So far this hurricane season, the Atlantic has been quiet. That's good news for Gulf oil spill cleanup efforts, but a team of NASA and NOAA scientists are hoping things will get just a little nastier.
This weekend, NASA is launching a six-week mission to study the formation and intensification of hurricanes, hoping to inform forecast models and improve hurricane prediction abilities. The GRIP experiment (for Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes) involves more than a dozen satellite-quality scientific instruments onboard a Global Hawk unmanned drone, a converted WB-57 cold-war bomber and a modified DC-8.
After one failed attempt to remove a broken cooling pump on Saturday, a second attempt has succeeded. In a seven-and-a-half-hour spacewalk, Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson managed to unhook the ammonia line that was spewing frozen NH3 crystals last time, then pry off the broken pump with a grapple bar. Whew.
With President Obama taking the budget axe to some of NASA's most darling projects lately, it makes sense that the agency might look at ways to cut down on waste by getting a little more mileageout of its current hardware. A proposal by NASA's "Blue Sky" group would do exactly that, repurposing a room on the ISS as a crew capsule for a manned mission to an asteroid.
In an acknowledgement that the private space industry just might have something going for it, NASA is setting aside $30 million to buy information gleaned from future commercial missions to the moon. NASA believes it can learn from these missions and will pay up to $10 million per mission for data that could be useful for future robotic or manned missions of its own even though NASA has no lunar missions on the books.
Saturday's emergency spacewalk outside the International Space Station failed to replace the faulty cooling pump that malfunctioned last week, prompting NASA to schedule a third spacewalk in addition to the two already scheduled for the task. The second could be performed as early as Wednesday, giving NASA engineers time to consider the problem while lawmakers continue to mull NASA's future, which is pinned to the success of the ISS.
On Sunday, sunspot number 1092 emitted a C-class solar flare--not a large one, by solar flare standards. But NASA scientists were intrigued by what accompanied it--an unusually fast corona mass ejection that sent a large cloud of charged plasma toward Earth. There will be no adverse effects here on Earth--other than increased aurora activity.
In 2016, NASA and the European Space Agency will launch the first-ever joint U.S./Euro mission to Mars, and Tuesday they unveiled exactly what kind of toys the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter will have on board. Among the highlights: the Mars Atmospheric Trace Molecule Occultation Spectrometer (MATMOS) that can detect concentrations of gas down to parts per trillion.
Robonaut-2, NASA's robot astronaut, now has a Twitter account. Indeed, the space-bound humanoid machine is taking questions from humans, tagged #4R2 on Twitter, and will be posting its answers tomorrow morning.
Proving that no matter how expensive your air conditioner the cooling pump will still break, NASA is planning a pair of emergency spacewalks on the $100 billion International Space Station this week to replace a cooling system component that unexpectedly failed Saturday.
The emergency spacewalks don't just punctuate a cooling system problem, but a breakdown in the Earth-to-orbit ISS maintenance supply chain. The broken cooling pump module weighs an unwieldy 780 pounds and can only be transported to the ISS aboard the Space Shuttle.
NASA has been tracking a piece of space junk on course for a near collision with the International Space Station this week, but while the agency continues to monitor the debris -- a leftover from China's brilliant shooting down of the Fengyun 1C weather satellite during a missile test in 2007 -- Russian Flight Control authorities have issued an all-clear, saying an avoidance maneuver will not be necessary.
This month, NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office released data naming the top ten incidents contributing to the space junk problem. The Fengyun fiasco is hands down the largest single contributor to the growing space junk crisis. NASA has identified some 19,000 objects larger than four inches that are running loose in orbit at extremely high rates of speed just waiting for a functioning satellite, a spacecraft, or the ISS to get in their paths. Of those, 2,841 are thought to have come from the destruction of Fengyun 1C.