sábado, 31 de maio de 2008

Space Shuttle lançado com êxito

Mais fotos e vídeos em breve.

Fonte: MSNBC

Shuttle Discovery heads to space station
Loaded aboard is $1 billion school-bus-size science lab
The Associated Press
updated 5:27 p.m. ET May 31, 2008

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Space shuttle Discovery and a crew of seven blasted into orbit Saturday, carrying a giant Japanese lab addition to the international space station along with something more mundane — a toilet pump.

Discovery roared into a brilliant blue sky dotted with a few clouds at 5:02 p.m., right on time.

The shuttle's trip to the space station should take two days. Once there, Discovery's crew will unload and install the $1 billion lab and hand-deliver a specially made pump for the outpost's finicky toilet.

The school-bus-size lab, named Kibo, Japanese for hope, will be the biggest room by far at the space station and bring the orbiting outpost to three-quarters of completion.

"It's a gorgeous day to launch," NASA's launch director, Mike Leinbach, told the astronauts just before liftoff, wishing them good luck and Godspeed. Commander Mark Kelly noted that Kibo was the "hope for the space station," then radioed: "Now stand by for the greatest show on Earth!"

Nearly 400 Japanese journalists, space program officials and other guests jammed NASA's launch site, their excitement growing as the hours, then minutes counted down.

Their enthusiasm was catchy.

"This is a real milestone," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said.

The Japanese lab is 37 feet long and more than 32,000 pounds, and fills Discovery's entire payload bay. The first part of the lab flew up in March, and the third and final section will be launched next year.

The entire lab, with all its pieces, cost more than $2 billion.

A large political contingent was also on hand led by Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who is newly married to Kelly, Discovery's commander. They invited numerous bigwigs from Arizona and Washington.

Giffords acknowledged being nervous, far more so than the day she was elected to Congress in 2006.

"It's a risky job. I'm pleased that the vehicle's in good shape, the weather is beautiful. They've had no problems," she told The Associated Press. "But you don't really relax" until the shuttle is back from its two-week mission.

Kelly's brother, Scott, didn't need an invitation to the launch — he's also a space shuttle commander. They're identical twins.

Scott Kelly said it was more nerve-racking to watch his brother launch than to be strapped in himself. Their parents and 91-year-old grandmother are always anxious on launch day, he said.

"I know my grandmother, she would rather I work at Wal-Mart," Scott Kelly said, chuckling, before liftoff.

Three spacewalks are planned during Discovery's 14-day flight, to install Kibo, replace an empty nitrogen-gas tank and try out various cleaning methods on a clogged solar-wing rotating joint. The shuttle crew is made up of six Americans and one Japanese.

The space station's two Russian residents, meanwhile, will put in the new toilet pump. For more than a week, the three occupants have had to manually flush the toilet with extra water several times a day, a time-consuming, water-wasting job.

NASA and Russian space officials are hoping that the pump — which was rushed to Kennedy Space Center from Moscow just this past week — gets the toilet back in normal working order.

One of Discovery's astronauts, Gregory Chamitoff, will move into the space station for a six-month stay. He'll replace Garrett Reisman, who will return to Earth aboard the shuttle.

Also hitching a ride to the space station is Buzz Lightyear. The 12-inch (30-centimeter) action figure — made famous in the 1995 Disney film "Toy Story" — is part of NASA's "toys in space" educational program for elementary students and their teachers.

quarta-feira, 28 de maio de 2008

Sonda Phoenix fotografada da órbita de Marte

Mais um trabalho da câmera HiRISE, do Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, que mostra em grande detalhe o local de aterragem da Phoenix em Marte. Clique nas imagens para aumentar.

Começou a contagem decrescente para a próxima missão do Space Shuttle

Aqui fica a descrição da contagem, à qual devem ser somadas 5 horas para obter a hora de Lisboa.

Fonte: Email da CBS Space News


Wed 05/28/08

02:30 PM......Call to stations
03:00 PM......Countdown begins

Thu 05/29/08

01:00 AM......Fuel cell reactant load preps
06:30 AM......SRB master events controller power up
07:00 AM......Clear crew module

07:00 AM......Begin 4-hour built-in hold
07:00 AM......Clear blast danger area
07:45 AM......Orbiter pyro-initiator controller test
07:55 AM......SRB pyro initiator test
08:55 AM......Master events controller pre-flight BITE test
11:00 AM......Resume countdown

12:30 PM......Fuel cell oxygen loading begins
03:00 PM......Fuel cell oxygen load complete
03:00 PM......Fuel cell hydrogen loading begins
05:30 PM......Fuel cell hydrogen loading complete
06:30 PM......Pad open; ingress white room

07:00 PM......Begin 8-hour built-in hold (240-pound LO2 offload)
11:00 PM......Crew module clean and vacuum
11:30 PM......Fuel cell loading boom demate

Fri 05/30/08

01:00 AM......Secure mobile launch platform interior
03:00 AM......Countdown resumes

03:00 AM......Main engine preps
03:00 AM......Master event controllers 1 and 2 on; avionics system checkout
04:00 AM......Remove OMS engine covers, throat plugs
04:30 AM......Deflate rotating service structure dock seals; tile inspection
05:00 AM......Tile inspection
09:00 AM......Tail service mast prepped for fueling

11:00 AM......Begin 13-hour 37-minute hold
12:45 PM......Crew weather briefing
01:30 PM......OIS communications check
02:20 PM......JSC flight control team on station
03:30 PM......Comm activation
04:00 PM......Crew module voice checks
05:00 PM......Flight crew equipment late stow
05:30 PM......Debris inspection
08:30 PM......RSS moved to park position
09:30 PM......Final tile, debris inspection
10:30 PM......Ascent switch list

Sat 05/31/08

12:37 AM......Resume countdown

12:37 AM......Astronaut support personnel cockpit config
12:57 AM......Pad clear of non-essential personnel
12:57 AM......Hydaulic power unit bite test
01:47 AM......Fuel cell activation
02:37 AM......Booster joint heater activation
03:07 AM......MEC pre-flight bite test
03:22 AM......Tanking weather update
04:07 AM......Final fueling preps; launch area clear
04:37 AM......Red crew assembled
05:22 AM......Fuel cell integrity checks complete

05:37 AM......Begin 2-hour built-in hold (T-minus 6 hours)
05:47 AM......Safe-and-arm PIC test
06:30 AM......Crew wakeup
06:37 AM......External tank ready for loading
06:52 AM......Mission management team tanking meeting
07:37 AM......Resume countdown (T-minus 6 hours)

07:37 AM......Liquid oxygen (LO2), hydrogen (LH2) transfer line chilldown
07:47 AM......Main propulsion system chill down
07:47 AM......LH2 slow fill
08:17 AM......LO2 slow fill
08:22 AM......Hydrogen ECO sensors go wet
08:27 AM......LO2 fast fill
08:37 AM......LH2 fast fill
10:32 AM......LH2 topping
10:37 AM......LH2 replenish
10:37 AM......LO2 replenish

10:37 AM......Begin 2-hour 30-minute built-in hold (T-minus 3 hours)
10:37 AM......Closeout crew to white room
10:37 AM......External tank in stable replenish mode
10:52 AM......Astronaut support personnel comm checks
11:22 AM......Pre-ingress switch reconfig
11:40 AM......Crew breakfast/photo op (recorded)
12:00 PM......NASA television launch coverage begins
12:32 PM......Final crew weather briefing
12:42 PM......Crew suit up begins
01:07 PM......Resume countdown (T-minus 3 hours)

01:12 PM......Crew departs O&C building
01:42 PM......Crew ingress
02:32 PM......Astronaut comm checks
02:47 PM......Hatch closure
03:27 PM......White room closeout

03:47 PM......Begin 10-minute built-in hold (T-minus 20m)
03:57 PM......NASA test director countdown briefing
03:57 PM......Resume countdown (T-minus 20m)

03:58 PM......Backup flight computer to OPS 1
04:02 PM......KSC area clear to launch

04:08 PM......Begin final built-in hold (T-minus 9m)
04:38 PM......NASA test director launch status verification
04:53:11 PM...Resume countdown (T-minus 9m)

04:54:41 PM...Orbiter access arm retraction
04:57:11 PM...Launch window opens
04:57:11 PM...Hydraulic power system (APU) start
04:57:16 PM...Terminate LO2 replenish
04:58:11 PM...Purge sequence 4 hydraulic test
04:58:11 PM...IMUs to inertial
04:58:16 PM...Aerosurface profile
04:58:41 PM...Main engine steering test
04:59:16 PM...LO2 tank pressurization
04:59:36 PM...Fuel cells to internal reactants
04:59:41 PM...Clear caution-and-warning memory
05:00:11 PM...Crew closes visors
05:00:14 PM...LH2 tank pressurization
05:01:21 PM...SRB joint heater deactivation
05:01:40 PM...Shuttle GPCs take control of countdown
05:01:50 PM...SRB steering test
05:02:04 PM...Main engine start (T-6.6 seconds)
05:02:11 PM...SRB ignition (LAUNCH)

Space Shuttle será lançado no Sábado, com uma missão inédita

Além da instalação do laboratório espacial Kibo, de concepção japonesa, a tripulação da Discovery, juntamente com a tripulação da ISS, irão tentar... desentupir a retrete da ISS!

Pode parecer caricato, mas um problema destes pode levar à evacuação (!!!) da ISS.

Fonte: Local 6

Astronauts To Fix Space Station Toilet
Plumbing Added To Discovery Mission

POSTED: 11:52 am EDT May 27, 2008
UPDATED: 12:28 pm EDT May 27, 2008
How do you call a plumber in space?

Space shuttle Discovery will be loaded with spare parts to fix the main toilet in the Russian segment of the International Space Station; the vacuum-powered urine-collection device failed after repeated attempts to fix it last week.

The three crew members on the station, a U.S. astronaut and two cosmonauts, are using the toilet in the Soyuz module. The situation could become problematic when Discovery arrives next week, and 10 people are required to share the toilet on the tiny Soyuz, which is a Russian capsule also designated to be used at an emergency escape lifeboat. The shuttle's toilet, however, could provide some relief until the ISS toilet is repaired, Local 6 News partner Florida Today reported.

Conditions are not unsanitary, said a NASA spokesman.

Though Discovery will carry up replacement parts on Saturday, NASA is not yet sure which parts will be needed for replacement.

With the successful arrival on Mars of the Phoenix spacecraft, NASA is turning its attention to Saturday's launch of Discovery on a mission to deliver a massive Japanese laboratory to the International Space Station.

Technicians returned to work on Tuesday at launch pad 39A after most work crews had the Memorial Day weekend off. Discovery's astronaut crew arrives at Kennedy Space Center Wednesday about 11:30 a.m. The coundown begins at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Discovery will blast off at 5:02 p.m. on a trip to deliver the 37-foot Kibo laboratory to the International Space Station. Three spacewalks will be performed during the 14-day mission.

segunda-feira, 26 de maio de 2008

A fotografia da Década!

Clique para aumentar.
Esta foto, absolutamente única no seu género, mostra a sonda Phoenix (o pequeno ponto branco em baixo) a descer para Marte, ainda suspensa pelo seu pára-quedas (o ponto branco maior, em cima)! Foi tirada de órbita (!!) pela câmera HiRISE da sonda Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. É a primeira vez na História que é fotografada uma sonda a descer para Marte - ou para qualquer outro planeta, incluindo a Terra!

Fonte: Site Oficial da Phoenix

Camera On Mars Orbiter Snaps Phoenix During Landing

May 26, 2008 -- A telescopic camera in orbit around Mars caught a view of NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander suspended from its parachute during the lander's successful arrival at Mars Sunday evening, May 25.

The image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter marks the first time ever one spacecraft has photographed another one in the act of landing on Mars.

Meanwhile, scientists pored over initial images from Phoenix, the first ever taken from the surface of Mars' polar regions. Phoenix returned information that it was in good health after its first night on Mars, and the Phoenix team sent the spacecraft its to-do list for the day.

"We can see cracks in the troughs that make us think the ice is still modifying the surface," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. "We see fresh cracks. Cracks can't be old. They would fill in."

Camera pointing for the image from HiRISE used navigational information about Phoenix updated on landing day. The camera team and Phoenix team would not know until the image was sent to Earth whether it had actually caught Phoenix.

"We saw a few other bright spots in the image first, but when we saw the parachute and the lander with the cords connecting them, there was no question," said HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen, also of the University of Arizona.

"I'm floored. I'm absolutely floored," said Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. A team analyzing what can be learned from the Phoenix descent through the Martian atmosphere will use the image to reconstruct events.

HiRISE usually points downward. For this image, the pointing was at 62 degrees, nearly two-thirds of the way from straight down to horizontal. To tilt the camera, the whole orbiter must tilt. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was already pointed toward the expected descent path of Phoenix to record radio transmissions from Phoenix.

McEwen said, "We've never taken an image at such an oblique angle before."

Monday's tasks for Phoenix include checkouts of some instruments and systems, plus additional imaging of the lander's surroundings.

Inevitável! Marcianos manifestam-se contra a invasão americana de Marte!

Os 7 minutos de terror da Phoenix

Vídeo que descreve os 7 minutos da fase 'EDL' - Entry, Descent, Landing - da Phoenix.

Mais imagens de Marte

A superfície da zona ártica de Marte, mostrando vários 'polígonos',
possivelmente criados por camadas de gelo subterrâneo. Clique para aumentar.

Um dos polígonos referidos. Clique para aumentar.

As primeiras imagens da Phoenix a partir de Marte

Estas são algumas das primeiras imagens enviadas para a Terra pela Phoenix a partir da superfície de Marte. Chegaram ontem por volta das 2:30 da madrugada (acordei com os aplausos na NASA TV!). Mostram os painéis solares abertos, um dos pés da sonda, e o horizonte de Marte. A Phoenix aterrou numa planície muito plana, com poucos rochedos. A superfície apresenta falhas em forma de polígono, possivelmente formadas pela presença de gelo subterrâneo.

A descida da Phoenix

Vídeo da cobertura da descida da Phoenix até Marte, pela NASA TV. O vídeo começa quando a Phoenix já estava a entrar na atmosfera de Marte. A tensão era óbvia, a 'irmã' desta sonda despenhou-se no Pólo Sul de Marte em 1999, mas desta vez toda a gente estava sorridente. Pessoalmente pensei que estavam todos a deitar foguetes antes da festa, mas felizmente era só a confiança de quem fez um bom trabalho.

A narrativa de quem lia a telemetria é dramática, e simplesmente inesquecível. Um dia histórico.

Um dia Histórico - a Phoenix aterra com sucesso em Marte!

Pela primeira vez em 32 anos, desde as sondas Viking - era eu um miúdo de 10 anos - a NASA fez aterrar em Marte uma sonda sem o auxílio de airbags - o que permitiu um controlo de aterragem muito mais preciso, mas também muito mais arriscado.

Os últimos segundos foram fantásticos, com a telemetria da Phoenix a ser lida em tempo real, com a indicação da abertura do pára-quedas, separação do pára-quedas, ligação dos foguetes, e indicações da altitude, até à confirmação da aterragem.

A aterragem foi tão perfeita que a sonda está com apenas 0,25º de inclinação em relação à horizontal!

O próximo ponto crítico será a abertura dos painéis solares, sem a qual a missão não poderá progredir a 100%.

Dentro de cerca de uma hora e meia chegarão as primeiras imagens do Pólo Norte de Marte. Não sei se estarei acordado nessa altura, mas amanhã estarão aqui as imagens!

Já bebi um Porto em homenagem à Phoenix! Parabéns NASA, parabéns JPL!

domingo, 25 de maio de 2008

Aterragem da Phoenix em Marte dentro de poucas horas

A transmissão em directo pela NASA TV começa hoje pelas 11 horas da noite, hora de Lisboa. A aterragem deverá ser por volta da meia-noite e 53 minutos. As primeiras imagens poderão surgir por volta das 3 da madrugada. Vamos manter os dedos cruzados e esperar que tudo corra bem. Se tal acontecer, será a primeira vez em 32 anos que a NASA consegue aterrar uma sonda em Marte só com controlo por foguetes e sem o auxílio de airbags!

Fonte: NASA

Nota - a todos os tempos abaixo deverá somar 8 horas, já que são a hora oficial da costa oeste.

NOTE: The times below for the Phoenix spacecraft events on May 25 are for a nominal scenario. Remaining navigational adjustments before May 25 could shift the times by up to about half a minute. In addition, the times for some events relative to others could vary by several seconds due to variations in the Martian atmosphere and other factors. For some events, a "give or take" range of times is given, covering 99 percent of possible scenarios from the atmospheric entry time. For events at Mars, times are listed in "Earth-receive time" (ERT) rather than "spacecraft event time" (SCET). This means the listed time incorporates the interval necessary for radio signals traveling at the speed of light to reach Earth from Mars. On landing day, May 25, the two planets are 275 million kilometers apart (171 million miles), which means it takes the signal 15 minutes and 20 seconds to reach Earth. For some spacecraft events, engineers will not receive immediate radio confirmation.

-- Trajectory correction maneuver opportunity (TCM6X), 8:46 a.m.
-- News briefing, noon
-- Begin non-commentary live television feed from JPL control room, 3 p.m.
-- Begin commentated live television feed from JPL control room, 3:30 p.m.
-- Propulsion system pressurization, 4:16 p.m.
-- Begin "bent-pipe" relay relay (continuous transmission of Phoenix data as it is received) through NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft to Goldstone, Calif., Deep Space Network station, 4:38 p.m.
-- Green Bank, W. Va., radio telescope listening for direct UHF from Phoenix, 4:38 p.m.
-- Cruise stage separates, 4:39 p.m.
-- Spacecraft turns to attitude for atmospheric entry, 4:40 p.m.
-- Spacecraft enters atmosphere, 4:46:33 p.m.
-- Likely blackout period as hot plasma surrounds spacecraft, 4:47 through 4:49 p.m.
-- Parachute deploys, 4:50:15 p.m., plus or minus about 13 seconds.
-- Heat shield jettisoned, 4:50:30 p.m., plus or minus about 13 seconds.
-- Legs deploy, 4:50:40 p.m., plus or minus about 13 seconds. -
- Radar activated, 4:51:30 p.m.
-- Lander separates from backshell, 4:53:09 p.m., plus or minus about 46 seconds.
-- Transmission gap during switch to helix antenna 4:53:08 to 4:53:14 p.m.
-- Descent thrusters throttle up, 4:53:12 p.m.
-- Constant-velocity phase starts, 4:53:34 p.m., plus or minus about 46 seconds.
-- Touchdown, 4:53:52 p.m., plus or minus about 46 seconds.
-- Lander radio off 4:54:52 p.m., plus or minus about 46 seconds.
-- Begin opening solar arrays (during radio silence) 5:13 p.m.
-- Begin NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter playback of Phoenix transmissions recorded during entry, descent and landing, 5:28 p.m. However, data for analysis will not be ready until several hours later.
-- Begin Europe's Mars Express spacecraft playback of Phoenix transmissions recorded during entry, descent and landing, 5:30 p.m. However, data for analysis will not be ready until several hours later.
-- Post-landing poll of subsystem teams about spacecraft status, 5:30 p.m.
-- Mars Odyssey "bent-pipe" relay of transmission from Phoenix, with engineering data and possibly including first images, 6:43 to 7:02 p.m. Data could take up to about 30 additional minutes in pipeline before being accessible. If all goes well, live television feed from control room may show first images as they are received. The first images to be taken after landing will be of solar arrays, to check deployment status.
-- News briefing, 9 p.m.

Fonte: New Scientist Space

Peanuts and Rolling Stones on hand for Mars landing

* 00:34 25 May 2008
* NewScientist.com news service
* Ivan Semeniuk, Pasadena

Bring on the peanuts; it's time to land on Mars.

One day before the Phoenix spacecraft arrives at the Red Planet, good luck charms and helpful aphorisms are on full display as engineers and scientists associated with the project deal with the stress of their mission's most critical hours.

Project manager Barry Goldstein has already ordered the peanuts that will be available tomorrow in the mission support area where his Entry, Descent and Landing team will track Phoenix's fiery plunge through the Martian atmosphere.

The peanuts are a Jet Propulsion Lab tradition, but unlike at the last Mars landing, these peanuts will still be in their shells. "I think we need to go through the process" of opening up the peanuts to calm edgy nerves, he told New Scientist.

In addition to the peanuts, lucky blueberries will also make an appearance - a nod to the Opportunity rover, which found iron-rich spherules, nicknamed blueberries, soon after it became the last spacecraft to successfully touch down on Mars.

If it lands successfully, Phoenix will dig into the soil near the northern polar cap to study ice thought to lie just below the surface. This should reveal whether Mars has maintained periodic habitability up to the present day, which would be possible if the planet periodically changes its tilt as a result of gravitational tugs by Jupiter. Such wobbles would cause the northern permafrost to melt and moisten the soil every so often.

At a press briefing today, principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson, US, quoted poet Ralph Waldo Emerson while summing up the scientific rationale for the mission, which could be the first to touch water on Mars: "Go where there is no path; leave a trail for others to follow."

On a somewhat less poetic, but eminently more pragmatic note, Douglas McCuistion, NASA's Mars programme director, invoked a line famously sung by Mick Jagger: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime you get what you need."
Course correction

Certainly, regardless of the returns that scientists want to see coming back from Phoenix in the coming weeks, the spacecraft needs to land intact or the $420 million mission will effectively be a write-off. "We bet the whole farm on landing safely," says Smith.

Later today, Goldstein and his team will decide if a course correction is needed to nudge the lander's trajectory towards a destination that is roughly 10 kilometres or so eastward of its latest projected landing site. The correction would require the spacecraft to turn itself sideways and then fire its hydrazine propellant for six seconds before resuming to its Mars-facing orientation.

According to mission manager Joe Guinn, the manoeuvre would only be executed if Phoenix appears to be drifting away from a region of the Martian northern plains that has the most desirable landing profile.

The desirable region falls in a topographic "green zone" - so-called because of its colour code in Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) images. The green zone is defined as having no more than three large boulders (1.5 metres across) per hectare.
Dust storm

In addition to the surface terrain, Phoenix's landing could also be affected by atmospheric conditions. MRO images reveal that a minor dust storm swept across the landing site earlier today, but the disturbance is expected to dissipate well before the probe's touchdown at 1653 PDT on Sunday (0053 GMT on Monday).

While Phoenix can accommodate a high-speed entry through a dusty atmosphere, a large amount of dust over the landing site would mean a reduction in the power available to spacecraft on the surface once its solar panels are deployed.

Goldstein said that a data set with updated information on atmospheric conditions can be sent to the spacecraft up to 3 hours before the landing. Such information will be crucial for determining when key events of the landing sequence take place, including deployment of the parachute that will slow the spacecraft to a point where its pulsing thrusters can take over for a soft landing.

segunda-feira, 19 de maio de 2008

Tudo a postos para a aterragem da Phoenix em Marte

Será no Domingo, dia 25 de Maio.

Vamos manter os dedos cruzados. O predecessor da Phoenix, o Mars Polar Lander, despenhou-se perto do Pólo Sul de Marte em 1998. Não é garantido que esta nova sonda vá aterrar com sucesso.

Link: Site Oficial da Missão Phoenix

sexta-feira, 16 de maio de 2008

As formigas assassinas (de computadores) de Houston

Uma praga de formigas está a dirigir-se para a zona de Houston, onde está localizado o centro de controlo de todas as missões tripuladas da NASA. Estas formigas têm a particularidade de 'gostarem' particularmente de computadores, alojando-se às centenas no seu interior, e causando sobreaquecimentos e curto-circuitos. Poderá estar a desenvolver-se um problema grave para a NASA!

Fonte: ComputerWorld

NASA moves to save computers from swarming ants
Sharon Gaudin

May 15, 2008 (Computerworld) A flood of voracious ants is heading straight for Houston, taking out computers, radios and even vehicles in their path.

Even the Johnson Space Center has called in extermination experts to keep the pests out of their sensitive and critical systems.

The ants have been causing all kinds of trouble in five Texas counties in the Gulf Coast area. Because of their sheer numbers, the ants are short-circuiting computers in homes and offices, and knocking systems offline in major businesses. When IT personnel pry the affected computers open, they find the machines loaded with thousands of ant bodies.

"These ants are raising havoc," said Roger Gold, professor of entomology at Texas A&M University in College Station. "They're foraging for food, and they'll go into any space looking for it. In the process, they make their way into sensitive equipment."

The ants have been dubbed Crazy Rasberry ants after Tom Rasberry, owner of Budget Pest Control in Pearland, Texas. He first tackled this particular type of ant back in 2002. Since then, the problem has only escalated.

Rasberry told Computerworld that the ants have caused a lot of trouble for one Texas chemical company in particular. Not wanting to name the company, he said the ants shorted out three computers that were running a pipeline that brought chemicals into the plant. The ants took down two computers last year and one in 2006, affecting flow in the pipeline each time.

"I think they go into everything, and they don't follow any kind of structured line," said Rasberry. "If you open a computer, you would find a cluster of ants on the motherboard and all over. You'd get 3,000 or 4,000 ants inside, and they create arcs. They'll wipe out any computer."

The Johnson Space Center called in Rasberry a month or two ago in an attempt to keep the ants out of its facilities. Too late. Raspberry said he found three colonies at the NASA site, but all were small enough to control.

"With the computer systems they have in there, it could devastate the facility," said Rasberry. "If these ants got into the facility in the numbers they have in other locations, well, it would be awful. I've been in this business for 32 years, and this is unlike anything I've ever seen. Anything. When you bring in entomologists from all over the U.S. and they're in shock and awe, that shows you what it's like."

The Johnson Space Center referred all questions about the ants to Rasberry.

The ants, which are tiny and reddish, aren't native to Texas. Officials believe they came off a ship from the Caribbean, said Paul Nester, a program specialist for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. They were first spotted about six years ago.

Gold said in the past few years, they've spread in a radius of about 50 miles. And now they're moving into Houston, the fourth largest city in the country.

"Fifty miles might not seem like a lot until you realize they're moving into Houston," said Gold. "It could really affect a lot of people's lives."

A big problem, noted Nester, is how quickly their numbers are multiplying.

A queen fire ant, long a problem in Texas, can lay as many as 1,000 eggs a day, he said. The Crazy Rasberry ants are thought to be as prolific. However, an ant mound normally has one queen. The new ants have many queens, so they're able to multiply their ranks that much more quickly. They also don't go to the trouble of building ant hills. They simply nest under anything they can find — a log, a tire or a pet's water bowl — and then they quickly move on and spread further.

Nester said the ants swarmed into trucks at a shipping company, shorting out the radios and even some of the vehicles themselves.

Gold said the ants got into an engine compartment at a sewage treatment plant and shorted out the pumps so they couldn't move the sewage out. He added that they've also overrun a subdivision and caused a lot of electrical damage to houses there.

Part of the problem is that exterminators have found it nearly impossible to kill the ants. Oh, you can kill some of them — the first wave, maybe. However, there are so many more ants coming behind them, that the first wave falls dead in the insecticide and the subsequent waves merely walk on the dead bodies, keeping themselves out of the poison and safe from harm.

Gold warned people not to spray any pesticides inside their computers, but to simply call in professionals to avoid mixing up poisonous concoctions or storing partly used, potentially harmful insecticides.

quinta-feira, 15 de maio de 2008

O botão para destruír o Space Shuttle

Como acontece em todos os veículos espaciais, também o Space Shuttle tem um botão para o destruír no ar, caso algo corra mal! Mesmo com a consciência de que isso matará todos os astronautas a bordo, se o Shuttle se desviar da sua rota (ver figura abaixo) mais do que o determinado, ou se ocorrer qualquer outra anomalia que possa pôr em risco as pessoas em terra ou no mar, este será destruído por um conjunto de cargas explosivas comandadas pelo Range Safety Officer. Os astronautas costumam dizer piadas do tipo 'nunca chatear o RSO'.

Até hoje, o RSO só teve de actuar uma vez durante o programa Space Shuttle. Após a explosão do Space Shuttle Challenger, os motores auxiliares de combustível sólido - Solid Rocket Boosters - continuaram a voar desgovernados - como decerto se recordarão os que assistiram ao trágico evento. Para evitar riscos graves, foram detonados a partir de terra poucos segundos depois de se ter constatado o que havia acontecido.

Fonte: Popular Mechanics

As Shuttle Lifts Off, NASA Will Man Destruct Switch—Just in Case
If the looming Discovery mission or any other between now and the spacecraft's retirement loses control, NASA is prepared to ditch it in the Atlantic—or blow it up.
By Joe Pappalardo
Published in the June 2008 issue.

Each time the space shuttle rises from its launchpad at Cape Canaveral, Fla., an Air Force officer waits anxiously for the first 2 minutes to pass safely. If the spaceship were to veer off course and endanger a populated area, this range safety officer would bear the terrible responsibility of flipping a pair of switches under a stenciled panel reading “Flight Termination.” The first switch arms explosives on the shuttle’s two solid rocket boosters. Flipping the second switch would detonate them, destroying the shuttle and crew.

“If something happens when it’s just off the pad, there’s only a couple of seconds [to react],” says Bryan O’Connor, a former shuttle commander and NASA’s chief of safety and mission assurance.

But the danger continues as the craft streaks upward. If a spaceship’s flight controls or engines malfunction, toxic fuel and fast-moving debris could threaten people below. After about 2 minutes, the spent solid rocket boosters drop away, taking the charges with them. After that, problems severe enough to threaten people on the ground would leave the crew with two options: Enter orbit and fly around the Earth for a landing at California’s Edwards Air Force Base, or steer into the ocean. Ditching at sea would be extremely dangerous—astronauts would need to exit the ship at 20,000 ft., without the benefit of ejection seats. “After Challenger, we installed parachutes, survival suits and individual rafts, as well as an extendable pole used to clear the escapees from the wing when they exit the hatch [while in flight],” O’Connor says.

NASA’s next space vehicles will include a rocket-powered escape pod for launch emergencies.

Voltaremos à Lua em 2020?

Conto-me entre os que duvidam. E estou em boa companhia, entre outros os astronautas Eugene Cernan e Alan Bean, que andaram na Lua em 1972 e 1969, respectivamente, que realçam o facto de que a NASA foi colocada numa situação impossível pelo presidente Bush quando, há anos, ditou o regresso à Lua até 2020 com um novo tipo de nave espacial, e o fim dos vôos do Space Shuttle em 2010, sem qualquer acréscimo orçamental. A NASA não podia dizer que não, por isso tem estado a gastar dinheiro a desenvolver um novo sistema de foguetões, até que o dinheiro se acabe...

Esta situação já foi vista vezes sem conta. Na NASA, como em qualquer outra agência estatal de qualquer país, os orçamentos são para gastar. Se por algum milagre do destino se atinge um objectivo, é motivo para júbilo, mas isso, geralmente, não é esperado. Só quando há um grande ímpeto por parte do Governo em que esse determinado objectivo seja realmente atingido é que se veêm resultados. Foi o que se viu no final da década de 60 com o Projecto Apollo. Pelo contrário, a Estação Espacial Internacional (ISS) foi, durante décadas, apenas um projecto que sugou biliões de dólares do orçamento da NASA, porque não havia realmente a vontade política de a colocar em órbita. Só quando esse objectivo foi realmente firmado a nível do Governo dos EUA, através de múltiplos acordos com outros países, nomeadamente a Europa e o Japão, é que se começou a ver a construção da ISS a andar para a frente. Com grandes problemas pelo meio, é certo, entre os quais a tragédia do Columbia, e a mais de 10 vezes o custo inicial estimado, de acordo com alguns estudos. Mas hoje assistimos a um esforço espetacular de construír uma estação espacial útil e funcional, o que não aconteceu durante anos.

Como não é óbvia a vontade de voltar à Lua por parte do Governo dos EUA, e como o orçamento da NASA é claramente insuficiente para fazer 'a festa', muitos duvidam que em 2020 lá estejamos de novo.

Fonte: TIME

Can We Return Man to the Moon?
By Dan Cray

Once you've used the moon as your trampoline, you spend the rest of your life waiting for a second turn on the ride. It's no surprise, then, that Gene Cernan and Alan Bean, two Apollo-era astronauts who have bounded on the lunar surface, are thrilled with NASA's plans to return Americans the moon. Thrilled, but not entirely convinced it will ever happen. "To be honest with you," says Cernan, the last man to leave the moon in December 1972, "I'll be surprised if this happens [by] 2020."

Why the doubt? Motivation and money, say Bean and Cernan. Without the pressure of imminent international challenge, the astronauts say, the Constellation program — NASA's next manned mission to the moon in 2020 — will lag. "We need some kind of stimulus, a commercial or international challenge to our standing in the free world," says Cernan, 74. "And it isn't out there." That's a potentially make-or-break difference from the ambitious, Cold War–fueled days of Apollo. It's unlikely, then, that any future President will make manned lunar exploration a real priority. Which means inadequate funding for NASA and a tough bind for the agency's administrator, Michael Griffin. "If the President says you're going to the moon with this amount of money," says Bean, now 76 and an artist in Houston, "you'd better say yes, because if you don't you aren't going to have a job anymore." In effect, he says, the space agency must go through the motions of building hardware until the money runs out, knowing it won't be enough to make it to the moon.

"I see the same glint in [NASA's] eyes, the same good things that we had going for us," says Bean, who piloted Apollo 12's lunar module, "except I don't see the money that it's going to take to do the job."

Another surprising obstacle to returning man to the moon: NASA's space shuttle, a technological marvel that did little more than turn us back into Earth-orbit-bound homebodies. "We went all the way to the moon, then they closed the garage door," says Cernan. That near-sighted mindset may have carried over to Constellation, where engineers are focusing as much on developing two rockets — the Ares V cargo rocket (think Apollo's Saturn V on steroids) and the slender Ares 1 crew launcher — as on the vehicles and habitats needed for the lunar surface. NASA says Ares adapts technologies from the Space Shuttle and Saturn programs, but the astronauts wonder why we're reinventing rockets. As Cernan says, "The enemy of good is better. We don't need to make the trip fancy, let's just get there." Bean agrees. While helping to evaluate new lunar tools at Johnson Space Center, he says, "I told them we already have a hammer than can break rocks. Get that money where you're trying to solve new problems." The advice, he says, "didn't really set in."

Technology is only a boon to the extent that humans stay in control of it. What ruffles Cernan, a former Navy pilot who still flies Lear jets, is that Constellation is heading toward technology overload; engineers have already joked that the program's astronauts won't have to do much besides enjoy the ride. "If we take the human capability out of the system we're going to fail," says Cernan, suggesting the Soviets learned that the hard way when they designed automated, ground-controlled spacecraft that failed. "Technology is an aid, not a crutch." Bean is more bullish than his colleague on Constellation's possible new designs, but agrees that human control is crucial to spaceflight, particularly since a lightning strike took his Apollo 12 instruments off-line right after launch, leaving him to to regain control manually.

Despite a deep-seated skepticism, both men still consider themselves two of NASA's greatest cheerleaders. They say the agency has at least reoriented itself in the right direction — away from Earth — after too many homebound years. "I wouldn't go up on the space station for anything in the world," Cernan says. "Once you've been to the moon, staying home isn't good enough."

Vaticano diz: "Podeis crer em Extraterrestres!"

Sim, tem a sua lógica. Afinal, se Deus criou o Universo, então, a existirem extraterrestres, estes terão também sido criados por Ele.

Fonte: Reuters

Vatican scientist says belief in God and aliens is OK
Wed May 14, 2008 2:31pm EDT

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican's chief astronomer says there is no conflict between believing in God and in the possibility of "extraterrestrial brothers" perhaps more evolved than humans.

"In my opinion this possibility (of life on other planets) exists," said Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, a 45-year-old Jesuit priest who is head of the Vatican Observatory and a scientific adviser to Pope Benedict.

"How can we exclude that life has developed elsewhere," he told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano in an interview in its Tuesday-Wednesday edition, explaining that the large number of galaxies with their own planets made this possible.

Asked if he was referring to beings similar to humans or even more evolved than humans, he said: "Certainly, in a universe this big you can't exclude this hypothesis".

In the interview headlined "The extraterrestrial is my brother," he said he saw no conflict between belief in such beings and faith in God.

"Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on earth, there can be other beings, even intelligent, created by God. This is not in contrast with our faith because we can't put limits on God's creative freedom," he said.

"Why can't we speak of a 'brother extraterrestrial'? It would still be part of creation," he said.

Funes, who runs the observatory which is based south of Rome and in Arizona, held out the possibility that the human race might actually be the "lost sheep" of the universe.

"There could be (other beings) who remained in full friendship with their creator," he said.


Christians have sometimes been at odds with scientists over whether the Bible should be read literally and issues such as creationism versus evolution have been hotly debated for decades.

The Inquisition condemned astronomer Galileo in the 17th century for insisting that the earth revolved around the sun. The Catholic Church did not rehabilitate him until 1992.

Funes said dialogue between faith and science could be improved if scientists learned more about the Bible and the Church kept more up to date with scientific progress.

Funes, an Argentine, said he believed as an astronomer that the most likely explanation for the start of the universe was "the big bang", the theory that it sprang into existence from dense matter billions of years ago.

But he said this was not in conflict with faith in God as a creator. "God is the creator. There is a sense to creation. We are not children of an accident ...," he said.

"As an astronomer, I continue to believe that God is the creator of the universe and that we are not the product of something casual but children of a good father who has a project of love in mind for us," he said.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella, editing by Richard Balmforth)

quarta-feira, 7 de maio de 2008

Anúncio de emprego: Procura-se Astronauta (m/f)

É mesmo verdade! Chegou finalmente a oportunidade de haver um astronauta português! Um astronauta verdadeiro, e não um turista, que tenha pago 20 ou 30 milhões de dólares para ir passear à ISS a bordo de uma cápsula Soyuz. Não, este anúncio surgiu no StarTracker, uma social network em que só se entra por convite, mas reproduzo aqui o anúncio na íntegra.

Se é jovem, saudável, em forma, e está a estudar num curso relevante, e se a Conquista do Espaço o anima, sugiro-lhe que cumpra o sonho de muitos de nós, incluindo os que, como eu, são de uma geração que já não terá esta possibilidade! Quem sabe, poderá ser o primeiro Europeu a caminhar sobre a Lua! Já não é fantasia!

Job opportunity details
Role Name: Astronauta
Company: European Space Agency
Description: A Ciência Viva e a Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia organizam a Sessão de Informação sobre o concurso para recrutamento de astronautas da Agência Espacial Europeia (ESA), o primeiro aberto à participação de cidadãos portugueses.

Este evento, que conta com a colaboração da ESA, terá lugar no próximo dia 15 de Maio, às 10h30, no Pavilhão do Conhecimento – Ciência Viva.

Esta sessão conta com a presença de Ernst Messerschmid, astronauta do Centro Europeu de Astronautas (EAC), de Horst Schaarschmidt, responsável pela divisão de astronautas do EAC e de Manuel Paiva, que coordenou numerosos projectos de investigação biomédica associados ao Espaço.

Com os seus astronautas a trabalharem no laboratório Columbus, a bordo da Estação Espacial Internacional (ISS), e com o sucesso da missão ATV, a Agência Espacial Europeia está à procura de novos talentos para reforçar o seu corpo de astronautas em futuras missões.

Os candidatos seleccionados passarão a integrar o Corpo Europeu de Astronautas e iniciarão a sua formação básica no Centro Europeu de Astronautas em Colónia, na Alemanha.

Portugal é um dos 17 Estados-Membros cujos cidadãos podem candidatar-se a este desafio.

Mais informações em http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEM2SS3XQEF_Portugal_0.html
Until: 2008/08/19
Link: www.esa.int/esaCP/SEM2SS3XQEF_Portugal_0.html
Location: - Global, - Global

Sugiro também que visitem o link da ESA, que contém mais informações. Os astronautas seleccionados irão participar em missões à ISS, mas também, previsivelmente, à Lua, daqui a cerca de 10 anos!