Thursday, March 31, 2011

Salt-Seeking Spacecraft Arrives At Launch Site NASA Instrument Will Measure Ocean Surface Salinity

Steve Cole
Headquarters, Washington                                   
Alan Buis
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

WASHINGTON -- An international spacecraft that will take NASA's first space-based measurements of ocean surface salinity has arrived at its launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The Aquarius/SAC-D mission will provide scientists with a key missing variable in satellite observations of Earth that links ocean circulation, the global balance of freshwater, and climate.

The Aquarius/SAC-D spacecraft left Sáo José dos Campos, Brazil on March 29. Following final tests, the spacecraft will be attached to a Delta II rocket for a June 9 launch.

The mission is a collaboration between NASA and Argentina's space agency, Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE), with participation from Brazil, Canada, France and Italy. Aquarius, the NASA-built primary instrument on CONAE's SAC-D spacecraft, will map global changes in the concentration of dissolved salt at the ocean surface. Measuring salinity is important to understanding how changes in rainfall, evaporation and the melting or freezing of ice influence ocean circulation and are linked to climate changes. The three-year mission will provide new insights into how variations in ocean surface salinity relate to these fundamental climate processes.

"Just as salt is essential to life as we know it, salinity is crucial to Earth’s climate system," said Aquarius principal investigator Gary Lagerloef of Earth and Space Research in Seattle. "Very small changes in salinity can have large-scale effects on ocean circulation and the way the ocean moderates our climate. These changes are linked to the movement of water between the ocean, atmosphere and cryosphere."

Aquarius will greatly enhance the quantity of ocean salinity measurements that have been collected from ships, buoys and floats.

"When combined with data from other sensors that measure sea level, ocean color, temperature, winds, rainfall and evaporation, Aquarius' continuous, global salinity data will give scientists a much clearer picture of how the ocean works, how it is linked to climate and how it may respond to climate change," Lagerloef said.

Precise salinity measurements from Aquarius will reveal changes in patterns of global precipitation and evaporation, and show how these affect ocean circulation. Studies from Aquarius eventually will improve computer models used to forecast future climate conditions, including short-term climate events such as El Nino and La Nina.

"The mission continues a long and successful partnership between NASA and CONAE, and it will provide a new type of ocean observation for ocean and climate studies," said Amit Sen, Aquarius project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Aquarius will measure ocean surface salinity by sensing thermal microwave emissions from the water's surface with a radiometer. When other environmental factors are equal, these emissions indicate how salty the surface water is. Because salinity levels in the open ocean vary by only about five parts per thousand, Aquarius employs new technologies to detect changes in salinity as small as about two parts per 10,000, equivalent to about one-eighth of a teaspoon of salt in a gallon of water.

Flying in a 408-mile high, polar orbit, Aquarius/SAC-D will map the global ocean once every seven days. Its measurements will be merged to yield monthly estimates of ocean surface salinity with a spatial resolution of 93 miles. The data will reveal how salinity changes over time and from one part of the ocean to another.

Aquarius is a NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder Program mission. The Aquarius instrument was jointly built by JPL and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. NASA’s Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is managing the launch. JPL will manage Aquarius through the mission’s commissioning phase and archive mission data. Goddard will manage the mission’s operations phase and process Aquarius science data.

CONAE is providing the SAC-D spacecraft, an optical camera, a thermal camera in collaboration with Canada, a microwave radiometer, sensors developed by various Argentine institutions, and the mission operations center in Argentina. France and Italy also are contributing instruments.

For more information on Aquarius, visit and

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NASA Negotiates Six One-Month Options With United Space Alliance

Michael Curie
Headquarters, Washington     
Kyle Herring
Johnson Space Center, Houston                              
HOUSTON -- NASA has incorporated six, one-month content adjustments that provide options for continuation of services to support fly-out of the space shuttle manifest beyond Thursday, March 31. If all options are exercised, this extension to the Space Program Operations Contract with United Space Alliance (USA) of Houston is valued at $436,480,084. NASA plans to exercise four, one-month options to support the current shuttle manifest.

The contract covers work and support for mission design and planning; software development and integration; astronaut and flight controller training; system integration; flight operations; vehicle processing, launch and recovery; vehicle sustaining engineering; flight crew equipment processing; and space shuttle and International Space Station-related support to the Constellation Program. The contract is a cost reimbursement contract, with provisions for award and performance fees.

Work in support of this contract is performed at USA's facilities in Houston; Huntsville, Ala.; NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla.; major subcontractor facilities in Huntington Beach, Calif.; Houston; and Cape Canaveral, Fla. Significant subcontractors include Barrios Technology of Houston; Bastion Technologies Inc. of Houston; Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems of Newtown, Pa.; Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif.; and The Boeing Company of Houston.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit

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NASA Spacecraft Reveal Mysteries Of Jupiter And Saturn Rings

Dwayne C. Brown
Headquarters, Washington                              
Jia-Rui Cook
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
PASADENA, Calif. -- In a celestial forensic exercise, scientists analyzing data from NASA's Cassini, Galileo and New Horizons missions have traced telltale ripples in Saturn and Jupiter's rings to specific collisions with cometary fragments that occurred decades, not millions of years, ago.

Jupiter's ripple-producing culprit was comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. The comet's debris cloud hurtled through the thin Jupiter ring system on a collision course into the planet in July 1994. Scientists attribute Saturn's ripples to a similar object - likely another cloud of comet debris - plunging through the inner rings in 1983. The findings are detailed in two papers published Thursday in the journal Science.

"We're finding evidence that a planet's rings can be affected by specific, traceable events that happened in the last 30 years, rather than a hundred million years ago," said Matthew Hedman, a Cassini imaging team associate, lead author on one of the papers, and a research associate at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "The solar system is a much more dynamic place than we gave it credit for."

Scientists learned about the patchy patterns in Jupiter's rings in the late 1990s from Galileo's visit to Jupiter. Unfortunately, the images from that mission were fuzzy, and scientists didn't understand why such patterns would occur. Not until Cassini entered orbit around Saturn in 2004 and started sending back thousands of images did scientists have a better picture of the activity. A 2007 science paper by Hedman and colleagues first noted corrugations in Saturn's innermost ring, dubbed the D ring.

A group including Hedman and Mark Showalter, a Cassini co-investigator based at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., saw that the grooves in the D ring appeared to wind together more tightly over time. Playing the process backward, Hedman demonstrated the pattern originated when something tilted the D ring off its axis by about 300 feet (100 meters) in late 1983. The scientists found Saturn's gravity on the tilted area warped the ring into a tightening spiral.

Cassini imaging scientists received another clue around August 2009 when the sun shone directly along Saturn's equator and lit the rings edge-on. The unique lighting conditions highlighted ripples not previously seen in another part of the ring system. Whatever happened in 1983 was big - not a small, localized event.

The collision tilted a region more than 12,000 miles (19,000 kilometers) wide, covering part of the D ring and the next outermost ring, called the C ring. Unfortunately, spacecraft were not visiting Saturn at that time, and the planet was on the far side of the sun out of sight from ground or space-based telescopes.

Hedman and Showalter, the lead author on the second paper, wondered whether the long-forgotten pattern in Jupiter's ring system might illuminate the mystery. Using Galileo images from 1996 and 2000, Showalter confirmed a similar winding spiral pattern by applying the same math they had applied to Saturn and factoring in Jupiter's gravitational influence. Galileo was launched on a space shuttle in 1989 and studied Jupiter until 2003.

Unwinding the spiral pinpointed the date when Jupiter's ring was tilted off its axis between June and September 1994. Shoemaker-Levy plunged into the Jovian atmosphere in late July. The Galileo images also revealed a second spiral, which was calculated to have originated in 1990. Images taken by New Horizons in 2007, when the spacecraft flew by Jupiter on its way to Pluto, showed two newer ripple patterns, in addition to the fading echo of the Shoemaker-Levy impact.

"We now know that collisions into the rings are very common – a few times per decade for Jupiter and a few times per century for Saturn," Showalter said. "Now scientists know that the rings record these impacts like grooves in a vinyl record, and we can play back their history later."

Launched in Oct. 15, 1997, Cassini began orbiting Saturn in 2004 and sends back data daily.

"Finding these fingerprints still in the rings is amazing and helps us better understand impact processes in our solar system," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Cassini's long sojourn around Saturn has helped us tease out subtle clues that tell us about the history of our origins."

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. For more information about Cassini, visit

Pluto New Horizons launched in 2006 on the first mission to study Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. The mission is managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., for NASA. The mission is part of the New Frontiers program managed at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. For more information about Pluto New Horizons, visit

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Astronauts in Last Phase of Training for Mission

The six astronauts who will fly space shuttle Endeavour on its last scheduled mission are moving through the last phases of training as launch day nears. The crew is at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida this week for the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test known as TCDT. The work culminates with a dress rehearsal of launch day for the astronauts and the whole launch team. Endeavour, standing on Launch Pad 39A, is set up exactly as it will be for liftoff and the crew takes their assigned seats.

"This is the time when our training meets the processing of the vehicle," Commander Mark Kelly told news media during a news conference this morning. The event took place indoors instead of its traditional setting at the launch pad because of poor weather conditions at Kennedy.

Describing the mission's payload, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, as one of the premiere scientific instruments of the 21st century, Kelly said the 15,000-pound physics experiment has to potential to rewrite humanity's knowledge of the cosmos as it measures cosmic rays from a perch on the International Space Station.

"We're pretty excited about what the results are going to be," Kelly said. "(AMS Physicist and Nobel Laureate Sam Ting) told us that within an hour of attaching to the space station, they're going to start collecting data. AMS could be teaching us things about the universe that are completely unexpected."

Mission Specialist Mike Finke, a veteran station commander and resident, said the crew is ready for the two-week shuttle flight.

"We're a team, we're a family and from what we've seen so far, I don't think there's anything out there we can't handle," Finke said. "When we have our game on, this is an amazing crew."

Celestial Mountains

The Tien Shan mountain range is one of the largest continuous mountain ranges in the world, extending approximately 1,550 miles (2,500 kilometers) roughly east-west across Central Asia. This image taken by the Expedition 27 crew aboard the International Space Station provides a view of the central Tien Shan, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of where the borders of China, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan meet.

The uplift of the Tien Shan, which means celestial mountains in Chinese, like the Himalayas to the south, results from the ongoing collision between the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. The rugged topography of the range is the result of subsequent erosion by water, wind and, in the highest parts of the range, active glaciers.

Two high peaks of the central Tien Shan are identifiable in the image. Xuelian Feng has a summit of 21,414 feet (6,527 meters) above sea level. To the east, the aptly-named Peak 6231 has a summit 6,231 meters, or 20,443 feet, above sea level.

Image Credit: NASA

Crew Meets Media at 8:30 a.m. on NASA TV

Due to storms around NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., this morning's scheduled STS-134 crew media Q&A session at Launch Pad 39A will start 10 minutes earlier than originally planned, at , and will be moved inside to Kennedy's Press Site TV auditorium. The Q&A session still will be carried live on NASA Television.

A strong storm front passed over Kennedy's LC-39 area, including Launch Pad 39A, yesterday at about . Initial reports indicate are the launch pad experienced high wind and potentially small hail in the area near the pad.

Teams will perform a lightning data review and a walk down of the pad, as soon as weather permits, to inspect for any possible damage due to hail and heavy winds.  No one was injured and preliminary reports indicate there was only very minor damage to Endeavour's external fuel tank foam.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Michigan State University Student Helps Create Green Aviation Technology

"Green" research has become a burgeoning field at NASA, and Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., is definitely on board. Scientists, engineers and researchers at Ames conduct a variety of green projects in relation to aviation. “Green is not just a buzzword to us,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at Ames' Green Aviation Summit last September.

This fall, the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP), teamed Daniel Alexander II with NASA mentor Greg Hornby to complete a 15-week hands-on experience at Ames concerning green aviation research. The project was entitled, “Formation Flight for the National Airspace.”

Hornby explained, “To meet government-mandated energy efficiency goals in commercial aviation in the National Airspace (NAS), one proposed approach to improve fuel efficiency whilst simultaneously reducing air traffic complexity is to fly aircraft in formations.”

Alexander added, “I had to recreate a tool that handled aircraft data and used it to calculate air traffic congestion.” He then would “update it so that aircraft’s trajectories could be altered to fly in formation” so he could “see what effects it has on fuel consumption and the aforementioned congestion.”

Hornby indicated that formation flying reduces drag, which makes for more efficient fuel use. In fact, this project was conceived “to determine how much of the 15 to 20 percent fuel savings in paired formations can be achieved for a NAS-wide implementation of formation flying.”

Before arriving at Ames, the computer science major from Michigan State University did not realize that NASA conducted research outside of aeronautics and space. “I kind of scoffed when my parents said that I would have a job at NASA....Unfortunately, me being here means that I have to succumb to the idea that my parents aren’t completely crazy,” commented Alexander.

Alexander’s prior experience consisted of three internships in the fields of gaming, web development and embedded system programming. So when he came into the field of aviation software development, he likened the experience to “drinking from a fire hose.” He noted, “That resulted in some frustrations, but the end result was well worth the effort. Seeing a project go from concept to design to code to a workable solution is a great feeling.”

Upon graduation, Alexander does not plan to pursue his master’s degree right away. However, he does plan on working in the STEM industry to get a feel for what he wants to specialize in when he does attend graduate school.

“The best part of the project is when it is finally complete,” said Alexander in reference to his USRP internship. “At that point, I can say to myself that I built it and, by some miracle, it actually works.”

Storm Passes Over Shuttle Endeavour, No Initial Injuries or Damaged Reported

A strong storm front passed over NASA Kennedy Space Center’s LC-39 area, including Launch Pad 39A, about . Initial reports are the Florida launch pad experienced high wind and potentially small hail in the area near the pad. No one was injured and initially no obvious damage was observed. The storm moved through the area quickly. Teams will perform a full survey of the pad to confirm there was no damage Thursday morning and verify the exact wind speeds and adverse weather conditions that were seen at the pad. Space shuttle Endeavour’s six astronauts, who are at Kennedy for their launch dress rehearsal and related training known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, still are scheduled to hold a Q-and-A session with media on Launch Pad 39A Thursday morning at The event will be carried live on NASA Television.

Technology Extends Stratcom’s Priorities

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2011 – U.S. Strategic Command’s priority is to deter nuclear attack on the United States and its allies, but broader responsibilities in the 21st century include cybersecurity and missile defense, the organization’s top officer said here yesterday.

Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee for the first time since he assumed command of Stratcom in January.

“Of the threats we face, weapons of mass destruction clearly represent the greatest threat to the American people, particularly when they are pursued or possessed by violent extremists or state proliferators,” Kehler said.

While nuclear deterrence is Stratcom’s No. 1 priority, the general added, the command also has broader responsibilities in the 21st century, such as supporting U.S. Africa Command, he said.

“We provided B-2s early in [Operation Odyssey Dawn] for Africom's use,” Kehler said. “We are also taking steps … to make sure they have the space capabilities they need, to make sure the networks there are operational and have sufficient capacity and are secured.”

Stratcom also has long-term engagement in other regions of the world in support of other combatant commanders, the general added. Such activities, he said, “are primarily synchronizing -- synchronizing planning and capabilities for things like missile defense; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; electronic warfare; and combating weapons of mass destruction.”

Another priority is to improve capabilities and operating concepts in the civil and national security areas of space and cyberspace, he added.

“Space is increasingly contested, congested and competitive,” Kehler said, “and its importance to the United States goes far beyond national security.”

Essential objectives include ensuring uninterrupted access to space and space-based capabilities, improving awareness of objects and activities in space, and enhancing the protection and resilience of critical systems, the general said. Achieving those objectives, he said, demands continued investments to improve space situational awareness and to sustain critical space capabilities while pursuing increased opportunities with allies and commercial partners.

Stratcom and its subunified command U.S. Cyber Command, he said, “are working hard to improve our organizations and relationships, enhance our network situational awareness and protection, increase our technical capacity, and develop the human capital we need as we look to the future.”

Cyber threats include a range of sources, he said, from nuisance hackers and cybercrime to denial of services and potentially destructive activities.

“Our greatest challenge in cyberspace is to improve our ability to operate and defend the DOD network at network speed,” Kehler said, “and to make sure our critical activities can continue, even in the face of adversary attempts to deny or disrupt them.”

In every one of those cases as the roles of government, Defense Department and industry are defined, the top issue is “making sure we've put in place the right relationships, the right roles and responsibilities and in some cases making sure we have the right authorities in place so that we can act at what our cyber experts would call network speed, which is a very tough challenge for us,” Kehler said.

The memorandum of agreement on cyberspace signed in October between the Defense and Homeland Security departments, the general added, is “a very, very good start.” The next steps include improving situational cyber awareness among the combatant commands and into the public domain, he added.

Stratcom also must recruit and retain the best cyber experts and resolve the question of authorities, Kehler said, “so we have properly sorted out this balance between our constitutional protections and our need to act on behalf of the nation, with the appropriate civil authorities in the lead.”

Kehler said the services are helping to bolster cyber recruitment, and he noted that at least one service has put cyber awareness training into place from basic training on up.

“Almost like every Marine is a rifleman [and] every sailor is a firefighter, every service member, certainly every airman, … is going to be a cyber defender,” he said.

Another front for Stratcom, Kehler said, is the phased, adaptive approach for missile defense in Europe. Missile defense for the United States has been based on two major objectives, he said.

“Objective No. 1 has been to make sure that our homeland is protected against a limited ballistic-missile attack from North Korea and to extend that if events warrant and Iran develops similar capacity,” he said.

The second objective that has emerged, Kehler said, has been to ensure Stratcom is responding to rapidly growing regional threats.

The phased, adaptive approach is intended to put resources into the combatant command theaters to bolster the defenses of U.S. troops and allies in such a way that is adaptable to the threat, he said.

“I support that,” he added. “I think that's the right way to go forward.”

NASA Extends Contract For Supercomputing Support Services

Sonja Alexander
Headquarters, Washington
Rachel Hoover
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

WASHINGTON -- NASA will exercise the third one-year option on a contract with Computer Sciences Corp. in Lanham, Md., to provide supercomputing support services at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. The option is valued at approximately $58.6 million.

The option exercised on the cost-plus-award-fee contract begins April 1 and continues until March 31, 2012. The contract consists of a two-year base period, which began Aug. 1, 2007, and eight one-year priced options with a maximum value of approximately $597 million if all options are exercised.

The company will continue to support supercomputing services provided by the agency's primary high performance computing facility operated by the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division at Ames. The facility serves as the supercomputing pathfinder for the agency and develops and operates some of the largest, most advanced and productive supercomputers in the world.

The contract is structured so the company also may provide supercomputing services to the NASA Center for Computational Sciences facility at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and additional high performance computing support to other agency field centers as needed.

For more information about high performance advanced supercomputing at Ames, visit

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Classes Aim to Spark Interest in Science, Technology

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2011 – From robotics engineering to gaming technology, Defense Department school officials are hoping their new, cutting-edge courses will spark a lifelong passion for science and technology in their students.

Under a new science, technology, engineering and math initiative, Department of Defense Education Activity officials will roll out four innovative classes in a limited number of DOD high schools in the fall, with plans for a wider-scale launch to follow if the program proves successful.

The courses are robotics engineering, biotechnology engineering, gaming technology and green technology engineering.

“We want to give our kids the best opportunities possible when they leave our organization,” said Mark Bignell, DODEA’s chief of arts information and careers branch. “At least to say, ‘I have the background and I have the desire to go into one of these fields of study that is of national importance.’”

Bignell said he’s excited to see this initiative come to fruition after a nearly two-year effort. In 2009, a task group brought together teachers, administrators and counselors from throughout DODEA to revitalize 60 courses. They determined that to make students more competitive in this job market, officials needed to fill a large gap.

“This was the entire STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] collection,” he said.

Since that time, STEM education has gained traction in the media through high-profile efforts such as the president’s “Race to the Top” initiative, Bignell noted. Officials also have come forward and called the lack of potential candidates a national emergency. Yet, the fastest growing occupations through 2018 are engineering and computer and technology professions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We need to put more kids in STEM fields,” Bignell said. “We’re not keeping up with engineers and scientists, as they are in other competitive countries.”

One of the main goals of DODEA’s STEM initiative is to give underserved populations and females more opportunities to get involved in these types of courses, Bignell said, noting this mirrors a national goal.

“You have to start very early,” he said. “Data show that if you haven’t reached a girl in the 6th grade in science, you’ve lost her; she’s not going to have the interest.”

Bignell said DODEA’s STEM initiative will be a truly collaborative effort, causing teachers to reach beyond classroom walls to draw from expert knowledge within the military community.

“The whole philosophy behind a proper STEM education is an integrated approach,” he said. “We have a military community with members who are experts in every one of these fields on practically every one of our bases.”

Teachers also will draw on one another’s knowledge to help, he noted. For example, a biotechnology engineering teacher in Quantico, Va., and a teacher in Vicenza, Italy, already have established a working relationship through avenues such as email and an electronic blackboard, he said. The Quantico-based teacher has a background in professional technical studies, but is lacking the biology knowledge that the Vicenza-based teacher can provide.

“We’re expecting teachers to integrate and do some true team teaching -– even if it’s across the ocean,” Bignell said.

“This is very forward-thinking methodology,” he added. “We’re really trying to break down walls and get people to understand that communities are the ones that are going to make this program successful, and it can’t be done when confined to classroom alone.”

Courses also will remain as flexible as possible to enable teachers to tackle topics that may not be within their immediate realm, Bignell said, citing the biotechnology course as an example. The course can be taught by a math, biology, career technical or science teacher, he explained.

Course content also remains flexible, he noted. For example, rather than dictate the games to create, gaming technology course teachers have the flexibility to decide which game, whether math or problem solving, will best equip their students with 21st-century skills.

“Obviously, it won’t just be kids having war games with each other,” he said.

Course flexibility also enables students to follow different pathways or career clusters, Bignell said. Some students, for example, can choose a hands-on track while others can take on more of an academic approach, setting their sights on college readiness or a medical career field.

While this initiative is designed for high school students, Bignell said, the long-term goal is to stretch the preparation for this type of course work down to pre-kindergarten students.

“The way we would do that is by allowing our kids the opportunity in the future to have a different kind of rigorous instruction where they work more with a problem-based education,” he said. “We have to train students to have that kind of flexibility where they can adapt to different, changing situations.

“We are going to be experimenting with contemporary methodologies that we believe have to be implemented in order to give our kids chances of success in the 21st century,” he added.

Bignell said he hopes DODEA’s example will spread to public schools and positively affect military children attending school there. The majority of military youth, he noted, attend public schools.

“Education has to change,” he said. “And the way we educate kids has to change. We’re hoping to be a leader and a model if someone chooses to look.”

Based partially on the available talent pool, officials will chose 11 schools worldwide to initially test the program, Bignell said. The following courses will be available at the high schools listed:

-- Robotics engineering: Lakenheath High School in England, Wiesbaden High School in Germany and Kinnick High School in Japan;

-- Biotechnology engineering: Vicenza High School in Italy and Quantico High School in Virginia;

-- Gaming technology: Kinnick High School, Daegu High School in South Korea and Aviano High School in Italy;

-- Green technology: Kubasaki High School in Japan, Baumholder High School in Germany and Fort Campbell High School in Kentucky.

“We really have to do something, and I’m really proud we’re stepping up to the plate,” Bignell said.

Unlocking Research on Nuclear and Radiological Threats

By John Ohab

This blog post was shared with us by the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense Information Analysis Center (CBRNIAC).

The Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) history of the United States exists in sealed documents and gated buildings. Part of The Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense Information Analysis Center’s (CBRNIAC) goal is cataloging historical CBRN research for future use. Although most people are not familiar with the exact studies that occur at CBRN labs, you may be familiar with some of the sites.

Einstein buffs may be aware of the famed Trinity site, home to the first nuclear explosion. Other sites, like the One-Million-Liter Test Sphere, played a major role in biodefense experimentation during the Cold War. Or perhaps you’re familiar with the Air Force Weapons Lab Transmission Line Aircraft Simulator, which was used to test aircraft against electromagnetic pulses to simulate nuclear detonations.

CBRNIAC takes studies, conducted at sites similar to these, and catalogues the work to increase its accessibility across the DoD and government agencies. We are one of ten IACs that work with the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC). Like the other IACs, we track and analyze research that has been conducted specific to our technical focus area (for us, CBRN defense); our staff of subject matter experts makes this research accessible to those who may not have the time to sift through the mountains of data themselves, and is available to provide answers to specific questions.

This capability is particularly important when world events necessitate a quick response to a complex problem. The current situation in Japan is one example. CBRNIAC has developed a diverse collection of data on radiological threats, including our own original research as well as studies conducted by others with expertise across government, industry, and academia. DoD and government agencies interested in past CBRN research have access to the reports directly through DTIC, or can call our experts for assistance. If applicable studies cannot be found, we have the capability to perform new research ourselves. Agencies may be interested in viewing studies on the radioactive nuclear fallout on ships, methods to properly measure radioactive fallout in the air, and testing on protective equipment used in nuclear facilities.

The Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense Information Analysis Center (CBRNIAC) is one of ten Information Analysis Centers (IACs) chartered by DOD and managed by the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC). CBRNIAC is the DOD Center of Excellence responsible for acquiring, archiving, analyzing, synthesizing, and disseminating scientific and technical information related to Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defense.

NASA Satellites Eyeing 4 Tropical Systems Around the World For Possible Development

There are four low pressure areas in the tropics today that NASA satellites are all keeping an eye on for possible development. They are Systems 90S, 91S and 99S in the Southern Pacific, and System 93B in the Northern Indian Ocean. Despite a poor chance for development in all of them, one has triggered warnings in northern Australia because of its proximity to land.

NASA and the Japanese Space Agency manage the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission or TRMM satellite and TRMM passed over two of those four systems today. TRMM captured light to moderate rainfall in the low pressure area called "System 90S" on March 30 at . Rainfall rates were between 5 and 20 millimeters (0.2 and 0.8 inches) per hour within the storm. System 90S is located 500 miles north-northwest of Port Hedland, Australia, near 12.0 South latitude and 116.0 East longitude.

Infrared satellite imagery from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite revealed that the low has consolidated during the morning hours, while the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer-E instrument showed deep convection on the north and south sides of the center of circulation. Despite these developments atmospheric dynamics are not currently favorable, so the Joint Typhoon Warning Center currently gives this low a poor chance for development.

The second tropical low pressure area NASA satellites are watching is also 500 miles away from land, and that's System 99S. System 99S is 500 miles north of the Cocos Islands today, near 9.8 South and 99.4 East. The TRMM satellite measured rainfall rates between 5 and 20 millimeters (0.2 and 0.8 inches) per hour within the System 99S early today. The AIRS infrared imagery captured from NASA's Aqua satellite shows that areas of deep convection exist on all sides of the low pressure center, but it's not uniform. Vertical wind shear is currently light and sea surface temperatures are warm enough to support development, however, the chance that it will develop into a tropical storm in the next 24 hours is poor. As the week progresses, perhaps the chance will improve with the environmental conditions.

The third tropical low pressure area isn't a tropical storm but it has triggered a watch for Australia's Northern Territories. Because of System 91S' location, about 200 miles northeast of Darwin, Australia (near 10.0 South and 133.1 East), a tropical cyclone Watch has been issued for the coastal communities between Cape Hotham, Port Keats, including Darwin and the Tiwi Islands. The Tiwi Islands include Melville and Bathurst Islands and are part of Australia's Northern Territory, 25 miles (40 km) north of Darwin where the Arafura Sea joins the Timor Sea. In addition, a Strong Wind Warning has been issued from Milingimbi to Troughton Island.

System 91S is expected to move in a southwesterly direction over the next several days and track over Snake Bay, Mellville Island and Cape Fourcroy, Bathurst Island.

NASA AIRS infrared imagery revealed today that the convection (rapidly rising air that produces the thunderstorms that power a tropical cyclone) are intensifying and expanding around System 91S' center. The convection, however appears disorganized in the low and the maximum sustained winds are between 15 and 20 knots (17-23 mph/27-37 kmh). The chance for development into a tropical storm in the next 24 hours remains poor, but the areas under the watch may feel System 91S' rains and some gusty winds.

The fourth area is in the northern hemisphere and in a different ocean. Tropical low 93B is located in the Northern Indian Ocean. Last night it was only 50 miles north of Phuket, Thailand near 9.0 North latitude and 98.7 East longitude. However, today, infrared satellite imagery from NASA's AIRS instrument showed that the low level circulation center has drifted inland. When a low is inland, its center of circulation is cut off from the warm waters that power the tropical cyclone. Because of weak steering winds, however, the low may move back seaward and redevelop in the warm waters offshore.

Currently the system's maximum sustained winds are between 15 and 20 knots (17-23 mph/27-37 kmh). The chance for development into a tropical storm in the next 24 hours remains poor, but coastal Thailand are already experiencing rains and some gusty winds from System 93B.

NASA's TRMM and Aqua satellites continue to provide data to forecasters who are keeping a watchful eye on all of these tropical low pressure areas.

Text Credit: Rob Gutro, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

NASA Offers Schools And Education Groups Chance To Talk To Space

Ann Marie Trotta
Headquarters, Washington                               
Rachel Kraft
Johnson Space Center, Houston                                   

HOUSTON -- NASA is offering opportunities for schools and educational groups to speak with astronauts aboard the International Space Station to learn about the challenges and rewards of their work. Members of Expedition 29 and 30, the 29th and 30th crews to live on the station, will be available for question-and-answer sessions from September through March 2012.

NASA astronauts Mike Fossum of McAllen, Texas, Dan Burbank of Yarmouthport, Mass., and Don Pettit of Silverton, Ore, will participate in the 20-minute question-and-answer sessions, known as in-flight downlinks.

"These discussions are unique opportunities for students to learn first-hand from astronauts aboard the station what it is like to live and work in space," said Cindy McArthur, Teaching From Space (TFS) project manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "It is inspiring to see science come alive for the students."

The downlinks are modified videoconferences where participants see and hear crew live from space, but the crew only has audio connectivity. U.S. educational organizations such as museums, science centers, local school districts, national and regional education organizations and local, state and federal government agencies are eligible to participate. NASA provides this opportunity through TFS at no cost to the host organization and will work with the host institution to plan the downlink.

Interested parties should contact TFS at for information about technical requirements, expectations, content, format, and audience, and proposal guidelines and forms. Proposals must be submitted electronically and are due April 29.

The downlinks are broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency's website. Due to the nature of human spaceflight, organizations must demonstrate the flexibility to accommodate changes in downlink dates and times. Participating organizations also must have two dedicated phone lines and the capability to receive NASA TV via NASA’s Live Interactive Media Outlet Channel to view and communicate with the crew. The channel is a digital satellite C-band downlink by uplink provider Americom. It is on satellite AMC 6, transponder 5C, located at 72 degrees west, downlink frequency 3785.5 Mhz based on a standard C-band 5150 Mhz L.O., vertical polarity, FEO is 3/4, data rate is 6.00 Mhz, symbol rate is 4.3404 Mbaud, transmission DVB, minimum Eb/N0 is 6.0 dB.

For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and schedule information, visit

For more information about Teaching From Space, visit

For more information about the International Space Station and the Expedition 29 and 30 crews, visit

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Launch Training in Full Swing at Kennedy

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, space shuttle Endeavour's six astronauts and ground crews will begin training related to the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT) today. The STS-134 crew will practice driving the M113, an armored personnel carrier.

Technicians at Launch Pad 39A will continue closing out the spacecraft's aft section.

The next media event will be a Q and A at Launch Pad 39A on March 31 at . The event will be aired on NASA TV (

Launch of Endeavour on the STS-134 mission to the International Space Station is targeted for April 19.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

NASA Astronaut Doug Wheelock Wins Social Media Shorty Award

Stephanie Schierholz
Headquarters, Washington                                   

Wheelock photo "Moon from Space" chosen for Real-Time Photo of the Year

WASHINGTON -- NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock was honored with a Shorty Award for an image of the moon he took and posted to his Twitter account, @Astro_Wheels, while living aboard the International Space Station last year. The awards ceremony was held at the TimesCenter in New York City on Monday, March 28.

The Shorty Awards honor the people and organizations producing short-form, real-time social media content. Winners are determined by a combination of popular vote and members of the Real-Time Academy of Short Form Arts & Sciences.

Wheelock's "Moon from Space" image was selected as the best Real-Time Photo of the Year. The image is available at

"The dream of space exploration belongs to everyone, and I am grateful I can play even a small role in connecting people to the universe," said Wheelock. "At NASA we are in the business of making seemingly impossible dreams come true every day. We want to captivate, inspire, and energize the next generation of scientists, engineers, and space explorers."

NASA's Twitter account @NASA and another tweeting astronaut, Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency, were finalists in the Shorty's Science category. Nespoli, who is currently aboard the space station, sent a video greeting to guests at the ceremony.

In addition, Wheelock's Oct. 22, 2010, "check-in" to the International Space Station on Foursquare was a finalist in two other Shorty categories: Wheelock as Foursquare Mayor of the Year and the International Space Station as Foursquare Location of the Year.

"NASA is very honored that the voting public recognized our efforts to engage with and connect people to their space program using social media," said Stephanie Schierholz, social media manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

To follow Wheelock's updates on Twitter, visit

To find all the ways you can connect and collaborate with NASA, and for more information about NASA's partnership with Foursquare and Wheelock's out-of-this-world check-in, visit

For more information about the Shorty Awards, visit

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STS-134 Crew at Kennedy for TCDT

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, space shuttle Endeavour's crew has arrived and are ready to participate in the countdown dress rehearsal for the STS-134 mission to the International Space Station.

STS-134 Crew Begin TCDT at Kennedy

Space shuttle Endeavour's six astronauts arrived at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility in four T-38 jets between and . The crew is at Kennedy for their week-long launch dress rehearsal, called the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test or TCDT.

TCDT will provide Endeavour's astronauts and ground crews with an opportunity to participate in various simulated countdown activities, including equipment familiarization and emergency training.

Later today STS-134 Commander Mark Kelly and Pilot Greg H. Johnson, will practice shuttle landings in shuttle training aircraft.

The next media event will be a Q and A at Launch Pad 39A on March 31 at . EDT. The event will be aired on NASA TV (

First Image Ever Obtained from Mercury Orbit

At on Mar. 29, 2011, MESSENGER captured this historic image of Mercury. This image is the first ever obtained from a spacecraft in orbit about the Solar System's innermost planet. Over the subsequent six hours, MESSENGER acquired an additional 363 images before downlinking some of the data to Earth. The MESSENGER team is currently looking over the newly returned data, which are still continuing to come down.

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Want $20K? Design a System for Sensing People at a Distance

By John Ohab

Interested in winning money for solving some of the U.S. Air Force’s toughest challenges?

The U.S. Air Force Research Lab and the Wright Brothers Institute have launched the Open Innovation Pavilion, an online innovation marketplace where more than a quarter million of the world’s brightest minds solve tough problems for cash awards. This week, we’ll run through each of the ongoing challenges, which feature more than $100,000 in prizes. Hey, count me in!

First up: Remote Human Demographic Characterization.

The Air Force Research Lab is offering up to $20,000 for a system that can determine approximate age (adult, teen, child) and gender of small groups of people at a distance. You, the Solver, will propose a system and make suggestions for a potential hardware configuration that meets the requirements and justify it with arguments and relevant references. Evidence that the proposed system will work (from previous applications, existing data, literature, etc.) will be very important. The proposal will be evaluated on a theoretical basis considering the current state of the art knowledge.

This challenge requires a written proposal only. Submit your solutions by May 2, 2011. Are you up to the Challenge?

Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt Joshua Strang

NASA Awards Earth And Space Science Studies Cooperative Agreement

Steve Cole
Headquarters, Washington                              
Cynthia M. O'Carroll
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
GREENBELT, Md. -- NASA has awarded a cooperative agreement to the University Space Research Association in Columbia, Md., to facilitate experimental, analytical and theoretical research in support of NASA's strategic Earth and space science objectives.

The Goddard Earth Sciences Technology and Research (GESTAR) Studies and Investigations cooperative agreement has a total value of $95.8 million, which will be annually funded up to $20 million. This agreement runs from May 11 through May 10, 2016, with the ability to extend for an additional five years if deemed appropriate.

The research will be conducted by scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and other research institutions that have been assigned to GESTAR. The GESTAR studies and investigations will enhance cooperative relationships among NASA, academia, not-for-profit scientific organizations and government experimental research programs in concert with Goddard's Sciences and Exploration Directorate.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit

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NASA Satellites Detect Extensive Drought Impact on Amazon Forests

A new NASA-funded study has revealed widespread reductions in the greenness of the forests in the vast Amazon basin in South America caused by the record-breaking drought of 2010.

"The greenness levels of Amazonian vegetation -- a measure of its health -- decreased dramatically over an area more than three and one-half times the size of Texas and did not recover to normal levels, even after the drought ended in late October 2010," said Liang Xu, the study's lead author from Boston University.

The drought sensitivity of Amazon rainforests is a subject of intense study. Scientists are concerned because computer models predict that in a changing climate with warmer temperatures and altered rainfall patterns the ensuing moisture stress could cause some of the rainforests to be replaced by grasslands or woody savannas. This would cause the carbon stored in the rotting wood to be released into the atmosphere, which could accelerate global warming. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that similar droughts could be more frequent in the Amazon region in the future.

The comprehensive study was prepared by an international team of scientists using more than a decade's worth of satellite data from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM).

Analysis of these data produced detailed maps showing vegetation greenness declines from the 2010 drought. The study has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

The authors first developed maps of drought-affected areas using thresholds of below-average rainfall as a guide. Next they identified affected vegetation using two different greenness indices as surrogates for green leaf area and physiological functioning. The maps show the 2010 drought reduced the greenness of approximately 965,000 square miles of vegetation in the Amazon -- more than four times the area affected by the last severe drought in 2005.

"The MODIS vegetation greenness data suggest a more widespread, severe and long-lasting impact to Amazonian vegetation than what can be inferred based solely on rainfall data," said Arindam Samanta, a co-lead author from Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc. in Lexington, Mass.

The severity of the 2010 drought was also seen in records of water levels in rivers across the Amazon basin. Water levels started to fall in August 2010, reaching record low levels in late October. Water levels only began to rise with the arrival of rains later that winter.

"Last year was the driest year on record based on 109 years of Rio Negro water level data at the Manaus harbor. For comparison, the lowest level during the so-called once-in-a-century drought in 2005, was only eighth lowest," said Marcos Costa, coauthor from the Federal University in Vicosa, Brazil.

As anecdotal reports of a severe drought began to appear in the news media during the summer of 2010, the authors started near real-time processing of massive amounts of satellite data. They used a new capability, the NASA Earth Exchange (NEX), built for the NASA Advanced Supercomputer facility at the agency's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. NEX is a collaborative supercomputing environment that brings together data, models and computing resources.

With NEX, the study's authors quickly obtained a large-scale view of the impact of the drought on the Amazon forests and were able to complete the analysis by January 2011. Similar reports about the impact of the 2005 drought were published about two years after the fact.

"Timely monitoring of our planet's vegetation with satellites is critical, and with NEX it can be done efficiently to deliver near-real time information, as this study demonstrates," said study coauthor Ramakrishna Nemani, a research scientist at Ames. An article about the NEX project appears in this week's issue of Eos, the weekly newspaper of the American Geophysical Union.

For more information about this study and the NEX project, visit

For more information about the MODIS sensor and data products, visit

For information about the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, visit

Ruth Dasso Marlaire
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Watercolor Canvas

Tassili n’Ajjer National Park, a part of the Sahara Desert, has a bone-dry climate with scant rainfall, yet does not blend in with Saharan dunes. Instead, the rocky plateau rises above the surrounding sand seas. Rich in geologic and human history, Tassili n’Ajjer is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, and covers 27,800 square miles (72,000 square kilometers) in southeastern Algeria.

This image from 2000 was made from multiple observations by the Landsat 7 satellite, using a combination of infrared, near-infrared and visible light to better distinguish between the park’s various rock types. Sand appears in shades of yellow and tan. Granite rocks appear brick red. Blue areas are likely salts. As the patchwork of colors suggests, the geology of Tassili n’Ajjer is complex. The plateau is composed of sandstone around a mass of granite.

Over the course of Earth's history, alternating wet and dry climates have shaped these rocks in multiple ways. Deep ravines are cut into cliff faces along the plateau’s northern margin. The ravines are remnants of ancient rivers that once flowed off the plateau into nearby lakes. Where those lakes once rippled, winds now sculpt the dunes of giant sand seas. In drier periods, winds eroded the sandstones of the plateau into 'stone forests' and natural arches. Not surprisingly, the park’s name means 'plateau of chasms.'

Humans have also modified the park’s rocks. Some 15,000 engravings have so far been identified in Tassili n’Ajjer. From about 10,000 B.C. to the first few centuries A.D., successive populations also left the remains of homes and burial mounds.

Image Credit: NASA

NASA Opens Voting For Original Songs To Awaken Next Shuttle Crew

Joshua Buck
Headquarters, Washington                                         
Kyle Herring
Johnson Space Center, Houston

HOUSTON -- NASA is inviting the public to vote for its favorite original song to wake up space shuttle Commander Mark Kelly and his five crewmates during their STS-134 mission to the International Space Station. Voting runs from Tuesday, March 29 through launch day, which currently is targeted for April 19.

Electronic voting is open to the public on NASA's Space Rock website, which includes the songs, inspiration and biographical information about the 10 finalists

Songwriters and performers from around the world submitted 1,350 songs, including 693 from 47 states, 105 from Canada, and 552 from 61 other countries. The song contest began Aug. 20, 2010 and ended Jan. 31. The finalists were notified on Feb. 18.

Below are the original song finalists (alphabetical by song title):
"Boogie Woogie Shuttle," by Ryan McCullough (Savannah, Ga.)
"Dreams You Give," by Brian Plunkett (Halfway, Mo.)
"Endeavour, It's a Brand New Day," by Susan Rose Simonetti (Cocoa Beach, Fla.)
"I Need My Space," by Stan Clardy (Statesville, N.C.)
"I Want to Be an Astronaut," by Michael J. Kunes (Phoenix)
"Just Another Day in Space," by Kurt Lanham (Jacksonville, Fla.)
"Rocket Scientist," by Tray Eppes (Cullen, Va.)
"Spacing Out," by Jeremy Parsons (Nashville, Tenn.)
"Sunrise Number 1," by Jorge Otero (Ovideo, Spain)
"The Countdown Blues (Hymn for Tim)," by Sharon Riddell (Nashville, Tenn.)

The two songs with the most votes will be the first original songs chosen by the public to be played as wakeup music for a shuttle crew. The STS-134 Original Song Contest ran concurrently with the Top 40 Song Contest for shuttle Discovery's STS-133 mission. The Top 40 Song Contest ended earlier this month.

The song contests join the ongoing "Face in Space" project offering the opportunity to send a picture to space via an electronic transfer. During Discovery's mission, more than 194,000 images flew in space. So far, almost 117,000 images have been submitted to fly aboard shuttle Endeavour’s STS-134 flight. To send your face to space aboard Endeavour, or Atlantis on the STS-135 mission targeted for June, visit

The 14-day mission will be the 36th flight to the space station and the 25th, and final, flight for Endeavour. Pilot Greg H. Johnson and mission specialists Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency will join Kelly.

They will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a particle physics detector designed to search for various types of unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays. The crew also will deliver the Express Logistics Carrier-3, a platform that carries spare parts to sustain station operations once the shuttles are retired later this year.

For more information on the Space Shuttle Program and Endeavour's final mission, visit

For more information about the International Space Station, visit

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