Stories tagged nasa

Sep
25
2008

Rubber ducky you're the one...
Rubber ducky you're the one...Courtesy Mark Ryan
Boy, times must be getting tough if NASA’s latest endeavor is any indication. Researchers from the space agency recently dropped a whole slew of rubber ducks into openings in Greenland's Jakobshaven Glacier in hopes of understanding how and where melt waters from the ice sheet ends up in Baffin Bay. They’re also trying to understand why glaciers increase their speed during the summer months. The Jakobshaven Glacier, which is suspected of calving the iceberg that sank the Titanic in 1912, is Greenland’s fastest moving glacier. The current thinking is that melt water forming on top of the ice flow during the summer months travels down narrow tubes called moulins to the glaciers base where it acts as a lubricant thus speeding up the ice sheet's movement. This isn’t exactly rocket science, is it? Anyway, each little ducky carries a label with the words "science experiment" and "reward" printed on it in three languages, along with an email address. The researchers hope that those who come across the toy quackers will contact them with information about when and where they found them. So far no one has gotten back to NASA but agency officials are confidant when they do it will add to our understanding of glaciers and their role in rising sea levels. So why has NASA has resorted to using such a low-tech approach? One source claims it's because a previous test using a metallic probe failed to return any data. Another source claims the probe is being used in conjunction with the rubber bath toys. Whatever the case it looks duck hunting season has opened.

SOURCES and LINKS

CNN story
NetworkWorld story
Discovery Channel story
Animation about Jakobshaven Glacier

Jul
17
2008

Doing it right now: just not venting yet.
Doing it right now: just not venting yet.Courtesy NASA
Fine. Be a jerk about it—apparently there are only two reasons I could be an astronaut. There are definitely plenty of reasons why I should be an astronaut—including, but not limited to, 1) people love astronauts, 2) when aliens come, you’ll want someone on the front lines with gumption and verve, 3) I’ve seen Apollo 13, like, twice, etc—but nobody seems to care about those. No, it’s always “but what are your qualifications? Are you a pilot? An astronomer? How do you handle heavy g-force? Have you a buzz cut?”

Numerous and impressive. No. Not technically. Pretty well, I assume. Not at the moment, no.

But let’s look at the important things: primarily that I have a fully functional renal system, and can pee with the best of them. And that’s an important thing at NASA these days. Or so I hear.

An internal memo from NASA, calling for donations of urine, has been, um, leaked to the public. It seems that during the last ten days of July, NASA will be requiring about 8 gallons of fresh urine a day (the output of about 30 people) for super-secret, awesome space tests. That is to say, to help figure out how to build a better space bathroom.

It turns out that while peeing in space is probably a little tricky (and hilarious), storing and getting rid of that pee is at least equally problematic. The Orion space capsule, which will help ferry astronauts to the moon, will eventually have to vent stored astronaut pee into space. This, amazingly, isn’t as easy as spitting out a mouthful of lemonade—urine has lots of tiny solids suspended in it, and those solids clog up the venting system. And you don’t want clogged vents. Not here, and not in space.

To test the space urinal, NASA needs pee. And, as NASA’s head of life support systems says, you can’t make fake urine.

But I can make the real stuff. And I don’t want to brag, but it’s actually pretty easy for me.

Unfortunately, NASA only wants NASA pee (the original memo was internal, after all). But I’ll be waiting by the phone, ready to do my duty for America. In return, I only ask that a seat be saved for me on the lunar lander.

Two NASA scientists propose building giant telescopes on the Moon, using Moon dust as raw material. If successful, the telescopes would be larger than anything on Earth. And with no atmosphere to distort images, the pictures would be sharper, too.

Have you heard about the problem on the International Space Station? The only toilet on board is plugged and astronauts have to come up with alternative ways of relieving themselves. You can read more about it right here.

Ever mess around with model rockets, you know those temermental things that never would ignite when you pushed the launch button, and when they finally did (usually when you weren't expecting it) they'd find their way into the closest tree or flat-roofed structure? Here's a tale of one heck of a model rocket launch. Get the kid who made it signed up to work for NASA right now.

May
27
2008

See Spots spin: In recent years, Jupiter has picked up a couple new red spots. While the Great Red Spot (right) has raged for hundreds of years, newer smaller red  spots -- Red Spot, Jr., (middle) and "Baby Spot" (left) have emerged.
See Spots spin: In recent years, Jupiter has picked up a couple new red spots. While the Great Red Spot (right) has raged for hundreds of years, newer smaller red spots -- Red Spot, Jr., (middle) and "Baby Spot" (left) have emerged.Courtesy M. Wong and I. de Pater (University of California, Berkeley)
New images from the Hubble Telescope show that the Giant Planet has picked up a couple more red spots, smaller but very near to the Great Red Spot.

Images taken earlier this month discovered the third red spot on the planet, which has been nicknamed “Baby spot.” Red Spot, Jr., was discovered in spring 2006. The Great Red Spot, which is a raging storm about the same size as our Earth, has been churning in Jupiter’s atmosphere for 200 to 350 years.

“Baby Spot” had been a white storm prior to taking on its reddish appearance. Scientists believe the red color come from clouds reacting to solar ultraviolet radiation.

Why is Jupiter getting a surge of extra red spots? Researchers think that it has to do with climate changes on the planet. In 2004 a California astronomer predicted that the planet was moving into a phase of warming temperatures that would destabilize its atmosphere.

“Baby Spot” is on a collision course with the Great Red Spot and could be gobbled up by it later this summer or bounced into a different location on the planet.

National Geopgraphic link

Would this make you less likely to want to join a space exploration crew on the International Space Station? On its next mission, space shuttle Endeavor will be delivering equipment that NASA has developed that will recycle astronauts' eliminations -- more specifically urine -- into drinking water. With crews of the space station growing from three to six people in the near future, the technology is needed to keep up with the water demands for a larger crew. You can get all the details here from USA Today.

Google Sky now works in a web browser (without a download). From within a web browser one can navigate the sky in a way similar to using Google Maps. Zoom or drag your way through a universe of stitched together images from telescopes and satellites. Try it out. It is lots of fun.

President Bush has ordered the Pentagon to come up with a plan to shoot down with a missile the disabled spy satellite that's predicted to crash to Earth early next month. In making the decision, the president cited need to protect Earthlings from toxic chemicals that could burst loose if the school-bus sized satellite would crash in a populated area. But I also know there were concerns raised when this condition of the satellite was first reported, that national secrets could be compromised if the satellite crashes in enemy territory.

Jan
31
2008

Moon or Mercury?: This image from the recent Mercury passby of the Messenger spacecraft shows the planet's surface to be much like our Moon's.
Moon or Mercury?: This image from the recent Mercury passby of the Messenger spacecraft shows the planet's surface to be much like our Moon's.Courtesy NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
Just like that person heading back from the photo shop with a new packet of developed film, NASA is sharing its latest views of the planet closest to our solar system’s center. And what we’re seeing is surprising astronomers.

The images were among 1,2000 collected by the Messenger spacecraft as it passed Mercury two-and-a-half weeks ago. A full series of photos and movies is available through this NASA link.

These new photos have uncovered some new discoveries about Mercury’s geology. Particularly interesting is a formation called “The Spider,” a crater-like depression with more than 100 narrow troughs radiating from it.

Also discovered were a bunch of ancient volcanoes and a very cratered, rocky surface that makes Mercury look a lot like our Moon.

Messenger will pass by the planet a couple more times in the coming years before settling into an orbit around the planet in 2011 to do further study. Among the tasks it will tackle on that part of the journey is to examine the magnetic fields that spur out from the planet. As far as astronomers can tell, Mercury is the only other planet along with Earth that has such strong magnetic fields.