December 21, 2012

Mission Accomplished for Landsat 5 (Source: USGS)
The U.S. Geological Survey announced that Landsat 5 will be decommissioned over the coming months, bringing to a close the longest-operating Earth observing satellite mission in history. By any measure, the Landsat 5 mission has been an extraordinary success, providing unprecedented contributions to the global record of land change. The USGS has brought the aging satellite back from the brink of failure on several occasions, but the recent failure of a gyroscope has left no option but to end the mission.

Now in its 29th year of orbiting the planet, Landsat 5 has long outlived its original three-year design life. Developed by NASA and launched in 1984, Landsat 5 has orbited the planet over 150,000 times while transmitting over 2.5 million images of land surface conditions around the world. The USGS Flight Operations Team recently began the process required to safely lower Landsat 5 from its operational orbit. The first series of maneuvers is expected to occur next month. (12/21)

All Systems Go for Highest Altitude Supercomputer (Source: ESO)
One of the most powerful supercomputers in the world has now been fully installed and tested at its remote, high altitude site in the Andes of northern Chile. This marks one of the major remaining milestones toward completion of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the most elaborate ground-based telescope in history. The special-purpose ALMA correlator has over 134 million processors and performs up to 17 quadrillion operations per second, a speed comparable to the fastest general-purpose supercomputer in operation today. (12/21)

When Apollo Died: What of Apollo 18, 19 and 20? (Source: Discovery)
Thursday marked the 40th anniversary of Apollo 17's splashdown. But it was never NASA's plan to have the Apollo missions end with 17. The agency had plans -- including crews lined up and landing sites picked out -- for missions through Apollo 20. So what happened? Half-way through 1967, NASA had had 15 Saturn V rockets for lunar missions and a plan to methodically break down the tricky task of landing on and exploring the moon's surface.

Each mission was assigned a letter from A to J that designated its type. Two Saturn Vs were tested on the unmanned Apollos 4 and 6, making up the A missions. The unmanned flight test of the Lunar Module (LM) on Apollo 5 was the one B mission. Apollo 7’s shakedown cruise of the Command and Service Module (CSM) was the C mission. Apollo 8, which threw the sequence out of order by going to the Moon with just a CSM, was dubbed the C-prime mission; this made the high-Earth orbit CSM test E mission unnecessary.

Apollo 9 tested the CSM and LM in Earth orbit on the D mission, and Apollo 10’s lunar landing dress rehearsal was the F mission. The first landing on Apollo 11 was the G mission. The remaining rockets were assigned to missions NASA hoped to launch roughly every four months between Just 1969 and July 1972. Under the original plan, Apollos 12 through 15 were classified as H missions. There were precision landing that would stay on the Moon for two days with crews that would perform two EVAs -- Moonwalks. Click here. (12/21)

NASA Puts Orion Backup Parachutes to the Test (Source: NASA)
NASA completed the latest in a series of parachute tests for its Orion spacecraft Thursday at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in southwestern Arizona, marking another step toward a first flight test in 2014. The test verified Orion can land safely even if one of its two drogue parachutes does not open during descent.

Orion will take humans farther into space than ever before, but one of the most challenging things the multipurpose vehicle will do is bring its crew home safely. Because it will return from greater distances, Orion will reenter the Earth's atmosphere at speeds of more than 20,000 mph. After re-entry, the parachutes are all that will lower the capsule carrying astronauts back to Earth. (12/20)

NASA Glenn Confident Moving Into 2013 (Source: Cleveland Sun News)
NASA Glenn’s Director Ray Lugo will step down Jan. 4. He will be replaced by current Deputy Director James Free. The changing of the guard may represent a larger shift in operation philosophy for the research center. During a media roundtable on Dec. 12, the two directors spoke, at length, about a reorganization plan that will focus Glenn on four core areas: space power, propulsion and communications systems, and advanced materials.

At the moment, Glenn’s workforce is composed of about 3,000 employees and contractors. Both Lugo and Free were confident that Glenn would maintain the majority of its workforce and expressed excitement about the future. Free added that what differentiates Glenn from other facilities is their research. (12/20)

Japan Defense Ministry: Mitsubishi Electric Overcharged by $376 Million (Source: Reuters)
Japan's Defense ministry said Mitsubishi Electric Corp., the country's second largest military contractor, had overcharged it by 31.7 billion yen ($375.6 million) for equipment and services over 11 years. The ministry halted all business with the company in January after the firm admitted to inflating bills related to defense and space programs.

The ministry on Friday said it would remove the suspension once the overcharged amount was refunded. Mitsubishi Electric, which specializes in satellite communication equipment and ranks second after Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. as a major Defense contractor in Japan, has also been barred from doing business with other government agencies. JAXA said on Friday Mitsubishi Electric had overcharged the agency by 6.2 billion yen since 1994. The agency said it would order the firm to return the amount as well as an additional fine. (12/21)

NASA’s Mohawk Guy Plans New Hairstyle (Source: BBC)
Bobak Ferdowsi is known as the 'Mohawk guy' after his unique hairstyle got a mention from President Barack Obama. He was Flight Director on the Mars Science Laboratory mission when NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars on 6th August 2012. Bobak changes his hairstyle at key stages of the mission. Bobak said: "When the president mentioned my hairstyle, I had to sit down for a moment.

Bobak is already thinking about what to do with his hair for January 2013. "I like to celebrate different events on our projects with different hairstyles," he said. "My friend is a big part of the drilling team and I told them I would do something special." He added: "People have a perception maybe engineers were older or more conservative in their style and I think the reality is actually very different. (12/21)

California Meteorite a Scientific Gold Mine (Source: Science News)
A meteorite that fell where California’s gold rush began has triggered a similar gold rush for scientists: to study one of the freshest, most unusual space rocks around. The Sutter’s Mill meteorite turns out to be a rare, carbon-rich type known as a carbonaceous chondrite. Its insides are a jumble of different primitive space materials mashed together in a single rock.

“It’s a real hodge-podge,” says Monica Grady, a meteorite expert at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England. “It tells you that the asteroid it came from has had a very interesting history.” Meteorite hunters immediately fanned out to pick up the pieces. The first distinctive black fragment was found in a park in the town of Coloma; Peter Jenniskens, a meteor astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., soon spotted the second, crushed slightly by a car. He even enlisted a zeppelin to fly over the region, looking for impact craters left by big pieces. (He found none.)

Over the next few months searchers collected at least 77 meteorites, together weighing nearly a kilogram. Three of those were picked up in the first two days, before rains washed over the area. That quick recovery allowed scientists, organized by Jenniskens, to start studying the rock before water altered its minerals. (12/20)

Russia's Energia Lands $11 Million Space Lab Contract (Source: RIA Novosti)
Space rocket corporation Energia has won a 350 million ruble (about $11 million) contract to design the orbital laboratory Oka-T-MKS, the state procurements agency said Friday on its website. Russia’s Federal Space Agency Roscosmos announced a tender for the contract in mid-October and only received one bid: from Energia Corp.

The Oka-T-MKS is a multifunctional space laboratory that will operate autonomously in orbit, periodically docking with the International Space Station (ISS) whose crew will service its scientific research equipment, and conduct refueling and other operations. The Oka will have a payload of 850 kilograms and will perform fundamental and applied research in space materials study, plasma physics, biology and medicine. (12/21)

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