NASA YEAR-END UPDATE
NASA in 2010 set a new course for human spaceflight, helped rewrite science textbooks, redefined our understanding of Earth’s nearest celestial neighbor, put the finishing touches on one of the world’s greatest engineering marvels, made major contributions to life on Earth, and turned its sights toward the next era of exploration.
“This year, NASA’s work made headlines around the world,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “More importantly, it enlarged our understanding of the universe and our home planet, inspired people, and opened new frontiers for our dreams and aspirations.”
“NASA achievements this year across the spectrum — from science, to aeronautics, education and human spaceflight – provided incredible value to our nation,” NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said. “We continue to build upon our rich history, taking on new challenges and doing the things that no one else can do — all for the benefit of humanity.”
The following are some of NASA’s top stories for the past calendar year:
PRESIDENT OBAMA LAYS OUT NEW PLANS FOR SPACE EXPLORATION
After announcing a new direction for NASA in February, President Obama visited the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 15 to discuss details of his plans for space exploration. The president committed NASA to a series of developmental goals leading to new spacecraft for reaching low Earth orbit and new technology for potential missions beyond the moon. Discussing his ambitious goals for human spaceflight, the president said of his strategy, “We will not only extend humanity’s reach in space — we will strengthen America’s leadership here on Earth.”
SPACE STATION CELEBRATES 10 YEARS OF HABITATION AND GETS ANOTHER DECADE FOR RESEARCH
NASA and its international partners celebrated 10 years of permanent human habitation on the International Space Station on Nov. 2. More than 600 different research and technology development experiments have been conducted aboard the orbiting lab, many of which are producing advances in medicine, environmental systems and our understanding of the universe. As the station transitions from its assembly phase to use as a unique scientific outpost, NASA is investing in the laboratory’s future by ensuring a wide pool of organizations outside the agency have access. The NASA Authorization Act of 2010, in addition to extending station operations until at least 2020, also directed NASA to select an independent, nonprofit research management organization to develop and manage a portion of the U.S. share of the station as a national laboratory.
With NASA’s space shuttle fleet nearing retirement, three missions helped put finishing touches on the station this year. The STS-130 mission in February delivered a cupola with seven windows and a robotic control station. The cupola provides a panoramic view of Earth, celestial objects and visiting spacecraft. The STS-131 mission in April delivered science racks and new crew sleeping quarters. In May, the STS-132 crew delivered the Russian-built Mini Research Module-1 known as Rassvet to the orbiting laboratory. The module provides additional storage space and serves as a new docking port for Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft.
COMPANIES MAKE HUGE STRIDES AS FIRST COMMERCIAL SPACECRAFT SUCCESSFULLY LAUNCHED AND RECOVERED
Commercial companies made major progress in 2010, highlighted by SpaceX’s successful Dec. 8 launch of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule. The flight was the first for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, which is developing commercial supply services to the International Space Station. SpaceX became the first commercial company to launch and return a spacecraft from low Earth orbit. After NASA’s space shuttle retires, SpaceX is expected to launch at least 12 missions to carry cargo to and from the station. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft also are being designed to eventually carry astronauts into low Earth orbit.
Orbital Sciences Corp., the other participant in the COTS program, had a successful year also. In November, Orbital test-fired the first-stage rocket engine for its Taurus II rocket and opened the mission control center that will support the company’s COTS program missions. The company shipped the Taurus II stage-one core in December to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia for assembly. Orbital is under contract with NASA to fly eight cargo missions to the International Space Station.
NASA AIDS TRAPPED CHILEAN MINERS
NASA responded in late August to a request from the government of Chile for technical advice to assist with the rescue of 33 trapped miners in a copper and gold mine near Copiapo. As part of its support, NASA sent two medical doctors, a psychologist and an engineer to Chile. The team offered expert advice about medical, nutritional and behavioral health issues based on the agency’s long experience in protecting humans in the hostile environment of space. NASA also provided suggestions regarding the rescue cages designed to transport the miners out of the mine. Dr. Michael Duncan, deputy chief medical officer in the Space Life Sciences Directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, led the team. The other members were physician James Polk and psychologist Albert Holland from Johnson; and Clint Cragg, principal engineer with the NASA Engineering and Safety Center at the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
NASA-FUNDED RESEARCH DISCOVERS LIFE BUILT WITH TOXIC CHEMICAL
NASA-funded researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of California’s Mono Lake discovered the first known microorganism on Earth that is able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substituted arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components. Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur are the basic building blocks of all known forms of life on Earth. Researchers successfully grew microbes from the lake on a diet that was lean on phosphorus, but included generous helpings of arsenic. The research team included scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, Arizona State University, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource in Menlo Park.
NASA AIDS U.S. DISASTER RESPONSE TO GULF OF MEXICO OIL SPILL
NASA aided the U.S. response to the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill. Advanced remote-sensing instruments on NASA Earth-observing satellites and aircraft provided data on the spill’s location, oil concentrations, and impact on ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. NASA data were distributed to federal and state agencies and organizations that worked to contain the spill and lead recovery efforts. NASA also sent several research aircraft to make targeted observations that continue to help federal and state agencies document changes in the marshes, swamps, bayous, and beaches along the Gulf Coast.
NASA-FUNDED RESEARCH FINDS POTENTIALLY HABITABLE EXOPLANET
A team of planet hunters sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation announced the discovery of a planet with three times the mass of Earth orbiting a nearby star in a zone that might allow the planet to support life. The research placed the planet in an orbit where liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface. If confirmed, the find would be the most Earth-like exoplanet yet discovered and a strong candidate for the first that is potentially habitable. To astronomers, a potentially habitable planet is one that could support life, not necessarily one that humans would find hospitable. This discovery was the result of more than a decade of observations using the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, one of the world’s largest optical telescopes.
NEW EYE ON THE SUN DELIVERS STUNNING FIRST IMAGES
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, returned initial images that confirmed an unprecedented new capability for scientists to better understand our sun’s dynamic processes. Images from the spacecraft showed never-before-seen detail of material streaming outward and away from sunspots. Others showed extreme close-ups of activity on the sun’s surface. The spacecraft also provides images of the sun with 10 times greater resolution than high-definition television in a broad range of ultraviolet wavelengths. These solar events can greatly affect Earth. Launched on Feb. 11, SDO is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed to study the sun.
COMET GIVES UP SECRETS TO EPOXI
NASA’s EPOXI spacecraft successfully flew past comet Hartley 2 on Nov. 4, providing unprecedented images and giving scientists new information about the comet’s volume and material erupting from its surface. The EPOXI spacecraft revealed a cometary snowstorm. The snowstorm was created by carbon-dioxide jets spewing out tons of golf-ball to basketball-sized fluffy ice particles from the peanut-shaped comet’s rocky ends. At the same time, a different process was causing water vapor to escape from the comet’s smooth mid-section. The information sheds new light on the nature of comets and their role in the formation of planets. EPOXI is an extended mission that used the Deep Impact spacecraft.
NASA UNCOVERS THE MOON’S BURIED TREASURES
Scientists announced in 2010 new data about the moon uncovered by NASA’s Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO. Scientists determined the soil in the moon’s shadowy craters is rich in useful materials, including water in the form of mostly pure ice crystals. Researchers also found the moon is chemically active and has a water cycle. By understanding the processes and environments that determine the delivery of water to the moon, where water ice is, and the active water cycle, future mission planners may be able to better determine which locations will have easily-accessible water.
NASA CREATES OFFICE OF THE CHIEF TECHNOLOGIST, EMBARKS ON TECHNOLOGY-ENABLED FUTURE
NASA created a new Office of the Chief Technologist in February and named Bobby Braun to lead the effort. A professor of space technology at Georgia Tech and former engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Braun leads the new Space Technology Initiative targeting technologies that could be transformational in their ability to improve the agency’s knowledge and capabilities, while reducing cost and expanding the reach of future aeronautics, science and exploration missions. In December, NASA provided the National Research Council (NRC) with 14 technology area roadmaps drafted by agency experts as NASA works toward a long-range technology-investment plan. An NRC panel will gather public comments on the draft technology plans and make recommendations back to NASA by January 2012.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND WEBSITES HELP PUBLIC ENGAGE WITH NASA
NASA expanded its online engagement of the public and was honored to be recognized as a government leader in social media and web use. People now can find NASA, the agency’s centers, programs and projects on more than 200 locations across Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and UStream. The agency’s website, NASA.gov, won its second consecutive Webby award in 2010, and was joined this year by two other Webby-winning NASA sites, NASA Home and City 2.0, and Global Climate Change. NASA.gov expanded its reach with the release of a new video player that was used to view six million videos in its first eight months. A version of the site focusing on breaking news, videos and social media updates was optimized for mobile devices.
NASA launched partnerships with geolocation services Gowalla and Foursquare to engage with people at the agency-related sites they visit. More than four million people have viewed NASA videos on the agency’s YouTube channel. The NASA App now is available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. NASA also made the online engagement personal by inviting hundreds of participants to multiple Tweetup events that provided behind-the-scenes access across the agency. Find all the ways to connect and collaborate with NASA at:
NASA PURSUES NEW AIRCRAFT CONCEPTS AND GREEN AVIATION TECHNOLOGY
NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate focused again in 2010 on green aviation initiatives that seek to reduce aircraft noise, emissions and fuel consumption, and ensure the safe evolution of the aviation system. In April, NASA completed an 18-month research effort to visualize the passenger airplanes of the future. The advanced concept studies for airplanes that may enter service in 20-25 years produced exotic new designs for developing airframe and propulsion technologies enabling significantly quieter, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient aircraft, with better passenger comfort.
SUMMER OF INNOVATION PROGRAMS FOCUS ON MIDDLE-SCHOOLERS
NASA kicked off a new education initiative called the Summer of Innovation in June 2010. The program aligns with President Obamaâ€™s Educate to Innovate campaign and seeks to keep middle school students engaged in meaningful science, technology, engineering and math activities during the summer break. In the 2010 pilot year, NASA reached more than 78,000 students across the country through more than 150 events and activities led by NASA and about 130 partners in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Plans for the 2011 Summer of Innovation program are under way. The agency hopes to significantly expand the number of participating students as the effort matures and grows.
NASA Television’s Video File newsfeed will include items featuring these top stories beginning at noon EST, Dec. 20. For NASA TV streaming video, schedules and downlink information, visit:
Visitors to NASA’s website can vote on the top NASA story of the year at: