History > 2009 > USA > Space (II)
Butterfly Emerges from Stellar Demise in
Planetary Nebula NGC 6302
This celestial object looks like a delicate butterfly. But it is far from
What resemble dainty butterfly wings
are actually roiling cauldrons of gas
heated to more than 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The gas is tearing across space at more than 600,000 miles an hour
enough to travel from Earth to the moon in 24 minutes!
A dying star that was once
about five times the
mass of the Sun is at the center of this fury.
It has ejected its envelope of gases and is now unleashing
a stream of
ultraviolet radiation that is making the cast-off material glow.
This object is an example of a planetary nebula,
so-named because many of them
have a round appearance
resembling that of a planet when viewed through a small
The Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3),
a new camera
aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope,
snapped this image of the planetary nebula, catalogued as NGC 6302,
but more popularly called the Bug Nebula or the Butterfly Nebula.
WFC3 was installed by NASA astronauts in May 2009,
during the servicing mission
to upgrade and repair the 19-year-old Hubble telescope.
NGC 6302 lies within our Milky Way galaxy,
roughly 3,800 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius.
The glowing gas is the star’s outer layers, expelled over about 2,200 years.
The "butterfly" stretches for more than two light-years,
which is about half the
distance from the Sun to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri.
The central star itself cannot be seen,
it is hidden within a doughnut-shaped ring of dust,
which appears as a dark band
pinching the nebula in the center.
The thick dust belt constricts the star’s outflow,
creating the classic
"bipolar" or hourglass shape
displayed by some planetary nebulae.
The star’s surface temperature
is estimated to
be about 400,000 degrees Fahrenheit,
making it one of the hottest known stars in
Spectroscopic observations made with ground-based telescopes
show that the gas
is roughly 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit,
which is unusually hot compared to a typical planetary nebulae.
The WFC3 image reveals a complex history of
ejections from the star.
The star first evolved into a huge red-giant star,
with a diameter of about
1,000 times that of our Sun.
It then lost its extended outer layers.
Some of this gas was cast off from its
equator at a relatively slow speed,
perhaps as low as 20,000 miles an hour, creating the doughnut-shaped ring.
Other gas was ejected perpendicular to the ring at higher speeds,
elongated "wings" of the butterfly-shaped structure.
Later, as the central star heated up, a much faster stellar wind,
a stream of charged particles travelling at more than 2 million miles an hour,
plowed through the existing wing-shaped structure, further modifying its shape.
The image also shows numerous finger-like
projections pointing back to the star,
which may mark denser blobs in the outflow that have resisted the pressure from
the stellar wind.
The nebula's outer edges are largely due to
light emitted by nitrogen, which marks the coolest gas visible in the picture.
WFC3 is equipped with a wide variety of filters that isolate light emitted by
various chemical elements,
allowing astronomers to infer properties of the nebular gas, such as its
temperature, density, and composition.
The white-colored regions are areas where light
is emitted by sulfur.
These are regions where fast-moving gas overtakes and collides with slow-moving
gas that left the star at an earlier time,
producing shock waves in the gas (the bright white edges on the sides facing the
The white blob with the crisp edge at upper right is an example of one of those
NGC 6302 was imaged on July 27, 2009 with
Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 in ultraviolet and visible light.
Filters that isolate emissions from oxygen, helium, hydrogen, nitrogen, and
from the planetary nebula were used to create this composite image.
These Hubble observations of the planetary
nebula NGC 6302
are part of the Hubble Servicing Mission 4 Early Release
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
Images from Refurbished Hubble
A Sultry World
Is Found Circling a Distant Star
December 17, 2009
The New York Times
By DENNIS OVERBYE
Call it Sauna World.
Astronomers said Wednesday that they had discovered a planet composed mostly of
You would not want to live there. In addition to the heat — 400 degrees
Fahrenheit on the ocean surface — the planet is probably cloaked in a crushingly
dank and dark fog of superheated steam and other gases. But its discovery has
encouraged a growing feeling among astronomers that they are on the verge of a
breakthrough and getting closer to finding a planet something could live on.
“This probably is not habitable, but it didn’t miss the habitable zone by that
much,” said David Charbonneau of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics, who led the team that discovered the new planet and will reports
its findings on Thursday in the journal Nature.
Geoffrey W. Marcy, a planet hunter from the University of California, Berkeley,
wrote in an accompanying article in Nature that the new work provided “the most
watertight evidence so far for a planet that is something like our own Earth,
outside our solar system.”
Only 2.7 times the size of Earth and 6.6 times as massive, the new planet takes
38 hours to circle a dim red star, GJ 1214, in the constellation Ophiuchus —
about 40 light-years from here. It is one of the lightest and smallest so-called
extrasolar planets yet found, part of a growing class that are less than 10
times the mass of the Earth.
Dr. Charbonneau’s announcement capped a week in which the list of known planets,
including these “super-Earths,” grew significantly.
An international team of astronomers using telescopes in Australia and Hawaii
reported in one paper that they had found three planets, including a
super-Earth, orbiting 61 Virginis, a star in the constellation Virgo that is
almost a clone of the Sun. In a separate paper, they reported finding a planet
somewhat larger than Jupiter at the star 23 Librae. It was the first time, they
said, that a super-Earth had been found belonging to a star like the Sun; the
other home stars have been dwarfs.
And in yet another paper, a subset of the same group reported finding a
super-Earth and probably two bigger planets circling HD 1461, a star in Cetus.
Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, who was involved in all
three papers, said astronomers thought that from one-third to one-half of all
Sun-like stars harbor such super-Earths orbiting at scorching distances much
closer than Mercury is to the Sun.
In the 15 years since the first extrasolar planet was found, more than 400 have
been detected. The field is getting more intense as dedicated planet-hunting
instruments like the Kepler satellite from the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration, due to report a new batch next month, get into the game.
Alan P. Boss, a planetary theorist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington,
said of the planet hunters, “Give them a couple more years and they’re going to
knock your socks off.”
Dr. Charbonneau’s planet, only 1.3 million miles from its home star, is
distinguished by its relative coolness. It bakes rather than roasts, a
consequence of the dimness of GJ 1214, which puts out one three-hundredth the
Sun’s energy. He and his colleagues had set out to search for planets around
such stars, noting that they are more numerous and that it is easier to discern
planets around them.
“There is no question,” Dr. Charbonneau wrote in an e-mail message, “that small
stars provide us with the fastest track to looking for life outside the solar
His planet-hunting equipment is a bank of eight telescopes called MEarth,
pronounced “mirth,” on Mount Hopkins in Arizona. They are only 16 inches in
diameter, no bigger than those that grace the backyard of many amateur
astronomers. They monitor the light of 2,000 nearby stars, looking for the
regular blips caused when a planets passes by, or transits.
In May, Zachory Berta, a first-year graduate student of Dr. Charbonneau’s,
called the group’s attention to a series of blips in the Ophiuchus star that
seemed to be happening every 1.6 days. If he was right, Mr. Berta said, the next
transit would occur at 6 a.m. on May 13.
Dr. Charbonneau was in Washington later that day preparing for a State
Department dinner when he got a group e-mail message that began: “We have a
winner. Congrats Zach!”
From the drop in starlight, the astronomers could calculate the diameter of the
Ophiuchus planet, known now as GJ 1214b. Then they used a sensitive spectrograph
on a 3.6-meter telescope in Chile to measure its gravitational tug on the star,
thus deriving the planet’s mass. Dr. Charbonneau and his colleagues, using those
two numbers, could calculate the density of the planet.
It was only the second time the density of a super-Earth had been measured,
offering a rare chance for comparative planetology. The first — CoRoT 7b,
discovered last year by the European Corot satellite — turned out to be about as
dense as the Earth, suggesting that it is mostly rock.
The new planet is slightly heavier but significantly larger than the earlier
one, and it is only about one-third Earth’s density.
“What we probably have here is a water world,” said Dr. Charbonneau, explaining
that there are three basic ingredients abundant enough to go into the recipe for
They are light gases like hydrogen and helium, rocks like iron and silicates and
so-called volatile materials like water.
The best recipe for the new planet would be a world that is predominantly water,
with small amounts of rock in a core tens of thousands of miles underwater,
surrounded by a suffocating atmosphere. By comparison, Earth is 0.06 percent
Dr. Charbonneau said the weight of the new planet’s presumptive atmosphere that
kept the water liquid rather than just boiling into space. If all such
super-Earths have this type of atmosphere, he and his colleagues write in their
paper, none of them is likely to harbor life. Astronomers would have to redouble
their efforts to seek even smaller planets to find habitable environments.
Dr. Charbonneau acknowledged that a different recipe, with more rock and a very
puffy atmosphere, would also fit the data. That is unlikely, he and other planet
experts say, but the sauna world theory may be soon tested.
The planet is close enough to be studied directly by telescopes on or near
Earth. Indeed, Dr. Charbonneau said his team had already applied for observing
time on the Hubble Space Telescope.
“Our own TV signals,” he said, “have already passed this star.”
A Sultry World Is Found
Circling a Distant Star, NYT, 17.12.2009,
Shuttle Atlantis Leaves Space Station,
November 25, 2009
Filed at 4:56 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- Atlantis and its seven astronauts have left the
International Space Station.
The shuttle undocked early Wednesday morning, ending its one-week visit. Pilot
Barry ''Butch'' Wilmore was at the controls.
Atlantis is now aiming for a Friday morning landing back at NASA's Florida
Two of Atlantis' crew members are especially eager to get home.
Astronaut Nicole Stott has been in orbit since late August. She says she misses
her husband and 7-year-old son, being in the sunshine -- and pizza.
NASA's new dad in space, Randolph Bresnik, wants to see his baby daughter as
soon as possible after the shuttle lands. Abigail Mae Bresnik was born Saturday
night in Houston, shortly after his first spacewalk.
Shuttle Atlantis Leaves Space Station, Headed
Home, NYT, 25.11.2009,
Shuttle to Haul 27,000 Pounds
of Spare Parts
November 16, 2009
The New York Times
By KENNETH CHANG
The space shuttle has often been called a pickup truck to orbit, and the next
flight of the shuttle Atlantis, scheduled to launch Monday afternoon, lives up
to that description.
The Atlantis is lugging up to the International Space Station a cargo bay full
of spare parts, including a couple of refurbished gyroscopes, pumps, tanks for
ammonia and nitrogen and piece called the “trailing umbilical system reel
assembly” for the railway system that moves the station’s robotic arm.
“These are the highest priority spare parts for station,” said Eve Stavros, the
payload flow manager of Boeing, which built the American portions of the
station. “This flight is really the first flight of the last series of flights
to stage spare parts up there.”
The parts — 27,250 pounds in all — are crucial, especially as policy makers look
to extend the life of the space station by five years to 2020. After the space
shuttles are retired in about a year, the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration will have no way to take up any big, heavy replacement pieces to
The 11-day mission is commanded by Marine Col. Charles O. Hobaugh, and the pilot
is Navy Captain Barry E. Wilmore. The other crew members are Marine Lt. Col.
Randolph J. Bresnik, Navy Capt. Michael J. Foreman, Leland D. Melvin and Robert
L. Satcher, Jr. The mission includes three spacewalks.
Nicole P. Stott, who has spent three months on the space station, will return to
Earth with the Atlantis crew.
The Atlantis will also bring back part of a balky toilet system that recycles
urine into drinkable water. NASA officials said the station has sufficient fresh
water for now, and they hope to send replacement parts on a future shuttle
After the Atlantis’s flight, only five shuttle flights remain on the schedule.
The countdown, which began Friday, has proceeded without glitches. “We’ve had a
very clean countdown to date, and are currently on schedule with no problems to
report,” Stephen J. Paine, a shuttle test director, said during a news
conference Sunday morning.
Forecasts give a 90 percent of favorable weather for the 2:28 p.m. launching
Monday from the Kennedy Space Center. The countdown has been so trouble-free
that a reporter asked Mr. Paine if he thought the mission was jinxed.
“I’ll take any good luck we can get,” Mr. Paine replied, “and a smooth count is
good to have every now and again.”
Shuttle to Haul 27,000
Pounds of Spare Parts, NYT, 16.11.2009,
Setting Sail Into Space,
Propelled by Sunshine
November 10, 2009
The New York Times
By DENNIS OVERBYE
Peter Pan would be so happy.
About a year from now, if all goes well, a box about the size of a loaf of bread
will pop out of a rocket some 500 miles above the Earth. There in the vacuum it
will unfurl four triangular sails as shiny as moonlight and only barely more
substantial. Then it will slowly rise on a sunbeam and move across the stars.
LightSail-1, as it is dubbed, will not make it to Neverland. At best the device
will sail a few hours and gain a few miles in altitude. But those hours will
mark a milestone for a dream that is almost as old as the rocket age itself, and
as romantic: to navigate the cosmos on winds of starlight the way sailors for
thousands of years have navigated the ocean on the winds of the Earth.
“Sailing on light is the only technology that can someday take us to the stars,”
said Louis Friedman, director of the Planetary Society, the worldwide
organization of space enthusiasts.
Even as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration continues to flounder
in a search for its future, Dr. Friedman announced Monday that the Planetary
Society, with help from an anonymous donor, would be taking baby steps toward a
future worthy of science fiction. Over the next three years, the society will
build and fly a series of solar-sail spacecraft dubbed LightSails, first in
orbit around the Earth and eventually into deeper space.
The voyages are an outgrowth of a long collaboration between the society and
Cosmos Studios of Ithaca, N.Y., headed by Ann Druyan, a film producer and widow
of the late astronomer and author Carl Sagan.
Sagan was a founder of the Planetary Society, in 1980, with Dr. Friedman and
Bruce Murray, then director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The announcement
was made at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington at a celebration of
what would have been Sagan’s 75th birthday. He died in 1996.
Ms. Druyan, who has been chief fund-raiser for the society’s sailing projects,
called the space sail “a Taj Mahal” for Sagan, who loved the notion and had
embraced it as a symbol for the wise use of technology.
There is a long line of visionaries, stretching back to the Russian rocket
pioneers Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Fridrich Tsander and the author Arthur C.
Clarke, who have supported this idea. “Sails are just a marvelous way of getting
around the universe,” said Freeman Dyson, of the Institute for Advanced Study in
Princeton, N.J., and a longtime student of the future, “but it takes a long time
to imagine them becoming practical.”
The solar sail receives its driving force from the simple fact that light
carries not just energy but also momentum — a story told by every comet tail,
which consists of dust blown by sunlight from a comet’s core. The force on a
solar sail is gentle, if not feeble, but unlike a rocket, which fires for a few
minutes at most, it is constant. Over days and years a big enough sail, say a
mile on a side, could reach speeds of hundreds of thousands of miles an hour,
fast enough to traverse the solar system in 5 years. Riding the beam from a
powerful laser, a sail could even make the journey to another star system in 100
years, that is to say, a human lifespan.
Whether humans could ever take these trips depends on just how starry-eyed one’s
view of the future is.
Dr. Friedman said it would take too long and involve too much exposure to
radiation to sail humans to a place like Mars. He said the only passengers on an
interstellar voyage — even after 200 years of additional technological
development — were likely to be robots or perhaps our genomes encoded on a chip,
a consequence of the need to keep the craft light, like a giant cosmic kite.
In principle, a solar sail can do anything a regular sail can do, like tacking.
Unlike other spacecraft, it can act as an antigravity machine, using solar
pressure to balance the Sun’s gravity and thus hover anyplace in space.
And, of course, it does not have to carry tons of rocket fuel. As the writer and
folk singer Jonathan Eberhart wrote in his song “A Solar Privateer”:
No cold LOX tanks or reactor banks, just Mylar by the mile.
No stormy blast to rattle the mast, a sober wind and true.
Just haul and tack and ball the jack like the waterlubbers do.
Those are visions for the long haul. “Think centuries or millennia, not
decades,” said Dr. Dyson, who also said he approved of the Planetary Society
“We ought to be doing things that are romantic,” he said, adding that nobody
knew yet how to build sails big and thin enough for serious travel. “You have to
get equipment for unrolling them and stretching them — a big piece of
engineering that’s not been done. But the joy of technology is that it’s
At one time or another, many of NASA’s laboratories have studied solar sails.
Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory even once investigated sending a
solar sail to rendezvous and ride along with Halley’s Comet during its pass in
But efforts by the agency have dried up as it searches for dollars to keep the
human spaceflight program going, said Donna Shirley, a retired J.P.L. engineer
and former chairwoman of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts. Dr. Shirley
said that the solar sail was feasible and that the only question was, “Do you
want to spend some money?” Until the technology had been demonstrated, she said,
no one would use it.
Japan continues to have a program, and test solar sails have been deployed from
satellites or rockets, but no one has ever gotten as far as trying to sail them
Dr. Friedman, who cut his teeth on the Halley’s Comet proposal, has long sought
to weigh anchor in space. An effort by the Planetary Society and the Russian
Academy of Sciences to launch a sail about 100 feet on a side, known as
Cosmos-1, from a Russian missile submarine in June 2005 ended with what Ms.
Druyan called “our beautiful spacecraft” at the bottom of the Barents Sea.
Ms. Druyan and Dr. Friedman were beating the bushes for money for a Cosmos-2,
when NASA asked if the society wanted to take over a smaller project known as
the Nanosail. These are only 18 feet on a side and designed to increase
atmospheric drag and thus help satellites out of orbit.
And so LightSail was born. Its sail, adapted from the Nanosail project, is made
of aluminized Mylar about one-quarter the thickness of a trash bag. The body of
the spacecraft will consist of three miniature satellites known as CubeSats,
four inches on a side, which were first developed by students at Stanford and
now can be bought on the Web, among other places. One of the cubes will hold
electronics and the other two will carry folded-up sails, Dr. Friedman said.
Assembled like blocks, the whole thing weighs less than five kilograms, or about
11 pounds. “The hardware is the smallest part,” Dr. Friedman said. “You can’t
spend a lot on a five-kilogram system.”
The next break came when Dr. Friedman was talking about the LightSail to a group
of potential donors. A man — “a very modest dear person,” in Ms. Druyan’s words
— asked about the cost of the missions and then committed to paying for two of
them, and perhaps a third, if all went well.
After the talk, the man, who does not wish his identity to be known, according
to the society, came up and asked for the society’s bank routing number. Within
days the money was in its bank account. The LightSail missions will be spread
about a year apart, starting around the end of 2010, with the exact timing
depending on what rockets are available. The idea, Dr. Friedman said, is to
piggyback on the launching of a regular satellite. Various American and Russian
rockets are all possibilities for a ride, he said.
Dr. Friedman said the first flight, LightSail-1, would be a success if the sail
could be controlled for even a small part of an orbit and it showed any sign of
being accelerated by sunlight. “For the first flight, anything measurable is
great,” he said. In addition there will be an outrigger camera to capture what
Ms. Druyan called “the Kitty Hawk moment.”
The next flight will feature a larger sail and will last several days, building
up enough velocity to raise its orbit by tens or hundreds of miles, Dr. Friedman
For the third flight, Dr. Friedman and his colleagues intend to set sail out of
Earth orbit with a package of scientific instruments to monitor the output of
the Sun and provide early warning of magnetic storms that can disrupt power
grids and even damage spacecraft. The plan is to set up camp at a point where
the gravity of the Earth and Sun balance each other — called L1, about 900,000
miles from the Earth — a popular place for conventional scientific satellites.
That, he acknowledges, will require a small rocket, like the attitude control
jets on the shuttle, to move out of Earth orbit, perhaps frustrating to a
But then again, most sailboats do have a motor for tooling around in the harbor,
which is how Dr. Friedman describes being in Earth orbit. Because the direction
of the Sun keeps changing, he said, you keep “tacking around in the harbor when
what you want to do is get out on the ocean.”
The ocean, he said, awaits.
Setting Sail Into Space, Propelled by Sunshine, NYT,
In Test of Water on Moon,
Craft Hits Bull’s-Eye
October 10, 2009
The New York Times
By KENNETH CHANG
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — More than 230,000 miles from Earth, a NASA spacecraft
hit a bull’s-eye on the Moon on Friday morning. Actually, two bull’s-eyes.
But at least the early images failed to show the expected plumes of debris
rising out of the impacts.
At 4:31 a.m. Pacific time (7:31 a.m. Eastern time), one piece of the Lunar
Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite — LCROSS, for short — slammed into the
bottom of a crater at 5,600 miles per hour, excavating about 350 metric tons of
the moon and leaving behind a hole about 65 feet wide, 13 feet deep.
Trailing four minutes behind, a second piece sent its observations back to Earth
before it also slammed into the same crater.
Disappointingly, the live images sent back by the trailing spacecraft did not
show the plume.
“It would have given us all an adrenaline rush this morning,” said David
Morrison, director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute. Nonetheless, there was a
wealth of other data taken by other instruments.
Many ground-based telescopes that had been pointed to that one crater at the
bottom of the Moon also failed to spot the theatrics.
“As far as I can tell from our quick processing, we did not see any plume,” said
William Keel, a professor of astronomy at the University of Alabama who was
operating a telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, Ariz.
If the spacecraft hit a rocky area, the debris may not have been tossed as high
and perhaps not even high enough to reach sunlight.
Of greatest interest is whether there is water ice hidden in the crater’s
perpetual darkness and frigidness. The data could play into the debate over
where NASA’s human spaceflight program should aim next, whether to return to the
Moon or head elsewhere in the solar system neighborhood. The presence of large
significant amounts of water could make it easier to set up future settlements
with the ice providing water and oxygen.
Data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has already confirmed the presence
of hydrogen deep within permanently shadowed craters near the Moon’s poles, and
hydrogen is most likely in the form of water.
“There is hydrogen down in that crater, and we’re going to go dig some of it
up,” Anthony Colaprete, the mission’s principal investigator, said in a
telephone news conference Thursday. A few days of data analysis will be needed
to determine whether water was indeed present in any debris kicked up by the
LCROSS is a $79 million companion mission to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter,
sharing the same rocket into space in June. The mission designers took advantage
of what would have otherwise been space junk — the rocket’s 2.2-ton, second
stage — and turned it into a projectile to hit the Moon, shepherded by a
While the orbiter entered orbit around the Moon, LCROSS swung into a wide polar
orbit around the Earth that, by design, would intersect with the Moon’s path
four months later at 5,600 miles per hour, or twice the speed of a speeding
The target of LCROSS is Cabeus crater, about 60 miles wide near the south pole.
At 6:50 p.m. Pacific time Thursday, the LCROSS spacecraft separated from the
expended second stage and, 40 minutes later, fired thrusters to slow slightly
and drop behind. While LCROSS itself had the best view of the first impact,
sending back live television images, a host of telescopes in space and on Earth,
including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Keck telescope in Hawaii, were
gazing at the Moon. The other telescopes also saw the second impact of the
Several hundred people spent a chilly night on a grassy lawn at NASA’s Ames
Research Center here, where the mission is being run. Some pitched tents to
spend the night. Others wrapped themselves in sleeping bags and
Google-contributed mylar blankets as they listened to Charlie Duke, one of the
Apollo 16 astronauts, and then watched three space-themed films — “Fly Me to the
Moon,” “The Dish” and “October Sky” — projected on a big screen.
Then they watched the same NASA coverage of the mission, streamed over the
Internet, that they could have watched at home.
“It’s adventurous and nerdy at the same time,” said Karin Atkins of Sunnyvale,
Calif., one of those pulling an outdoors all-nighter.
Nine-year-old Alberto Rodriguez of Redwood City, Calif., had asked his mother if
he could go to the all-night NASA event, and at around 10 p.m., his mother woke
him up and took him to Ames.
“I just wanted to see the real thing,” said Alberto, who said he wants to become
an astronaut and head to the Moon and Mars. “This is history. Just like the
In Test of Water on Moon, Craft Hits
Bull’s-Eye, NYT, 10.10.2009,
Shuttle Glides to a California Landing
September 12, 2009
The New York Times
By WILLIAM HARWOOD
The shuttle Discovery glided to a day-late Mojave Desert touchdown Friday,
leaving a fresh crew member and nine tons of equipment and supplies behind
aboard the International Space Station.
Bringing another astronaut home after two months in space, the shuttle settled
to a flawless landing on Runway 22 at Edwards Air Force Base just north of Los
Angeles to close out a successful two-week resupply mission.
The astronauts had hoped to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but
showers and thunderstorms blocked two efforts on Thursday and two more Friday.
With an equally poor forecast for Saturday, the entry flight director, Richard
Jones, diverted the Discovery to Edwards.
Flying upside down and backward over the southern Indian Ocean, Col. Frederick
W. Sturckow of the Marines, the commander, and Kevin A. Ford, the pilot and a
retired Air Force colonel, fired the shuttle’s twin braking rockets at 7:47 p.m.
Eastern time to begin the hourlong descent.
Approaching from the southwest, Colonel Sturckow monitored a steep
computer-controlled descent across the Los Angeles Basin before taking manual
control 50,000 feet above the Mojave Desert and guiding the shuttle to a crisp
landing at 8:53 p.m.
“Houston, Discovery, wheels stopped,” he radioed when the shuttle coasted to a
“Welcome home, Discovery. Congratulations on an extremely successful mission,
stepping up science to a new level on the International Space Station,” Col.
Eric A. Boe of the Air Force replied from mission control in Houston.
Colonel Sturckow, Mr. Ford and the other astronauts — José M. Hernández; John D.
Olivas; Col. Patrick G. Forrester of the Army, retired; Christer Fuglesang of
Sweden; and Col. Timothy L. Kopra of the Army — planned to fly back to Houston
on Saturday for reunions with friends and family members.
Colonel Kopra made the trip back to Earth resting on his back in a recumbent
seat to ease his return to gravity after 58 days in space. Flight surgeons were
standing by to assist and collect medical data on his re-adaptation.
“This experience has completely exceeded anything that I thought it would be
like, just the sights, the sounds, the experiences with a great crew,” Colonel
Kopra said last week, adding that the main thing he was looking forward to was
“seeing my family again, my wife and two kids — and maybe have a sip of a beer.”
Nicole P. Stott replaced Colonel Kopra on the space station and is to remain
there until the next shuttle visit, in November.
Colonel Sturckow and his crewmates delivered nine tons of equipment and supplies
to the station, including two experiment racks, a sample freezer, a second
treadmill, a crew sleep station and a carbon dioxide removal system.
During three spacewalks, they also installed a new 1,800-pound ammonia coolant
tank, deployed a cargo attachment mechanism, retrieved two external experiments
and made preparations for attachment of a new module next year.
Shuttle Glides to a
California Landing, NYT, 12.9.2009,
After Hubble Repair,
New Images From Space
September 10, 2009
The New York Times
By DENNIS OVERBYE
The cosmic postcards are back.
Astronomers on Wednesday unveiled new pictures and observations from the Hubble
Space Telescope. With the exception of a picture last month of the bruise on
Jupiter caused by a comet, they were the first data obtained with the telescope
since a crew spent 13 days in orbit last May replacing, refurbishing and
rebuilding its vital components.
“This is truly Hubble’s new beginning,” Edward Weiler, the associate
administrator for science at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration,
said at a news conference in Washington.
The event, which included Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, and
the NASA administrator, Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr., who is retired from the
Marine Corps, was a mix of science and celebration of the human spirit and
“I’m in awe of the human ingenuity that could conceive of such a thing and then
make it happen,” said K. Megan McArthur, an astronaut who flew on the repair
mission last spring
Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., said, “We’re
giddy with the quality of the data we’re getting.”
Among the images were gas flying from a dying star that looked like a butterfly
spreading its wings, and a galaxy nearly 10 billion light-years away whose image
had been stretched and magnified by the gravity of a cluster of galaxies into a
“dragon” shape. Examining such images, astronomers can study details of galaxies
that existed before the Milky Way was born and chart the distribution of
mysterious dark matter in the universe.
Dr. Weiler noted that the telescope was now in the best shape of its 19-year
life in orbit, far surpassing the ambitions of its founders, and that it could
last for at least another five years.
“Hubble gets better and better and better,” he said.
The telescope has had almost as many reincarnations as a cat. It was born in a
vision of Lyman Spitzer, a Princeton astronomer who realized in 1946 that a
telescope in space above the blurring effects of the atmosphere could make more
precise measurements of stars, as well as see infrared and ultraviolet radiation
that cannot make it through air.
Launched with great fanfare from the space shuttle in 1990, the telescope became
a national joke when it was discovered that its primary mirror had been
painstakingly polished to the wrong shape.
The mistake was so simple, however, that it could be repaired. In 1993, an
astronaut crew installed corrective optics on the telescope, and the heavens
snapped into focus. Astronauts have visited the telescope four more times in a
series of increasingly ambitious servicing missions, and the telescope became
By the time of the final servicing mission, only one of the telescope’s three
cameras was working and its spectrograph had shut down. In May, a crew from the
shuttle Atlantis installed a new camera and spectrograph and repaired the other
spectrograph and the telescope’s prime camera, the Advanced Camera for Surveys,
among other tasks.
The job was almost a complete success. The exception was that the astronauts
were unable to restore a high-resolution capability on the survey camera. It is
mostly used in a wide-field mode, astronomers say, but one of the more exciting
Hubble pictures recently was a high-resolution image of a planet orbiting the
star Fomalhaut obtained by Paul G. Kalas of the University of California,
Berkeley, and his colleagues.
At the news conference, David S. Leckrone, longtime Hubble senior scientist,
announced that another of the telescope’s instruments, an infrared camera known
as Nicmos that had been dormant but that had not been worked on by the
astronauts, was now back.
Dr. Leckrone said he was proud to report that there were no problems with the
“Somehow,” he said, addressing the entire NASA and astronomical community, “you
guys managed to pull it off.”
Dr. Weiler, the NASA associate administrator, thanked the 32 astronauts “who
have risked their lives flying up to Hubble and keeping the scientists happy.”
Asked their reactions to seeing the new pictures, most of the astronauts who
were on the mission in May said some version of “wow.” Michael J. Massimino, who
performed two spacewalks then, said, “Thank God we didn’t break it.”
After Hubble Repair, New
Images From Space,