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Goddard Space Flight Center

Call it Ishmael. Actually, no, call it the Comet Nucleus Sample Return mission spacecraft. Regardless of its name, the NASA vehicle will be wielding a harpoon, not unlike the narrator of Moby Dick. Instead of hunting a white whale, however, it will be after a comet. Although the spacecraft itself is still a concept, its harpoon is in the works now. Read More
We've had our sights on NASA's Curiosity Rover (also known as the Mars Science Laboratory or MSL) for quite some time now. Well, it's finally ready and in a few short weeks, this amazingly advanced one-ton (900 kg) explorer will find itself atop a massive Atlas V rocket for the eight-month, 354 million-mile (570 million-km) trip to our red neighbor – the culmination of over seven years of development and US$2.5 billion in funding. Read More
When it comes to gathering measurements of objects so distant in the universe that they can no longer be seen in visible light, the smallest amount of stray light can play havoc with the sensitive detectors and other instrument components used by astronomers. Currently, instrument developers use black paint on baffles and other components to help prevent stray light ricocheting off surfaces, but the paint absorbs only 90 percent of the light that strikes it. NASA engineers have now developed a nanotech-based coating that absorbs on average more than 99 percent of the ultraviolet, visible, infrared, and far-infrared light that hits it, making it promising for a variety of space- and Earth-bound applications. Read More
NASA is looking to turn another staple of science fiction to practical use by studying ways to make “tractor beams” a reality. While none of the technologies under the microscope will be able to transport anything the size of a modified YT-1300 Corellian freighter – at least in the short term – the researchers will examine if it is possible to trap and move planetary or atmospheric particles using laser light so they can be delivered to a robotic rover or orbiting spacecraft for analysis. Read More
Since the dawn of the space age, NASA has been relying on radio communications technology to send and receive data to and from spacecraft. Although it has developed higher data-rate radio frequency systems, data-compression, and other techniques to boost the amount of data that its current RF systems can handle, they can't keep pace with the projected data needs of advanced instruments and further human exploration. To break this bottleneck, NASA is turning to optical communications technology that would use lasers to increase data rates over existing systems by anywhere from 10 to 100 times. Read More
True story: when I was a little kid and was at an observatory looking at the Moon through a telescope, I loudly proclaimed "I think I can see one of the moon buggies!" Everyone laughed, and I felt stupid. Well, several decades later, I've been somewhat vindicated. Although it's not an earthbound telescope, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) did recently capture images of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landing sites. The Apollo 17 lunar rover is indeed visible, as are the descent stages of the three spacecraft, and foot paths made by the astronauts. Read More
The solar storms that cause the stunning aurora borealis and aurora australis (or northern and southern polar lights) also have the potential to knock out telecommunications equipment and navigational systems and cause blackouts of electrical grids. With the frequency of the sun’s flares following an 11-year cycle of solar activity and the next solar maximum expected around 2013, scientists are bracing for an overdue, once-in-100 year event that could cause widespread power blackouts and cripple electricity grids around the world. It sounds like an insurmountable problem but a new NASA project called “Solar Shield” is working to develop a forecasting system that can mitigate the impacts of such events and keep the electrons flowing. Read More
For the first time researchers have simulated images of sections of our Solar System as they may have appeared some 700 million years ago. Supercomputer modeling of tiny dust particles far out in space may also pave the way to the discovery of new planets. "We're hoping our models will help us spot Neptune-sized worlds around other stars," Said Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. who led the study. Read More
The satellite-aided search and rescue technology pioneered by NASA is credited with saving more than 27,000 lives worldwide since its inception nearly three decades ago. Now the agency has developed new technology that will more quickly identify the locations of people in distress and reduce the risk to rescuers. Read More
Global Positioning System (GPS) devices have permeated society to the point where millions of us rely on them daily for directions, locations and traffic avoidance (if only they could tell me where I left my car keys). GPS satellites send signals to a receiver in your handheld or car-based GPS navigator, which calculates your position on the planet based on the location of the satellites and your distance from them. The distance is determined by how long it took the signals from various satellites to reach your receiver. But have you ever thought what tells the GPS satellites where they are in the first place? Read More
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