Current Highlights

Space Science & Astrobiology Division Highlights for week ending 09/04/09 R!

Jeff Scargle (Planetary Systems Branch)

Jeff Scargle is attending the Fermi LAT Collaboration Meeting, a science workshop for the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope (FGST) Large Area Telescope (LAT), and presenting data analysis results and methods.

Jack Lissauer (Planetary Systems Branch)

Jack has just begun as a Visiting Fellow at the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge, UK; his appointment last until early October.

 

Space Science & Astrobiology Division Highlights for weeks ending 07/31/09

Emmett Quigley (Astrophysics Branch)
AIDL Highlights

The Code S AIDL (Airborne Instrument Development Laboratory) has had an exciting past few weeks. Here are some highlights of our activities.

Emmett Quigley (AIDL) and Fred Witteborn (Ames Chronograph) have worked together to design the Kinematics Support for the optical table to be used in the next phase of ACE. The components of the system are complete and Emmett Quigley, Lead Technician of the AIDL is working on the remaining components of the Active Cooling Phase of ACE. Installation should start in early Sept ’09.

Spherical Mounts being machined
Spherical Mounts being machined

Close up of Spherical Mounts and attachment points
Close up of Spherical Mounts and attachment points

Complete set of Kinematics Support Hardware
Complete set of Kinematics Support Hardware

Ryan Walker (AIDL) has just completed EXES CCD Platform. Ryan used the Deckel Maho DMU 70 V to manufacture this precision piece of optical hardware in two- set ups. This is the best example and the first of many to come of hardware that this newest edition to our inventory will enable us to produce.

Ryan also was instrumental in producing, in short order, ten sample holders for OREO S’s upcoming environmental tests. In addition Ryan and Emmett provided design input to Nathan Brammel’s design and completed the OREO S glove box ahead of schedule.

EXES CCD Platform being machined in the Deckel MAHO DMU &0V
EXES CCD Platform being machined in the Deckel MAHO DMU &0V . This picture shows the side of the part being machined in a special fixture and using the machines 4th and 5th axis positioning.

Completed CCD Platform.
Completed CCD Platform.

Prototype CCD Platform installed in EXES
Prototype CCD Platform installed in EXES

Emmett and Ryan also designed and built the Piezoelectric Energy Harvesting experiment for Luis Carlos Cruz a summer intern working with Code S.

Emmett Quigley (AIDL) in conjunction with Jhony Zavaleta (SST) and Jesse Fusco (REE) has completed the preparations for a full-scale test of Dr Carol Stoker’s Mars Drill. The first dry run could happen in early August. The preparations for this drill include but are not limited to the complete redesign and fabrication of the air injection system as well as the control wire/cable support structure. The drill was also serviced with new orings and other hardware. An assembly/disassembly document was also produced.

Forward portion of MARS Srill with new air injection system installed.
Forward portion of MARS Srill with new air injection system installed.

The AIDL Team is extremely busy in support of ACE, EXES, Alpha Jet, OREO S, Aero 3X, as well as others. Life is good.

Liza Coe (Planetary Systems Branch)

Chris McKay, Liza Coe and Henry Sun (DRI) were selected for award of an education supplement for “Spaceward Bound Mojave 2010 and 2011.” The ROSES parents proposals are “Biological accumulation of D-amino acids in endolithic microbial communities” (PI: Henry Sun, DRI) and “Raman UV/Fluorescence for Planetary Protection Bioburden Monitoring” (PI: Chris McKay). For each year of the parent awards, we will select a team of 15 STEM in-service teachers to work with scientists as field assistants during a one-week expedition to the Mojave Desert and Death Valley, operating from the Zzyzx field station. Spaceward Bound expeditions are motivated by the following line of reasoning: A teacher who has performed authentic science research will be better prepared to develop pedagogy and curriculum related to scientific exploration in his or her own classroom. He/she will have a better appreciation for the excitement, intrigue, passion for learning associated with scientific inquiry and field research. An inspired teacher will, in turn, inspire their students to learn and explore and to seek further education and careers in STEM fields. The teachers funded by this award will join the existing cohort of Spaceward Bound alumni and become eligible to mentor teachers on future expeditions. Spaceward Bound teachers stay in communication with scientists and teachers through social media such as Facebook as well as our website: http://quest.nasa.gov/projects/spacewardbound.

Space Science & Astrobiology Division Highlights for weeks ending 06/26 & 07/3

Bob Rubin (ORION / Astrophysics Branch)

Paper accepted:

ANALYSIS OF BREIT-PAULI TRANSITION PROBABILITIES FOR LINES IN O III

C. Froese Fischer
G. Tachiev
R. H. Rubin
M. Rodr’iguez
2009, ApJ (in press)

Jennifer Heldmann (Planetary Systems Branch on detail to HQ)

-LRO Scheduled To Arrive At The Moon Tuesday. Computerworld (6/20, Gaudin) reported, “NASA reported on its Web site that all is going according to plan” after the launch of the LRO and LCROSS spacecraft “and that its flight operations team established communication with both satellites…hours after the launch.” According to the article, the spacecraft is “on schedule to begin orbiting….next Tuesday morning.”

-NASA Gets Two-Pronged Look At Lunar Soils And Their Secrets. Another pair of visitors to the moon got a clean liftoff June 18 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V, as NASA looks for safe landing sites and extends its search for water. It will take four days for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to achieve its polar mapping orbit of the moon, which it will occupy over the next year in a position of continuous sun. The orbit will be from just 50 kilometers (30 miles) above the surface. Developed by NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission directorate to create detailed maps for a moon base already in development, LRO will join India’s Chandrayaan and China’s Change’e missions. NASA’s science team has been coordinating with them and with Japan’s Kaguya mapper, which was deliberately plunged into the lunar surface earlier this month after completing its mapping mission (Aerospace DAILY, June 12). One task for LRO, which is managed by Goddard Space Flight Center, is to determine how much the moon has changed since earlier mapping missions prepared the way for Apollo. LRO’s June 18 launch was a month and two days shy of the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s visit to the Sea of Tranquility. The mission has an unusual feature: rather than separating from the Atlas’ Centaur upper stage, the Centaur will be brought along to serve a big role for the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). In October, the Centaur will be targeted into the bottom of a shallow crater yet to be chosen in the moon’s south polar region. Coming in at an 85-degree angle, the Centaur is expected to kick up a spray of regolith that LCROSS’s five cameras will image as it follows four minutes behind (Aerospace DAILY, June 18). The goal is to search for evidence of water ice and/or hydrogen frozen in the shadowed soils of the crater. LCROSS is a NASA Ames Research Center/Northrop Grumman mission. LCROSS will meet its own doom in a slightly off center target. Observatories around the world, including five on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and four in California, New Mexico and Arizona will image the impact plume in optical and infrared. Also serving as LCROSS observers will be the Hubble Space Telescope, Sweden’s Oden and Chandrayaan. – Michael Mecham * mecham@aviationweek.com

-Largest Mars Heat Shield Ever Constructed Unveiled. Space.com (6/19) reported, “The largest heat shield ever built for a probe bound for Mars is ready for the new rover Curiosity.” The shield was unveiled by Lockheed Martin this past week. “To withstand the heat, the shield is tiled with a material called a Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator. This will be the first time the heat shield type has flown on a Mars mission.” The material was developed at the Ames Research Center. Rich Hund, program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said, “The Mars Science Laboratory aeroshell is the most complex capsule to fly to Mars.”

-LCROSS Images Impress Because Of Their Distance, If Not Clarity. The AP (6/24) reported, “NASA’s new lunar probe launched less than a week ago has already sent back some shots of the moon.” The LCROSS spacecraft sent the images. Space.com (6/25, Malik) reports, “They may look grainy or overexposed to the untrained eye, but the new images of the moon sent by an unmanned NASA probe early Tuesday left scientists on Earth rejoicing.” The article noted that the images may not be up to the standards of the public “spoiled by recent high-definition movies and photos of the moon,” but LCROSS scientists are “elated,” according to project manager Daniel Andrews. These images “were taken by a camera not designed to shoot the moon from so far out, and they gave scientists a taste of things to come.” The camera was designed to take pictures hundreds instead of thousands of kilometers away from the surface, as the LCROSS was noted to be.

-Diamandis Praises Singularity University’s Facilities At Ames. In the Huffingtonpost.com(7/7), Peter Diamandis writes, “It’s rare to launch a new University these days, so I’m very honored and pleased to have given birth to Singularity University” located at the Ames Research Center. “Our home at NASA Ames, courtesy of Dr. Pete Worden and NASA HQ is tremendous. The facilities are excellent and the setting could not be better.” Diamandis is also “pleased” with the completion of the school’s first week. This year, 40 students are participating in the program. “Next year we will be accepting ~120 students into the program. Also, for the Executives interested in SU, we will be launching our 3-Day and 10-Day Executive Programs starting this November 2009.”

Space Science & Astrobiology Division Highlights for weeks ending 06/19/09

Tom Greene (Astrophysics Branch)

Tom Greene attended a meeting of the joint US – European Mid-Infrared Science Team of the James Webb Space Telescope in Chicago. The team started planning guaranteed time observations with the mid-infrared instrument (MIRI). Greene made presentations on the protostar and exoplanet programs that he is leading. Collaboration discussions were started with the European guaranteed time holders, and Greene will continue working with the European and US members to plan and coordinate observations for these programs.

Lou Allamandola (Astrophysics Branch)

– Lou gave an invited talk entitled “Astronomical PAHs- from Spitzer to Herschel and Beyond” which was very well received and stimulated a lot of discussion.

– Lou has just completed the last of his three separate, two-month research visits to the ‘Sackler Laboratory for Astrophysics’ at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Working with Prof. H. Linnartz and graduate student J. Bouwman, Dr. Allamandola. explored a new research area on PAH cosmic ice processes combining the unique experimental capabilities in the Sackler Laboratory with his expertise in astronomical polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

While in Leiden they studied the UV induced processes of the PAH pyrene in cometary and interstellar ice analogs. The results have been remarkable. They showed there are two quite distinct reaction channels possible in these cosmic ice analogs, one controlled by the PAH ionization process and the unique reactions only charged species induce, and one involving the more normal organic photochemistry of neutral radicals. The temperature at which the ice is irradiated determines which path is followed. A paper describing the initial results will be published in the Astrophysical Journal in July, and two additional follow-up articles are now in preparation. Based on these new results, a proposal was submitted to the Very Large Telescope (VLT) and we received telescope time. The data are now coming in and will be analyzed over the summer. In addition to this work, Mr. Bouwman will spend two months working in the Astrochemistry Laboratory at NASA Ames Research Center in the fall of 2009.

– Lou A. attended the opening of a new exhibit at the NEMO Museum in Amsterdam dedicated to Astrobiology. This museum is similar to the Exploratorium in San Francsico, a hands on “Fun with Science” museum.

During the past two months Dr. Allamandola presented the following invited talks:

May 7 “Astronomical Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons:Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”, presented to the Free Electron Laser Facility Molecular physics group, (FOM Institute) Rijnhuizen, The Netherlands.

May 22 “From Astrochemistry to Astrobiology” presented to the research staff at the ‘Center For Astrobiology’ (Centro de Astrobiologica), Madrid, Spain.

May 27 “Is Astrochemistry really Astrobiology?” Presented seminar and lead discussion on this topic at The Leiden University Observatory, The Netherlands.

June 9 “Astronomical PAHs- From Spitzer to Herschel and Beyond” presented as part of the ‘Laboratory Astrophysics Meeting’ at the 214 Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Pasadena, California.

Farid Salama (Astrophysics Branch)

Farid Salama (SSA), chair of the AAS Working Group on Laboratory Astrophysics, was the lead organizer of the “Bridging Laboratory and Astrophysics” Meeting that was held at the AAS Conference last week in Pasadena, CA. The three day meeting, devoted to the interplay between laboratory astrophysics and IR, FIR and submm astronomy, was a success as attested by the high attendance that highlighted the increasing role of laboratory astrophysics within the astronomical community. Ames was strongly represented at the meeting with three invited speakers from the Space Science division: Lou Allamandola (SSA), Dale Cruikshank (SSA) and Mark Marley (SST).

Jennifer Heldmann (Planetary Systems Branch on detail to HQ)

– Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Steps Aside For Endeavour Launch. NASA will try again to launch the space shuttle Endeavour on June 17, and still push to get the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) under way this week as well. Both spacecraft were scheduled to launch from Florida that day, after a gaseous hydrogen leak forced the shuttle program to scrub Endeavour’s planned June 13 launch. But in an effort to “maximize” the space agency’s launch opportunities this week, the LRO team relinquished its June 17 slot to the space shuttle program to give Endeavour one more chance to lift off to the International Space Station (ISS) before its launch window closes until July. Steve Payne, NASA test director, said June 15 that shuttle crews at Kennedy Space Center are on track to repair a hydrogen vent line leak that forced a scrub before the original June 13 launch date. There are even a couple of extra hours to accommodate delays in finishing the work if lightning or other weather forces workers inside. The leak, very similar to one that forced a scrub on the STS-119 launch in March, came at the point where gaseous hydrogen is vented from the shuttle’s external tank into the pad structure at Launch Complex 39A for burnoff. Once it was safe for workers to approach the tank, they found slight gaps where the ground umbilical carrier plate (GUCP) joins the external tank, and set to work to replace the seals. Payne and Leroy Cain, the mission management team chair, stressed that the root cause of the leak hadn’t been discovered. But the same repair protocols that are being followed this time stopped the leak after the STS-119 scrub. If the repair holds when Endeavour’s external tank is filled with supercold liquid hydrogen on the evening of June 16, liftoff of the shuttle will come at 5:40 a.m. EDT the next morning. It will allow Endeavour to accomplish its full planned 16-day mission, including 11 days docked to the ISS. A shuttle launch the morning of June 17 is expected to give the Eastern Range time to reconfigure for the Atlas V launch with LRO by the afternoon of June 18, with the first of three opportunities that day coming at 5:12 p.m. EDT. The launch timing is important to get the piggyback Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) lined up for its planned crash into a polar crater at a time and place that will be visible to Earth-based observatories. Launch windows also are available on June 19 and June 20 for LRO. After that, the mission will slip until no earlier than June 30. Payne said the shuttle program has agreed to make only one more attempt to launch before its window closes Saturday, June 20, leaving Thursday, Friday and Saturday to get LRO under way. If Endeavour can’t launch on Wednesday, the next window would open on July 11. The STS-127 mission is to deliver the porch-like Exposed Facility for Japan’s Kibo laboratory module, as well as three large spare pieces of hardware that won’t be deliverable after the shuttle stops flying next year. The mission also will replace a set of station batteries, install experiments on the Exposed Facility, and return Japanese ISS crew member Koichi Wakata to Earth. U.S. Army Col. Tim Kopra will replace him on the ISS. – Frank Morring, Jr. * morring@aviationweek.com

– LRO, LCROSS Could Give “Definitive” Answer To Lunar Water Question. The New York Times (6/16, D3, Chang, 1.06M) continues reporting on the upcoming launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, its mission and what it hopes to find, most notably water that could be frozen in craters at the Moon’s poles. “The mission’s primary purpose is to help NASA locate landing places for the astronauts and plan how to build a Moon base. The data will also be a boon to scientists. The ice, if it exists, could provide a unique record of the past two billion years of the solar system.” Craig Tooley, the project manager of the mission, said, “We have much better maps of Mars than we have of our Moon’s polar regions.” According to the article, the LRO, and the accompanying LCROSS spacecraft that will be purposefully crashed into a crater, will hopefully provide the “definitive” answer to whether water exists.

– Meteorite Isotope Concentrations May Require Revised Solar System Theories. Chemistry World (6/15, Urquhart) reported, “French and Italian scientists have analysed a meteorite and discovered that it contains a unique and primordial rock fragment that is thought to have remained largely unaltered since the solar system formed around 4.6 billion years ago.” Giacomo Briani analyzed the isotopic ratios in the PX-18 meteorite. “The scientists believe the xenolith, which shows unprecedented isotopic variations of nitrogen, may offer insight into the solar system’s formation and say it poses serious problems for current models of light element isotopic fractionation.” Jamie Elsila of the Goddard Space Flight Center said, “This discovery will make us reevaluate models of nitrogen fractionation in the early solar system.” Max Bernstein of the Ames Research Center also called it a “beautiful” example of isotopic mapping.

– LRO/LCROSS Blast Off For Moon. MOONBOUND: NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and its piggyback Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) are en route to the moon following launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at 5:32 p.m. EDT June 18 on an Atlas V rocket. LCROSS and the Centaur upper stage of the Atlas will crash into the lunar surface so that Earth- and space-based telescopes can scan the debris plume for signs of water ice and hydrogen (Aerospace DAILY, June 18). – Frank Morring, Jr. * morring@aviationweek.com

– Ball Aerospace Wins Kepler Service Contract. The Boulder County Business Report (6/18) reoirted, “Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder has received a contract for $11,590,961 from NASA’s Ames Research Center for an on-orbit service operation of the Kepler mission.” The company will “provide support to the Kepler flight planning and mission operations centers, and be responsible for returning science data to the ground for analysis.”

Space Science & Astrobiology Division Highlights week ending 05/08/09

Nathan Bramall (Planetary Systems Branch / ORAU – SST)

On April 16-17, 2009, Nathan Bramall, Carol Stoker, and Jhony Zavaleta successfully tested the Miniaturized Biospectral Logger, a borehole fluorescence-detection instrument tuned to detect proteins. The instrument is only 5.1 cm in diameter and 1.4 m long but is sensitive to a single bacterium on a clay mineral background without the use of any consumables. The power consumption of the instrument is less than 4 W and can operate at temperatures down to and below -30 C.

The deployment was done in a snow pack at Mount Lassen, where a significant protein signal was recorded despite the low concentration in the snow. Repeatability was demonstrated during testing, indicating that the signal obtained was real.

The photograph below, taken by Carol Stoker, depicts Jhony (left) and Nathan (right) about to deploy the mBSL in a borehole. The mBSL is surrounded by an aluminum tube which acts to center it in the borehole and is not part of the instrument itself.

mBSL

Space Science & Astrobiology Division Highlights week ending 05/01/09

Farid Salama (Astrophysics Branch / SSA):

Farid Salama (SSA) was invited to serve on the Science Organizing Committee (SOC) and the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) of the 10th International Colloquium on Atomic Spectra and Oscillator Strengths (ASOS) for Astrophysical and Laboratory Plasmas to be held in Berkeley in August 2010. The ASOS meeting has been held once every three years since its inception in Lund in 1983 and has provided a forum for atomic spectroscopists and astronomers from around the world to meet and discuss atomic data from the perspectives of their production and application.

http://sprg.ssl.berkeley.edu/labastro/ASOS10/index.html

Ted Roush (Planetary Systems Branch / SST)

Presented an invited lecture at Bellevue College, near Seattle, Washington on April 22, 2009. The lecture was the culmination of an academic effort entitled “BCC Reads!” BCC Reads, is Bellevue College’s annual common book and community reading program. Its mission is to strengthen literacy practices, promote campus and community collaboration, and generate excitement about ideas through reading and learning together. This year the selected book was “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury. My lecture was entitled “Chronicling Mars: Science Fiction and Fact”. The lecture provided a historic overview of the information that was known about Mars at the time that Bradbury wrote his book. It then continued with a summary of what factual information subsequent spacecraft missions have collected about Mars and how these have provided a greater understanding of this interesting planet.

During my visit to Bellevue College I had afternoon tea with about 30 students, staff and faculty in an informal setting. We had a dialog about their questions regarding Mars, NASA and my own educational journey. Afterwards, I was a guest at the college art gallery where scholarships were presented to three students for their academic achievements. After the awards event, the lecture was held in the campus Carlson Theater and was attended by 50-75 people.

Space Science & Astrobiology Division Highlights week ending 04/17/09

Dale Cruikshank (Astrophysics Branch / SSA):

Dr. Cruikshank has accepted an invitation to participate in the Steering Group of the Planetary Decadal Survey that will establish priorities in Solar System missions and related research for the next decade. The Survey is an activity of the National Research Council (Space Studies Board) of the National Academy of Sciences, done at the request of NASA and the NSF.

Tom Greene (Astrophysics Branch / SSA):

Tom Greene was nominated to serve on the Electromagnetic Observations from Space Program Prioritization Panel of the Astro2010 decadal survey being conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. He has indicated his intent to serve on the panel, and his membership should be finalized within several weeks after a public comment period and a conflict of interest screening. He is one of only a very few (about 3) current NASA employees involved in the Astro2010 process. The membership of all Astro2010 program prioritization panels is posted at:
http://www7.nationalacademies.org/bpa/Astro2010_Program_Panel_FAQs.html

Jennifer Heldmann (Planetary Systems Branch / SST on detail to HQ)

Hubbard will Lead Mars Program Review. Space News (4/14, David) reported, “Scott Hubbard, the former NASA Ames Research Center director…will lead a review team to help shape NASA’s next decade of robotic Mars exploration.” Doug McCuistion, head of the Mars exploration program, stated that the team will “analyze mission architectures” for Mars through 2020. “This is not Hubbard’s first encounter with Mars. He served as NASA’s first Mars program director in 2000-2001, restructuring the entire Mars program following the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander…a task that earned him the title of NASA’s Mars czar.” Hubbard, speaking with Space News, “said collecting rock and soil samples on Mars and returning them to Earth for study continues to be a top scientific priority, yet NASA’s budget is insufficient to accomplish a Mars sample return mission on its own any time soon. New results… call for new missions and new measurements.”

Jeff Scargle (Planetary Systems Branch / SST):

Jeff Scargle visited the radio astronomy group at the California Institute of Technology headed by Prof. Anthony Readhead. This group has begun a large program of monitoring the radio frequency flux of about 1,000 extragalactic sources of variable luminosity (mostly active galactic nuclei), using the 40 meter dish of the Owens Valley Radio Observatory. The program is a collaboration with the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope. Scargle will participate in the cross-analysis of the data from Fermi and the OVRO telescopes.

George Cooper (Exobiology Branch / SSX):

A manuscript by George Cooper entitled:

“Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry Resolution of Sugar Acid Enantiomers on a Permethylated beta-Cyclodextrin Stationary Phase” has been accepted for publication in The Journal of Chromatograhy A. The manuscript describes the separation of laboratory standards of mirror-images (enantiomers) of individual sugar acids, e.g., glyceric, erythronic, ribonic, etc. This class of organic compounds is known to exist in meteorites.

Examination of these enantiomers in meteorites (in progress) may help to determine if some of the solar system’s first compounds had an influence on the enantiomer characteristics of organic compounds used by life on Earth.

Space Science & Astrobiology Division Highlights week ending 04/03/09

Scott Sandford (Astrophysics Branch / SSA):

Scientists from NASA-Ames’ Astrochemistry Laboratory, Scott Sandford, Stefanie Milam, and Michel Nuevo, were coauthors on a paper entitled “The impact and recovery of asteroid 2008 TC3” that appeared in the 26 March 2009 issue of Nature. The paper’s authors describe the discovery of a small asteroid, 2008 TC3, on 6 October 2008, the subsequent collision of the asteroid with the Earth over North Africa, and the later collection of 47 of the meteorites resulting from the explosion of the asteroid in the Earth’s atmosphere. Portions of the meteorite, now officially named ‘Almahata Sitta’, were analyzed in several laboratories around the world, including Ames’ Astrochemistry Laboratory. The meteorite was shown to be a somewhat anomalous example of a relatively rare type of achondrite called a polymict ureilite. The combined asteroid and meteorite reflectance spectra identify the asteroid as a spectral “Class F” object, now firmly linking this class of asteroid to dark, carbon-rich ureilites.

Andrew Mattioda (Astrophysics Branch / SSA):

On Friday, March 27, 2009, Dr. Andrew Mattioda conducted a tour of the Astrophysics and Astrochemistry Laboratory for Professor Edmund Wilson, Harding University, Searcy, AR, and two undergraduate students. Dr. Wilson is a member of the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium, a NASA EPSCoR program. The students were given a presentation of the abundance of organic matter in the universe and its implications in the origins of life. This is the fifth year Dr. Wilson has brought students out to tour the Astrophysics and Astrochemistry laboratory. As Dr. Wilson stated “It really means a lot for these young people to meet people doing cutting edge research and see the possibilities they might have as they plan their careers.”

Farid Salama (Astrophysics Branch / SSA):

Dr. Salama (SSA), chair of the AAS Working Group on Laboratory Astrophysics (WGLA), has co-authored a white paper for the Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academies on “The Role and Scope of Mission-Enabling Activities in NASA’s Space and Earth Science Missions”.

Jennifer Heldmann (Planetary Systems Branch / SST on detail to HQ)

Studies Show Phoenix Landed In “Microbe-Friendly” Location. In his column for Space.com (3/31), Leonard David reports, “Evidence is building that NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander plopped down on a microbe-friendly location.” At the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference last week, Carol Stoker of the Ames Research Center “valued the Phoenix landing site as having a higher potential for life detection than any site previously visited on Mars. Moreover, the icy material that was sampled might periodically be capable of sustaining modern biological activity.” Suzanne Young of Tufts University also announced that results from the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer showed no substances “detrimental to all microbe life” at the site. “Young agreed that a repeat landing by a spacecraft near the northern polar region is warranted.”

Jeff Scargle (Planetary Systems Branch / SST):

Jeff Scargle (SST) has become a full member of the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope project team. He was previously an Affiliated Scientist, with limited data access, but now has all rights and privileges associated with the team. Fermi was known as the Gamma Ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) before launch and check-out.

Ross Beyer (Planetary Systems Branch / SST):

I attended the LPSC meeting in Houston, TX last week, and was a co-author on these three abstracts:

Hancher, M. D.; Beyer, R.; Broxton, M.; Gorelick, N.; Kolb, E.; and Weiss-Malik, M. 2009. Visualizing Mars Data and Imagery with Google Earth. 40th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, (Lunar and Planetary Science XL), held March 23-27, 2000 in The Woodlands, Texas http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2009LPI….40.2308H

Milazzo, M. P.; Keszthelyi, L. P.; Jaeger, W. L.; Rosiek, M.; Mattson, S.; Verba, C. A.; Beyer, R. A.; Geissler, P. E.; McEwen, A. S.; and Hirise Team. 2009. The Distribution of Columnar Lavas on Mars as Seen by HiRISE. 40th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, (Lunar and Planetary Science XL), held March 23-27, 2000 in The Woodlands, Texas http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2009LPI….40.2159M

Chuang, F. C. and Beyer, R. A. 2009. Modification of Martian Slope Streaks. 40th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, (Lunar and Planetary Science XL), held March 23-27, 2000 in The Woodlands, Texas. http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2009LPI….40.2104C

Robert Haberle (Planetary Systems Branch / SST):

Comment from Sandy Dueck, NAI Education & Public Outreach Lead

I am the education and public outreach (EPO) lead for the NAI Ames Team. I was tasked by NAI Central to host a lecture series on the NASA Digital Learning Network that focuses on Ames Astrobiology post-docs. Your post-doc Colin Goldblatt was today’s speaker. (4/1/09)

The purpose of this lecture series (today’s was 3 out of 5) is to inspire middle school through high school students toward careers at NASA, and to encourage students to stay in school and study science, technology, engineering and math.

Colin’s lecture today was by far THE BEST that has been delivered to date. There were more questions asked by students than ever before. Questions were even asked of Colin after the lecture was over, by staff members who run the digital learning network at both Ames and JPL. It was truly a learning experience for everyone!

Thank you for allowing Colin to participate in EPO activities for our team. He has a true gift for taking complicated subject matter and making it easy to understand, and for making it truly interesting and relatable to students’ everyday lives.

Colin is a true inspiration and I look forward to working with him again!

David Summers (SETI Institute / Exobiology Branch):

Paper published March 27, 2009: David P. Summers, Juan Noveron & Ranor C. B. Basa, Energy Transduction Inside of Amphiphilic Vesicles: Encapsulation of Photochemically Active Semiconducting Particles, Orig. Life Evol. Biosp. 39(2009)127-140

Space Science & Astrobiology Division Highlights week ending 03/20/09

Bob Haberle (Planetary Systems Branch / SST):

Bob Haberle attended a Mars Meteorology Network meeting at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, CO last week (3/10-12). The purpose of the meeting was to reassess the value of network meteorological missions to Mars. The product of the workshop will be a white paper that will provide input to the next National Research Council’s Decadal Survey that is presently being formulated.

Jeff Hollingsworth (Planetary Systems Branch / SST):

Jeffery Hollingsworth has been invited to give a seminar on Mars’ climate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate (PAOC), 30 March 2009.

Jennifer Heldmann (Planetary Systems Branch / SST on detail to HQ)

The San Jose Mercury News (3/17, 233K) editorializes, “Amid economic gloom, NASA and the region’s higher education institutions have given us something to get excited about: plans for a 75-acre research park and residential community at Moffett Field that should cement the valley’s place as a leader in green and information technology research.” Even though “hurdles remain,” such as finding a developer, the editorial comments, “Within a decade, we could look back at this as a pivotal moment when the region’s colleges and universities broke down barriers between them in pursuit of a new frontier.”

Nathalie Cabrol (SETI Institute & Planetary Systems Branch / SST):

Congress has commended the MER team and there are several people at Ames including the Division who are working in that team.

David Blake (Exobiology Branch / SSX):

The Terra portable XRD/XRF, which is a commercial version of the Ames CheMin instrument that is on the Mars Science Laboratory mission, was awarded the Gold medal as “Best New Product” at the 2009 PITCON conference this week. PITCON is the largest commercial instrument conference in the world.

Terra is offered by inXitu, Inc., a Mountain View company started by Philippe Sarrazin, a former NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at Ames. Terra uses technology established by two NASA/ARC patents and was developed in part through NASA SBIR programs administered at Ames.

Terra has been actively used in a number of terrestrial field expeditions by NASA, including 3 campaigns in the high arctic (Spitsbergen), Scarab/RESOLVE ISRU on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the dry valleys of Antarctica, Death Valley, CA and Canada. Most recently, Terra was deployed during the EuroGeoMars campaign at MDRS Utah by the European Space Agency.

Information about the award, voted on by 200 technology editors, can be seen at:

http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news-PITTCON-2009-editors-choice-awards-031209.aspx?xmlmenuid=51

Space Science & Astrobiology Division Highlights week ending 03/13/09

Scott Sandford (Astrophysics Branch SSA):

Dr. Scott Sandford made a presentation on the final Comet Coma Rendezvous and Sample Return (CCRSR) concept mission at NASA Headquarters on Friday, February 27. The CCRSR is one of the missions being studied under the Discovery and Scout Mission Capabilities Expansion (DSMCE) program, which is investigating the possible use and testing of the new ASRG power unit on a Discovery-class mission.

The CCRSR mission would rendezvous with a comet and follow it for much on an entire orbit, during which time it would periodically dip down into the comet’s coma and collect dust samples for subsequent return to Earth for study.

Dr. Sandford was the PI on the concept study effort, which was successfully completed this February.

David Des Marais (Exobiology Branch / SSX):

On March 7, Dr. David Des Marais gave a public lecture in Columbia, MO (University of Missouri) that received press coverage.

See link below:
http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/2009/mar/08/mars-lecture-captivates-crowd/

Tori Hoehler (Exobiology Branch / SSX)

Dr. Tori Hoehler will be featured on the next episode of the SETI Institute’s radio program, “Are We Alone?”. Contributing to an episode entitled “Slime World”, Hoehler discusses the prominent focus of astrobiology research on microorganisms (“slime”), including the the attributes that may make microbial life the most abundant form in the universe. “Are We Alone” is broadcast weekly to a public radio audience in 16 markets, and podcast to a worldwide audience of more than 30,000 listeners.

Code SS Highlights 03/06/09

Scott Sandford (SSA):

Dr. Scott Sandford gave an invited talk on “Interstellar and Early Solar System Organics in Samples from Comet 81P/Wild 2” at the SETI Institute on February 25, 2009. During his talk he provided a review of the Stardust mission and discussed the latest results of studies of the samples returned from Comet 81P/Wild 2 by the mission. The entire talk can be viewed on the web at: http://www.seti.org/Page.aspx?pid=1255.

Bob Haberle (SST):

Jeff Hollingsworth presented the case for an Ames Mars Climate Modeling Center (MCMC) at the Mars Exploration and Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) meeting in Washington DC this week (March 3-4). The general reaction from the community was favorable and Jim Green, Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA HQ, plans to continue “moving forward” with the plan. A small ad-hoc MEPAG advisory group will provide input to the MCMC on the specific needs of the user community.

Adrian Brown (SETI / SSX):

Dr Adrian Brown published two articles this week in The Space Review on the technical and bugetary reasons behind the delay of the Mars Science Laboratory mission. For more details, see http://thespacereview.com.

Jennifer Heldmann (SST) on detail to HQ:

– Helo Makers Vying For Ames Task Orders. HELO TECH: Bell Helicopter, Boeing and Sikorsky will share a five-year, $40 million cost plus fixed-fee contract for subsonic rotary wing technology development awarded by NASA Ames Research Center. The three will compete on task orders for research and development support of a variety of rotorcraft needs, including a next-generation air traffic management system, prognostics and health management, advanced rotorcraft configurations, drive systems, avionic processors and wind tunnel test stands.- Av. Week Staff

– Kepler Mission Excites Program Manager. The New York Times (3/3, D1, Overbye, 1.12M), in a 1,764 word article on the front page of its Science Times Section, continues reporting on the upcoming launch of the Kepler Space Telescope. Most of the article is similar to other previous reports, detailing the mission, what it hopes to find, and how it will discover planets using the transit method. The article notes, “Many technical hurdles had be overcome before Kepler became practical. In particular it required very accurate and sensitive digital detectors, said James Fanson, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Kepler’s project manager.” Fanson also said, “In my 25 years of working with NASA this is the most exciting mission I’ve worked on. … We are going to be able to answer for the first time a question that has been pondered since the time of the ancient Greeks. Are there other worlds like ours?” According to the NYTimes, “The Kepler mission is a tribute to the perseverance of” lead scientist William Borucki of the Ames Research Center, “who began proposing it to NASA in the 1980s, before any exoplanets had been discovered.”

– NASA Names Satellite Investigation Board. UPI (3/4) reported NASA “has named the officials who will investigate the cause of the unsuccessful Feb 24 launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite.” The head of the board, Rick Obenschain, deputy director of the Goddard Space Flight Center, had already been named. “The panel’s four other voting members are Jose Caraballo, safety manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center…Patricia Jones, acting chief of the Human Systems Integration Division at the Ames Research Center; Richard Lynch of aerospace systems engineering at the Goddard Space Flight Center; and Dave Sollberger, deputy chief engineer of launch services at the Kennedy Space Center.” NASA “said Ruth Jones, safety and mission assurance manager at the Marshall Space Flight Center, will be a non-voting member charged with assuring the board’s activities conform to NASA procedural requirements.” The Lompoc (CA) Record (3/5) also covers the story.

Code SS Highlights 02/27/09

Jesse Bregman (SSA):

Farid Salama was has affirmed his appointment as a member of an Astro2010 Infrastructure Study Group.

Tom Greene (SSA):

– Tom Greene attended a meeting of the Keck Observatory Science Steering Committee (SSC) in Waimea, HI on February 18 and 19. He and Rachel Akeson, the other NASA Keck SSC representative, are drafting a white paper for the Astro2010 Decadal Survey on “The importance of Keck to NASA.”

– Tom Greene also completed the science requirements document of the Pupil-mapping Exoplanet Coronagraphic Observer (PECO) mission study.

Linda Jahnke (SSX):

A paper characterizing a new extremophilic bacterium, isolated from a saturated salt crust from Searles Lake will be published in the April issue of /Applied and Environmental Microbiology/. The bacterium has been named in honor of the late NASA Ames geomicrobiologist, Dr. Melvin Silverman. /Halarsenatibacter silvermanii /Switzer Blum et al., sp. nov. grows by arsenate respiration at alkaline pH above 9 and at salt
concentrations above 20%, including at saturation. The work was lead by Mel’s former postdoc, Ronald Oremland, now with the USGS at Menlo Park. Lipid analysis was contributed by Exobiology branch member, and former colleague, Linda Jahnke. The work was partially funded by grants from NASA’s Exobiology program.

Citation: Switzer Blum J, Han S, Lanoil B, Satikov C, Witte B, Tabita F R, Langley S, Beveridge T J, Jahnke L, Oremland R S. 2009. Ecophysiology of “Halarsenatibacter silvermanii” Strain SLAS-1T, gen. nov., sp. nov., a facultative chemoautotrophic arsenate respirer from salt-saturated Searles Lake, California.

Jennifer Heldmann (SST) on detail to HQ:

A tiger team at ARC this past summer put together the attached documents regarding the issue of Google X-Prize lunar landings & preservation of historic sites on the Moon.

ARC Team = Alex MacDonald, Matt Daniels, Jennifer Heldmann, John Karcz, Creon Levitt, George Sloup, & Erin Tranfield plus David Murakami (Heldmann’s NASA Academy student), and Clara McCrossin (summer student with Erin Tranfield).

**Note documents not attached to email received to use as highlight/YI.

Jack Lissauer (SST):

Jack Lissauer will be a panelist in the 2009 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate: From Planets to Plutoids – Our New Solar System on March 10, 2009.

http://www.amnh.org/programs/programs.php?src=p_h&date=2009-03-10&event_id=1184

Code SS Highlights 02/20/09

Tori Hoehler (SSX):

Tori Hoehler was a speaker/panelist at a public event at Chabot Space & Science Center. Hoehler and UC Berkeley professor Gibor Basri provided astrobiology and astronomy perspectives, respectively, as they interacted with a live audience to explore the subject of extrasolar planets. The panel discussion was the culmination of a night-long series of exoplanet-themed events at Chabot, including a presentation on the Ames-led Kepler mission.

Jennifer Heldmann (SST) on detail to HQ:

    • Pentagon Satellite Problems Could Delay LRO Launch. The Huntsville (AL) Times (2/14, Spires) reported, “The launch of NASA’s next lunar probe could be delayed because of problems with a Pentagon communications satellite, according to a NASA manager.” The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s and LCROSS’ launch may slip by two weeks. A memo from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter program manager Craig Tooley “said his office had been ‘notified that problems with the (Air Force) spacecraft have made it impossible for (United Launch Alliance) to launch’ on April 24 and they are aiming for a May 7.” The “launch dates are critical to the dual mission because NASA scientists want the orbiter’s cameras and other sensors trained on the moon when the LCROSS hits,” Marshall Space Flight Center spokesperson Jennifer “Morcone said.” Boeing Spokesperson Lewis Brinson said the Wideband Global Satellite-2 is facing “minor issues.” Boeing is constructing the satellite.

 

  • Former Astronauts Simulating Lunar Landings At Ames. The San Jose (NM) Mercury News (2/16, Swift) reports, “At NASA Ames Research Center…a group of former astronauts, including several Apollo astronauts who flew the original Lunar Module in space, are helping design America’s next lunar lander. NASA engineers are using the world’s most advanced motion-based flight simulator at Ames to help create Altair.” The group is “painstakingly logging data” with the Vertical Motion Simulator in order to “determine everything from the amount of thrust the lander’s engine will have, to the design and function of the cockpit instruments.” The simulator is also “one of NASA’s main tools to train space shuttle pilots.”

Farid Salama (SSA):

As chair of the AAS Working Group on Laboratory Astrophysics (WGLA), Farid Salama (SSA), has co-authored and coordinated five distinct white papers for the National Academies ASTRO2010 decadal survey.

A white paper centered on laboratory astrophysics was submitted by the WGLA to each of the five Science Frontiers Panels in the ASAC Subcommittee on Science. The white papers titles are:

New Discoveries in the Galactic Neighborhood through Advances in Laboratory Astrophysics

New Discoveries in Planetary Systems and Star Formation through Advances in Laboratory Astrophysics

New Discoveries in Stars and Stellar Evolution through Advances in Laboratory Astrophysics

New Discoveries in Cosmology and Fundamental Physics through Advances in Laboratory Astrophysics

New Discoveries in Galaxies across Cosmic Time through Advances in Laboratory Astrophysics

Talk at SETI by Margaret Race and Rocco Mancinelli (SSX):

Panel: Margaret Race and Rocco Mancinelli of the SETI Institute and Workshop participants
When: February 11, 12:00 noon
Where: The SETI Institute, Europa room

Abstract: SETI Principle Investigators Margaret Race and Rocco Mancinelli are convening an interdisciplinary workshop at the Institute from Feb. 9-11 that includes experts from a range of disciplines, including law, ethics, policy, theology, philosophy, social sciences, education, communication, and astrobiology sciences. Supported by a grant from the NAI, the invited participants are charged with systematically analyzing the diversity of societal issues that arise in Astrobiology research and space exploration. Margaret and Rocco will chair a lunchtime panel discussion that includes short presentations on the initial workshop findings followed by questions and feedback from the audience. Join us for a chance to experience a roadmap in the making.

Code SS Highlights 02/13/09

Jennifer Heldmann (SST) on Detail to HQ:

Ames Scientist Interviewed About Contamination Rules. NPR (2/6, Flatow), in “Talk of the Nation,” interviewed Christopher McKay of the Ames Research Center on revising the rules on interplanetary contamination. McKay said, “I think COSPAR, which is the international organization that implements these policies, should have a conference – and they’re planning to – to reexamine this and to change the basis of planetary protection from scientific controls and scientific cleanliness to biologically reversible.” McKay noted that he is not “addressing” contamination from Mars, as in a sample return mission.

Jeff Cuzzi (SST):

Jeff Cuzzi (SST) presented the Ring Science case for extending the Cassini mission for another seven years, until Saturn Solstice in 2017, to a Senior Review Panel chartered by NASA HQ, at JPL. Other presentations were made by four other Interdisciplinary Scientists (for Saturn, the icy satellites, Titan, and the Magnetosphere) as well as two team leaders who discussed resource issues, the Project Scientist, and other project staff. Cassini is now halfway through a two-year extended mission phase. If approved, the Cassini mission would cover thirteen years in Saturn orbit.