Saturday, November 10, 2007

US teacher gives first lesson from space

The first teacher in space has taught her first lesson in zero-gravity, answering questions from school children in Idaho from an orbiting station hundreds of miles above Earth.

Barbara Morgan, flanked by crewmates Alvin Drew and Dave Williams, talked for 25 minutes to children at the Discovery Center in Boise, Idaho, the north-western state where Morgan taught at a primary school early in her career.

"Astronauts and teachers actually do the same thing. We explore, we discover and we share," she told the class via videolink. "Those are absolutely wonderful jobs."

Mrs Morgan, now 55, trained as understudy to fellow teacher Christa McAuliffe in the 1980s, as NASA hoped that sending a teacher into space would fire the imaginations of millions and keep up support for its shuttle program.

But McAuliffe never made it to space. The Challenger shuttle exploded shortly after take-off in 1986, killing all seven people on board.

Twenty-two years later, Mrs Morgan has fulfilled the aim, riding aboard the shuttle Endeavour on a construction mission to the International Space Station.

In a session broadcast to Earth by the space agency NASA, she fielded questions such as how fast a baseball travels in space, and how to drink in zero-gravity.

She and her fellow astronauts demonstrated, throwing real balls and swallowing floating bubbles of liquid.

Asked how astronauts exercise in space, Mrs Morgan grabbed one of her colleagues and lifted him.

Mrs Morgan returned to teaching after the Challenger disaster, but in the 1990s started six years of training in the astronaut corps.

She is the star of this year's second shuttle mission to the International Space Station.

NASA is seeking to burnish an image tainted by recent scandals including stories that astronauts had shown up for missions drunk, and a bizarre love-triangle vendetta involving a female astronaut and her married colleague.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

10/24/06: Christer Fuglesang of Space Shuttle Mission STS-116.

Landing Site: Kennedy e Center map, December 22, Main gear touchdown: 5:32:00 p.m. EST; Nose gear touchdown: 5:32:12 p.m. EST; Wheels stop: 5:32:52 p.m. EST; Total miles: 5.3 million

Inclination/Altitude: 51.6 degrees/122 nautical miles

Primary Payload: Twentieth station flight (12A.1), EHAB, P5

Crew: Polansky, Oefelein, Curbeam, Higginbotham, Patrick, Fuglesang, Williams (up), Reiter (down)

Video, Mpeg

With NASA's launch of e Shuttle Discovery on flight STS-116 scheduled for the night of Thursday 7 to Friday 8 December at 01:38 GMT (02:38 CET) at the earliest, ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang of Sweden is set to become the first citizen of a Nordic country to fly to the International e Station.

Fuglesang is currently undergoing intensive training at NASA's Johnson e Center in Houston to prepare for the mission.

In 1992 Christer Fuglesang was chosen as a crew member of the STS-116 e Shuttle mission to the International e Station, which is now scheduled for launch in December 2006.

Fuglesang started training at Star City cosmonaut training centre near Moscow, Russia, in 1993. It was here he first met fellow ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, whom he will bring back from the ISS in December. At Star City he learned how to operate the Soyuz ecraft, but the toughest part of the training was to learn the Russian language.

Astronaut Christer Fuglesang, mission specialist representing the European e Agency (ESA); Image credit: NASA

: At EHAB in Cape Canaveral, Fla., the STS-116 crew takes a break from equipment familiarization to pose for a group photo. From bottom to top are Pilot William Oefelein, Mission Specialists Joan Higginbotham, Nicholas Patrick, Robert Curbeam, Christer Fuglesang and Sunita Williams, and Commander Mark Polansky. The Swedish Fuglesang represents the European e Agency. Mission crews make frequent trips to the e Coast to become familiar with the equipment and payloads they will be using. STS-116 will be mission number 20 to the International e Station and construction flight 12A.1. The mission payload is the EHAB module, the P5 integrated truss structure and other key components. Launch is scheduled for no earlier than Dec. 7. Photo credit: NASA/George Shelton; caption: NASA

Flight STS-116 is a very demanding undertaking and begins a series of complex missions scheduled to complete the construction of the e Station. Two days after launch, Discovery will dock with the ISS and the seven Shuttle crew members will ingress into the Station. They will be welcomed by the three resident astronauts from the Expedition 14 crew, which includes ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter of Germany, who has been onboard since July.

The mission's main objectives are to attach the P5 connector element of the integrated truss structure to the Station and to connect the power from two large electricity-generating solar array panels already onboard since September. The solar array panels will provide a permanent supply of electricity for the ISS, which has been running on a temporary electrical power system since it went into orbit in 1998.

During the twelve-day mission, Christer Fuglesang and his NASA counterpart Robert Curbeam will carry out two extra-vehicular activities (EVAs or ewalks). During the first, the P5 truss structure will be installed. The main task during the second EVA is to rewire the power system for one half of the Station. The other half of the power system will be rewired during the third EVA, carried out by Robert Curbeam and Sunita Williams. The astronauts will head outside the ISS in their EVA suits and wait for mission control to switch off the ISS power. Once permission has been granted, they will unplug existing cables and plug them into new locations along the ISS.

Christer Fuglesang's mission is called 'Celsius' after Anders Celsius, the inventor of the thermometer. The famous Swedish astronomer had a deep impact on the daily lives of his contemporaries in the 18th Century, just as e exploration is changing the lives of all of us today.

After completing his twelve-day mission, Christer Fuglesang will return to Earth accompanied by Thomas Reiter, who will by then have completed his six-month Astrolab mission onboard the Station.

The Shuttle landing is scheduled for no earlier than 18 December at around 22:04 GMT (23:04 CET) at the Kennedy e Center.


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Final Stretch

Her energy comes in fitful bursts, and then she's wiped out for long stretches. Sleeping is erratic, and she's just plan sick of the whole thing now.

Yesterday I stopped by for a brief visit and she admitted, "I'm not doing this again." I'm not quite sure what to make of that yet, but I respect it. She called on my way over and asked me to bring her a grilled chicken sandwich and tater tots from Sonic for dinner.

It looked nasty. (The curbside service was remarkably good for around here, I might throw in - better than some of Columbus' nicer restaurants.) Mom couldn't really taste it, and I don't think she even wanted it. But she didn't want to cook, she didn't want me to cook, and making strange requests of people willing to do anything for her is one of her only control valves right now.

I mean, what can you do when you have cancer? Nothing. Have the radical procedure, take the follow-up treatments, feel like shit for a couple of months or years and hope the whole thing takes is about the sum of it.

So, she's taken to controlling things she can do, and even that is pretty innocuous stuff. About four weeks ago, between treatments, she woke up one Saturday and decided she wanted a home theater system with a 41" HD television. Done. She can now watch Meerkat Manor in full high-definition digital, which admittedly is pretty cool.

She also has fixated on other things, like this extremely minor dental procedure I needed to have for years but kept putting off. She fairly insisted I have this done in recent weeks, and she constantly asks me about my progress. (I had a labial frenectomy, by the way. And for those who follow such things, yes, the alignment has improved.)

There are other things: Insisting on a special brand of toothpaste that can only be found at one store in Columbus. Other fetch it requests for tater tots, watermelon, loose-fitting clothing. Lots of questions about the playlists that Matthew and I created for her iPod Nano.


Friday, November 2, 2007

Mind the gap: Space scientists uncover causes of gap in Van Allen belts

A team of British and US scientists have discovered that the gap in the Van Allen radiation belts is formed by natural wave turbulence in space, not by lightning. The discovery settles years of controversy among space scientists about the mechanisms responsible for causing the gap and has important implications for space weather forecasting.

High above the Earth's atmosphere, energetic charged particles are trapped in the Earth's magnetic field where they form the Van Allen radiation belts. Energetic electrons, travelling close to the speed of light, occupy two doughnut shaped zones, usually separated by a gap known as the slot region.

The underlying mechanism that clears the slot region of electrons has been the subject of intense scientific debate. Now, based on analysis of wave data collected over 13 months by the CRRES satellite, Dr Nigel Meredith of British Antarctic Survey and colleagues from BAS, the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Iowa, believe that the gap is most likely formed by natural wave turbulence in space, rather than by lightning as the alternative theory suggests. Their results are published in the Journal of Geophysical Research this week.

According to lead author, Dr Nigel Meredith:

"Last year NASA scientists suggested that lightning-generated radio waves leaking out into space are responsible for the gap between the two belts by dumping particles into the atmosphere. Since lightning occurs far more often over land than water, waves in space should also occur more over land. However, after analysing satellite data we found that there is no land-ocean variation at frequencies less than 1 kiloHertz where the waves are most intense.


    Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    Brazen Talent

    For several years, I spent hours on end whirling the late nights and early mornings away on dance floors from one end of the continental United States to the other.

    It was a wonderful time, allowing me to experience some amazing DJ sets, enjoy I-don't-know-how-many breathtakingly creative events and, best of all, join my life experiences with those of dozens of beautiful people whom I still consider friends and loved ones.

    There was Jay, who returned as a U.S. Army sergeant from Kosovo and wanted to spend his nights listening to house music, admiring women and savoring every moment he could out of life. There was Barry, who was an insurance adjuster by day but a bubbling socialite under the glittering mirrorball and laser lights on weekend nights. There was Kris, the bartender at one of Atlanta's best Italian bistros and a lipstick lesbian who loved nothing more than dancing with handlebar-moustached leather daddies and muscle men.

    And there was Teresa Brazen, who studied journalism as a bulldog at the University of Georgia but then found her true passion in art. One night, she explained to me how her twin passions for painting and collage intertwined with her passion to dance and enjoy music. Wonderful person, and such a gifted, talented woman.

    Teresa's life has led her down many paths, from Caracas to Atlanta to New York and, now, to San Francisco's Bay Area. She's currently exhibiting with a group of other artists in Oakland, and has several new pieces in her collection.

    Lots of my friends in Atlanta have purchased her art, which to me are powerful expressions of emotion and color. I enjoy her collage, but it looks as if she's moving into new areas these days. She also produced a video project, too, that you can watch on her MySpace page.

    I miss Teresa, like so many others, but I'm excited for her, too.


    Saturday, October 27, 2007

    05/30/07: Chandra: 3C438 and Surrounding Galaxy Cluster.

    Video, Mpeg, 2.5 MB Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/R.P.Kraft; Optical: Pal.Obs. DSS; Radio: NRAO/VLA/A.H.Bridle, R.G.Strom

    Chandra's image of 3C438, the central galaxy within a massive cluster, reveals evidence for one of the most energetic events in the local Universe. An arc-like feature to the lower left in the cluster's hot gas is about 2 million light years long. VLA Radio Image of 3C438 Astronomers have determined that an enormous amount of energy would be required to produce such a large structure. One plausible scenario is that two massive clusters collided at high velocity and later merged. This would have created a shock front in the hot gas that could account for the ridge seen in the Chandra data.

    Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/R.P.Kraft; Optical: Pal.Obs. DSS

    Another intriguing feature in the Chandra data is the possible detection of a cavity in the hot gas. This structure, seen in the upper left of the image, would require a tremendous amount of energy to produce. There are also hints of a similar structure on the other side of the central galaxy. Images of 3C438 and Surrounding Galaxy Cluster Astronomers think such X-ray cavities are usually generated when large amounts of matter funnel into a supermassive black hole. The black hole inhales much of the matter but expels some of it outward in a high-speed jet, carving e into the hot gas. If the cavity was generated by a supermassive black hole, then it would be the most powerful event of its kind ever seen.

    A further interesting aspect of the Chandra data is that the temperature of the gas was measured to be about 170 million degrees Celsius. This cluster is therefore one of the hottest ever seen, another sign of colossal upheaval.

    Chandra X-ray Image of 3C438

    Evidence for an awesome upheaval in a massive galaxy cluster was discovered in an image made by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. The origin of a bright arc of extremely hot gas extending over two million light years requires one of the most energetic events ever detected. There are also hints of a cavity in the hot gas to the upper left. Scale: Image is 8.4 arcmin per side. Credit: NASA/CXC/CfA/R.P.Kraft

    VLA Radio Image of 3C438

    This radio image from NRAO's Very Large Array shows the inner-most region of 3C438. Jets seen in the radio data do not point in the same directions as the cavity structure seen in the X-ray, adding more mysteries about this system. Credit: Radio: NRAO/VLA/A.H.Bridle & R.G.Strom; X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/R.P.Kraft

    DSS Optical Image of 3C438

    This cropped Digitized Sky Survey (DSS) image (left) shows how different 3c438 looks in optical light. The X-ray image (see #1 above) shows a much different structure from the optical image, including a massive arc-like structure to the lower left. There are also hints of a cavity in the hot gas to the upper left. Scale: Cropped image is 8.4 arcmin per side; Full field is 50 arcmin per side. Credit: Pal.Obs.


    Thursday, October 25, 2007

    Endeavour cleared for early arrival home

    NASA cleared the shuttle Endeavour for landing on Tuesday (local time), after a two-week mission to the International Space Station (ISS) was cut short 24 hours by menacing Hurricane Dean.

    Landing was initially set for Wednesday, but the US space agency rescheduled for a day earlier fearing that its control centre in Houston, Texas may have to be evacuated if it is grazed by Hurricane Dean which is now roaring across the Caribbean.

    The hurricane, on track to strike Mexico early Tuesday but missing Texas altogether, "poses little hazard or little risk to the Johnson Space Center mission control area," NASA said in a statement.

    Nevertheless, it added: "mission managers continue to monitor Hurricane Dean as it moves westward".

    Endeavour is to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, which is not as well equipped as Houston for ground control operations, in the event the Johnson Space Center has to be shut down if the hurricane strikes.

    The Endeavour crew will have two chances to land at either 12:32 pm (16:32 GMT) and 2:06 pm (18:06 GMT), NASA said.

    The weather forecast for Tuesday at the Cape was relatively dry with any possible showers "probably not expected to be a concern ... so the weather looks good" for a landing, said NASA spokesman Mike Curie in Houston.

    Should landing here be called off, the shuttle would try again on Wednesday first at Cape Canaveral, or Edwards Air Force Base in California, or possibly even at the White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico.

    The Endeavour and ISS crews finished a shortened, fourth spacewalk on Sunday, before the shuttle with its crew of seven undocked from the ISS without performing the usual fly-past of the station to take pictures.

    "They didn't do a flight around the ISS because it was a very busy day for the crew, undocking and doing the late inspection, all of this in one day," Mr Curie said.

    The crew last week put out a robotic arm with a high-definition camera with attached laser to inspect the heat shield on Endeavour's nose and wings for possible damage from meteors and other floating space debris.