Posts Tagged ‘Nasa’

The Mystery of the Missing Moon Trees

18 Feb

15 years after NASA astronomer David Williams started searching for them, hundreds of trees grown from space-faring seeds are still missing.

The “moon trees,” whose seeds circled the moon 34 times in Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa’s pocket, were welcomed back to Earth with great fanfare in 1971. One was planted in Washington Square in Philadelphia as part of the 1975 bicentennial celebrations. Another took root at the White House. Several found homes at state capitals and space-related sites around the country. Then-president Gerald Ford called the trees “living symbol[s] of our spectacular human and scientific achievements.”

And then, mysteriously, everyone seemed to forget about them.

“The careful records weren’t kept, or if they were kept they weren’t maintained,” Williams said. Williams, whose job includes archiving data from the Apollo missions, hadn’t even heard of the moon trees until a third grade teacher e-mailed him in 1996 to ask about a tree at the Camp Koch Girl Scout Camp in Cannelton, Indiana.

“No one around here had ever heard of it,” Williams said. “This is such a neat story, and no one seems to know about it.”

Williams has made it his mission to find them. For the past 15 years, he has kept a record on the web of every known tree’s location. When he started in 1996, he only knew where 22 trees were found. Now, that number has climbed to 80.

But the climb is slow. Mostly, Williams heard of new trees when a hiker or a park visitor found one and e-mailed him about it. The e-mails are ever fewer and farther between, he says.

“It’s been sort of a trickle,” he said. “Most of the easy ones, the low-lying fruit had already been gathered.”

Although most of the trees are long-lived species expected to last centuries, some have started to die off. According to Williams’ most recent tree count, 21 of the 80 known trees are dead, including the Loblolly pine outside the White House, five sycamores and two pines outside the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and one New Orleans pine that was damaged in Hurricane Katrina.

“It’s kind of sad, to see them going,” Williams said.

The trees’ poor health has nothing to do with their journey to space, Williams says.

“No one knew for sure whether being exposed to weightlessness or radiation would do something to the seeds,” he said. “They grew control trees right next to each other to see if they grew differently. But they didn’t find anything.”

The healthy trees have given rise to a crop of half-moon trees, trees grown from the seeds of a moon tree.

“There’s a lot of second generation moon trees being planted now,” Williams said. “That’s getting to the point where I can’t keep up with it.”

You can even buy half-moon seeds online and plant one in your own yard. Williams’ yard hosts a second generation moon tree, a gift from the National Arboretum.

Although Williams will keep looking, there’s no way to know when he’s found them all, he says. But at least the trees won’t be forgotten again.

“At least now there’s a permanent home for it,” he said. “It can’t be lost now. At least all the information that comes in, we have that.”

Update: If you think you’ve found a moon tree, you can contact Williams at [email protected]. Check the Moon Trees website to see if your tree has been reported before.

Image: 1) The plaque labeling the moon tree at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, where Williams works. 2) NASA Goddard’s moon sycamore. (Courtesy Jay Friedlander.)

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The NASA yard sale is awesome [Nasa]

06 Jan
You can buy the flight plan that went to the moon, a lunar meteorite, or Buzz Aldrin's 8th grade report card at an upcoming Nasa auction. If you've got cash to spare, head on over to the preview. [Via BadAstronomy.] More »

NASA Engineer Shows YouTube “Best of the Best” Shuttle Videos

11 Dec

Matt Melis, a longtime NASA engineer, has take to the ‘Tube to show off what he calls “the best of the best” imagery from shuttle launches, including high-definition video

Melis has been in the launch analysis game for quite some time. His 45-minute tribute to space shuttle launches is incredibly educational and a fascinating watch for fans of space programs.

You’ll get to hear NASA engineers explain every imaginable detail of a shuttle launch as footage from the ground and from the shuttles themselves show what goes into the first phase of a successful space mission. You’ll get to see launches for STS-114, STS-117, and STS-124 missions.

In short, if you’re really into space stuff, this YouTube video is the director’s commentary of your dreams.

“Photographic documentation of a space shuttle launch plays a critical role in the engineering analysis and evaluation process that takes place during each and every mission,” Melis writes on the YouTube video page.

“Motion and still images enable shuttle engineers to visually identify off-nominal events and conditions requiring corrective action to ensure mission safety and success… Rendered in the highest definition possible, this production is a tribute to the dozens of men and women of the shuttle imaging team and the 30 years of achievement of the Space Shuttle Program.”

Melis has been at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, for many years. He was part of the ballistics team that analyzed the Columbia launch accident, for example.

Here’s the full video. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Reviews: YouTube

More About: NASA, Science, shuttle launch, space, space shuttle, trending, youtube

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NASA reveals arsenic-bred organisms, search for life gets broader parameters

02 Dec
If you were hoping NASA was going to announce the very first tweet from an extraterrestrial being, sorry to break your heart -- it is astrobiological, but the findings are actually borne of this rock. Researchers in Mono Lake, California, have discovered a microorganism (pictured) that uses arsenic instead of phosphorous to thrive and reproduce. The latter, as far as terrestrial life is concerned, is a building block of life along with carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur, all integral to our DNA and RNA. Arsenic, meanwhile, is generally considered poisonous -- but "chemically it behaves similarly to phosphate," apparently making for a good substitution. In other words, NASA's proven that life can be made with components different than our current assumptions, both locally and beyond the stars. Seems entirely logical, if you ask us. (A silicon-based Horta, Mr. Spock?)

So, what about other atypical life-forming chemicals? NASA isn't speculating. That sound you hear is a thousand light bulbs popping up as science fiction writers everywhere conjure up brand new super villains -- and a thousand Chemistry professors writing new extra credit questions for their fall semester finals.

NASA reveals arsenic-bred organisms, search for life gets broader parameters originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 02 Dec 2010 14:18:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Hundred Year Starship Initiative plans to put people on Mars by 2030, bring them back by… well, never (video)

31 Oct
For a while now, there has been a conversation going on in certain circles (you know, space circles): namely, if the most prohibitive part of a manned flight to Mars would be the return trip, why bother returning at all? And besides the whole "dying alone on a hostile planet 55-million-plus kilometers from your family, friends, and loved ones" thing, we think it's a pretty solid consideration. This is just one of the topics of discussion at a recent Long Now Foundation event in San Francisco, where NASA Ames Research Center Director Pete Worden discussed the Hundred Year Starship Initiative, a project NASA Ames and DARPA are undertaking to fund a mission to the red planet by 2030. Indeed if the space program "is now really aimed at settling other worlds," as Worden said, what better way to encourage a permanent settlement than the promise that there will be no coming back -- unless, of course, they figure out how to return on their own. Of course, it's not like they're being left to die: the astronauts can expect supplies from home while they figure out how to get things up and running. As Arizona State University's Dr. Paul Davies, author of a recent paper in Journal of Cosmology, writes, "It would really be little different from the first white settlers of the North American continent, who left Europe with little expectation of return." Except with much less gravity. See Worden spout off in the video after the break.

Continue reading Hundred Year Starship Initiative plans to put people on Mars by 2030, bring them back by... well, never (video)

Hundred Year Starship Initiative plans to put people on Mars by 2030, bring them back by... well, never (video) originally appeared on Engadget on Sun, 31 Oct 2010 03:03:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Got a plan to get us back to the Moon? NASA’s got $30 million worth of motivation! [Commercial Spaceflight]

08 Aug
In the clearest indication yet that the future of space exploration lies as much in the private sector as government agencies, NASA announced it's offering $30.1 million for the first commercial group to land a probe on the Moon. More »

How do we measure gravitational waves? [Mad Science]

03 Jul
"Gravitational telescopes" let scientists observe fluctuations in spacetime itself. They are, in a word, crazystupidamazing. More »

Last Space Shuttle flight scheduled for February, 2011

01 Jul

The very last Space Shuttle flight will take place on February 26, 2011. After that, American astronauts will have to bum rides with the Russians if they want to visit the International Space Station. Shame.

There’s two more missions aboard the Space Shuttle. There’s one on November 1, 2010 (Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-133) and the aforementioned February, 2011 one (Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS-134).

Apparently Space Shuttle Atlantis may get one more flight, but Nasa will wait until next month before it decides one way or the other.

Both flights will bring various pieces of equipment to the ISS, chief among them the ALPHA MAGNETIC SPECTROMETER~! which is a type of cosmic ray detector that Nasa hopes will be used to better understand the formation and structure of the universe.

And yup, after this we’ll have no way of getting to the ISS without having to pay the Russians for a seat on one of their spacecraft—slightly embarrassing for a country as wealthy as the U.S. to not have an active space program, yes.


Nasa IBEX Probe to Go Where Only Voyager Has Gone Before [IBEX]

13 Oct

On October 19, NASA will launch the IBEX, or Interstellar Boundary Explorer, into a 130 mile earth orbit to begin mapping the very edge of our solar system. This region of space, also known by the kick ass scientific name "termination shock," is rife with mystery. Only the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft have ventured there, but they weren't armed with the right kind of tech to adequately catalog what's going on at the point where our solar system meets outer space. IBEX is, and from its orbit around our planet it will beam back some of the first detailed measurements of the region.

Unlike Voyager, IBEX's payload includes tech tailor made for measuring solar wind and creating a map of the void.

The satellite's payload will consist of two energetic neutral atom (ENA) imagers, IBEX-Hi and IBEX-Lo. Each of these sensors will consist of a collimator that will limit field of view, a conversion surface to convert neutral hydrogen and oxygen into ions, an electrostatic analyzer to suppress ultraviolet light and select ions of a specific energy range, and a detector to identify particle counts and the identity of each ion. IBEX-Hi will record particle counts at a higher energy band than IBEX-Lo. The payload will also include a Combined Electronics Unit (CEU) that will control the voltages on the collimator and ESA and will read and record data from the particle detectors of each sensor. — Wikipedia

[NASA via PopSci]


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NASA looking to go nuclear on the moon

11 Sep

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As we've seen, NASA has some pretty big plans for the moon (which may or may not come to fruition), and it's now finally offering up a solution for how it might keep everything powered. Turns out, it's looking at going nuclear -- with a fission surface power system, to be specific. That system, seen above in an artist's concept, would consist of nuclear reactor buried below the lunar surface (which provides some handy radiation shielding), with the engines that convert the heat energy into electricity placed in the tower above the reactor -- those long radiators would "radiate into space" any leftover heat energy that wasn't converted to electricity. All told, the system promises to generate a steady 40 kilowatts of electric power, or enough for about eight houses on Earth, but with NASA's various power-saving measures, they say that'd be more than enough to sustain a serious lunar outpost.
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