It’s Cold, But the View is Great

Australian researchers have shown that a ground-based telescope in Antarctica can take images almost as good as those from the Hubble Space Telescope, at a fraction of the cost.

“It represents arguably the most dramatic breakthrough in the potential for ground-based optical astronomy since the invention of the telescope,” says University of New South Wales Associate Professor Michael Ashley, who co-authored the Nature paper. “The discovery means that a telescope at Dome C on the Antarctic plateau could compete with a telescope two to three times larger at the best mid-latitude observatories, with major cost-saving implications. Dome C could become an important ‘test-bed’ for experiments and technologies that will later be flown as space missions. Indeed, for some projects, the site might be an attractive alternative to space based astronomy.”

Astronomical observations made by Australian astronomers at Dome C on the Antarctic Plateau, 3250 m above sea-level, prove that the site has less “star jitter” than the best mid-latitude observatories in Hawaii, Chile and the Canary Islands. While Antarctica has long been recognised as having characteristics that make it a potentially excellent site for astronomy, seeing conditions at the South Pole itself (latitude 90 degrees south) are poor due to atmospheric turbulence within 200 – 300 m of the ground.

By contrast, Dome C, located at latitude 75 degrees south, has several atmospheric and site characteristics that make it ideal for astronomical observations. The site’s atmospheric characteristics include low infrared sky emission, extreme cold and dryness, a high percentage of cloud free time, and low dust and aerosol content – features that confer significant benefits for all forms of astronomy, especially infrared and sub-millimetre.

Dome C is 400 m higher than the South Pole and further inland from the coast. Being a “dome” – a local maximum in the elevation of the terrain – it experiences much lower peak and average wind speeds, which has a profound beneficial effect on the performance of astronomical instruments. Like other regions on the Antarctic plateau, it shares the advantages of a lack of seismic activity and low levels of light pollution.

A key issue in considering where to locate new generation ground-based optical telescopes is to choose a site with excellent ‘seeing’. Seeing is defined as the amount of star jitter or sharpness of astronomical images, which is affected by atmospheric conditions close to Earth.

“The sharpness of the astronomical images at Dome C is two to three times better than at the very best sites currently used by astronomers, including those in Chile, Hawaii and the Canary Islands,” says A/Prof Ashley. “This implies a factor of ten increase in sensitivity. Put another way, an 8 metre infrared telescope on the Antarctic Plateau could achieve the sensitivity limits of a hypothetical 25 metre telescope anywhere else.

“It means there’s now a fantastic opportunity now for Australian astronomers to build world-beating telescopes at the site. I expect the romance and adventure of this combination of astronomy and Antarctica will inspire the next generation of young scientists.”

The observations at Dome C represent a stunning technical achievement, according to the paper’s lead author, Dr Jon S. Lawrence, a University of New South Wales Postdoctoral Fellow.

“We set up a self contained robotic observatory called AASTINO (Automated Astronomical Site Testing International Observatory) at Dome C in January 2004. Powered by two engines, the facility has heat and electrical power that allowed us to communicate with site testing equipment, computers and telescopes via an Iridium satellite network. The entire experiment was controlled remotely — we didn’t turn the telescope on until we returned home,” says Dr Lawrence. “When we left there in February we said goodbye to it knowing all that we could do was communicate with it by the phone and the Internet. If we’d needed to press a reset button on a computer or something, there was no way to do so, and the entire experiment could have failed.

“As it turns out, we’ve made some exceptional findings and published a paper in Nature before even returning to the site. We’re pretty thrilled about it.”

Original Source: UNSW News Release

Comparing Satellite Images of Ivan and Frances

Seen through the eyes of the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA’s Terra satellite, the menacing clouds of Hurricanes Frances and Ivan provide a wealth of information that can help improve hurricane forecasts.

The ability of forecasters to predict the intensity and amount of rainfall associated with hurricanes still requires improvement, particularly on the 24- to 48-hour timescales vital for disaster planning. Scientists need to better understand the complex interactions that lead to hurricane intensification and dissipation, and the various physical processes that affect hurricane intensity and rainfall distributions. Because uncertainties in representing hurricane cloud processes still exist, it is vital that model findings be evaluated against actual hurricane observations whenever possible. Two-dimensional maps of cloud heights such as those provided by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer offer an unprecedented opportunity for comparing simulated cloud fields against actual hurricane observations.

The newly released images of Hurricanes Frances and Ivan were acquired Sept. 4 and Sept. 5, 2004, respectively, when Frances’ eye sat just off the coast of eastern Florida and Ivan was heading toward the central and western Caribbean. They are available at:

The left-hand panel in each image pair is a natural-color view from the instrument’s nadir camera. The right-hand panels are computer-generated cloud-top height retrievals produced by comparing the features of images acquired at different view angles. When these images were acquired, clouds within Frances and Ivan had attained altitudes of 15 and 16 kilometers (9.3 and 9.9 miles) above sea level, respectively.

The instrument is one of several Earth-observing experiments aboard Terra, launched in December 1999. The instrument acquires images of Earth at nine angles simultaneously, using nine separate cameras pointed forward, downward and backward along its flight path. It observes the daylit Earth continuously and every 9 days views the entire globe between 82 degrees north and 82 degrees south latitude. It was built and is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

More information about the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer is available at:

Original Source: NASA/JPL News Release

Stream of Particles from Io

Jupiter’s moon Io is peppered with volcanoes, the hottest, most active volcanoes in our solar system. Sizzling vents spew plumes of gas and dust as much as 400 km high. They surge, spit, subside and surge again, non-stop.

The towering plumes, outlined by graceful arcs of rising and falling ash, are eerily beautiful. Their tops jut into space, freezing. Beneath them, scientists believe, it snows. Sulfurous flakes crystallize in the plume-tops and drift gently down to coat Io’s colorful terrain.

High above the falling snow something unexpected happens: At the apex of the plumes, some of the ash and dust that ought to turn around and fall … doesn’t. Defying gravity, it keeps going up, not slowing but accelerating, 2 times, 10 times, hundreds of times faster than a speeding bullet, away from Io and into deep space.

Passing spacecraft beware: Io is shooting at you.

The Ulysses spacecraft, a joint mission of NASA and the European Space Agency, made the discovery in 1992 when, approaching Jupiter, it was hit by a breakneck stream of volcano dust.

“What a surprise,” recalls Harold Krueger of the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, the principle investigator for Ulysses’ dust detector. “We expected to encounter dust,” he says. The solar system is littered with flakes from comets and asteroids. “But nothing like this.”

The dust came in a tight stream, like water from a garden hose, and it was moving extraordinarily fast, about 300 km/s (670,000 mph). “This makes it some of the fastest-moving material in the solar system,” says Krueger, “second only to the solar wind.” Fortunately the dust-bits were small, similar in size to particles in cigarette smoke, so they didn’t penetrate the ship’s hull in spite of their extreme velocity.

At first, no one suspected Io. Ulysses was 100 million kilometers from Io when the stream blew by, supposedly beyond the reach of volcanic plumes. Plus, the speed of the dust didn’t make sense. Particles emerge from Io’s vents traveling 1 or 2 km/s, not 300 km/s.

Baffled, researchers considered several possibilities: Could Jupiter’s dark rings be responsible? There’s plenty of dust there, but how could rings manufacture fast-moving jets? Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was another suspect. The comet flew so close to Jupiter in 1992 that it was torn apart. Comets are known to produce streams of dust, but not so fast as the stream that hit Ulysses.

NASA’s Galileo spacecraft eventually solved the puzzle. Like Ulysses, Galileo was pelted by dust when it approached Jupiter in 1995. Unlike Ulysses, which merely flew past the giant planet, Galileo settled into orbit. As data accumulated over a period of years, scientists were able to correlate volcanic activity with dust events, and they showed, furthermore, that dust streams were modulated by Io’s orbital motion.

The source was definitely Io.

Regarding the extreme velocity of the dust: “Jupiter is responsible for that,” explains Krueger.

Jupiter is not only a giant planet, but also a giant magnet, which spins once every 9 hours and 55 minutes. Spinning magnetic fields produce electric fields, and the electric fields around Jupiter are intense. Io-dust, like dust on your computer monitor, is electrically charged, so Jupiter’s electric forces naturally accelerate the grains. 300 km/s is no problem.

In 2000 when the Cassini spacecraft sailed past Jupiter en route to Saturn, it too was hit. Cassini’s dust detector is more capable than Ulysses’. In addition to mass, speed, charge and trajectory, it can also measure elemental composition. Cassini found hints of sulfur, silicon, sodium and potassium–all signs of volcanic origin.

“This raises an interesting possibility,” says Krueger. “We can analyze the hot interior of Io from a great distance.” There’s no need to get too close to the sizzling vents when you can catch the ash millions of miles away.

Io dust can even reach Earth, says Krueger, but don’t expect a meteor shower. Bright meteors such as Perseids and Leonids are caused by sand-sized comet dust. Io dust is much smaller. A typical grain is only 10 billionths of a meter wide. If a bit of it disintegrated in Earth’s atmosphere, you probably wouldn’t notice.

End of story? Not quite.

Ulysses visited Jupiter again in early 2004 and once again the craft was pelted. Io’s volcanoes were still at work. But something was wrong: The dust was shooting in the wrong direction.

“Io dust is supposed fly out of Jupiter’s equatorial plane,” says Krueger, “because that’s the way the accelerating electric fields point.” This time Ulysses approached Jupiter’s north pole (75 degrees north latitude to be exact) where no dust should go. Yet the spacecraft was pelted anyway.

Jupiter, it seems, flings Io-dust in every direction, which is hard to understand, says Krueger. Future missions to the giant planet might unravel the mystery. Every blast of dust will remind: we’ve still got a lot to learn.

Original Source: NASA Science Article

Radio Astronomy Will Get a Boost With the Square Kilometer Array

The project plans are being developed by a consortium of institutions headed up by Cornell, and funded by the National Science Foundation among others. The SKA plans are loosely based on the ideas being implemented by the Allen Telescope Array (ATA). The ATA is an array of 350 six meter dishes funded by Microsoft philanthropist Paul Allen specifically for SETI research. Note that the science and technology for using interferometers for radio has now reached a stage where this instrument can be built. While this transcontinental technique may be employable for microwaves in the decades ahead, infrared, optical, and x-ray interferometers (several connected telescopes) still require a short direct path of the light to follow, so that the images can be combined using optical, not electronic, means.

The 1.4 billion dollar SKA project should have a final design, and locations defined by 2007, with construction beginning by 2010, and it should be complete and operational by 2015. The array itself will have a core central array of 3300 dishes, and 160 outlying stations of about 7 dishes each covering a broad area of North and Central America.

When complete this tool will have the sensitivity of a single dish, 800 meters in diameter, which is on the order of a hundred times more sensitive than any steerable dish on the planet today. It is also about ten times the sensitivity of the giant dish at Arecibo, which is also operated by Cornell. At its shortest wavelength, the array will be able to image sources to a scale of 500 micro-arcseconds, which is about 15 light-years at the Andromeda galaxy [M31], or a few hundred AU when mapping nearby molecular clouds in our own galaxy.

With all this new detection capability will come a great deal of new science. This month, peer review journals and other sources are getting ready to print numerous papers proposing work that can be done with this instrument. Some of the science goals will help us observe the universe before the first stars formed, and will answer detailed questions about an epoch much earlier than will be seen by the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Among the science goals are: Mapping the star formation history and large-scale structure of the Universe, tracing the star formation history over cosmological time, and studying of the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect at high redshifts, which some say may have contaminated observed Cosmic Microwave background radiation, and altered the apparent age and dark matter density of the universe. Many of these observations will be done looking at the highly redshifted 21-cm line from neutral hydrogen.

Other science goals include tracing out the magnetic field structure in parsec to Megaparsec jets, in normal galaxies and in distant clusters of galaxies, as well as locate distant (z > 2) clusters, probing strong gravitational fields and the cosmological evolution of super-massive black holes, identifying radio transients 100 times fainter than we can now see, probing the scintillating universe and exploiting super-resolution phenomena, identifying the overall structure, discrete components, and turbulent and magnetic properties of the Milky Way and nearby galaxies, a Milky Way census of faint old pulsars and other compact objects, searching for brown dwarfs in the local Galactic environs and mapping thermal emission from nearby stars, as well as inventorying and tracking solar system debris such as asteroids, comets, and KBOs.

A recent paper points out that the SKA can be used to receive data rates hundreds of times faster than the current Deep Space Network from very distant space probes for short periods, such as from the ESA?s proposed tiny Pluto Orbiter Probe, or NASA?s New Horizons mission to the Kuiper belt.

The SKA will be a versatile instrument with capabilities far beyond what are available in today?s instruments. For radio astronomy, the SKA is the shape of things to come.

SKA site
SKA Design strawman paper
Allen Telescope Array website

Author: John A. Cross

Book Review: The Depths of Space; The Story of the Pioneer Planetary Probes

The Pioneer space probes, brought to fruition by the staff of NASA’s Ames facility, were a series of eight very similar craft. Their main claims to scientific fame included a litany of firsts in space travel and exploration. Though these probes began in the same era as the ‘all encompassing’ manned lunar flights, they happily and necessarily served a different purpose. Happily as in people realized that manned space flight is not the best tool for exploration; there were cheaper mechanical probes. Necessarily as in Ames had just been absorbed into NASA and needed to create a niche for itself or be in danger of disappearing altogether. Thus began the Pioneer odyssey.

Prior to absorption, Ames had been an effective and very responsive academic styled institute. Its staff solved problems very well but expected the problems to be handed to them on a silver platter. At that time, under NACA, they were considered some of the best theoreticians in their field. On becoming a part of NASA, Ames couldn’t sit back when proactive facilities like JPL were overwhelming the spot light. Charles Hall, an Ames staffer, took on the challenge of altering the mind set at Ames as well as the altering the beliefs of the bureaucrats at NASA. With convincing financial and technical arguments, he demonstrated that Ames could effectively manage the design, assembly, test, and operation of a space probe, even if it was to be the first to assess conditions outside of the Earth’s protective shield. Hall turned out to be the right person at the right place and at the right time for his arguments succeeded and Ames began a new direction as space craft designers and builders.

Much of the success of the Pioneer program was directly tied to Hall. Long before ‘faster, better, cheaper’ became the mantra in vogue, Hall lived and breathed this axiom. Technically he did it in two ways. The first way was to have a clearly defined purpose for each probe and each sub-system within the probe. He then fixated on this purpose, and only monumental persuasion convinced him to accept any modifications or redesigns. In consequence, the typical cost run ups and time over runs were all but absent. The second way Hall accomplished this was to stay true to the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle. Where at all possible, only proven technology and components were used. Simple solutions, such as stabilizing a satellite with spinning, won out over complex ones that used thrusters in each of three axes. Hall’s other forte aside from program management was his political skill, especially with principle investigators. Whether refereeing the battles for the satellites’ download bandwidth or brokering for ever scarce time on the Deep Space Network (DNS), Hall had a knack of finding an amenable solution that kept his program on time and on target. As much as these were and are the better styles of management, when all was said and done, it was the final product and its success that vindicated Hall’s style and direction.

Pioneer probes 6 through 9 were launched between the years 1966 and 1969. They had a design minimum lifetime of six months. However, as 1970 rolled around, Hall was using all these in operating the first space based weather monitoring network. Pioneer 9 still operated up to 1983! Pioneer 10 and 11 were, of course, the well known path finders; the first to ever reach out beyond Mars. Their mission design was to reach Jupiter and assess its surroundings. Yet, both these probes were allowed and able to travel on and were functioning well past Pluto. Only recently has their signal strength gotten so low that the DNS is unable to detect it against background. This is testament enough for the abilities of Hall and everyone else who worked on the Pioneer missions. However, to complete the picture, don’t forget Pioneers 12 and 13. They were directed inwards, to Venus where they provided some of the best observations and measurements of Venus to date. All these Pioneer probes had Hall’s guiding light and all had remarkably successful missions.

Mark Wolverton’s book The Depths of Space provides a very readable and pleasant historical look at some of the significant issues surrounding the Pioneer space probes. Though perhaps by the end a bit repetitious in its accolades, it contains excellent views into some of the significant trials, tribulations and credos for humankind’s first spacecraft to go boldly where none had gone before. Yes, there may have been sketches of naked humans placed upon them but these probes were much more than mere messages in a bottle.

Read more reviews and buy the book online from

Review by Mark Mortimer

Robotic Telescopes Team Up

British astronomers are celebrating a world first that could revolutionise the future of astronomy. They have just begun a project to operate a global network of the world’s biggest robotic telescopes, dubbed ‘RoboNet-1.0’ which will be controlled by intelligent software to provide rapid observations of sudden changes in astronomical objects, such as violent Gamma Ray Bursts, or 24-hour surveillance of interesting phenomena. RoboNet is also looking for Earth-like planets, as yet unseen elsewhere in our Galaxy.

Progress in many of the most exciting areas of modern astronomy relies on being able to follow up unpredictable changes or appearances of objects in the sky as rapidly as possible. It was this that led astronomers at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) to pioneer the development of a new generation of fully robotic telescopes, designed and built in the UK by Telescope Technologies Ltd.. Together the Liverpool Telescope (LT) and specially allocated time on the Faulkes North (FTN), soon to be joined by the Faulkes South (FTS), make up RoboNet-1.0.

Commenting on the need for a network of telescopes RoboNet Project Director, Professor Michael Bode of LJMU said “Although each telescope individually is a highly capable instrument, they are still limited by the hours of darkness, local weather conditions and the fraction of the sky each can see from its particular location on planet Earth.”

Prof. Bode added “Astronomical phenomena are however no respecters of such limitations, undergoing changes or appearances at any time, and possibly anywhere on the sky. To understand certain objects, we may even need round-the-clock coverage – something clearly impossible with a single telescope at a fixed position on the Earth’s surface.”

Thus was born the concept of “RoboNet” – a global network of automated telescopes, acting as one instrument able to search anywhere in the sky at any time and (by passing the observations of a target object from one telescope to the next in the network) being able to do so continuously for as long as is scientifically important.

The first mystery RoboNet will examine is the origin of Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs). Discovered by US spy satellites in the late 1960’s, these unpredictable events are the most violent explosions since the Big Bang, far more energetic than supernova explosions. Yet they are extremely brief, lasting from milliseconds to a few minutes, before they fade away to an afterglow lasting a few hours or weeks. Their exact cause is still unknown, although the collapse of supermassive stars or the coalescence of exotic objects such as black holes and neutron stars are prime candidates. To study GRBs, telescopes need to be pointed at the right area of the sky extremely quickly.

In October this year, NASA will launch a new satellite named Swift, in which the UK has a major involvement, and which will pinpoint the explosions of GRBs on the sky more accurately and rapidly than ever before. The co-ordinates of each burst will be relayed to telescopes on the Earth, including those of RoboNet, within seconds of their occurrence, at the rate of one event every few days. Telescopes within the UK’s new RoboNet network are designed to respond automatically within a minute of an alert from Swift. It is in the first few minutes after the burst that observations are urgently required to enable astronomers to really understand the cause of these immense explosions, but until now such observations have been extremely difficult to secure.

RoboNet’s second major aim is to discover Earth-like planets around other stars. We now know of more than 100 extra-solar planets. However, all of these are massive planets (like Jupiter) and many are too near to their parent star, and hence too hot, to support life. RoboNet will take advantage of a phenomenon called gravitational microlensing (where light from a distant star is bent and amplified around an otherwise unseen foreground object) to detect cool planets. When a star that is being lensed in this way has a planet, it causes a short ‘blip’ in the light detected, which rapid-reacting telescopes such as the RoboNet network can follow up. In fact, the network stands the best chance of any existing facility of actually finding another Earth due to the large size of the telescopes, their excellent sites and sensitive instrumentation.

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) have funded the establishment of RoboNet-1.0, based around using the three giant robotic telescopes at their sites across the globe. The “glue” that holds all this together is software developed by the LJMU-Exeter University “eSTAR” project, allowing the network to act intelligently in a co-ordinated manner.

Dr Iain Steele of the eSTAR project says “We have been able to use and develop new Grid technologies, which will eventually be the successor to the World Wide Web, to build a network of intelligent agents that can detect and respond to the rapidly changing universe much faster than any human. The agents act as “virtual astronomers” collecting, analysing and interpreting data 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, alerting their flesh-and-blood counterparts only when they make a discovery.”

If successful, RoboNet could be expanded to the development of a larger, dedicated global network of up to six robotic telescopes.

Professor Michael Bode of Liverpool John Moores University adds “We have led the world in the design and build of the most advanced robotic telescopes and now with RoboNet-1.0 we are set to lead the way in some of the most challenging and exciting areas of modern astrophysics”.

Original Source: PPARC News Release

What is the biggest telescope in the world?

NASA Hopeful About Finding Science in Genesis Wreckage

Scientists who conducted the preliminary assessment of the Genesis canister are encouraged by what they see. They believe it may be possible to achieve the most important portions of their science objectives.

“We are bouncing back from a hard landing, and spirits are picking up again,” said Orlando Figueroa, deputy associate administrator for programs for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“This may result in snatching victory from the jaws of defeat,” added Dr. Roger Wiens of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, a member of the Genesis science team. “We are very encouraged.” Based on initial inspection, it is possible a repository of solar wind materials may have survived that will keep the science community busy for some time.

“We are pleased and encouraged by the preliminary inspection,” said NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe. “The outstanding design and sturdy construction of Genesis may yield the important scientific results we hoped for from the mission.”

“I want to emphasize the excellent work by the navigation team to bring the capsule back exactly on target was key in our ability to recover the science,” said Andrew Dantzler, director of the Solar System Division at NASA Headquarters, Washington. “In addition, the robustness of the design of the spacecraft was the reason it could take such a hard landing and still give us a chance to recover the samples.”

The mission’s main priority is to measure oxygen isotopes to determine which of several theories is correct regarding the role of oxygen in the formation of the solar system. Scientists hope to determine this with isotopes collected in the four target segments of the solar wind concentrator carried by the Genesis spacecraft. “From our initial look, we can see that two of the four concentrator segments are in place, and all four may be intact,” Wiens said.

The mission’s second priority is to analyze nitrogen isotopes that will help us understand how the atmospheres of the planets in our solar system evolved. “These isotopes will be analyzed using gold foil, which we have also found intact,” Wiens said.

Other samples of solar winds are contained on hexagonal wafers. It appears these are all or nearly all broken, but sizable pieces will be recovered, and some are still mounted in their holders. “We won’t really know how many can be recovered for some time, but we are far more hopeful important science can be conducted than we were on Wednesday,” Wiens said.

Another type of collector material, foils contained on the canister’s lid, were designed to collect other isotopes in the solar wind. It appears approximately three-fourths of these are recoverable, according to Dr. Dave Lindstrom, mission program scientist at NASA Headquarters. However, these foils have been exposed to elements of the Utah desert.

The Genesis sample return capsule landed well within the projected ellipse path in the Utah Test & Training Range on Sept. 8, but its parachutes did not open. It impacted the ground at nearly 320 kilometers per hour (nearly 200 miles per hour). NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Genesis mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operated the spacecraft.

News and information about Genesis is available on the Internet at For background information about Genesis, visit For information about NASA on the Internet, visit

Original Source: NASA News Release

Astronauts Begin Repairing Oxygen System

The oxygen-producing Elektron in of the International Space Station was restarted today after a troubleshooting procedure by Expedition 9 Commander Gennady Padalka, but shut down again after operating for just over an hour.

Russian specialists decided to forego further troubleshooting until Monday to give them more time to determine why a gas analysis mechanism in the system commanded the Elektron to shut down two other times after Padalka had cleaned and flushed lines in the device.

Despite the intermittent performance of the Elektron, there is plenty of oxygen in the Station?s cabin atmosphere. U.S. flight controllers slightly increased nitrogen levels on board with nitrogen from the Quest airlock tanks, but no further repressurization of the cabin atmosphere is required in the near future. The Elektron?s temporary shutdown has no impact to any Station operations.

After several hours of work on the system in the Zvezda Service Module this morning, Padalka told Russian flight controllers that the reassembled Elektron, which separates water into oxygen for the Station and hydrogen that is vented overboard, had twice run for about five minutes before shutting down. Eventually, Padalka and flight controllers disabled an Elektron gas analyzer sensor system, and the device continued to operate for just over an hour before it commanded itself to shut off again. The Elektron originally shut down on Wednesday, prompting Padalka?s maintenance work.

At the moment, Russian flight controllers believe that a modification in the software that regulates commanding for the gas analyzer could fix the problem early next week.

On Wednesday, Padalka used spare parts sent up on a Russian Progress resupply ship last May to bring a spare liquids unit for the Elektron back to operational status. There are no plans to use the backup unit at the moment, but it is available, if needed. The Progress currently docked to the Station has full oxygen and air tanks and additional oxygen is available in two high-pressure tanks on Quest, if they are needed. A total of 84 Solid Fuel Oxygen Generator canisters, a 42-day supply of oxygen for the crew, also are available, but there are no plans to use any reserve oxygen supplies.

Earlier in the week, Padalka and NASA ISS Science Officer Mike Fincke conducted routine housekeeping tasks and a few post-spacewalk tasks, including the stowage of spacewalking tools and the servicing of the Russian Orlan space suits.

Fincke also conducted optional science activities, including some remaining data takes with a Dutch experiment that helps to characterize the performance of a grooved heat pipe in microgravity. The experiment was brought up to the Station by European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers in April.

Both crewmembers worked with other science and medical experiments this week. Padalka conducted the PLANTS experiment as well as the PROFILAKTIKA experiment. It is designed to study countermeasures to negative physiological effects of lengthy spaceflight.

Fincke also performed proficiency training for the Advanced Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity medical experiment and on Thursday, both crewmembers participated in a bone scanning procedure. That research will not only assist with onboard medical situations but is being developed for possible use in remote areas on Earth.

Padalka and Fincke wrapped up their week with a televised conversation with Native American students at the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, ND. It was the featured event during the 35th Annual United Tribes International Powwow. NASA representatives from the Johnson Space Center and the Langley Research Center attended the powwow and tribal meetings to promote NASA education and Explorer Schools.

Padalka and NASA ISS Science Officer Mike Fincke completed their 145th day in space today and their 143rd day aboard the complex.

For information on the crew’s activities aboard the Space Station, future launch dates, as well as a list of opportunities to see the Station from anywhere on the Earth, visit:

For details on Station science operations provided by the Payload Operations Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., visit:

The next ISS status report will be issued on Friday, Sept. 17 or earlier, if events warrant.

Original Source: NASA Status Report

NASA’s Satellite Photo of Hurricane Ivan

Managers and meteorologists at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) are closely monitoring Hurricane Ivan as it approaches the United States through the Caribbean Sea.

The latest computer models have the powerful storm moving west and farther away from KSC’s location on Florida’s east central coast (visit the National Hurricane Center for the latest forecasts and tracks).

With forecasters expecting KSC to receive maximum winds around 40 knots and four to six inches of rain from Ivan on Tuesday, NASA managers are planning to reopen KSC to its 14,000 employees Monday, as originally scheduled. With that model in mind, the KSC director will make a final decision about reopening on Sunday.

About 1,500 damage assessment and support personnel have spent the past week working to get KSC operational after last weekend’s hit from Hurricane Frances. Workers are continuing to prepare KSC this weekend for reopening and for Hurricane Ivan.

When KSC opens, about 700 employees will report to alternative worksites, because their buildings were damaged by Frances and require extensive repairs. All KSC employees will have facilities with power, air conditioning, voice and data communications.

NASA will provide updates about the Kennedy Space Center and Hurricane Ivan as new information becomes available. When information for KSC employees is available, it will be posted at

Original Source: NASA Update

Station’s Oxygen Generator Breaks Down

A generator that supplies oxygen to the International Space Station has broken down, and it could cause a delay for the upcoming crew transfer scheduled for next month. The Russian-built Elekton generator uses electrolysis to separate oxygen out of waste water, and without it, the two-man crew of the station will need to get their oxygen from the Progress cargo ship currently docked. They’ll attempt repairs to the unit on Friday.