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Air Force sends mystery mini-shuttle back to space

December 12, 2012 9:21 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

The military's small, top-secret version of the space shuttle rocketed into orbit Tuesday for a repeat mystery mission, two years after making the first flight of its kind. The X-37B is about one-quarter the size of the original NASA space shuttle and can land automatically. The purpose of this mission remains a secret: Launch commentary ended 17 minutes into the flight.

New forecast system helps transoceanic flights avoid storms

December 12, 2012 9:00 am | News | Comments

A new NASA-funded prototype system developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research now is providing weather forecasts that can help flights avoid major storms as they travel over remote ocean regions. The eight-hour forecasts of potentially dangerous atmospheric conditions are designed for pilots, air traffic controllers and others involved in transoceanic flights.

Eugene Cernan, “last man on moon”, landed 40 years ago

December 10, 2012 4:43 pm | by Emil Venere | News | Comments

Eugene A. Cernan, a Purdue University alumnus and the most recent person to walk on the moon, stepped out of the lunar lander 40 years ago Tuesday. Commander of Apollo 17, Cernan made three moonwalks, explored the barren landscape in a lunar rover, collected about 250 pounds of soil samples and moon rocks, and took scientific measurements.

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Below surface, moon reveals a "shattered" history

December 6, 2012 12:07 pm | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Results presented Wednesday at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco show that the moon took a beating in its early days, far more than previously believed. Detailed gravity mapping by NASA’s Ebb and Flow spacecraft show the extent to which the moon was broken up and shattered from bombardment by asteroids and comets.

Cosmic radio waves mimic chirping of “alien birds”

December 5, 2012 10:20 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

NASA's Van Allen Probes have been exploring the hostile radiation belts surrounding Earth for just three months. But already measurements in unprecedented detail have been taken. Scientists said Tuesday these waves can provide an energy boost to radiation belt particles, somewhat like ocean waves can propel a surfer on Earth. What's more, these so-called chorus waves operate in the same frequency as human hearing so they can be heard.

Mars redux: NASA to launch Curiosity-like rover

December 5, 2012 9:53 am | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

The space agency on Tuesday announced plans to launch another mega-rover to the red planet in 2020 that will be modeled after the wildly popular Curiosity. To keep costs down, engineers will borrow Curiosity's blueprints, recycle spare parts where possible and use proven technology including the novel landing gear that delivered the car-size rover inside an ancient crater in August.

Record-setting X-ray jet discovered

November 28, 2012 1:07 pm | News | Comments

A jet of X-rays from a supermassive black hole 12.4 billion light years from Earth has been detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. This is the most distant X-ray jet ever observed and gives astronomers a glimpse into the explosive activity associated with the growth of supermassive black holes in the early universe.

DOE, NASA demonstrate simple, robust fission reactor

November 27, 2012 11:18 am | News | Comments

A team of researchers have built a new type of nuclear reactor that is reliable enough to be used on space flights. The prototype, which has been used to generate 24 W of electricity, relies on heat pipe technology developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1983. The fluid-based cooling system requires no moving parts and the reactor itself is based on a simply closed-loop Stirling engine.

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Hubble helps find candidate for most distant object in the Universe yet observed

November 16, 2012 10:06 am | News | Comments

By combining the power of the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and one of nature’s zoom lenses, astronomers have found what is probably the most distant galaxy yet seen in the universe. The object offers a peek back into a time when the Universe was only 3% of its present age of 13.7 billion years.

Curiosity’s laboratory instrument suite gets first “taste” of soil

November 14, 2012 2:49 pm | News | Comments

A pinch of fine dust and sand from a patch of windblown material called “Rocknest” became the first sample of soil examined by the Mars Science Laboratory’s suite of laboratory instruments, called Sample Analysis at Mars. The sample was delivered on Nov. 9, allowing the mass spectrometry, gas chromatography, and laser spectrometry instruments to study the sample. Researchers are poring through the data now.

Judge backs NASA lab in work discrimination case

November 5, 2012 10:32 am | News | Comments

A California judge has tentatively ruled in favor of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by a former computer specialist who alleged he was singled out in part because of his belief in intelligent design.

Rover finds Mars atmosphere free of methane

November 5, 2012 10:12 am | News | Comments

A set of instruments aboard the rover has ingested and analyzed samples of the atmosphere collected near the "Rocknest" site in Gale Crater where the Curiosity rover is stopped for research. With these initial sniffs of Martian atmosphere, preliminary results reveal little to no methane. Methane is of interest as a simple precursor chemical for life.

Satellite data reveals power of solar wind

October 25, 2012 12:28 pm | by Karen C. Fox, NASA | News | Comments

A new study based on data from European Space Agency’s Cluster mission shows that it is easier for the solar wind to penetrate Earth’s magnetic environment, the magnetosphere, than had previously been thought. Scientists have, for the first time, directly observed the presence of certain waves that show Earth’s atmosphere behaving more like a sieve than a barrier.

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Opposite behaviors? Arctic sea ice shrinks while Antarctic ice grows

October 24, 2012 8:15 am | by Maria-José Viñas, NASA | News | Comments

A new NASA study shows that from 1978 to 2010 the total extent of sea ice surrounding Antarctica in the Southern Ocean grew by roughly 6,600 square miles every year, an area larger than the state of Connecticut. However, this growth rate is not nearly as large as the decrease in the Arctic, which has scientists questioning the reasons for the growth. Atmospheric circulation may be one cause.

SwRI to build miniature solar observatory for manned suborbital flight

October 23, 2012 11:22 am | News | Comments

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has received funding from NASA to build a miniature, portable solar observatory for developing and testing innovative instrumentation in suborbital flight. The SwRI Solar Instrument Pointing Platform will fly on new, commercial manned suborbital craft to enable spaceborne science and instrument development at a fraction of the cost of unmanned sounding rockets.

U.S. astronaut sees science breakthrough in space

October 22, 2012 11:31 am | News | Comments

An astronaut departing this week for the International Space Station said Monday that the bulk of the scientific benefits from the orbiting laboratory will be seen over the coming decade, amid questions on whether the estimated $100 billion spent in last 12 years is worth the effort. Portland, Indiana-born Kevin Ford said the station is just now entering the phase where the bulk of science being conducted there will come to fruition.

Atom optics to help detect the imperceptible

October 22, 2012 8:43 am | by Lori Keesey | News | Comments

Predicted by Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, the waves occur when massive celestial objects move and disrupt the fabric of space-time. But by the time these waves reach Earth, they are so weak that the planet expands and contracts less than an atom in response. No instrument or observatory has ever directly detected them. A pioneering technology capable of atomic-level precision is now being developed to detect what so far has remained imperceptible.

Mars rover ready for its first soil sample

October 19, 2012 10:12 am | News | Comments

The ability to ingest solid samples and examine them using X-ray diffraction is a core capability for the Curiosity rover. This week that ability was tested using a small scoop of minerals that has been shaken to remove any residues carried from Earth. These particles have been placed inside CheMin, an analytical instrument about the size of a laptop computer inside a carrying case.

Skydiver's feat could influence spacesuit design

October 18, 2012 11:39 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

According to a NASA engineer, “Fearless Felix” Baumgartner's death-defying jump Sunday from a balloon 24 miles above Earth gives us a good foundation for improving the odds of survival for professional astronauts, space tourists, and high-altitude pilots and passengers. Researchers have spent decades working on self-contained space escape systems, with no significant advances since Joe Kittinger in 1960 jumped from 19.5 miles up and reached 614 mph.

Dark matter filament studied in 3D for the first time

October 17, 2012 8:29 am | News | Comments

Extending 60 million light-years from one of the most massive galaxy clusters known, the filament of dark matter examined recently by the Hubble Space Telescope is part of the cosmic web that constitutes the large-scale structure of the Universe, and is a leftover of the very first moments after the Big Bang. If the high mass measured for the filament is representative of the rest of the Universe, then these structures may contain more than half of all the mass in the Universe.

Blue Origin completes rocket engine thrust chamber test

October 16, 2012 12:11 pm | News | Comments

NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) partner Blue Origin has successfully fired the thrust chamber assembly for its new 100,000 pound thrust BE-3 liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen rocket engine. As part of Blue's Reusable Booster System (RBS), the engines are designed eventually to launch the biconic-shaped space vehicle the company is developing.

How Huygens landed on Titan

October 16, 2012 12:10 pm | by Jia-Rui Cook/JPL and Daniel Stolte/UANews | News | Comments

Scientists have pieced together the sequence of events of the farthest touchdown a man-made spacecraft has ever made on an alien world. Their work in tracking the bounces, wobbles, and skids the probe made before coming to rest on Titan reveals new clues about the Saturn moon’s surface and helps plan future missions to moons and planets.

Surprises found in Mars rock touched by Curiosity

October 12, 2012 10:18 am | News | Comments

Two instruments on the Mars rover Curiosity were used to study the chemical makeup of a football-size rock called "Jake Matijevic". In addition to the ChemCam, which had examined a number of rocks, NASA for the first time used an X-ray spectrometer on the new rock, finding that its composition resembles some unusual rocks found in Earth’s interior.

SpaceX Dragon capsule launched to space station

October 7, 2012 9:30 pm | by MARCIA DUNN - AP Aerospace Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

A commercial cargo ship rocketed into orbit Sunday in pursuit of the International Space Station, the first of a dozen supply runs under a mega-contract with NASA. It was the second launch of a Dragon capsule to the orbiting lab by the California-based SpaceX company. This time was no test flight, however, and the spacecraft carried 1,000 pounds of key science experiments and other precious gear.

NASA precisely measures expansion of universe

October 4, 2012 10:01 am | News | Comments

The Hubble constant is named after the astronomer Edwin P. Hubble, who astonished the world in the 1920s by confirming our universe has been expanding since it exploded into being 13.7 billion years ago. This constant, or rate of expansion, is accelerating, and determining the expansion rate is critical for understanding the age and size of the universe. Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have announced the most precise measurement yet of the Hubble constant.

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