March 20 News Items

Cassini Spacecraft Finds Ocean May Exist Beneath Titan's Crust (Source: NASA)
Using radar measurements of Titan's rotation, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has discovered evidence that points to the existence of an underground ocean of water and ammonia on Saturn's moon. "With its organic dunes, lakes, channels and mountains, Titan has one of the most varied, active and Earth-like surfaces in the solar system," said Ralph Lorenz, a Cassini radar scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, "Now we see changes in the way Titan rotates, giving us a window into Titan's interior beneath the surface." (3/20)

USRA Symposium to Focus on University Issues for NASA Reauthorization on March 28 (Source: USRA)
The Universities Space Research Association (USRA), an association of 101 Ph.D. granting institutions, will hold its annual National meeting in Washington March 28th. Highlight of the meeting is a public symposium on The Space Workforce: A Shared Dependency. The symposium is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. For more information about the symposium, please contact USRA at 410-730-2656. (3/20)

NASA Mission Finds New Clues to Guide Search for Life (and Food Seasoning) on Mars (Source: NASA)
NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter has found evidence of salt deposits. These deposits point to places where water once was abundant and where evidence might exist of possible Martian life from the Red Planet's past. A team led by Mikki Osterloo of the University of Hawaii, found approximately 200 places on southern Mars that show spectral characteristics consistent with chloride minerals. Chloride is part of many types of salt, such as sodium chloride or table salt. The sites range from about half of a square mile to 25 times that size. "The sites are disconnected, so they are unlikely to be the remnants of a global ocean." Scientists used Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System, a camera designed and operated by Arizona State University, Tempe, to take images in a range of visible light and infrared wavelengths. (3/20)

Air Force Pays $4M for Ride on SpaceX Falcon 1 (Source: Florida Today)
Internet tycoon Elon Musk has landed another payload for his third rocket launch, even though SpaceX's first two rockets failed to reach orbit. The Air Force will pay $4 million to "ride along" on the third SpaceX launch in June from Kwajalein Atoll in the Central Pacific. The first Falcon 1 rocket caught fire after launch, while the second spun out of control after the second stage fired. The "ride along" is part of an Air Force experiment to "to rapidly integrate and execute a mission, from initial call-up to launch." SpaceX believes it has solved the problem that caused fuel in the second stage to slosh and force the vehicle off course. (3/20)

SpaceLand Opens Space Training Camp on Olympic Alps (Source: SpaceLand)
The world's first Lunar-Gravity, Zero-Gravity Flight Training Alpine Camp officially opened by SpaceLand at 2000 meter elevation on the Olympic Alps of Piemonte. Journalists from all over Europe were brought last week to the SpaceLand Camp by Discovery Channel Europe to familiarize with aerospace underwater & psycho-physical basic training as well as functional simulations of manned space missions paving the way to SpaceLand low gravity and weightless research and educational flights at Kennedy Space Center planned for the upcoming months. Visit for information. (3/20)

Radiation-Eating Chernobyl Fungus, More Space Food? (Source: Doug's Darkworld)
Last year there was an exciting biological discovery inside the tomb of the Chernobyl reactor. A robot sent into the reactor discovered a thick coat of black slime growing on the walls. Since it is highly radioactive in there, scientists didn’t expect to find anything living, let alone thriving. This slime, a collection of several fungi actually, was more than just surviving in a radioactive environment, it was actually using gamma radiation as a food source. Samples of these fungi grew significantly faster when exposed to gamma radiation at 500 times the normal background radiation level. The fungi appear to use melanin, a chemical found in human skin as well, in the same fashion as plants use chlorophyll. That is to say, the melanin molecule gets struck by a gamma ray and its chemistry is altered. This is an amazing discovery, no one had even suspected that something like this was possible.

This discovery leads to some interesting speculation and potential research. Humans have melanin molecules in their skin cells, does this mean that humans are getting some of their energy from radiation? This also implies there could be organisms living in space where ionizing radiation is plentiful. Possibly this could also be used to create plants or mushrooms that could grow in space, serving as a food source for space travelers. Maybe these fungi could be modified and used somehow to clean up radiation contaminated environments. (2007)

Sea Launch Zenit-3SL Launches HDTV Satellite (Source:
A Sea Launch rocket success launched a new DIRECTV satellite designed to provide HDTV programming to customers in the US. The Russian/Ukrainian Zenit-3SL lifted off from the Odyssey launch platform on the Equator in the Pacific Ocean and placed the DIRECTV 11 satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit. The satellite will provide high-definition TV services to viewers in the US. The launch is the second of six planned for Sea Launch in 2008, with up to three additional Land Launch missions, using a variant of the Zenit-3 launched from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan, are scheduled as well. (3/20)

Japanese Space Food a Hit in Orbit (Source:
When visiting someone's house - even in space - bring food. That was Japanese astronaut Takao Doi's motto and his country's orbital eats are apparently a hit aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Doi packed three types of Japanese noodles, some salmon and steamed rice for his crewmates aboard the shuttle Endeavour and space station. The 10 astronauts aboard the station and shuttle sat down together for a joint meal early Wednesday, where they sampled Doi's Japanese treats. (3/20)

Veteran Shuttle Astronauts Selected for 2008 Hall of Fame Induction (Source: KSCVC)
John E. Blaha, Robert D. Cabana, Bryan D. O’Connor and Loren J. Shriver will join an elite group of American space heroes as they are inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame during a public ceremony at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on May 3. They will be welcomed to the ranks of legendary space pioneers like Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Jim Lovell, Sally Ride and John Young|–|distinguished members of this unique Hall of Fame. They will bring the number of space explorers enshrined in the Astronaut Hall of Fame to 70. (3/20)

Pulav, Dessert on Moon Mission Menu (Source: Times of India)
Would it be 'Bon Voyage' or 'Bon Appetite'? The answer is both, if the mouth-watering menu for astronauts of India's manned Moon mission planned for next decade is any indication. Mysore's Defense Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) is applying its mind 10 years ahead on the food that the space travellers should carry. Pulav and chapatti top a tentative menu, which also has soups, fruit juices and desserts. There will also be more mood-elevating food. And if there is a refrigerator inside Chandrayan II, the space vehicle, even ice creams are no problem. Due to the extreme conditions, the food taken to space has to be of high micro-biological quality. "The packaging should suit gravitational conditions. Most importantly, it has to be tasty and nutritious." (3/20)

Americans in Orbit-50 Years Inc., Announces Astronaut Selection! (Source: PR Newswire)
Americans in Orbit-50 Years was founded to commemorate the first U.S. manned orbital space flight and to establish a national education outreach program. For decades, American universities had access to space in order to conduct space science experiments and allow future engineers valuable hands-on experience. This access to space has dwindled over the last few years to virtually zero. Americans in Orbit-50 Years, is proceeding with plans to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Friendship 7 mission with "America's Launch". We plan to launch two astronauts, and up to 10,000 lbs. of space science experiments in Feb. 2012. After the initial launch, we plan to launch on a regular basis so engineering students will continue to have the opportunity to work on space science experiments and small satellites.

In partnership with the National Space Science Education Program, the project will not be limited to universities. There will also be programs for high school and elementary students. Two (2) astronauts have now been selected as the primary crew for the mission: Dr. Howard Chipman (Commander) and Veronique Koken (Second-in-Command). Dr. Chipman, an experienced pilot, has participated in cosmonaut training in Russia. Co-Pilot Koken's background includes aeronautics, physics, and education. She is currently flight training with Commander Chipman in the L-39 jet. Final decisions have been made on the construction of the spacecraft. A U.S. aerospace company will be selected to build both the manned capsule and the Space Science Module (SSM). The latest proven technology will be incorporated into the design to enhance safety. Visit for information. (3/20)

Space Adventures Buys Zero-G (Source: Space News)
Space tourists came closer to a one-stop shop as Space Adventures announced its Jan. 1 purchase of Zero Gravity Corp. The acquisition cements Space Adventures' control of Zero-G, in which it had been a substantial investor, according to Eric Anderson, president and chief executive officer of Space Adventures. Terms of the sale were not disclosed. "Bringing the companies together allows us to provide a range of exclusive commercial spaceflight services from parabolic flights to orbital missions," said Peter Diamandis, Zero-G's chief executive officer. Diamandis, who also co-founded Space Adventures, will remain as Zero-G's chief executive and becomes a managing director of Space Adventures. Byron Lichtenberg, former NASA astronaut, continues as Zero-G's chief technology officer. Zero--G has carried more than 5,000 customers on more than 175 flights since 2004. The company won a research and training contract from NASA in January worth as much as $25 million. (3/19)

Methane Detected on Distant Planet (Source: AP)
The Hubble Space Telescope has found methane in the atmosphere of a distant planet — the same planet where water was found last year. Such discoveries could aid efforts to find life on planets outside our solar system, scientists said. The organic molecule was detected in the atmosphere of a Jupiter-sized planet that circles a star 63 light-years away in the constellation Vulpecula. The planet, HD 189733b, is too close to a nearby star to support life as we know it. But researchers said the observations show the astronomers' technique for detecting essential life ingredients can be used on cooler, potentially habitable Earth-sized planets. (3/19)

Globalstar Plans $700M Stock Offering (Source: Reuters)
Globalstar, a provider of mobile voice and data communications services via satellite, may periodically sell up to $700 million in debt securities, common and preferred stock, warrants and depositary shares. The company said it intends to use a part of the net proceeds to meet capital expenditures relating to procuring and deploying second-generation satellite constellation and related ground facilities. (3/19)

Proposed Space Food Suffers From 'Smell Problem' (Source: New Scientist)
If you'd like to travel to Mars someday, make sure you have a strong stomach. The latest diet proposed for Martian astronauts includes a plant called mosquito fern, which apparently has a pungent and not entirely pleasant odor. The variety of foods available to humans trying to eke out an existence on Mars would naturally be limited. The plants and animals brought along for food would have to be carefully chosen in order to maximize nutrition while using the smallest amount of resources possible.

With that in mind, researchers have previously proposed that Martian diets include cookies made from silkworm pupae. Taste is a very subjective thing and plenty of people happily eat silkworm pupae on a regular basis here on Earth. The same cannot be said of the malodorous mosquito fern. It is rich in nutrients like potassium and phosphorous. As an added benefit, symbiotic bacteria that grow with Azolla take nitrogen from the air, making important nitrogen-containing nutrients needed by other food crops like rice. While the taste of Azolla may be okay, its odoriferous properties leave something to be desired. (3/19)

U.S. Space Tourist to Give Lessons from ISS (Source: RIA Novosti)
The U.S. space tourist Richard Garriott, scheduled to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) this fall, intends to give lessons from orbit. "He [Garriott] plans to conduct a series of interactive webcasts associated with his spaceflight training in Russia, conduct podcasts discussing activities related to both his training and spaceflight..., and perform experiments that can be replicated by students using everyday objects to demonstrate important concepts in physics," his website said. U.S. games developer Garriott, 46, the son of former NASA astronaut Owen K. Garriott, and another would-be space tourist Nik Halik, 38, an Australian entrepreneur, are already undergoing physical training and studying Russian in preparation for their trip. (3/19)

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