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Exploration

Robotic Space Plane Set for Liftoff

April 22nd, 2010

All appears on schedule for tonight’s maiden flight of the reusable X-37B space plane. This U.S. Air Force Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, will be boosted into orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas booster. Its mission is to demonstrate a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. The objectives of […]

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Eight Wonders of the Solar System, Made Interactive

March 31st, 2010

From Scientific American: What might future explorers of the solar system see?

Artist Ron Miller takes the viewer on a journey to eight of the most breathtaking views that await explorers of our solar system.

The scale of these natural wonders dwarfs anything Earth has to offer. What might we see and feel if we could travel to these distant domains?

By interpreting data from probes such as NASA’s Cassini, which is now exploring the Saturnian system, and Messenger, which goes into orbit around Mercury in March 2011, the artist’s eye allows us an early visit to these unforgettable locales.

Check out this impressive interactive from Scientific American by going to:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=8-wonders&sc=DD_20100331

By LD/CSE

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Shuttle Experiment Probes Infectious Disease Process in Humans

March 31st, 2010

In a first-of-its-kind experiment, the unique conditions of space flight will be used to examine how cells remain healthy or succumb to disease, particularly in the face of stress or damage.

At Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, Biodesign Institute researchers Cheryl Nickerson and her team, including Jennifer Barrila and Shameema Sarker, will see their latest experiment launched into low Earth orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery on its upcoming STS-131 mission.

The goals of the team’s research are to provide fundamental new insight into the infectious disease process, and further understanding of other progressive diseases, including immune disorders and cancer.
Nickerson notes that the key to this research is the novel way that cells adapt and respond to the unique microgravity environment of spaceflight.

This is the third time that Nickerson and her ASU team have flown their NASA-funded experiments aboard a space shuttle.

Experiment goals

The current mission will be the first time that human cells will undergo infection by a pathogen in spaceflight. Specifically, this 13-day experiment, called STL-Immune, will characterize the effect of microgravity on intestinal cellular responses before and after infection with the food-borne pathogen, Salmonella typhimurium.

The goals of these experiments are twofold: to better understand the effect of spaceflight on human cells before and after infection with an invasive bacterial pathogen -information of vital importance for ensuring the safety of astronauts – and to gain insight into responses of human and pathogenic cells in their customary environment within the human body on Earth.

These conditions, Nickerson explains in an ASU press statement, can sometimes bear intriguing similarities to those observed during spaceflight, though this effect is often masked by gravity in conventional, Earth-based experiments.

Using space as a research platform, Nickerson adds, for such studies “has and will continue to advance our fundamental understanding of the disease process in cells and could lead to major advancements in human health.”

LD/CSE

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Danger Mars Colonists! Need for Predicting Space Storms

March 29th, 2010

Future inhabitants of Mars (those that are not already there, perhaps) are in need of a space storm monitoring system.

That’s the advice of Roger Dube, professor in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York.

NASA’s vision for a permanent human presence on Mars is penciled in as soon as 2028. If so, the first group of colonists won’t need umbrellas; they will need safe houses with 30-foot thick walls made of Martian clay that can withstand radiation storms.

During a space storm, hurricane-force gusts hit Mars at full force. Those winds, containing X-rays and particle rays emitted from solar flares and coronal mass ejections — clumps of high-energy particles belched by the Sun — sweep past the planet’s weak magnetic field and atmosphere and strike the surface directly.

Dube has won NASA funding to develop a monitoring system that will provide a level of protection for people on Mars, underneath the red planet’s thin atmosphere.

Double Whammy

There’s a double whammy to Dube’s work.

As an additional benefit, the technology will give advanced warning of space storms threatening the critical infrastructure here on Earth, including the power grid, GPS navigation and sensitive communication satellites.

The system Dube envisions includes sensors and small solar observatories at the Mars colony or near the planetary pole for continual view of the solar surface.

Special purpose satellites already positioned between the Sun and the Earth will require advanced sensors and algorithms to detect signs of a dangerous flux of particles in order to provide warnings to both Earth and Mars.

“The technology we’re building uses existing satellites and solar telescopes that are in orbit or in space,” says Dube in an RIT press statement.

“Our innovation will be to add artificial intelligence to the recognition of space storms. Initially the technology will be used to calculate the probability of the Earth being hit by a space weather storm, and once we’ve got that we’ll determine the orbital calculations for Mars,” Dube explains.

“Mars does not enjoy the defenses against such storms that Earth has,” Dube adds.

According to Dube, his work to create a better monitoring system is one that could provide at least three days advanced warning for people living on Earth and Mars.

By LD/CSE

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