Measuring the Earth’s Ozone Levels with Four Satellites

Image credit: NASA

A series of NASA satellites are measuring ozone levels in the Earth’s atmosphere with such precision that they can tell where’s it’s naturally occurring and where it’s caused by pollution. The satellites included NASA’s Terra, Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, Earth Probe/TOMS, and the ESA’s ERS-2 satellite, and they were able to record fires and lightning flashes around the world. Scientists were surprised to find that larger quantities of ozone over the tropical Atlantic were actually formed by lightning strikes and not pollution as originally though.

During summertime ozone near the Earth’s surface forms in most major U.S. cities when sunlight and heat mix with car exhaust and other pollution, causing health officials to issue “ozone alerts.” But in other parts of the world, such as the tropical Atlantic, this low level ozone appears to originate naturally in ways that have left scientists puzzled. Now, NASA-funded scientists using four satellites can tell where low level ozone pollution comes from and whether it was manmade or natural.

Atmospheric scientist David Edwards and his colleagues from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and collaborators in Canada and Europe have studied this problem using satellite data from three NASA spacecraft, one from the European Space Agency (ESA), and a computer model from NCAR. They were surprised to find that a greater amount of near-surface ozone over the tropical Atlantic develops as a result of lightning instead of agricultural and fossil fuel burning.

Their findings appeared in a recent issue of the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres. The formation of ozone involves several factors, such as lightning and pollution from agricultural and fossil fuel burning, which is why it was helpful to use NASA’s multiple satellites to look at each in turn.

NASA satellites included Terra, the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), and Earth Probe/TOMS. ESA’s ERS-2 satellite was also used to look at ozone, and NCAR’s MOZART-2 (Model for OZone And Related chemical Tracers) computer model was used to simulate the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

Because the different satellite instruments could detect fires, lightning flashes, and the resulting pollution and ozone in the atmosphere, respectively, they provided a bird’s-eye global view of what was going on, and the computer model helped tie all the pieces together.

Fires create smoke and carbon monoxide, and lightning creates nitrogen oxides (NOx). All of these come together with other unstable compounds in a chemical soup, and sunlight helps trigger the reaction that helps form ozone. The scientists found that in the early part of the year, the intense fires set by farmers for land-clearing and traditional cultivation in north-western Africa, just south of the Sahara Desert, resulted in large amounts of pollution that they could track using satellite images as it spread over the Atlantic towards South America. This pollution greatly increased ozone at low altitudes near the fires.

However, when Edwards and his colleagues looked at areas of elevated ozone levels measured by satellites and aircraft over the Atlantic south of the equator, they were more surprised to find that this ozone was caused mainly by lightning rather than the fires.

In other parts of the world, especially near cities, ozone near Earth’s surface is often made from pollution as a result of industrial fossil-fuel burning and cars. Understanding where the pollution comes from in each case is important for improving our air quality.

NASA’s Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument aboard the Terra satellite is a joint NASA/Canadian Space Agency mission that measured carbon monoxide concentrations at various levels of the atmosphere. The TOMS instrument on EP/TOMS measured tropical tropospheric ozone over the mid-Atlantic. The TRMM satellite counted the number of fires in a region using its Visible/Infrared Scanner (VIRS), and also catalogued lightning flash data from its Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS). The satellite data was then interpreted using the MOZART-2 computer model.

Previously, scientists used TOMS observations to get a general idea of where the tropospheric ozone levels were high, but it was often difficult to say where the ozone came from and which pollution source or natural process led to its creation. Only recently has the 4 satellite combination enabled scientists to make this distinction.

This research was funded by NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise (ESE), in cooperation with the National Science Foundation, sponsor of NCAR. NASA’s ESE is dedicated to understanding the Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth System Science to improve prediction of climate, weather and natural hazards using the unique vantage point of space.

Original Source: NASA News Release

NASA Has Too Many Astronauts

Image credit: NASA

A new report released Thursday by NASA’s Inspector General says that the agency has too many astronauts for the number of shuttle flights. As of December 2002, 53 of the agency’s 116 astronauts had yet to actually go into space because of fewer shuttle flights than originally planned; what was supposed to be 8 or 9 flights a year ended up being only five times a year. Ironically, this report was prepared before the Columbia disaster, so the loss of another orbiter will make this problem even worse. Astronauts selected for the 2004 class probably won’t make it to space until 2009.

The review “Improving Management of the Astronaut Corps” (G-01-035) has been posted to the NASA Office of Inspector General Web.

The NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) evaluated the management of the astronaut corps. The OIG considered whether the NASA astronaut corps was being used effectively, was supportive of the Agency’s current and future mission, and was managed in accordance with governing policies and procedures. We conducted this review because the effective management of the astronaut corps is integral to the success of NASA’s mission.

Our report was scheduled to be released in final form in February 2003. However, when the Space Shuttle Columbia and its crew were lost we decided to delay the release of the report until a more appropriate time. Now that NASA is working to recruit an Astronaut Candidate Class of 2004 that includes pilots, mission specialists, and educator astronauts, we believe that our recommendations will aid the decision- making process.

Results of Review
The substance of the report has not been adjusted to reflect the loss of the Columbia or its crew. We found overly optimistic predictions of future flight rates, minimal regulation of astronaut candidate selection, and the need to staff engineering positions at Johnson Space Center to be factors in the Agency’s astronaut hiring process. As a result, costs for the astronaut program were higher than necessary and not all individuals trained to be astronauts were being used in a manner commensurate with their expensive training. We projected that the mission specialists in the class of 2000 would wait an average of 105 months to fly for the first time. Based on our projection, the last mission specialist in that class would not fly until April 2010 (116 months after joining the astronaut corps).

Recommendations
To assist the Agency in assuring that the size of the corps is more closely aligned with mission and program needs, we recommended that the Agency establish formal guidelines for certain aspects of the astronaut candidate selection process, conduct more realistic analyses of astronaut corps size needs, document reasons for deviating from those analyses, and establish formal criteria for astronaut technical assignments.

Management’s Response
NASA management concurred with our recommendations and has planned corrective actions that we consider responsive.

Original Source: NASA News Release

NASA Shuffles Shuttle Management Team

Image credit: NASA

NASA removed several managers from the space shuttle team on Wednesday as part of its response to the Columbia accident investigation. The manager for the vehicle engineering office was reappointed to a similar position at the Langley Research Center, while the head of the mission management team and manager of systems integration appear to have just been let go. NASA also named new candidates who will fill the positions.

Space Shuttle Program Manager Bill Parsons today announced several key leadership changes within the office as it reorganizes and evolves following the Columbia accident.

?This is a critical time for the agency and the shuttle program and I believe these changes and additions to my staff prepares us to return to flight as soon as possible and, most importantly, as safely as possible,? Parsons said.

N. Wayne Hale, Jr., is named Acting Deputy Manager, Space Shuttle Program. He will return to the Johnson Space Center from the Kennedy Space Center where he has served as Manager, Launch Integration, since February.

Hale joined NASA JSC in 1978 and has served in several senior technical and managerial positions. He began his managerial career in 1985 as Head, Communications Systems Section. From 1988 to 2002 he served as a flight director including the Ascent and Entry Flight Director for 28 Space Shuttle flights. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1976 from Rice University and a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1978 from Purdue University.

Steve M. Poulos, Jr., becomes Acting Manager, Orbiter Project Office at JSC. He joins the shuttle program from the Engineering Directorate where he most recently was Chief, Crew and Thermal Systems Division.

Poulos joined NASA JSC in 1989 and has held positions including Deputy Chief, Extravehicular Activity (EVA) Equipment Branch, and Chief, EVA and Spacesuit Systems Branch in the Engineering Directorate; Deputy Manager, EVA Project Office; and Deputy Manager, Program Integration Office, International Space Station Program. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Metallurgical Engineering in 1982 from Penn State University and a Master of Business Administration in 1992 from the University of Houston ? Clear Lake.

Edward J. Mango becomes Deputy Manager, Orbiter Project Office. He has been the technical assistant to the Space Shuttle Program Manager on detail from the Kennedy Space Center.

Mango joined NASA at the Kennedy Space Center in 1986 and has held positions that include Lead Project Engineer for the External Tank and Solid Rocket Motors; Lead Project Engineer for Atlantis during the Shuttle-Mir Program; Shuttle Project Engineer; and Shuttle Launch Manager. Most recently he served as the Recovery Director for the Columbia debris recovery effort in East Texas. Mango earned his Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering in 1981 from Parks College of Saint Louis University and a Master of Science in Engineering from the University of Central Florida in 1993.

John P. Shannon is named Acting Manager, Flight Operations and Integration. Most recently, he served as Lead Flight Director on Discovery?s STS-102 mission in March 2001. Following Columbia?s accident, Shannon served as the Deputy Director of the Columbia Task Force that served as the interface between NASA and the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

Shannon joined NASA JSC in 1987 and has served in several senior technical and managerial positions. He began his managerial career in 1992 as Head, Guidance and Control Systems Section. From 1993 to 2003 he served as a flight director, including Ascent and Entry Flight Director for 11 Space Shuttle flights. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering in 1987 from Texas A & M University. In 2002 he was selected to participate in the inaugural class of the JSC Leadership Development Program. In addition, he has been selected to attend the Harvard Program for Management Development through the NASA Fellowship Program.

John F. Muratore is named Manager, Systems Integration Office. He most recently was Assistant to the Director of Engineering at JSC.

Muratore joined NASA JSC in 1983 and has held positions including Chief, Reconfiguration Management Division, Space Shuttle Flight Director, and Chief, Control Center Systems Division in the Mission Operations Directorate; and Associate Director and Deputy Manager, Advance Development Office within the Engineering Directorate. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering in 1979 from Yale University and a Master of Science in Computer Science in 1988 from the University of Houston – Clear Lake.

Original Source: NASA News Release

Helios Crash Investigation Begins

Image credit: NASA

NASA has recovered 75% of the solar-powered Helios aircraft after it crashed into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii last week. Researchers say that the unmanned prototype was at an altitude of only 900 metres when it experienced control problems which shook the aircraft violently and caused it to crash. Unfortunately, none of the recovered debris can be reusable because of damage from the salt water. This was its tenth test flight.

As much as 75 percent, by weight, of the Helios Prototype solar electric airplane that crashed into the Pacific Ocean June 26 has been recovered from the waters several miles west of the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

The Helios Prototype is part of a NASA Dryden Flight Research Center project to develop unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technologies to enable UAVs to perform a variety of long-duration missions including environmental monitoring and telecommunications relay services. Helios was built and operated by AeroVironment, Inc. of Monrovia, Calif.

Researchers said the 247-ft. remotely piloted flying wing aircraft, operating on solar cell power, was at about 3,000 feet in restricted Navy test range airspace when it experienced control difficulties that resulted in severe oscillations before Helios sustained some structural damage and went down. AeroVironment’s solar aircraft team has previously conducted nine successful flights with the Helios Prototype and more than 40 on predecessor solar aircraft. NASA has convened a mishap investigation board on Kauai to determine the cause of the crash.

Among debris recovered with the help of the U.S. Navy?s Pacific Missile Range Facility and the Niihau Ranch were the two hydrogen fuel tanks carried by Helios in a quest to validate fuel cell electric power technology for airborne applications. Helios team members say none of the recovered pieces will be reusable because of damage and salt-water contamination. They say the crash does not pose environmental hazards. Formal recovery efforts ended on June 28, but debris patrols of the beaches on the west side of Kauai continue.

Solar Aircraft Lost Over the Pacific

Image credit: NASA

NASA’s remotely piloted Helios aircraft was destroyed on Thursday when it broke up over the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian Islands. The Helios is a large flying covered with solar cells which is designed to fly at very high altitudes for very long durations – it broke the world altitude record when it reached 29,500 metres in August, 2001. In the future, fleets of these aircraft could replace the services of satellites for a fraction of the cost. The cause of the accident isn’t known.

The remotely operated Helios Prototype aircraft, a proof-of-concept solar-electric flying wing designed to operate at extremely high altitudes for long duration, was destroyed when it crashed today during a checkout flight from the U.S. Navy?s Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

There was no property damage or injuries on the ground resulting from the accident. The remotely piloted aircraft came down within the confines of the PMRF test range over the Pacific Ocean west of the facility. Cause of the mishap is not yet known.

The solar-electric, propeller-driven aircraft had been flying under the guidance of ground-based mission controllers for AeroVironment, Inc., of Monrovia, Calif., the plane?s builder and operator. The lightweight flying wing had taken off from PMRF at about 10:06 a.m. on a functional checkout flight and had been aloft for about 29 minutes over the PMRF test range when the mishap occurred. The mishap occurred during a shakedown mission in preparation for a long-endurance mission of almost two days that had been planned for next month.

The Helios Prototype is one of several remotely piloted aircraft whose technological development has been sponsored and funded by NASA under the Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) program, managed by NASA?s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. Current to power its electric motors and other systems was generated by high-efficiency solar cells spread across the upper surface of its 247-foot long wing during the day and by an experimental fuel cell-based electrical system at night. The Helios Prototype was designed to fly at altitudes of up to 100,000 feet on single-day atmospheric science and imaging missions, as well as perform multi-day telecommunications relay missions at altitudes of 50,000 to 65,000 feet.

The Helios Prototype set a world altitude record for winged aircraft of 96,863 feet during a flight from the Navy facility at Barking Sands, Kauai, in August 2001.

An accident investigation team will be formed by NASA and supported by AeroVironment and the U.S. Navy to determine the exact cause of the Helios Prototype mishap.

Original Source: NASA News Release

James Kennedy New Director for Kennedy Space Center

Image credit: NASA

James M. Kennedy was selected by NASA today as administrator of the agency’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Prior to this assignment, Kennedy was the deputy director of NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Alabama, and served as a project manager for the X-34 and DC-XA projects. He first joined NASA in 1968 and has received numerous awards during his tenure with the space agency.

William F. Readdy, Associate Administrator for Space Flight at NASA Headquarters in Washington, today named James W. Kennedy as the new Director of the agency’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Kennedy has served as KSC’s Deputy Director since November 2002. He will succeed General Roy Bridges, who was appointed to lead NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., June 13.

“Along with his impeccable credentials, Jim brings stability to KSC at a time when we need it,” Readdy said making the announcement. “As we prepare to implement the findings of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Jim’s knowledge of the Space Shuttle and his leadership abilities are essential in making our ‘Return to Flight’ effort a success,” he said.

Prior to his assignment to KSC in 2002, Kennedy was deputy director of NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Kennedy also served as project manager for major initiatives, such as the X-34 and the DC-XA, and he led the One NASA effort to help make the agency more effective and efficient by encouraging teamwork across all field centers. In early 1996, he was the manager for Marshall’s Space Shuttle Projects Resident Office at KSC. Kennedy returned to Marshall when he received a Senior Executive Service appointment in September 1996 and was named manager of the Solid Rocket Booster Project.

In 1998, he was selected as the Deputy Director of Science and Engineering, where he was responsible for establishing and maintaining a nationally recognized research and development capability in space research and technology. One year later, he became the Director of Engineering.

“Jim is the right person we need at the helm of the Kennedy Space Center, as we prepare to return to safe flight,” added NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe. “He’s a distinguished engineer and a devoted public servant. I know his colleagues at KSC will give Jim their full support, and I am confident, under his guidance, the center will meet and exceed all the objectives facing us in the coming months,” O’Keefe said.

Kennedy first joined NASA in 1968 in the Aerospace Engineering Cooperative Education program at KSC. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Auburn University, Ala., in 1972. After being called to active duty in the U.S. Air Force, he earned his master’s degree in business administration from Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, in 1977.

Kennedy has received numerous awards during his NASA career, including Marshall’s Leadership Award, NASA’s Silver Snoopy Award, a Distinguished Service Medal and a Meritorious Rank Award. He also has received a Group Achievement Award and several Special Service and Performance Awards. In 2003, Kennedy received the National Space Club’s Astronautics Engineer of the Year Award.

Original Source: NASA News Release

Columbia Investigators Analyze NASA Culture

Investigators into the Columbia disaster believe they understand the events that led to the destruction of the shuttle, that falling foam created a crack in a critical heat shield. Now they’re looking into the culture and management in NASA to find out how to prevent problems from happening in the future. The accident investigation board said that fully half of their report will include will deal with management problems at NASA that could affect flight safety. The board hopes their recommendations will create a sense of urgency to help the agency create a safer replacement for the aging space shuttle.

Images Recovered from Columbia Wreckage

Image credit: NASA

NASA has released video and photographs taken by the crew of the space shuttle Columbia while it was still in space. The film was recovered from the wreckage of the shuttle; of the 337 videotapes and 137 rolls of film, only 28 tapes and 21 film rolls were usable. Selected scenes will be broadcast on NASA TV. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board, which is researching the cause of the disaster, gave NASA permission to release the material because it isn’t relevant to the probe.

NASA today released recovered photographs and video taken by the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia during its scientific research mission in January. The imagery was found during search efforts since the loss of Columbia Feb. 1.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board recently determined the material was not relevant to their investigation. The imagery documents the STS-107 mission from the crew’s perspective. The imagery includes almost 10 hours of recovered video and 92 photographs. It includes in-cabin, Earth observation and experiment-related imagery. The Shuttle carried 337 videotapes, but only 28 were found with some recoverable footage. The mission carried 137 rolls of film, but only 21 were found containing recoverable photographs.

The imagery is among the more than 84,000 pieces of debris recovered. The debris weighs 84,900 pounds, about 38 percent of the dry weight of Columbia. More than 30,000 people assisted in the search conducted through the combined efforts of NASA, FEMA, EPA, the U.S. and Texas Forest Services. The Columbia Recovery Office at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) was established to continue accepting calls about debris, since the formal search was completed in April. The toll free number to report debris is: 1/866/446-6603.

Selected scenes and photographs will be broadcast on NASA Television today at 12:15 p.m. EDT. News media may obtain the video and photos in their entirety by calling the JSC Media Resource Center at: 281/483-4231. NASA Television is broadcast on AMC-2, transponder 9C, C-Band, located at 85 degrees West longitude. The frequency is 3880.0 MHz. Polarization is vertical and audio is monaural at 6.8 MHz. Information about NASA and the Columbia accident investigation is on the Internet at: http://www.nasa.gov

Original Source: NASA News Release

Four Astronauts Enter Hall of Fame

Four space shuttle veterans were inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Saturday. The newest entrants were Daniel Brandenstein, Robert Gibson, Story Musgrave and Sally Ride (the first American woman in space). The event drew hundreds of people – many were tourists – and actor Lance Henriksen (“The Right Stuff” and “Aliens”) presided over the event. They join 48 astronauts already enshrined at the hall.

NASA Awards $825 Million Contract for Hubble Successor

Image credit: NASA

NASA announced today that it has awarded an $825 million contract to aerospace firm TRW to build the replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope: The James Webb Space Telescope. Named for NASA’s second administrator, this new observatory will launch in 2010 and operate 1.5 million km away from the Earth (Hubble is in low-Earth orbit). If all goes as planned, the observatory’s 6 metre mirror will offer a tremendous leap in resolution over Hubble.

NASA today selected TRW, Redondo Beach, Calif., to build a next-generation successor to the Hubble Space Telescope in honor of the man who led NASA in the early days of the fledgling aerospace agency.

The space-based observatory will be known as the James Webb Space Telescope, named after James E. Webb, NASA’s second administrator. While Webb is best known for leading Apollo and a series of lunar exploration programs that landed the first humans on the Moon, he also initiated a vigorous space science program, responsible for more than 75 launches during his tenure, including America’s first interplanetary explorers.

“It is fitting that Hubble’s successor be named in honor of James Webb. Thanks to his efforts, we got our first glimpses at the dramatic landscapes of outer space,” said NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe. “He took our nation on its first voyages of exploration, turning our imagination into reality. Indeed, he laid the foundations at NASA for one of the most successful periods of astronomical discovery. As a result, we’re rewriting the textbooks today with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory and, in 2010, the James Webb Telescope.”

The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled for launch in 2010 aboard an expendable launch vehicle. It will take about three months for the spacecraft to reach its destination, an orbit 940,000 miles or 1.5 million kilometers in space, called the second Lagrange Point or L2, where the spacecraft is balanced between the gravity of the Sun and the Earth.

Unlike Hubble, space shuttle astronauts will not service the James Webb Space Telescope because it will be too far away.

The most important advantage of this L2 orbit is that a single-sided sun shield on only one side of the observatory can protect Webb from the light and heat of both the Sun and Earth. As a result, the observatory can be cooled to very low temperatures without the use of complicated refrigeration equipment. These low temperatures are required to prevent the Webb’s own heat radiation from exceeding the brightness of the distant cool astronomical objects.

Before and during launch, the mirror will be folded up. Once the telescope is placed in its orbit, ground controllers will send a message telling the telescope to unfold its high-tech mirror petals.

To see into the depths of space, the James Webb Space Telescope is currently planned to carry instruments that are sensitive to the infrared wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. The new telescope will carry a near-infrared camera, a multi-object spectrometer and a mid-infrared
camera/spectrometer.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be able to look deeper into the universe than Hubble because of the increased light- collecting power of its larger mirror and the extraordinary sensitivity of its instruments to infrared light. Webb’s primary mirror will be at least 20 feet in diameter, providing much more light gathering capability than Hubble’s eight-foot primary mirror.

The telescope’s infrared capabilities are required to help astronomers understand how galaxies first emerged out of the darkness that followed the rapid expansion and cooling of the universe just a few hundred million years after the big bang. The light from the youngest galaxies is seen in the infrared due to the universe’s expansion.

Looking closer to home, the James Webb Space Telescope will probe the formation of planets in disks around young stars, and study supermassive black holes in other galaxies.

Under the terms of the contract valued at $824.8 million, TRW will design and fabricate the observatory’s primary mirror and spacecraft. TRW also will be responsible for integrating the science instrument module into the spacecraft as well as performing the pre-flight testing and on-orbit checkout of the observatory.

The Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., manages the James Webb Space Telescope for the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The program has a number of industry, academic and government partners, as well as the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Original Source: NASA News Release