Lane, presidential science advisor during Clinton's second term. And the Bush administration "has consistently submitted budgets that cut overall real funding" to science, said Mike Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society. "But Congress has restored much of this."

Perhaps the most glaring related statistic is this: In the journal Physical Review, which publishes peer reviewed papers on a variety of topics, U.S. scientists had more papers published than scientists from other countries by about a 2:1 ratio in 1980. That ratio has since reversed.

The White House's 2005 budget request, under consideration by Congress, cuts physical science research programs by 8.2 percent from the preceding year. But as the Industrial Physicist article points out, Congress could restore some of the funds in the never-ending see-saw budget battle.

John Marburger, Bush's chief science advisor, argues that the 2005 budget proposal actually increases funding to science, if you take into physical science expenditures by the National Institutes of Health.

"But there is no doubt that the budget reflects fiscal realities," Marburger said. "We do not have unlimited funds."

-- Staff

October 12

NSYNC's Lance Bass Still has Eyes for Space

Despite one failed attempt to reach space, pop singer Lance Bass is committed to launching into orbit and emphasized to need to increase mission safety and educate today's youth about space.

"I enjoy getting kids excited about space...and showing them that science is the way to the future," Bass told a group of space entrepreneurs and engineers. "It's also great that private citizens are now going to space in their own vehicles.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Space Frontier Foundation held at the Queen Mary ship in Long Beach, California, Bass referred to the two recent flights ofSpaceShipOne and aviation pioneer Burt Rutan. This month, Rutan and his firm Scaled Composites - with financing from millionaire Paul Allen - won the $10 million Ansari X Prize after launching the piloted SpaceShipOne twice in less than a week.

"Space is going to be the next big thing...and now is the time to get on the bandwagon," said Rick Tumlinson, the foundation's founder.

While Bass was unable to reach space in 2002 after going through flight training for both Russia'sSoyuz launch vehicle and the International Space Station, he still intends to fly.

"I have several experiments I want to perform on a spaceflight," he said.

Tumlinson said the conference audience enjoyed hearing from Bass and pledged to support his effort.

"After all, it's about time for the musicians, poets and artists to get out there," Tumlinson added.


October 11

Memorial Service Set for Mercury Astronaut Gordon Cooper

NASA will honor the memory and achievements of Gordon Cooper, one of the space agency's first seven Mercury astronauts, on Oct. 15 at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas.

Cooper, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and the last man to rocket into space during NASA's Mercury program, died of natural causes on Oct. 4. His May 1963 Mercury flight aboard Faith 7 marked the last time U.S. astronaut orbited the Earth alone.

NASA's memorial service for Cooper will begin at 10:00 a.m. CDT on Friday in the Teague Auditorium at JSC, during which NASA chief Sean O'Keefe, long-time associates and family friends plan to pay tribute to the former astronaut. A tree planting ceremony at the center's Memorial Tree Grove will follow the service.

Due to limited seating, NASA is inviting the general public to follow the service via NASA TV.'s space agency television feed can be found here.

-- Staff

October 8

U.S. Air Force Unveils New Space Badge

The Air Force Space Command has taken the wraps off its new space badge, designed to be worn by both space and missile operations professionals.

The new badge also replaces the missile operations occupational badge, more commonly known as "the pocket rocket," currently worn by those in the missile operations career fields.

"Just as pilots wear the same badge, whether they fly fighters, bombers, tankers or transports, all very distinct and different missions, our space professionals should wear the same badge to reflect the unity of their mission and capabilities," said General Lance Lord, commander of the Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

No date has been set for mandatory wear.

-- Leonard David

October 7

Asteroids Named After Mars Rovers

Astronomers have named an asteroid for each of NASA's Mars rovers to commemorate the work the robots have done on the red planet since January.

The space rock catalogued as 37452 has been named Spirit. Asteroid 39382 is now called Opportunity.

Thousands more asteroids have been discovered than are named. The naming process involves a review for appropriateness by the International Astronomical Union's Committee for Small Body Nomenclature, which tries to strike a balance between being official and not getting too serious.

Many of the named asteroids commemorate cultural icons and politicians (the latter must be dead to be considered, according to the somewhat loose rules). Others are common people and places. The names run the gamut from serious to whimsical. The growing list includes Ellington and Fitzgerald, Mozart and each of the Beatles, Zappafrank, Hemingway, Freud, DiMaggio, Intel and Linux (but not Microsoft), Barbara and Jo-Ann, America and Innsbruck, Racquetball, Soyuz-Apollo and Einstein. (See if you're there)

In 2001, three asteroids were given the names Compassion, Solidarity and Magnanimity in memory of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Seven asteroids were named for the astronauts who died in the space shuttle Columbia disaster.

The new Spirited space rock orbits the Sun well beyond Mars, even inching slightly beyond the path of Jupiter on its elliptical trajectory. Opportunity rocks around the Sun on a slightly tighter course that is wholly inside the path of Jupiter.

The names were announced late last month by the Minor Planet Center, which keeps track of all asteroid discoveries. The rovers, you might recall, were named by 9-year-old Sofi Collis , who submitted her choices in a contest.

-- Robert Roy Britt

October 6

Italian Astronaut to Fly on Russian Spaceship

MOSCOW. Oct 6 (Interfax) - A preliminary agreement has been reached that Italian  astronaut Roberto Vittori will fly to space on the Russian Soyuz propulsion  vehicle  in March-May 2005, says a statement posted on the Russian Federal Space Agency's website.

"A preliminary agreement has been reached during an Italian delegation's visit to Russia on the space flight of Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori in May-March 2005," the Federal Space Agency's press service said.

A three-sided protocol on mutual understanding on the launch of the Soyuz propulsion  vehicle  in  March-May  2005  was signed following the meeting.

According to the statement, the preliminary approval to begin preparations for Vittori's flight on the Soyuz will enable the agency to immediately  begin technical preparations for the ship's launch before a contract  for  a  flight  to  the  International  Space Station (ISS) is signed.

The statement said that the delegation is headed by Francesco Sorace, president of Italy's Laccio district, where many of Italy's aerospace  facilities are located. The region's government is sponsoring Vittori's flight to the ISS.

-- Interfax

October 4

7 UP to Offer Free Space Flight 

Lemon-lime beverage, 7 UP, the official soft drink of the Ansari X Prize, announced Monday plans to offer consumers the first free ticket into space. The announcement followed the win by SpaceShipOne of the $10 million competition.

"The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself," said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman and Founder of the X PRIZE Foundation. "My mission and that of the X PRIZE Foundation has been to create a future in which all of us can travel into space. Our goal is to create the personal spaceflight revolution in partnership with innovative companies like 7 UP. Together we are making space travel accessible to the average citizen."

Details of 7 UP's first free ticket into space will be unveiled in 2005.

Missed something from last week?

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.