Student teams from New Jersey to Arizona are creating human-powered vehicles, similar to the first vehicles that roamed the lunar surface in the 1960s, to compete in NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race in Huntsville, Ala., April 2-3.

On Jan. 14, as President Bush announced new goals for America’s space program to return to the Moon and explore beyond, students across the nation were already working to support the new NASA vision for space exploration. Students are undertaking their moonbuggy projects hoping the skills they learn now may one day put them on the Moon, or that their designs someday may be used on the lunar or Martian surface.
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Having marked its first anniversary on orbit, NASA’s Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE) satellite has hit its stride. In concert with other satellites, SORCE’s observations of the sun’s brightness are helping researchers better understand climate change, climate prediction, atmospheric ozone, the sunburn-causing ultraviolet-B radiation and space weather.

In fall 2003, SORCE was fortunate to see and measure exceptionally high levels of the sun’s activities. In late October and November the sun sent solar flares and coronal mass ejections hurtling Earthward, disrupting satellites and other transmissions, triggering an intense geomagnetic storm, and enabling sightings of the northern lights as far south as Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma.
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Thanks to two orbiting X-ray observatories, astronomers have the first strong evidence of a supermassive black hole ripping apart a star and consuming a portion of it.

The event, captured by NASA’s Chandra and ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray Observatories, had long been predicted by theory, but never confirmed.

Astronomers believe a doomed star came too close to a giant black hole after being thrown off course by a close encounter with another star. As it neared the enormous gravity of the black hole, the star was stretched by tidal forces until it was torn apart. This discovery provides crucial information about how these black holes grow and affect surrounding stars and gas.
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Rosetta – a space sophisticate

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission will be getting under way in February 2004. The Rosetta spacecraft will be pairing up with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and accompanying it on its journey, investigating the comet’s composition and the dynamic processes at work as it flies sunwards. The spacecraft will even deposit a lander on the comet. “This will be our first direct contact with the surface of a comet,” said Dr Manfred Warhaut, Operations Manager for the Rosetta mission at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.
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The flight of NASA’s X-43A has been postponed, due to an incident with the rudder actuator on the booster. On Feb 11, during setup at Orbital Sciences Corporation for testing of the rudder and its actuator, an anomaly caused the actuator to go hard over and hit its mechanical stop, exceeding the torque to which the units were qualified.

Although the actuator may still function nominally, it will have to be replaced. A joint government/contractor incident investigation is under way to determine the cause and corrective actions.
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ESA Mars Express calls up NASA Spirit Rover

A pioneering demonstration of communications between the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter and NASA’s Mars exploration rover, Spirit, has succeeded.

On 6 February, while Mars Express was flying over the area that Spirit is examining, the orbiter transferred commands from Earth to the rover and relayed data from the rover back to Earth.
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Rosetta and Ariane 5 launcher

The Rosetta payload for Flight 158 made its initial contact with hardware from the Ariane 5 launcher as mission preparations continue on schedule for a Feb. 26 liftoff.

This activity occurred in the Spaceport’s S3B clean room, where Rosetta was mated to a cone-shaped adapter that serves as the interface structure between the deep-space probe and its Ariane 5.

For the latest on the countdown to Flight 158, see our Mission Update on the Arianespace web site:

Olympus Mons – the caldera in close-up

View from overhead of the complex caldera (summit crater) at the summit of Olympus Mons on Mars, the highest volcano in our Solar System.

Olympus Mons has an average elevation of 22 km and the caldera has a depth of about 3 km. This is the first high-resolution colour image of the complete caldera of Olympus Mons.

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As the tropical oceans continue to heat up, following a 20-year trend, warm rains in the tropics are likely to become more frequent, according to NASA scientists.

In a study by William Lau and Huey-Tzu Jenny Wu, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., the authors offer early proof of a long-held theory that patterns of evaporation and precipitation, known as the water cycle, may accelerate in some areas due to warming temperatures. The research appears in the current issue of Geophysical Research Letters.
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