"The large-scale homogeneity of the universe makes it very difficult to believe that the structure of the universe is determined by anything so peripheral as some complicated molecular structure on a minor planet orbiting a very average star in the outer suburbs of a fairly typical galaxy."

— Steven Hawking

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NASA Joins National Space Council in Celebration of Black Space Week

2 hours 42 min ago

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Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater) NASA astronaut and Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Victor Glover reviews procedures on a computer for the Monoclonal Antibodies Protein Crystal Growth (PCG) experiment inside the Harmony module.

Each year, Black Space Week celebrates the achievements of Black Americans in space-related fields.

To kick-off Black Space Week 2024, NASA is collaborating with the National Space Council for the Beyond the Color Lines: From Science Fiction to Science Fact forum on Monday, June 17, at 11:30 a.m. EDT at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

Participants include Mr. Chirag Parikh, Deputy Assistant to the President and Executive Director, National Space Council; Dr. Quincy Brown, Director of Space STEM and Workforce Policy, White House National Space Council; and other private-sector and government agency leadership. 

Current and former NASA astronauts will join the Standing on the Shoulders of Giants panel to discuss the past, present, and future of space exploration. The panel will be moderated by the Honorable Charles F. Bolden Jr.\, former administrator of NASA and a former astronaut who flew on four Space Shuttle missions. Participants include:

Additional panels include HERStory, sharing the untold stories of Black women leaders in space, STEM, arts, diplomacy, and business, and a discussion with young leaders, educators, and scientists about education and career paths for the future of space.

Additional event details, including registration and streaming information, can be found at nmaahc.si.edu.

Categories: NASA

NASA to Discuss Outcome of 5th Biennial Asteroid Threat Exercise

3 hours 18 min ago
Representatives from NASA, FEMA, and the planetary defense community participate in the fifth Planetary Defense Interagency Tabletop Exercise on April 2 and 3, 2024, to discuss the nation’s ability to respond effectively to the threat of a potentially hazardous asteroid or comet.Credits: NASA/JHU-APL/Ed Whitman

NASA will host a virtual media briefing at 3:30 p.m. EDT, Thursday, June 20, to discuss a new summary of a recent tabletop exercise to simulate national and international responses to a hypothetical asteroid impact threat.

The fifth biennial Planetary Defense Interagency Tabletop Exercise was held April 2 and 3, 2024, at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, in partnership with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and with the assistance of the U.S. Department of State Office of Space Affairs, convened the tabletop exercise to inform and assess our ability as a nation to respond effectively to the threat of a potentially hazardous asteroid or comet. This exercise supports NASA’s planetary defense strategy to protect our planet and continues the agency’s mission to innovate for the benefit of humanity.

Video of the briefing will stream live on NASA TV and NASA’s YouTube channel.

The following participants will review the history and purpose of the exercise, the scenario encountered during this year’s simulation, and its findings and recommendations:

  • Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer Emeritus, NASA Headquarters, Washington
  • Leviticus “L.A.” Lewis, FEMA detailee to NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, NASA Headquarters
  • Terik Daly, planetary defense section supervisor, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland

To register for the briefing, media must RSVP no later than two hours before the event to Alise Fisher at alise.m.fisher@nasa.gov. NASA’s media accreditation policy is available online.

While there are no known significant asteroid impact threats for the foreseeable future, hypothetical exercises like this one, which are conducted about every two years, provide valuable insights on how the United States could respond effectively if a potential asteroid impact threat is identified.

This year’s exercise was the first to include participation by NASA’s international collaborators in planetary defense and the first to have the benefit of actual data from NASA’s successful DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission, the world’s first in-space technology demonstration for defending Earth against potential asteroid impacts.

NASA established the Planetary Defense Coordination Office in 2016 to manage the agency’s ongoing efforts in planetary defense.

To learn more about planetary defense at NASA, visit: 

https://science.nasa.gov/planetary-defense/

-end-

Charles Blue / Karen Fox
Headquarters, Washington 
202-802-5345 / 202-358-1600
charles.e.blue@nasa.gov / karen.fox@nasa.gov

Share Details Last Updated Jun 14, 2024 LocationNASA Headquarters Related Terms
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NASA-Led Mission to Map Air Pollution Over Both U.S. Coasts

3 hours 50 min ago

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Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)

This summer between June 17 and July 2, NASA will fly aircraft over Baltimore, Philadelphia, parts of Virginia, and California to collect data on air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.  

The campaign supports the NASA Student Airborne Research Program for undergraduate interns.

Two NASA aircraft, including the P-3 shown here, will be flying over Baltimore, Philadelphia, Virginia and California between June 17 and July 2, to collect data on air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: (NASA/ Zavaleta)

The East Coast flights will take place from June 17-26. Researchers and students will fly multiple times each week in Dynamic Aviation’s King Air B200 aircraft at an altitude of 1,000 feet over Baltimore and Philadelphia as well as Norfolk, Hampton, Hopewell, and Richmond in Virginia. Meanwhile, a NASA P-3 aircraft based out of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia will fly over the same East Coast locations to collect different measurements.

The West Coast flights will occur from June 29 – July 2. During the period, those same aircraft will conduct similar operations over Los Angeles, Imperial Valley, and Tulare Basin in California.

The research aircraft will fly at lower altitudes than most commercial planes and will conduct maneuvers including vertical spirals from 1,000 to 10,000 feet, circling over power plants, landfills, and urban areas. They will also occasionally conduct “missed approaches” at local airports, where the aircraft will perform a low-level flyby over a runway to collect samples close to the surface.

The aircraft carry instruments that will collect data on a range of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and methane, as well as air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and ozone. One purpose of this campaign is to validate space-based measurements observed by the TEMPO (Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution) mission. Launched on a commercial satellite in April 2023, the TEMPO instrument provides hourly daytime measurements of air pollutants across the United States, northern Mexico, and southern Canada.

“The goal is that this data we collect will feed into policy decisions that affect air quality and climate in the region,” said Glenn Wolfe, a research scientist and the principal investigator for the campaign at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The B-200 aircraft is owned by Dynamics Aviation, an aircraft company contracted by NASA.

For more information about Student Airborne Research Program, visit:

https://science.nasa.gov/earth-science/early-career-opportunities/student-airborne-research-program/

By Tayler Gilmore

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

Share Details Last Updated Jun 14, 2024 EditorJennifer R. MarderContactJeremy EggersLocationGoddard Space Flight Center Related Terms Explore More 5 min read Surf, Turf, Above Earth: Students Participate in NASA Field Research

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NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility to Launch Student Experiments

4 hours 20 min ago

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Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater) A Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket carrying students experiments for the RockOn! mission successfully launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility Aug. 17, 2023 at 6 a.m. EDT.NASA/ Kyle Hoppes

More than 50 student and faculty teams are sending experiments into space as part of NASA’s RockOn and RockSat-C student flight programs. The annual student mission, “RockOn,” is scheduled to launch from Wallops Island, Virginia, on a Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket Thursday, June 20, with a launch window that opens at 5:30 a.m. EDT.

An introduction to rocketry for college students

The RockOn workshop is an introductory flight opportunity for community college and university students. RockOn participants spend a week at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, where they are guided through the process of building and launching an experiment aboard a sounding rocket.

“RockOn provides students and faculty with authentic, hands-on experiences tied to an actual launch into space from a NASA facility,” said Chris Koehler, on contract with NASA as RockOn’s principal investigator. “These experiences are instrumental in the creation of our next STEM workforce.”

RockOn student experiments are placed into canisters to be integrated into the payload.NASA/ Madison Olson Unique & advanced experiments

In addition to the RockOn workshop experiments, the rocket will carry student team experiments from six different institutions as part of the RockSat-C program. The RockSat-C experiments are unique to each institution and were created off site.

RockSat-C “has been an incredible introduction into the world of NASA and how flight missions are built from start to finish,” said TJ Tomaszewski, student lead for the University of Delaware. “The project started as just a flicker of an idea in students’ minds. After countless hours of design, redesign, and coffee, the fact that we finished an experiment capable of going to space and capable of conducting valuable scientific research makes me so proud of my team and so excited for what’s possible next. Everybody dreams about space, and the fact that we’re going to launch still doesn’t feel real.”

Students participating in the 2024 RockSat-C program were able to see the RockOn rocket in the testing facility at Wallops Flight Facility.NASA/ Berit Bland

RockSat-C participants include:

  • Temple University, Philadelphia

Experiments will utilize X-ray spectrometry, muon detection, and magnetometry to explore the interplay among cosmic phenomena, such as X-rays, cosmic muons, and Earth’s magnetic field, while also quantifying atmospheric methane levels as a function of altitude.

  • Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond

The ION experiment aims to measure the plasma density in the ionosphere. This will be achieved by detecting the upper hybrid resonant frequency using an impedance probe mounted on the outside of the rocket and comparing the results to theoretical models. The secondary experiment, known as the ACC experiment, aims to record the rocket’s re-entry dynamics and measure acceleration in the x, y, and z directions.

  • Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia

The Monarch3D team will redesign and improve upon a pre-existing experiment from the previous year’s team that will print in suborbital space. This project uses a custom-built 3D printer made by students at Old Dominion.

  • University of Delaware, Newark

Project UDIP-4 will measure the density and temperature of ionospheric electrons as a function of altitude and compare the quality of measurements obtained from different grounding methods. Additionally, the project focuses on developing and testing new CubeSat hardware in preparation for an orbital CubeSat mission named DAPPEr.

  • Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey

The Atmospheric Inert Gas Retrieval project will develop a payload capable of demonstrating supersonic sample collection at predetermined altitudes and investigating the noble gas fractionation and contamination of the acquired samples. In addition, their payload will test the performance of inexpensive vibration damping materials by recording and isolating launch vibrations using 3D-printed components.

  • Cubes in Space, Virginia Beach, Virginia

The Cubes in Space (CiS) project provides students aged 11 to 18 with a unique opportunity to conduct scientific and engineering experiments in space. CiS gives students hands-on experience and a deeper understanding of scientific and engineering principles, preparing them for more complex STEM studies and research in the future. Students develop and design their unique experiments to fit into clear, rigid plastic payload cubes, each about 1.5 inches on a side. Up to 80 of these unique student experiments are integrated into the nose cone of the rocket.

Approximately 80 small cubes will be launched as part of the RockOn sounding rocket mission.Courtesy Cubes in Space/Jorge Salazar; used with permission Watch the launch

The launch window for the mission is 5:30-9:30 a.m. EDT, Thursday June 20, with a backup day of June 21. The Wallops Visitor Center’s launch viewing area will open at 4:30 a.m. A livestream of the mission will begin 15 minutes before launch on the Wallops YouTube channel. Launch updates also are available via the Wallops Facebook page.

These circular areas show where and when people may see the rocket launch in the sky, depending on cloud cover. The different colored sections indicate the time (in seconds) after liftoff that the sounding rocket may be visible.NASA/ Christian Billie

NASA’s Sounding Rocket Program is conducted at the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility, which is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. NASA’s Heliophysics Division manages the sounding rocket program for the agency.

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Categories: NASA

Summary of the Ninth DSCOVR EPIC and NISTAR Science Team Meeting

4 hours 30 min ago
Earth Observer

22 min read

Summary of the Ninth DSCOVR EPIC and NISTAR Science Team Meeting

Introduction

The ninth Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) Earth Polychromatic Camera (EPIC) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Advanced Radiometer [NISTAR] Science Team Meeting (STM) was held virtually October 16–17, 2023. Over 35 scientists attended, most of whom were from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), with several participating from other NASA field centers, U.S. universities, and U.S. Department of Energy laboratories. One international participant joined the meeting from Estonia. A full overview of DSCOVR’s Earth-observing instruments was printed in a previous article in The Earth Observer and will not be repeated here. This article provides the highlights of the 2023 meeting. The meeting agenda and full presentations can be downloaded from GSFC’s Aura Validation Data Center.

Opening Presentations

The opening session consisted of a series of presentations from DSCOVR mission leaders and representatives from GSFC and NASA Headquarters (HQ), who gave updates on the mission and the two Earth-viewing science instruments on board. Alexander Marshak [GSFC—DSCOVR Deputy Project Scientist] opened the meeting. He discussed the agenda for the meeting and mentioned that both Earth science instruments on DSCOVR are functioning normally – see Figure 1. At this time, more than 115 papers related to DSCOVR are listed on the EPIC website. Marshak emphasized the importance of making the Earth Science community more aware of the availability of the various EPIC and NISTAR science data products.

Figure 1. Sun-Earth-Vehicle (SEV) angle (red curve) and the distance between Earth and the DSCOVR satellite (blue curve) versus time starting from the DSCOVR launch on February 15, 2015 to April 1, 2024. These two measurements are used to track the location and orientation, respectively, of DSCOVR. The spacecraft changes its location by about 200,000 km (~124,274 mi) over about a 3-month period, and its SEV gets close to zero (which would correspond to perfect backscattering). The gap around the year 2020 was when DSCOVR was in Safe Mode for an extended period. Figure credit: Adam Szabo (Original figure by Alexander Marshak, with data provided by Joe Park/NOAA)

Adam Szabo [GSFC—DSCOVR Project Scientist] welcomed the STM participants and briefly reported that the spacecraft, located at “L1” – the first of five Lagrange points in the Sun-Earth system – was still in “good health.” The EPIC and NISTAR instruments on DSCOVR continue to return their full science observations. Szabo gave an update on the 2023 Earth Science Senior Review, which DSCOVR successfully passed with overall science scores of ‘Excellent/Very Good.’ The Senior Review Panel unanimously supported the continuation of DSCOVR for the 2024–2026 period.

Thomas Neumann [GSFC, Earth Sciences Division (ESD)—Deputy Director] welcomed meeting participants on behalf of the ESD. Neumann noted the impressive engineering that has led to 8.5 years of operations and counting. He also commended the team on the continued production of important science results from these instruments – with nearly 110 papers in the peer-reviewed literature.

Following Neumann’s remarks, Steve Platnick [GSFC, Earth Sciences Division—Deputy Director for Atmospheres] welcomed the members of the DSCOVR ST as well as users of EPIC and NISTAR observations. He thanked NASA HQ for its continued strong interest in the mission. Platnick also expressed his appreciation for the mission team members who have worked hard to maintain operation of the DSCOVR satellite and instruments during this challenging time.

Richard Eckman [NASA HQ, Earth Science Division—DSCOVR EPIC/NISTAR Program Scientist] noted that a new call for proposals will be in ROSES-2025 and looks forward to learning about recent accomplishments by ST members, which will be essential in assessing the mission’s performance.

Jack Kaye [NASA HQ, Earth Science Division—Associate Director for Research] discussed the NASA research program that studies the Earth, using satellites, aircraft, surface-based measurements, and computer models. The two Earth science instruments on DSCOVR (EPIC and NISTAR) play an important role in the program. He highlighted the uniqueness of the DSCOVR observations from the Sun–Earth “L1” point providing context for other missions and the ability to discern diurnal variations.

Updates on DSCOVR Operations

The DSCOVR mission components continue to function nominally, with progress on several fronts, including data acquisition, processing, archiving, and release of new versions of several data products. The number of people using the content continues to increase, with a new Science Outreach Team having been put in place to aid users in several aspects of data discovery, access, and user friendliness.

Hazem Mahmoud [NASA’s Langley Research Center (LaRC)] discussed the new tools in the Atmospheric Science Data Center (ASDC). He reported on DSCOVR metrics since 2015 and mentioned the significant increase in using ozone (O3) products. He also announced that ASDC is moving to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.

Karin Blank [GSFC] covered the EPIC geolocation algorithm, including the general algorithm framework. She highlighted additional problems that needed to be resolved and detailed the various stages to refine the algorithm, emphasizing the enhancements made to improve geolocation accuracy.

Marshall Sutton [GSFC] reported on the DSCOVR Science Operations Center (DSOC) and Level-2 (L2) processing. DSOC is operating nominally. EPIC L1A, L1B, and NISTAR data files are produced daily. EPIC L1 products are processed into L2 science products using the computing power of the NASA Center for Climate Simulations (NCCS). Products include daily data images, including a cloud fraction map, aerosol map, and the anticipated aerosol height image. In addition, Sutton reported that the DSCOVR spacecraft has enough fuel to remain in operation until 2033.

EPIC Calibration

Alexander Cede [SciGlob] and Ragi Rajagopalan [LiftBlick OG] reported on the latest EPIC calibration version (V23) that includes the new flat field corrections based on the lunar observations from 2023 and an update to the dark count model. The EPIC instrument remains healthy and shows no change in parameters, e.g., read noise, enhanced or saturated pixels, or hot or warm pixels. The current operational dark count model still describes the dark count in a satisfactory way.

Liang-Kang Huang [Science Systems and Applications, Inc. (SSAI)] reported on EPIC’s July 2023 lunar measurements, which filled in the area near diagonal lines of the charged coupled device (CCD) not covered by 2021 and 2022 lunar data. With six short wavelength channels ranging from 317 to 551 nm, the two sets of lunar data are consistent with each other. For the macroscopic flat field corrections, he recommended the six fitted sensitivity change functions of radius and polar angle. 

Igor Geogdzhaev [NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)/Columbia University] reported how continuous EPIC observations provide stable visible and near infrared (NIR) channels compared to the contemporaneous data from Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on NASA’s Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) and the NASA–National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) missions. (To date, two JPSS missions have launched, JPSS-1, which is now known as NOAA-20, and JPSS-2, which is now known as NOAA-21.) Analysis of near simultaneous data from EPIC and from the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite–R (GOES R) platforms showed a high correlation coefficient, good agreement between dark and bright pixels, and small regression zero intercepts. EPIC moon views were used to derive oxygen (O2) channel reflectance by interpolation of the calibrated non-absorbing channels.

Conor Haney [LaRC] reported that the EPIC sensor was intercalibrated against measurements from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua platforms as well as from VIIRS on Suomi NPP and NOAA-20, using ray-matched pair radiances, and was found to be radiometrically stable when tested against two invariant calibration targets: over deep convective clouds over the tropical Pacific (dark target) and over the Libya-4 site located in the Libyan desert in Africa (bright target). The ray-matched and Earth target EPIC gain trends were found to be consistent within 1.1%, and the EPIC sensor degradation was found to be less than 1% over the seven-year record. Preliminary results intercalibrating EPIC with the Advanced Himawari Imager (AHI) on the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) “Himawari–8” Geostationary Meteorological Satellite were also promising when both subsatellite positions were close—i.e., during equinox.

NISTAR Status and Science with Its Observations

The NISTAR instrument remains fully functional and continues its uninterrupted data record. The presentations here include more details on specific topics related to NISTAR as well as on efforts to combine information from both EPIC and NISTAR.

Steven Lorentz [L-1 Standards and Technology, Inc.] reported that NISTAR has been measuring the irradiance from the Sun-lit Earth in three bands for more than eight years. The bands measure the outgo­ing reflected solar and total radiation from Earth at a limited range of solar angles. These measurements assist researchers in answering questions addressing Earth radiation imbalance and predicting future climate change. NISTAR continues to operate nominally, and the team is monitoring any in-orbit degradation. Lorentz explained the evolution of the NISTAR view angle over time. He also provided NISTAR shortwave (SW) and photodiode (PD) intercomparison. NISTAR has proven itself to be an extremely stable instrument – although measurements of the offsets have measurement errors. A relative comparison with the scaled-PD channel implies long-term agreement below a percent with a constant background.

Clark Weaver [University of Maryland, College Park (UMD)] discussed updates to a new reflected- SW energy estimate from EPIC. This new product uses generic Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) aircraft observations over homogeneous scenes to spectrally interpolate between the coarse EPIC channels. This approach assumes the spectra from an EPIC pixel is a weighted combination of a solid cloud scene and the underlying (cloud-free) surface. Weaver and his team used a vector discrete ordinate radiative transfer model with a full linearization facility, called VLIDORT, to account for the different viewing/illumination geometry of the sensors. Each pixel residual between EPIC observations at six different wavelengths (between 340 and 780 nm) and the composite high-resolution spectrum from AVIRIS has been reduced by about 50%, since the last report. While the total reflected energy for a single EPIC image can be about 15 W/m2 different than the NISTAR measurement, by 2017 the offset bias was, on average, about 1 W/m2. 

Andrew Lacis [GISS] said that DSCOVR measurements of Earth’s reflected solar radiation from the “L1” position offer a unique perspective for the continuous monitoring of Earth’s sunlit hemisphere. Six years of EPIC data show the seasonal and diurnal variability of Earth’s planetary albedo – but with no discernible trend. Planetary scale variability, driven by changing patterns in cloud distribution, is seen to occur at all longitudes over a broad range of time scales. The planetary albedo variability is strongly correlated at neighboring longitudes but shows strongly anticorrelated behavior at diametrically distant longitudes.

Update on EPIC Products and Science Results

EPIC has a suite of data products available. The following subsections summarize content during the DSCOVR STM related to these products. They provide updates on several of the data products and on related algorithm improvements. 

Total Column Ozone

Natalya Kramarova [GSFC] reported on the status of the EPIC total O3 using the V3 algorithm. The absolute calibrations are updated every year using collocated observations from the Ozone Mapping and Profiling Suite (OMPS) on Suomi NPP. EPIC total O3 measurements are routinely compared with independent satellite and ground-based measurements. Retrieved EPIC O3 columns agree within ±5–7 Dobson Units (DU, or 1.5–2.5%) with independent observations, including those from satellites [e.g., Suomi NPP/OMPS, NASA’s Aura/Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI), European Union’s (EU) Copernicus Sentinel-5 Precursor/TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI)], sondes, and ground-based Brewer and Dobson spectrophotometers. The EPIC O3 record is stable and shows no substantial drifts with respect to OMPS. In the future, the EPIC O3 team plans to compare EPIC time resolved O3 measurements with observations from NASA’s Tropospheric Emissions Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) and the South Korean Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer (GEMS) – both in geostationary orbit. (Along with the EU’s Copernicus Sentinel-4 mission, expected to launch in 2024, these three missions form a global geostationary constellation for monitoring air quality on spatial and temporal scales that will help scientists better understand the causes, movement, and effects of air pollution across some of the world’s most populated areas.) 

Jerrald Ziemke [Morgan State University] explained that tropospheric column O3 is measured over the disk of Earth every 1–2 hours. These measurements are derived by combining EPIC observations with Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA2) assimilated O3 and tropopause fields. These hourly maps are available to the public from the Langley ASDC and extend over eight years from June 2015 to present. The EPIC tropospheric O3 is now indicating post-COVID anomalous decreases of ~3 DU in the Northern Hemisphere for three consecutive years (2020–2022). Similar decreases are present in other satellite tropospheric O3 products as well as OMI tropospheric nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a tropospheric O3 precursor.

Algorithm Improvement for Ozone and Sulfur Dioxide Products

Kai Yang [UMD] presented the algorithm for retrieving tropospheric O3 from EPIC by estimating the stratosphere–troposphere separation of retrieved O3 profiles. This approach contrasts with the traditional residual method, which relies on the stratospheric O3 fields from independent sources. Validated against the near-coincident O3 sonde measurements, EPIC data biased low by a few DU (up to 5 DU), consistent with EPIC’s reduced sensitivity to O3 in the troposphere. Comparisons with seasonal means of TROPOMI tropospheric O3 show consistent spatial and temporal distributions, with lows and highs from atmospheric motion, pollution, lightning, and biomass burning. Yang also showed EPIC measurements of sulfur dioxide (SO2) from recent volcanic eruptions, including Mauna Loa and Kilauea (Hawaii, U.S., 2022–2023), Sheveluch (Kamchatka, Russia, 2023), Etna (Italy, 2023), Fuego (Guatemala, 2023), Popocatépetl (Mexico, 2023), and Pavlof and Shishaldin (Aleutian Islands, U.S., 2023). Yang reported the maximum SO2 mass loadings detected by EPIC are 430 kt from the 2022 Mauna Loa and Kilauea eruptions and 351 kt from the 2023 Sheveluch eruption.

Simon Carn [University of Michigan] showed EPIC observations of major volcanic eruptions in 2022–2023 using the EPIC L2 volcanic SO2 and UV Aerosol Index (UVAI) products to track SO2 and ash emissions. EPIC SO2 and UVAI measurements during the 2023 Sheveluch eruption show the coincident transport of volcanic SO2, ash, and Asian dust across the North Pacific. The high-cadence EPIC UVAI can be used to track the fallout of volcanic ash from eruption clouds, with implications for volcanic hazards. EPIC SO2 measurements during the November 2022 eruption of Mauna Loa volcano are being analyzed in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, who monitored SO2 emissions using ground-based instruments during the eruption. Carn finished by mentioning that EPIC volcanic SO2 algorithm developments are underway including the simultaneous retrieval of volcanic SO2 and ash.

Aerosols

Myungje Choi [UMD, Baltimore County (UMBC)] presented an update on the EPIC V3 Multi-Angle Implementation of Atmospheric Correction (MAIAC) algorithm to optimize smoke aerosol models and the inversion process. The retrieved smoke/dust properties showed an improved agreement with long-term, ground-based Aerosol Robotic Network (AERONET) measurements of solar spectral absorption (SSA) and with aerosol layer height (ALH) measurements from the Cloud–Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Projection (CALIOP) on the Cloud–Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) mission. (Update: As of the publication of this summary, both CALIPSO and CloudSat have ended operations.) Choi reported that between 60–90% of EPIC SSA retrievals are within ±0.03 of AERONET SSA measurements, and between 56–88% of EPIC ALH retrievals are within ±1km of CALIOP ALH retrievals. He explained that the improved algorithm effectively captures distinct smoke characteristics, e.g., the higher brown carbon (BrC) fraction from Canadian wildfires in 2023 and the higher black carbon (BC) fraction from agricultural fires over Mexico in June 2023.

Sujung Go [UMBC] presented a global climatology analysis of major absorbing aerosol species, represented by BC and BrC in biomass burning smoke as well as hematite and goethite in mineral dust. The analysis is based on the V3 MAIAC EPIC dataset. Observed regional differences in BC vs. BrC concentrations have strong associations with known distributions of fuels and types of biomass burning (e.g., forest wildfire vs. agricultural burning) and with ALH retrievals linking injection heights with fire radiative power. Regional distributions of the mineral dust components have strong seasonality and agree well with known dust properties from published ground soil samples.

Omar Torres [GSFC] reported on the upgrades of the EPIC near-UV aerosol (EPICAERUV) algorithm. The EPICAERUV algorithm’s diurnal cycle of aerosol optical depth compared to the time and space collocated AERONET observations at multiple sites around the world. The analysis shows remarkably close agreement between the two datasets. In addition, Torres presented the first results of an improved UV-VIS inversion algorithm that simultaneously retrieves aerosol layer height, optical depth, and single scattering albedo.

Hiren Jethva [Morgan State University] discussed the unique product of absorbing aerosols above clouds (AAC) retrieved from EPIC near-UV observations between 340 and 388 nm. The validation analysis of the retrieved aerosol optical depth over clouds against airborne direct measurements from the NASA ObseRvations of Aerosols above CLouds and their intEractionS (ORACLES) campaign revealed a robust agreement. EPIC’s unique capability of providing near-hourly observations offered an insight into the diurnal variations of regional cloud fraction and AAC over “hotspot” regions. A new and simple method of estimating direct radiative effects of absorbing aerosols above clouds provided a multiyear timeseries dataset, which is consistent with similar estimations from Aura–OMI.

Jun Wang [University of Iowa] reported on the development and status of V1 of the L2 EPIC aerosol optical centroid height (AOCH) product – which is now publicly available through ASDC – and on improvements to the AOCH algorithm – which focus on the treatment of surface reflectance and aerosols models. He presented applications of this data product for both climate studies of Sahara dust layer height and air quality studies of surface particulate matter with diameter of 2.5 µm or less (PM2.5). In addition, Wang showed the comparisons of EPIC AOCH data product with those retrieved from TROPOMI and GEMS and discussed ongoing progress to reduce the AOCH data uncertainty that is estimated to be 0.5 km (0.3 mi) over the ocean and 0.8 km (0.5 mi) over land.

Clouds

Yuekui Yang [GSFC] explained the physical meaning of EPIC cloud effective pressure (CEP) in an “apples-to-apples” comparison with CEP measurements from the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment 2 (GOME-2) on the European Operational Meteorology (MetOp) satellites. The results showed that the two products agreed well.

Yaping Zhou [UMBC] showed how current EPIC O2 A-band and B-band use Moon calibrations due to lack of in-flight calibration and other comparable in-space instruments for absolute calibration. This approach is ineffective at detecting small changes in instrument response function (IRF). This study examined the O2 band’s calibration and stability using a unique South Pole location and Radiative Transfer Model (RTM) simulations with in situ soundings and surface spectral albedo and bidirectional reflectance distribution function (BRDF) measurements as input. The results indicate EPIC simulations are within 1% of observations for non-absorption bands, but large discrepancies exist for the O2 A-band (15.63%) and O2 B-band (5.76%). Sensitivity studies show the large discrepancies are unlikely caused by uncertainties in various input, but a small shift (-0.2–0.3 nm) of IRF could account for the model observation discrepancy. On the other hand, observed multiyear trends in O2 band ratios in the South Pole can be explained with orbital shift – which means the instrument is stable.

Alfonso Delgado Bonal [UMBC] used the EPIC L2 cloud data to characterize the diurnal cycles of cloud optical thickness. To fully exploit the uniqueness of DSCOVR data, all clouds were separated in three groups depending on their optical thickness: thin (0–3), medium (3–10), and thick (3–25). Bonal explained that there is a predictable pattern for different latitudinal zones that reaches a maximum around noon local time – see Figure 2. It was also shown that that the median is a better measure of central tendency when describing cloud optical thickness.

Figure 2. Daytime variability of the median liquid cloud optical thickness over the ocean for different seasons of the year derived using EPIC L2 data. The various colored curves represent data collected in different seasons of the year. The black curve represents the annual average – which is most useful for calculations of cloud optical thickness. Figure credit: Alfonso Delgado Bonal

Elizabeth Berry [Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER)] reported on how coincident observations from EPIC and the Cloud Profiling Radar (CPR) on CloudSat have been used to train a machine learning model to predict cloud vertical structure. A XGBoost decision tree model used input (e.g., EPIC L1B reflectance, L2 Cloud products, and background meteorology) to predict a binary cloud mask on 25 vertical levels. Berry discussed model performance, feature importance, and future improvements.

Ocean

Robert Frouin [Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California] discussed ocean surface radiation products from EPIC data. He reported that surface radiation products were developed to address science questions pertaining to biogeochemical cycling of carbon, nutrients, and oxygen as well as mixed-layer dynamics and circulation. These products include daily averaged downward planar and scalar irradiance and average cosine for total light just below the surface in the EPIC spectral bands centered on 317.5, 325, 340, 388, 443, 551, and 680 nm and integrated values over the photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) and UV-A spectral ranges. The PAR-integrated quantities were evaluated against in situ data collected at sites in the North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Frouin and his colleagues have also developed, tested, and evaluated an autonomous system for collecting and transmitting continuously spectral UV and visible downward fluxes. 

Vegetation

Yuri Knyazikhin [Boston University] reported on the status of the Vegetation Earth System Data Record (VESDR) and discussed science with vegetation parameters. A new version of the VESDR software was delivered to NCCS and implemented for operational generation of the VESDR product. The new version passed tests of physics (e.g., various relationships between vegetation indices and vegetation parameters derived from the VESDR) and follow regularities reported in literature. Analysis of hotspot signatures derived from EPIC and from the Multiangle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR) on Terra over forests in southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo reaffirms that long-term precipitation decline has had minimal impact on leaf area and leaf optical properties.

Jan Pisek [University of Tartu/Tartu Observatory, Estonia] reported on the verification of the previously modeled link between the directional area scattering factor (DASF) from the EPIC VESDR product and foliage clumping with empirical data. The results suggest that DASF can be accurately derived from satellite observations and provide new evidence that the photon recollision probability theory concepts can be successfully applied even at a fairly coarse spatial resolution.

Sun Glint

Tamás Várnai [UMBC] discussed the EPIC Glint Product as well as impacts of sun glint off ice clouds on other EPIC data products – see Figure 3. The cloud glints come mostly from horizontally oriented ice crystals and have strong impact in EPIC cloud retrievals. Glints increase retrieved cloud fraction, the retrieved cloud optical depth, and cloud height. Várnai also reported that the EPIC glint product is now available at the ASDC. It is expected that glints yield additional new insights about the microphysical and radiative properties of ice clouds.

Figure 3. EPIC image taken over Mexico on July 4, 2018. The red, white and blue spot over central Mexico is the result of Sun glint reflecting off high clouds containing ice crystals. EPIC is particularly well suited for studies of ice clouds that cause Sun glint, because unlike most other instruments, it uses a filter wheel to take images at multiple wavelengths, which means the image for each wavelength is obtained at a slightly different time. For example, it takes four minutes to cycle from red to blue. During that time, Earth moves by ~100 km (~62 mi) meaning each image will capture a slightly different scene. Brightness contrasts between images can be used to identify glint signals. Image credit: Tamas Vanai

Alexander Kostinski [Michigan Technology University] reported on long-term changes and semi-permanent features, e.g., ocean glitter. They introduced pixel-pinned temporally and conditionally averaged reflectance images, uniquely suited to the EPIC observational circumstances. The preliminary resulting images (maps), averaged over months and conditioned on cover type (land, ocean, or clouds), show seasonal dependence at a glance (e.g., by an apparent extent of polar caps).

More EPIC Science Results

Guoyong Wen [Morgan State University] discussed spectral properties of the EPIC observations near backscattering, including four cases when the scattering angle reaches about 178° (only 2° from perfect backscattering). The enhancement addresses changes in scattering angle observed in 2020. (Scattering angle is a function of wavelength, because according to Mie scattering theory, the cloud scattering phase function in the glory region is wavelength dependent.) Radiative transfer calculations showed that the change in scattering angles has the largest impact on reflectance in the red and NIR channels at 680 nm and 780 nm and the smallest influence on reflectance in the UV channel at 388 nm – consistent with EPIC observations. The change of global average cloud amount also plays an important role in the reflectance enhancement.

Nick Gorkavyi [SSAI] talked about future plans to deploy a wide-angle camera and a multislit spectrometer on the Moon’s surface for whole-Earth observations to complement EPIC observations. Gorkavyi explained that the apparent vibrational movement of Earth in the Moon’s sky complicates observations of Earth. This causes the center of Earth to move in the Moon’s sky in a rectangle, measuring 13.4° × 15.8° with a period of 6 years. 

Jay Herman [UMBC] reported on EPIC O3 and trends from combining Nimbus 7/Solar Backscatter Ultraviolet (SBUV), the SBUV-2 series, and OMPS–Nadir Mapper (NM) data. (OMPS is made up of three instruments: a Nadir Mapper (NM), Nadir Profiler, and Limb Profiler. OMPS NM is a total ozone sensor). Herman compared EPIC O3 data to OMPS NM data, which showed good agreement (especially summer values) for moderate solar zenith angle (SZA). Comparison with long-term O3 time series (1978–2021) revealed that there were trends and latitude dependent O3 turn-around dates (1994–1998). Herman emphasized that global O3 models do not show this effect but rather have only a single turn-around date around 2000.

Alexander Radkevich [LaRC] presented a poster that showed a comparative analysis of air quality monitoring by orbital and suborbital NASA missions using the DSCOVR EPIC O3 product as well as Pandora total O3 column retrievals. Comparison of the June 2023 total column O3 from EPIC data to the same periods in previous years revealed a significant – around 50 DU – increase of total O3 column in the areas impacted by the plume from 2023 Canadian wildfires.

Conclusion

At the end of the meeting Alexander Marshak, Jay Herman, and Adam Szabo discussed how to make the EPIC and NISTAR instruments more visible in the community. The EPIC website now allows visitors to observe daily fluctuations of aerosol index, cloud fraction, and the ocean surface – as observed from the “L1” point,  nearly one million miles away from Earth! More daily products, (e.g., cloud and aerosol height, total leaf area index, and sunlit leaf area index) will be added soon.

The 2023 DSCOVR EPIC and NISTAR Science Team Meeting provided an opportunity to learn the status of DSCOVR’s Earth-observing instruments, EPIC and NISTAR, the status of recently released L2 data products, and the science results being achieved from the “L1” point. As more people use DSCOVR data worldwide, the ST hopes to hear from users and team members at its next meeting. The latest updates from the mission are found on the EPIC website. (UPDATE: The next DSCOVR EPIC and NISTAR STM will be held on October 16–18, 2024. Check the website for more details as the date approaches.)

Alexander Marshak
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
alexander.marshak@nasa.gov


Adam Szabo
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
adam.szabo@nasa.gov

Categories: NASA

NASA’s Hubble Restarts Science in New Pointing Mode

4 hours 45 min ago

3 min read

NASA’s Hubble Restarts Science in New Pointing Mode This image of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was taken on May 19, 2009 after deployment during Servicing Mission 4. NASA

NASA successfully transitioned operations for the agency’s Hubble Space Telescope to an alternate operating mode that uses one gyro, returning the spacecraft to daily science operations Friday. The telescope and its instruments are stable and functioning normally.

Hubble went into safe mode May 24 due to an ongoing issue with one of its gyroscopes (gyros), which measure the telescope’s slew rates and are part of the system that determines and controls the direction the telescope is pointed. The gyro had been increasingly returning faulty readings over the past six months, suspending science operations multiple times. This led the Hubble team to transition from a three-gyro operating mode to observing with only one gyro, enabling more consistent science observations and keeping another operational gyro available for future use. The agency discussed this transition in detail during a media teleconference June 4.

The team will continue monitoring the problematic gyro to see if it stabilizes and can be used again in the future. Although there are some minor limitations to observing in one-gyro mode, Hubble can continue doing most of its science observations. Further refinements to optimize operations are anticipated as the team gains more experience with the one-gyro mode.

Launched in 1990, Hubble has more than doubled its expected design lifetime, and has been observing the universe for more than three decades, recently celebrating its 34th anniversary. Read more about some of Hubble’s greatest scientific discoveries.

NASA’s Hubble Temporarily Pauses Science

Originally Published May 31, 2024

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope entered safe mode May 24 due to an ongoing gyroscope (gyro) issue, suspending science operations. Hubble’s instruments are stable, and the telescope is in good health.

The telescope automatically entered safe mode when one of its three gyroscopes gave faulty telemetry readings. Hubble’s gyros measure the telescope’s slew rates and are part of the system that determines and controls precisely the direction the telescope is pointed. NASA will provide more information early the first week of June.

NASA anticipates Hubble will continue making discoveries throughout this decade and possibly into the next, working with other observatories, such as the agency’s James Webb Space Telescope for the benefit of humanity.

Launched in 1990, Hubble has been observing the universe for more than three decades and recently celebrated its 34th anniversary. Read more about some of Hubble’s greatest scientific discoveries.

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Media Contact:

Claire Andreoli
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight CenterGreenbelt, MD
claire.andreoli@nasa.gov

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Jun 14, 2024

Editor Andrea Gianopoulos Location Goddard Space Flight Center

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NASA’s LRO Spots China’s Chang’e 6 Spacecraft on Lunar Far Side

5 hours 14 min ago
This image from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows China’s Chang’e 6 lander in the Apollo basin on the far side of the Moon on June 7, 2024. The lander is the bright dot in the center of the image. The image is about 0.4 miles wide (650 meters); lunar north is up.Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

NASA’s LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) imaged China’s Chang’e 6 sample return spacecraft on the far side of the Moon on June 7. Chang’e 6 landed on June 1, and when LRO passed over the landing site almost a week later, it acquired an image showing the lander on the rim of an eroded, 55-yard-diameter (about 50 meters) crater. 

The LRO Camera team computed the landing site coordinates as about 42 degrees south latitude, 206 degrees east longitude, at an elevation of about minus 3.27 miles (minus 5,256 meters).

This before and after animation of LRO images shows the appearance of the Chang’e 6 lander. The increased brightness of the terrain surrounding the lander is due to disturbance from the lander’s engines and is similar to the blast zone seen around other lunar landers. The before image is from March 3, 2022, and the after image is from June 7, 2024.Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

The Chang’e 6 landing site is situated toward the southern edge of the Apollo basin (about 306 miles or 492 km in diameter, centered at 36.1 degrees south latitude, 208.3 degrees east longitude). Basaltic lava erupted south of Chaffee S crater about 3.1 billion years ago and flowed downhill to the west until it encountered a local topographic high, likely related to a fault. Several wrinkle ridges in this region have deformed and raised the mare surface. The landing site sits about halfway between two of these prominent ridges. This basaltic flow also overlaps a slightly older flow (about 3.3 billion years old), visible further west, but the younger flow is distinct because it has higher iron oxide and titanium dioxide abundances.

A regional context map of the Chang’e 6 landing site. Color differences have been enhanced for clarity. The dark area is a basaltic mare deposit; bluer areas of the mare are higher-titanium flows. Contour lines marking 100-meter (about 328 feet) elevation intervals are overlaid to provide a sense of the topography. Image is about 118 miles (190 km) across. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

LRO is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Launched on June 18, 2009, LRO has collected a treasure trove of data with its seven powerful instruments, making an invaluable contribution to our knowledge about the Moon. NASA is returning to the Moon with commercial and international partners to expand human presence in space and bring back new knowledge and opportunities.

More on this story from Arizona State University's LRO Camera website

Media Contact:
Nancy N. Jones
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Facebook logo @NASAGoddard@NASAMoon@NASASolarSystem @NASAGoddard@NASAMoon@NASASolarSystem Instagram logo @NASAGoddard@NASASolarSystem Share Details Last Updated Jun 14, 2024 EditorMadison OlsonContactNancy N. Jonesnancy.n.jones@nasa.govLocationGoddard Space Flight Center Related Terms Explore More 1 min read NASA’s LRO Spots Japan’s Moon Lander  Article 5 months ago 2 min read NASA’s LRO Images Intuitive Machine’s Odysseus Lander Article 4 months ago 2 min read NASA’s LRO Finds Photo Op as It Zips Past SKorea’s Danuri Moon Orbiter Article 2 months ago
Categories: NASA

Johnson Celebrates LGBTQI+ Pride Month: Meet Michael Chandler

5 hours 50 min ago

Michael Chandler has provided configuration and data management support at Houston’s Johnson Space Center for the last 13 years. After roughly seven years supporting the Exploration Systems Development Division, Chandler transitioned to the Moon to Mars Program Office in 2019. He and his team work to ensure that the baseline for Moon to Mars products, like agreements and documents, is appropriately controlled and that configuration and data management processes are integrated across the office’s six programs – Orion, Gateway, EHP, Space Launch System, Human Landing system, and Exploration Ground Systems.

“The most rewarding part of my job is not only the magnitude of what I have the privilege of working on every day, returning humans to the surface of the Moon, but also the experience I get in working with such a diverse group of members of the aerospace community,” said Chandler, a contractor with The Aerospace Corporation. “It’s also so rewarding to work as a team on a common goal and to look forward to the work I do every day!”

Portrait of Michael Chandler onsite at Johnson Space Center. NASA/Noah Moran

Chandler has been an active member of the Out & Allied Employee Resource Group (OAERG) since 2018 and says his involvement with the group led to some groundbreaking life events. “I was very shy and reticent about revealing who I was until I got involved with Out & Allied,” he said. “I now believe that being ‘out’ is a way to support and encourage others to be themselves.”

Chandler learned about OAERG while attending a training about how to be an ally for the LGBTQ+ community. In his first year with the group, he helped organize a panel discussion on allyship and creating safe workplaces. He then became co-chair of OAERG’s Pride Committee, working with ERG colleagues and others to plan the group’s LGBTQ+ Pride Month events and participation in Houston’s annual Pride Parade. “I had a wonderful experience managing events and bringing everyone together for Pride,” he said – efforts that earned him a Trailblazer Award.

Chandler said he has grown personally and professionally through his involvement with OAERG. “I was very shy and kind of uptight at the first meeting that I went to, but everyone was so kind and accepting, and I slowly started taking on responsibilities and planning events,” he said. “These activities helped me grow as a communicator and a leader in my regular work and personal life.”

Michael Chandler (left) stands with fellow Out & Allied Employee Resource Group members, waiting for the Houston Pride Parade to begin. Image courtesy of Michael Chandler

Chandler belongs to other employee resource groups (ERGs) at Johnson to support different communities and find opportunities to collaboratively promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the center, and he encourages others to do the same. “Even if you only participate when you have time, it can lead to knowledge and ways to support other communities that have the same challenges in this world,” he said.

Chandler has been impressed with agency and center leadership’s involvement in DEI efforts and support for ERGs to date. He suggested that increased communication around DEI initiatives may help to quell anxieties about the political landscape and developments outside of NASA by reassuring team members that their employer supports them for who they are. He believes that every person at Johnson can help create an inclusive environment by being respectful, listening with an open heart, and joining the fight to ensure that everyone can be themselves.

“The most important thing is that everyone needs to be their true self,” he said. “It’s so rewarding and makes life so much more fun!”

Categories: NASA

Human Factors Researcher Garrett Sadler

6 hours 8 min ago

“I graduated in 2008, so that job market was not super great, and I ended up with this very unusual job working for this guy who thought that he had some new theory of physics that he wanted to work on. And so I was responsible for creating little computer simulations, trying to resemble some version of his ideas. His whole thing was like a quasi-spiritual tool, looking toward science as a rationalization of different spiritual beliefs that he had about a collective consciousness and the interconnectedness of things.

“As I worked for him longer and met a bunch of other people who were trying to put various spiritual beliefs on scientific footing, I got interested [and thought] maybe this could be studied as a cultural thing. What’s going on here with the desire to scientifically explain spiritual beliefs that they have? What’s the dynamic going on there? That’s what led me into eventually going to grad school for anthropology. I studied the way that science gets conceptualized and interpreted to rationalize spiritual and religious beliefs.

“I had this sort of unconventional trajectory [to NASA]. I didn’t really set a target on something to pursue it. The other thing that might be surprising is that I’ve been insecure about it at every single stage. You know, there’s the whole impostor syndrome thing, and I didn’t feel like I was qualified to be here because I didn’t have some sort of traditional path or because my educational background looks different than that of most of my colleagues. But I’m now at a place where I’ve come to understand that’s true for everyone.”

– Garrett Sadler, Human Factors Researcher, NASA’s Ames Research Center

Image Credit: NASA/Bradon Torres
Interviewer: NASA/Tahira Allen

Check out some of our other Faces of NASA. 

Categories: NASA

Hubble Captures a Cosmic Fossil

6 hours 13 min ago
ESA/Hubble & NASA, F. Niederhofe

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image features the globular cluster NGC 2005. It’s not an unusual globular cluster in and of itself, but it is a peculiarity when compared to its surroundings. NGC 2005 is located about 750 light-years from the heart of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), which is the Milky Way’s largest satellite galaxy some 162,000 light-years from Earth. Globular clusters are densely-packed groups of stars that can hold tens of thousands or millions of stars. Their density means they are tightly bound by gravity and therefore very stable. This stability contributes to their longevity: globular clusters can be billions of years old, and are often comprised of very old stars. Studying globular clusters in space can be a little like studying fossils on Earth: where fossils give insights into the characteristics of ancient plants and animals, globular clusters illuminate the characteristics of ancient stars.

Current theories of galaxy evolution predict that galaxies merge with one another. Astronomers think the relatively large galaxies we observe in the modern universe formed when smaller galaxies merged. If this is correct, then we would expect to see evidence that the most ancient stars in nearby galaxies originated in different galactic environments. Because globular clusters hold ancient stars, and because of their stability, they are an excellent laboratory to test this hypothesis.

NGC 2005 is such a globular cluster, and its very existence provides evidence that supports the theory of galaxy evolution via mergers. Indeed, what makes NGC 2005 a bit peculiar from its surroundings, is the fact that its stars have a chemical composition that is distinct from the stars around it in the LMC. This suggests that the LMC underwent a merger with another galaxy somewhere in its history. That other galaxy has long-since merged and otherwise dispersed, but NGC 2005 remains behind as an ancient witness to the long-past merger.

Text Credit: European Space Agency (ESA)

Categories: NASA

The Next Full Moon is the Strawberry Moon

Thu, 06/13/2024 - 6:27pm
17 Min Read The Next Full Moon is the Strawberry Moon

A perigee full moon, or supermoon, is seen next to the Empire State Building, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015 in New York City.

Credits:
NASA/Joel Kowsky

The Next Full Moon is the Strawberry Moon; the Flower, Hot, Hoe, or Planting Moon; the Mead or Honey Moon; the Rose Moon; Vat Purnima; Poson Poya; and the LRO Moon.

The next full Moon will be Friday evening, June 21, 2024, appearing opposite the Sun (in Earth-based longitude) at 9:08 PM EDT. This will be Saturday from Greenland and Cape Verde time eastward across Eurasia, Africa, and Australia to the International Date Line in the mid-Pacific. Most commercial calendars will show this full Moon on Saturday, June 22, the date in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). The Moon will appear full for about three days around this time, from Thursday evening through Sunday morning.

In the 1930s the Maine Farmer’s Almanac began publishing “Indian” names for full Moons and these names are now widely known and used. According to this Almanac, as the full Moon in June this is the Strawberry Moon, a name that comes from the relatively short season for harvesting strawberries in the north-eastern United States. Other seasonal names that I have found in various sources (sometimes with conflicting information about whether they are of European or Native American origin) are the Flower Moon, Hot Moon, Hoe Moon, and Planting Moon.

An old European name for this full Moon is the Mead or Honey Moon. Mead is a drink created by fermenting honey mixed with water and sometimes fruits, spices, grains, or hops. In some countries Mead is also called Honey Wine (though in others Honey Wine is made differently). Some writings suggest the time around the end of June was when honey was ready for harvesting, which made this the “sweetest” Moon. The word “honeymoon” traces back to at least the 1500s in Europe. The tradition of calling the first month of marriage the “honeymoon” may be tied to this full Moon because of the custom of marrying in June or because the “Honey Moon” is the “sweetest” Moon of the year. There doesn’t appear to be enough evidence to support a 19th century theory that the word entered English from the custom of gifting newlyweds mead for their first month of marriage.

Another European name for this full Moon is the Rose Moon. Some sources indicate “Rose Moon” comes from the roses that bloom this time of year. Others indicate that the name comes from the color of the full Moon. The orbit of the Moon around the Earth is in almost the same plane as the orbit of the Earth around the Sun (only about 5 degrees off). On the summer solstice the Sun appears highest in the sky for the year. Full Moons are opposite the Sun, so a full Moon near the summer solstice will be low in the sky. Particularly for Europe’s higher latitudes, when the full Moon is low it shines through more atmosphere, making it more likely to have a reddish color (for the same reasons that sunrises and sunsets are red). For the Washington, DC area, the full Moon on the night from the evening of June 21 to the morning of June 22 will have the lowest full Moon of the year, reaching only 21.9 degrees above the southern horizon at 1:20 AM EDT.

For Hindus this is Vat Purnima. During the 3 days of this full Moon married women will show their love for their husbands by tying a ceremonial thread around a banyan tree. The celebration is based on the legend of Savitri and Satyavan.

For Buddhists this full Moon is Poson Poya. The Poson holiday in Sri Lanka celebrates the introduction of Buddhism in 236 BCE.

Another tribe has also given a name to this full Moon. This tribe is now scattered but mostly lived in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. This tribe’s language is primarily English, but with a liberal smattering of acronyms, arcane scientific and engineering terms, and Hawaiian phrases (cheerfully contributed by the former Deputy Project Manager). Comprised of people from all backgrounds, many of whom have gone on to join other tribes, this tribe was devoted to the study of the Moon. This tribe calls June’s full Moon the LRO Moon, in honor of the spacecraft they launched towards the Moon 15 years ago, on June 18, 2009. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is still orbiting the Moon providing insights about our nearest celestial neighbor, some of which help us understand our own planet. See https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/main/index.html for more information.

Many lunar and lunisolar calendars start the months on or just after the new Moon and the full Moon is near the middle of the month. This full Moon is near the middle of the fifth month of the Chinese year of the Dragon, Sivan in the Hebrew calendar, and Dhu al-Hijjah, the final month of the Islamic year and one of the four sacred months during which fighting is forbidden.

As usual, the wearing of suitably celebratory celestial attire is encouraged in honor of the full Moon. If you’re not allergic, enjoy the strawberries, flowers, and honey during this “sweetest” month of the year, and take note of how low in the sky this full Moon will be.

As for other celestial events between now and the full Moon after next (with specific times and angles based on the location of NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC):

As summer begins the daily periods of sunlight start to gradually shorten, having been at their longest on the summer solstice on the day before this full Moon. On Friday, June 21, 2024 (the day of the full Moon), morning twilight will begin at 4:30 AM, sunrise will be at 5:43 AM, solar noon at 1:10 PM when the Sun will reach its maximum altitude of 74.6 degrees, sunset will be at 8:37 PM, and evening twilight will end at 9:49 PM. The period of daylight will be 1.2 seconds shorter than on the summer solstice the previous day.

The solar days (as measured, for example, from solar noon to solar noon on a sundial) are longer than 24 hours near the solstices, so the earliest sunrises of the year occur before the summer solstice and the latest sunsets occur after the solstice. For the Washington, DC area and similar latitudes at least (I’ve not checked for other latitudes), Thursday, June 27, will have the latest sunset of the year, with sunset at 8:37:30 PM EDT.

By Sunday, July 21, (the day of the full Moon after next), morning twilight will begin at 4:52 AM, sunrise will be at 6:00 AM, solar noon at 1:15 PM when the Sun will reach its maximum altitude of 71.4 degrees, sunset will be at 8:28 PM, and evening twilight will end at 9:37 PM.

The comet 13P/Olbers is expected to peak at magnitude 7.5 in early July, too dim to see with the naked eye. The two meteor showers expected to peak this lunar cycle will be difficult to see. The full Moon will interfere with the peak of the June Bootids (170 JBO) on June 27. The July Pegasids (175 JPE), peaking on July 10, is only expected to show 3 meteors per hour (under ideal conditions).

Evening Sky Highlights:

On the evening of Friday, June 21, 2024 (the evening of the day of the full Moon), as twilight ends (at 9:49 PM EDT), the rising Moon will be 7 degrees above the southeastern horizon. The bright planets Venus and Mercury will be below the horizon, with Venus setting 21 minutes and Mercury setting 43 minutes after sunset. Mercury may be visible from about 30 minutes after sunset until it sets 13 minutes later. The bright object appearing closest to overhead will be the star Arcturus at 69 degrees above the south-southwestern horizon. Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation Boötes the herdsman or plowman. It is the 4th brightest star in our night sky and is 36.7 light years from us. While it has about the same mass as our Sun, it is about 2.6 billion years older and has used up its core hydrogen, becoming a red giant 25 times the size and 170 times the brightness of our Sun.

As this lunar cycle progresses the background of stars will appear to shift westward each evening (as the Earth moves around the Sun). June 30 will be the first evening that the bright planet Mercury will be above the west-northwestern horizon as evening twilight ends and the first evening that the bright planet Venus will be above the horizon 30 minutes after sunset (an approximation of when Venus will start emerging from the glow of dusk. Mercury will shift to the left low along the horizon, reaching its highest above the horizon (just 2 degrees as twilight ends) on July 13. The waxing Moon will pass by Regulus on July 8 and 9, Spica on July 13, and Antares on July 17.

By the evening of Sunday, July 21 (the evening of the day of the full Moon after next), as twilight ends (at 9:37 PM EDT), the rising Moon will be 3 degrees above the east-southeastern horizon. The bright planet Mercury will be 1 degree above the west-northwestern horizon and 6 minutes away from setting. The planet Venus will set 22 minutes before twilight ends, but will be bright enough to see in the glow of dusk low on the west-northwestern horizon before it sets. The bright object appearing closest to overhead will be Vega, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra the lyre, at 65 degrees above the eastern horizon. Vega is one of the three bright stars in the Summer Triangle along with Deneb, and Altair. Vega is the 5th brightest star in our night sky, about 25 light-years from Earth, has twice the mass of our Sun, and shines 40 times brighter than our Sun.

Morning Sky Highlights:

On the morning of Friday, June 21, 2024 (the morning of the day of the full Moon), as twilight begins (at 4:31 AM EDT), the setting full Moon will be 2 degrees above the southwestern horizon. The brightest planet in the sky will be Jupiter at just 3 degrees above the east-northeastern horizon. The planet Mars will be 19 degrees above the eastern horizon and the planet Saturn (almost as bright as Mars) will be 37 degrees above the southeastern horizon. The bright object appearing closest to overhead will be the star Deneb at 80 degrees above the northwestern horizon. Deneb is the 19th brightest star in our night sky and is the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus the swan. Deneb is one of the three bright stars of the “Summer Triangle” (along with Vega and Altair). Deneb is about 20 times more massive than our Sun but has used up its hydrogen, becoming a blue-white supergiant about 200 times the diameter of the Sun. If Deneb were where our Sun is, it would extend to about the orbit of the Earth. Deneb is about 2,600 light years from us.

As this lunar cycle progresses, Jupiter, Saturn, and the background of stars will appear to shift westward each evening, with Mars shifting more slowly and to the left. The waning Moon will pass by Saturn on June 27, on Mars on July 1, the Pleiades star cluster on July 2, and Jupiter on July 3.

By the morning of Sunday, July 21 (the morning of the day of the full Moon after next), as twilight begins (at 4:52 AM EDT), the setting full Moon will be 7 degrees above the southwestern horizon. The brightest planet in the sky will be Jupiter at 25 degrees above the eastern horizon. Mars will be 33 degrees above the eastern horizon and Saturn 45 degrees above the southern horizon. The bright object appearing closest to overhead still will be the star Deneb at 56 degrees above the west-northwestern horizon.

Detailed Daily Guide:

Here for your reference is a day-by-day listing of celestial events between now and the full Moon after next. The times and angles are based on the location of NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, and some of these details may differ for where you are (I use parentheses to indicate times specific to the DC area).

Sunday morning, June 16, 2024, will be the first morning that the bright planet Jupiter will be above the east-northeastern horizon as morning twilight begins (at 4:30 AM EDT).

Sunday evening into early Monday morning, June 16 to 17, 2024, the bright star Spica will appear near the waxing gibbous Moon. As evening twilight ends (at 9:48 PM EDT) Spica will be 3.5 degrees to the right of the Moon. By the time Spica sets on the west-southwestern horizon 4.5 hours later (at 2:16 AM) it will be 5 degrees to the lower right of the Moon. Around the northern part of the boundary between Europe and Asia the Moon will actually block Spica from view.

Wednesday evening, June 19, 2024, will be the first evening the bright planet Mercury will be above the west-northwestern horizon 30 minutes after sunset, an approximation of when it will begin emerging from the glow of dusk. Each evening after this Mercury should become easier to spot and by the end of June will be above the horizon as evening twilight ends.

Wednesday evening into Thursday morning, June 19 to 20, 2024, the bright star Antares will appear near the waxing gibbous Moon. As evening twilight ends (at 9:49 PM EDT) Antares will be 5 degrees to the lower left of the Moon. The Moon will reach its highest in the sky 1.5 hours later (at 11:25 PM EDT) with Antares 4 degrees to the left of the Moon. The Moon will set first on the southwestern horizon (at 4:03 AM) with Antares 2 degrees to the upper left.

Thursday afternoon, June 20, 2024, at 4:51 PM EDT will be the summer solstice, the astronomical end of spring and start of summer. This will be the day with the longest period of sunlight (14 hours, 53 minutes, 42.5 seconds) but will not be the day with the earliest sunrise or the latest sunset.

As mentioned above, the full Moon will be Friday evening, June 21, 2024, at 9:08 PM EDT. This will be on Saturday from Greenland and Cape Verde time eastward across Eurasia, Africa, and Australia to the International Date Line in the mid-Pacific. Most commercial calendars will show this full Moon on Saturday, June 22. This will be the lowest full Moon of the year (reaching only 21.9 degrees above the southern horizon Saturday morning at 1:20 AM). The Moon will appear full for about three days around this time, from Thursday evening through Sunday morning.

Thursday morning, June 27, 2024, the planet Saturn will appear near the waning gibbous Moon. As Saturn rises on the eastern horizon (at 12:26 AM EDT) it will be 6 degrees to the lower left of the Moon. By the time morning twilight begins (at 4:33 AM) Saturn will be 4 degrees to the upper left of the Moon.

Thursday morning June 27, 2024, the Moon will be at perigee, its closest to the Earth for this orbit.

For the Washington, DC area and similar latitudes, at least, Thursday, June 27, 2024, will have the latest sunset of the year (with sunset at 8:37:30 PM EDT).

Friday afternoon, June 28, 2024, the waning Moon will appear half-full as it reaches its last quarter at 5:53 PM EDT (when the Moon will be below the horizon).

Sunday evening, June 30, 2024, will be the first evening that the bright planet Mercury will be above the west-northwestern horizon as evening twilight ends (at 9:49 PM EDT). It will also be the first evening that the bright planet Venus will be above the west-northwestern horizon (at 9:07 PM) 30 minutes after sunset, an approximation of when Venus will start emerging from the glow of dusk.

Monday morning, July 1, 2024, the planet Mars will appear 5 degrees to the lower left of the waning crescent Moon. Mars will rise last on the east-northeastern horizon (at 2:29 AM EDT) and morning twilight will begin a little more than 2 hours later (at 4:35 AM).

Tuesday morning, July 2, 2024, the Pleiades star cluster will appear 5 degrees to the lower left of the waning crescent Moon. The Pleiades will rise last on the east-northeastern horizon (around 2:46 AM EDT) and morning twilight will begin a little less than 2 hours later (at 4:35 AM).

Friday afternoon, July 5, 2024, the Earth will be at aphelion, its farthest away from the Sun in its orbit, 3.4% farther away than it was at perihelion in early January. Since the intensity of light drops off as the square of the distance, the sunlight reaching the Earth at aphelion is about 6.5% less bright than sunlight reaching the Earth at perihelion.

Friday evening, July 5, 2024, at 6:57 PM EDT, will be the new Moon, when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from the Earth. The day of or the day after the New Moon marks the start of the new month for most lunisolar calendars. Saturday, July 6 will be the start of the sixth month of the Chinese year of the Dragon. Sundown on July 6 will mark the start of Tammuz in the Hebrew calendar. In the Islamic calendar the months traditionally start with the first sighting of the waxing crescent Moon. Many Muslim communities now follow the Umm al-Qura Calendar of Saudi Arabia, which uses astronomical calculations to start months in a more predictable way. Using this calendar, sundown on Saturday, July 6, will probably mark Al-Hijra, the Islamic New Year and the beginning of the month of Muharram, although Muharram is one of four months for which the calendar dates may be adjusted by the religious authorities of Saudi Arabia after actual sightings of the lunar crescent. Al-Hijra is a public holiday in many Muslim countries. Customs vary, but most include observing the day quietly and practicing gratitude. Muharram is one of the four sacred months during which warfare is forbidden.

Sunday evening, July 7, 2024, the planet Mercury will appear 3 degrees below the thin, waxing crescent Moon, with the Beehive cluster (visible with binoculars) 1.5 degrees to the lower right of Mercury. As evening twilight ends (at 9:47 PM EDT) the Moon will be 4 degrees above the west-northwestern horizon, with Mercury a little more than 1 degree and the Beehive cluster a little less than 1 degree above the horizon. The Beehive cluster will set first 7 minutes later (at 9:54 PM), followed by Mercury 4 minutes after that (at 9:58 PM) and the Moon 19 minutes after Mercury set (at 10:17 PM).

Friday morning, July 12, 2024, at 4:12 AM EDT (when we can’t see it), the Moon will be at apogee, its farthest from the Earth for this orbit.

Saturday evening, July 13, 2024, the Moon will appear half-full as it reaches its first quarter at 6:49 PM EDT.

Saturday evening, July 13, 2024, will be when the planet Mercury will reach its highest (2 degrees) above the west-northwestern horizon as evening twilight ends (at 9:43 PM EDT).

Saturday night, July 13, 2024, the bright star Spica will appear near the half-full Moon, so near that for part of the night the Moon will block Spica from view for much of North America (see http://lunar-occultations.com/iota/bstar/0714zc1925.htm for a map and information on the locations that will see this occultation). For the location of NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC (angles and times will be different for other locations), as evening twilight ends (at 9:43 PM EDT), Spica will be 1 degree to the left of the Moon. If you are in a location that will see this occultation, you should be able to see Spica vanish behind the dark half of the Moon (at 11:26 PM for the DC area). For the Washington, DC area the Moon will set (at 12:32 AM) before Spica reemerges. For locations farther west, the brightness of the lit half of the Moon will make it hard to see when Spica emerges.

Wednesday night into early Thursday morning, July 17 to 18, 2024, the bright star Antares will appear near the waxing gibbous Moon. As evening twilight ends (at 9:40 PM EDT) Antares will be 3 degrees to the upper right of the Moon. The Moon will reach its highest in the sky 27 minutes later (at 10:07 PM). As Antares sets (at 2:21 AM) it will be 5 degrees to the lower right of the Moon. For much of the southern part of Africa the Moon will pass in front of Antares earlier on Wednesday. See http://lunar-occultations.com/iota/bstar/0717zc2366.htm for a map and information on the locations that will see this occultation. The full Moon after next will be Sunday morning, July 21, 2024, at 6:17 AM EDT. This will be late Saturday night for the International Date Line West and the American Samoa and Midway time zones and early Monday morning for Line Islands Time. The Moon will appear full for about three days around this time, from Friday evening through Monday morning, making this a full Moon weekend.

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NASA Announces New System to Aid Disaster Response

Thu, 06/13/2024 - 4:00pm

In early May, widespread flooding and landslides occurred in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, leaving thousands of people without food, water, or electricity. In the following days, NASA teams provided data and imagery to help on-the-ground responders understand the disaster’s impacts and deploy aid.

Building on this response and similar successes, on June 13, NASA announced a new system to support disaster response organizations in the U.S. and around the world.

Members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue team in Adiyaman, Turkey (Türkiye), conducting rescue efforts in the wake of powerful earthquakes that struck the region in February 2023. NASA provided maps and data to support USAID and other regional partners during these earthquakes. USAID

“When disasters strike, NASA is here to help — at home and around the world,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “As challenges from extreme weather grow, so too does the value of NASA’s efforts to provide critical Earth observing data to disaster-response teams on the frontlines. We’ve done so for years. Now, through this system, we expand our capability to help power our U.S. government partners, international partners, and relief organizations across the globe as they take on disasters — and save lives.”

The team behind NASA’s Disaster Response Coordination System gathers science, technology, data, and expertise from across the agency and provides it to emergency managers. The new system will be able to provide up-to-date information on fires, earthquakes, landslides, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other extreme events.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson delivers remarks during an event launching a new Disaster Response Coordination System that will provide communities and organizations around the world with access to science and data to aid disaster response, Thursday, June 13, 2024, at the NASA Headquarters Mary W. Jackson Building in Washington. NASA/Bill Ingalls

“The risk from climate-related hazards is increasing, making more people vulnerable to extreme events,” said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division. “This is particularly true for the 10% of the global population living in low-lying coastal regions who are vulnerable to storm surges, waves and tsunamis, and rapid erosion. NASA’s disaster system is designed to deliver trusted, actionable Earth science in ways and means that can be used immediately, to enable effective response to disasters and ultimately help save lives.”

Agencies working with NASA include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Agency for International Development — as well as international organizations such as World Central Kitchen.

“With this deliberate and structured approach, we can be even more effective in putting Earth science into action,” said Josh Barnes, at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Barnes manages the Disaster Response Coordination System.

NASA Disasters Team Aiding Brazil

When the floods and landslides ravaged parts of Brazil in May, officials from the U.S. Southern Command — working with the U.S. Space Force and Air Force, and regional partners — reached out to NASA for Earth-observing data.

Image Before/After

NASA’s response included maps of potential power outages from the Black Marble project at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Disaster response coordinators at NASA Goddard also reviewed high-resolution optical data — from the Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program — to map more than 4,000 landslides.

Response coordinators from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology, both in Southern California, produced flood extent maps using data from the NASA and U.S. Geological Survey Landsat mission and from ESA’s (the European Space Agency) Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite. Response coordinators at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston also provided photographs of the flooding taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Building on Previous Work

The Brazil event is just one of hundreds of responses NASA has supported over the past decade. The team aids decision-making for a wide range of natural hazards and disasters, from hurricanes and earthquakes to tsunamis and oil spills

“NASA’s Disasters Program advances science for disaster resilience and develops accessible resources to help communities around the world make informed decisions for disaster planning,” said Shanna McClain, manager of NASA’s Disasters Program. “The new Disaster Response Coordination System significantly expands our efforts to bring the power of Earth science when responding to disasters.”

For more information visit:

https://disasters.nasa.gov/response

By Jacob Reed
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

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NSTGRO 2024

Thu, 06/13/2024 - 3:49pm

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Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)

NSTGRO Homepage

Claire Lessler
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Precision Spectroscopic Calibration and Next-Generation Millimeter-Wave Spectrometers

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Long-Duration, Risk-Aware, Goal-Directed Adaptive Sampling for Autonomous Vehicle Exploration

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Tendon-actuated Structural Modules for Enhanced Segmented Aperture Reflectors

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NASA’s Webb Reveals Long-Studied Star Is Actually Twins

Thu, 06/13/2024 - 2:56pm

5 min read

Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)

Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory through launch, Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument also revealed jets of gas flowing into space from the twin stars.

Scientists recently got a big surprise from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope when they turned the observatory toward a group of young stars called WL 20. The region has been studied since the 1970s with at least five telescopes, but it took Webb’s unprecedented resolution and specialized instruments to reveal that what researchers long thought was one of the stars, WL 20S, is actually a pair that formed about 2 million to 4 million years ago.

The discovery was made using Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) and was presented at the 244th meeting of the American Astronomical Society on June 12. MIRI also found that the twins have matching jets of gas streaming into space from their north and south poles.

“Our jaws dropped,” said astronomer Mary Barsony, lead author of a new paper describing the results. “After studying this source for decades, we thought we knew it pretty well. But without MIRI we would not have known this was two stars or that these jets existed. That’s really astonishing. It’s like having brand new eyes.”

This artist’s concept shows two young stars nearing the end of their formation. Encircling the stars are disks of leftover gas and dust from which planets may form. Jets of gas shoot away from the stars’ north and south poles.

The team got another surprise when additional observations by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a group of more than 60 radio antennas in Chile, revealed that disks of dust and gas encircle both stars. Based on the stars’ age, it’s possible that planets are forming in those disks.

The combined results indicate that the twin stars are nearing the end of this early period of their lives, which means scientists will have the opportunity to learn more about how the stars transition from youth into adulthood.

“The power of these two telescopes together is really incredible,” said Mike Ressler, project scientist for MIRI at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-author of the new study. “If we hadn’t seen that these were two stars, the ALMA results might have just looked like a single disk with a gap in the middle. Instead, we have new data about two stars that are clearly at a critical point in their lives, when the processes that formed them are petering out.”

This image of the WL 20 star group combines data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array and the Mid-Infrared Instrument on NASA’s Webb telescope. Gas jets emanating from the poles of twin stars appear blue and green; disks of dust and gas surrounding the stars are pink.U.S. NSF; NSF NRAO; ALMA; NASA/JPL-Caltech; B. Saxton Stellar Jets

WL 20 resides in a much larger, well-studied star-forming region of the Milky Way galaxy called Rho Ophiuchi, a massive cloud of gas and dust about 400 light-years from Earth. In fact, WL 20 is hidden behind thick clouds of gas and dust that block most of the visible light (wavelengths that the human eye can detect) from the stars there. Webb detects slightly longer wavelengths, called infrared, that can pass through those layers. MIRI detects the longest infrared wavelengths of any instrument on Webb and is thus well equipped for peering into obscured star-forming regions like WL 20.

Radio waves can often penetrate dust as well, though they may not reveal the same features as infrared light. The disks of gas and dust surrounding the two stars in WL 20S emit light in a range that astronomers call submillimeter; these, too, penetrate the surrounding gas clouds and were observed by ALMA.

These four images show the WL 20 star system as seen by (from left) NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility at the Mauna Kea Observatory, the Hale 5.0-meter telescope the Palomar Observatory, the Keck II telescope, and the NASA’s Webb telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array.

But scientists could easily have interpreted those observations as evidence of a single disk with a gap in it had MIRI not also observed the two stellar jets. The jets of gas are composed of ions, or individual atoms with some electrons stripped away that radiate in mid-infrared wavelengths but not at submillimeter wavelengths. Only an infrared instrument with spatial and spectral resolution like MIRI’s could see them.

ALMA can also observe clouds of leftover formation material around young stars. Composed of whole molecules, like carbon monoxide, these clouds of gas and dust radiate light at these longer wavelengths. The absence of those clouds in the ALMA observations shows that the stars are beyond their initial formation phase.

“It’s amazing that this region still has so much to teach us about the life cycle of stars,” said Ressler. “I’m thrilled to see what else Webb will reveal.”

More About the Mission

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).

MIRI was developed through a 50-50 partnership between NASA and ESA. A division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, JPL led the U.S. efforts for MIRI, and a multinational consortium of European astronomical institutes contributes for ESA. George Rieke with the University of Arizona is the MIRI science team lead. Gillian Wright is the MIRI European principal investigator.

The MIRI cryocooler development was led and managed by JPL, in collaboration with Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

News Media Contact

Calla Cofield
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
626-808-2469
calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

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Share Details Last Updated Jun 13, 2024 Related Terms Explore More 4 min read NASA Announces New System to Aid Disaster Response

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NASA’s RASC-AL Competition Selects 2024 Winners  

Thu, 06/13/2024 - 2:14pm

3 min read

Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater) The Virginia Tech team, winners of first place overall in the RASC-AL 2024 competition.NASA

Out of 14 finalist teams that encompassed collegiate and university representation from across the globe, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University team with their concept, “Project Draupnir,” in the AI-Powered Self-Replicating Probe theme, took home top prize in NASA’s Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) competition.  

The University of Maryland took second place overall for their concept, “SITIS: Subsurface Ice and Terrain In-situ Surveyor,” while South Dakota State University took third place overall with “POSEID-N: Prospecting Observation System for Exploration, Investigation, Discovery, and Navigation,” both in the Large-Scale Lunar Crater Prospector theme.  

The first and second place overall winning teams will receive a travel stipend to present their work at the 2024 AIAA Accelerating Space Commerce, Exploration, and New Discovery (ASCEND) Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada in July. 

The University of Maryland team, winners of second place overall in the RASC-AL 2024 competition.NASA

In its 23rd year, RASC-AL is one of NASA’s longest running higher education competitions.  

“It’s an engaging engineering design challenge that fosters collaboration, innovation, and hard work. Finalist teams also enjoy the comradery and networking opportunities at our annual forum in Cocoa Beach, Florida,” said Pat Troutman, program assistant, technical for NASA’s Strategy and Architecture Office. “Each year, the competition grows as more and more students want to contribute to NASA’s mission of improving humanity’s ability to operate on the Moon, Mars and beyond.”  

The forum is attended by NASA and industry subject matter experts who judge the presentations and offer valuable feedback. New this year, RASC-AL teams based in the United States were encouraged to work with universities from countries that have signed The Artemis Accords – a set of principles designed to guide civil space exploration and use in the 21st century. 

Finalist teams responded to one of four themes, ranging from developing large-scale lunar surface architectures enabling long-term off-world habitation, to designing new systems that leverage in-situ resources for in-space travel and exploration. 

The South Dakota State team, winners of third place overall in the RASC-AL 2024 competition.NASA

Additional 2024 Forum awards include: 

Best in Theme: 

  • AI-Powered Self-Replicating Probes – an Evolutionary Approach: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, “Project Draupnir” 
  • Large-Scale Lunar Crater Prospector: University of Maryland, “SITIS: Subsurface Ice and Terrain In-situ Surveyor” 
  • Sustained Lunar Evolution: University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, “Permanent Outpost Lunar Architecture for Research and Innovative Services (POLARIS)” 
  • Long Duration Mars Simulation at the Moon: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the National Higher French Institute of Aeronautics and Space (ISAE-SUPAERO), “MARTEMIS: Mars Architecture Research using Taguchi Experiments on the Moon with International Solidarity” 

Other Awards: 

  • Best Prototype: South Dakota State University, “POSEID-N: Prospecting Observation System for Exploration, Investigation, Discovery, and Navigation” 

RASC-AL is open to undergraduate and graduate students studying disciplines related to human exploration, including aerospace, bio-medical, electrical, and mechanical engineering, and life, physical, and computer sciences. RASC-AL projects allow students to incorporate their coursework into space exploration objectives in a team environment and help bridge strategic knowledge gaps associated with NASA’s vision. Students have the opportunity to interact with NASA officials and industry experts and develop relationships that could lead to participation in other NASA student research programs.  

RASC-AL is sponsored by the Strategies and Architectures Office within the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, and by the Space Mission Analysis Branch within the Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate at NASA Langley. It is administered by the National Institute of Aerospace.  

For more information about the RASC-AL competition, including complete theme and submission guidelines, visit: http://rascal.nianet.org

Facebook logo @NASA@nasalarc @NASA@NASA_Langley Instagram logo @NASA@NASA_Langley Linkedin logo @NASA@company/nasa-langley-research-center Share Details Last Updated Jun 13, 2024 Related Terms Explore More 4 min read NASA Announces New System to Aid Disaster Response

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‘NASA in the Park’ Returns to Rocket City June 22

Thu, 06/13/2024 - 2:00pm

2 min read

Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater) Credits: Downtown Huntsville Inc.

NASA in the Park is coming back to Big Spring Park East in Huntsville, Alabama, on Saturday, June 22, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. CDT. The event is free and open to the public.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, its partners, and collaborators will fill the park with space exhibits, music, food vendors, and hands-on activities for all ages. Marshall is teaming up with Downtown Huntsville Inc. for this unique celebration of space and the Rocket City.

“NASA in the Park gives us the opportunity to bring our work outside the gates of Redstone Arsenal and thank the community for their continuing support,” Marshall Director Joseph Pelfrey said. “It’s the first time we’ve held the event since 2018, and we look forward to sharing this experience with everyone.”

Pelfrey will kick the event off with local leaders on the main stage. NASA speakers will spotlight topics ranging from space habitats to solar sails, and local rock band Five by Five will perform throughout the day.

“NASA Marshall is leading the way in this new era of space exploration, for the benefit of all humankind,” Pelfrey said. “We are proud members of the Rocket City community, which has helped us push the boundaries of science, technology, and engineering for nearly 65 years.”

To learn more about Marshall, visit:

www.nasa.gov/marshall

Download NASA in the Park Poster

Jun 13, 2024

PDF (4.09 MB)

Molly Porter
Marshall Space Flight Center
256-424-5158
molly.a.porter@nasa.gov

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Sea Ice Swirls

Thu, 06/13/2024 - 1:41pm
NASA/Wanmei Liang, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview

NASA’s Terra satellite captured floating fragments of sea ice as ocean currents carried them south along Greenland’s east coast on June 4, 2024.

This ice traveled from the Fram Strait, a 450-kilometer (280-mile)-wide passage between Greenland and Svalbard, to the Arctic Ocean. Along the journey, it breaks into smaller pieces and starts to melt in warmer ocean waters, creating the wispy patterns seen here.

Learn more about Arctic sea ice.

Image Credit: NASA/Wanmei Liang, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview

Categories: NASA

Flag Day 2024 – One Small Flag’s Incredible Journey

Thu, 06/13/2024 - 12:59pm

This article tells the story of one small American flag fortunate enough to be singled out from a group of one thousand flags just like it and embark on an incredible journey. The other 999 flags likely ended up as gifts, but this one flag had a loftier fate. It wasn’t the first American flag to ride on a crewed spacecraft into space, that one flew aboard Freedom 7 with Alan B. Shepard on May 5, 1961. Or the most famous flag that went into space, the Stars and Stripes planted on the Moon by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin on July 20, 1969, holds that honor. Other American flags have even flown on spacecraft not just to other planets but out of the solar system entirely. And tens of thousands of other small flags have thundered into space aboard space shuttles and returned to Earth for distribution around the world. So what makes this one small flag, known as the Legacy Flag, so special?


Left: Launch of space shuttle Columbia on the STS-1 mission, April 12, 1981. Right: Landing of Columbia, April 14, 1981.

Space shuttle Columbia first lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on April 12, 1981, to usher in a new era of reusable crewed space transportation. It carried not only its two pilots, John W. Young and Robert L. Crippen, but also the Official Flight Kit (OFK), stowed away in the lockers in the shuttle’s middeck, along with food, clothing and other supplies. Many of the OFK items, including 1,000 8-by-12-inch American flags, were destined for distribution after the mission to commemorate its historic significance. Once they returned to Earth and workers removed them from the shuttle’s middeck, NASA distributed many of the flags to various people and organizations. But some remained and ended up in storage at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. As the shuttle program progressed over the next 30 years, the number of flags in storage dwindled as additional recipients were identified. Finally, in 2011 it was time for the last shuttle mission, STS-135, and NASA felt it a fitting tribute to refly one of the flags from STS-1 on the final flight. Since STS-135 delivered supplies to the International Space Station, the flag would remain on board until the next time an American spacecraft carrying American astronauts launched from American soil arrived at the station. At the time, no one knew exactly how long that would take.


Left: Launch of STS-135, July 8, 2011. Right: The crew of STS-135 pose with the Legacy Flag on the flight deck of Atlantis.

On July 8, 2011, space shuttle Atlantis lifted off to begin STS-135, the final mission of the program with Christopher J. Ferguson, Douglas G. Hurley, Sandra H. Magnus, and Rex J. Walheim aboard, and two days later they docked with the station. The six international crewmembers of Expedition 28 welcomed them aboard. The long-term plan for the little flag was publicly revealed during a live TV session between the crew and President Barack H. Obama. “I also understand that Atlantis brought a unique American flag up to the station,” said President Obama. Shuttle Commander Ferguson explained that before their departure they would present the flag to the crew aboard the station, where “it will hopefully maintain a position of honor until the next vehicle launched from U.S. soil brings U.S. astronauts up to dock with the space station.”


Left: The crews of STS-135 and Expedition 28 pose with the Legacy Flag. Right: The crews of STS-135 and Expedition 28 place the Legacy Flag on the hatch of the Harmony module.

On July 18, near the end of the docked phase of STS-135, during a televised ceremony the crews placed the flag, flanked by the patches of the first and last space shuttle missions, on the forward hatch of the Harmony module, from where Atlantis would soon depart and where the next American crewed spacecraft would dock. After the shuttle and its crew left, the flag remained on the hatch for a while, but as time passed, onboard crews needed to use that area for stowage and so they moved it to a nearby wall for safekeeping. In 2015, to further safeguard the flag against damage or loss, Mission Control asked the onboard crew to place it in a stowage bag. As sometimes happens with stowage bags, this one moved around and ended up in a different module of the station. Three years later, during a general inventory of stowage bags, the crew found the flag and placed in a Ziploc bag with the words “Flown on STS-1 & STS-135. Only to be removed by crew launching from KSC” attached.


Left: The Legacy Flag, placed between the STS-1 and STS-135 patches on the Harmony module’s forward hatch as Atlantis prepared to depart. Middle: In May 2014, during Expedition 40, astronauts mounted the flag on a wall near the Harmony module’s hatch to allow that area to be used for stowage. Right: The Legacy Flag in July 2018 during Expedition 56, placed in a Ziploc bag for safety.

On May 30, 2020, a Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from KSC’s Launch Pad 39A, the same pad used for STS-1 and STS-135, carrying SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on its Demo 2 mission. Aboard were Doug Hurley, who flew aboard the last shuttle mission, and Robert L. Behnken, the first American astronauts launched aboard an American spacecraft from American soil since STS-135. Once in orbit, Hurley and Behnken announced that they had christened their spacecraft Endeavour. The next day, Endeavour docked with the station, and Hurley and Behnken came aboard, welcomed by Expedition 63 Commander NASA astronaut Christopher J. Cassidy and Flight Engineers Anatoli A. Ivanishin and Ivan V.  Vagner representing Roscosmos. Mounted on the open hatch as they floated aboard the station was our intrepid little flag, in space for nine years, and 39 years after making its first trip into space. After their arrival, Cassidy, Hurley and Behnken held a press conference and proudly displayed the flag and how it stood as a symbol of the return of American launch capability. The flag’s nine-year journey came to end when Hurley and Behnken brought it back to Earth on Aug. 2, 2020. The flag first went on display at SpaceX’s facility in Hawthorne, California, then toured the country for a few months, making its final public appearance at the World Petroleum Congress in Houston in December 2021. Currently in storage at JSC, the Legacy Flag will fly again, possibly on even more distant journeys.


Left: The Harmony module’s forward hatch bearing the Legacy Flag, opened to welcome the SpaceX Demo 2 crew. Middle: NASA astronauts Robert L. Behnken, left, Douglas G. Hurley (holding the Legacy Flag), and Christopher J. Cassidy during a press conference. Right: The Legacy Flag in its display case after its return to Earth.

During its time on the space station, the Legacy Flag saw 100 visitors from many nationalities come and go, some of them more than once. Most stayed six months, some stayed longer, up to almost one year. A few made short visits of about a week. During all that time, the space station remained a busy beehive of activity, with hundreds of experiments conducted by the international crews. Many astronauts ventured outside, to repair equipment, place new experiments out, or bring older ones back inside. And in that time, the flag traveled more than 1.3 billion miles. 

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Categories: NASA

Flag Day – One Small Flag’s Incredible Journey

Thu, 06/13/2024 - 12:28pm
4 Min Read Flag Day – One Small Flag’s Incredible Journey

This article is for students grades 5-8.

This story tells the tale of one small American flag fortunate enough to embark on an incredible journey. It wasn’t the first flag to ride into space, or the most famous flag that went into space — that honor probably goes to the Stars and Stripes planted on the Moon by the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969. So what makes this one little flag so special? Let’s let the flag tell its own story.

Here I am launching into space aboard the space shuttle Columbia for the first time in 1981.Credits: NASA

Workers packed me away with many other small flags like me – there must have been a thousand of us – just 8-by-12-inch Stars and Stripes, in a locker aboard space shuttle Columbia. We took off on STS-1, the shuttle’s very first mission in 1981, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Although we couldn’t see anything, we could feel the vibrations and noises of the liftoff, the ride a bit rough for the first two minutes, then much smoother until we reached space. Once in orbit, we could hear the two astronauts working as they tested the new spaceship.

And two days later, I’m back on Earth!Credits: NASA

Then after just two days, we came home, making a smooth landing in California. Thirty years later, someone had the idea to send me into space again, this time on the very last space shuttle mission, STS-135. And this time I would be making a much longer trip, since I would be left aboard the International Space Station.

Here I am starting my second trip into space in 2011, this time aboard the space shuttle Atlantis.Credits: NASA

So I roared off into space again in 2011, this time aboard space shuttle Atlantis. I had four friends to keep me company, Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus, and Rex Walheim. They actually took me out of my locker, and we all took pictures together. That made me feel really special.

Here I am posing with my friends Doug, Chris, Sandy, and Rex aboard Atlantis.Credits: NASA

But there was more in store for me: Two days after our launch we arrived at the space station; wow, what a huge place this was! I met even more astronauts here, from America, Russia, and Japan! President Barack Obama called to congratulate the crews, and I heard him talking about me and what a unique American flag I was. I would have a position of honor aboard the station until the next team of Americans arrived aboard an American spacecraft launched from American soil. I couldn’t have been more proud! 

Here I am with all 10 crewmembers aboard the station, from America, Russia, and Japan.Credits: NASA And here I am, taking my position of honor on the space station’s hatch.Credits :NASA

The astronauts made a TV show and I was the star. They placed me in my position of honor on the forward hatch of the space station, between the patches of the first and last space shuttle missions. I stayed on the hatch for a while, but as no spacecraft arrived through that portal for a few years, the crews needed the space to store their stuff.

Here I am between the STS-1 and STS-135 patches on the station’s forward hatch.Credits: NASA

Worried I might be injured, they slipped me into a plastic cover and placed me on a wall near the hatch. People grew concerned about me and thought it would be good to put me away in storage for safekeeping, at least temporarily, so that’s what happened. And while I waited, the bag I was in got moved around, and after a few years, people weren’t really sure where I was. But luckily, they found me and placed me in a safer bag and wrote these words, “Flown on STS-1 & STS-135. Only to be removed by crew launching from KSC,” to let everyone know I was that special flag.

Later I was moved to a nearby wall.Credits: NASA Later still, placed in a Ziploc bag for safety, with the words to let everyone know I was that special flag.Credits: NASA

Two more years went by, and I began to hear rumblings that I might be needed again. My newest friend on the space station, Chris Cassidy, cleared out the area around the hatch. Was I about to resume my position of honor? Excitement was building, and Chris and his two crewmates, Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner prepared the station for its newest arrivals. Apparently two Americans had launched aboard an American spacecraft from American soil, the first time in nine years.

Here I am welcoming the SpaceX Demo 2 crew.Credits: NASA Doug is holding me up to the camera during a press conference.Credits: NASA

My long wait was over! Chris placed me on the now-open hatch, and first Bob Behnken and then Doug Hurley, my old friend from Atlantis, floated inside the station! I was there to welcome them aboard! Once again, I starred in another TV show. After returning to Earth with Doug and Bob – I’m told I had traveled 1.3 billion miles – I went on display in several places. And now I hear rumblings of another possibly more distant journey awaiting me. We’ll just have to see.

Here I am all dressed up for public display after my return to Earth.Credits: NASA Share Details Last Updated Jun 13, 2024 Related Terms Keep Exploring Discover More STEM Topics From NASA

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California Teams Win $1.5 Million in NASA’s Break the Ice Lunar Challenge

Thu, 06/13/2024 - 12:18pm
4 Min Read California Teams Win $1.5 Million in NASA’s Break the Ice Lunar Challenge

By Savannah Bullard

After two days of live competitions, two teams from southern California are heading home with a combined $1.5 million from NASA’s Break the Ice Lunar Challenge

The husband-and-wife duo of Terra Engineering, Valerie and Todd Mendenhall, receive the $1 million prize Wednesday, June 12, for winning the final phase of NASA’s Break the Ice Lunar Challenge at Alabama A&M’s Agribition Center in Huntsville, Alabama. With the Terra Engineering team at the awards ceremony are from left Daniel K. Wims, Alabama A&M University president; Joseph Pelfrey, NASA Marshall Space Flight center director; NASA’s Break the Ice Challenge Manager Naveen Vetcha; and Majed El-Dweik, Alabama A&M University’s vice president of research & economic development. NASA/Jonathan Deal

Since 2020, competitors from around the world have competed in this challenge with the common goal of inventing robots that can excavate and transport the icy regolith on the Moon. The lunar South Pole is the targeted landing site for crewed Artemis missions, so utilizing all resources in that area, including the ice within the dusty regolith inside the permanently shadowed regions, is vital for the success of a sustained human lunar presence.

On Earth, the mission architectures developed in this challenge aim to help guide machine design and operation concepts for future mining and excavation operations and equipment for decades.

“Break the Ice represents a significant milestone in our journey toward sustainable lunar exploration and a future human presence on the Moon,” said Joseph Pelfrey, Center Director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “This competition has pushed the boundaries of what is possible by challenging the brightest minds to devise groundbreaking solutions for excavating lunar ice, a crucial resource for future missions. Together, we are forging a future where humanity ventures further into the cosmos than ever before.”

The final round of the Break the Ice competition featured six finalist teams who succeeded in an earlier phase of the challenge. The competition took place at the Alabama A&M Agribition Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on June 11 and 12, where each team put their diverse solutions to the test in a series of trials, using terrestrial resources like gravity-offloading cranes, concrete slabs, and a rocky track with tricky obstacles to mimic the environment on the Moon.

The husband-and-wife duo of Terra Engineering took home the top prize for their “Irresistible Object” rover. Team lead Todd Mendenhall competed in NASA’s 2007 Regolith Excavation Challenge, facilitated through NASA’s Centennial Challenges, which led him and Valerie Mendenhall to continue the pursuit of solutions for autonomous lunar excavation.

Starpath Robotics earned the second place prize for its four-wheeled rover that can mine, collect, and haul material during the final phase of NASA’s Break the Ice Lunar Challenge at Alabama A&M’s Agribition Center in Huntsville, Alabama. From left are Matt Kruszynski, Saurav Shroff, Matt Khudari, Alan Hsu, David Aden, Mihir Gondhalekarl, Joshua Huang and Aakash Ramachandran.NASA/Jonathan Deal

A small space hardware business, Starpath Robotics, earned the second-place prize for its four-wheeled rover that can mine, collect, and haul material. The team, led by Saurav Shroff and lead engineer Mihir Gondhalekar, developed a robotic mining tool that features a drum barrel scraping mechanism for breaking into the tough lunar surface. This allows the robot to mine material quickly and robustly without sacrificing energy.

“This challenge has been pivotal in advancing the technologies we need to achieve a sustained human presence on the Moon,” said Kim Krome, the Acting Program Manager for NASA’s Centennial Challenges. “Terra Engineering’s rover, especially, bridged several of the technology gaps that we identified – for instance, being robust and resilient enough to traverse rocky landscapes and survive the harsh conditions of the lunar South Pole.”

Beyond the $1.5 million in prize funds, three teams will be given the chance to use Marshall Space Flight Center’s thermal vacuum (TVAC) chambers to continue testing and developing their robots. These chambers use thermal vacuum technologies to create a simulated lunar environment, allowing scientists and researchers to build, test, and approve hardware for flight-ready use.

The following teams performed exceptionally well in the excavation portion of the final competition, earning these invitations to the TVAC facilities:

  • Terra Engineering (Gardena, California)
  • Starpath Robotics (Hawthorne, California)
  • Michigan Technological University – Planetary Surface Technology Development Lab (Houghton, Michigan)

“We’re looking forward to hosting three of our finalists at our thermal vacuum chamber, where they will get full access to continue testing and developing their technologies in our state-of-the-art facilities,” said Break the Ice Challenge Manager Naveen Vetcha, who supports NASA’s Centennial Challenges through Jacobs Space Exploration Group. “Hopefully, these tests will allow the teams to take their solutions to the next level and open the door for opportunities for years to come.”

NASA’s Break the Ice Lunar Challenge is a NASA Centennial Challenge led by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center, with support from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in  Florida. Centennial Challenges are part of the Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing program under NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. Ensemble Consultancy supports challenge competitors. Alabama A&M University, in coordination with NASA, supports the final competitions and winner event for the challenge.

For more information on Break the Ice, visit:

nasa.gov/breaktheice

Jonathan Deal
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. 
256.544.0034  
jonathan.e.deal@nasa.gov 

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