Sunday, October 31, 2010

Discovery is schedule to launch Nov.1 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral


The space shuttle Discovery is schedule to launch Nov. 1 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The 11-day mission to the International Space Station marks Discovery's 39th and final spaceflight before the orbiter is retired. Credit: NASA/Troy Cryder

Twenty-six years after its maiden flight, NASA's space shuttle Discovery towers majestically over the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., just days away from embarking on its final spaceflight to the International Space Station.

Discovery, the oldest of NASA's space shuttles, is scheduled to launch Nov. 2 to deliver a new storage room, humanoid robot helper and critical supplies to the space station.

The orbiter has made more spaceflights than any other in the space agency's fleet, and over the course of its illustrious history, its name has become synonymous with the spirit of exploration and human spaceflight.

Discovery was partly named after one of two vessels used by British explorer James Cook during his voyages in the South Pacific in the 1770s. One of these journeys eventually led Cook to discover the Hawaiian Islands. Cook also navigated Discovery to explore the coasts of southern Alaska and northwestern Canada.

NASA's ties with the intrepid Captain Cook are strong – another of his ships, the Endeavour, was the namesake for the agency's youngest shuttle.

The six-astronaut crew of the shuttle Discovery's upcoming STS-133 mission plans to commemorate the ship's heritage and its historical connection to Cook with a special memento from the Royal Society in London, one of the world's oldest scientific academies. Cook went on expeditions for the society, and was elected a Fellow in the 1770s.

"We will be carrying a medallion from the Royal Society that was struck in honor of Captain Cook," said NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, who will work as a mission specialist on the upcoming flight. "On Cook's third voyage, there was a ship called Discovery, and that's the main ship for which our ship Discovery took its name."

Discovery also took its name from a ship used by Henry Hudson in the early 1600s in Canada to explore what was eventually named Hudson Bay. Hudson sought out a hoped-for northwest passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Since the time of Hudson and Cook, several other famous ships have been christened "Discovery," and have carried on the strong tradition of exploration. One such vessel was used by the British Royal Geographical Society on an expedition to the North Pole in 1875.

"It's a culmination of a great heritage," Barratt said. "And we hope there are future ships bearing that name."

NASA's shuttle Discovery is set to blast off on its 39th and final flight, after which the workhorse orbiter will be retired, along with the rest of the agency's shuttle fleet, in 2011.

Russian Soyuz Progress 40 Cargo vessel reaches ISS

The unmanned Russian Progress 40 cargo ship blasts off atop a Soyuz rocket on Oct. 27, 2010 to deliver 2.5 tons of supplies to the International Space Station. Credit: RSC Energia

A new Russian cargo ship arrived at the International Space Station today to deliver tons of food and supplies – including the treat of fresh fruit – to the orbiting lab's crew just in time for Halloween.

While fruits and vegetables may not sound like a traditional Halloween treat, any fresh foods are a treasure for astronauts serving a months-long mission on the space station.

Fresh produce is typically packed along with the tons of supplies delivered on each Russian cargo ship that visits the space station, so the fruit on the new cargo ship only happens to be a timely treat. 

NASA LCROSS - Mining the Moon

Map of the hydrogen abundance within the moon's Cabeus crater, as measured by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Purple corresponds to higher levels, red to lower ones. 

The coloured stars represent where NASA's LCROSS mission impacted Cabeus in October 2009, to determine how much water it held. 

The insert (upper right) represents a map of subsurface temperatures within Cabeus recorded by LRO. Credit: Science/AAAS

The first extraterrestrial mining operation in human history will likely start up on the moon, thanks to its ample and relatively accessible stores of water ice, experts say.
That was the majority view of a panel of scientists and engineers asked to consider where, beyond Earth, humanity should go first to extract resources.
The moon won out over asteroids and Mars, chiefly because it's so close to Earth and has so much water, as well as other resources like methane and ammonia.
"I think the moon is clearly the answer," said Greg Baiden, chief technology officer of Penguin Automated Systems, a robotic technology firm. "I could easily make a business case for going to the moon."
Baiden spoke during a session here yesterday (Oct. 29) at a conference called Space Manufacturing 14: Critical Technologies for Space Settlement. The meeting is organized by the non-profit Space Studies Institute.
Private enterprise, Baiden and others said, will likely lead the way to mining the moon because there's so much money to be made, but it will probably need government to prime the pump.

TV5 Video - Coup de Pouce pour La Planete - Kalaweit

Coup de pouce, TV5, Kalaweit, 23/10/2010
Uploaded by kalaweitprogram. - Watch hilarious animal videos

NASA: Views from the ISS Cupola

 A good view of the Earth and the Soyuz Progress 40 supply vessel attached to the ISS.

Morning breaking over the majestic Andes in South America

A night view of the Nile River winding up through the Egyptian desert toward the Mediterranean Sea.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Nemesis video: Fully charged electric car review -

Robert Llewelyn's first test drive of the Nemesis electric supercar created by Ecotricity's Dale Vince.

NASA Shuttle Discovery STS-133: YouTube WebcastYouTube

Arianespace Ariane 5 flight - Liftoff

Ariane 5 flight V197 liftoff

On 28 October 2010 an Ariane 5 lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on a journey to place two telecommunications satellites, W3B and BSAT-3b, into orbit. Flight V197 was Ariane 5’s fourth dual-payload mission of the year.

Credits: 010 ESA / CNES / Arianespace / Photo Optique vidéo du CSG - S. Martin

NASA Shuttle Discovery ST-133 - Preparing for Flight

Attired in training versions of their shuttle launch and entry suits, STS-133 commander Steve Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe (background), and mission specialists Tim Kopra (right foreground) and Alvin Drew participate in a simulation exercise in the motion-base shuttle mission simulator in the Jake Garn Simulation and Training Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

Image Credit: NASA/JSC James Blair

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NASA Space Shuttle Discovery: Magnificent Old Duchess of Space

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, shuttle Discovery pauses for photos during its move called "rollover" from Orbiter Processing Facility-3 to the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on Sept. 9, 2010. 

The shuttle is due to launch on its final mission on Nov. 1. Credit: NASA/Ben Cooper [Full Story]

ESO VLT Images: Six Spiral Galaxies

Six spiral galaxies are seen in a clear new light in pictures from ESO’s Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.

The pictures were taken in infrared light, using the powerful new HAWK-I camera, to help astronomers understand how the spiral patterns in galaxies form and evolve. Credit: ESO/P. Grosbøl

Click on the picture to read the Full Story

NASA Trapped Mars Rover Finds Evidence of Subsurface Water

The ground where NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit became stuck last year holds evidence that water, perhaps as snow melt, trickled into the subsurface fairly recently and on a continuing basis.

Stratified soil layers with different compositions close to the surface led the rover science team to propose that thin films of water may have entered the ground from frost or snow.

The seepage could have happened during cyclical climate changes during periods when Mars tilted farther on its axis.

The water may have moved down into the sand, carrying soluble minerals deeper than less-soluble ones. Spin-axis tilt varies over timescales of hundreds of thousands of years.

The relatively insoluble minerals near the surface include what is thought to be hematite, silica and gypsum. Ferric sulfates, which are more soluble, appear to have been dissolved and carried down by water. None of these minerals is exposed at the surface, which is covered by wind-blown sand and dust.

"The lack of exposures at the surface indicates the preferential dissolution of ferric sulfates must be a relatively recent and ongoing process since wind has been systematically stripping soil and altering landscapes in the region Spirit has been examining," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, deputy principal investigator for the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

Analysis of these findings appears in a report in the Journal of Geophysical Research published by Arvidson and 36 co-authors about Spirit's operations from late 2007 until just before the rover stopped communicating in March.

The twin Mars rovers finished their three-month prime missions in April 2004, then kept exploring in bonus missions. One of Spirit's six wheels quit working in 2006.

In April 2009, Spirit's left wheels broke through a crust at a site called "Troy" and churned into soft sand. A second wheel stopped working seven months later. Spirit could not obtain a position slanting its solar panels toward the sun for the winter, as it had for previous winters. Engineers anticipated it would enter a low-power, silent hibernation mode, and the rover stopped communicating March 22. Spring begins next month at Spirit's site, and NASA is using the Deep Space Network and the Mars Odyssey orbiter to listen if the rover reawakens.

Researchers took advantage of Spirit's months at Troy last year to examine in great detail soil layers the wheels had exposed, and also neighboring surfaces. Spirit made 13 inches of progress in its last 10 backward drives before energy levels fell too low for further driving in February. Those drives exposed a new area of soil for possible examination if Spirit does awaken and its robotic arm is still usable.

"With insufficient solar energy during the winter, Spirit goes into a deep-sleep hibernation mode where all rover systems are turned off, including the radio and survival heaters," said John Callas, project manager for Spirit and Opportunity at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif. "All available solar array energy goes into charging the batteries and keeping the mission clock running."

NASA WISE: Dark Reflections in the Southern Cross

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, captured this colorful image of the Reflection nebula IRAS 12116-6001.

This cloud of interstellar dust cannot be seen directly in visible light, but WISE's detectors observed the nebula at infrared wavelengths.

In images of reflection nebulae taken with visible light, clouds of dust reflect the light of nearby stars.

The dust is warmed to relatively cool temperatures by the starlight and glows with infrared light, which WISE can detect. Reflection nebulae are of interest to astronomers because they are often the sites of new star formation.

The bright blue star on the right side of the image is the variable star Epsilon Crucis. In the Bayer system of stellar nomenclature, stars are given names based on their relative brightness within a constellation.

The Greek alphabet is used to designate the star's apparent brightness compared to other stars in the same constellation. "Alpha" is the brightest star in the constellation, "beta" the second brightest, and so on. In this case, "epsilon" is the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet, so Epsilon Crucis is the fifth brightest star in the constellation Crux.

Crux is a well-known constellation that can be easily seen by observers in the Southern Hemisphere and from low northern latitudes. Also known as the Southern Cross, Crux is featured in many country's flags, including Australia, Brazil and New Zealand (although New Zealand's flag does not include Epsilon Crucis).

The colors used in this image represent specific wavelengths of infrared light. The blue color of Epsilon Crucis represents light emitted at 3.4 and 4.6 microns. The green-colored star seen beside Epsilon Crucis is emitting light at 12 microns.

This star is IRAS 12194-6007, a carbon star that is near the end of its lifecycle. Since the infrared wavelengths emitted by this star are longer than those from Epsilon Crucis, it is cooler.

The green and red colors seen in the reflection nebula represent 12- and 22-micron light coming from the nebula's dust grains warmed by nearby stars.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

ESA: Arianespace's Ariane-5 set to Launch

ESA Envisat in its new home

ESA’s Earth-observing satellite Envisat has moved to a lower orbit in order to conserve fuel and extend its life by three years, and is once again delivering invaluable data to thousands of scientists.

Envisat, launched in 2002, has a unique combination of 10 different instruments that collect data about Earth’s atmosphere, land, sea and ice – providing scientists with the most detailed picture yet of the state of our planet.

Initially intended to stay in orbit for five years, the decision was taken to extend the mission until 2010. However, given the overall excellent condition of the satellite, ESA Member States agreed last year to fund the mission through to 2013.

for the satellite to stay operational another three years, engineers from ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, came up with a plan to minimise fuel use by moving it to a lower orbit so it would no longer have to correct for the gradual change in orbit inclination during this period.

The Envisat orbit change project, called 'Envisat 2010+', to lower it from about 800 km to about 783 km began on the morning of 22 October.

The 8000-kg satellite was lowered by about 10 km with two 28-minute repositioning moves.

Following another two manoeuvres on the evening of 26 October, the satellite was lowered an additional 7 km, reaching its new final altitude.

Envisat’s instruments were slowly switched back on starting on 27 October, and the satellite is now gradually resuming its normal activities.

NASA ARTEMIS Spacecraft Believed Struck by Object

Flight Dynamics data from THEMIS-B (one of the two ARTEMIS spacecraft) indicated that one of the EFI (electric field instrument)spherical tip masses may have been struck by a meteoroid at 0605 UT on October 14.

All science instruments continue to collect data. The probe and science instruments aboard the spacecraft continue to operate nominally. The upcoming insertion into Lissajous orbit will not be interrupted.

ARTEMIS stands for “Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun”. The ARTEMIS mission uses two of the five in-orbit spacecraft from another NASA Heliophysics constellation of satellites (THEMIS) that were launchedin 2007 and successfully completed their mission earlier in 2010.

The ARTEMIS mission allowed NASA to repurpose two in-orbit spacecraft to extend their useful science mission. ARTEMIS will use simultaneous measurements of particles and electric and magnetic fields from two locations to provide the first three-dimensional perspective of how energetic particle acceleration occurs near the Moon's orbit, in the distant magnetosphere, and in the solar wind.

NASA Ultraviolet Optical telescope: Image of M31

This mosaic of M31 merges 330 individual images taken by the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope aboard NASA's Swift spacecraft.

It is the highest-resolution image of the galaxy ever recorded in the ultraviolet.

Also known as the Andromeda Galaxy, M31 is more than 220,000 light-years across and lies 2.5 million light-years away.

On a clear, dark night, the galaxy is faintly visible as a misty patch to the naked eye.

The irregular shape of the image results when the more than 300 images were assembled to make the final image.

Image Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler (GSFC) and Erin Grand (UMCP)

Arianespace: Ariane 5 launch of W3B and BSAT-sB satellites

The heavy-lift Ariane 5 completes its rollout – approaching the Spaceport’s ELA-3 launch zone at left, where it was locked in position for tomorrow’s liftoff with the W3B and BSAT-3b satellites.

The Ariane 5 for Arianespace’s next mission has moved to the launch pad at Europe’s Spaceport, readying it for tomorrow’s liftoff with a dual payload of telecommunications satellites for Europe and Japan.

Emerging under clear French Guiana skies at 10:45 a.m. local time today, the heavy-lift Ariane 5 ECA was transferred during a one-hour process from the Spaceport’s Final Assembly Building to the launch zone.

Preparations now are underway for tomorrow’s final countdown, which will lead to liftoff during a launch window that opens at 6:51 p.m. local time and continues to 8:01 p.m.

Ariane 5’s payload lift performance for this mission is a total of 8,263 kg., which includes a mass of approximately 7,460 kg. for its satellite passengers, along with the associated integration hardware and the launcher’s SYLDA multi-payload dispenser system.

Riding as the upper passenger in Ariane 5’s payload “stack” is Eutelsat’s W3B, which will be released at just over 28 minutes into the flight.  This Thales Alenia Space-built telecommunications spacecraft weighs approximately 5.4 metric tons and carries 56 transponders.

To be located at an orbital position of 16 deg. East, W3B will renew and expand resources at a slot that reaches some of the most dynamic markets in the satellite business.

The 2,060-kg. BSAT-3b spacecraft – which was manufactured by Lockheed Martin Commercial Systems for Japan’s B-SAT Corporation – will be deployed from Ariane 5’s lower passenger position at approximately 38 minutes into the flight. It is to provide direct television broadcast services from an orbital slot of 110 deg. East.

Tomorrow’s mission is designated 197, signifying the 197th launch of an Ariane family vehicle since 1979.

The October 28 mission also will be Ariane 5’s fourth flight of 2010, which follows three previous dual-payload launches: Arianespace’s August 4 flight with RASCOM-QAF 1R and NILESAT 201; the June 26 mission that orbited the Arabsat-5A and COMS spacecraft, and the May 21 launch with ASTRA 3B and COMSATBw-2.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Asteroid Watching

Former NASA astronaut Russell Schweickart argues in the New York Times that asteroids deserve closer attention for a variety of reasons, most notably the possibility that a large one could slam into Earth someday with devastating results.

Schweickart recently co-authored a report that said funding for asteroid detection and deflection capabilities should be included in NASA's annual budget.

"This is, surprisingly, not an expensive undertaking. Adding just $250 million to $300 million to NASA’s budget would, over the next 10 years, allow for a full inventory of the near-Earth asteroids that could do us harm, and the development and testing of a deflection capacity. Then all we’d need would be an annual maintenance budget of $50 million to $75 million."

France To Boost ESA Contributions

The French government and the French space agency, CNES, on Oct. 26 signed a new five-year budget contract that provides a 10.2 percent increase in France's spending at the European Space Agency (ESA) starting in 2011, the French Research Ministry announced.

The increase, which will bring the French contribution to the 18-nation ESA to 755 million euros ($1.06 billion) a year, is less than the 12.4 percent increase that CNES officials had been counting on until earlier this year. But the ministry said it would enable France to meet its commitments to its ESA partners for programs already agreed to, while also permitting France to pay off its debt to ESA by 2015.

Gigapan: Prehistoric Cave Art of Niaux

Deep in the mountainside near the Ariege river in France, ghostly images of long ago still dance across the rock walls of tunnels, overhangs, and vast caverns.

Explore this digital panorama, constructed from more than 100 individual photographs, and discover the images put there 13-14,000 years ago by the people now known as Magdalenian.

Look for bison, horses, ibex, and even a deer. Let your eyes and mind wander. Why were they put there? What did they represent? As close as we can get to the images themselves, the answers to these questions still disappear, like the light of our flashlights down dark tunnels, beckoning us to continue the exploration.

To explore this GigaPan, click on the picture to visit the website, then use the controls located at the left of the image, click-and-drag and scroll with your mouse, or use your keyboard's arrow keys to navigate left or right and the plus and minus keys to zoom in and out. Click "View All" to see the entire image.

Mount Merapi on Java erupts as a tsunami hits Sumatra

Indonesia's Mount Merapi erupted three times after scientists warned that pressure building beneath its dome could trigger the most powerful explosion in years.

A two-month-old baby reportedly died as panicked villagers fled the area.

The chief vulcanologist in the area said the eruption started just before dusk Tuesday. The volcano had rumbled and groaned for hours.

"There was a thunderous rumble that went on for ages, maybe 15 minutes," said a farmer who by nightfall had yet to abandon his home on the slopes. "Then huge plumes of hot ash started shooting up into the air"

Submarine HMS Astute returns to Clyde base

Watch the BBC video here

Crew members are pictured on the conning tower of HMS it returns to it's base at Faslane on the Clyde for further checks for damage.

Astute is now notoriously known as the nuclear-powered submarine which ran aground off the coast of Skye.

Picture: PA

50 Million year old spider

A spider that has been preserved in amber for 50 million years is pictured in India. A vast collection of bees, termites, spiders, flies and ants dating back 53 million years has challenged assumptions about India's early history. The bugs, preserved in lumps of amber, show that India was not cut off from the rest of the world before joining the Asian continent 50 million years ago
A spider that has been preserved in amber for 50 million years is pictured in India.

A vast collection of bees, termites, spiders, flies and ants dating back 53 million years has challenged assumptions about India's early history.

The bugs, preserved in lumps of amber, show that India was not cut off from the rest of the world before joining the Asian continent 50 million years ago

Monday, October 25, 2010

Newfoundland researchers crack the genetic code of a sudden death cardiac killer

“Our research and discovery has led to a targeted genetic screening and individualized therapy that is significantly improving survival rates,” Dr. Sean Connors told the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2010, co-hosted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society. “It’s allowing people with the condition to live normal, longer lives. Individualized genetic therapies like this are the future of medicine.”

The excitement among cardiologists concerns a rare genetic condition — arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC).

“Newfoundlanders likely have the highest incidence in the world of this disease,” Dr. Connors, a cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at Memorial University in Newfoundland, told the Congress.

The term arrhythmogenic refers to deadly cardiac rhythms that can be triggered by electrical impulses within the heart. Cardiomyopathy is a worsening condition where heart muscle is slowly replaced by scar and fat tissue.

The combination of the two is lethal, Dr. Connors says.

“People who are at risk often have no symptoms, so the first time we know they have this disease is when they die.”

Genetic profiling?

The surest sign that a disease is genetic in origin is when it is manifests itself in family histories, showing up in generation after generation.

“Our diagnostic testing showed that some members of these families have a specific, genetic, electrocardiogram (ECG) mutation — ARVD5,” said Dr. Connors. There is a 50 per cent chance that children of those with the condition will also be carriers of the gene. It is considered the second-most common cause of sudden cardiac death in young people.

The mutation causes premature sudden cardiac death in males: 50 per cent die by age 40 years and 80 per cent by 50 years. For women the rate is five per cent and 20 per cent.

Given those figures, Dr. Connors realized nothing would be lost by implanting ICDs in asymptomatic patients with ARVD5 to maintain normal heart rhythms.

Earlier this year his team reviewed the data of the prevention program which they started in 1999. They concluded that implanted defibrillator treatment for primary prevention in both sexes, and secondary prevention in males significantly improves survival.

According to Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Dr. Beth Abramson, there are as many as 40,000 sudden cardiac arrests every year in Canada.

“What’s fascinating about this study is that they show that preventive intervention works,” says Dr. Abramson. “This treatment is not only prolonging lives; it’s giving families peace of mind and hope for the future.”

The Milky Way in 360 Degrees

Stéphane Guisard traveled to the Paranal observatory, situated in Chile’s remote Atacama desert, in search of the “darkest sky.”

The result? Some amazing zoomable, fisheye images that reveal the darkest of dark skies (including a glimpse of the Gegenschein).

And then also this “byproduct”: a 360 degree panoramic view of the Milky Way that lies on the dark sky horizon. You can view Los Cielos de Chile here.

Please note that the page can take a little time to load. But once you’re there, you can toggle around the images and control the views.

What do we know about BPA: Bisphenol A

THREE letters lie at the heart of our modern world: BPA. Short for bisphenol A, a synthetic oestrogen, a staggering 3 billion kilograms of the stuff is produced annually, with an estimated value of $500,000 per hour to the global economy.

BPA is used in the production of a hard and transparent form of polycarbonate plastic used to create food and drink containers and other consumer goods. It is also used in the epoxy resins that line metal food cans, and as an ingredient in dental sealants.

In fact, we are so consistently exposed to BPA that over 90 per cent of us excrete BPA metabolites in our urine at any given time.

How exactly BPA enters the human body is not yet clear, although eating food kept in BPA-containing packaging, breathing household dust and handling plastics that contain BPA may all contribute to our daily exposure.

Currently, BPA is not listed on food or drink labels so millions of people have no way of knowing their daily exposure.

BPA was first reported in the scientific literature in the 1930s as a synthetic oestrogen, and it is this property that has led to most of the subsequent controversy.

Laboratory studies show that, at the right dose, BPA can act as a hormone mimic, binding not only to oestrogen receptors but to other related receptors, too. However, this "active" dose has been furiously contested in what has become an intense scientific dispute.


Russia marks 50 years since horrific space launch disaster

Russia on Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of the world's most horrific but long-classified space catastrophe when 126 people were burned alive during a launch pad accident.

During the accident, which the Russian space agency says was a veritable "inferno", people were burned alive or vaporised altogether, while others died of noxious fumes or succumbed to burns later.

Authorities and relatives of those who died in this accident and others held a memorial service at the Baikonur cosmodrome and also laid flowers at their mass graves.

In 1960 the Soviet Union, locked in a space race with the United States, was developing an intercontinental ballistic missile known as the R-16, and on October 24 that year was scheduled to launch a prototype rocket when it exploded on the launch pad.

"People died in horrific pain, essentially burning alive, but the country and the rest of the world practically never learnt anything about that terrible catastrophe and its heroes-victims," Russian space agency Roscosmos said.

"To this day it is considered the most horrific (tragedy) in the history of space exploration," the agency said in a statement.

The Russian space agency, citing Soviet scientist Boris Chertok, says 126 people died, but also notes that the exact number of casualties is hard to pin down and may range between 60 and 150.

The testing crew accidentally initiated the second stage of the rocket, which ignited the first stage causing the disaster.

Those closest to the rocket were "more or less vaporised, and many of the victims only later succumbed to their burns," the space agency said in a separate statement in English.

Known as the "devil's venom", the rocket fuel was so noxious that those who jumped into blast wells to escape the "inferno" were found asphyxiated, the space agency said.

In the West, the tragedy is referred to as the Nedelin disaster, after the commander of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, Mitrofan Nedelin, who oversaw the rocket programme and died along with designers and testers.

During the test, Konstantin Gerchik, head of the Baikonur cosmodrome at the time, asked Nedelin to step aside for safety reasons.

Nedelin refused. "Am I not the officer just like the rest?" Gerchik remembered Nedelin telling him, according to excerpts of his memoirs carried by the state news agency RIA Novosti.

The only thing that was left of the marshal was a pin by which he was later identified, according to Gerchik's previously classified memoirs.

Soviet authorities led by Nikita Khrushchev imposed total secrecy over the accident.

The Pravda newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, said Nedelin had perished in a plane crash, NTV channel said, which estimated 74 people burned alive and more than 50 received injuries.

The files on the launch failure were only declassified in the 1990s.

By coincidence, on the same day three years later a fire at a launch pad killed another seven testers.

In the wake of the two accidents, October 24 is known as "a black day" for space exploration on which Russian officials commemorate the memory of all those who dedicated their lives to the space programme.

Space officials do not schedule any launches on this day.

Sending the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first sputnik satellite four years earlier are among key accomplishments of the Soviet space programme and remain a major source of national pride in Russia.

LCROSS almost missed the target

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded temperatures at the Cabeus crash site, shown here about 90 seconds after impact. 

The impact generated temperatures over 1340 degrees Fahrenheit (727 degrees Celsius), which appear as a tiny glowing dot near the center of the color swath. Credit: NASA/UCLA.

The existence of ice on the moon was revealed with a bang last year, when kamikaze spacecraft crashed into a crater at the lunar south pole, kicking up enough water for researchers to finally detect.

Today scientists in six separate studies announced new findings from the Oct. 9, 2009 LCROSS moon crash mission. They found, among other discoveries, substantial amounts of water ice at ground zero for the impact — water that could one day be key to the humanity's future in space.

But as successful as the mission proved in the end, the complicated affair was fraught with uncertainty and came perilously close to failure. Now scientists reveal the story of how they made their discovery and what challenges they faced along the way. [10 Coolest New Moon Discoveries]

NASA Shuttle Discovery: Extra flights in jeopardy

Space shuttle Discovery moves out of the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building for the last time on Sept. 20, 2010 to prepare for its final mission to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller

Less than two weeks before the space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch on its last flight, uncertainty still remains as to exactly when NASA's very final orbiter mission will fly, bringing the storied shuttle era to a close next year. 
NASA has two scheduled shuttle missions, on Discovery and Endeavour, left to fly before retiring its orbiter fleet in 2011. 

A third, extra shuttle mission has been approved by Congress and President Obama, but still faces review by congressional appropriators later this year. 

But NASA's shuttle program manager John Shannon told reporters Thursday (Oct. 21) that definitive plans have not yet been made as to whether the potential third and final shuttle mission will fly to the International Space Station. [Gallery: Shuttle Discovery's Last Launch Pad Trip]

Complacency caused Scientific balloon crash

A NASA report concluded that complacency was to blame for the crash of a scientific balloon on April 28 near Alice Springs, Australia. Credit: NASA

Complacency in a variety of forms led to the April crash of a huge NASA science balloon carrying a multimillion-dollar telescope in the Australian outback, according to a new report released today.
A NASA Mishap Investigation Board has concluded that weather conditions were acceptable for the failed balloon launch on April 29, and there were no technical problems with the balloon or its scientific payload, a $2 million gamma-ray telescope. 
However, the board identified 25 different human-caused factors that led to the spectacular crash.
Most of these causes were related to shortcomings in risk analysis, contingency planning, personnel training, technical knowledge, government oversight and public safety accommodations, according to NASA officials.
"First, the [NASA] Balloon Program has been operating under an underlying assumption that the risks to the public only exist in the overflight of populated areas," the report states. "This assumption has led to a very limited view of the hazards and their associated targets involved in launching balloons. 
Next, the decades of successful balloon launches under a tight budget have led to complacency and a sense that performance of safety and technical measures can be relaxed under the guise of risk acceptance."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

ESA - New international standard for spacecraft docking

European, Russian, Canadian and Japanese Partners in the International Space Station programme have agreed on a new standard for docking systems, which will be capable also of implementing berthing.

The agreement allows a range of compatible, but not necessarily identical, mechanisms for spacecraft docking. A first agreed version of the Interface Definition Document will be released on 25 October.

The International Docking System Standard (IDSS) provides the guidelines for a common interface to link spacecraft together.

It builds on the heritage of the Russian developed APAS system (Androgynous Peripheral Attachment System) used for the Space Shuttle for the ‘hard docking’ and the innovative soft-capture features of the new NASA and ESA systems. Other agencies will be free to choose specific features behind the interface.

“The IDSS is an outstanding example of international collaboration. We have developed a common language for docking systems to use the same 'words' in space when it comes to work together,” said Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight.

“The Docking Standard sweeps away the boundaries for a truly global exploration endeavour. It will also make joint spacecraft docking operations more routine and eliminate critical obstacles to joint space exploration undertakings,” she went on and on.

To allow you to buil your own model at home, a PDF copy of the International Docking Standard document can be downloaded from here

The Edison 2 (X Prize Winner) very light car - Video

The Edison 2 very light and very fuel efficient car. Visit the website here

This week at NASA: TW@N - 24th Oct 2010

Click on the Picture to play the video update

Asthma Breakthrough: Discovery of taste receptors in the lungs

Taste receptors in the lungs? Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore have discovered that bitter taste receptors are not just located in the mouth but also in human lungs. What they learned about the role of the receptors could revolutionize the treatment of asthma and other obstructive lung diseases.

“The detection of functioning taste receptors on smooth muscle of the bronchus in the lungs was so unexpected that we were at first quite skeptical ourselves,” says the study’s senior author, Stephen B. Liggett, M.D., professor of medicine and physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of its Cardiopulmonary Genomics Program.

Dr. Liggett, a pulmonologist, says his team found the taste receptors by accident, during an earlier, unrelated study of human lung muscle receptors that regulate airway contraction and relaxation. The airways are the pathways that move air in and out of the lungs, one of several critical steps in the process of delivering oxygen to cells throughout the body. In asthma, the smooth muscle airways contract or tighten, impeding the flow of air, causing wheezing and shortness of breath.

The taste receptors in the lungs are the same as those on the tongue. The tongue’s receptors are clustered in taste buds, which send signals to the brain. The researchers say that in the lung, the taste receptors are not clustered in buds and do not send signals to the brain, yet they respond to substances that have a bitter taste.

For the current study, Dr. Liggett’s team exposed bitter-tasting compounds to human and mouse airways, individual airway smooth muscle cells, and to mice with asthma. The findings are published online in Nature Medicine.

Most plant-based poisons are bitter, so the researchers thought the purpose of the lung’s taste receptors was similar to those in the tongue — to warn against poisons. “I initially thought the bitter-taste receptors in the lungs would prompt a ‘fight or flight’ response to a noxious inhalant, causing chest tightness and coughing so you would leave the toxic environment, but that’s not what we found,” says Dr. Liggett.

There are thousands of compounds that activate the body’s bitter taste receptors but are not toxic in appropriate doses. Many are synthetic agents, developed for different purposes, and others come from natural origins, such as certain vegetables, flowers, berries and trees.

The researchers tested a few standard bitter substances known to activate these receptors. “It turns out that the bitter compounds worked the opposite way from what we thought,” says Dr. Liggett. “They all opened the airway more profoundly than any known drug that we have for treatment of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).” Dr. Liggett says this observation could have implications for new therapies. “New drugs to treat asthma, emphysema or chronic bronchitis are needed,” he says. “This could replace or enhance what is now in use, and represents a completely new approach.”

Quinine and chloroquine have been used to treat completely different diseases (such as malaria), but are also very bitter. Both of these compounds opened contracted airways profoundly in laboratory models. Even saccharin, which has a bitter aftertaste, was effective at stimulating these receptors. The researchers also found that administration of an aerosolized form of bitter substances relaxed the airways in a mouse model of asthma, showing that they could potentially be an effective treatment for this disease.

Dr. Liggett cautions that eating bitter tasting foods or compounds would not help in the treatment of asthma. “Based on our research, we think that the best drugs would be chemical modifications of bitter compounds, which would be aerosolized and then inhaled into the lungs with an inhaler,” he says.

Another paradoxical aspect of their discovery is the unexpected role that the mineral calcium plays when the lung’s taste receptors are activated. The study’s principal author, Deepak A. Deshpande, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is an expert in how calcium controls muscles. “We always assumed that increased calcium in the smooth muscle cell caused it to contract, but we found that bitter compounds increase calcium and cause relaxation of airway muscle in a unique way,” says Dr. Deshpande. “It appears that these taste receptors are wired to a special pool of calcium that is right at the edge of these cells,” he says.

“The work of this team exemplifies what it takes to make real improvements in treating certain diseases,” says E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland and dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “These researchers were willing to take chances and ask questions about an unlikely concept. Why are taste receptors in the lungs? What do they do? Can we take advantage of them to devise a new therapy? In the end, their discoveries are in the best tradition of scientific research.”

Asthma and COPD together affect 300 million people worldwide. According to the American Lung Association, asthma affects nearly 23 million Americans, including seven million children, and COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. The incidence of both diseases is increasing. At least half of all asthma patients have inadequate control of the disease using drugs currently available.

NASA Astronaut: ISS Commander Kelly

Commander Kelly taking a private moment in the ESA developed Cupola, a window in the ISS.

(Not for release to the Press)

Nissan Leaf video - Electric car production

Nissan Leaf video

Saturday, October 23, 2010

ESA ENVISAT Image: Straits of Gibralter

ESA's Envisat radar image shows internal waves in the Strait of Gibraltar, between the southern coast of Spain (top) and the northern coast of Morocco.

The strait is the only connection between the Atlantic Ocean (left) and the Mediterranean Sea (right), making it a place of intense study in order to understand the exchange of water between the two.

As water flows into and out of the Mediterranean, two currents are formed in the strait.

An upper layer of Atlantic water flows eastward into the sea over a lower layer of saltier and heavier Mediterranean water flowing westward into the ocean.

The lower current is called the Mediterranean Outflow water. As it leaves the Mediterranean near the strait’s western end, it flows over a sudden rise in the sea floor, generating a series of internal waves.

Internal waves are not directly visible to the observer because they do not result in large undulations on the sea surface; instead, they induce a horizontal surface current, which changes the surface roughness of the sea.

From space, internal waves can be detected very efficiently using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) instruments that are sensitive to changes in the small-scale surface roughness on the ocean surface.

Internal waves in this image show up as a semi-circular rippled pattern east of the strait’s entrance in the Mediterranean Sea. Additional sets of internal waves generated in the Atlantic Ocean are visible as dark pink lines on the western side of the strait.

With hundreds of vessels passing through daily, the strait is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. The main shipping lanes can be seen through the concentration of ships (colourful points) in distinct channels.

Several cities are visible in Spain (all as patches of light green), including the British oversees territory of Gibraltar (semi-circle at the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar), Malaga (on the coast about 100 km east of Gibraltar), Granada (northeast of Malaga) and Seville (left of centre top). The Spanish autonomous city of Ceuta is on the coast in North Africa, directly across from Gibraltar.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Science of a Dog Shaking itself dry

Behold the basic physics of the wet dog shake, as explored by Andrew Dickerson, Grant Mills, Jay Bauman, Young-Hui Chang, David Hu of the Georgia Institute of Technology. Their (skimpy, introductory) paper is available on arxiv — it’s really an introduction to this entrancing video

Should introverted schoolchildren be typecast into science?

SCIENCE suits shy people. A Dutch study has found that introverted students are more likely to choose science subjects at school, while more sociable peers tend to drop them at the first opportunity - regardless of their natural ability. The study raises the question: should teachers encourage students to choose subjects that "fit" their personality or to break out of the mould?

Education researcher Hanke Korpershoek and her colleagues at the University of Groningen used data from a study which followed thousands of Dutch students throughout their education and included personality tests.

Korpershoek analysed data from nearly 4000 students and found that their subject choices at age 15 were affected by personality. Students who chose science subjects tended to be less extroverted than those who chose non-science subjects. They also scored more highly on conscientiousness and emotional stability (Journal of Research in Personality, vol 44, p 649).

The result remained significant even after controlling for the effects of mathematical ability and gender.

This is the first study to investigate how personality differences affect students' subject choices, according to Korpershoek.

Smoke Pollution in Singapore from Indonesia illegal de-forestation Fires

A couple relaxes in an infinity pool overlooking the haze-covered skyline in Singapore.

Singapore, blanketed under a smoky haze for days, beseeched neighbouring Indonesia to douse fires lit for illegal clearing of forests that are causing the worst air pollution in the region since 2006.

Malaysia has also blamed poor air quality in some of its southern towns on fires on Indonesia's Sumatra island
Picture: REUTERS

ISS passes in front of Harvest Moon

The International Space Station, orbiting the Earth, passes in front of the full moon, in this photo captured by Bela Vingler from Gyoerugfalu, Hungary

Blood sucking Chupacabras: Goatsucker mite

As Halloween approaches, tales of monsters and creepy crawlies abound. Among the most fearsome is the legendary beast known as the chupacabras.

But the real fiend is not the hairless, fanged animal purported to attack and drink the blood of livestock; it’s a tiny, eight-legged creature that turns a healthy, wild animal into a chupacabras, says University of Michigan biologist Barry O' Connor.

The existence of the chupacabras, also known as the goatsucker, was first surmised from livestock attacks in Puerto Rico, where dead sheep were discovered with puncture wounds, completely drained of blood. Similar reports began accumulating from other locations in Latin America and the U.S.

Then came sightings of evil-looking animals, variously described as dog-like, rodent-like or reptile-like, with long snouts, large fangs, leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and a nasty odor. Locals put two and two together and assumed the ugly varmints were responsible for the killings.

Scientists studied some of the chupacabras carcasses and concluded that the dreaded monsters actually were coyotes with extreme cases of mange—a skin condition caused by mites burrowing under the skin. OConnor, who studies the mites that cause mange, concurs and has an idea why the tiny assailants affect wild coyotes so severely, turning them into atrocities.

In a recent “Monster Talk” podcast posted on Skeptic magazine’s website, O' Connor explained that the mite responsible for the extreme hair loss seen in “chupacabras syndrome” is Sarcoptes scabiei, which also causes the itchy rash known as scabies in people.

Human scabies is an annoyance, but not usually a serious health or appearance problem, partly because our bodies are already virtually hairless and partly because the population of mites on a given person usually is relatively small—only 20 or 30 mites.

Evolutionary studies done by O' Connor and his former graduate student Hans Klompen, now an associate professor at Ohio State University, suggest that the scabies mite has been with us throughout our evolutionary history, giving humans plenty of time to develop defenses.

When humans began domesticating animals, Sarcoptes scabiei found a whole new realm of potential victims. Domestic dogs, like humans, have played host to the mites long enough to evolve the ability to fight off mange, but when the condition spreads to wild members of the dog family—foxes, wolves and coyotes—watch out.

Dark Matter may be hot stuff

"Cold, dark matter" has a certain ring to it, but new simulations of our corner of the cosmos suggest that dark matter – the stuff that is thought to underlie the universe – might be warm, with relatively fast-moving and lightweight particles.

In cosmology's standard model, dark matter is cold, made up of relatively heavy low-energy particles, and will happily settle into structures as small as planets.

Hot dark matter has already been ruled out because its particles would move too fast for galaxies to form. But warm dark matter has smaller, faster particles that still allow for our familiar starry sky.

Most computer models produce a generic universe that doesn't resemble ours in detail, but Gustavo Yepes at the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain, and his collaborators on the Constrained Local Universe Simulations (CLUES) project have tuned theirs to resemble the galaxies and clusters nearest Earth.

YouTube - Baby Monkey (Going Backwards On A Pig)

ESA and DLR: Sentinel-2

 ESA and the German Aerospace Centre DLR, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for a state-of-the-art optical data relay terminal to be flown on the Sentinel-2 satellite.

Click on the picture to watch the animated movie

The contract was signed today at ESA headquarters in Paris by Volker Liebig, ESA Director of Earth Observation, Magali Vaissiere, ESA Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, Jurgen Mallwitz, Head of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Administration Department and Christoph Hohage, DLR Director of national programmes.

The Sentinel satellites – numbered from Sentinel-1 to Sentinel-5 - will form the core of the European Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme. Sentinel-2 will be devoted to monitoring the land environment and will deliver high-resolution data (around 10 metres and above on the ground).

Its data will benefit services in areas such as land management, agriculture and forestry and environmental monitoring as well as disaster control and humanitarian relief operations.

Malaria: Turning the Genetic Keys to switch it off

More than a third of the 72 molecular switches that control key stages in the life cycle of the malaria parasite can be disrupted in some way.

The finding is a significant breakthrough in the search for inexpensive, effective vaccines and drugs to stop the transmission of a disease that kills up to a million children a year, according to new research.

Until now little has been known about the cellular processes involved in the development of this deadly disease.

The research, published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, involved the first comprehensive functional analysis of protein kinases in any malaria parasite.

It is also the largest gene knock-out study in Plasmodium berghei—a malaria parasite infecting rodents.

“Blocking parasite transmission is recognized as an important element in the global fight to control malaria,” says Rita Tewari, in the school of biology at the University of Nottingham.

“Kinases are a family of proteins which contribute to the control of nearly all cellular processes and have already become major drug targets in the fight against cancer and other diseases.

“Now we have identified some key regulators that control the
transmission of the malaria parasite. Work to develop drugs to eradicate this terrible disease can now focus on the best targets.

This study shows how systematic functional studies not only increase our knowledge in understanding complexity of malaria parasite development but also gives us the rational approach towards drug development.”


University of Nottingham:

ESA ENVISAT Image - Lake Malawi or Nyasa

This Envisat image features Lake Malawi in the Eastern Rift of the Great Rift Valley, a geological fault system of Southwest Asia and East Africa.

The series of lakes in and around the Great Rift Valley is referred to as the 'Great Lakes of Africa'.

Lake Malawi, also known as Lake Nyasa, is the third largest lake in Africa. It occupies one fifth of Malawi (centre, around the lake’s west and south sides) and creates a natural border between Malawi, Tanzania (upper right) and Mozambique (lower right). Most of the land visible on the left belongs to Zambia.

One of the world’s few ancient lakes, Lake Malawi has a unique uninterrupted history.

These deep (750 m), isolated waters have shaped a unique diversity of fish that is popular amongst aquarists.
Lake Malawi National Park (at the southern end of the great expanse of Lake Malawi) was designated a Natural World Heritage Site in 1984, with its importance for the study of evolution being compared to that of Darwin's finches of the Galapagos Islands.

This image was acquired by ESA's Envisat Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer on 12 October 2010 at a resolution of 300 m. Vist the ENVISAT Overview on the ESA portal

Credit: ESA

Silver found in lunar rocks


Silver was found in small amounts in lunar rocks collected by the Apollo astronauts, and now its spectral signature may have been spotted by NASA's LCROSS mission (Image: T. A. Rector/I. P. Dell'Antonio/NOAO/AURA/NSF)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lunar Crater contains more water than Sahara

Debris ejected from the Cabeus lunar crater about 20 seconds after the Lcross impact. 

In lunar terms, that is an oasis, surprisingly wet for a place that had long been thought by many planetary scientists to be utterly dry.

If astronauts were to visit this crater, they might be able to use eight wheelbarrows of soil to melt 10 to 13 gallons of water. The water, if purified, could be used for drinking, or broken apart into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel — to get home or travel to Mars.

“That is a very valuable resource,” said Anthony Colaprete, principal investigator of NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite — or Lcross, for short — which made the observations as it, by design, slammed into the Moon a year ago. “This is wetter than some places on Earth.”

The Sahara sands are 2 to 5 percent water, and the water is tightly bound to the minerals. In the lunar crater, which lies in perpetual darkness, the water is in the form of almost pure ice grains mixed in with the rest of the soil, and is easy to extract. The ice is about 5.6 percent of the mixture, and possibly as high as 8.5 percent of it, Dr. Colaprete said.

“That is a large number, larger than I think anyone was anticipating,” Dr. Colaprete said.

The $79 million Lcross mission piggybacked on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which was launched in June last year and has been mapping out the lunar surface for a future return by astronauts. Lcross steered the empty second stage of the rocket, which otherwise would have just burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere, onto a collision course with the Moon.

Super-typhoon Megi hits Southern china

On October 21, 2010, Typhoon Megi continued raging over the South China Sea. The U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center reported that Megi had maximum sustained winds of 100 knots (185 kilometers per hour) and gusts up to 125 knots (230 kilometers per hour).

The Category 3 storm was located roughly 245 nautical miles (450 kilometers) east-southeast of Hong Kong, and was expected to make landfall on mainland China, between Hong Kong and Taiwan, within days.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image of Megi on October 21.

The storm spans almost the entire distance between the northern Philippines and Hong Kong, and storm clouds extend over Taiwan in the northeast.

On October 20, Reuters reported that Megi had destroyed homes and caused at least 15 deaths in the northern Philippines. Chinese authorities were bracing for the storm to come ashore east of densely populated Hong Kong.

JC Polyomavirus: Deadly but with a weakness for sugar

It doesn’t strike often but when the JC polyomavirus does, it’s ruthless. The virus preys on people with weakened immune systems and almost always kills them.
Now the killer may have a target on its back. An international team has uncovered that the virus must bind to a very specific sugar molecule dangling from the side of the brain cells it attacks.

The finding, reported this week in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, could provide a basis for developing drugs to interrupt that process.

Researchers from Brown University, the University of Tübingen in Germany, and Imperial College in London painstakingly characterized the precise structure and biology of how the virus binds to host cells down to the atomic level.

By exposing a specific target, the work sets the table for drug development to begin, says Walter Atwood, professor of molecular biology, cell biology, and biochemistry at Brown and a senior author of the study.

“The overall goal is to get these ‘plans’ and then design small molecules—drugs that will fit in this receptor, binding and preventing infection,” Atwood says.

Atwood notes that this paper also marks the first time anyone has fully determined the structure and binding functionality of a human polyomavirus. While the JC polyomavirus causes the brain-wasting disease known as PML, others in the “family” are implicated in ailments such as skin cancers.

When the virus floats toward a cell, it encounters a metaphorical cityscape of sugary molecules on its surface, says Brown postdoctoral researcher Melissa Maginnis, one of the paper’s two lead authors. The team wanted to know which one the virus chooses.

NASA Jet Propulsion LAb Webcam: Building Mars Rover Curiosity

Click on the picture to visit Curiosity Cam

Curiosity Cam takes you inside the clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., so you can watch the next Mars rover being built.

Technicians assembling and testing the Mars Science Laboratory, aka Curiosity, are covered head-to-toe in "bunny suits."

These white smocks, booties and facemasks help protect against Earthly contaminants hitching a ride to Mars.

The camera may be turned off periodically for maintenance. The rover may occasionally be out of view as it is moved around the clean room. When Curiosity Cam is off air, you will see a slideshow of Mars and rover images.

Wheels Spinning

Engineers just installed six new wheels on the Curiosity rover, and rotated all six wheels at once on July 9, 2010.

This milestone marked the first in a series of "tune ups" to get the rover ready for a drive in the clean room where it is being assembled at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Curiosity is the centerpiece of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, which is expected to launch in late 2011, and touch down wheels-first in summer 2012.

For more information about the mission, see:

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

PETA protest against NASA's plans to irradiate Squirrel monkeys

NASA plans to to continue with plans to subject squirrel monkeys to gamma-ray radiation to learn how long space trips might affect humans.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
has obtained documents discussing a controversial NASA-funded project that would expose squirrel monkeys to radiation.

PETA obtained the documents, which include a draft "Decision regarding the disposition of the NSRL Proposal N-249," through a Freedom of Information Act request; however, the documents do not resolve the future of the space radiation experiment, which would take place at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Citing an exemption under the federal law, the U.S. Department of Energy redacted essentially all of the content of the emails and the draft decision it forwarded to PETA.

A statement on PETA's website read: "Unfortunately, before the government sent us these documents, it blacked out Brookhaven's decision, so we don't know if plans to hurt these animals are moving forward or not."

A decision is pending, a spokesman for Brookhaven National Laboratory reported but the time frame was not available.

Full story on PETA's website

April Evans, a NASA aerospace engineer working on the International Space Station as a team lead, has quit her job over NASA's decision to irradiate non-human primates after 30 peaceful years without any space-related experiments on monkeys.

Evans, a NASA Space Flight Awareness Honoree, wrote to Brookhaven director Samuel Aronson, explaining, "After much deliberation, I resigned from NASA because I could not support the scientific justification for this monkey radiobiology experiment."

In the letter, Evans also encouraged the agency to develop better space radiation shielding to protect astronauts—instead of tormenting animals.

It’s also interesting to know that although NASA defends its use of radiation on primates, the European Space Agency does not conduct research on these creatures and has no plans or interest to.

In a letter dated April 1 formally stating the position of the European agency, director Jean-Jacques Dordain said, “there is absolutely no research interest or planning for experiments with primates.”

NASA Hubble Image: NGC 6210 Hercules constellation

The Hubble Space Telescope captured this striking image of the curious planetary nebula NGC 6210, which is located about 6,500 light-years away in the constellation of Hercules. Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA

A star's last gasp at the final stage of its life has been frozen for all time in a new photo by the Hubble Space Telescope.

In the photo, Hubble took a deep look at NGC 6210, a curious planetary nebula located about 6,500 light-years away, in the constellation of Hercules.

At the heart of NGC 6210 is a star slightly less massive than our sun that is in the last fitful stage of its life cycle.

The star's death spasms have kicked off multiple shells of material with different degrees of symmetry, giving the NGC 6210 nebula its odd, bulbous shape.

The new Hubble image shows the inner region of the planetary nebula in unprecedented detail, where the central star is surrounded by a thin, bluish bubble that reveals a delicate filamentary structure.

The glowing bubble appears to be intertwined with an asymmetric, reddish gas formation where holes, filaments and pillars are clearly visible.

Planetary nebulas are shells of gas and dust expelled by stars near the end of their lives. They are typically seen around stars comparable or smaller in size than the sun. Planetary nebulas are not related to planets as their name suggests, but instead earned the moniker because they resembled giant planets when viewed through early telescopes.

A star's life ends when it runs out of fuel for its thermonuclear engine. The estimated lifetime for a sun-like star is about 10 billion years.