Space & Planetary Science: February 2007 Archives

Pluto-Bound New Horizons Spacecraft Gets a Boost from Jupiter

"NASA's New Horizons spacecraft successfully completed a flyby of Jupiter early this morning, using the massive planet's gravity to pick up speed on its 3-billion mile voyage to Pluto and the unexplored Kuiper Belt region beyond."

NASA New Horizons image: Europa
NASA New Horizons image: Ganymede
NASA New Horizons image: Jupiter's Little Red Spot: Closest View Yet
Trajectory Map: NASA's New Horizons Is On Its Way To Pluto

Mary Cleave's Exit Strategy

NASA Program Management Council Minutes 14 September 2006: "Griffin acknowledged his long friendship with Cleave and noted she has made significant accomplishments over her tenure. Cleave had an agreement with Griffin at the onset that she wanted to retire in 20 months. Griffin specifically contradicted media reports suggesting that Colleen Hartman, Deputy AA SMD, had been asked to leave."

Stunning view of Rosetta skimming past Mars, ESA

"This stunning view, showing portions of the Rosetta spacecraft with Mars in the background, was taken by the Rosetta Lander Imaging System (CIVA) on board Rosetta's Philae lander just four minutes before the spacecraft reached closest approach to the Red Planet earlier this morning. While the Rosetta orbiter instruments were switched off as planned during several hours around closest approach, which occurred at 03:15 CET today, some of the lander instruments were operational and collected data from Mars."

How we swung around Mars - Changing course with Rosetta: live from mission control, Daniel Fischer

New Horizons has begun its encounter with Jupiter. Closest encounter with Jupiter is due to occur on 28 February 2007 at 05:41:00 UTC.

Check the mission's website here for updates.

Latest Photos are posted here

NASA SMD Planetary Science Division Memo: Revised Selection Procedure for PSD R&A Proposals

"Effective immediately, this memo provides new procedures in getting notification and funding out to all NASA Research and Analysis (R&A) proposers to planetary opportunities. It is important to note that this procedure is completely consistent with SMD Policy Document SPD- 08 that states all the requirements for completing R&A Selection Decision Documents (SDD). As the Selection Official (SO), it has been determined that I will be able to make decisions on some proposals and defer the decision on other proposals until later, under certain situations."

Good News For Hubble ACS?

NASA Hubble Space Telescope Daily Report #4303

"SIGNIFICANT EVENTS: Flash Report: SBC - preliminary results - The first SBC images (science and calibration) were acquired today (Day 051). All the telemetry indicates normal conditions. The first internal flats and dark frames are consistent with those pre-dating the ACS Side 2 failure. There may be a small degradation in sensitivity (on the order of 1% or less at the shortest wavelengths). More sensitivity data will be acquired in the coming week."

NASA Hubble Space Telescope Daily Report #4302

"SIGNIFICANT EVENTS:

Flash Report: As of 047/16:22:43 ACS is configured to its Safe mode on Side 1, and the on-board SMAC20 has been updated to the new version M to support ACS Side 1 SBC-only operations. Flash Report: As of 048/00:28:33. ACS CS FSW 4.02A has been successfully loaded, validated, and activated in the transition to the Operate state. ACS is configured to intercept the 050 SMS and resume SBC science activities. Flash Report: Results of the ACS SBC Filter Wheel Test ACS completed the SBC filter wheel test. Flash Report: The SI SEs at GSFC have been notified that ACS Flag 2 can be cleared for normal SBC operations."

NASA Media Teleconference on Planets Beyond Our Solar System

"Astronomers are scheduled to announce new findings about planets beyond our solar system at a media teleconference Wednesday, Feb. 21, at 10 a.m. PST. The findings are from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope."

A Spitzer Spectrum of the Exoplanet HD 189733b

"The detection of HD 189733b's spectral continuum, accomplished with only 12 hours of Spitzer time, is a remarkable demonstration of the capability and utility of the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Infrared Spectrograph."

A Spectrum of an Extrasolar Planet

"Here we report a measurement of the infrared spectrum (7.5--13.2 micron) of the transiting extrasolar planet HD209458b. Our observations reveal a hot thermal continuum for the planetary spectrum, with approximately constant ratio to the stellar flux over this wavelength range. Superposed on this continuum is a broad emission peak centered near 9.65 micron that we attribute to emission by silicate clouds."

NASA Goes Deep, op ed, NY Times

"After years of spending our nation's space budget building an orbiting space station of questionable utility, serviced by an operationally expensive space shuttle of unsafe design, NASA has set a new direction for the future of human spaceflight. Once again, we have our sights on the Moon ... and beyond. We are finally, bodily, going to make our way into space, this time to stay."

Editor's note: While I agree (strongly in most cases) with almost all of what Dr. Porco has written, I have to disagree with her gratuitous slap at human spaceflight. It simply serves no useful purpose to dump on one space project - in this case the International Space Station Program - as part of a justification for the value of another program (hers i.e. Cassini).

THEMIS Launched

NASA Launches THEMIS Satellites

"Taking multitasking to new heights, NASA launched the five THEMIS satellites aboard a single Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 6:01 p.m. EST. Racing into space on the flaming power of three rocket stages and nine solid rocket motors, the THEMIS satellites will soon disperse around Earth to monitor auroras like the Northern Lights."

MRO Continues to Dazzle

NASA Mars Orbiter Sees Effects of Ancient Underground Fluids

"Liquid or gas flowed through cracks penetrating underground rock on ancient Mars, according to a report based on some of the first observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. These fluids may have produced conditions to support possible habitats for microbial life. These ancient patterns were revealed when the most powerful telescopic camera ever sent to Mars began examining the planet last year. The camera showed features as small as approximately 3 feet (one meter) across."

Editor's note: The New Horizons Project has a rather new cool video online - one that is a radical departure from the pretty, but somewhat sterile animations that NASA picks - videos that often have dorky narration and ill-fitting music. This video is very reminiscent of the promos that the Star Trek series "Enterprise" used and the ones now being used to promote the remastered episodes from the original Star Trek series. Mike Buckley, Kerri Beisser and others at APL put this video together. The person behind the New Horizons mission is PI Alan Stern - soon to be the new Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator at NASA Headquarters. Are videos like this a preview of things to come? A link to the video is below.

Alan Stern Selected to Lead NASA Science Mission Directorate

"NASA Administrator Michael Griffin announced Monday that Dr. S. Alan Stern will be the agency's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, effective April 2. Stern succeeds Dr. Mary L. Cleave who announced her retirement. Stern joins NASA from the Southwest Research Institute's Space Science and Engineering Division, Boulder, Colo., where he has been serving as executive director of the Space Science and Engineering Division."

NASA Strategic Management Council Meeting: 2006 Near-Earth Object Survey and Deflection Study

"Griffin complimented the thoroughness of the study. He stated that NASA is not funded to do anything more than the current detection program. Members discussed the origin of the congressional language and its intent. SMD Associate Administrator Mary Cleave suggested that NASA should not be in the business of building and operating ground-based telescopes but that portion of any program could be done in partnership with the National Science Foundation. Griffin stated his intent to provide the Agency's response to Congress by the due date of 28 December 2006."

Metric Issues at JPL

NASA Mars Rover Opportunity Update 9 February 2007, NASA JPL

"Opportunity Flips 10,000 Kilometers and Tests New Drive Software"

Editor's note:I know converting to metric is hard for the folks at JPL, but I think this should read "Opportunity Flips 10,000 Kilometers and Tests New Drive Software"

Editor's update: JPL fixed the error.

NASA Tries to Make Space for Science, Science

"It is clear, however, that NASA's science program remains in crisis after having to pony up $2.44 billion from its 2007-2011 budget plan to cover shuttle and space station shortfalls. No spacecraft are slated to follow the large Earth-observing platforms now in orbit, and the earth sciences budget will remain at about $1.5 billion for the foreseeable future. Several important astrophysics flights, such as the Space Interferometry Mission, remain on hold because of budget constraints."

NAS Report: Cost Overruns, Cancelling of Small Missions Have Led to Lost Science Opportunities at NASA

"NASA's astrophysics program has achieved the agency's highest priority goals by focusing on large missions such as the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes but in doing so, it has squeezed out smaller missions that could be laying the foundation for future scientific discovery, says a new report from the National Research Council."

Editor's 7 Feb update: Dwayne Brown at PAO got me the answer about Astrobiology funding: FY07: $31.3 million; FY08: $31.9 million.

Editor's 5 Feb note: A press briefing and telecon was held Monday afternoon with Science Mission Directorate AA Mary Cleave and her senior staff. I asked SMD's Planetary Science Division's Michael New what the funding situation would be for Astrobiology in FY 2008. At first he seemed a little unsure. Then he answered that it would be similar to what happened in FY 2007. No budget numbers were offered.

When I asked him (again) for specific funding numbers for the FY 2008 budget he paused, looking a little bewildered, and said that he did not know. Several of Cleave's staff then whispered between themselves, pointed to several 4-inch thick budget briefing documents, and then said that they did not know either. PAO's Dwayne Brown will be getting back to me with numbers.

Cassini's Extended Mission Tour, Planetary Society

"We have a Cassini extended mission tour! A metaphorical puff of white smoke emerged from Building 167 at JPL on Thursday afternoon as the Cassini science team leaders met in executive session and made their final decision. Tour PF6h9 it is. I wasn't there for the final decision (I'm not that high in the Cassini hierarchy), but I participated in a lot of the deliberations that led up to that moment and found the whole process fascinating."


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