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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:http://www.nasa.gov/formedia

Story Credit: NASA-Erica Hupp/Dean Acosta

Dawn Mission Killed

Friday, March 3, 2006

Dawn mission
The mission would have studied the asteroids Ceres and Vesta, both relics from the early solar system

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Artist's impression: W Hartmann/JPL/NASA
In early February, Dawn principal investigator Christopher Russell, at the University of California Los Angeles, said "We were going full bore toward launch, running as fast as we could. We saw the finish line in sight and then someone shot the gun and said we're cancelling the race for a bit."

Apparently the mission was stopped after a US congressional hearing on NASA's science budget, reports NASAWatch.com, a website run by former NASA employee Keith Cowing.

Both asteroids were thought to be remnants of the first objects formed in the solar system. But they show mysterious differences in their structures – Vesta has melted and separated into layers, while Ceres has not. Dawn was to probe these differences, using close-range scrutiny.

The decision to cancel the mission came after ,more than a month, the agency was expected to complete an extensive review of the mission's progress. In October 2005, NASA ordered Dawn managers to stop work on the mission, citing excessive technical problems and a budget overrun.

More: Dawn asteroid mission killed.
Story Credit: NewScientist.com news service; Kimm Groshong

Deep Impact Team Reports First Evidence of Cometary Ice

Friday, March 3, 2006

Comet Tempel 1, which created a flamboyant Fourth of July fireworks display in space last year, is covered with a small amount of water ice. These results, reported by members of NASA’s Deep Impact team in an advanced online edition of Science, offer the first definitive evidence of surface ice on any comet.

“We have known for a long time that water ice exists in comets, but this is the first evidence of water ice on comets,” said Jessica Sunshine, Deep Impact co-investigator and lead author of the Science article. Tempel I A chief scientist with Science Applications International Corporation who holds three Brown University degrees, Sunshine said the discovery offers important insight into the composition of comets – small, Sun-orbiting space travelers that are believed to be leftovers from the formation of the solar system.

“Understanding a comet’s water cycle and supply is critical to understanding these bodies as a system and as a possible source that delivered water to Earth,” she said. “Add the large organic component in comets and you have two of the key ingredients for life.”

More: NASA - Deep Impact Team Reports First Evidence of Cometary Ice