NASA's Terra and Aqua Satellites Capture Disaster in Japan

Satellite image showing JapanThe Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, on NASA’s Aqua satellite and the MODIS sensor on NASA’s Terra satellite took photos of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. Images were made with infrared and visible light to highlight the presence of water and other features on the ground.
To find out more about the images, read the article in NEON.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

Robonaut 2 Joins ISS Crew

Astronaut Catherine Coleman poses with Robonaut 2Almost 200 people from 15 countries have visited the International Space Station, but the orbiting complex has so far only ever had human crew members – until now. 
Robonaut 2, the latest generation of the Robonaut astronaut helpers, launched to the space station aboard space shuttle Discovery on the STS-133 mission. It is the first humanoid robot in space, and although its primary job for now is teaching engineers how dexterous robots behave in space, the hope is that through upgrades and advancements, it could one day venture outside the station to help spacewalkers make repairs or additions to the station or perform scientific work. 

Now that R2 is unpacked it will initially be operated inside the Destiny laboratory for operational testing, but over time both its territory and its applications could expand. There are no plans to return R2 to Earth.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

Flight Engineers Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli unpack the newest member of the Expedition 27 crew, Robonaut 2

 the first humanoid robot in space. R2 was delivered to the International Space Station by space shuttle Discovery on STS-133.


NASA Now logo

In this episode of NASA Now, Dr. Larry Evans, Senior Scientist for MESSENGER, discusses the difficulty of getting to Mercury, the challenges of visiting a planet so close to the sun and what we hope to discover when the spacecraft gets there.
The planet Mercury has long been a mystery to us. In 1975, NASA sent Mariner 10 to do flybys of Mercury and take images of the surface. This mission gathered images of only half the planet. This was the first and last mission NASA would make to Mercury until MESSENGER.

Is ice on Mercury? Why is Mercury so dense? What is Mercury’s geologic history? What is the nature of Mercury’s magnetic field? MESSENGER is equipped with seven scientific instruments that aim to answer these questions and more.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

NASA Now Minute: MESSENGER in Orbit

Capt. Kirk Wakes Discovery Crew

William Shatner, the actor who played Captain James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek television series, provided a special message to the crew of space shuttle Discovery during the 3:23 a.m. EST wakeup call on Mon., Mar. 7.

As Alexander Courage’s “Star Trek” theme song played underneath, Shatner replaced the original television introduction with, “Space, the final frontier. These have been the voyages of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Her 30 year mission: To seek out new science. To build new outposts. To bring nations together on the final frontier. To boldly go, and do, what no spacecraft has done before.”

The “Theme from Star Trek” received the second most votes in a public contest from a Top 40 list for NASA’s Song Contest. Shatner recorded the custom introduction for Discovery’s final voyage — its 39th flight and 13th to the International Space Station.

Glory Satellite Fails To Reach Orbit

NASA’s Glory mission ended Friday after the spacecraft failed to reach orbit following its launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. 

NASA has begun the process of creating a Mishap Investigation Board to evaluate the cause of the failure. Telemetry indicated the fairing, a protective shell atop the satellite’s Taurus XL rocket, did not separate as expected. 

The launch proceeded as planned from its liftoff at 5:09 a.m. EST through the ignition of the Taurus XL’s second stage. However, the fairing failure occurred during the second stage engine burn. It is likely the spacecraft fell into the South Pacific, although the exact location is not yet known. 

NASA’s previous launch attempt of an Earth science spacecraft, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory onboard a Taurus XL on Feb. 24, 2009, also failed to reach orbit when the fairing did not separate. 

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory Mishap Investigation Board reviewed launch data and the fairing separation system design, and developed a corrective action plan. The plan was implemented by Taurus XL manufacturer Orbital Sciences Corporation. In October 2010, NASA’s Flight Planning Board confirmed the successful closure of the corrective actions. 

The Glory Earth-observing satellite was intended to improve our understanding of how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth’s climate. 

Glory and Global Warming Experiment

Glory is NASA’s newest member of a fleet of Earth-observing satellites known as the Afternoon Constellation, or “A-Train.” The satellites together offer a more cohesive and detailed picture of the Earth’s biosphere and climate. Glory will measure the affects of particles suspended in the atmosphere or aerosols. Aerosols can absorb sunlight, or they can reflect the sun’s energy back into space. 

Challenge your students using the NES-supported Satellite Meteorology module. Have your students measure the effect of excess carbon dioxide on the temperature of gas inside soda bottles and see what the effects of aerosols are on the heating of the gas.

Read more about the activity in NEON. Register, log in and join the NASA Explorer Schools group. The Glory and Global Warming Experiment activity is located in the Satellite Meteorology forum. 

Just a Few More Weeks Until Mercury Orbit Insertion

Next month, MESSENGER will execute a 15-minute maneuver. placing the spacecraft into orbit around Mercury. It will be the first spacecraft ever to orbit the solar system’s innermost planet. Check out the MESSENGER module Staying Cool — My Angle on Cooling to prepare your students for this event.

Have your students look at some of MESSENGER’s science objectives and some of the challenges facing the spacecraft.

Let us know about your activities with your students by posting on NEON.

Read more about how to prepare your students for this event in NEON. Register, log in, join the NASA Explorer Schools group, and find the MESSENGER Mission to Mercury: My Angle on Cooling forum. The complete write-up is available in that forum.

For more information about the MESSENGER spacecraft, visit the mission website.

NASA Now-STS-133 — Engineering Challenge: From Earth to Orbit and Return

In this episode of NASA Now, George Hatcher, guidance, navigation and controls engineer at Kennedy Space Center, explains why the upcoming launch of the space shuttle Discovery is mind-boggling from a physics perspective, even for a guidance, navigation and flight controls engineer. He will speak about the extreme accelerations and velocities involved in launching a spacecraft from Earth to orbit and return.


After 38 missions to date, and more than 5,600 trips around Earth, Discovery has flown more missions than any other shuttle — more than any other spacecraft. At the conclusion of STS-133, 180 people will have flown aboard Discovery, including the first female shuttle pilot and the first female shuttle commander, who happen to be the same person — Eileen Collins; the first African-American spacewalker, Bernard Harris; and the first sitting member of congress to fly in space, Jake Garn. Discovery will be the first of the shuttle fleet to retire.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

NASA Now Preview Video

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Thrill of Discovery — Educator Workshops in Four Locations

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It’s 2011 — NASA’s Year of the Solar System! Join us on a cosmic road trip to explore solar system mysteries and share in the thrill of discovery at an exciting new workshop for educators of all grade levels. 
NASA’s Discovery and New Frontiers missions are traveling vast distances to find answers to age-old questions. These celestial detectives are revealing how our solar system formed and evolved, doing brilliant science with “way cool” technologies! 

   • See sights never before seen on Mercury: MESSENGER! 
   • Get up close to asteroids and comets: Dawn, Stardust-NExT and EPOXI! 
   • Map the moon’s gravity with twin satellites: GRAIL! 
   • Peer through Jupiter’s clouds: Juno! 
   • Cruise to the outer reaches of the solar system: New Horizons! 

Hear from mission scientists and engineers, discover engaging activities for grades K-12 classrooms and out-of-school time programs, and receive a resource book loaded with activities and links. 

When: Saturday, March 19, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at each location listed below.
   • NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
   • NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.        
   • Jackson Middle School Observatory, Champlin, Minn.
   • Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
Cost:  $25 (lunch and snacks included).

Special Speakers

  • Six years after launch, MESSENGER will enter orbit around Mercury on March 18. We are very fortunate to have Dr. Sean Solomon, MESSENGER’s Principal Investigator, tell us about the mission’s goals, the science findings so far, and the excitement of reaching the orbiting phase of the mission.
  • The Dawn mission uses ion propulsion to visit the two largest objects in the asteroid belt. Launched in September 2007, Dawn will arrive at asteroid Vesta this July for a year-long orbit. Dawn’s Chief Engineer, Dr. Marc Rayman, will share why this mission is so unique and what scientists hope to learn.
  • Juno’s quest is to aid in the understanding of the formation and evolution of Jupiter, which will help us comprehend the origin of the entire solar system. Juno will launch this August. Dr. Ravit Helled from the gravity team tells us how Juno will reveal “the giant planet story.”
Watch the speakers on the free webinar if you can’t be at one of the sites.
Questions? Send e-mail to Shari Asplund at JPL.