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Archive for the ‘Image of the Week’ Category


The above image shows Barack Obama, President of the United States, addressing approximately 200 members of a White House-sponsored conference on space exploration earlier today at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. President Obama used this address to formally announce his administration’s shift in priorities for NASA and deep space exploration. The audience of members of Congress, NASA officials, scientists, and former astronauts listened as the Mr. Obama reiterated previously leaked details, which involved abandoning many plans for space flight set up under President George W. Bush’s administration.

The shift is monumental. In a decision made some six years ago, NASA decided to retire the aging space shuttle fleet at the end of this year. With only 3 space shuttle flights left this year, all to hastily complete construction of the International Space Station (ISS), the ISS will have to rely on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts (including Americans) to and from the station starting in 2011. Under the George W. Bush administration, NASA launched the space shuttle’s replacement project: Constellation. Under the Constellation program’s goals, NASA would develop the necessary rockets, vehicles, and modules to continue to serve the ISS, return to the Moon, and then send them to Mars. NASA began to design, build, and test the Ares rockets to do the heavy lifting, and design the Orion space capsule that would be the focus of the Constellation program.

However, Constellation quickly fell behind schedule and over budget, and some critics questioned how returning to the Moon would not provide the necessary innovative leap NASA would need to venture out into deep space. Some independent commissions recommended scrapping Constellation altogether, while others called for focusing more on low Earth orbit missions and support missions to the ISS. Others bemoaned a future in space exploration where NASA abandons its efforts in manned space flights, and took a back seat to Russian, European, Japanese, and Chinese manned missions. Many also wondered anxiously what role private firms could play in the exploration of space. Thus, the details of President Obama’s plans for the Constellation program have been met with cheers and jeers alike. Here are the details, largely taken from today’s address:
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Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 6:21AM local time on Monday, 5 April 2010. This was only the 35th night launch of a space shuttle into orbit, and likely the last. Now in orbit, Discovery is on its way to the International Space Station. The shuttle will deliver food, supplies, and new scientific research tools and equipment to the station. Some of those tools include a new freezer for storing biological samples and an exercise platform that the space station crew can use to study muscle strength in a zero gravity environment. The shuttle crew will conduct at least three spacewalks to replace an external ammonia tank on the station. Ammonia is used to remove excess heat from inside the station and transfer it to radiators on the station’s exterior.

With just over one full day in space, the crew of 7 spent their day using Discovery‘s robotic arm to inspect the heat tiles on the orbiter’s ventral surface for possible damage. The array of tiles protects the orbiter and crew from the intense heat and pressure of atmospheric re-entry. This precautionary check of has been done on every shuttle mission after it was discovered that heat tile damage was responsible for the disintegration of the Space Shuttle Columbia during re-entry in 2003, killing all 7 astronauts on board. Discovery‘s crew recorded footage of the shuttle’s ventral surface, and will transmit the footage to mission control in Houston from the International Space Station. Discovery‘s own Ku-Band antenna, used for transmitting large data files (like these videos) is malfunctioning. But, the shuttle has numerous back-up communication systems, and the crew’s mission should be unaffected by this minor mission glitch.

This 131st space shuttle mission is only the third to include 3 women among the crew, including Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). There are only 3 remaining shuttle missions (one each for the 3 remaining orbiters), before the fleet is retired at the end of this year. You can read more about the space shuttle program here.

Image courtesy of NASA.

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The above image is the Korean Peninsula at night, via satellite. If the Korean coastline isn’t very familiar to you, there’s a daytime image after the jump.
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A male threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) guards his young (those tadpole-like shapes behind him) among the weeds. When it comes to parental responsibility, male threespine sticklebacks do nearly all the work. They build and nest and defend a territory, court females, guard the fertilized eggs from predators, and try to keep their young in the nest once they hatch. Unfortunately, young threespine sticklebacks just can’t wait to leave home. After a few days, they scatter, leaving dad to rebuild the nest and find a new female to court.

This intense streak of paternal behavior isn’t unique to sticklebacks. Among many of their relatives (tubesnouts, pipefish, and seahorses, to name a few), males take on the majority (or entirety) of parental care. Seahorse males make even stickleback males look neglectful — seahorse males carry the fertilized eggs, giving “birth” to their young once the eggs hatch!

Image courtesy of N. Bedford.

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Yesterday’s post on the inner Martian moon left me curious about other ongoing missions to Mars. I went searching for other mission images beamed over from the Red Planet. My favorite thus far is provided by NASA’s Spirit rover, which took this image of the Martian sunset on 19 May 2005.
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