quinta-feira, 26 de julho de 2007

Quem é que atirou o meu laptop pela borda fora???

Não, isto não se passou no meu emprego! Passa-se na NASA!

Aparentemente a NASA controla tão mal o seu inventário de equipamento que andam a desaparecer toneladas de computadores, impressoras e similares, sem que nada seja feito para investigar.

Uma investigação do Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluíu que nos últimos 10 anos desapareceram 94 milhões de dólares de equipamento! Pior, quando a NASA descobriu, em vez de apertar o controlo sobre o equipamento, simplesmente subiu a fasquia acima da qual seria obrigada a investigar esses desaparecimentos!

E ainda pior, cerca de 199 milhões dólares de equipamento nunca foram inventariados!!! Por isso nem se sabe se estão a uso da NASA ou se foram levados para casa de alguém...

Nas investigações feitas a estas discrepâncias, houve explicações absolutamente surreais, como um caso em que um indivíduo afirmou que o seu portátil teria sido levado para a Estação Espacial Internacional, e deitado pela borda fora, para arder na alta atmosfera, quando deixou de funcionar!

Boa! Já viram se eu levasse daqui do meu escritório um portátilzito todo XPTO, e depois me viessem perguntar por ele? Eu dizia que tinha sido levado por engano para a Lua... E ninguém fazia mais perguntas!

Mais uma vez a NASA encara os erros com o mesmo padrão de comportamento - aumentando a margem aceitável para esse erro. Foi assim que perderam o Challenger. E uma tonelada de equipamento de escritório!!!

Fonte: NASAWatch

Link: SpaceRef

Property Management: Lack of Accountability and Weak Internal Controls Leave NASA Equipment Vulnerable to Loss, Theft, and Misuse
Date Released: Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Source: Government Accountability Office

What GAO Found

Over the past 10 years, NASA reported that it lost over $94 million of equipment. The high equipment losses are due mainly to a weak internal control environment. Although some equipment was located during subsequent physical inventories, NASA's failure to keep track of these items leaves them vulnerable to theft and misuse. When faced with high equipment losses, instead of tightening controls, NASA raised its threshold for tracking and controlling equipment. Also, NASA management was unresponsive to prior equipment management recommendations, frequently did not investigate equipment losses, and was reluctant to hold employees accountable for loss--as shown in the following examples.

Explanations Provided for Equipment Loss in Which No One Was Held Accountable

(Equipment description - Equipment value (dollars) - Explanation provided)
  • Desktop computer and laser printer - 4,855 - My wife needed a computer at home to perform her work as a real estate broker so I checked one out from the surplus stock available. I turned the computer back in when she was done using it but never received a receipt.
  • Laptop computer - 4,265 - This computer, although assigned to me, was being used on board the International Space Station. I was informed that it was tossed overboard to be burned up in the atmosphere when it failed.
  • Various missing property, 65 items - 850,321- A thorough and reasonable search was conducted but we were unable to locate the missing property. In general, the missing items consist of older equipment that has been replaced or is no longer necessary for standard operations.
Source: GAO analysis of NASA's fiscal year 2006 equipment loss reports.

NASA also lacks the integrated systems and processes needed to provide reasonable assurance that equipment purchases are recorded in the property management system. As a result, over the past 10 years, NASA reported that it failed to enter $199 million of equipment purchases into its property management system. Equipment not tracked in NASA's property management system is not subject to the same physical inventory procedures as other controlled equipment items and, as a result, is at much higher risk of being lost or stolen without NASA being aware of it. Because NASA uses the amounts recorded in its property records as the basis for reporting equipment amounts in its financial statements, NASA did not report the full cost of this equipment on its financial statements. Although NASA expects its system modernization effort to improve controls for ensuring that equipment purchases are recorded in the property system, NASA cannot rely on technology alone to solve its equipment management problems. These problems are deeply rooted in an agency culture that does not demand accountability or fully recognize the value of effectively managing government assets.

Why GAO Did This Study

For years, GAO and others have reported that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) does not maintain effective control over the $35 billion of property, plant, and equipment (PP&E) and materials that it reports on its financial statements. GAO's report, the first in a planned series, addresses whether NASA's control environment and internal controls over NASA-held equipment provide reasonable assurance that (1) these assets are not vulnerable to loss, theft, and misuse and (2) all equipment costs are appropriately recorded in the agency's financial statements. GAO evaluated the design of NASA's property management controls by reviewing agencywide and local policies, obtaining equipment loss reports for all NASA centers, and evaluating actions taken to hold employees accountable. To confirm its understanding of the design of NASA's property controls, GAO conducted on-site visits at two NASA centers and interviewed property management officials at the remaining seven NASA centers.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is recommending 10 actions aimed at strengthening users' accountability for equipment loss and improving internal controls over equipment. NASA concurred with 8 of GAO's 10 recommendations and partially concurred with 2. NASA also provided technical comments that have been incorporated as www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-07-432

segunda-feira, 23 de julho de 2007

Futuro dos rovers Spirit e Opportunity em grave risco devido à tempestade global em Marte

A tempestade global de areia em Marte (de que já aqui falei) continua a piorar, e a NASA está a ponderar a possibilidade agora bem real de vir a perder um ou ambos os rovers Spirit e Opportunity.

Esta imagem compara a distribuição do pó na atmosfera de Marte
antes da tempestade (22 de Junho) e agora, durante a tempestade.

Os rovers tinham previstas missões que não iam além dos 90 dias. No entanto já estão a funcionar em Marte há mais de 3 anos! Mas o fim pode estar próximo, já que estes robots dependem da luz solar para carregar as suas baterias, e também para os manter quentes - muitos dos circuitos electrónicos dos rovers não podem ser expostos a temperaturas excessivamente baixas.

Esta tempestade é tão intensa que apenas chega à superfície 1% da radiação solar!

Esta sequência de imagens foi captada a partir do rover Opportunity, entre
14 de Junho e 19 de Julho de 2007. Os números no topo representam a
opacidade da atmosfera.

Mars rovers struggle to weather dust storm
3:05 PM, 7/22/07,

NASA's twin Mars rovers are struggling to weather widespread dust storms that have reduced solar power generation to critically low levels. If conditions worsen, one or both robots could succumb to frigid temperatures and "bite the dust" after three-and-a-half years of unprecedented exploration.

"The team is concerned. We all have very strong bond with these two rovers," said John Callas, rover project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We think of them as our children and we're worried for them right now because they're in this dangerous environmental condition on Mars.

"We're trying to help them as much as we can, but there's only so much we can do from the ground," he said by telephone Friday. "Ultimately it comes down to that. But these things are such intrepid, feisty vehicles. So the mood is 'guarded optimism.' We're watching the weather every day."

The dust storms flared up over the past month just as engineers were preparing to order Opportunity into Victoria Crater to study exposed bedrock that might hold valuable clues about the role of water on the red planet in the distant past.

Instead, the rover remains parked outside the crater, its electronic systems shut own to conserve power under a deeply overcast sky. Half a world away, the Spirit rover was in much the same state, although slightly more power positive than Opportunity.

"The figure of merit on the weather that we track is atmospheric opacity," Callas said. "The higher that number is (known by the Greek letter tau), the more sunlight is lost. Our last estimates of tau for Opportunity was around 5, which means that less than 1 percent of the direct sunlight is getting through the atmosphere. That means that basically the solar array energy is coming from the diffuse sunlight. So it's like a very overcast day and all you have is diffuse light.

"The tau for Spirit is right now at about 4, so it's not as high but it's still exceedingly high. And these numbers are higher than any numbers ever measured by Viking. The highest number Viking measured was about 4. Mariner 9, when it arrived at (Mars) the entire planet was covered with a massive global dust storm that obscured the surface. This is not quite at that scale, but this is probably the worst we've seen in, I don't know, over a decade, I guess."

Spirit and Opportunity landed on opposite sides of Mars three weeks apart in January 2004. They were designed to operate for at least 90 days and while hopes were high they would survive the harsh martian environment beyond their design life, no one expected them to last as long as they have. As of last week, Opportunity had logged some 1,240 days on Mars and the rovers are considered among the most successful interplanetary missions ever launched.

At present, the ongoing martian dust storm is best described as "hemispheric." It doesn't shroud the entire planet but Spirit and Opportunity, on opposite sides of Mars, are both affected.

"A possible outcome of this storm is that one or both rovers could be damaged permanently or even disabled," NASA said in a statement Friday. "Engineers will assess the capability of each rover after the storm clears."

The forecast, Callas said, is "not good. More of the same."

"And it's been variable. We've been spoofed a couple of times where the tau would spike up and then it would turn around and drop down a little bit and we'd think oh, well the worst is past. And then it would just turn around again and spike back up to a new record."

Conditions are slightly worse over Opportunity. Solar panel output stood at around 720 watt hours of electricity before the dust storm began. Seven hundred watt hours is enough electricity to power a 100-watt bulb for seven hours.

When the solar panel output dropped below 400 watt hours a day, Opportunity was parked and its science observations terminated. On July 17, power output dropped to 148 watt hours and one day later, to 128 watt hours, barely enough for the heaters needed to keep the electronics warm enough to prevent problems.

"What we've had to do is pretty much take everything out of the sequence the rover normally does," Callas said. "So it just wakes up and goes back to sleep after being up for a short amount of time. We do have communications sessions, but right now we're sprinkling them about every three days."

Flight controllers sent commands to Opportunity Friday but did not plan to check in again until Monday.

Callas said the electronics in each rover is mounted inside an insulated box and that is thermostatically protected. The avionics system is designed to operate at temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit and to survive, powered down, at temperatures as low as minus 67 degrees. Below that, the rover would be at risk of failures from cracked wires or damage to other components.

So far, ground temperatures near Opportunity are running at around minus 26 degrees. And even if one or both orbiters ultimately had to be powered down and temperatures dropped below allowable limits, "it would not be certain death," Callas said. "There's some expectation that if we got outside of our operating regimes that the hardware would hang together."

When the sky eventually clears, "the rover would power back up, it would wake up on its own and it would boot up and it would start phoning home."

Callas said as long as the rovers remain power positive - generating more electricity than they consume - "we could ride this out forever."

"But if it gets just a little bit worse, then that could tip us over the edge and then we'd start running negative," he said. "What you do is, you're taking more energy out of the batteries each day than you're putting back in."

Eventually, the batteries would be drained and no power would be available for the heaters. Engineers are hopeful it won't come to that.

quarta-feira, 18 de julho de 2007

Antevisão da próxima missão do Space Shuttle

Um pequeno vídeo, que acabei de encontrar, e que fala da próxima missão do Space Shuttle Endeavour, a STS-118, com lançamento previsto para 7 de Agosto. Naturalmente é dado destaque à participação de Barbara Morgan, a professora que em 1986 era a substituta de Christa MacAuliffe para a missão do Challenger que, infelizmente, terminou com a sua destruição.

Uma curiosidade é que Morgan irá voar no Endeavour, que foi o último Space Shuttle a ser construído, precisamente para substituír o Challenger, após a sua perda! Apenas uma coincidência, uma vez que, tanto quanto julgo saber, Morgan deveria voar no Columbia - que infelizmente também foi perdida em 2003.

Novos fatos espaciais a serem desenvolvidos pelo MIT

O fato dos astronautas das missões Apollo à Lua, na década de 60.

Todos se lembram dos fatos enormes que os astronautas usaram quando foram à Lua. Para protegerem os astronautas, estes fatos eram pressurizados a 1/3 da pressão atmosférica normal à superfície da Terra. Isto tinha - e tem ainda - o enorme inconveniente de fazer com que o fato inche como um balão e se torne extremamente rígido, obrigando os astronautas a um esforço enorme apenas para se conseguirem mexer!

O MMU - Manned Maneuvering Unit - ainda usado
nas missões do Space Shuttle. É bem visível a rigidez do fato.

Agora estão a ser desenvolvidos no Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT) novos fatos, que resolvem este problema de uma forma diferente. É o próprio tecido que aplica a pressão sobre o corpo do astronauta, deixando apenas algumas partes a necessitarem de ser pressurizadas, nomeadamente o tronco e a cabeça. Isto confere uma flexibilidade muito maior ao fato, e uma consequente maior facilidade de movimentos.

Fonte: MIT


One giant leap for space fashion: MIT team designs sleek, skintight spacesuit

Anne Trafton, News Office
July 16, 2007

In the 40 years that humans have been traveling into space, the suits they wear have changed very little. The bulky, gas-pressurized outfits give astronauts a bubble of protection, but their significant mass and the pressure itself severely limit mobility.

Dava Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at MIT, wants to change that.

Newman is working on a sleek, advanced suit designed to allow superior mobility when humans eventually reach Mars or return to the moon. Her spandex and nylon BioSuit is not your grandfather's spacesuit--think more Spiderman, less John Glenn.

Traditional bulky spacesuits "do not afford the mobility and locomotion capability that astronauts need for partial gravity exploration missions. We really must design for greater mobility and enhanced human and robotic capability," Newman says.

Newman, her colleague Jeff Hoffman, her students and a local design firm, Trotti and Associates, have been working on the project for about seven years. Their prototypes are not yet ready for space travel, but demonstrate what they're trying to achieve--a lightweight, skintight suit that will allow astronauts to become truly mobile lunar and Mars explorers.

Newman anticipates that the BioSuit could be ready by the time humans are ready to launch an expedition to Mars, possibly in about 10 years. Current spacesuits could not handle the challenges of such an exploratory mission, Newman says.

A New Approach

Newman's prototype suit is a revolutionary departure from the traditional model. Instead of using gas pressurization, which exerts a force on the astronaut's body to protect it from the vacuum of space, the suit relies on mechanical counter-pressure, which involves wrapping tight layers of material around the body. The trick is to make a suit that is skintight but stretches with the body, allowing freedom of movement.

Over the past 40 years, spacesuits have gotten progressively heavier, and they now weigh in at about 300 pounds. That bulk -- much of which is due to multiple layers and the life support system coupled with the gas-pressurization -- severely constrains astronauts' movements. About 70 to 80 percent of the energy they exert while wearing the suit goes towards simply working against the suit to bend it.

"You can't do much bending of the arms or legs in that type of suit," Newman says.

When an astronaut is in a micro-gravity environment (for example, doing a spacewalk outside the International Space Station), working in such a massive suit is manageable, but, as Newman says, "It's a whole different ballgame when we go to the moon or Mars, and we have to go back to walking and running, or loping."

Another advantage to her BioSuit is safety: if a traditional spacesuit is punctured by a tiny meteorite or other object, the astronaut must return to the space station or home base immediately, before life-threatening decompression occurs. With the BioSuit, a small, isolated puncture can be wrapped much like a bandage, and the rest of the suit will be unaffected.

Newman says the finished BioSuit may be a hybrid that incorporates some elements of the traditional suits, including a gas-pressured torso section and helmet. An oxygen tank can be attached to the back.

The MIT researchers are focusing on the legs and arms, which are challenging parts to design. In the Man-Vehicle Lab at MIT, students test various wrapping techniques, based on 3D models they've created of the human in motion and how the skin stretches during locomotion, bending, climbing or driving a rover.

Key to their design is the pattern of lines on the suit, which correspond to lines of non-extension (lines on the skin that don't extend when you move your leg). Those lines provide a stiff "skeleton" of structural support, while providing maximal mobility.

To be worn in space, the BioSuit must deliver close to one-third the pressure exerted by Earth's atmosphere, or about 30 kPa (kilopascals). The current prototype suit exerts about 20 KPa consistently, and the researchers have gotten new models up to 25 to 30 KPa.

Staying in Shape

The suits could also help astronauts stay fit during the six-month journey to Mars. Studies have shown that astronauts lose up to 40 percent of their muscle strength in space, but the new outfits could be designed to offer varying resistance levels, allowing the astronauts to exercise against the suits during a long flight to Mars.

Although getting the suits into space is the ultimate goal, Newman is also focusing on Earth-bound applications in the short term, such as athletic training or helping people walk.

The new BioSuit builds on ideas developed in the 1960s and 1970s by Paul Webb, who first came up with the concept for a "space activity suit," and Saul Iberall, who postulated the lines of non-extension. However, neither the technology nor the materials were available then.

"Dr. Webb had a great idea, before its time. We're building on that work to try to make it feasible," says Newman.

The project was initially funded by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts.

segunda-feira, 16 de julho de 2007

Na NASA há quem não saiba escrever!!!

Por esta e por outras é que eu não acredito que a NASA seja capaz de voltar à Lua.

Talvez notem que o nome do Space Shuttle Endeavour está mal escrito... Falta o 'u'... Quando deram por isso, mandaram alguém com um letreiro corrigido para o substituir... Não foram foi a tempo de evitar algumas fotografias inoportunas... Ai Jesus...

Será que sabem fazer contas? É que é preciso saber fazer contas para calcular órbitas e cenas assim...

quinta-feira, 12 de julho de 2007

Contribua para a Exploração do Espaço através da Internet

Através deste site, no qual se pode registar sem qualquer dificuldade, poderá ajudar os astrónomos através de uma tarefa bastante simples, que é identificar, em várias fotografias, quais são galáxias em espiral e quais são as galáxias elípticas. É-lhe dada uma pequena explicação sobre como identificar umas e outras, e é-lhe feito um curto teste. Se passar o teste pode passar 'ao trabalho' própriamente dito.

Muitas destas galáxias nunca foram vistas por olhos humanos, por isso de certeza que poderá ver sempre algo que nunca antes foi visto! Só por esta oportunidade já vale a pena. Até pode descobrir galáxias em colisão! Se não conseguir identificar o tipo da galáxia em questão, não se preocupe, pode sempre clicar na opção 'não sei'.

Fonte: Daily Mail

Link: Galaxy Zoo

Scientists ask public to help sort galaxies
Last updated at 17:44pm on 11th July 2007

Astronomers are inviting members of the public to help them make major new discoveries by taking part in a census of one million galaxies.

Visitors to www.galaxyzoo.org will get to see stunning images of galaxies, most of which have never been viewed by human eyes before.

By sorting these images into "spiral galaxies" (like our own Milky Way) or "elliptical galaxies", visitors will help astronomers to understand the structure of the universe.

The new digital images were taken using the robotic Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope in New Mexico.

"It's not just for fun" said Kevin Schawinski of Astrophysics at Oxford University where the data will be analysed. "The human brain is actually better than a computer at pattern recognition tasks like this. Whether you spend five minutes, fifteen minutes or five hours using the site your contribution will be invaluable."

Visitors will be able to print out posters of the galaxies they have explored and even compete to see who's the best virtual astronomer.

The galaxyzoo.org team were inspired by projects such as Stardust@home, in which NASA invited the public to sort through dust grains obtained by a mission to Comet Wild-2. Oxford's Dr Chris Lintott, co-presenter of the BBC's Sky at Night programme and galaxyzoo.org team member, commented:

"What the Stardust team achieved was incredible, but our galaxies are much more interesting to look at than their dust grains. We hope that participants in Galaxy Zoo will not only contribute to science, but have a lot of fun along the way."

Images for the project are taken from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which uses a 142-megapixel digital camera to create the largest digital map of the universe.

"It is great that digital archives we have built for science are now being used by the public to look at the universe," says Professor Bob Nichol from the University of Portsmouth. "It will be great to have all the galaxies classified; it's as fundamental as knowing if a human is male or female."

The astronomers hope that the survey will shed light on how different kinds of galaxies are distributed across the sky. The results might even reveal that there is something fundamentally wrong with existing models of the universe.

Sir Patrick Moore, an enthusiastic supporter of the project, said: "Non-professionals have always been deeply involved in studying the sky and they now have yet another opportunity to make themselves really useful. Moreover, their help is now of immense value so do join up – as I am doing myself!"

domingo, 8 de julho de 2007

Ao fim de 21 anos, outra professora a caminho do Espaço!

Barbara Morgan.

Depois de uma rápida montagem do conjunto Shuttle/Tanque externo/Motores Auxiliares, o Space Shuttle está pronto para ser levado para atorre de lançamento 39A na Terça-Feira.

Esta missão, a STS-118, será mais uma missão de montagem da Estação Espacial Internacional - ISS - e terá a particularidade de levar a bordo uma professora, Barbara Morgan! Esta será a primeira vez que a NASA levará uma professora para o Espaço, depois do terrível acidente do Challenger, em 1986, que vitimou, entre outros, Christa MacAuliffe.

Esta professora, Barvara Morgan, curiosamente era a professora de substituição de MacAuliffe, para o caso desta não poder participar na missão do Challenger. Depois do acidente do Challenger, a NASA cancelou o projecto da 'professora no espaço' - contrariando a promessa do então Presidente Reagan. Barbara Morgan saíu da NASA, mas desde há anos que tem vindo a tentar com que a NASA reconsiderasse na sua decisão. E ao fim de 21 anos terá finalmente a sua possibilidade - uma possibilidade que também será a de prestar homenagem à sua falecida colega! E um exemplo para todos de que nunca devemos desistir!

A bordo seguirão outros 5 astronautas homens e uma outra astronauta mulher, Tracy Caldwell (à direita)

O lançamento da STS-118 continua previsto para 7 de Agosto, e neste momento não há problemas a reportar.

Fonte: Email da CBS Space News


Shuttle Endeavour readied for rollout; flight plan updated
11:36 AM, 7/8/07

Engineers are readying the shuttle Endeavour for rollout to pad 39A early Tuesday and launch Aug. 7 on a space station assembly and resupply mission. The flight features NASA's first educator-astronaut, Barbara Morgan, who served as backup to Christa McAuliffe in the original Teacher-in-Space program. There are no major technical problems with the shuttle or the space station, but NASA managers could opt to delay Endeavour's launch a few days if the agency's next Mars probe - the Phoenix polar lander - runs into problems getting off its pad as planned on Aug. 3.

Either way, Morgan and her crewmates - commander Scott Kelly, pilot Charles Hobaugh, Tracy Caldwell, flight engineer Rick Mastracchio, Canadian flier Dafydd Williams and Benjamin "Al" Drew - plan to participate in media briefings Wednesday at the Johnson Space Center in Houston before flying to Florida July 16 for final emergency procedures training and a dress-rehearsal countdown July 19.

Aboard the international space station, meanwhile, astronaut Clay Anderson and Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin plan to stage a spacewalk July 23 to replace a failed electrical component needed to restore redundant power to the mobile transporter used to move the lab's robot arm from one work site to another.

In one of the more dramatic moments of the excursion, Anderson plans to jettison a no-longer-needed 1,400-pound ammonia tank that was part of the station's early power-and-cooling system. The spacewalkers also will clean the mating surfaces of the common berthing mechanism on the downward facing hatch of the Unity module. After Endeavour departs, a pressurized mating adapter currently mounted on Unity's left-side port will be moved to the downward facing hatch to make way for upcoming assembly work and engineers want to ensure a good seal.

"It won't be a problem," Anderson said of the ammonia tank in a pre-launch interview. "It's about 1,500 pounds, I believe. I tell everybody it's about the size of a refrigerator. (In training), I've been relatively consistent with being able to chuck it at around 40 centimeters per second (0.9 mph) and we really only need five centimeters a second. So I think I can send it on its way."

To clear the way for the spacewalk, Russian flight controllers plan to carry out a test reboost maneuver July 21 to make sure computers in the Russian segment are up to the task of controlling the lab's orientation and position.

During a shuttle mission last month to install a new set of solar arrays, secondary power supply switches, presumably detecting minor power quality changes in the station's electrical grid, triggered major problems, preventing critical guidance computers and command-and-control computers from rebooting. Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov eventually installed jumper cables to bypass the suspect switches and the computers powered back up normally.

The July 21 test will serve as another test of the hot-wired system's ability to control the station's attitude. A longer reboost maneuver is planned a few hours after the July 23 spacewalk to ensure plenty of clearance between the lab complex and the jettisoned ammonia tank. The reboost also will set up docking opportunities for a Progress supply ship as well as for Endeavour.

A Progress vehicle loaded with trash and no-longer-needed equipment is scheduled to undock from the Pirs airlock and docking module Aug. 1. The Progress 26 spacecraft, carrying replacement computer gear and other supplies, is scheduled to blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:33 p.m. EDT on Aug. 2. Docking is expected on Aug. 5, two days before Endeavour's launching on mission STS-118.

In the midst of space station activity and shuttle launch preparations, NASA is gearing up to launch the Mars Phoenix polar lander atop a Delta 2 rocket at 5:35 a.m. on Aug. 3, the day before Endeavour's countdown is scheduled to begin. This is a high-priority $414 million mission with a limited 22-day launch window that won't reopen for another two years. As such, shuttle managers could be asked to put Endeavour's countdown on hold if Phoenix runs into problems getting off the ground.

Concern, in part, about a possible conflict with Phoenix prompted NASA Administrator Mike Griffin to approve a decision to delay launch of NASA's Dawn asteroid exploration mission from this month to September after a series of problems pushed launch, also aboard a Delta 2 rocket, toward the end of its July launch window.

Endeavour, making its first flight since November 2002, is fresh out of a lengthy overhaul. It is equipped with a new station-to-shuttle power transfer system that will enable the orbiter to use electricity generated by the station's solar panels, easing the load on the shuttle's three fuel cells.

Going into the STS-118 mission, the approved flight plan calls for an 11-day mission with three spacewalks. But if the station-to-shuttle power transfer system works, Endeavour's mission will be extended three days and a fourth spacewalk will be added to the timeline. The SSPTS will be activated shortly after docking, but it will be shut down just before the first spacealk on flight day 4 because the array it draws power from cannot track the sun during the assembly work. The power transfer system will be reactivated after the spacewalk. At some point after that, if there are no problems, the flight will be extended three days.

The primary goal of Endeavour's mission is to install a short spacer segment on the right end of the station's main solar power truss; to install a refurbished control moment gyroscope to replace one that has shown signs of impending failure; to attach an external equipment stowage platform; and to deliver needed supplies and equipment.

The flight will receive more public attention than most because of Morgan's presence as the first educator-astronaut, a designation approved by former Administrator Dan Goldin when he announced in 1998 that Morgan had been accepted as a full-time astronaut.

Morgan served as backup to high school social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe in the original Teacher in Space program and was looking on from the Kennedy Space Center press site on Jan. 28, 1986, when Challenger took off on its final mission. Morgan never gave up her dream of flying in space and on Aug. 7, she will strap into the center seat on Endeavour's lower deck - the same seat position used by McAuliffe aboard Challenger - to finally fulfill the legacy of the first teacher in space.

"Christa McAuliffe’s legacy is open-ended," Morgan said in a NASA interview. "Every teacher’s legacy is open-ended. I know people will be looking at this and remembering Challenger, and that’s a good thing. They will also be thinking about all the people - teachers and other people - who have been working really hard and will continue working really hard to carry on the work that Christa was doing. I’m happy about that."

Assuming an on-time liftoff, Endeavour will dock with the space station around 3:50 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 9. SSPTS activation is targeted for 7:47 p.m. that evening, just after the S5 spacer segment is unberthed by the shuttle's robot arm and handed off to the station's arm.

The next day, around 2 p.m., Mastracchio and Williams plan to begin a busy spacewalk to bolt S5 onto the end of the main truss; to relocate a grapple fixture and, if time permits, to connect electrical cables between S5 and the S4 solar panel segment and to prepare S5 for the eventual attachment of a final set of solar arrays, known as S6. They also will monitor the retraction of a folding radiator on the P6 solar array segment to prepare it for relocation to the left end of the main truss later this year.

The S4 solar array will be locked in place for the S5 attachment and as such, unable to track the sun. Because of that, the SSPTS must be deactivated before the spacewalk begins. Once S5 is in place and S4 resumes its normal rotation to track the sun, the SSPTS will be reactivated. A decision to extend the mission is expected after engineers verify the system is working normally.

Mastracchio and Williams plan to venture outside again two days later, around 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 12, to install the new control moment gyroscope. The station uses four massive CMGs to control the lab's orientation without using hard-to-replace rocket fuel. One of them, CMG No. 3, acted up last year and was taken off line on Oct. 10, 2006. The refurbished unit being installed during Endeavour's mission will restore full redundancy to the critical orientation system.

The external stowage platform will be attached to the station's truss structure the day after the second spacewalk using the lab's robot arm. That will set the stage for the third spacewalk of the mission, this one by Mastracchio and Anderson, to upgrade the station's S-band communications; to relocate two logistics carts attached to the mobile transporter; and to retrieve two experiment packages.

Anderson originally was scheduled to take off aboard Endeavour to replace astronaut Sunita Williams. But after the shuttle Atlantis was delayed three months, from March to June, because of hail damage to the ship's external tank, NASA managers decided to launch Anderson aboard Atlantis and to bring Williams home in June as originally planned. Anderson place in Endeavour's crew was given to Drew.

"Once those guys arrive, I'll pretty much do the same jobs with them that I was planning on doing had I launched with that crew, and that includes EVAs No. 3 and 4, one with Rick Mastracchio and one with Dave Williams, and then I'll also be helping Charlie Hobaugh when he manipulates the arm to install the S5 truss," Anderson said in an interview.

Assuming the SSPTS is working properly, mission managers are expected to extend Endeavour's flight to permit a fourth spacewalk by Anderson and Williams that would begin around noon on Aug. 16. The goals of the final excursion are to install supports that eventually will permit a shuttle heat shield sensor boom to be stored on the station; to install two wireless instrumentation antennas on the U.S. lab module; to retrieve a failed Global Positioning System satellite antenna; and to install a wireless video transceiver on the S3 truss segment.

Under the extended mission scenario, Endeavour would undock from the station around 10 a.m. on Aug. 19 and return to Earth around 1:13 p.m. on Aug. 21.

A detailed timeline covering highlights of the 11-day and 14-day mission options is posted on the CBS News STS-118 Quick-Look page. A detailed mission preview will be posted here as soon as possible after the upcoming briefings in Houston.

sexta-feira, 6 de julho de 2007

Burt Rutan fala do presente e do futuro da Exploração Espacial

Parte das conferências TED, aqui está a apresentação de Burt Rutan, pai da Spaceship One, a primeira nave espacial suborbital concebida e operada por uma empresa privada, e que ganhou o Ansari X Prize.

Não falando da política de Bush em relação ao futuro do programa espacial, fala no entanto do retrocesso tecnológico a que assistimos, hoje em dia, nesse programa, e argumenta que o progresso, no futuro, terá de depender da iniciativa privada.

Na minha opinião, creio que é fácil para Rutan falar... Falar, , porque na realidade, apesar do que ele próprio - e alguns outros - dizem, a Spaceship One nunca foi ao espaço. Foi à alta atmosfera, é certo, subiu a mais de 100 kms de altitude. Mas minutos depois regressou. É uma boa tecnologia, mas por enquanto é só uma brincadeira. Para os muito ricos.

A certa altura Rutan diz que 4% das pessoas lançadas ao espaço morreram, e que ninguém pode ter um negócio com esse tipo de segurança. Mas não fala dos quase acidentes que por muito pouco não aconteceram nos testes da sua Spaceship One. Qualquer pessoa que tenha visto os vídeos destes testes talvez pense se quer realmente pagar 200.000 dólares para dar um salto de 5 minutos à alta atmosfera...

A Spaceship One, concebida pela Scaled Composites, de Burt Rutan.

E com tão poucos vôos, ainda é cedo para falar da segurança, ou falta dela, desta pequena nave. O meu pai dizia-me que não devíamos cuspir para o ar, não fosse o vento mudar e fazer-nos ficar molhados. Creio que a apresentação de Rutan é muito 'stylish', muito ao estilo que é 'bem' nos EUA neste momento. Mas com muito pouco conteúdo realista.

A opção não é combater os programas governamentais dos EUA, Rússia, Europa, etc, ou sequer tentar ultrapassá-los, ou afirmar que irão ser ultrapassados... Mas trabalhar com eles. Porque por muita oratória que se tenha, ir ao Espaço ainda é perigoso, complexo e sobretudo, caro. E ainda nenhuma empresa privada foi ao Espaço.

E pelo que julgo saber, ainda demorará anos para que tal aconteça.

quinta-feira, 5 de julho de 2007

Foi há 10 anos - a Mars Pathfinder aterrou em Marte

4 de Julho de 1997

A Pathfinder foi a primeira aterragem com sucesso em Marte, a seguir às missões Viking, de 1976, e era composta por duas secções - uma 'estação-base' e um pequeno rover, o Sojourner.

O site da missão foi, na altura, bombardeado com centenas de milhares de visitas por dia. Eu, como tantos outros, ligava-me ao site logo de manhãzinha, do emprego, para ver as últimas fotos de Marte.

A base da 'Mars Pathfinder', fotografada pelo pequeno rover Sojourner.

O pequeno rover Sojourner.

Assim, além de testar as tecnologias que mais tarde seriam aplicadas nos rovers Spirit e Opportunity (ainda a operar em Marte), a Mars Pathfinder também mostrou, nos anos iniciais da Internet e da World Wide Web, ser possível ter um grande êxito com um site sobre investigação científica, e abriu assim o caminho à variedade de sites sobre estes temas que conhecemos hoje. E na altura não havia banda-larga! Era tudo modems a 28kbps, ou menos!

Os 'Twin Peaks', em cima à direita.

Ficaram famosas, na altura, as panorâmicas do local da aterragem, com o destaque para duas pequenas elevações, que foram baptizadas 'Twin Peaks', em homenagem a uma série de TV muito em voga na altura.

A Pathfinder operou com sucesso durante 90 dias (era previsto funcionar 30), findos os quais deixou de transmitir para a Terra.

No fim da missão tinham sido enviadas para Terra 16.000 imagens da 'base', e 550 imagens do rover!

Pensa-se, através de fotos de muito alta resolução tiradas da órbita de Marte, que o rover Sojourner ainda tenha funcionado por mais uns dias após a Pathfinder parar de transmitir para a Terra,

Talvez um dia se venha a saber o que realmente se passou com o pequeno robot! Talvez o local seja designado como Histórico, e protegido para as gerações vindouras. Assim espero, e orgulho-me de ter sido um dos que, à distância, exploraram Marte, quase em directo, pela primeira vez na História da Humanidade.


Enorme tempestade em Marte está a dificultar as operações dos Rovers Spirit e Opportunity.

Neste momento a tempestade de pó é apenas regional, e localizada perto do local de operações da Spirit. Esta está do lado oposto de Marte em relação à Opportunity, que tinha pleaneada uma descida à cratera Victoria para os próximos dias.

Essa descida está agora adiada por tempo indeterminado, uma vez que uma acumulação de pó nos painéis solares dos rovers lhes irá diminuir muito a capacidade de gerar electricidade.
Embora a tempestade seja, neste momento, apenas regional, por vezes estas tempestades desenvolvem-se até abarcar o planeta inteiro (!), e podem durar meses!

Fonte: MSNBC

Link: Space.com

Mars rovers lose power amid dust storm
Dark skies affect solar arrays; descent into crater delayed, NASA says
By Robert Roy Britt
Senior science writer
Updated: 3:43 p.m. ET July 4, 2007

A major dust storm on Mars has worsened and is causing the Mars Exploration Rovers to lose power.

Opportunity's highly anticipated and risky entry into Victoria Crater is delayed for at least several days, NASA announced.

The regional storm, first reported by Space.com, is the most severe to hit the rovers since they began exploring Mars in January 2004. Already last week it was thousands of miles wide. At first, scientists did not expect it to affect rover operations.

But dust from the storm is partly blocking sunlight, which the rovers need in order to recharge their batteries via their solar panels. Opportunity's operations were scaled back June 30 to conserve power, according to the statement.

"The storm is affecting both rovers and reducing the power levels on Opportunity," said John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We are keeping an eye on this as we go forward, but our entry into Victoria Crater will be delayed until no sooner than July 13."

The storm is expected to continue for at least another week. In the past, regional tempests have been known to grow and engulf the entire planet.

"We have some data that show the atmospheric opacity is decreasing, so the storm might have peaked and we may have passed the worst of this," Callas said. "The situation could improve quickly from here, but we will have to wait and see."

Opportunity is perched near Duck Bay at the rim of Victoria Crater on Meridiani Planum.

Pictures from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show the storm is regional and includes several local areas of especially high dust activity. The images were not released. The storm has been moving eastward and toward midlatitudes and is now also kicking up more dust at Spirit's location, on the opposite side of the planet at Gusev Crater.

The rovers measure atmospheric dust daily, and Opportunity revealed a new record, with the air's "opacity level" rising from 1.0 to 3.3. Solar array energy on the rover dropped from 765 watt-hours to 402. Dust levels at Spirit's location were much lower.

"While this only represents enough dust to coat the planet to about the thickness of a human hair, it is enough to decrease the brightness of the noon sun by 96 percent compared to a completely clear atmosphere," said Steve Squyres, a Cornell University researcher who is principal investigator of the rover mission. "The solar arrays also receive light that is scattered from the dust, so the decrease in power is not nearly that great."

"We have not seen dust measurements this high on either rover before," Callas said. "If the dust levels were to increase further and stay elevated for several days, there is a risk to how well Opportunity could continue to work in this darkened environment."

Space Shuttle Endeavour começa a ser preparado para missão em 7 de Agosto

Fotos de Damaris Sarria.
Clique para aumentar.

O Space Shuttle Endeavour foi levado para o Vehicle Assembly Building para ser montado no conjunto do Tanque Externo / Motores auxiliares de combustível sólido (SRBs - Solid Rocket Boosters).

O lançamento está previsto para 7 de Agosto, se tudo correr bem. Não serão de surpreender alterações a esta data.

O Vehicle Assembly Building, onde são montadas
as naves espaciais norte americanas.
É um dos maiores edifícios do Mundo.

Será a primeira missão do Endeavour desde o acidente do Columbia, há 4 anos. Terá uma tripulação de 7 astronautas, que irão continuar a montagem da Estação Espacial Internacional - ISS.

Em princípio haverá mais 12 missões do Space Shuttle. 10 missões serãopara completar a Estação Espacial, mas a NASA gostaria de ter mais duas missões, uma para enviar peças sobressalentes para a ISS, e uma outra para fazer uma reparação ao Telescópio Espacial Hubble.

É uma era que está a chegar ao fim. Pelo menos para a NASA.

Fonte: MSNBC

Link: How I am becoming an Astronaut

Imagens da NASA mostram diminuição do gelo do Ártico entre 1979 e 2003.

Clique para aumentar.

A diminuição da calote polar do Ártico tem vindo a diminuir, em média, 9% por década, desde os anos 70, embora esta redução se tenha intensificado na última década.

Link: NASA Earth Observatory

terça-feira, 3 de julho de 2007

Turistas podem chegar à Lua antes da NASA!

A companhia norte americana Space Adventures, famosa por ter levado à Estação Espacial os primeiros turistas espaciais, está a desenhar um plano audacioso para levar turistas à Lua!

O plano usaria cápsulas russas, Soyuz, acopladas a um módulo especial de propulsão, e daria uma única volta à Lua, ou seja, usaria uma trajectória de regresso livre que nunca colocaria a cápsula em órbita da Lua.

A Space Adventures afirma ser possível executar o plano por 100 milhões de dólares por passageiro, e que em cada cápsula Soyuz iria um piloto - um astronauta profissional - e dois passageiros. ou sejam 200 milhões de dólares por missão.

Diagramas da Soyuz.

A Space Adventures está a planear pelo menos uma missão de teste, mas afirma ser possível levar turistas à Lua mesmo sem testes!!!

Acho esta afirmação arrepiantemente temerária...

Mas gostaria de ver alguém voltar à Lua. Desde 1972 que não vai lá ninguém, e seria muito curioso que fossem os russos, que perderam a 'Corrida à Lua' dos anos 60, a lá voltar, antes do projecto Orion entrar em operacionalidade!

Fonte: Space.com


Comparação entre o tamanho do Sol e o da maior estrela conhecida

Terá de clicar na imagem para a aumentar. O Sol nem sequer é visível a esta escala - é só um pixel!

Imaginem agora o tamanho da Terra! E do escritório onde estão a trabalhar. E o da vivenda com piscina e uma quinta que alguns andam a lixar os outros para arranjar dinheiro para comprar...

Não é significativo. Preocupem-se com outras coisas. :)