Huygens begins final journey

ESA PR 67-2004. The European Space Agency’s Huygens probe was successfully released by NASA’s Cassini orbiter early Christmas morning and is now on a controlled collision course toward Saturn’s largest and most mysterious moon, Titan, where on 14 January it will make a descent through one of the most intriguing atmospheres in the solar system to an unknown surface.

The separation occurred at 02:00 UTC (03:00 CET): A few minutes after separation, Cassini turned back to Earth and relayed back information about the separation. This signal then took 1 hour and 8 minutes to cross the 1.2 billion kilometres separating the Cassini spacecraft and Earth.

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The Expedition 10 crew is wrapping up the last week of 2004 unloading contents from the Russian Progress supply spacecraft that arrived on Christmas and making plans to ring in the new year International Space Station-style.

Commander Leroy Chiao and Flight Engineer Salizhan Sharipov will count down to 2005 tonight on their own, as they watch the onboard clock reach midnight Greenwich Mean Time, the official time of the International Space Station. The Station is five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. As they started their day, they watched for fireworks from orbit and tried to capture images with onboard cameras. After watching the world celebrate, Chiao and Sharipov have New Year’s Day off, with only light routine housekeeping tasks planned.
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The huge, orange External Tank (ET) that will help launch Space Shuttle Discovery on its next mission isn’t glitzy like the crystal New Year’s ball in Times Square. But its journey from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility marks something special for 2005: the Year of Return to Flight.

The tank, designated ET-120, rolled out on its transporter and was loaded onto a covered barge today at Michoud, in New Orleans, for shipment to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The barge will take four to five days to travel from the Mississippi River-Gulf of Mexico Outlet to Florida’s Banana River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Shipping the tank is an important milestone, particularly for the NASA team that spent 23 months working on modifications to make it safer.
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Students from across the country received an extra dose of holiday cheer this Christmas with the successful delivery of their experiment samples to the International Space Station.

Twenty tiny experiment samples were delivered to the Station on December 25 aboard a Russian Progress supply ship. The experiment samples are from 11 schools and organizations representing students in elementary through high school. Eight of these schools and organizations also flew experiments on the Space Shuttle Columbia’s last mission in 2003.
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Watery Desert

There is a desert in the heart of the South Pacific. Surrounding Easter Island is the purest and bluest seawater on Earth, almost empty of the microscopic phytoplankton at the base of the marine food web. French vessel L’Atalante recently completed a research cruise through this region, its day-to-day route guided by ocean colour satellites.

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A towering 50-foot robot from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) will thrill throngs of parade-goers lining the streets of Pasadena, Calif., New Year’s Day.

Resembling a giant transformer toy, the massive float, entitled “Family of Explorers,” honors nine Earth and space exploration missions managed by JPL for NASA. The robot’s arms and legs are adorned with models of each mission.
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A NASA study found some clouds that form on tiny haze particles are not cooling the Earth as much as previously thought. These findings have implications for the ability to predict changes in climate.

Andrew Ackerman, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and his colleagues found, when the air over clouds is dry, polluted clouds hold less water and reflect less solar energy. Ackerman is the study’s principal author.

Contrary to expectations, scientists observed polluted, low-lying clouds do not generally hold more water than cleaner clouds. Low clouds cool the planet by reflecting sunlight away from the Earth’s surface, and more water makes a cloud more reflective.
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