The largest spacecraft welding tool in the world, the Vertical Assembly Center, officially is open for business at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The 170-foot-tall, 78-foot-wide giant completes a world-class welding toolkit that will be used to build the core stage of America’s next great rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS).

SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions, including to an asteroid and eventually Mars. The core stage, towering more than 200 feet tall (61 meters) with a diameter of 27.6 feet (8.4 meters), will store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the rocket’s RS-25 engines.

The Vertical Assembly Center is part of a family of state-of-the-art tools designed to weld the core stage of SLS. It will join domes, rings and barrels to complete the tanks or dry structure assemblies. It also will be used to perform evaluations on the completed welds. Boeing is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage, including avionics.

> Release: NASA Unveils World’s Largest Spacecraft Welding Tool for Space Launch System

Image Credit: NASA
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Expedition 40 Commander Steve Swanson of NASA rests in a chair outside the Soyuz Capsule just minutes after he and Flight Engineers Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), landed in their Soyuz TMA-12M capsule in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014. Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev returned to Earth after more than five months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 39 and 40 crews.

Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
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Ground support personnel are seen at the landing site after the Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft landed with Expedition 40 Commander Steve Swanson of NASA, and Flight Engineers Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014. Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev returned to Earth after more than five months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 39 and 40 crews.Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
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The destructive results of a powerful supernova explosion reveal themselves in a delicate tapestry of X-ray light, as seen in this image from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton.

The image shows the remains of a supernova that would have been witnessed on Earth about 3,700 years ago. The remnant is called Puppis A, and is around 7,000 light years away and about 10 light years across. This image provides the most complete and detailed X-ray view of Puppis A ever obtained, made by combining a mosaic of different Chandra and XMM-Newton observations. Low-energy X-rays are shown in red, medium-energy X-rays are in green and high energy X-rays are colored blue.

These observations act as a probe of the gas surrounding Puppis A, known as the interstellar medium. The complex appearance of the remnant shows that Puppis A is expanding into an interstellar medium that probably has a knotty structure.

Supernova explosions forge the heavy elements that can provide the raw material from which future generations of stars and planets will form. Studying how supernova remnants expand into the galaxy and interact with other material provides critical clues into our own origins.

A paper describing these results was published in the July 2013 issue of Astronomy and Astrophysics and is available online. The first author is Gloria Dubner from the Instituto de Astronomía y Física del Espacio in Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Image credit: NASA/CXC/IAFE/G.Dubner et al & ESA/XMM-Newton

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Flying Through an Aurora

September 15, 2014

European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst posted this photograph taken from the International Space Station to social media on Aug. 29, 2014, writing, “words can’t describe how it feels flying through an #aurora. I wouldn’t even know where to begin….”

Crewmembers on the space station photograph the Earth from their unique point of view located 200 miles above the surface. Photographs record how the planet is changing over time, from human-caused changes like urban growth and reservoir construction, to natural dynamic events such as hurricanes, floods and volcanic eruptions. Crewmembers have been photographing Earth from space since the early Mercury missions beginning in 1961. The continuous images taken from the space station ensure this record remains unbroken.

On Tuesday, Sept. 9 aboard the space station, cosmonaut Max Suraev of Roscosmos takes the helm when Expedition 40 Commander Steve Swanson hands over control during a Change of Command Ceremony at 5:15 p.m. EDT. Suraev will lead Expedition 41 and stay in orbit until November with Gerst and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman. Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov, Swanson and Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev will complete their mission Wednesday, Sept. 10 at 7:01 p.m. when they undock in their Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft from the Poisk docking compartment for a parachute-assisted landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan a little less than 3.5 hours later.

Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Alexander Gerst
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NASA’s first completed Orion crew module sits atop its service module at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew and service module will be transferred together on Wednesday to another facility for fueling, before moving again for the installation of the launch abort system. At that point, the spacecraft will be complete and ready to stack on top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket that will carry it into space on its first flight in December. For that flight, Exploration Flight Test-1, Orion will travel 3,600 miles above the Earth – farther than any spacecraft built to carry people has traveled in more than 40 years – and return home at speeds of 20,000 miles per hour, while enduring temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Image Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak
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Hubble Sees Spiral in Serpens

September 15, 2014

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows a beautiful spiral galaxy known as PGC 54493, located in the constellation of Serpens (The Serpent). This galaxy is part of a galaxy cluster that has been studied by astronomers exploring an intriguing phenomenon known as weak gravitational lensing.

This effect, caused by the uneven distribution of matter (including dark matter) throughout the Universe, has been explored via surveys such as the Hubble Medium Deep Survey. Dark matter is one of the great mysteries in cosmology. It behaves very differently from ordinary matter as it does not emit or absorb light or other forms of electromagnetic energy — hence the term “dark.”

Even though we cannot observe dark matter directly, we know it exists. One prominent piece of evidence for the existence of this mysterious matter is known as the “galaxy rotation problem.” Galaxies rotate at such speeds and in such a way that ordinary matter alone — the stuff we see — would not be able to hold them together. The amount of mass that is “missing” visibly is dark matter, which is thought to make up some 27 percent of the total contents of the Universe, with dark energy and normal matter making up the rest. PGC 55493 has been studied in connection with an effect known as cosmic shearing. This is a weak gravitational lensing effect that creates tiny distortions in images of distant galaxies.

 

European Space Agency

ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt
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NASA engineers inspect a new piece of technology developed for the James Webb Space Telescope, the micro shutter array, with a low light test at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Developed at Goddard to allow Webb’s Near Infrared Spectrograph to obtain spectra of more than 100 objects in the universe simultaneously, the micro shutter array uses thousands of tiny shutters to capture spectra from selected objects of interest in space and block out light from all other sources.

The James Webb Space Telescope is a large space telescope, optimized for infrared wavelengths. It is scheduled for launch later in this decade. Webb will find the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way galaxy. Webb will peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems, connecting the Milky Way to our own solar system.

Caption Credit: Laura Betz, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
Image Credit: NASA Goddard/Chris Gunn
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This spring NASA researchers took to the skies to capture data about the effects of jet biofuels on aircraft emissions and contrails.
In this image, NASA’s DC-8 research aircraft, which had the job of burning the biofuel, leads one of the “sampling” chase aircraft across an early morning sky near NASA’s Armstrong Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.
The science instruments on the chase aircraft, as they were flown through the DC-8’s wake, were able to record more data about how the emissions mixed with air.
The tests, known as Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions or ACCESS II, were a follow-on to flight tests done in 2013.
ACCESS II confirms that the biofuel results in at least 50 percent reduction in soot emissions when burning the blended fuel as opposed to standard jet fuel. The goal of the research is to help lead to more environmentally friendly aircraft designs.
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Image Credit: NASA/ORAU Richard Moore
By nasa.gov

An Astronaut’s View from Space

September 15, 2014

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman tweeted this photo from the International Space Station on Tuesday morning, Sept. 2, 2014. “My favorite views from #space – just past #sunrise over the ocean,” the Expedition 40 astronaut tweeted.

The Expedition 40 crew has been busy aboard the space station, recently performing health checks and humanoid robot upgrades. In the meantime, a trio of orbital residents is packing up gear as they prepare to return home in less than two weeks. Commander Steve Swanson powered down and stowed Robonaut 2 after wrapping up its mobility upgrades this week. He installed new legs on the humanoid robot including external and internal gear as well as cables. This sets the stage for more upgrades in the fall before Robonaut takes its first steps as an assistant crew member. Robonaut was designed to enhance crew productivity and safety while also aiding people on Earth with physical disabilities.

Image Credit: NASA/Reid Wiseman (@astro_reid)
By nasa.gov