June 28, 2011

Sun and Planets Formed from Different Ingredients (Source: Astronomy Now)
Samples recovered from NASA's ill-fated Genesis mission suggest that the Solar System's inner planets may have formed from different solar nebula materials than those that created the Sun. Genesis flew to the Sun in 2001, collecting fragile solar wind particles for over two years before returning them to Earth in 2004, with the goal of learning about the building blocks that went into planet construction 4.6 billion years ago.

Sadly, the parachute descent system failed on the sample return capsule and the mission crash landed in a desert in Utah, destroying nearly all of its precious cargo. But the mission was far from a failure; samples cocooned inside one instrument – the Solar Wind Concentrator, built by a team at Los Alamos National Laboratory – were recoverable, providing the first direct oxygen and nitrogen isotopic measurements of the Sun, and thus the first measurements of the "fossils" of the original solar nebula.

Oxygen and nitrogen are two of the most abundant elements in the Solar System and have already been measured in meteorite samples from the Moon and Mars that have fallen to Earth, in the lunar soil by Apollo astronauts and in Jupiter’s atmosphere by the Galileo spacecraft. They all show variations in composition to the Earth, begging the question, where did Earth’s oxygen and nitrogen come from? This is where the Genesis results are shedding some light. (6/28)

How the Space Shuttle Was Born (Source: Space.com)
The Space Shuttle is actually pushing 40, since President Nixon officially announced its existence in January 1972. And the shuttle's roots go much deeper than that, stretching all the way back to a 1930s concept vehicle the Nazis hoped could drop bombs on New York City. Click here to read the article. (6/28)

Orbital Minotaur I Launch with ORS-1 Delayed 24 Hours (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
Orbital Sciences Corp. was set to launch a spacecraft for the United States’ Operationally Responsive Space Office on Tuesday evening, prior to a 24 hour scrub being called due to unacceptable weather. The ORS-1 satellite is waiting to be carried into orbit by the tenth flight of a Minotaur I rocket, with lift off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island. (6/28)

100 Years Ago, a Chunk of Mars Hit Egypt (and a Dog) (Source: Discovery)
Exactly a century ago, on June 28, 1911, an explosion shook the Nakhla region of Alexandria in Egypt at 9 a.m. Soon after, around 40 chunks of meteorite debris from the high altitude blast rained down. 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of the bolide were recovered by witnesses of this cosmic event.

The Smithsonian received two samples of the Nakhla meteorite the following August and then acquired a larger 480 gram (one pound) piece in 1962. By the 1970's, the Smithsonian had collected 650 grams (1.4 pounds) of the meteorite. Click here. (6/28)

More Zero-Gravity Flights Available in 2012 (Source: Discovery)
What child has not dreamed of breaking free from gravity's chains and floating, weightless, above Earth's surface? That fantasy, long-since dismissed in the adult mind as a violation of Nature, came true last week for a small group of scientists, French parliamentarians and journalists, flying aboard an Airbus A300, owned by French aeronautics firm Novespace and run by France's National Center for Space Studies (CNES).

Novespace managing director and ex-astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy said he plans to offer commercial flights. Final approval from France's civil aviation authority is pending, and the price tag -- provisionally set at 4,000 euros (U.S. $5,700 dollars) -- has yet to be finalized. But Clervoy envisions half-a-dozen sorties a year with 40 passengers each starting in 2012. (6/28)

Raytheon Starts to Build Missile Facility in Alabama (Source: Huntsville Times)
Raytheon broke ground on a new missile facility in Huntsville, Ala., on Monday. The $70 million facility will be key to the future missile defense plans of the U.S. and Europe. Raytheon will assemble and test components of its missiles at the plant before they are sent to customers such as the U.S. Navy or Missile Defense Agency, said Taylor Lawrence, president of Raytheon's Missile Systems business. (6/28)

Congressional Committee Blocks FCC Approval of LightSquared (Source: GPS World)
The House Appropriations Committee approved the FY-12 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. One amendment to the bill prohibits funding for the FCC to remove conditions on or permit certain commercial broadband operations until the FCC has resolved concerns of harmful interference by these operations on GPS devices.

The prohibition means that the FCC is effectively barred from any further consideration of LightSquared’s plan, since even meeting to discuss the plan spends federal funds through employee salaries. Until LightSquared comes up with a plan that completely protects existing GPS navigation devices from interference, LightSquared cannot operate its satellite-based broadband service. (6/28)

Improving Slumber on the Space Station (Source: Space Daily)
It is difficult to sleep in a strange place. Whether on Earth or in orbit, sleep is essential to human well-being. In space, getting enough rest is also vital for the safe completion of critical operations, as the crew may be one alarm bell away from a life-and-death situation.

To develop measures to improve the quality and duration of sleep in space, scientists are conducting the Sleep - Wake Actigraphy and Light Exposure During Spaceflight - Long investigation or Sleep-Long. This study examines the sleep - wake patterns of the crew members while they are aboard the space station.

The Sleep - Long investigation uses an objective approach to monitoring sleep by having the crew wear an Actiwatch. This device, which resembles a wristwatch, monitors sleep/wake activity using a miniature accelerometer that records crew movement. The Actiwatch also measures the ambient light conditions during the study. (6/28)

Space Debris Narrowly Misses Space Station (Source: PhysOrg)
An unidentified piece of debris narrowly missed the International Space Station on Tuesday in a rare incident that forced the six-member crew to scramble to their rescue craft. The piece of space junk missed the fragile orbiter by just 250 meters (820 feet).

A spokesman at Russian mission control outside Moscow said the incident occurred at around 4:30 pm (1230 GMT) and that the crew was now "working according to their normal schedule," RIA Novosti reported. Another Russian space official said by telephone that such incidents had occurred in the past and did not represent an emergency. (6/28)

Asteroid Gives Astronomers a Show (Source: Space.com)
An asteroid the size of a tour bus zipped by Earth on June 27 in a flyby so close that the space rock was nearer to the planet than some satellites. The space rock reached its closest point to Earth just after 1 p.m. EDT, when it crept within 7,500 miles (12,000 km) of Earth (above the coast of Antarctica) before whipping away again like a slingshot. (6/28)

Giffords Makes First Public Appearance (Source: Daily Beast)
Nearly seven months after the shooting that nearly killed her, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords made her first public appearance on Monday at an event in Houston honoring her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. She entered in a wheelchair and waved to the audience, which applauded. She held Kelly’s hand throughout the ceremony and appeared to chat with the people around her. And she rose from her wheelchair to hug and kiss her husband when he received the Spaceflight Medal. She then left before the end of the event, as they were showing home movies of the crew. (6/28)

NASA Gives Senate Panel Documents on Heavy-Lift Rocket (Source: Florida Today)
The deadline Monday passed without a threatened Senate subpoena being issued for NASA documents about development of its next heavy-lift rocket. "The agency is working to respond to the Senate commerce committee request and compiling the records requested," NASA spokesman J.D. Harrington said Monday. (6/28)

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