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NASA's Year in Review: 2007
The space agency's Top Ten Exploration and Discovery Stories of 2007.
NASA moved forward in 2007 to explore the solar system, expand our knowledge of Earth and its place in the universe, and continue building the International Space Station. While the space shuttle flew three highly successful missions to continue the station's assembly, construction began on a variety of projects designed to send astronauts to the moon to establish a permanent outpost, where they will prepare for eventual voyages to Mars. Space science missions were launched to Mars and the asteroid belt, while closer to home, Earth science satellites made a number of key discoveries, such as discovering how waterways beneath an Antarctic ice stream affect sea level and the world's largest ice sheet.
Return to the Moon
NASA began laying the foundation for the future of space exploration in 2007. Construction projects across the agency supported the Constellation program, which is developing next-generation spacecraft and systems to return astronauts to the moon by 2020. All major contracts for the Ares I rocket were awarded in 2007. Hard hats, cranes and bulldozers were the equipment of choice at space facilities across the country. Construction got under way at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in Las Cruces, N.M., where NASA will hold the Constellation Program's first flight tests in 2008. At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, workers are erecting a new lightning protection system at the Constellation launch pad, 39-B. A new test stand for rocket engines is being built at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. NASA's lunar architects unveiled more details of their plans for a lunar outpost, complete with small, pressurized rovers that would travel in pairs, and possible astronaut housing that could be moved from one location to another. NASA engineers also sought opportunities to test lunar equipment ideas at sites on Earth that are similar to the moon, such as the Arizona desert and the Antarctic tundra. For more information: Constellation.
Space Shuttle Commander Pam Melroy and the International Space Station's Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson made history Oct. 25 when shuttle Discovery and the station docked and the hatches between the two ships were opened. As the two women shook hands 200 miles above Earth, they became the first female spacecraft commanders to simultaneously lead shuttle and station missions. Whitson, who also holds the distinction of being the first woman to command a station mission, has accumulated more total time in orbit than any other female space traveler. For more information, visit: STS-120 Mission Overview
Rise of the Phoenix
NASA's Phoenix mission launched Aug. 4 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a nine-month trek to Mars. The robotic lander is scheduled to arrive at the Red Planet May 25, 2008, and begin a close-up examination of Mars' northern polar region. Phoenix will be the first mission to touch the planet's water-ice. Its robotic arm will dig into an icy layer believed to lie just beneath the Martian surface. The robot explorer will study the history of the water in the ice, monitor weather in the polar region, and investigate whether the subsurface environment in the far-northern plains of Mars ever has been favorable for sustaining microbial life. For more information, visit: Phoenix Mars Lander
International Space Station Keeps on Growing
After NASA launched three successful space shuttle missions in June, August and October, the International Space Station grew in size, volume and power production in 2007. In fact, the electricity generated by the station and used aboard the outpost more than doubled this year. The station's six solar panels now extend to more than half an acre of surface area. NASA astronauts and Russia cosmonauts safely conducted 22 spacewalks devoted to building and maintaining the station in 2007. A 23rd spacewalk is planned for Dec. 18. That will match a record for the most spacewalks in a single year. For more information, visit: International Space Station Assembly
Cold As Ice
Scientists using NASA satellites discovered an extensive network of waterways beneath a fast-moving Antarctic ice stream that provide clues as to how "leaks" in the system affect sea level and the world's largest ice sheet. Data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite, and data from the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System on NASA's Ice Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite, provided a multi-dimensional view of changes in the elevation of the icy surface above a large subglacial lake and surrounding areas during a three-year period. Those changes suggest the lake drained to the nearby ocean. For more information, visit: NASA Satellites Unearth Antarctic 'Plumbing System'
Circuit Chip Breakthrough
NASA researchers have designed and built a new silicon carbide differential amplifier integrated circuit chip that has exceeded 4,000 hours of continuous operation at 500 degrees Celsius - a breakthrough that represents a 100-fold increase in what previously had been achieved. Prior to this development, such integrated circuit chips had operated at these high temperatures for a few hours or less before degrading or failing. The extremely durable transistors and packaging technologies will enable highly functional but physically small integrated circuitry to be used for sensing and to control electronics within harsh environments, such as hot sections of jet engines as well as long-duration spacecraft. For more information, visit: Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate
Human Space Flight Records
Two new human spaceflight milestones were set by NASA astronauts in 2007. Sunita Williams, the International Space Station's Expedition 14 and Expedition 15 flight engineer, broke the record for the longest duration single spaceflight by a woman with 195 consecutive days in orbit. She also completed the most spacewalks by a woman, with four totaling 29 hours and 17 minutes, and was the first astronaut to run a marathon while in orbit. At the end of the Expedition 14 mission in April, William's crewmate, Mike Lopez-Alegria, led all astronauts in the number of spacewalks with 10 and the amount of time spent spacewalking with 67 hours and 40 minutes. The time was accumulated during two shuttle flights and his stay on the station. Lopez-Alegria's 215-day station mission also marked the longest single spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut. For more information, visit: Astronaut Suni Williams Sets the Record Straight, and Long
The brightest stellar explosion ever recorded was seen by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ground-based optical telescopes. The discovery indicates that violent explosions of extremely massive stars were relatively common in the early universe and a similar explosion could be ready to go off in our own galaxy. This new supernova may offer a rare glimpse of how the first stars died. It is unprecedented to find such a massive star and witness its death. The discovery of the supernova, known as SN 2006gy, provided evidence that the deaths of such massive stars are fundamentally different from theoretical predictions. For more information, visit: NASA's Chandra Sees Brightest Supernova Ever
Successful Test Flight
An advanced new aircraft design flew successfully in 2007. NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, with the Air Force Research Lab and Boeing Phantomworks, successfully completed flight experiments for the X-48B Blended Wing Body (BWB) advanced aircraft at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center this year. The BWB is a hybrid configuration combining the best attributes of a conventional tube-and-wing aircraft with a flying wing. It has the potential to meet expected future Next Generation Air Transportation System requirements for low noise, low emissions and high performance. With certain modifications to the design, the BWB also has the potential to land and take off on shorter runways than current aircraft. The experiments demonstrated the basic flying qualities of the X-48B and the effectiveness of the on-board flight control system. For more information, visit: X-48B Blended Wing Body
Global Exploration Strategy
NASA and 13 space agencies from around the world released the framework for a global exploration strategy in May 2007. The document, titled "The Global Exploration Strategy: The Framework for Coordination," reflects a shared vision of space exploration focused on solar system destinations where humans may someday live and work. It represents an important step in an evolving process toward a comprehensive global approach. The framework also allows individual nations to share their strategies and efforts so all can achieve their exploration goals more effectively. For more information, visit:
Space Agencies Release Exploration Strategy Framework
The framework document (.pdf):
NASA's future space exploration plans:
Three space-related news items were among the top ten science and technology stories covered this year by CNN.
shown in chronological order
Former astronaut Lisa Nowak was charged with attempted kidnapping, battery and burglary with assault against former astronaut Colleen Shipman, her romantic rival for space shuttle pilot William Oefelein. Nowak entered a plea of not guilty.
Astronomers announced the discovery of an Earth-like planet Gliese 581 c similar in size and temperature to Earth and may have liquid water. The planet orbits a red dwarf star Gliese 581 which is smaller and dimmer than our Sun and 20.5 lightyears away.
The threat of global warming received major attention in 2007 when former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and a United Nations panel on climate change won the Nobel Peace Prize./ Gore hosted Live Earth, a 24-hour series of worldwide concerts to promote awareness.
Three space-related news items were among the top ten science stories covered this year by USA Today.
Was the main science story of 2007, according to this newspaper. The topic moved from theory to fact in the scientific world and in the minds of many Americans in 2007. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the gold-standard scientific body on the topic, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former vice president Al Gore.
The brightest supernova
Astronomers began seeing the brightest supernova of a star ever observed as light from the death of SN 2006gy finally reached Earth in 2007. The star was 240 million lightyears away. The dying star had been about 150 times heavier than our Sun when it exploded 240 million years ago. It still burned brightly in Earth's sky more than 250 days after its initial explosion.
A lightyear is about 5.9 trillion miles.
A planet like our own?
Astronomers reported discovering the first possibly-habitable planet outside our Solar System. Because it might have oceans, it might have life. The small planet circles the red dwarf star referred to as Gliese 581. The planet is just far enough away from its star that liquid water is possible. NASA exobiologists say "follow the water," for where liquid water exists, life is possible. Now named Gliese 581 c, the planet is one of three that circle its star It's about 20.5 lightyears away in the constellation Libra.
Three space-related stories were among the top ten blockbusters covered this year by the National Geographic Society news service.
1. Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist Says. Simultaneous warming on Earth and Mars suggests that our planet's recent climate changes have a natural -- and not a human-induced -- cause, according to a controversial theory.
5. Crater From 1908 Russian Space Impact Found, Team Says. Almost a century after a mysterious explosion in Russia flattened a huge swath of Siberian forest, scientists have found what they believe is a crater made by the cosmic object that created the blast.
10. Meteor Crash in Peru Caused Mysterious Illness. Headaches and nausea in residents who visited the impact crater were caused by arsenic fumes from a rare kind of meteorite, scientists announced.
Top 10 Astronomy Pictures of 2007
The New Zealand Herald
Best of Space 2007 (+ photos)
In 2007, Earth's neighbouring planets provided some of the most unforgetable space shots of all time. Relive the year in space in the New Zealand Herald's Best of Space 2007 gallery.
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