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Space

Incorrectly Built SLS Welding Machine To Be Rebuilt 143

Posted by timothy
from the but-in-a-crash-you'd-be-totally-safe dept.
schwit1 writes A giant welding machine, built for NASA's multi-billion dollar Space Launch System (SLS), has to be taken apart and rebuilt because the contractor failed to reinforce the floor, as required, prior to construction: "Sweden's ESAB Welding & Cutting, which has its North American headquarters in Florence, South Carolina, built the the roughly 50-meter tall Vertical Assembly Center as a subcontractor to SLS contractor Boeing at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

ESAB was supposed to reinforce Michoud's floor before installing the welding tool, but did not, NASA SLS Program Manager Todd May told SpaceNews after an April 15 panel session during the 31st Space Symposium here. As a result, the enormous machine leaned ever so slightly, cocking the rails that guide massive rings used to lift parts of the 8.4-meter-diameter SLS stages The rings wound up 0.06 degrees out of alignment, which may not sound like much, "but when you're talking about something that's 217 feet [66.14 meters] tall, that adds up," May said.

Asked why ESAB did not reinforce the foundation as it was supposed to, May said only it was a result of "a miscommunication between two [Boeing] subcontractors and ESAB."

It is baffling how everyone at NASA, Boeing, and ESAB could have forgotten to do the reinforcing, even though it was specified in the contract. It also suggests that the quality control in the SLS rocket program has some serious problems.
Space

Enceladus Spreads Ghostly Ice Tendrils Around Saturn 33

Posted by samzenpus
from the old-space-faithful dept.
astroengine writes A ghostly apparition has long been known to follow Saturn moon Enceladus in its orbit around the gas giant. But until now, scientists have had a hard time tracking its source. Using images from NASA's Cassini mission, the source of these tendrils have been tracked down and they originate from the icy moon's famous geysers. But even better than that, scientists have been able to track the tendril shapes down to the specific geysers that produce them. "We've been able to show that each unique tendril structure can be reproduced by particular sets of geysers on the moon's surface," said Colin Mitchell, a Cassini imaging team associate at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., and lead author of a paper published int he Astrophysical Journal. The study of these features are helping scientists understand how much ice is being transported into Saturn's E ring from Enceladus as well as helping us understand the evolution of the moon's sub-surface ocean.
NASA

NASA's MESSENGER Mission To Crash Into Mercury In 2 Weeks 40

Posted by Soulskill
from the take-that,-mercury dept.
astroengine writes: NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft is in the final days of an unprecedented and unexpectedly long-lived, close-up study of the innermost planet of the solar system, with a crashing finale expected in two weeks. Out of fuel, the robotic Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging, or MESSENGER, probe on April 30 will succumb to the gravitational pull of this strange world that has been its home since March 2011. The purpose of the mission, originally designed to last one year, is to collect detailed geochemical and other data that will help scientists piece together of how Mercury formed and evolved. "MESSENGER is going to create a new crater on Mercury sometime in the near future ... let's not be sad about that," NASA associate administrator John Grunsfeld said Thursday. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory has an excellent site for looking through the pictures MESSENGER has taken and the science it's done.
Space

Spitzer Space Telescope Finds New Planet 21

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-see-you dept.
Aspiring Astronomer sends word of the discovery of one of the farthest known exoplanets. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has teamed up with a telescope on the ground to find a remote gas planet about 13,000 light-years away, making it one of the most distant planets known. The discovery demonstrates that Spitzer -- from its unique perch in space -- can be used to help solve the puzzle of how planets are distributed throughout our flat, spiral-shaped Milky Way galaxy. Are they concentrated heavily in its central hub, or more evenly spread throughout its suburbs? 'We don't know if planets are more common in our galaxy's central bulge or the disk of the galaxy, which is why these observations are so important,' said Jennifer Yee of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a NASA Sagan fellow. Yee is the lead author of one of three new studies that appeared recently in the Astrophysical Journal describing a collaboration between astronomers using Spitzer and the Polish Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment, or OGLE."
Space

Hubble and the VLT Uncover Evidence For Self-Interacting Dark Matter 116

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-perfectly-natural-and-healthy dept.
astroengine writes: A new study carried out by the ESO's Very Large Telescope and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has revealed for the first time that dark matter may well interact with itself — a discovery that, at first glance, seems to contradict what we thought we knew about the nature of this invisible mass. "In this study, the researchers observed the four colliding galaxies and found that one dark matter clump appeared to be lagging behind the galaxy it surrounds. The dark matter is currently 5000 light-years (50 000 million million kilometers) behind the galaxy — it would take NASA’s Voyager spacecraft 90 million years to travel that far. A lag between dark matter and its associated galaxy is predicted during collisions if dark matter interacts with itself, even very slightly, through forces other than gravity. Dark matter has never before been observed interacting in any way other than through the force of gravity."
Space

New Horizons Captures First Color Image of Pluto and Charon 78

Posted by Soulskill
from the pictures-that-are-both-unimpressive-and-really-impressive dept.
192_kbps writes: NASA published today the first color image of Pluto and Charon captured by the New Horizons probe, revealing a reddish world. "The fastest spacecraft ever launched, New Horizons has traveled a longer time and farther away - more than nine years and three billion miles - than any space mission in history to reach its primary target. Its flyby of Pluto and its system of at least five moons on July 14 will complete the initial reconnaissance of the classical solar system. This mission also opens the door to an entirely new "third" zone of mysterious small planets and planetary building blocks in the Kuiper Belt, a large area with numerous objects beyond Neptune's orbit." The picture is blurry, but far better than the few pixels Hubble can resolve, the image whets the appetite for New Horizon's closest approach on July 14th."
Mars

Road To Mars: Solving the Isolation Problem 137

Posted by Soulskill
from the cryostasis-is-not-just-for-sci-fi-and-weekly-meetings dept.
An anonymous reader writes: As space technology matures, new missions are being funded and humanity is setting its goals ever further. Space agencies are tackling some of the new problems that crop up when we try to go further away than Earth's moon. This New Yorker article takes a look at research into one of the biggest obstacles: extended isolation. Research consultant Jack Stuster once wrote, "Future space expeditions will resemble sea voyages much more than test flights, which have served as the models for all previous space missions." Long-duration experiments are underway to test the effects of isolation, but it's tough to study. You need many experiments to derive useful conclusions, but you can't just ship 100 groups of a half-dozen people off to remote areas of the globe and monitor all of them. It's also borderline unethical to expose the test subjects to the kind of stress and danger that would be present in a real Mars mission. The data collected so far has been (mostly) promising, but we have a long way to go. The technology and the missions themselves will probably come together long before we know how to deal with isolation. At some point, we'll just have to hope our best guess is good enough.
Space

Tracking the Weather On an Exoplanet 43

Posted by Soulskill
from the for-when-dad-runs-out-of-content-on-the-weather-channel dept.
schwit1 writes: Scientists have begun gathering increasingly detailed information about the atmosphere and weather on the exoplanet HD189733B, 63 light years away with an orbit that produces a transit every 2.2 days. The temperature appears to rise with increasing altitude, reaching 3,000 degrees at the top of the atmosphere. There are also strong winds blowing from the cold to the hot side of the planet.
NASA

The International Space Station (Finally) Gets an Espresso Machine 108

Posted by samzenpus
from the getting-the-go-juice dept.
coondoggie writes NASA this week will be sending its first espresso making machine into space, letting astronauts onboard the International Space Station brew coffee, tea or other hot beverages for those long space days. Making espresso in space is no small feat, as heating the water to the right temperature – 208F – and generating enough pressure to make the brew are critical in the brewing process. And then getting it into a “cup,” well that’s nearly impossible in gravity-free space. NASA, the Italian space agency ASI, aerospace firm Argotec, and coffee company Lavazza have come up with en experimental machine that will deliver the espresso into what basically amounts to a sippy pouch.
Mars

Briny Water May Pool In Mars' Equatorial Soil 39

Posted by samzenpus
from the wet-around-the-middle dept.
astroengine writes Mars may be a frigid desert, but perchlorate salts in the planet's soil are lowering the freezing temperature of water, setting up conditions for liquid brines to form at equatorial regions, new research from NASA's Curiosity rover shows. The discovery of subsurface water, even a trickle, around the planets warmer equatorial belt defies current climate models, though spacecraft orbiting Mars have found geologic evidence for transient liquid water, a phenomenon termed "recurring slope lineae." The findings, published in this week's Nature Geoscience, are based on nearly two years worth of atmospheric humidity and temperature measurements collected by the roving science laboratory Curiosity, which is exploring an ancient impact basin called Gale Crater near the planet's equator. The brines, computer models show, form nightly in the upper 2 inches of the planet's soil as perchlorates absorb atmospheric water vapor. As temperatures rise in the morning, the liquid evaporates. The levels of liquid, however, are too low to support terrestrial-type organisms, the researchers conclude. "It is not just a problem of water, but also temperature. The water activity and temperatures are so low in Mars that they are beyond the limits of cell reproduction and metabolism," Javier Martin-Torres, with Lulea University of Technology, in Kiruna, Sweden, wrote in an email to Discovery News.
NASA

European Space Agency Invited To Contribute a Lander To NASA's Europa Clipper 33

Posted by samzenpus
from the joining-the-party dept.
MarkWhittington writes According to a story in Spaceflight Now, NASA has invited the European Space Agency to participate in its upcoming Europa Clipper project. Europa Clipper, pushed by Rep. John Culberson, the chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA, recently received backing from the Obama administration. Europa Clipper would launch in the early 2020s and would be placed in an orbit around Jupiter that would cause it to fly by Europa, a moon of Jupiter, at least 45 times during its operational life.
NASA

America's Methane Mystery: NASA Set To Investigate Hotspot Over the 4 Corners 111

Posted by samzenpus
from the hot-spot dept.
schwit writes A "hot spot" of the largest concentration of methane seen over the United States is in the area near the Four Corners intersection of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah and covers 2,500 square miles. The hotspot predates widespread fracking in the area. Researchers from several institutions are now in the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest with a suite of airborne and ground-based instruments, aiming to uncover reasons for a mysterious methane "hot spot" detected from space. "With all the ground-based and airborne resources that the different groups are bringing to the region, we have the unique chance to unequivocally solve the Four Corners mystery," said Christian Frankenberg, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, who is heading NASA's part of the effort.
Space

The Solar System Is Awash In Water 72

Posted by Soulskill
from the water-cooler-discussion dept.
An anonymous reader writes: NASA has published an article detailing the vast amount of water found on other worlds in our solar system. "There are several worlds thought to possess liquid water beneath their surfaces, and many more that have water in the form of ice or vapor. Water is found in primitive bodies like comets and asteroids, and dwarf planets like Ceres. The atmospheres and interiors of the four giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — are thought to contain enormous quantities of the wet stuff, and their moons and rings have substantial water ice. Perhaps the most surprising water worlds are the five icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn that show strong evidence of oceans beneath their surfaces: Ganymede, Europa and Callisto at Jupiter, and Enceladus and Titan at Saturn." They've released an infographic to accompany the article. It's also bolstered by new research from the Niels Bohr Institute, which confirmed that glaciers on Mars do contain a large quantity of water ice. These glaciers are separate from the ice caps, existing in belts closer to the planet's equator. This ice has a total volume of roughly 150 billion cubic meters — enough to cover the entirety of Mars' surface with one meter of ice (abstract).
Space

NASA's Chief Scientist Predicts Evidence For Life Beyond Earth By 2025 160

Posted by Soulskill
from the and-it'll-take-just-a-few-years-after-that-to-make-them-angry-at-us dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Ellen Stofan, chief scientist at NASA, predicts we're not far off from finding evidence for alien life. At a panel discussion yesterday, she said, "I think we're going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we're going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years." She added, "We know where to look. We know how to look. In most cases we have the technology, and we're on a path to implementing it." Stofan thinks putting astronauts on Mars will be a big part of that goal. As efficient as robot missions are, she thinks it'll take humans digging and cracking rocks to find definitive evidence for life on other worlds.
Space

Distance of a Microlensing Event Measured For the First Time 47

Posted by timothy
from the just-like-being-there dept.
astroengine writes For the first time, astronomers have combined the observational power of a ground-based survey with a space telescope to measure the distance to a stellar-mass object that was detected through a chance microlensing event. In a new paper published in The Astrophysical Journal, astronomer Jennifer Yee of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), Mass., led the study focusing on the detection of the microlensing event called "OGLE-2014-BLG-0939." Detected by the 1.3 meter Warsaw Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile and alerted through the Optical Gravitational Lens Experiment (OGLE) community on May 28, 2014, Yee's team seized the opportunity to use NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to focus on the transient brightening. Both telescopes recorded a light curve of the event and was therefore able to derive the distance to the dark lens.
Transportation

Planes Without Pilots 460

Posted by Soulskill
from the and-now-for-the-overreaction dept.
HughPickens.com writes: John Markoff writes in the NY Times that in the aftermath of the co-pilot crashing a Germanwings plane into a mountain, aviation experts are beginning to wonder if human pilots are really necessary aboard commercial planes. Advances in sensor technology, computing and artificial intelligence are making human pilots less necessary than ever in the cockpit and government agencies are already experimenting with replacing the co-pilot, perhaps even both pilots on cargo planes, with robots or remote operators. NASA is exploring a related possibility: moving the co-pilot out of the cockpit on commercial flights, and instead using a single remote operator to serve as co-pilot for multiple aircraft. In this scenario, a ground controller might operate as a dispatcher, managing a dozen or more flights simultaneously. It would be possible for the ground controller to "beam" into individual planes when needed and to land a plane remotely in the event that the pilot became incapacitated — or worse. "Could we have a single-pilot aircraft with the ability to remotely control the aircraft from the ground that is safer than today's systems?" asks Cummings. "The answer is yes."

Automating that job may save money. But will passengers ever set foot on plane piloted by robots, or humans thousands of miles from the cockpit? In written testimony submitted to the Senate last month, the Air Line Pilots Association warned, "It is vitally important that the pressure to capitalize on the technology not lead to an incomplete safety analysis of the aircraft and operations." The association defended the unique skills of a human pilot: "A pilot on board an aircraft can see, feel, smell or hear many indications of an impending problem (PDF) and begin to formulate a course of action before even sophisticated sensors and indicators provide positive indications of trouble." Not all of the scientists and engineers believe that increasingly sophisticated planes will always be safer planes. "Technology can have costs of its own," says Amy Pritchett. "If you put more technology in the cockpit, you have more technology that can fail.""
NASA

Costs Soar on NASA Communications Upgrade Program 47

Posted by samzenpus
from the more-money dept.
schwit1 writes A new GAO report has found that NASA's effort to upgrade the ground-based portion of its satellite communications system, used by both military satellites and manned spacecraft, is more than 30 percent over budget, with its completion now delayed two years to 2019. Worse, the GAO found that this problem program was actually one of three that have had budget problems. And that doesn't include the disastrously overbudget James Webb Space Telescope. "In its latest assessment of NASA's biggest programs, the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified the Space Network Ground Segment Sustainment (SGSS) as one of three — not counting the notoriously overbudget James Webb Space Telescope — that account for most of the projected cumulative cost growth this year. The others are the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, which launched March 12, and the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, mission, the congressional watchdog agency said."
Earth

The World Lost an Oklahoma-Sized Area of Forest In 2013, Satellite Data Show 143

Posted by samzenpus
from the how-many-oklahomas-are-left? dept.
merbs writes Oklahoma spans an area in the American South that stretches across almost 70,000 square miles. That's almost exactly the same area of global forest cover that was lost in a single year. High resolution maps from Global Forest Watch, tapping new data from a partnership between the University of Maryland and Google, show that 18 million hectares (69,500 square miles) of tree cover were lost from wildfires, deforestation, and development the year before last. The maps were created by synthesizing 400,000 satellite images collected by NASA's Landsat mission.
Mars

Planetary Society Pushes For Mars Orbital Mission Before NASA Landing 58

Posted by samzenpus
from the here's-some-advice dept.
MarkWhittington writes The Planetary Society announced Thursday the results of the "Humans Orbiting Mars" workshop that brought in a number of space experts to develop helpful suggestions for how NASA can fulfill its mandate to send humans to Mars in the 2030s and return them safely to the Earth. The plan is to send a mission to orbit Mars in 2033 in advance of the landing mission in the late 2030s. The workshop believes that this could be done for a NASA budget that increases about two percent a year after the International Space Station is decommissioned in 2024.