Results from the first four months of observation from the Kepler space observatory have been released indicating the discovery of more than 1200 potential planets, including 165 Jupiter-class planets, 662 Neptune-class planets, 288 superEarth class planets, and 68 Earth-class planets, 54 of which are considered to be in the habitable zone. Kepler has been searching a portion of the sky that includes the constellation Cygnus and Lyra and looked at 156,000 stars during the period covered by the released data.
Waleed Abdalati has been named Chief Scientist at NASA by NASA Administrator Charles Borden. Abdalati will assume his new position on January 3, 2011. Currently the director of the Earth Science and Observation Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Abdalati will serve as the principal adviser to the NASA administrator on agency science programs, strategic planning and the evaluation of related investments. Previously, Abdalati was head of the Cryospheric Sciences Branch at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.
The Voyager 1 space probe has entered the Heliosheath, an area where the solar wind drops to zero velocity. The heliosheath is the final region of our solar system and scientists believe that Voyager is within five years of crossing the heliopause, the edge of the solar system, and entering interstellar space. Scientists had previously thought Voyager was preparing to make the jump to interstellar space in 2005, but since the probe is in unknown territory, it is still sending back data which is changing astronomers’ models of the solar system. Launched in 1977, Voyager completed its mission to study the Jovian planets in 1989 when it passed Neptune. It is now located about 17.4 billion miles from Earth and is still sending back data.
NASA’s X-37B, an unmanned spacecraft launched via rocket in April, landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base after a seven month long mission that NASA says was used as a test for the spacecraft itself. According to officials, the flight was to test guidance, navigation, control, thermal protection, and autonomous operation in orbit, re-entry, and landing. NASA plans to launch the craft again some time in 2011
NASA has discovered a microorganism in California’s Mono Lake which has replaced phosphorus with arsenic in its cell components. This is the first organism ever discovered to use arsenic in this manner, which expands the possibility for the search for life, both terrestrial and extraterrestrial. Until this discovery, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur were considered the six basic building blocks of all known forms of life on Earth.
The second-to-last scheduled space shuttle launch has been delayed again. Originally scheduled for November 5, NASA now says the last flight of Discovery will occur no earlier than February 3. The Discovery launch has been plagued with fuel tank issues and cracks appearing in the stringers. The delay in Discovery‘s mission also pushes back the date of the final launch of the program, for Endeavour to April 1.
Following a delay in the final launch of the space shuttle Discovery, NASA has discovered two nine-inch long cracks in the shuttle’s external fuel tank. Earlier, a twenty-inch crack had been discovered. The new cracks appeared on the fuel tank’s stringers, vertical, composite aluminum ribs on the tank’s exterior. The launch will not take place until sometime after November 30, with the new cracks possibly delaying the launch even more.
Joseph G. Gavin, Jr. (b.1920) died on October 30. Gavin was the Director of the Lunar Module Program for Apollo at Grumman for ten years before becoming the company’s President in 1972. He was not only responsible for the Lunar Module’s design, but also headed the program when the Lunar Module was used as a lifeboat for the Apollo 13 mission. He received the NASA Distinguished Public Medal in 1971.
NASA has provided Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space Systems a total of $475,000 to help fund test flights of suborbital vehicles. The funding, part of NASA’s Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research program, will help pay for three flights by Armadillo’s Super-Mod vehicle and four flights by Masten’s Xaero. Flights are expected to reach between 3 and 25 miles in altitude.
Astronaut William B. Lenoir (b. 1939) died on August 28. Lenoir joined the Astronaut Corps as part of Group 6 in 1967 as a scientist-astronaut. He flew his only mission in November 1982 as a mission specialist aboard Columbia flight STS-5, which was considered the first operational flight of the shuttle. Lenoir left NASA in 1984 after declining a space on a 1985 shuttle launch. He went on to work for Booz Allen Hamilton. He returned to NASA in 1989 as Associate Administrator for Space Flight and remained until 1992, when he again left for BAH, where he remained until his retirement in 2000.