Discovery of Arsenic Microbe Announced at News Conference

NASA-supported researchers have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism, which lives in California’s Mono Lake, substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in the backbone of its DNA and other cellular components.

“The definition of life has just expanded,” said Ed Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s A microscopic image of GFAJ-1 grown on arsenicHeadquarters in Washington. “As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it.”

The results of this study will inform ongoing research in many areas, including the study of Earth’s evolution, organic chemistry, biogeochemical cycles, disease mitigation and Earth system research. These findings also will open up new frontiers in microbiology and other areas of research.

“The idea of alternative biochemistries for life is common in science fiction,” said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the agency’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “Until now a life form using arsenic as a building block was only theoretical, but now we know such life exists in Mono Lake.”

Excerpt from Science @ NASA

Link to a large image.

NASA Sets News Conference on Astrobiology Discovery

NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe. 

The news conference will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency’s website at

Participants are: 
–     Mary Voytek, director, Astrobiology Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington 
–     Felisa Wolfe-Simon, NASA astrobiology research fellow, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif. 
–     Pamela Conrad, astrobiologist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. 
–     Steven Benner, distinguished fellow, Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, Gainesville, Fla. 

Participants are: 
–     Mary Voytek, director, Astrobiology Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington 
–     Felisa Wolfe-Simon, NASA astrobiology research fellow, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif. 
–     Pamela Conrad, astrobiologist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. 
–     Steven Benner, distinguished fellow, Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, Gainesville, Fla. 
–     James Elser, professor, Arizona State University, Tempe 

For more information about NASA astrobiology activities, visit:

NASA Expanding Tests of Star Wars-Inspired Droids

Close-up view of three bowling-ball-sized free-flying satellites called Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) in the Destiny laboratory of the ISS.You won’t find any light sabers on the International Space Station, but you will find a trio of “droids” that look a lot like what any self-respecting science fiction fan remembers as a Star Wars “remote.” 

That’s the tricky little device that Luke Skywalker used to hone his light-saber skills before he went up against Darth Vader and the rest of the Evil Empire. 

But instead of being used for light-saber practice, the droids on the space station are being used to test automated rendezvous and formation flying in microgravity. And soon, there may be a host of other things the droids will be used to test, as their capabilities and uses are expanded and made available for National Laboratory and other uses.

With support from the Department of Defense and NASA, Miller’s undergraduates built five working droids. Three of them are on the station now.

Operation IceBridge Web Chat with Project Scientists

Sun setting over the Antarctic

On Thursday, Nov. 18, IceBridge scientists will be on hand from the field to answer your questions about the mission. Joining the chat is easy. Simply visit this page on Thursday, Nov. 18, from 1 to 2 p.m. EST. The chat window will open at the bottom of this page starting at 12:30 p.m. EST. You can log in and be ready to ask questions at 1 p.m. The time and date is subject to change due to changes in the flight schedule to meet requirements for good weather over science targets.

Link to the IceBridge Mission page.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus.

NASA Mission Successfully Flies by Comet Hartley 2

NASA’s EPOXI mission successfully flew by comet Hartley 2 at about 7 a.m. PDT (10 a.m. EDT) today, and the spacecraft has begun returning images. Hartley 2 is the fifth comet nucleus visited by a spacecraft. 

Scientists and mission controllers are currently viewing never-before-seen images of Hartley 2 appearing on their computer terminal screens. 

The accompanying picture of Comet Hartley 2 can be seen in glorious detail in this image from NASA’s EPOXI mission. It was taken as the spacecraft flew by around 6:59 a.m. PDT (9:59 a.m. EDT), from a distance of about 700 kilometers (435 miles). The comet’s nucleus, or main body, is approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) long and .4 kilometers (.25 miles) at the “neck,” or most narrow portion. Jets can be seen streaming out of the nucleus. 

The mission’s Medium-Resolution Instrument was used to capture this view. 

For more information about EPOXI and to see the stunning pictures of Comet Hartley 2 visit

EPOXI Spacecraft Preps for Comet Flyby

Photo of Hartley 2 acquired on August 14, 2010 with the Hall 42-inch (1.1-m) telescope at Lowell Observatory.In one of its final mission trajectory correction maneuvers, the EPOXI mission spacecraft has refined its orbit, preparing it for the flyby of comet Hartley 2 on Nov. 4. The time of closest approach to the comet on that day is expected to be about 7:02 a.m. PDT.

A Nov. 3 trajectory correction maneuver began at 11 a.m. PDT, when the spacecraft burned its engines for 60 seconds, changing its velocity by 1.59 meters per second.

On Nov. 4, the spacecraft will fly past Hartley 2 at a distance of about 700 kilometers (435 miles). It will be only the fifth time in history that a spacecraft has been close enough to image a comet’s nucleus.

EPOXI is an extended mission that uses the already “in-flight” Deep Impact spacecraft to explore distinct celestial targets of opportunity. The name EPOXI itself is a combination of the names for the two extended mission components: the extrasolar planet observations, called Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh); and the flyby of comet Hartley 2, called the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI). The spacecraft will continue to be referred to as “Deep Impact.”

For more information about EPOXI, visit the mission website.

Click here see some spectacular video about the EPOXI/Hartley 2 encounter. 

Link to the NES Virtual Campus website.

Curiosity Cam-A View of Curiosity

Artist conception of curiosity rover on Mars

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission is preparing to send a large, mobile laboratory — the rover Curiosity — to the Red Planet. Plans call for a launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., between Nov. 25 and Dec.18, 2011, and an arrival at Mars in August 2012.

Curiosity is about twice as long (about 3 meters or 10 feet) and five times as heavy as NASA’s twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

You and your students look inside the clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., to watch the next Mars rover being built. The camera is located in a viewing gallery above the clean room floor. There is no audio on this video feed. As of October 2010, technicians are working from approximately 8 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. PDT Monday through Friday.

For more information about the mission, download the pdf, and then check out the cool mission website.

LCROSS Impact: More than Just Moon Water

artist's drawing of LCROSS approaching the moonNearly a year after announcing the discovery of water molecules on the moon, scientists have revealed new data uncovered by NASA’s Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO—and it’s more than just water.

The missions found evidence that lunar soil within shadowy craters is rich in useful materials. Moreover, the moon appears to be chemically active and has a full-fledged water cycle. Scientists also confirmed that ‘moon water’ was in the form of mostly pure ice crystals in some places.

For more information visit the LCROSS website.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus.

NASA Now: Flight Testing

NASA Now logo
As in the early days of the manned space program, much of NASA’s flight testing still is conducted in the high desert of California, at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center located at Edwards Air Force Base. The desert’s wide open spaces, good weather and long, flat runway at Dryden make it NASA’s premier location for conducting atmospheric flight research and operations, as well as a backup landing spot for the space shuttle.

This NASA Now event, available on the NES Virtual campus beginning Sept. 29, 2010, features Albion Bowers, project manager of the Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project at Dryden. Bowers presents the latest information about some of NASA’s current flight test projects. 

For more information about current NASA flight research projects, visit

Link to the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus home page.

Solar Probe to Plunge Into Sun's Atmosphere

NASA’s daring plan to visit the sun took a giant leap forward recently with the selection of five key science investigations for the Solar Probe+ spacecraft.

Slated to launch no later than 2018, the smart car-sized spacecraft will plunge directly into the atmosphere of the sun, aiming to solve some of the biggest mysteries of solar physics. Today’s announcement means that researchers can begin building sensors for unprecedented in situmeasurements of the solar system’s innermost frontier.

For additional information about this exciting project, visit

Link to the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus home page.