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NASA “Wildfire Digital Twin” Pioneers New AI Models and Streaming Data Techniques for Forecasting Fire and Smoke

NASA - Breaking News - Tue, 05/21/2024 - 9:30am

5 min read

NASA “Wildfire Digital Twin” Pioneers New AI Models and Streaming Data Techniques for Forecasting Fire and Smoke

NASA’s “Wildfire Digital Twin” project will equip firefighters and wildfire managers with a superior tool for monitoring wildfires and predicting harmful air pollution events and help researchers observe global wildfire trends more precisely.

The tool, developed with funding from NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office and NASA’s FireSense Program, will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to forecast potential burn paths in real time, merging data from in situ, airborne, and spaceborne sensors to produce global models with high precision.

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A wildfire simulation describing the spread of PM 2.5 aerosols during a recent controlled burn, generated using the WRF-SFIRE model. “Wildfire Digital Twin” will build on this and other models to simulate active burns with unprecedented resolution. Credit: Kathleen Clough/San Jose State University

Whereas current global models describing the spread of wildfires and smoke have a spatial resolution of about 10 kilometers per pixel, the Wildfire Digital Twin would produce regional ensemble models with a spatial resolution of 10-to-30 meters per pixel, an improvement of two orders of magnitude.

These models could be generated in a span of mere minutes. By comparison, current global models can take hours to produce.

Models with such high spatial resolution produced at this speed would be immensely valuable to first-responders and wildfire managers trying to observe and contain dynamic burns.

Milton Halem, a Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, leads the Wildfire Digital Twin project, which includes a team of more than 20 researchers from six universities.

“We want to be able to provide firefighters with useful, timely information,” said Halem, adding that in the field, “there is generally no internet, and no access to big supercomputers, but with our API version of the model, they could run the digital twin not just on a laptop, but even a tablet,” he said.

NASA’s FireSense project is focused on leveraging the agency’s unique Earth science and technological capabilities to achieve improved wildfire management across the United States.

NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office supports this effort with its newest program element, Technology Development for support of Wildfire Science, Management, and Disaster Mitigation (FireSense Technology), which is dedicated to developing novel observation capabilities for predicting and managing wildfires –including technologies like Earth System Digital Twins.

Earth System Digital Twins are dynamic software tools for modeling and forecasting climate events in real time. These tools rely on data sources distributed across multiple domains to create ensemble predictions describing everything from floods to severe weather.

In addition to assisting first responders, an Earth System Digital Twin dedicated to modeling wildfires would also be valuable to scientists monitoring wildfire trends globally. In particular, Halem hopes Wildfire Digital Twins will improve our ability to study wildfires across global boreal forests of cold-hardy conifers, which sequester vast amounts of carbon.

When these forests burn, all of that carbon is released back into the atmosphere. One study, released in August of 2023, found that boreal wildfires alone accounted for 25% of all global CO2 emissions for that year to date.

“The reason CO2 emissions from Boreal wildfires are taking place at an increasing yearly rate is because global warming is rising faster at high latitudes than the rest of the planet, and as a result, boreal summers there are becoming longer,” said Halem. “Whereas the rest of the planet may have warmed one degree Celsius since the pre-industrial revolution, this region has warmed well over two degrees.”

Halem’s work builds on other wildfire models, particularly the NASA-Unified Weather Research and Forecasting (NUWRF) model, developed by NASA, and WRF-SFIRE, developed by a team of researchers with support from the National Science Foundation. These models simulate phenomena like wind speed and cloud cover, which makes them the perfect foundation for a Wildfire Digital Twin.

Specifically, Halem’s team is working on new satellite data assimilation techniques that will blend information from space-based remote sensors into their Wildfire Digital Twin, enabling improved global data forecasts that will be useful for emergencies and science missions alike.

In October, Halem’s team participated in the first FireSense field campaign in collaboration with the National Forest Service’s Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment (FASMEE) to observe smoke as it traveled more than 10 miles during a controlled burn in Utah, using a ceilometer. Now the team is feeding that data into their modeling software to help it track plumes more accurately.

They’re especially interested in tracking particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers, which are small enough to pass through a person’s lungs and enter the bloodstream. These particles, also known as PM 2.5, can cause serious health issues even if a person is nowhere near an active burn.

“When these fires ignite and start to burn, they produce smoke, and this smoke travels considerable distances. It affects people not only locally, but also at distances of thousands of kilometers or more,” said Halem.

Data from the controlled burn will also help Halem and his team quantify the relationship between aerosols and precipitation. Increased aerosols from wildfires have a huge impact on cloud formation, which in turn impacts how precipitation occurs downstream of an affected fire burn.

Assimilating all this information as it streams from sensors in real time is essential for detailing the full impact of wildfires at local, regional, and global scales.


Milton Halem, University of Maryland at Baltimore County


NASA’s FireSense Technology Program, a part of the agency’s Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO), funds this project.



Last Updated

May 21, 2024

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Sols 4188-4190: Aurora Watch on Mars

NASA - Breaking News - Mon, 05/20/2024 - 7:02pm

4 min read

Sols 4188-4190: Aurora Watch on Mars This image was taken by MAHLI onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 4187 NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Earth planning date: Friday, May 17, 2024

During the night of May 10, Earth experienced a fantastic display of aurorae (Northern and Southern Lights) which extended all the way to tropical latitudes, courtesy of the strongest geomagnetic storm since 2003. The enormous solar active region 3664, which produced the X-class flares and powerful coronal mass ejections powering this magnetic storm, has since rotated away from Earth. However, this explosive sunspot group now faces Mars. Just as the active region rotated into Mars view, it unleashed the largest flare in 20 years, an X8.7 monster. This solar flare also aimed a coronal mass ejection (CME) at Mars, which is potentially capable of producing auroras. Given Mars’ lack of a global magnetic field, Martian aurorae are not concentrated at the poles as they are on Earth, but instead appear as a “global diffuse aurora” that are associated with Mars’ ancient, magnetized crust. One of the planned observations for Curiosity this weekend will be a night-time 12×1 Mastcam observation of the sky above Texoli Butte, in a hope to capture one of these elusive Martian aurorae. 

Contact science on “Tuolumne Meadows” and “Parker Lakes” on sol 4187 completed successfully. The included picture is a MAHLI image of “Parker Lakes” taken on Sol 4187, which shows abundant bedrock nodules, some perched on tiny stalks like a miniature version of the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park. Unfortunately, the drive on sol 4187 faulted after 10 m due to a steer stall on the right rear wheel, and the resulting wheel placement was too uncertain to support contact science. Our current plan skips sol 4188, as Earth passes are too low on the horizon for Curiosity to successfully receive commands for that sol. On Sol 4189,  Curiosity will observe the layered bedrock target “Polemonium Pass” with ChemCam LIBS and Mastcam, as well as more distant white rocks around “Falls Ridge” with ChemCam RMI and Mastcam. The first target is named for a 11,600 ft pass near the northern border of Yosemite National Park. The word “Polemonium” refers to Polemonium eximium, the skypilot or showy sky pilot alpine flower only found above 10000 feet in the Sierra Nevada. The target name “Falls Ridge” honors a towering ridge-line of granite domes forming the southern wall of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. All targets in this area of Mount Sharp are named after the Bishop geological quadrangle in the High Sierra and Owens Valley of Calfornia. Mastcam will also image a nearby troughs between the blocky rocks surrounding the rover.  Atmospheric observations in this science block include a dust devil survey, atmospheric opacity measurement, Navcam suprahorizon movie, and rover deck image. Curiosity will then perform a block of atmospheric observations with APXS and SAM to measure atmospheric constituents. Well after dark, Mastcam will search for aurora in the sky above our rover. Curiosity starts the next sol (4190) with a ChemCam LIBS and Mastcam observation of “The Fissures,” a finely laminated bedrock target named for a deep bedrock joint on the south wall of Yosemite Valley. This is followed by a 10×1 RMI mosaic of Texoli butte, ChemCam passive sky, deck monitor, and dust devil survey.  Curiosity then will start its 27 m drive, finishing near the lip of the Gediz Vallis channel. After the drive ends, Curiosity will perform its usual post drive panoramic imaging and take a MARDI frame of the ground under the rover. The next morning, Curiosity will perform early morning atmospheric observations including Mastcam solar tau to measure dust in the atmosphere, Navcam opacity measurement, and Navcam zenith and suprahorizon cloud movies.  On Monday, we will do contact science at the new location, then decide where to drive across the channel sands on our way up Mount Sharp.

Written by Deborah Padgett, OPGS Task Lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory



Last Updated

May 20, 2024

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Aurorasaurus Roars During Historic Solar Storm

NASA - Breaking News - Mon, 05/20/2024 - 5:20pm

2 min read

Aurorasaurus Roars During Historic Solar Storm During the peak of activity (May 10-11, 2024) the Aurorasaurus website showed widespread reports and real-time alerts.

The largest geomagnetic storm in 21 years lit up the sky last weekend, and NASA’s volunteers were ready. Between May 10th and 12th 2024, NASA’s Aurorasaurus project received an unprecedented number of reports from around the world. It also helped eager aurora chasers get a better view.

“Aurorasaurus made all the difference for me,” said volunteer Damon Tighe. “I was able to see it in Oakland, CA and knew it was coming based upon user data in Reno.”

At you’ll see the latest model predictions for where the aurora is visible. Then you can submit your own report, helping scientists test and improve the models and characterize what is seen. When people report seeing the aurora beyond where the model predicts the system adapts in real time and puts out volunteer-generated alerts in those areas. During the May 10-12 extreme event, auroras visible as far south as Texas and Alabama triggered those special alerts.

Thank you to everyone who submitted data! During the last major solar storm, back in 2003, digital cameras were not widespread and cell phones didn’t even have cameras. But during this current solar maximum, the data you’re collecting has incredible scientific value.

It’s not too late to help document this historic event. You can submit back-dated reports at our website and help do NASA Science. While you’re there, sign up for your own alerts and don’t miss out on the next spectacular storm!



Last Updated

May 20, 2024

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NASA Selects BAE Systems to Develop Ocean Color Instrument for NOAA

NASA - Breaking News - Mon, 05/20/2024 - 4:00pm

NASA, on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has selected BAE Systems (formerly known as Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation) of Boulder, Colorado, to develop an instrument to analyze ocean data as part of NOAA’s Geostationary Extended Observations (GeoXO) satellite program.

This cost-plus-award-fee contract is valued at approximately $450 million. It includes the development of two flight instruments as well as options for additional units. The anticipated period of performance for this contract includes support for 10 years of on-orbit operations and five years of on-orbit storage, for a total of 15 years for each flight model. The work will take place at BAE Systems, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The GeoXO Ocean Color instrument (OCX) will monitor U.S. coastal waters, the exclusive economic zone, and the Great Lakes. The instrument will observe ocean biology, chemistry, and ecology to assess ocean productivity, ecosystem change, coastal and inland water quality, seafood safety, and hazards like harmful algal blooms. With updates at least every three hours, the instrument will deliver a more frequent and comprehensive view of ocean and coastal conditions than is currently available.

Frequent observations will show daily changes in ocean biology and rapid coastal ocean dynamics. The instrument also will track and assist in the response to climate-driven ocean and coastal ecosystem changes, supporting ecological forecasters, marine resource managers, fisheries, health departments, water treatment managers, and the commerce, recreation, and tourism industries.

The contract scope includes the tasks and deliverables necessary to design, analyze, develop, fabricate, integrate, test, verify, and evaluate the ocean color instrument; support the launch; supply and maintain the instrument ground support equipment; and support mission operations at the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland.

The GeoXO Program is the follow-on to the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites – R (GOES-R) Series Program. The GeoXO satellite system will advance Earth observations from geostationary orbit. The mission will supply vital information to address major environmental challenges of the future in support of weather, ocean, and climate operations in the United States. Advanced capabilities from GeoXO will help address our changing planet and the evolving needs of NOAA’s data users. NOAA and NASA are working to ensure these critical observations are in place by the early 2030s when the GOES-R Series nears the end of its operational lifetime.

Together, NOAA and NASA will oversee the development, launch, testing, and operation of all the satellites in the GeoXO Program. NOAA funds and manages the program, operations, and data products. On behalf of NOAA, NASA and commercial partners develop and build the instruments and spacecraft and launch the satellites.

For more information on the GeoXO program, visit:


Liz Vlock
Headquarters, Washington

Jeremy Eggers
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

John Leslie
NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service

Share Details Last Updated May 20, 2024 LocationNASA Headquarters
Categories: NASA

55 Years Ago: Two Months Until the Moon Landing

NASA - Breaking News - Mon, 05/20/2024 - 3:13pm

The march to the first Moon landing took a giant leap forward in May 1969 with the successful completion of Apollo 10, essentially a dress rehearsal for the landing mission. During their eight-day flight, the all-veteran Apollo 10 crew of Thomas P. Stafford, John W. Young, and Eugene A. Cernan rehearsed nearly every aspect of the Moon landing with the exception of the landing itself, flying to within nine miles of the lunar surface. Their mission sorted many of the unknowns for the lunar landing. While Apollo 10 traveled to the Moon, workers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida rolled Apollo 11 to its launch pad. The Apollo 11 astronauts continued training for their July Moon landing mission while workers across NASA continued other preparations for the historic flight.

Apollo 10

The Apollo 10 flight plan.

Designed as a final dress rehearsal for the Moon landing, the Apollo 10 mission plan replicated all aspects of that flight except for the landing itself. During the eight-day flight, Stafford, Young, and Cernan would spend three days traveling to the Moon before entering orbit around it. Stafford and Cernan would board the Lunar Module (LM) Snoopy, leaving Young aboard the Command Module (CM) Charlie Brown, and simulating a descent to the surface, fly to within 50,000 feet of the Moon. They would fly an approach to Apollo 11’s designated landing site in the Sea of Tranquility, photographing the area in as much detail as possible. After eight hours, Stafford and Cernan would rejoin Young. The primary goal of the mission accomplished, they would leave lunar orbit and travel back to Earth for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Apollo 10 would address unknowns about navigation and communications required for a successful lunar landing.

Left: Astronaut-geologist Harrison H. Schmitt, second from left, provides geology instruction to Apollo 10 astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, left, John W. Young, and Eugene A. Cernan. Middle: The Launch Control Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during the Apollo 10 Countdown Demonstration Test. Right: Cernan, left, Young, and Stafford pose in front of their Saturn V rocket.

During the final weeks before launch, Stafford, Young, and Cernan honed their skills in spacecraft simulators. They also received many hours of lunar geology instruction from experts, including Harrison H. Schmitt, the only geologist in the astronaut corps. At KSC, engineers completed the Countdown Demonstration Test on May 6, with Stafford, Young, and Cernan participating in the final hours, much as they would on launch day.

Left: Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, second from left, shares a laugh with Apollo 10 astronauts Eugene A. Cernan, left, Thomas P. Stafford, and John W. Young the day before launch. Middle: Stafford pats a giant stuffed Snoopy as he and Young and Cernan leave crew quarters for the trip to the launch pad. Right: Young, front, Stafford, and Cernan prepare to board the van for the ride to Launch Pad 39B.

Engineers began the countdown for Apollo 10 on May 13, as Stafford, Young, and Cernan finished their final simulator runs. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew joined them for dinner the night before launch. On launch day, they donned their spacesuits and boarded the van for the ride to Launch Pad 39B, where they climbed aboard their spacecraft.

Left: The official photo of the Apollo 10 crew of Eugene A. Cernan, left, Thomas P. Stafford, and John W. Young. Middle: The Apollo 10 crew patch. Right: Liftoff of Apollo 10.

Apollo 10 lifted off at 12:49 p.m. EDT, the only lunar mission to use Launch Pad 39B. The three stages of the Saturn V rocket performed flawlessly, placing Apollo 10 and its attached S-IVB third stage into a temporary parking orbit around the Earth. Two and a half hours later, after the ground and crew verified the normal functioning of all spacecraft systems, Mission Control called up, “10, you’re go for TLI,” the Trans-Lunar Injection. The S-IVB fired for 5 minutes and 43 seconds, sending Apollo 10 toward the Moon. The engine burned so precisely that Apollo 10 needed only one of the planned four midcourse corrections.

Left: Image of the rapidly receding Earth taken shortly after Trans-Lunar Injection. Middle: The Lunar Module Snoopy still attached to the S-IVB third stage during the Transposition and Docking maneuver. Right: A much smaller Earth taken late during the translunar coast.

Thirty minutes after the TLI burn, the crew separated Charlie Brown from the S-IVB, with Snoopy still snuggled atop the third stage. Young guided Charlie Brown about 150 feet away, turned the spacecraft around, then flew it back to dock with Snoopy, completing the Transposition and Docking maneuver. Viewers received the first color TV images from space, the first of 17 transmission during the mission, showing Snoopy atop the S-IVB as Young brought Charlie Brown in for the docking. Thirty minutes later springs ejected Snoopy, now firmly docked with Charlie Brown, from the S-IVB, with Stafford exclaiming, “Snoopy’s coming out of the doghouse.” By this time, Apollo 10 had traveled more than 13,000 miles from Earth, with its velocity decreasing as the home planet’s gravity inexorably tugged at the spacecraft. The next two days passed without incident, with the astronauts performing routine navigation and housekeeping tasks and providing viewers at home more televised views of themselves and the receding Earth. About 62 hours after launch, they crossed into the Moon’s gravitational sphere of influence and their speed began to increase. Eleven hours later and still about 9,000 miles from the Moon, Apollo 10 passed into the darkness of the lunar shadow. Less than three hours later, Apollo 10 passed behind the Moon, cutting off communications with Earth.

Left: Earthrise as seen from lunar orbit. Middle: The Lunar Module Snoopy as seen from the Command Module Charlie Brown shortly after undocking. Right: Charlie Brown seen from Snoopy after undocking.

The Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) maneuver, a six-minute firing of the Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine, took place behind the Moon, placing Apollo 10 into an elliptical orbit. As they rounded the backside of the Moon, Stafford radioed to Mission Control, “You can tell the world that we have arrived.” All three crew members began excitedly describing the lunar scenery passing by beneath them, with Cernan summing it up best, “It might sound corny, but the view is really out of this world.” After two revolutions around the Moon, the astronauts once again fired the SPS engine, this time for 14 seconds, to circularize their orbit. Cernan opened the hatch to Snoopy for the first time, and floated inside to partially activate it, perform a brief inspection, conduct communications checks, and transfer equipment needed later during Snoopy’s free flight. Cernan reported on Snoopy’s condition, “I’m personally very happy with the fellow.” The crew prepared to settle down for their first night’s sleep in lunar orbit, with Cernan asking the ground to “watch Snoopy well tonight, and make him sleep good, and we’ll take him out for a walk and let him stretch his legs in the morning.” The next morning, all three crew members donned their spacesuits, Stafford and Cernan transferred to Snoopy, leaving Young in Charlie Brown, and then closed the hatches between the two spacecraft. Mission Control gave the crew the go to undock, and soon after Young separated the two spacecraft. Minutes later, with the two spacecraft flying separately, Snoopy began a slow roll so that Young could inspect and photograph the vehicle. Young then fired Charlie Brown’s thrusters to separate from Snoopy. And then, the time came to take Snoopy for a walk and let him stretch his legs, as Cernan had promised the night before.

Left: View of the Apollo 11 landing site in the Sea of Tranquility taken from the Lunar Module Snoopy during its close approach to the surface. Middle: Command and Service Module Charlie Brown as seen from Snoopy during the rendezvous and docking maneuver. Right: Snoopy as seen from Charlie Brown during the rendezvous and docking maneuver.

Mission Control gave Snoopy the go for the Descent Orbit Insertion burn of the LM’s Descent Propulsion System (DPS) engine to lower its orbital low point to about 50,000 feet. The 27-second burn began with the engine at 11.3% thrust for the first 15 seconds, then Stafford throttled it up to 40% thrust for the remainder of the maneuver. Stafford and Cernan began taking photographs and film of the surface as they started their descent to the low point, later calculated as about 47,000 feet. Cernan reported, “We is down among them,” referring to their low altitude over the lunar landscape. They successfully tested Snoopy’s landing radar, a critical test before the actual landing mission, all the while continuing a running commentary describing the landscape below them including all the landmarks leading up to the planned Apollo 11 landing site in the Sea of Tranquility. Stafford and Cernan then separated the LM’s ascent stage from the descent stage. During the staging, Snoopy experienced some unexpected motions in all three axes that Stafford and Cernan quickly brought under control. Investigators later attributed the gyrations to a switch placed in the wrong position. Ten minutes later, they fired Snoopy’s Ascent Propulsion System (APS) engine for 15 seconds that simulated a liftoff from the Moon, and began the rendezvous process to rejoin Young in Charlie Brown, using the same maneuvers as during a landing mission. Young completed the docking and Stafford exclaimed, “Snoopy and Charlie Brown are hugging each other.” Snoopy had been on a very long leash, travelling up to 390 miles from Charlie Brown, meeting all planned objectives during its 8-hour 10-minute solo flight. Soon, the crew opened the hatches between the two spacecraft and Stafford and Cernan rejoined Young in Charlie Brown, bringing with them cameras and exposed film. They then closed the hatches for the final time and bid farewell to Snoopy. Due to residual air pressure in the docking tunnel that couldn’t be vented, Snoopy departed at a higher than expected speed. Stafford commented, “Snoop went some place,” and Young added, “Man, when he leaves, he leaves.” To prevent an unwanted recontact between the two spacecraft, Snoopy fired its APS engine to fuel depletion, which sent it safely out of lunar orbit and into an orbit around the Sun. Cernan, perhaps feeling some guilt about disposing of Snoopy, said, “I feel sort of bad about that, because he’s a pretty nice guy; he treated us pretty well today.” 

Left: The rapidly receding Moon shortly after the Trans-Earth Injection. Middle: Earth photographed during the trans Earth coast. Right: Apollo 10 on its three main parachutes shortly before splashdown.

During their 31st and final orbit around the Moon, the astronauts prepared the spacecraft for its next critical maneuver, the Trans Earth Injection (TEI), to propel them out of lunar orbit and back toward home. “Houston, we are returning to Earth!” With those words, Stafford announced that the TEI, a 165-second burn of the SPS engine had succeeded. The three-day return trip to Earth passed uneventfully, the crew conducting a single midcourse maneuver. As they approached the Earth, the crew separated the CM from the Service Module and turned its blunt heat shield into the direction of travel. By the time it made first contact with the Earth’s atmosphere 16 minutes later at an altitude of 400,000 feet, the point called Entry Interface, Apollo 10 had accelerated to 24,791 miles per hour, the fastest reentry for any crewed space mission. The spacecraft entered a radio blackout period a few seconds later, caused by the buildup of ionized gases as a result of rapid deceleration. At 24,000 feet altitude, two drogue parachutes deployed to provide initial deceleration, followed at 10,000 feet by the three main parachutes that provided a splashdown velocity of about 22 miles per hour.

Left: The recovery helicopter delivered Apollo 10 astronauts Eugene A. Cernan, left, Thomas P. Stafford, and John W. Young to the deck of the U.S.S. Princeton. Middle: Dignitaries greet Cernan, left, Stafford, and Young during their stopover in American Samoa. Right: Young, Stafford, and Cernan greet well-wishers upon their arrival at Houston’s Ellington Air Force Base.

At precisely 11:53 a.m. CDT on May 26, 1969, Apollo 10 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 460 miles east of American Samoa. The splashdown occurred shortly before sunrise, just 1.5 miles from the targeted point and 3.3 miles from the prime recovery ship the U.S.S. Princeton (LPH-5). Stafford, Cernan, and Young had completed a flight lasting 192 hours and 3 minutes. Within 39 minutes, recovery forces delivered the trio to the deck of the Princeton, where the ship’s captain and dozens of cheering sailors greeted them. After a brief stay aboard the Princeton, Stafford, Cernan, and Young flew by helicopter to Pago Pago, American Samoa, where the governor, his wife, and 5,000 Samoan well-wishers greeted them. From there, they took a C-141 transport aircraft back to Ellington Air Force Base (AFB) in Houston, where they reunited with their families and a cheering crowd welcomed them home. Sailors offloaded the CM Charlie Brown from the Princeton in Hawaii on May 31. From there, workers flew it to Long Beach, California, on June 4, and then trucked it to the North American Rockwell plant in Downey to undergo postflight inspection. NASA transferred accountability for Charlie Brown to the Smithsonian Institution in April 1970, following which the United States Information Agency took it on a tour of Europe, including the Soviet Union, France, and The Netherlands. The Smithsonian loaned the spacecraft to the London Science Museum in January 1976, where it remains on display today.

Left: Meeting of the minds – the Apollo 10 crew debriefs the Apollo 11 crew. Middle: Stafford, left, Young, and Cernan brief reporters during their postflight press conference. Right: The Apollo 10 Command Module on display at the London Science Museum. Image credit: courtesy London Science Museum.

Apollo 11

Left: The Apollo 11 Saturn V leaves the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on its way to Launch Pad 39A. Middle: Apollo 11 at Launch Pad 39A. Right: Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, left, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin pose with their Saturn V rocket.

While Apollo 10 headed for the Moon, on May 20 workers at KSC rolled the Apollo 11 Saturn V from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to Launch Pad 39A. Two days later, they rolled the Mobile Service Structure around the rocket and began integrated tests on the launch vehicle.

At the Manned Spacecraft Center, now NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Apollo 11 astronauts conduct vacuum runs in Chamber B of the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory. Prime crew members Neil A. Armstrong, left, and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, and backup crew members James A. Lovell, and Fred W. Haise.

The Apollo 11 prime crew of Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin and their backups James A. Lovell, William A. Anders, and Fred W. Haise continued training for the Moon landing. Armstrong, Aldrin, Lovell, and Haise each completed altitude runs in Chamber B of MSC’s Space Environment Simulation Laboratory. During these tests, the spacesuited astronauts practiced various lunar surface activities, such as activating the television camera, collecting rock samples, and deploying the scientific experiments of the Early Apollo Surface Experiment Package (EASEP).

Left: Neil A. Armstrong deploys the Passive Seismic Experiment Package. Middle: An Apollo 11 astronaut deploys the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector. Right: Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin deploys the Solar Wind Collection experiment.

Armstrong and Aldrin practiced the deployment of the three scientific instruments they planned to deploy during their 2.5-hour surface excursion. Two instruments made up the EASEP – the Passive Seismic Experiment Package (PSEP), and the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LRRR). The EASEP instruments remained on the surface after the astronauts departed, while the astronauts deployed and retrieved a third instrument, the Solar Wind Composition (SWC) experiment, during their spacewalk. The solar powered PSEP collected data to detect any possible moonquakes. Scientists used the passive LRRR to make precise measurements of the Earth-Moon distance. The SWC’s sheet of aluminum collected particles of the solar wind, in particular the noble gases helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon. 

Left: Apollo 11 astronauts Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, left, Neil A. Armstrong, and Michael Collins aboard the MV Retriever prepare for the water egress test using the Biological Isolation Garment (BIG). Middle: Engineer John K. Hirasaki demonstrates the BIG. Right: Armstrong emerges from the boilerplate Command Module to join Aldrin and Collins, as recovery team’s decontamination office Clancy Hatleberg monitors the activity.

On May 24, the Apollo 11 astronauts rehearsed splashdown procedures in the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston, Texas, using a boilerplate Apollo CM and supported by the Motorized Vessel (MV) Retriever. The week before, NASA had decided that following splashdown, helicopter recovery forces would retrieve the astronauts from life rafts as on earlier missions. NASA rejected an alternative plan to have sailors aboard the carrier hoist the spacecraft with the astronauts inside onto the deck as too dangerous. Because the standard method would expose the astronauts to the air, raising the risk of contamination, the biological decontamination swimmer would give the astronauts Biological Isolation Garments (BIG) prior to their exiting the spacecraft after splashdown. For Apollo 11, the U.S. Navy’s Underwater Demolition Team-11 (UDT-11) assigned Lieutenant Clarence J. “Clancy” Hatleberg as the decontamination swimmer, and he joined Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin for the May 24 exercise. Exactly two months later, they would carry out the activity for real in the Pacific Ocean.

Left: The Mobile Quarantine Facility planned for Apollo 11 arrives at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), now NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Middle: NASA test pilot Harold E. “Bud” Ream flies the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle at Ellington Air Force Base to certify it for astronaut operations. Right: Lunar Module-2 during one of the drop tests at the Vibration and Acoustics Test Facility at MSC.

The next step in the quarantine process involved the astronauts entering the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) aboard the recovery ship. The astronauts remained inside the MQF until delivered portside, from where a cargo jet would fly them back to Ellington AFB in Houston. From there, a truck delivered the MQF and the astronauts to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory at MSC where they finished their 21-day quarantine. The MQF assigned to Apollo 11, the third of four units built, arrived at MSC on May 12.  At Ellington AFB, MSC pilot Harold E. “Bud” Ream continued to fly the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle-2 (LLTV-2) to certify it for astronaut flights following the December 1968 crash of LLTV-1. Astronauts used the LLTV as a key training tool to simulate the flying characteristics of the LM especially of the final 500 feet of the descent. With astronauts still barred from flying the LLTV, they used the LLTV simulator and the Lunar Landing Research Facility (LLRF) at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, to practice the final descent to the surface. Once managers cleared the LLTV for astronaut use in early June, Armstrong and Lovell completed their training flights later that month. On May 7, in MSC’s Vibration and Acoustics Test Facility engineers completed drop tests using LM-2, certifying the LM and its systems for the loads they would encounter during a lunar landing.

Apollo 12

Left: In the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, workers lift the first stage of the Apollo 12 Saturn V rocket to begin the stacking process. Middle: Workers lower the second stage onto the first stage. Right: Workers have lowered the third stage onto stack.

While Apollo 10 headed for the Moon and Apollo 11 headed for its launch pad, workers prepared Apollo 12 for its eventual journey to the Moon, then tentatively planned for September. If Apollo 11 succeeded in its Moon landing mission, Apollo 12 would fly later, most likely in November. At KSC, the S-IC first stage of the Apollo 12 Saturn V arrived on May 3, joining the second and third stages already there. Workers in the VAB’s High Bay 3 stacked the first stage on its Mobile Launcher on May 7, added the S-II second stage on May 21, and the S-IVB third stage the following day. In the nearby Manned Spacecraft Operations Building, workers prepared the Apollo 12 CSM and LM for altitude chamber runs with the prime and backup crews, planned for June.

Left: Apollo 12 astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad during the geology field trip to Big Bend, Texas. Middle and right: At the Manned Spacecraft Center, now NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Apollo 12 astronauts Conrad and Alan L. Bean conduct vacuum runs in Chamber B of the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory.

The Apollo 12 prime crew of Charles “Pete” Conrad, Richard F. Gordon, and Alan L. Bean and their backups David R. Scott, Alfred M. Worden, and James B. Irwin continued their training. Conrad and Bean, along with support astronaut Edward G. Gibson and several geologists, took part in a geology field trip to Big Bend, Texas, on May 1-2. During the two-day event, they simulated various lunar surface tasks to verify procedures, while receiving geology instruction along the way. Back at MSC, Conrad and Bean tested their spacesuits and spacewalking equipment and procedures in SESL’s Chamber B.

Left: Apollo 12 astronauts Alan L. Bean, left, and Charles “Pete” Conrad examine lunar surface science instruments. Middle: Apollo 12 support astronauts Gerald P. Carr, second from left, and Edward G. Gibson, right, assist Bean and Conrad in examining lunar surface science instruments. Right: Bean, wearing spacesuit at right, participates in procedures development for lunar surface activities.

The Apollo 12 mission plan called for two surface excursions and deployment of the first Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP), a more complex set of instruments than the Apollo 11 EASEP. Conrad and Bean completed their first examination of the hardware for the four ALSEP instruments planned for their mission.

In other NASA news:

Left: U.S. postage stamp dedication to Apollo 8. Image credit: courtesy USPS. Middle: Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, left, James A. Lovell, and William A. Anders hold the Collier Trophy. Right: Borman narrates a film of the Apollo 8 mission at the COSPAR meeting in Prague.

On May 5, in a ceremony at the Rice Hotel in Houston, Postmaster General Winton M. Blount dedicated a postage stamp commemorating the Apollo 8 mission, presenting the first albums to the Apollo 8 crew of Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, and William A. Anders. Two days later, Borman, Lovell, and Anders accepted the Robert J. Collier award for their participation in the Apollo 8 mission.

On May 5, astronaut Alan B. Shepard marked the eighth anniversary of his suborbital Mercury-Redstone-3 mission aboard the Freedom 7 capsule. Two days later, Shepard had more reason to celebrate – flight surgeons returned him to full spaceflight status. Surgeons grounded Shepard in 1963 when he developed Meniere’s disease, an inner ear condition that causes dizziness. A minor operation in 1968 corrected the problem and Shepard remained symptom-free. Said Shepard of his return to flight status, “The sooner I get off the ground, the better.” He went on to command Apollo 14 in 1971, the only Mercury 7 astronaut to walk on the Moon.

On May 7, NASA established a task group to study development of a space station, headed by George E. Mueller, Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, with Apollo 8 astronaut Borman reporting to him as Field Director of Advanced Space Stations at MSC.

On May 16, President Richard M. Nixon nominated Apollo 8 astronaut Anders, also serving on Apollo 11 backup crew, as Executive Secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, chaired by Vice President Agnew, effective in August, after Apollo 11 mission.

Between May 19-22, Borman attended the 12th annual meeting of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) in Prague, Czechoslovakia. He presented a film of the Apollo 8 mission and received a medal from the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences.

To be continued …

News from around the world in May 1969:

May 2 – The new cruise ship “Queen Elizabeth II” sets sail from Southampton to New York, marking first private use of Global Position System, relying on four U.S. Navy satellites.

May 5 – Milwaukee Bucs sign number one draft pick, UCLA center Lew Alcindor, who now calls himself Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

May 11 – British comedy group Monty Python forms.

May 16 – The Soviet Union’s Venera 5 spacecraft descends through Venus’ atmosphere, returning 43 minutes of data.

May 17 – The Soviet Union’s Venera 6 spacecraft descends through Venus’ atmosphere, returning data for 51 minutes.

May 19 – The Who release their rock opera album “Tommy.”

May 21 – President Richard M. Nixon selects Warren E. Burger as the next Chief Justice of the United States.

May 24 – The cartoon band “The Archies” release their song “Sugar, Sugar,” Billboard’s Song of the Year for 1969.

May 27 – Walt Disney World construction begins in Florida.

May 29 – Britain’s Trans-Arctic expedition makes first crossing of Arctic sea ice.

May 31 – Stevie Wonder releases the single “My Cherie Amour.”

Explore More 16 min read 15 Years Ago: STS-125, the Final Hubble Servicing Mission Article 1 week ago 11 min read 20 Years Ago: NASA Selects its 19th Group of Astronauts Article 2 weeks ago 14 min read 35 Years Ago: STS-30 Launches Magellan to Venus Article 3 weeks ago
Categories: NASA

NASA, Sierra Space Deliver Dream Chaser to Florida for Launch Preparation

NASA - Breaking News - Mon, 05/20/2024 - 3:05pm
Dream Chaser Tenacity, Sierra Space’s uncrewed cargo spaceplane, is processed inside the Space Systems Processing Facility (SSPF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday, May 20, 2024. The spaceplane arrived inside a climate-controlled transportation container from the agency’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Ohio. Final testing and prelaunch processing will be completed inside the high bay of the SSPF ahead of Dream Chaser’s inaugural launch atop a ULA (United Launch Alliance) Vulcan rocket from nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.  Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

As part of NASA’s efforts to expand commercial resupply in low Earth orbit, Sierra Space’s uncrewed spaceplane arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of its first flight to the International Space Station. 
The Dream Chaser spaceplane, named Tenacity, arrived at Kennedy on May 18 inside a climate-controlled transportation container from NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky, Ohio, and joined its companion Shooting Star cargo module, which arrived on May 11. 
Before arriving at Kennedy, the spaceplane and its cargo module underwent vibration testing atop the world’s highest capacity and most powerful spacecraft shaker system inside the agency’s Space Environments Complex, exposing the stack to vibrations like those it will experience during launch and re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere. Following vibration testing, the duo moved to NASA’s In-Space Propulsion Facility and was exposed to low ambient pressures and temperatures ranging from -150 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. 

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A recap of the NASA testing procedures that Sierra Space's Dream Chaser Tenacity spaceplane underwent at NASA's Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky, Ohio. This included vibration testing and exposure to low ambient pressures and temperatures.Credits: NASA/Steve Logan

Upon arrival at Kennedy, teams moved Dream Chaser Tenacity to the high bay inside the Space Systems Processing Facility, where it will undergo final testing and prelaunch processing ahead of its launch scheduled for later this year. 

The spaceplane will lift off aboard a ULA (United Launch Alliance) Vulcan rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and is set to deliver 7,800 pounds of cargo to the orbiting laboratory. 
The remaining pre-flight activities at Kennedy include acoustic and electromagnetic interference and compatibility testing, completion of work on the spaceplane’s thermal protection system, and final payload integration. 
Dream Chaser is a lifting body design spaceplane that measures 30 feet long by 15 feet wide. The unique winged design allows it to transport cargo to and from low Earth orbit and maintain the ability to land on a runway in the style of NASA’s space shuttle. The 15-foot Shooting Star module can carry up to 7,000 pounds of cargo internally and features three unpressurized external payload mounts. 
The partially reusable transportation system will perform at least seven cargo missions to the space station as part of the agency’s efforts to expand commercial resupply services in low Earth orbit. Future missions may last as long as 75 days and deliver as much as 11,500 pounds of cargo. 
While the Dream Chaser spacecraft is reusable and can return up to 3,500 pounds of cargo to Earth, the Shooting Star module is designed to be jettisoned and burn up during reentry, creating the opportunity to dispose of up to 8,500 pounds of trash with each mission. 
Dream Chaser Tenacity is the first in a planned fleet of Sierra Space spaceplanes to help carry out these missions. 
As part of the process to certify the vehicle system for future agency resupply missions, NASA and Sierra Space will put the spaceplane through its paces once in-orbit. As Dream Chaser Tenacity approaches the space station, it will conduct a series of demonstrations to prove attitude control, translational maneuvers, and abort capabilities. After completing the maneuverability demonstration, space station astronauts will use the Canadarm2 robotic arm to grapple the spacecraft and dock it to an Earth-facing port. 
After remaining at the orbiting laboratory for about 45 days, the spaceplane will be released from the station and return for a landing at Kennedy’s Launch and Landing Facility. After landing, Dream Chaser is powered down, and the Sierra Space team will transfer it back to the processing facility to perform necessary inspections, offload remaining NASA cargo, and begin the process of preparing it for its next mission. 
For updates on NASA’s commercial resupply services, visit:

Categories: NASA

Astronaut Exercise

NASA - Breaking News - Mon, 05/20/2024 - 3:00pm
Science in Space: May 2024

Future missions to the Moon and Mars must address many challenges, including preventing loss of bone and muscle tissue in astronauts. Research on the International Space Station is helping to address this challenge.

Without Earth’s gravity, both bone and muscle atrophy, or become smaller and weaker. Early on, scientists realized that exercise is a critical part of maintaining healthy bones and muscles in space, just as it is on Earth. From simple elastic bands on early missions, exercise hardware has become increasingly advanced. Current equipment includes the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) weight-lifting system, a second generation-treadmill called T2, and the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation and Stabilization System (CEVIS) cycling machine. Studies continue to refine this equipment as well as the intensity and duration of how astronauts use it, with crew members now averaging two hours of exercise per day.

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NASA astronauts Bob Hines and Kjell Lindgren work out on the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED).NASA

Installed in 2008, ARED uses a piston and flywheel system to provide loading that essentially mimics weightlifting in weightlessness. A current investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), ARED Kinematics analyzes the effect of this type of exercise on the body in microgravity to help determine optimal workout programs before, during, and after spaceflight. Results have shown that preflight exercise training improves an individual’s performance while on the space station just as pre-season training helps athletes in later competition.1

From 2001 to 2011, crew members used the Interim Resistive Exercise Device (IRED), which could be configured for at least 18 different exercises using both upper and lower body muscles with up to 300 pounds of resistive force. A retrospective evaluation showed some correlation between preflight strength and postflight changes, and analysis suggested that a resistance device that provides higher loads and improved exercise prescriptions could provide greater benefits.2

JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Satoshi Furukawa pedals on the upgraded CEVIS system.NASA

CEVIS, installed in 2001 and upgraded in 2023, uses friction and resistance and is computer-controlled to maintain an accurate workload. The system displays parameters such as cycling speed, heart rate, elapsed time, and exercise prescription details. A study using the data collected by CEVIS concluded that up to 17% of astronauts could experience loss of muscle performance, bone health, and cardiorespiratory fitness if future missions continue to use current exercise countermeasures. The researchers note that this highlights the need to further refine current regimens, add other interventions, or enhance conditioning preflight.3

NASA astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson prepare for a session of the Sprint study.NASA

Appropriate equipment is important, but so is the way it is used. Early exercise regimens included running on a treadmill at low velocity and conducting resistance exercise at low loads for long periods of time. Despite spending up to 10 hours per week exercising, astronauts continued to lose muscle mass and bone density. Growing evidence showed that high-intensity, low-volume exercise was more effective at maintaining fitness on Earth. The Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training Study (Sprint) compared results of low-intensity, high-volume with high-intensity, low-volume workouts in microgravity. The outcomes were similar, but shorter workouts save crew time – a valuable resource on missions – and reduce wear and tear on exercise equipment.4 Future missions may be limited to a single device for both aerobic and resistance exercise, necessitating shorter workouts so each crew member gets a turn. Higher intensity exercise could compensate for these limits.

NASA astronaut Don Pettit conducts the VO2max experiment using the CEVIS.NASA

An investigation called VO2max documented changes in maximum oxygen uptake, which is considered a standard measure of a person’s aerobic and physical working capacity. Long-duration spaceflight caused a significant decrease in maximal oxygen uptake and aerobic exercise capacity.5 These results have important implications for future long-duration space missions, adding to the evidence that current countermeasures may not be adequate.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti runs on the station’s T2 treadmill. ESA/NASA

Muscle Biopsy, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), analyzed molecular changes in skeletal muscle before and after spaceflight and identified an enzyme product that could be used as a possible indicator of muscle health. The findings suggest that current exercise protocols are effective in preventing muscle deconditioning and support improvements in countermeasures to protect crew health and performance on future deep space exploration missions.6

While current exercise programs appear to moderate changes in musculoskeletal systems, individual results vary. In addition, current regimens likely cannot directly transfer to longer exploration missions due to space constraints, environmental issues such as removal of heat and moisture, device maintenance and repair needs, and the challenges of finding time for exercise and avoiding interference with the work of other crew members.7

Planned missions to explore the Moon and deep space may last up to three years. Research continues to zero in on the combination of diet, exercise, and medication that could keep astronauts healthy during spaceflight, when they set foot on the Moon or Mars, and when they return to Earth. Because aging, sedentary lifestyles, and illnesses cause bone and muscle loss on Earth, this research also can benefit people on the ground.

Melissa Gaskill
International Space Station Research Communications Team
NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Search this database of scientific experiments to learn more about those mentioned above.


1 Lambrecht G, Petersen N, Weerts G, Pruett CJ, Evetts SN, et al. The role of physiotherapy in the European Space Agency strategy for preparation and reconditioning of astronauts before and after long duration space flight. Musculoskeletal Science & Practice. 2017 January; 27 Suppl 1S15-S22. DOI: 10.1016/j.math.2016.10.009

2 English KL, Lee SM, Loehr JA, Ploutz-Snyder RJ, Ploutz-Snyder LL. Isokinetic strength changes following long-duration spaceflight on the ISS. Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance. 2015 December 1; 86(12): 68-77. DOI: 10.3357/AMHP.EC09.2015.

3 Scott JM, Feiveson AH, English KL, Spector ER, Sibonga JD, et al. Effects of exercise countermeasures on multisystem function in long duration spaceflight astronauts. npj Microgravity. 2023 February 3; 9(1): 11. DOI: 10.1038/s41526-023-00256-5.

4 English KL, Downs ME, Goetchius EL, Buxton RE, Ryder JW, et al. High intensity training during spaceflight: results from the NASA Sprint Study. npj Microgravity. 2020 August 18; 6(1): 21. DOI: 10.1038/s41526-020-00111-x.

5 Ade CJ, Broxterman RM, Moore Jr. AD, Barstow TJ. Decreases in maximal oxygen uptake following long-duration spaceflight: Role of convective and diffusive O2 transport mechanisms. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2017 April; 122(4): 968-975. DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00280.2016.

6 Blottner D, Moriggi M, Trautmann G, Furlan S, Block K, et al. Nitrosative Stress in Astronaut Skeletal Muscle in Spaceflight. Antioxidants. 2024 April; 13(4): 432. DOI: 10.3390/antiox13040432

7 Scott JP, Weber T, Green DA. Introduction to the Frontiers Research Topic: Optimisation of Exercise Countermeasures for Human Space Flight – Lessons from Terrestrial Physiology and Operational Considerations. Frontiers in Physiology. 2019 10173. DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2019.00173.

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Johnson Celebrates AA and NHPI Heritage Month: Anima Patil-Sabale

NASA - Breaking News - Mon, 05/20/2024 - 2:00pm

Anima Patil-Sabale has been shooting for the stars since she was a little girl growing up in India. Inspired by books about the Apollo-era space program, Patil-Sabale decided she would be an astronaut one day.

For the first step on her journey to space, Patil-Sabale hoped to become a fighter pilot, but India did not allow women to serve in these combat roles at the time. (The Indian Air Force began accepting female candidates in 2015.) Instead, Patil-Sabale pursued degrees in physics and computer applications and worked as a software engineer in Mumbai before getting a job as a software consultant in San Jose, California. Her proximity to NASA’s Ames Research Center inspired her to pursue another master’s degree, in aerospace engineering, and to apply for opportunities with the agency. Her first job with NASA was working as a software and operations engineer supporting the Kepler space telescope at Ames. She has held a variety of positions at Ames and Johnson since then.

Anima Patil-Sabale’s passion for astronautics is fulfilled through her work at NASA and her participation in a variety of external research projects. Here she is pictured boarding a Falcon 20 aircraft to conduct spacesuit performance tests while flying more than 50 parabolas.Image courtesy of Anima Patil-Sabale

Patil-Sabale currently serves as a private astronaut mission (PAM) integrator for the International Space Station Program’s Avionics and Software Office. In that role, she works closely with Axiom Space team members to understand and integrate requirements for their PAMs into the space station’s onboard computers, laptops, and networking systems. It is a relatively new position, meaning Patil-Sabale is often charting new territory in her day-to-day work. “The challenges of working on something new that has not been done before on the International Space Station and the possibilities it creates for future commercialization – being a part of that all makes the job rewarding and fun,” she said.

Patil-Sabale’s time at NASA has also provided opportunities to sample the dreamed-of astronaut experience. In 2015, she was selected to serve as commander for the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) Campaign 2 Mission 3. The mission marked her first trip to Johnson. “Coming to the home of astronauts was exciting and emotional for me,” she said, adding that she has participated in several research projects and missions since HERA.  “I love the fact that in addition to the amazing work I do at NASA, I get to contribute to the human spaceflight program as a human test subject. Time will tell if I get to fly to space, but meanwhile I am happy to contribute – even if a tiny bit – to an active area of research that will help us live and thrive on Mars and eventually become a space-faring species.”

The Human Exploration Research Analog Campaign 2 Mission 3 crew, from left: Mission Specialist II Debra Hodges, Flight Engineer Samuel Wald, Mission Specialist I Samson Phan, and Commander Anima Patil-Sabale.NASA/Bill Stafford

Patil-Sabale first engaged with Johnson’s ASIA ERG in 2019, when the group invited her to give a presentation about her personal and professional journey. She currently serves as the group’s Social/Culture Committee lead. “I love bringing people together,” she said. “I believe people enjoy not just talking about each other’s cultures and traditions, but also  being a part of them.”

That belief inspired her to spearhead a Johnson-based Diwali celebration in 2023, in addition to participating in the agencywide event organized by NASA Headquarters. Johnson’s celebration included several dance and musical performances, a fashion show, and delicious food.

“These cultural events give us an opportunity to bond in a very different way,” she said. “We get to know many sides of each other that we wouldn’t discover as strictly work colleagues.” ERG events also help people from different teams connect. “For my Diwali dance performance, I had seven people from seven different teams who did not know each other or about their work, and they got to connect during our practice sessions.”

Anima Patil-Sabale (foreground) with her dance performance team members during Johnson Space Center’s 2023 Diwali celebration.Image courtesy of Anima Patil-Sabale

Patil-Sabale hopes to see more cultural celebrations hosted at Johnson in the future and encouraged others to take the initiative to organize events and involve as many colleagues as possible. She also believes it is important for ERGs to continue offering these social and cultural opportunities, in addition to professional development programs. “Giving us these opportunities means so much to people like me,” she said.

Patil-Sabale appreciates any event that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well. She regularly meets with high school girls to encourage their interest in STEM careers and often speaks at International Women’s Day celebrations, where she urges women of all ages to pursue their dreams. “It’s never too late to pursue your interests, your passions,” she said.

Categories: NASA

Readying Apollo 10 for Launch

NASA Image of the Day - Mon, 05/20/2024 - 1:46pm
Nighttime, ground-level view of the Apollo 10 space vehicle on Pad B, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center. This photograph of the 363-feet tall Apollo/Saturn V stack was taken during pull back of the mobile service structure. The Apollo 10 crew was astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, John W. Young, and Eugene A. Cernan.
Categories: Astronomy, NASA

Webb Cracks Case of Inflated Exoplanet

NASA - Breaking News - Mon, 05/20/2024 - 11:00am
7 Min Read Webb Cracks Case of Inflated Exoplanet

This artist’s concept shows what the warm Neptune exoplanet WASP-107 b could look like.

Why is the warm gas-giant exoplanet WASP-107 b so puffy? Two independent teams of researchers have an answer.

Data collected using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, combined with prior observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, show surprisingly little methane (CH4) in the planet’s atmosphere, indicating that the interior of WASP-107 b must be significantly hotter and the core much more massive than previously estimated.

The unexpectedly high temperature is thought to be a result of tidal heating caused by the planet’s slightly non-circular orbit, and can explain how WASP-107 b can be so inflated without resorting to extreme theories of how it formed.

The results, which were made possible by Webb’s extraordinary sensitivity and accompanying ability to measure light passing through exoplanet atmospheres, may explain the puffiness of dozens of low-density exoplanets, helping solve a long-standing mystery in exoplanet science.

Image: Warm Gas-Giant Exoplanet WASP-107 b (Artist’s Concept) This artist’s concept shows what the warm Neptune exoplanet WASP-107 b could look like based on recent data gathered by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope along with previous observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories. Observations captured by Hubble’s WFC3 (Wide Field Camera 3), Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera), Webb’s NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph), and Webb’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) suggest that the planet has a relatively large core surrounded by a relatively small mass of hydrogen and helium gas, which has been inflated due to tidal heating of the interior. The Problem with WASP-107 b

At more than three-quarters the volume of Jupiter but less than one-tenth the mass, the “warm Neptune” exoplanet WASP-107 b is one of the least dense planets known. While puffy planets are not uncommon, most are hotter and more massive, and therefore easier to explain.

“Based on its radius, mass, age, and assumed internal temperature, we thought WASP-107 b had a very small, rocky core surrounded by a huge mass of hydrogen and helium,” explained Luis Welbanks from Arizona State University (ASU), lead author on a paper published today in Nature. “But it was hard to understand how such a small core could sweep up so much gas, and then stop short of growing fully into a Jupiter-mass planet.”

If WASP-107 b instead has more of its mass in the core, the atmosphere should have contracted as the planet cooled over time since it formed. Without a source of heat to re-expand the gas, the planet should be much smaller. Although WASP-107 b has an orbital distance of just 5 million miles (one-seventh the distance between Mercury and the Sun), it doesn’t receive enough energy from its star to be so inflated.

“WASP-107 b is such an interesting target for Webb because it’s significantly cooler and more Neptune-like in mass than many of the other low-density planets, the hot Jupiters, we’ve been studying,” said David Sing from the Johns Hopkins University (JHU), lead author on a parallel study also published today in Nature. “As a result, we should be able to detect methane and other molecules that can give us information about its chemistry and internal dynamics that we can’t get from a hotter planet.”

A Wealth of Previously Undetectable Molecules

WASP-107 b’s giant radius, extended atmosphere, and edge-on orbit make it ideal for transmission spectroscopy, a method used to identify the various gases in an exoplanet atmosphere based on how they affect starlight.

Combining observations from Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera), Webb’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument), and Hubble’s WFC3 (Wide Field Camera 3), Welbanks’ team was able to build a broad spectrum of 0.8- to 12.2-micron light absorbed by WASP-107 b’s atmosphere. Using Webb’s NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph), Sing’s team built an independent spectrum covering 2.7 to 5.2 microns.

The precision of the data makes it possible to not just detect, but actually measure the abundances of a wealth of molecules, including water vapor (H2O), methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and ammonia (NH3). 

Image:Warm Gas-Giant Exoplanet WASP-107 b Transmission Spectrum (Hubble WFC3, Webb NIRCam, and Webb MIRI This transmission spectrum, captured using NASA’s Hubble and James Webb space telescopes, shows the amounts of different wavelengths (colors) of starlight blocked by the atmosphere of the gas-giant exoplanet WASP-107 b. The spectrum includes light collected over four separate observations using a total of three different instruments: Hubble’s WFC3 (Wide Field Camera 3) Grism Spectrometer in green, Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) Grism Spectrometer in orange, and Webb’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) Low-Resolution Spectrometer in pink. This spectrum shows clear evidence for water (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and ammonia (NH4) in the planet’s atmosphere, allowing researchers to estimate the interior temperature and mass of the core. Image:Warm Gas-Giant Exoplanet WASP-107 b (Transmission Spectrum: Webb NIRSpec) This transmission spectrum, captured using Webb’s NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) Bright Object Spectrometer, shows the amounts of different wavelengths (colors) of near-infrared starlight blocked by the atmosphere of the gas-giant exoplanet WASP-107 b. The spectrum shows clear evidence for water (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), and sulfur dioxide (SO2) in the planet’s atmosphere, allowing researchers to estimate the interior temperature and core mass. Roiling Gas, Hot Interior, and Massive Core

Both spectra show a surprising lack of methane in WASP-107 b’s atmosphere: one-thousandth the amount expected based on its assumed temperature.

“This is evidence that hot gas from deep in the planet must be mixing vigorously with the cooler layers higher up,” explained Sing. “Methane is unstable at high temperatures. The fact that we detected so little, even though we did detect other carbon-bearing molecules, tells us that the interior of the planet must be significantly hotter than we thought.”

A likely source of WASP-107 b’s extra internal energy is tidal heating caused by its slightly elliptical orbit. With the distance between the star and planet changing continuously over the 5.7-day orbit, the gravitational pull is also changing, stretching the planet and heating it up.

Researchers had previously proposed that tidal heating could be the cause of WASP-107 b’s puffiness, but until the Webb results were in, there was no evidence.

Once they established that the planet has enough internal heat to thoroughly churn up the atmosphere, the teams realized that the spectra could also provide a new way to estimate the size of the core.

“If we know how much energy is in the planet, and we know what proportion of the planet is heavier elements like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur, versus how much is hydrogen and helium, we can calculate how much mass must be in the core,” explained Daniel Thorngren from JHU.

It turns out that the core is at least twice as massive as originally estimated, which makes more sense in terms of how planets form.

All together, WASP-107 b is not as mysterious as it once appeared.

“The Webb data tells us that planets like WASP-107 b didn’t have to form in some odd way with a super small core and a huge gassy envelope,” explained Mike Line from ASU. “Instead, we can take something more like Neptune, with a lot of rock and not as much gas, just dial up the temperature, and poof it up to look the way it does.”

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb is solving mysteries in our solar system, looking beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probing the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).


Right click the images in this article to open a larger version in a new tab/window.
Download full resolution images for this article from the Space Telescope Science Institute.
The research results are published in Nature.

Media Contacts

Laura, Rob
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Margaret Carruthers, Christine
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.

Related Information

Research Paper: “A high internal heat flux and large core in a warm Neptune exoplanet” by L. Welbanks, et al

Research Paper: “A warm Neptune’s methane reveals core mass and vigorous atmospheric mixing” by D. Sing, et al

Research Paper: “MIRI observation of WASP-107 b: SO2, silicate clouds, but no CH4 detected in a warm Neptune” by A. Dyrek, et al

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NASA to Start Designing More Sustainable Jet Engine Core

NASA - Breaking News - Sat, 05/18/2024 - 6:00am

4 min read

Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater) This artist concept shows a NASA-developed small-core jet engine installed in General Electric Aerospace’s CFM RISE jet engine design. The more fuel-efficient small core powers a large open turbofan, which also helps increase efficiency. The effort is part of NASA’s Sustainable Flight National Partnership to help inform the next generation of ultra-efficient airliners.GE Aerospace

NASA, alongside industry, will soon begin designing a new jet engine concept for the next generation of ultra-efficient airliners — officially graduating to the project’s next phase.

As part of NASA’s goal to make the aviation industry more sustainable, the agency is developing a small core for a hybrid-electric turbofan jet engine that could reduce fuel burn by 10% compared to today’s engines.

A jet engine’s core is where compressed air is combined with fuel and ignited to generate power. By making this core smaller, fuel efficiency can be improved and carbon emissions reduced.

The goal of the project, named Hybrid Thermally Efficient Core (HyTEC), is to demonstrate this compact core and have the technology ready for adoption in engines powering next-generation aircraft in the 2030s. HyTEC is a key component of NASA’s Sustainable Flight National Partnership.

To achieve its ambitious goal, HyTEC is structured in two phases:

  • Phase 1, which is wrapping up, focused on selecting the component technologies to use in the core demonstrator.
  • Phase 2, starting now, will see researchers design, build, and test a compact core in collaboration with GE Aerospace.

“Phase 1 of HyTEC is winding down and we are ramping up Phase 2,” said Anthony Nerone, who leads HyTEC at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. “This phase will culminate in a core demonstration test that proves the technology so it can transition to industry.”

The End of the Beginning

Before researchers could start the design and build process for the core, they had to explore innovative new materials to use in the engine. After three years of notably fast progress, HyTEC researchers came up with solutions.

“We’ve been laser-focused since day one. We began the project with certain technical goals and metrics for success and, so far, we haven’t had to change course from any of them,” Nerone said.

To shrink the size of a core while maintaining the same level of thrust, heat and pressure must increase compared to standard jet engines used today. This means the engine core must be made of more durable materials that can withstand higher temperatures.

In addition to conducting materials research, the project also explored advanced aerodynamics and other key technical elements.

Cross section of a typical turbofan jet engine highlights parts of the core HyTEC will work to advance. These include the high-pressure compressor, combustor, high pressure turbine, and power extraction components.NASA What Comes Next

Phase 2 builds on Phase 1 to create a compact core for ground testing that proves HyTEC’s capabilities.

“Phase 2 is very complex. It’s not just a core demonstration,” Nerone said. “What we’re creating has never been done before, and it involves many different technologies coming together to form a new type of engine.”

Technologies tested in the HyTEC program will help enable a much higher bypass ratio, hybridization, and compatibility with sustainable aviation fuels.

The bypass ratio describes the relationship between the amount of air flowing through the engine core compared to the amount of air bypassing the core to flow around it.

By decreasing the core size while increasing the size of the turbofan it powers – while maintaining the same thrust output — the HyTEC concept would use less fuel and reduce carbon emissions.

“HyTEC is an integral part of our RISE program,” said Kathleen Mondino, who helps lead RISE program technologies at GE Aerospace. “GE Aerospace and NASA have a long history of collaboration to advance the latest aviation technologies. The HyTEC program builds on this relationship to help chart the future of more sustainable flight.”

Another piece of the puzzle is hybridization. HyTEC’s hybrid-electric capability means the core will also be augmented by electrical power to further reduce fuel use and carbon emissions.

“This engine will be the first mild hybrid-electric engine, and hopefully, the first production engine for airliners that is hybrid-electric,” Nerone said.

About the AuthorJohn GouldAeronautics Research Mission Directorate

John Gould is a member of NASA Aeronautics' Strategic Communications team at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. He is dedicated to public service and NASA’s leading role in scientific exploration. Prior to working for NASA Aeronautics, he was a spaceflight historian and writer, having a lifelong passion for space and aviation.

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Hubble Views the Dawn of a Sun-like Star

NASA Image of the Day - Fri, 05/17/2024 - 4:19pm
This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image captures a triple-star star system.
Categories: Astronomy, NASA

Hubble Views the Dawn of a Sun-like Star 

NASA - Breaking News - Fri, 05/17/2024 - 4:17pm
This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image captures a triple-star star system.NASA, ESA, G. Duchene (Universite de Grenoble I); Image Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

Looking like a glittering cosmic geode, a trio of dazzling stars blaze from the hollowed-out cavity of a reflection nebula in this new image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The triple-star system is made up of the variable star HP Tau, HP Tau G2, and HP Tau G3. HP Tau is known as a T Tauri star, a type of young variable star that hasn’t begun nuclear fusion yet but is beginning to evolve into a hydrogen-fueled star similar to our Sun. T Tauri stars tend to be younger than 10 million years old ― in comparison, our Sun is around 4.6 billion years old ― and are often found still swaddled in the clouds of dust and gas from which they formed.

Learn more about HP Tau.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Duchene (Universite de Grenoble I); Image Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

Categories: NASA

NASA Awards Contracts for Rapid Spacecraft Acquisition Services

NASA - Breaking News - Fri, 05/17/2024 - 4:04pm

NASA has selected four companies to provide spacecraft and related services, including acquiring spacecraft components and equipment, in support of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The multiple awards, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity base contracts, are firm-fixed-price with a total combined value of $6 billion. These multi-agency contracts may support other NASA centers and federal agencies. The performance period is through Aug. 31, 2025, with the potential to extend the effective ordering period until Aug. 31, 2030. The spacecraft designs, related items, and services may be tailored, as needed, to meet the unique needs of each mission.

The following companies have been awarded the Rapid Spacecraft Acquisition IV (Rapid IV) On-Ramp III contract:

  • ARGOTEC Inc., of Largo, Maryland
  • Blue Canyon Technologies LLC, of Lafayette, Colorado
  • General Atomics, of San Diego, California
  • Kongsberg NanoAvionics US LLC, of Riverdale, Maryland

The Rapid IV contract includes an “on ramp” feature, which allows for the original solicitation to be periodically re-opened to give new vendors the opportunity to propose flight proven spacecraft designs. On ramps also give vendors already awarded a Rapid IV contract the opportunity to propose additional flight-proven spacecraft designs and/or update their existing catalog designs.

Primarily, the work will be performed at the contractor’s facilities. Additional work will be required at the government launch site.

For information about NASA and other agency programs, visit:


Abbey Donaldson
Headquarters, Washington

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Dr. Lori Glaze to begin six-month Detail as Acting Deputy Associate Administrator for ESDMD

NASA - Breaking News - Fri, 05/17/2024 - 4:04pm

3 min read

Dr. Lori Glaze to begin six-month Detail as Acting Deputy Associate Administrator for ESDMD May 17, 2024

I am pleased to share some exciting news regarding senior executive detail backfills to provide broadening opportunities for some of our leadership team.

Agency leadership has chosen Dr. Lori Glaze to begin a six-month detail as the Acting Deputy AA for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) due to the transition of Kelvin Manning back to KSC at the end of May 2024. It is expected that this detail will begin imminently, to allow for some transition time before the end of May. Lori’s detail will be for a 6-month period, while ESDMD broadly advertises the Deputy AA position.

This is an incredible opportunity to have an exceptional leader and advocate for planetary science, and all science, within ESDMD. Lori’s outstanding leadership of the Planetary Science Division make her uniquely qualified and the ideal candidate to help continue to strengthen the ties between science and exploration. As we know, exploration enables science, and science enables exploration.  

Lori has done an incredible job of leading the NASA Planetary Science community for the past six years. To name only a selection of highlights, Lori has overseen: Insight landing on Mars and completion of its mission, Perseverance beginning the task of Mars Sample Return, Ingenuity’s paradigm-changing 72 flights, DART’s successful impact, the launch of Lucy and Psyche, OSIRIS-REx’s incredible return of 121 g of material from Bennu, the start of a real renaissance in Venus exploration, and Europa Clipper preparing for its launch this fall.

To temporarily backfill Lori’s position, I have asked Dr. Gina DiBraccio to join the SMD leadership team on a short-term detail beginning May 27. Gina currently serves as the Deputy Director of the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Gina also serves as the Deputy Principal Investigator and Project Scientist of NASA’s MAVEN mission. Gina has also been involved in research at Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus by utilizing data from the MESSENGER, MAVEN, Juno, Cassini, and Voyager 2 missions.

We are very excited about these temporary changes in ESDMD, SMD and GSFC leadership, and the broadening opportunities it provides for our Agency leaders. These changes strengthen all three organizations by taking advantage of the great leaders we have in place to ensure all our organizations have strong management. We look forward to continued success in leading the entire Agency team in achieving our mission and science objectives.

While it is hard to let Lori go from SMD, I am so pleased and excited that we will have an incredible leader in science help steward the Artemis campaign. Please join me in wishing Lori great success in her temporary new role and welcoming Gina into SMD and her new role!

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NASA Around the World: Interns Teach Virtual Lessons in Kenya

NASA - Breaking News - Fri, 05/17/2024 - 8:17am

2 min read

Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)

Video Credit: NASA/Dennis Brown, TechLit Africa

When it comes to inspiring the next generation, NASA interns know no bounds. Interns at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland taught students 7,600 miles away in Mogotio, Kenya, but thanks to technology, they didn’t travel a single mile.

Collaborating with TechLit Africa — a non-profit organization that teaches digital skills in Kenyan rural primary schools — interns shared virtual lessons on robot simulation, artificial intelligence, and drawing and modeling applications.

Nelly Cheboi, TechLit Africa CEO and founder, enjoys a virtual reality demonstration in NASA Glenn’s GVIS Laboratory. Credit: NASA/Jef Janis

“It was an absolute privilege to help these kids and being a part of it,” said Marc Frances, extended reality developer and former NASA Glenn intern. “We do a lot of outreach events and try to influence kids from every part of life to become an engineer and be part of something that’s bigger than themselves.”

Students learn digital skills in rural primary schools in Mogotio, Kenya.Credit: TechLit Africa

The opportunity arose after Herb Schilling, a Glenn computer scientist, met Nelly Cheboi, TechLit Africa CEO and founder, through a virtual event in 2020. The two began talking about Cheboi’s work with Kenyan students, and Schilling felt inspired to get involved.

“I haven’t done a lot of the teaching,” Schilling said. “I let the interns do it, because I want to give them the experience and encourage them to do these kinds of things too.”

Nelly Cheboi tests a virtual reality demonstration in NASA Glenn’s GVIS Laboratory.Credit: NASA/Jef Janis

Using a beginner-level coding application, the interns showed Cheboi’s students how to design and animate a rocket that would launch into space. After several virtual lessons, Cheboi, CNN’s 2022 Hero of the Year, and her partner, Tyler Cinnamon, visited Glenn to learn more about NASA and meet Schilling in person.

“I think it has really helped shape our curriculum, Cheboi said. “For these kids to look at this experience as something normal to them really speaks volumes of the impact. It matters what environment you grow up into, and you really can only be it if you see it.”  

Learn more about how to engage with NASA on the NASA Engages web page.

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