Space & Planetary Science: May 2007 Archives

NASA Funds Universities' New Experiments for Suborbital Flights

"NASA has selected four universities to conduct suborbital scientific research that is a new step in reinvigorating the agency's sounding rocket science program. Managed out of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va., the sounding rocket program offers a low-cost test bed for new scientific studies and techniques, scientific instrumentation and spacecraft technology. Launches take place world-wide, including from Wallops, the White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and Poker Flat Research Range, Alaska."

An Alien Ocean

NASA Cassini Image: Coasts and Drowned Mountains on Titan

"On May 12, 2007, Cassini completed its 31st flyby of Saturn's moon Titan, which the team calls T30. The radar instrument obtained this image showing the coastline and numerous island groups of a portion of a large sea, consistent with the larger sea seen by the Cassini imaging instrument (See Seeing Farther North). Like other bodies of liquid seen on Titan, this feature reveals channels, islands, bays, and other features typical of terrestrial coastlines, and the liquid, most likely a combination of methane and ethane, appears very dark to the radar instrument."

NASA Mars Rover Spirit Unearths Surprise Evidence of Wetter Past

"This is some of the best evidence Spirit has found for water at Gusev," said Albert Yen, a geochemist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. One possible origin for the silica could have been interaction of soil with acid vapors produced by volcanic activity in the presence of water. Another could have been from water in a hot spring environment. The latest discovery adds compelling new evidence for ancient conditions that might have been favorable for life, according to members of the rover science team. David Des Marais, an astrobiologist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., said, "What's so exciting is that this could tell us about environments that have similarities to places on Earth that are clement for organisms."

Look At This Image

NASA New Horizons Image: Io's Tvashtar Volcano Eruption - in Motion

"This five-frame sequence of New Horizons images captures the giant plume from Io's Tvashtar volcano. Snapped by the probe's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) as the spacecraft flew past Jupiter earlier this year, this first-ever "movie" of an Io plume clearly shows motion in the cloud of volcanic debris, which extends 330 kilometers (200 miles) above the moon's surface. Only the upper part of the plume is visible from this vantage point - the plume's source is 130 kilometers (80 miles) below the edge of Io's disk, on the far side of the moon."

Mexican Sinkhole May Lead NASA to Jupiter, Washington Ppst

"For the next two weeks, the fully autonomous robot, which bears an uncanny resemblance to a Volkswagen Beetle, will plumb the previously inaccessible microbial mysteries of the sinkhole -- or "cenote" -- El Zacatn.
Relying on an eclectic team of scuba divers, engineers, biologists and geochemists, NASA is hoping the mission will be the first leg on its journey to Europa."

NASA's robotic sub readies for dive into Earth's deepest sinkhole, Carnegie Mellon University
Prototype Space Probe Prepares To Explore Earths Deepest Sinkhole, University of Texas-Austin

Here's Looking at You, Universe, Washington Post

"What if [Webb Space Telescope] doesn't unfold? Isn't that too far away to fix? Ed Weiler, head of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, revealed the surprising answer at a news conference next to the mock-up: Astronauts might actually make the million-mile hike to service the telescope. Perhaps that's the future of the space program: Astronauts going into outer space not to plant flags and leave footprints and hit golf balls in low gravity and whatnot, but to service the expensive hardware that a space-faring and curious civilization requires."

B612 Foundation Posts Entire NASA NEO Report, earlier post

Editor's note: According to NASA sources, the reason why the longer report was not formally released (in electronic form) as to do with the mundane realities of government rules and dealing with Congress - not anything having to do with the actual content of the report.

When work on this report began, NASA's intent was focused on a large, several hundred page treatise on the topic. When inital versions of this report began to be circulated, NASA Legislative Affairs got hold of a copy and raised a flag saying that the report was too voluminous and that Congress would not know what to do with it. After some internal discussion, direction was given from the 9th floor that work on this large document be halted, and that preparation of a smaller, more condensed version (which was eventually released) be pursued.

But wait, there's more. In order to publish an electronic verison of this report, it (like all other government documents online) must be Section 508 compliant - i.e. accessible to the visually impaired. There are some charts and graphics inside this report that would be very difficult - if not - impossible to convert into 508 compliant versions (according to NASA). As such, the longer (earlier) report continued to circulate in print form only well after the shorter version was publicly released in electronic form. A scanned version of this printed version is what B612 has published on their ebsite.

This situation will soon change since there is one notable loophole to the 508 requirements: they do not apply to FOIA requests. The FAS (and others) have requested copies of this report and all annexes, etc. When mulitple FOIA requests are made, electronic versions are eventually posted on NASA's FOIA site. I am told to expect seeing an electronic copy of the final version of all materals produced in the near future posted on

I must add that although this 'excuse' may seem trivial, 508 compliance (a good thing in my personal opinion) can be a rather difficult thing to achieve on occassion when it comes to putting things online.

Comments? Send them to Your Comments thus far:

First Map of an Extrasolar Planet , Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"For the first time, astronomers have created a rough map of a planet orbiting a distant sun-like star, employing a technique that may one day enable mapping of Earth-like worlds. Since the planet just charted is a gas giant and lacks a solid surface, the map shows cloud-top features. Using the Spitzer infrared space telescope, astronomers detected a bright hot spot that is offset from "high noon," where heating is greatest."

Statement of Alan Stern

"Within each science area, the challenge is to find the proper balance among large, medium and small missions, research and analysis in all its forms, data analysis, and technology development. At the Directorate level, as I previously highlighted, I have charted an Office of the Chief Scientist and appointed Dr. John Mather to lead that office in making recommendations for the best way to balance priorities with in and among each of our four portfolio areas."

Statement of Lennard Fisk

"We need to consider NASA as an agency with many important tasks to perform. It is not just the agency that is to return us to the Moon, and all else is a secondary priority. Space is integral to the fabric of our society. We depend on it in our daily lives; we protect our nation through our space assets; we use space to learn about our future; we enrich our society with knowledge of our place in the cosmos; we are moving our civilization into space; we expect the next generation of scientists and engineers to be versatile in the utilization and exploration of space. NASA has an essential role to play in each and every one of these national pursuits, and its role in each pursuit needs to be properly funded."

Statement of Joseph Burns
Statement of Daniel Baker
Statement of Garth Illingworth

Opening Statement by Rep. Udall: NASA's Space Science Programs: Review of Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Request and ISS

"As can be seen by the title of today's hearing, we are going to focus on a subset of NASA's science activities, namely its astrophysics, planetary science, and heliophysics programs. Obviously, NASA's Earth Science program is an important element of NASA's overall science program, but it will be the focus of a separate hearing that will expand on the full committee hearing we held earlier this year. In addition, while not currently part of the Science Mission Directorate, NASA's life and microgravity research programs are also important research endeavors that will be scrutinized by this Subcommittee in the coming months, particularly in light of the deep-and many would say unwise-cuts that NASA has made to those programs."



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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from May 2007.

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