Wednesday, September 17, 2014

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft is nearing its orbit

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft is nearing its scheduled Sept. 21 insertion into Martian orbit after completing a 10-month interplanetary journey of 442 million miles.

Flight Controllers at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado, will be responsible for the health and safety of the spacecraft throughout the process. The spacecraft’s mission timeline will place the spacecraft in orbit at approximately 9:50 p.m. EDT.

“So far, so good with the performance of the spacecraft and payloads on the cruise to Mars,” said David Mitchell, MAVEN project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The team, the flight system, and all ground assets are ready for Mars orbit insertion.”

The orbit-insertion maneuver will begin with the brief firing of six small thruster engines to steady the spacecraft. The engines will ignite and burn for 33 minutes to slow the craft, allowing it to be pulled into an elliptical orbit with a period of 35 hours.

Following orbit insertion, MAVEN will begin a six-week commissioning phase that includes maneuvering the spacecraft into its final orbit and testing its instruments and science-mapping commands. Thereafter, MAVEN will begin its one-Earth-year primary mission to take measurements of the composition, structure and escape of gases in Mars’ upper atmosphere and its interaction with the sun and solar wind.

“The MAVEN science mission focuses on answering questions about where did the water that was present on early Mars go, about where did the carbon dioxide go,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator from the University of Colorado, Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. “These are important questions for understanding the history of Mars, its climate, and its potential to support at least microbial life.”

MAVEN launched Nov. 18, 2013, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying three instrument packages. It is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the upper atmosphere of Mars. The mission’s combination of detailed measurements at specific points in Mars’ atmosphere and global imaging provides a powerful tool for understanding the properties of the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere.

“MAVEN is another NASA robotic scientific explorer that is paving the way for our journey to Mars,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Together, robotics and humans will pioneer the Red Planet and the solar system to help answer some of humanity’s fundamental questions about life beyond Earth.”

The spacecraft’s principal investigator is based at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at University of Colorado, Boulder. The university provided two science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the project and also provided two science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. The Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley provided four science instruments for MAVEN. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, and Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

Photo Credits and source: NASA
To learn more about the MAVEN mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/maven

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

NASA Chooses American Companies to Transport U.S. Astronauts to International Space Station

September 16, 2014
Image Credit: NASA
U.S. astronauts once again will travel to and from the International Space Station from the United States on American spacecraft under groundbreaking contracts NASA announced Tuesday. The agency unveiled its selection of Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively, with a goal of ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia in 2017.
Image Credit: NASA

U.S. astronauts once again will travel to and from the International Space Station from the United States on American spacecraft under groundbreaking contracts NASA announced Tuesday. The agency unveiled its selection of Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively, with a goal of ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia in 2017.
"From day one, the Obama Administration made clear that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on other nations to get into space," NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, the hard work of our NASA and industry teams, and support from Congress, today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia by 2017. Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will also allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission – sending humans to Mars."

These Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts are designed to complete the NASA certification for human space transportation systems capable of carrying people into orbit. Once certification is complete, NASA plans to use these systems to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station and return them safely to Earth.

The companies selected to provide this transportation capability and the maximum potential value of their FAR-based firm fixed-price contracts are:
-- The Boeing Company, Houston, $4.2 billion
-- Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, California, $2.6 billion

The contracts include at least one crewed flight test per company with at least one NASA astronaut aboard to verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all its systems perform as expected. Once each company’s test program has been completed successfully and its system achieves NASA certification, each contractor will conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station. These spacecraft also will serve as a lifeboat for astronauts aboard the station.

NASA's Commercial Crew Program will implement this capability as a public-private partnership with the American aerospace companies. NASA's expert team of engineers and spaceflight specialists is facilitating and certifying the development work of industry partners to ensure new spacecraft are safe and reliable.

The U.S. missions to the International Space Station following certification will allow the station's current crew of six to grow, enabling the crew to conduct more research aboard the unique microgravity laboratory.

"We are excited to see our industry partners close in on operational flights to the International Space Station, an extraordinary feat industry and the NASA family began just four years ago," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. "This space agency has long been a technology innovator, and now we also can say we are an American business innovator, spurring job creation and opening up new markets to the private sector. The agency and our partners have many important steps to finish, but we have shown we can do the tough work required and excel in ways few would dare to hope."

The companies will own and operate the crew transportation systems and be able to sell human space transportation services to other customers in addition to NASA, thereby reducing the costs for all customers.

By encouraging private companies to handle launches to low-Earth orbit -- a region NASA's been visiting since 1962 -- the nation's space agency can focus on getting the most research and experience out of America's investment in the International Space Station. NASA also can focus on building spacecraft and rockets for deep space missions, including flights to Mars.
Source: NASA
For more information about NASA's Commercial Crew Program and CCtCap, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ebola: a Disease Associated with Poverty



Image Prensa Latina

By Vivian Collazo Montano*

Havana (Prensa Latina) More than six months ago in Guinea Conakry began an outbreak of Ebola, which quickly spread to other West African nations. Since then, 2473 people got ill, 1350 of them died from the disease.
In just two days, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 106 deaths, 95 of them in Liberia, where the situation is more serious and it is seen as vital to contain the spread of the virus to control the outbreak.

Sierra Leone is the second most problematic country among the four affected in West Africa. It is considered that in these two countries pathogen transmission is high. In Nigeria, the situation is stable, although experts believe that the over all situation in the region is complex. The number of infections is growing every day, and the disease, which has no specific treatment, shows a high mortality rate.
However, the successful application of a serum under investigation to two Americans, who have already been discharged from hospital, opens up new hopes.

Known as ZMapp, the serum had not been tested on humans, but given the situation, WHO accepted the use of investigatory treatments with potential therapeutic or preventive purposes, aiming to save the lives of patients and stop the epidemic.
At the moment, it has also been used for Liberian patients with good results, although the same treatment was administered to a Spanish priest, who failed to overcome the disease and died.

<b>A DISEASE ASSOCIATED WITH POVERTY</b>

On the other hand, Margaret Chan, WHO director, admitted that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is so large, severe and difficult to contain because of poverty.
In an article published in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, the expert says that the most affected nations, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are among the poorest in the world.
Years of conflict and civil war left behind serious consequences in their health systems, people had been destroyed or severely disabled, and in some areas, there is a generation of children with no education, the article said.

In these countries, only one or two doctors are available for every hundred thousand inhabitants, and they are concentrated in urban areas. Isolation rooms, and even the capacity of the hospital to control infection, are practically nonexistent.
Contacts of infected individuals are tracked, but they are not continuously isolated for monitoring, Chan said in the report.

However, she noted that, although the situation is worsening, the response had gotten better in the last two weeks. Help came from various organizations and WHO is supervising the outbreak to identify areas of transmission and to ensure that assistance is coordinated and distributed quickly and rationally.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of the United States, are providing strong support in the field, including contact tracing.

Experience shows that the disease can be contained, even without a vaccine or cure, but the combination of poverty, dysfunctional health systems, and fear at work, tells about a distant goal, she said.
The international community will need to be prepared for many more months of massive, coordinated and targeted assistance.

“A human world cannot let West African people suffer on such an extraordinary scale,” the expert concluded.
* Head of the Science and Technology Editorial Department at Prensa Latina News Agency. source: Prensa Latina Posted date: 12 September 2014, revised by Gone Native Translations

Thursday, September 4, 2014

International Global Precipitation Measurement Mission Data Goes Public


The most accurate and comprehensive collection of rain, snowfall and other types of precipitation data ever assembled now is available to the public. This new resource for climate studies, weather forecasting, and other applications is based on observations by the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory, a joint mission of NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), with contributions from a constellation of international partner satellites.

The GPM Core Observatory, launched from Japan on Feb. 27, carries two advanced instruments to measure rainfall, snowfall, ice and other precipitation. The advanced and precise data from the GPM Core Observatory are used to unify and standardize precipitation observations from other constellation satellites to produce the GPM mission data. These data are freely available through NASA's Precipitation Processing System at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

"We are very pleased to make all these data available to scientists and other users within six months of launch," said Ramesh Kakar, GPM program scientist in the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters, Washington.


One of the first storms observed by the NASA/JAXA GPM Core Observatory on March 17, 2014, in the eastern United States revealed a full range of precipitation, from rain to snow.
Image Credit: NASA/JAXA
In addition to NASA and JAXA, the GPM mission includes satellites from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, Indian Space Research Organisation, and France's Centre National d’√Čtudes Spatiales.

Instruments on the GPM Core Observatory and partner satellites measure energy naturally emitted by liquid and frozen precipitation. Scientists use computer programs to convert these data into estimates of rain and snowfall. The individual instruments on the partner satellites collect similar data, but the absolute numbers for precipitation observed over the same location may not be exactly the same. The GPM Core Observatory's data are used as a reference standard to smooth out the individual differences, like a principal violinist tuning the individual instruments in an orchestra. The result is data that are consistent with each other and can be meaningfully compared.
With the higher sensitivity to different types of precipitation made possible by the GPM Core Observatory's Microwave Imager (GMI) and Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR), scientists can for the first time accurately measure the full range of precipitation from heavy rain to light rain and snow. The instruments are designed not only to detect rain and snow in the clouds, but to measure the size and distribution of the rain particles and snowflakes. This information gives scientists a better estimate of water content and a new perspective on winter storms, especially near the poles where the majority of precipitation is snowfall.

"With this GPM mission data, we can now see snow in a way we could not before," said Gail Skofronick-Jackson, GPM project scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center. "Cloud tops high in the atmosphere have ice in them. If the Earth’s surface is above freezing, it melts into rain as it falls. But in some parts of the world, it's cold enough that the ice and snow falls all the way to the ground."

One of the first storms observed by the GPM Core Observatory on March 17 in the eastern United States showed that full range of precipitation. Heavy rains fell over the North and South Carolina coasts. As the storm moved northward, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Washington were covered with snow. The GMI observed an 547 mile- (880 kilometer) wide track of precipitation on the surface, while the DPR imaged every 820 feet (250 meters) vertically to get the three-dimensional structure of the rain and snowfall layer by layer inside the clouds.

"What's really clear in these images is the melting layer, the place in the atmosphere where ice turns into rain," said Skofronick-Jackson. "The melting layer is one part of the precipitation process that scientists don’t know well because it is in such a narrow part of the cloud and changes quickly. Understanding the small scale details within the melting layer helps us better understand the precipitation process."

The combined snowfall and rainfall measurements from GPM will fill in the picture of where and how water moves throughout the global water cycle.

"Scientists and modelers can use the new GPM data for weather forecasts, estimating snowpack accumulation for freshwater resources, flood and landslide prediction, or tracking hurricanes," Skofronick-Jackson said. "This revolutionary information also gives us a better grasp of how storms and precipitating systems form and evolve around the planet, providing climate modelers insight into how precipitation might change in a changing climate."

GPM data are freely available to registered users from Goddard's Precipitation Processing System (PPS) website. The data sets are currently available in strips called swaths that correspond to the satellites' overpasses. Daily and monthly, global maps are also available from all the sensors. In the coming months, the PPS will merge this instrument data from all partner satellites and the Core Observatory into a seamless map that shows global rain and snow data at a 6-mile (10-kilometer) resolution every 30 minutes.

The GPM Core Observatory was the first of five scheduled NASA Earth science missions launching within a year. NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA also develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

Source: NASA

For more information about NASA's Earth science activities, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow