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Status Report: NASA MESSENGER Passes the Billion-Mile Mark!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

On March 23 MESSENGER reached the one-billion mile mark, placing the spacecraft about one-fifth of the way toward its destination to orbit Mercury. On that same day, in the early morning hours (UTC), the spacecraft's distance from the Sun was about the same as the Earth's distance to the Sun. "One billion miles and the team and spacecraft are doing well," says Mission Operations Manager Mark Holdridge of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), where the spacecraft is operated and where it was designed and built.

The MESSENGER spacecraft performed its final "flop" maneuver for the mission on March 8, pointing the back side of the spacecraft to the Sun until June 2006. This rotation about the X-axis is performed whenever the solar distance increases beyond approximately 0.95 astronomical units (AU), nearly the distance between the Earth and the Sun. At this distance, the solar arrays do not generate enough power to operate all spacecraft components simultaneously, including instruments and heaters. The "flop" is performed to heat the back side of the spacecraft with the Sun. A "flip" maneuver reverses the effect of the "flop" maneuver by pointing the sunshade toward the Sun. This solar heating reduces the need for multiple onboard heaters, providing the necessary power until the spacecraft is closer to the Sun again. Previous flip, flop, and flip maneuvers were performed on March 8, 2005, June 14, 2005, and September 7, 2005. The spacecraft is scheduled to flip back toward the Sun on June 21.

Even though the MESSENGER spacecraft is years away from entering its final destination of orbiting Mercury, the mission Science Team is already very busy collecting scientific data and sharing it with the larger scientific community. Those plans and results are now available on the team's new Web site:

For a complete look at MESSENGER's journey through the inner solar system, visit the Mission Design section of the Web site at

To see where MESSENGER is now, visit

More: NASA -Status Report on MESSENGER

NASA Honors Buzz Aldrin With Exploration Award

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Buzz Aldrin
Buzz Aldrin Explores the Moon
Credit: NASA

West Point graduate. Fighter pilot. Spacewalker. Apollo 11 astronaut. Man on the moon. Such is the storied career of Buzz Aldrin. Part of the first crew to set foot on another world, Aldrin spent more than 2 hours on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969. He also became the subject of one of the most iconic images on the 20th century (left), a solitary explorer in white contrasted against the gray landscape, with mission commander Neil Armstrong reflected in his visor. Even before his Apollo 11 fame, Aldrin had broken new ground with a record-settting spacewalk during the Gemini 12 mission in 1966.

For all his contributions to America's space program, Aldrin received NASA's Ambassador of Exploration Award on Saturday, March 25, at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
In a post-Apollo 11 news conference, Aldrin said, "I think that this demonstrated that we were certainly on the right track when we undertook this commitment to go to the moon. I think that what this means is that many other problems, perhaps, can be solved in the same way, by making a commitment to solve them in a long-time fashion.

Aldrin is one of 38 recipients of the Ambassador of Exploration Award, all of whom were astronauts or other key individuals who participated in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. The award is a small sample of lunar material encased in Lucite and mounted for public display. The material is part of the 842 pounds of samples brought back to Earth during the six Apollo lunar expeditions from 1969 to 1972. Aldrin's award will be displayed in the Sketch Foundation Gallery: Air & Space Exhibits, California Science Center, 700 State Street, Los Angeles.

More:Space -- Honors Buzz Aldrin With Exploration Award

Source: Johns Hopkins University

Fruit Flies go into Space

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

FlyHey, kids! Find out why NASA is sending real fruit flies into space. You’ll know whether fruit flies are going into space for a Martian vacation, or to make an alien fruit fly drink that will produce report cards that your parents like, or if NASA’s scientists and future explorers will use the fruit flies to study humans.

Once you find out the answer, you can participate in Flies in Space web chats, which will be live chats where you can ask questions in English on Tuesday, April 4, 2006 between 9-10:00 a.m. (PDT) or in Spanish between 10-11:00 a.m (PDT). If you happen to be in school during this time, questions may be placed into the chat rooms early, and if answered will appear in the archive later that day.

I know you're dying to know when the flies are leaving to space. So, I'll tell you: they are going onboard the space shuttle mission STS-121 in July 2006. Mark your calendar. Have Fun!

For more information and answers to questions visit NASA's Flies in Space website.

NASA Reinstates the Dawn Mission

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

NASA senior management announced a decision Monday to reinstate the Dawn mission, a robotic exploration of two major asteroids. Dawn had been canceled because of technical problems and cost overruns.

The mission, named because it was designed to study objects dating from the dawn of the solar system, would travel to Vesta and Ceres, two of the largest asteroids orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will use an electric ion propulsion system and orbit multiple objects.

The mission originally was approved in December 2001 and was set for launch in June 2006. Technical problems and other difficulties delayed the projected launch date to July 2007 and pushed the cost from its original estimate of $373 million to $446 million. The decision to cancel Dawn was made March 2, 2006, after about $257 million already had been spent. An additional expenditure of about $14 million would have been required to terminate the project.

The reinstatement resulted from a review process that is part of new management procedures established by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. The process is intended to help ensure open debate and thorough evaluation of major decisions regarding space exploration and agency operations.

"We revisited a number of technical and financial challenges and the work being done to address them," said NASA Associate Administrator Rex Geveden, who chaired the review panel. "Our review determined the project team has made substantive progress on many of this mission's technical issues, and, in the end, we have confidence the mission will succeed."

The Dawn decision document will be available on the Web at:

Story Credit: NASA-Erica Hupp/Dean Acosta