UNIVERSE TODAY Update 2


November 19th, 2009

Spirit Rover Makes Progress

This blink comparison documents very slight forward movement of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit during a drive on the rover's 2,090th Martian day, or sol (Nov. 19, 2009). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A little good news for Spirit! The rover successfully moved; not very much, but its the first step of a planned two-step motion to try and get Spirit free from a sand trap on Mars. On on Sol 2090 (Nov. 19), the rover spun its wheels for the equivalent of 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in the forward direction, and the center of the rover moved approximately 12 millimeters (0.5 inch) forward, 7 millimeters (0.3 inch) to the left and about 4 millimeters (0.2 inch) down. Again, not much, but its the first good news and good movement the rover has had in months.
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Filed under: Mars, Missions | 3 Comments »


November 19th, 2009

Large Hadron Collider Could Re-Start This Weekend

The complexity of the Large Hadron Collider (CERN/LHC/GridPP)
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) could be re-started on this Saturday morning CERN officials said. Engineers are preparing to send a beam of sub-atomic particles around the 27km-long circular tunnel, which has been shut down since an accident in September 2008. Scientists hope to create conditions similar to those present moments after the Big Bang in search of the elusive Higgs particle to shed light on fundamental questions about the universe.
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Filed under: Physics, Science | 5 Comments »


November 19th, 2009

Plasma Rocket Could Help Pick Up Space Trash

Artist concept of a VASIMR. Credit: Ad Astra

Artist concept of a VASIMR. Credit: Ad Astra


Franklin Chang Diaz's proposed VASIMR rocket engine could create very versatile spacecraft. Not only does the plasma-fueled rocket have the potential to make a trip to Mars in just over a month, it could also help clean up space trash in Earth orbit. “Our goal is to be able to have a garbage truck that will be picking up all of these objects at various orbits,” astronaut Chang Diaz said in an article in the Global Post. The debris could put into an “orbital graveyard,” he added, “or we could actually launch them to the sun and drive them to the sun, which is kind of the ultimate, cosmic dump.”
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November 19th, 2009

Black Hole Drive Could Power Future Starships

Image credit: NASA

Image credit: NASA



What would happen if humans could deliberately create a black hole? Well, for starters we might just unlock the ultimate energy source to create the ultimate spacecraft engine — a potential  "black hole-drive" –  to propel ships to the stars.

It turns out black holes are not black at all; they give off "Hawking radiation" that causes them to lose energy (and therefore mass) over time. For large black holes, the amount of radiation produced is miniscule, but very small black holes rapidly turn their mass into a huge amount of energy.
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November 18th, 2009

"X" Marks Puzzling Galactic Bulge

NGC 4710.  Credit: NASA & ESA
Looking at a galaxy edge-on provides astronomers the opportunity to study different aspects of galaxies than a face-on view offers. This Hubble image of NGC 4710 is part of a survey conducted to provide more information about the puzzling bulges that form around the middle of some galaxies. Have these galaxies been "eating" too much, or is it just part of a "middle-age spread" similar to what humans experience? Astronomers aren't sure why bulges evolve and become a substantial component of most spiral galaxies.
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Filed under: Hubble, galaxies | 33 Comments »


November 18th, 2009

The 'Camera That Saved Hubble' Goes to Smithsonian Museum

Astronauts replace the Wide Field Planetary camera. Credit: NASA
The Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, along with the "contact lens" that corrected the defect in the Hubble Space Telescope's primary mirror will have a new home. Recently returned to Earth after more than 15 years in space, the two instruments will have a new home in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington. Astronauts on the Hubble servicing mission in May 2009 replaced WFPC-2 with a new and improved version, bringing the well-used camera back to Earth. "This was the camera that saved Hubble," said Ed Weiler, from NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "I have looked forward for a long time to stand in front of this very instrument while on display to the public."
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July 21st, 2009

Thirty-Meter Telescope Headed for Mauna Kea

Written by Anne Minard ShareThis

Thirty-Meter Telescope concept

The Thirty Meter Telescope, which is vying to be the inaugural member of an emerging class of giant eyes in the sky, is headed for the Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

That means the other contending site, Cerro Armazones in Chile, is off the drawing board.

Richard Ellis, a TMT board member, said the choice was a tough one, but Mauna Kea had scientific advantages.

"Mauna Kea is a higher site. It is actually drier, and the average temperature fluctuates less from day to day and during the day to night cycle than the Chilean site," he said, during a press conference this afternoon to announce the decision.  "Much of the astronomy will be at infrared wavelengths, where the dryness is an advantage."

He added that the Hawaii boasts slightly better atmospheric qualities, including lower turbulence over the site.

When completed in 2018, the TMT will enable astronomers to detect and study light from the earliest stars and galaxies, analyze the formation of planets around nearby stars, and test many of the fundamental laws of physics. Based on the scientific model of the twin Keck telescopes, the core technology of TMT will be a 30-meter primary mirror composed of 492 segments.

The TMT project is an international partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and ACURA, an organization of Canadian universities. The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) joined TMT as a Collaborating Institution in 2008.

The TMT project has completed its $77 million design development phase with primary financial support of $50 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and $22 million from Canada. The project has now entered the early construction phase, with an additional $200 million pledge from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Caltech and the University of California each have agreed to raise matching funds of $50 million to bring the construction total to $300 million, and the Canadian partners propose to supply the enclosure, the telescope structure, and the first light adaptive optics.

The TMT faces competition from the Giant Magellan Telescope to usher in the age of the giants. See past Universe Today coverage of the race here.

Source: TMT site

Filed under: Astronomy

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May 24th, 2009

UT Briefs: Shuttle Lands, Re-living Phoenix

Atlantis touches down in California.  Credit: NASA

Atlantis touches down in California. Credit: NASA

Space Shuttle Lands

Space shuttle Atlantis landed safely in California on Sunday morning after “dynamic and unpredictable” weather kept the orbiter from returning to Florida. Atlantis touched down on runway 22 of Edwards Air Force Base at 11:39 am EDT (1539 GMT) Sunday, May 24 the first of two opportunities to land the shuttle in California. Atlantis spent nearly 13 days in orbit on the STS-125 mission, successfully repairing and upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope during a series of five spacewalks. Atlantis will be ferried to Kennedy Space Center on top of a modified 747 in about a week. Next shuttle mission: STS-127, slated for liftoff on June 13, on a trip to the International Space Station.
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May 23rd, 2009

Bolden Nominated as NASA Administrator; Shuttle Landing Delayed

Obama and a White House Aide met with Charles Bolden on May 19. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

Obama and a White House Aide met with Charles Bolden on May 19. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.



About the same time space shuttle Atlantis’ landing was waved off today due to continued rainy weather in Florida, the White House announced that former shuttle commander Charles Bolden Jr. will be nominated as NASA’s next administrator. President Obama also chose Lori Garver to be Bolden’s deputy administrator. Obama said, “These talented individuals will help put NASA on course to boldly push the boundaries of science, aeronautics and exploration in the 21st century and ensure the long-term vibrancy of America’s space program.”
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Filed under: NASA, Space Flight, Space Shuttle | 7 Comments »


May 22nd, 2009

Answer to This Week’s WITU Challenge Now Posted

where-in-the-universe-55
If you’re still wondering what this is, you can find the answer back on the original WITU post. Check back next week for another Where In The Universe challenge.

Filed under: Where In the Universe? | No Comments »


May 22nd, 2009

More Stunning Images From the Hubble Servicing Mission

Astronaut Mike Massimino in the foreground, with Mike Good on the end of the robotic arm, backdropped by the shuttle, Hubble, and Earth. Credit: NASA
In our last installment of images from the STS-125 mission, we left off with third EVA of the mission. Since then, as I’m sure you know, the astronauts have completed two more EVAs, released Hubble and are waiting for the weather to improve in Florida so they can land. So, let’s get caught up with the latest images released by NASA. I love the image above, as it has everything in it about the mission: two spacewalking astronauts from EVA #4 (Mike Massimino and Mike Good), the shuttle Atlantis, Hubble, and a beautiful view of Earth.
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Filed under: Hubble, Space Flight, Space Shuttle | 6 Comments »



May 22nd, 2009

Weather Keeps Shuttle Crew in Space Another Day

sts-125-crew

STS-125 crew members aboard Atlantis (pictured above) will hang out at least a day longer in space, following foul weather that prevented a timely landing today at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

And the forecast isn’t looking any sunnier for at least a little while.

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Filed under: Missions, NASA, Space Shuttle | 7 Comments »


May 22nd, 2009

Opportunity Reveals Long-time Water, Winds at Victoria

mars-saga

A sizable collaboration of researchers has unveiled an enormous set of data from NASA’s Opportunity rover today — data that testify to the rover’s lucky longevity, and paint a picture of climate events that have shaped Victoria Crater, shown in this NASA/JPL-Caltech image.

The climate history is vast and compelling, including dramatic floods and terrain-shaping winds spanning billions of years. The data appear in today’s issue of the journal Science.

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Filed under: Mars | 4 Comments »


May 21st, 2009

IYA Live Telescope Today: M104, NGC 6231, NGC 55 and Comet C/2009 G1 (STEREO)

utsidebaradd2Were you tuned in to Galactic TV today? If not, you missed a real treat. The southern skies were exceptionally clear and dark. And you know what happens when you’re photon-deprived, don’t you? Darn right… We played all night. If you didn’t get a chance to see the action, don’t despair. Believe it or not, we really and truly care about giving you an opportunity to see through the eyepiece, too… That’s why we took videos of all of tonight’s objects to share. Why not step inside and have a look at the mysterious Sombrero Galaxy, beautiful open cluster NGC 6231, huge barred irregular galaxy NGC 55 and a surprise treat… Comet C/2009 G1 (STEREO)! Click to continue…

Filed under: IYA Live Telescope Library | 3 Comments »


May 21st, 2009

Disappearing Accretion Disk Is Missing Link in Pulsar Birth

accretion_disk

A now-you-see-it, now-you don’t accretion disk (white and blue in the artist’s rendering at left) has tipped astronomers to the birth of a superfast, “millisecond” pulsar that was happening right before their eyes — er, their radio telescopes.

The new finding confirms the long-suspected evolutionary connection between a neutron star and a millisecond pulsar: they are two life stages of the same object.

Anne Archibald, of McGill University in Montreal, Canada and her colleagues announced their discovery in the May 21 online issue of the journal Science.

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May 21st, 2009

With Moon Rocks in Hand, Parazynski Reaches Mt. Everest Peak

As the sun rises on Mt. Everest, former astronaut Scott Parazynski holds rocks from the Moon that he brought to the summit. Credit: OnOrbit.com
We’ve been following former astronaut Scott Parazynski’s attempt to climb Mt. Everest, and now comes the news that he has successfully reached the summit, one year after a back injury forced him to give up his climb. “It was a wonderful experience, though and through,” Parazynski said in a Skype interview with Miles O’Brien, “and certainly the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life, both physically and mentally.” Parazynski brought several objects with him to the world’s highest summit, including rocks from the Moon, and remembrances of fallen astronauts. Parazynski is the first astronaut to summit Mt. Everest.
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May 21st, 2009

A Brotherhood of Hubble Warriors: Jeff Hoffman Reflects on HST Repair Missions

Hoffman, on the robotic arm, works with Story Musgrave on an EVA on STS-61. Credit: NASA

Hoffman, on the robotic arm, works with Story Musgrave on an EVA on STS-61. Credit: NASA



Not surprisingly, former astronaut Jeff Hoffman has been watching the current Hubble servicing mission with interest. After all, he was a member of the first repair crew that visited the telescope in December 1993, part of the team which essentially rescued the Hubble program from what could have been a disaster. But, now Hoffman is impressed with this current crew and what they’ve accomplished, saying they are part of a “brotherhood of Hubble warriors.”

And Hoffman is feeling a little nostalgic, too.
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May 20th, 2009

IYA Live Telescope Today: Jupiter and Neptune Conjunction - M19

utsidebaradd1Hey, hey! We’re baaaack… Due to some technical difficulties, our eye on the southern sky has been down for a short time, but I’m happy to report that we’re back up and running again. If you missed our broadcast yesterday and today, have no fear. We recorded the Jupiter and Neptune conjunction for you and captured Messier 19 today, too! Come on… You know you want to look! Click to continue…

Filed under: IYA Live Telescope Library | 1 Comment »


May 20th, 2009

Where In The Universe #55

where-in-the-universe-55

Are you ready for another Where In The Universe Challenge? Take a look and see if you can name where in the Universe this image is from. Give yourself extra points if you can name the spacecraft responsible for the image. As usual, we’ll provide the image today, but won’t reveal the answer until tomorrow. This gives you a chance to mull over the image and provide your answer/guess in the comment section. Please, no links or extensive explanations of what you think this is — give everyone the chance to guess.

UPDATE: The answer has now been posted below. Don’t peek before you make your guess.
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May 20th, 2009

SRB Videos, A Toast to Recycled Urine and Other Misc. Spaceflight Notes


It has been a busy day in space and here are a few jottings about what all has been going on. Above, you can watch the spectacular videos taken by cameras mounted on the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters, taken during the launch of Atlantis on the current Hubble Servicing Mission. It’s a crazy ride, tagging along on the outside of the shuttle going up, and spinning dizzily on the way down until splashing in the ocean. Not for the faint of heart! But seeing the SRB videos means only one thing: Atlantis and the STS-125 crew have been cleared to land. NASA has carefully reviewed the videos and the data from the crew’s scan of the shuttle’s thermal protection system, saying there are absolutely no issues that would preclude the shuttle from landing. Weather, however could be another matter, which is why NASA ordered the shuttle to power down for awhile today to save on consumables. Predicted weather does not look good for landing on Friday, so the crew will make sure they have enough power to stay in orbit for a few more days.

Now about that toast…
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Filed under: Hubble, Space Flight, Space Shuttle, Space Station | 6 Comments »


April 16th, 2009

Dust Storms Picking Up on Mars

This nearly global mosaic from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on April 2, 2009, shows billowing clouds of dust being lifted into the atmosphere by a storm near the edge of the seasonal polar cap of southern Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Just like hurricane season or tornado season on Earth, Mars has stormy seasons, too. However, the Red Planet has dust storms, and they can be whoppers, which is bad news for the two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity who rely on clear skies and sunshine for power. On April 21, Mars will be at the closest point to the sun in the planet’s 23-month, elliptical orbit. One month later, the planet’s equinox will mark the start of summer in Mars’ southern hemisphere. This atmospheric-warming combination makes the coming weeks the most likely time of the Martian year for dust storms, and given the current forecast based on data from the orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey, these storms could be severe enough to minimize activities of the rovers.
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April 16th, 2009

Kepler’s “First Light” Images

This image zooms into a small portion of Kepler's full field of view -- an expansive, 100-square-degree patch of sky in our Milky Way galaxy. Credit: NASA/JPL -Caltech


W00t! Kepler has seen first light! The spacecraft has taken its first images of the star-rich sky where it will soon begin hunting for planets like Earth. These first images show the mission’s target patch of sky, a vast starry field in the Cygnus-Lyra region of our Milky Way galaxy. One image shows millions of stars in Kepler’s full field of view, while two others zoom in on portions of the larger region. “Kepler’s first glimpse of the sky is awe-inspiring,” said Lia LaPiana, Kepler’s program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “To be able to see millions of stars in a single snapshot is simply breathtaking.”

The image above zooms into a small portion — just 0.2 percent –of Kepler’s full field of view, and shows an an expansive, 100-square-degree patch of sky in our Milky Way galaxy, and a cluster of stars located about 13,000 light-years from Earth, called NGC 6791, can be seen in the upper right corner. These images were taken on April 8, 2009, one day after Kepler’s dust cover was jettisoned. See more below.
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Filed under: Extrasolar Planets, Missions | 14 Comments »


April 16th, 2009

Researchers Describe ‘Most Spectacular and Most Disturbed’ Galaxy Cluster

Composite image of MACSJ0717. Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/IfA/C. Ma et al.); Optical (NASA/STScI/IfA/C. Ma et al.)

Composite image of MACSJ0717. Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/IfA/C. Ma et al.); Optical (NASA/STScI/IfA/C. Ma et al.)

It’s hot. It’s crowded. And it’s one of the most raucuous space parties astronomers have ever seen.

A research team using a combination of three powerful telescopes is spilling the beans on the galaxy cluster MACSJ0717.5+3745 (MACSJ0717 for short), located about 5.4 billion light years from Earth. The wild system contains four separate galaxy clusters undergoing a triple merger — the first time such a phenomenon has been documented — and that’s just the beginning. 

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Filed under: Astronomy, galaxies | 36 Comments »


April 16th, 2009

NASA Weighing Debris Hit Risk for Hubble Repair Mission

The odds of Loss Of Crew and Vehicle for the STS-125 mission. Credit: NASASpaceflight.com

The odds of Loss Of Crew and Vehicle for the STS-125 mission. Credit: NASASpaceflight.com


There’s good news and bad news for the upcoming Hubble repair mission. The good news is that the statistical threat posed to space shuttle Atlantis and her crew by micro-meteoroid orbiting debris (MMOD) is currently no greater than last year, even with the collision of two satellites in February and other recent satellite breakups. The chance of the shuttle being hit by MMOD during a mission to Hubble is 1 in 185. But that’s also the bad news. The 1 in 185 chance of a catastrophic impact to a shuttle in Hubble’s orbit is, obviously, quite high, and higher than NASA’s limit of 1 in 200. The final decision of whether this risk is acceptable will be discussed at a Flight Readiness Review meeting on April 30. It is anticipated that NASA will override the limit and accept the risk. Without a servicing mission by a space shuttle crew, the telescope is not expected to last more than another year or two.
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April 16th, 2009

Bridge Between the Stars - NGC 602: Hubble Visualization by Jukka Metsavainio

NGC 602 Parallel Hubble Visualization by Jukka Metsavainio

NGC 602 Parallel Hubble Visualization by Jukka Metsavainio

It’s been awhile hasn’t it? Time may have passed, but absence makes the heart grow fonder. For those of you who have missed our very special dimensional looks into the Cosmos, then it’s high time we let our minds and eyes relax and we take a 200 thousand light-year distant journey towards the edge of the Small Magellanic Cloud for a look at a bright, young open cluster of stars known as NGC 602… Click to continue…

Filed under: Astronomy, Astrophotos | 9 Comments »


April 15th, 2009

Constraining the Orbits of Planet X and Nemesis

Artists impression of the hypothetical star, Nemesis (Wikipedia)

Artists impression of the hypothetical star, Nemesis (Wikipedia)

If Planet X was out there, where would it be? This question posed by an Italian researcher turns out to be a lot more involved than you’d think. As opposed to all the 2012 idiocy hype flying around on the internet, this research is actually based on a little thing called science. By analysing the orbital precession of all the inner-Solar System planets, the researcher has been able to constrain the minimum distance a hypothetical object, from the mass of Mars to the mass of the Sun, could be located in the Solar System. As most of the astronomical community already knows, the two purveyors of doom (Planet X and the Sun’s evil twin, Nemesis) exist only in the over-active imaginations of a few misinformed individuals, not in reality…
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Filed under: 2012, Astronomy | 39 Comments »


April 15th, 2009

Satellites Show How Earth Moved During Earthquake

An Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) interferogram. Credit: IREA-CNR

An Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) interferogram. Credit: IREA-CNR


If you have ever experienced an earthquake, you know that the Earth literally moves beneath your feet. And now there’s satellite data to show just how much. Scientists studying satellite radar data from ESA’s Envisat and the Italian Space Agency’s COSMO-SkyMed, have been able analyze the movement of Earth during and after a recent earthquake in central Italy. A 6.3 earthquake shook the town of L’Aquila in on April 6, 2009, and satellite data is being used to map surface deformation in the Earth that took place after the quake and the numerous aftershocks that followed.
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Filed under: Earth Observation | 12 Comments »


April 14th, 2009

The Anatomy of a Solar Explosion in 3-D


Wouldn’t it be great if solar physicists could predict sun storms just like meteorologist predict hurricanes? Well, now perhaps they can. NASA’s twin STEREO observatories have made the first 3-D measurements of solar explosions, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), allowing scientists to see their size and shape, and image them as they travel approximately 93 million miles from the sun to Earth. With STEREO, scientists can now capture images of solar storms and make real-time measurements of their magnetic fields, much the same way that satellites allow forecasters to see the development of a hurricane. Eruptions from the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, can wreak havoc on satellites (and astronauts) in orbit or induce large currents in power grids on Earth, which can cause power disruptions or black outs.

“We can now see a CME from the time it leaves the solar surface until it reaches Earth, and we can reconstruct the event in 3D directly from the images,” said Angelos Vourlidas, a solar physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, and project scientist for the Sun Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation aboard STEREO. In the video above, see some of the 3-D imagery, and hear Vourlidas talk about about the new findings.
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Filed under: Solar Astronomy | 9 Comments »


April 14th, 2009

Catching Up With Comet Yi-SWAN

Comet Yi-SWAN Rough Locator Chart - April 14/16

Comet Yi-SWAN Rough Locator Chart - April 14/16

Now that the Moon is out of the early evening sky, far northern observers are out in force hunting down Comet C/2009 Yi-SWAN… and it’s there! In 10X50 binoculars it appears like a very faint, small globular cluster, but definitely has the signature of a comet in a 4.5″ telescope. Surprisingly enough, it’s not very hard to find. Would you like a hand? Click to continue…

Filed under: Comets | 4 Comments »


April 14th, 2009

Life of the ISS May be Extended

The ISS.  Credit: NASA

The ISS. Credit: NASA


Fifteen partnering nations have agreed in principle to extend the life of the International Space Station, and keep it operating through 2020, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. That is at least five years beyond the current deadline. Until now, the major partners – NASA, ESA and the Russian Space Agency – hadn’t committed to keeping the station operational past 2015, and questions loomed about the future of the ISS and its worthiness as a platform for scientific research. An extension could give new momentum to science, but may force NASA to siphon money away from other projects – like the new Constellation program – in order to pay for the additional years of operation.
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