New Girder Bolted to Station

Atlantis astronauts Jerry Ross and Lee Morin completed a seven hour spacewalk on Saturday to finish bolting the newly installed S0 truss to the International Space Station. Dubbed the Silver Team because of their age (both are grandfathers), the two astronauts found some of the 54 bolts they tightened were a little sticky. The truss will hold the station’s giant solar wings and serve as a track for the Canadarm 2 to travel across the station.

Third Spacewalk Successful

Astronauts Steven Smith and Rex Walheim spent a productive day in space on Sunday as they continued to extend the International Space Station. During their six and a half hour spacewalk, the astronauts released a clamp that held the Mobile Transporter to the newly installed S0 truss. They also hooked up a set of connectors which will allow the Canadarm 2 to move along the truss and help out future construction.

Looking for Asteroids in the Earth’s Blindspot

Lately it seems that astronomers are discovering potentially harmful asteroids after they nearly miss our planet. This is because they’re coming from our planet’s “blind spot” – the space directly between the Earth and the Sun – and we can only see them after they pass. The European Space Agency is developing a new space-based observatory called Gaia, which will be able to see close to the Sun’s disk and detect many more of these previously unseen asteroids. Gaia is expected to launch in 2010.

New Railcar Has a Few Glitches

After installing their new railcar on the International Space Station yesterday, NASA wanted to take it for a spin. The railcar – which will be used in future phases of the station’s construction – rolled along the track for a few minutes but then it stalled. Controllers suspect the car drifted slightly in the low gravity causing its magnetic sensors to break contact with the aluminum rails.

Astronomers Find Five Double Asteroid Systems

Image credit: Cornell

According to researchers from Cornell University, binary asteroids – where a small asteroid orbits a larger one – are actually pretty common in Earth crossing orbits. In fact, they think that gravitational interactions with the Earth might actually help to cause the arrangement. The researchers estimate that 16% of asteroids larger than 200 metres in diameter have a companion – so far they’ve found five using two of the world’s largest radio telescopes.

Binary asteroids — two rocky objects orbiting about one another — appear to be common in Earth-crossing orbits, astronomers using the world’s two most powerful astronomical radar telescopes report. And it is probable, they say, that these double asteroid systems have been formed as a result of gravitational effects during close encounters with at least two of the inner planets, including Earth.

Writing in a report published by the journalScience on its Science Express web site (April 11, 2002), the researchers estimate that about 16 percent of so-called near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) larger than 200 meters (219 yards) in diameter are likely to be binary systems, with about a three-to-one relative size of the two encircling bodies. To date, five such binary systems have been identified by radar, says lead researcher Jean-Luc Margot, an O.K. Earl postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology.

Margot, who at the time of the observations was a research associate in the planetary studies/radar group at the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico (managed at Cornell University), says that theoretical and modeling results show the binary asteroids appear to be formed extremely close to Earth — within a distance equal to a few times the planet’s radius (6,378 kilometers or 3,963 miles). “The fact that one out of every six large NEAs is a binary and that they typically survive on the order of 10 million years, implies that these close encounters must happen frequently compared to the lifetime of the binary asteroids,” says Margot.

The Science article, “Binary Asteroids in the Near-Earth Object Population,” is coauthored by Michael Nolan, research associate at Arecibo; Lance Benner, Steven Ostro, Raymond Jurgens, Jon Giorgini and Martin Slade at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); and Donald Campbell, professor of astronomy at Cornell. The observations were made at the 70-meter Goldstone NASA tracking telescope in California and at Arecibo Observatory.

NEAs are formed in the asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets, largely Jupiter, into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighborhood. Most of the asteroids are the remnants of the initial agglomeration of the inner planets.

Astronomers have long speculated about the existence of binary NEAs, based in part on impact craters on Earth. Of about 28 known terrestrial impact craters with diameters greater than 20 kilometers, at least three are double craters formed by impacts of objects about the same size as the newly discovered binaries. Astronomers also have noted the changes in brightness of reflected sunlight for some NEAs, indicating a double system was causing an eclipse or occultation of one by the other.

In 2000, Margot and his co-researchers, using measurements from the Goldstone radar, found that a small, roughly 800-meter-diameter (half-a-mile) asteroid, 2000 DP107 (discovered only months before by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), was a binary system. Observations over eight days last October with the much more sensitive Arecibo telescope clearly established the physical characteristics of DP107’s two asteroids as well as their orbit about each other. The smaller object called the secondary, it was found, is about 300 meters (1,000 feet) in diameter and is orbiting the larger asteroid, the primary, every 42 hours at a distance of 2.6 kilometers (1.6 miles). The two asteroids appear to be locked in synchronous rotation, with the smaller always with the same face oriented to the larger.

Since that observation, says Margot, four more binary NEAs have been discovered, all in Earth-crossing orbits and each with a main asteroid significantly larger than the smaller body. “The primary is rotating much faster than most NEAs in all five binaries that have been discovered,” says Cornell’s Campbell. The Science Express article speculates that the most likely way the binaries are created is by close encounters of asteroids with the inner planets Earth or Mars. Of the five binary NEAs discovered to date, none has an orbit that brings it as close to the sun as Venus or Mercury.

NEAs, basically piles of rubble held together by gravity, are on trajectories that bring them within a few thousand miles of the planets, where tidal forces —- essentially the pull of gravity — can increase the spin rate of the asteroid, causing it to fly apart. The ejected rubble then reforms in orbit around the larger asteroid.

“The asteroid is already rotating very quickly as it approaches the planet. A little extra boost from tidal forces can be enough to exceed its breakup limits, and it sheds mass. This mass can end up forming another object in orbit around the asteroid. Right now this seems the most likely explanation,” says Margot.

There is an important reason for studying binary asteroids, says JPL’s Ostro: their potential for colliding with Earth. Knowing the density of so-called PHAs (for potentially hazardous asteroids), he observes, “is an extremely important input to any mitigation plans.” He says, “Getting NEA densities from radar is dirt cheap compared with getting a density with a spacecraft. Of course, the most important thing to know about any PHA is whether it is two objects or one, and this is why we want to observe these binaries with radar whenever possible.”

Margot notes, “Radar gives us very precise measurements of the size of the objects and their shape. The radar measurements of the distance and velocity of each component allows us to obtain precise information on their orbits. From this we can obtain the mass of each of the objects allowing, for the ?rst time, measurements of NEA densities, a very important indicator of their composition and internal structure.”

Arecibo Observatory is operated by the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center at Cornell under a cooperative agreement with the NSF. The research was supported by the NSF, with NASA providing additional support for the planetary radar program at Arecibo.

Original Source: Cornell News Release

Looking for More Earths

One of the most exciting fields of research in astronomy is the search for extrasolar planets, and eventually the search for other Earth-like planets. So far more than 100 planets have been discovered, but none are remotely similar to our home. At a recent meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomers proposed criteria for searching for Earth-like planets, and even a few candidates. Unfortunately, the technology needed is still 15 years away.

Atlantis Docks with the Station

Image credit: NASA

After its second day in space, Atlantis caught up, and docked with, the International Space Station. Its seven-astronaut crew are preparing to add the next major component to the station: a 13.4 metre truss which will serve as a backbone for new modules to be installed in future missions. The first spacewalk is scheduled for tomorrow, when astronauts Steve Smith and Rex Walheim will exit the shuttle and help make the first connections between the truss and the station. Three additional spacewalks are planned.

Atlantis gently docked with the International Space Station this morning over southern China, setting the stage for the installation of a 13 1/2 ton truss structure to the complex tomorrow and the ultimate expansion of the ISS to the length of a football field.

Commander Mike Bloomfield guided Atlantis to a linkup with the forward docking port of the station’s Destiny Laboratory at 11:05 a.m. Central time as the two vehicles sailed at an altitude of 240 statute miles. The docking culminated a textbook rendezvous executed by Bloomfield and Pilot Steve Frick. As Atlantis docked, Expedition Four Flight Engineer Dan Bursch, a Navy Captain, rang the ISS ship?s bell to greet the arriving shuttle crew.

About two hours later, at 1:07 p.m. Central time as the two craft flew over New Zealand, hatches swung open between Atlantis and the station, and the ten crew members greeted one another inside Destiny, marking the arrival of the first visitors for Expedition Four Commander Yury Onufrienko, Flight Engineer Carl Walz and Bursch since they entered the ISS in December for the start of their six-month mission.

After a safety briefing for the shuttle astronauts by Onufrienko, the two crews began to transfer gear for the first spacewalk tomorrow by Steve Smith and Rex Walheim as well as experiments to be housed in Destiny.

Ellen Ochoa joined Bursch to brush up on procedures for the use of the station?s Canadarm2 robotic arm tomorrow which will be employed to grapple and unberth the 13 ? ton S0 (S-Zero) Truss from Atlantis? cargo bay for mating to a capture device at the top of Destiny. Smith, Walheim, Jerry Ross and Lee Morin will conduct four spacewalks to electrically and structurally mate the S-Zero to Destiny over the next week. Ochoa maneuvered the arm and verified it is in good working order to support the S-Zero operations on Thursday.

Smith and Walheim set up all the equipment in the Quest Airlock on the ISS from which they will mount the first of the four spacewalks to deploy two of the four mounting struts to Destiny and to bring power to the new truss from the U.S. Laboratory. Ochoa is scheduled to grapple the S-Zero around 5 a.m. Central time with the first spacewalk set to get underway around 10 a.m.

Atlantis and the ISS are in excellent shape, orbiting the Earth every ninety minutes in an orbit inclined 51.6 degrees to either side of the Equator.

The two crews began an eight-hour sleep period at 7:44 Central time this evening and will be awakened at 3:44 Thursday morning for the fourth day of the mission.

Original Source: NASA News Release

The Odds for Space Tourism – Shorter than Ever?

With ‘space tourist’ Mark Shuttleworth heading to the International Space Station this month, and other visits in the pipeline, space looks like being a busy place in 2002. But Tony Webb, founder of, wants to make it even busier. He talks about his program for raising the funds needed to make space tourism a reality for all.

Read the Article

With ‘space tourist’ Mark Shuttleworth heading to the International Space Station this month, and other visits in the pipeline, space looks like being a busy place in 2002. But Tony Webb, founder of eSpaceLotto, wants to make it even busier. He talks about his program for raising the funds needed to make space tourism a reality for all.

In the wake of Dennis Tito’s inaugural tourist flight to the International Space Station in April 2001, the busy parade of space tourists to the Station this year includes South African Internet millionaire Mark Shuttleworth and possibly N’Sync base guitarist Lance Bass. Space is becoming accessible to a wider group than just professional astronauts or cosmonauts but only to those who can afford the vast fees, or can raise them via promotion and publicity, thanks to their high profiles.

Tony Webb, founder of eSpaceLotto is a passionate advocate for making space tourism accessible to everyone, not just the rich and famous, and is using the ‘lotto’ concept to achieve this.

“I was looking for a global solution to expand space tourism – a space lottery – and to provide an opportunity for people everywhere to ‘play the game.’ The idea came to me when I watched a TV program on the Discovery Channel a few years ago on space tourism, and I worked thereafter on making this idea come to life. We’re all on the same planet, so why shouldn’t we all have a chance to visit space?”

The idea behind eSpaceLotto appears to be simple – pay your fee, nominate the space tourism organization you would like to help through allocation of 20% of your fee, and then be in the draw for a chance to go into space.

Webb’s not the only person to have thought of this way of funding space tourism on a large scale. Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin in an interview in Focus magazine, titled ‘I Want You in Space,’ spoke about innovative ways for people to become involved in the space program, and the general interest in gambling. “Given that almost anybody would love to go up in space, why not combine the two things to create a space lottery?”

Says Tony Webb, “The first thing to note is that everyone who purchases a ticket at eSpaceLotto can immediately allocate 20% of the cost of their ticket (less processing fees) to an organization we are supporting. A few we have currently chosen include MirCorp, TGV Rockets, and Interorbital Systems, as well as the U.N. chartered World Space Week, whose activities around the world promote an interest and knowledge of space exploration.”

These organizations have a connection with space tourism and support for their activities will help to drive the industry according to Webb. The money for World Space Week helps fund the provision of Starry Night astronomy software to schools.

“Basically, we picked private aerospace companies and space related organizations that are doing outstanding work and that we would like to support. There are no limits to the number of private aerospace companies and space related organizations that we can support, and we would be happy to consider others.”

These select companies will have representatives reviewing the financial management and accountability of the eSpaceLotto drawings, says Webb, as a safeguard that the money will reach its target.

Jane Reifert of Incredible Adventures, one of the companies to receive support from eSpaceLotto, says, “We are honored that eSpaceLotto has chosen Incredible Adventures to supply MiG-25 ‘edge of space’ flights and zero-gravity adventures to lotto winners. We are especially looking forward to sending their first group of winners through our sixteen day Orbital Qualification Program.

“We offered our first civilian MiG-25 flight back in 1993. At that time, it was almost unheard of for someone to fly to the edge of space. Now, less than a decade later, we can arrange for civilians to visit the International Space Station.

“Several months ago, a survey conducted on our website showed strong support for a ‘space lottery’. We think a well-run, legally operated, ‘space lottery’ could go a long way toward providing the funding necessary to make incredible space adventures available to everyone.”

Randa Milliron, CEO of Interorbital Systems, agrees. “When Tony [Webb] came to us at Interorbital Systems with his brave new lottery concept, we found ourselves immediately in full support of the plan. Not only would he be providing prime publicity and great gaming opportunities, but he was also slinging another ‘ping’ at the world’s psyche, clearly pointing out that being Earth-locked is not the only game in town! If Tony’s venture pays off, he’ll be putting his money where his mouth is by creating a means for the general public to actually provide infusions of capital to a company like ours that’s offering space tourism opportunities. This sort of ‘gift’ will facilitate companies like ours becoming operational more quickly, which translates into more rapid access to space for eager adventure tourists. With the sort of cash flow the lottery promises, our orbital vacation packages can escalate to lunar vacation packages in a reasonably short timeframe.”

There are two competitions being run through eSpaceLotto Website – the weekly lottery and the raffle.

The first raffle involves a maximum of 10,000 “Special Offering” tickets being sold, with other raffles to follow.

For the space lottery, you need to pick between 3 and 5 correct numbers in the California Super Lotto draw each Wednesday to win a sixteen-day miniature cosmonaut training package valued at $200,000 and compete against nine other winners for the trip on the $20,000,000 Russian Soyuz rocket to space.

Webb explains the reasons for using the California Super Lotto numbers. “We could have drawn the numbers ourselves or had an independent firm do this for us but we felt that it was more transparent for all concerned to use a large, respectable lottery like the California Super Lotto. It is easy for players to check what the winning numbers are and there is no chance of error or confusion when it comes to the winning numbers.”

The price of each ticket is based on the odds of winning, according to the eSpaceLotto Website. The cost of each lottery ticket is $10, $30, $80 and $300 ($60 for the introductory Special Raffle). For example, for a $30 ticket, you need 5 out of 5 correct numbers to win. For the $300 ticket, you need 3 correct numbers out of 4. Each winning ticket may be auctioned at eSpaceLotto’s website for a cash-out option.

If a person wins the draw, they will be informed by e-mail and be required to provide evidence of identity. They may then have to wait for a period of up to 60 days to receive the miniature Cosmonaut training prize.

The lucky ten winners get to go to Star City in Moscow to compete for the chance to travel on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station. While only one person may receive the chance to go the ISS, the remainder won’t lose out entirely. Webb says that they will be given the opportunity to fly on a seven day orbital flight with Interorbital Systems, which will be using its own Apollo-style capsules and its Neptune Orbital Spaceliner, a Titan II-Class Plus rocket. Launches are slated to begin in 2005, from Interorbital’s private spaceport and space tourism resort in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga.

Although the technology for some of these ventures has yet to be put into place, Webb does not see that as a problem. “These organizations are not kidding around. There are people there with brilliant minds and concepts that need to be supported. All they need is the funding to get it going. That’s part of the reason for doing this.”

Webb cautions that the person who eventually goes into space with the Russians will need to pass their medical tests and meet their physical requirements.

Webb projects that US$60-70 million will be raised from this global venture. So what’s the catch? What will happen if the required sums are not raised through the 10 lotteries or 10 raffles to obtain 10 immediate winners? And aren’t people risking their fee if the pool of funds raised isn’t large enough?

“That’s like saying no-one wants to go into space and we’ve all been fooling ourselves. I believe that globally speaking there are enough people out there who want to go into space to make this viable. Research has shown that 70-80% of people want to go to space and they will make this happen. This is their future. It’s [space tourism] a new industry, which represents potentially $100 billion a year.”

Webb has spent the last few years seeking legal opinions on global Internet gambling and says that the global project is legal and set up in full accordance with Belize Internet gaming laws. The company is headquartered outside Geneva in Switzerland. “Belize is a low tax country which does not have a tax on Internet wagers. This means that more money goes to space tourism and for the future of all mankind. In addition, many other countries are very protective of their national lotteries and will not allow any competition.”

The global space tourism lottery is now up and running, says Webb, and those interested in the concept can check out the website.

Pat Bahn, CEO of TGV-Rockets, which has also been nominated for support by the lotto money, says this is a concept that is long overdue. “I think it’s time for a space lottery to come to the [fore]front. Now that space tourism is a reality, the next thing is a lottery as a way to enable millions of people of modest means to participate in the exciting new venture for space travel.”

Jennifer Laing is a freelance space writer from Melbourne, Australia.

New Evidence Raises Hopes of Life on Mars

Scientists believe there may be chlorophyll, a substance used by plants to extract energy from sunlight, located near the landing site for the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission. Scientists analyzed the spectral signature of the area surrounding Pathfinder’s landing site. Although the researchers have stressed that their findings are preliminary, they believe they’ve found two areas that appear to contain chlorophyll – it could be significant, or it just could be a patch of coloured soil.

Hubble Gets Back to Work

After three weeks of tests, NASA controllers have given the newly upgraded Hubble Space Telescope a clean bill of health. Initial tests are largely complete; however, calibrations of the observatory’s instruments are expected to continue for another two months. Routine science observations have now resumed using the telescope’s Imaging Spectrograph and the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2.

After three weeks of in-orbit checkout, following its deployment from Space Shuttle Columbia on March 9, the Hubble Space Telescope has been declared healthy and fit by engineers and scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

Initial checkout of the spacecraft and instruments has largely been completed. However, the calibration process for the instruments will continue for another two months. The new rigid solar arrays, coupled with the new Power Control Unit, are working perfectly, generating 27 percent more electrical power than the old arrays. This increase in power roughly doubles the power available to the scientific instruments. The new reaction wheel is operating normally.

The powerful new Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) is now undergoing its final optical alignment and focus checks. The image quality of individual stars observed in a standard calibration field is excellent. The Advanced Camera’s light-sensing detectors are also working very well. It is anticipated that the first Early Release Observations of astronomical targets taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys will be available around the first week in May.

The new, high-tech mechanical cooler inserted by the Astronauts during SM3B has been working continuously and properly since March 18. The cooler?s intended purpose is to attempt to resuscitate the dormant Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS), which depleted its expendable solid nitrogen coolant in January 1999. Although this new ?refrigerator?, dubbed the NICMOS Cooling System (NCS), has been reliably generating the amount of cooling power expected, Hubble engineers report that the NICMOS instrument is cooling down more slowly than originally expected. Because it will take longer to reach the proper operating temperature, below approximately 80 degrees Kelvin, the initial checkout and scientific observations with NICMOS will be delayed for several weeks.

Routine science observations have now resumed with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph and the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, the two instruments that were operating on Hubble prior to Servicing Mission 3B. On another note, a gyro (Gyro 3) that had not been performing as well as it should prior to the mission resumed perfect operation after it was turned off and re-started while Hubble was in Columbia’s payload bay.

The Space Shuttle Columbia journeyed to the Hubble Space Telescope for the fourth servicing mission on March 1, 2002. During a series of five spacewalks, Astronauts installed new hardware and upgraded older systems, leaving the telescope better than ever. After a successful mission spanning 11 days in orbit, the shuttle landed safely on March 12 at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Original Source: NASA News Release