Denver -- U.S. space scientists are investigating an unidentified black material coating the surfaces of some of Saturn's moons.
Astronomers said there's mounting evidence some mechanism has spread the material found on several of the moons from one to another and the material might have a common cometary origin.
Roger Clark of the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver said the Cassini spacecraft found the same spectral signature on all the moons -- Phoebe, Iapetus, Hyperion, Epimetheus -- and Saturn's F-ring that have coatings of dark material.
But the scientists said they don't know where the material originated or what it is.
"It's a mystery, which makes it intriguing," said Clark. "The data keep getting better and better. We're ruling things out and figuring out pieces."
Cape Canaveral, Fla -- U.S. space shuttle Atlantis and its seven crew members safely returned to Earth Wednesday under what were described as virtually ideal weather conditions.
Four landing opportunities were available for the astronauts, but none except the first was needed at the 3-mile-long Kennedy Space Center runway with Atlantis touching down as scheduled at 9:07 a.m. Wednesday on orbit 202, National Aeronautics and Space Administration controllers said. The uneventful touchdown ended a 13-day mission to the International Space Station.
The landing occurred on the 46th anniversary of John Glenn's becoming the first American to orbit the Earth. Glenn's Feb. 20, 1962, flight lasted 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds.
STS-122 arrived at the ISS Feb. 9, delivering the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory. The shuttle and ISS crews installed Columbus Feb. 11 and conducted three spacewalks to prepare the laboratory for its scientific work. They also replaced an expended space station nitrogen tank.
Cape Canaveral, Fla. -- The U.S. space agency said shuttle Endeavour, now at its Kennedy Space Center launch pad, will undergo a terminal countdown test this weekend.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the terminal countdown demonstration test is the next major milestone for the upcoming STS-123 mission to the International Space Station. It involves a full launch "dress rehearsal" to take place Friday through Monday.
Endeavour is scheduled for launch March 11 on a 16-day mission. NASA said the seven crew members will deliver the first section of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory and the Canadian Space Agency's two-armed robotic system, Dextre. Five spacewalks will be conducted during the flight.
The STS-123 astronauts and ground crews will participate in the terminal countdown demonstration test, providing the crews an opportunity to take part in various simulated countdown activities, including equipment familiarization and emergency training.
Houston -- The U.S. space agency was preparing for a Wednesday return to Earth and the end of STS-122's 13-day, 5.3 million-mile space mission.
The crew of space shuttle Atlantis was scheduled Tuesday to, among other things, test the spacecraft's thrusters and control surfaces for its flight
through the atmosphere.
The STS-122 astronauts also were to set up a recumbent landing seat for astronaut Daniel Tani, who boarded the Atlantis at the International Space Station. Tani, who worked on the space station for nearly four months, was replaced by European Space Agency astronaut Leopold Eyharts. The seat is designed to help Tani adjust to Earth's gravity after spending so much time in weightlessness.
NASA controllers in Houston said Wednesday's landing opportunities at the Kennedy Space Center were 9:07 a.m. and 10:42 a.m. EST. There were additional opportunities at 12:12 p.m. and 1:47 p.m. EST at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., which is a backup landing site.
Washington -- The U.S. space agency has awarded a contract to ATK Launch Systems Inc. of Brigham City, Utah, for delivery of space shuttle reusable solid rocket motors.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the modification contract, valued at $812.5 million, changes the current contract to align production to launch schedule requirements through Sept. 30, 2010. The modification reflects adjustments made in the shuttle manifest and makes deliveries consistent with the planned retirement of the space shuttle in September 2010.
ATK will produce and refurbish flight and ground-test reusable solid rocket motors for the space shuttle program under the cost-plus-award fee contract, which was initially awarded in October 1998.
Work will be performed at the contractor's plants in Brigham City and Clearfield, Utah, along with facilities at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Washington -- The U.S. space agency has selected 19 science teams to conduct year-long studies of new concepts for its next generation of major space observatories.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said every 10 years U.S. astronomers and physicists take part in the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey in cooperation with the National Academy of Sciences. They produce directions that guide federal agencies such as NASA and the National Science Foundation in planning astronomy and astrophysics programs for the coming decade. "The exciting new astrophysics mission concept studies we are funding will seed preparations for astronomical space missions and paradigm-shifting discoveries across the early 21st century," said Alan Stern, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
Cape Canaveral, Fla -- The U.S. space agency has revised the launch dates for space shuttle flights during the second half of 2008, necessitated by the delayed STS-122 launch.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the next two shuttle flights -- STS-123 on shuttle Endeavour targeted for March 11 and STS-124 on Discovery targeted for April 24 -- haven't been changed. Any decision regarding those launch dates will take place after the current STS-122 mission, aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, lands Wednesday.
Late 2008 shuttle mission revised target launch dates are:
Aug. 28 -- Atlantis (STS-125) to service the Hubble Space Telescope.
Oct. 16 -- Endeavour (STS-126) to deliver equipment to the International Space Station.
Dec. 4 -- Discovery (STS-119) to deliver the final set of solar arrays to the space station.
Washington -- The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is accepting applications for its fall 2008 scholarship program in aeronautics and related fields.
NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate said it will accept applications from undergraduate and graduate students between Feb. 22 and Mar. 17 for the program, which is designed to attract highly-motivated students for space-related studies.
Undergraduates in their second year of study can earn up to $15,000 per year for two years, and graduate students can earn up to $35,000 per year for three years. The money can be used for tuition, room and board, and other school-related expenses.
Students also can apply for optional summer internships at NASA research centers to earn an additional $10,000 in stipends.
Cape Canaveral, Fla. -- Space shuttle Endeavour arrived at its launchpad Monday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in advance of its scheduled March 11 launch.
The rollout of the shuttle began at 11:24 p.m. Sunday, approximately seven hours earlier than scheduled. The shuttle and its STS-123 crew will conduct a 16-day mission to the International Space Station.
The fully assembled space shuttle, consisting of the orbiter, external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters were mounted on a mobile launcher platform and delivered to the pad on top of a crawler transporter. It was secured at 6:22 a.m. Monday.
In addition, as part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's 50th anniversary, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds were to fly over Endeavour at the launch pad during a midmorning ceremony.
Houston -- Space shuttle Atlantis ended its nearly nine-day mission to the International Space Station by undocking at 4:24 a.m. Monday.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said shortly after separation, the shuttle flew around the space station to allow a close inspection of its heat shield prior to setting course for Earth.
The shuttle arrived at the station Feb. 9, delivering the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory. The crews installed Columbus Feb. 11 and conducted three spacewalks to prepare Columbus for its scientific work. They also replaced an expended nitrogen tank on the station's P1 truss.
In addition, Atlantis delivered a new station crew member, flight engineer Leopold Eyharts, an ESA astronaut. He replaced astronaut Daniel Tani, who is returning to Earth aboard Atlantis.
Houston-- NASA says two astronauts upgraded science facilities for studying the sun during a seven-hour spacewalk Friday outside the shuttle Atlantis.
Rex Walheim and Stan Love bolted two packages for solar experiments onto the outside of the International Space Station and examined a dent in the station's skin, USA Today reported Saturday.
NASA is trying to determine whether the dent, located on a handrail near the door, is responsible for a puzzling series of snags in astronauts' spacesuits during the last 18 months. None of the astronauts were injured, but NASA officials feared a deep cut could allow air to leak from their suits, USA Today said.
"It is a little bit rough. I can feel it snagging," Walheim said in describing the dent to Mission Control. Walheim and Love are scheduled to return to Earth aboard Atlantis Wednesday.
Cape Canaveral, Fla. -- The U.S. space agency announced plans Tuesday to move space shuttle Endeavour to its launch pad in advance of its March 11 launch.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said Endeavour's move to Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center next Monday is in preparation for the STS-123's 16-day mission to the International Space Station. That mission will include delivery of the first section of the Japan space agency's Kibo laboratory and the Canadian Space Agency's two-armed robotic system, Dextre. Five spacewalks are scheduled for the flight.
The first motion of the shuttle from Kennedy's Vehicle Assembly Building is scheduled for 7 a.m. EST Monday. The fully assembled space shuttle -- the orbiter, external tank and twin solid rocket boosters -- will be mounted on a mobile launcher platform and delivered to the pad on top of a crawler transporter.
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