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A Year of
Recovery and Growth
America's space agency had spectacular achievements in 2004 – the rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars and Cassini-Huygens became the first spacecraft to go into orbit around Saturn. Meanhile, NASA astronauts worked aboard the International Space Station while the space agency worked to overcome the tragic loss of Columbia in 2003 and return space shuttles to flight in 2005.
Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity Landed on Mars
NASA successfully landed the mobile geology labs Spirit and Opportunity on Mars on January 3 and January 24. Opportunity discovered evidence its landing site had been a standing body of water in the distant past, raising the possibility key ingredients for life might have existed on Mars. In April, both rovers successfully completed their primary three-month missions and went into bonus overtime work. Spirit completed a two-mile trek to the Columbia hills. Opportunity descended into Endurance Crater and found layers of rocks bearing evidence of having once been drenched in water. The twin rovers were the largest and most sophisticated exploration vehicles ever sent to Mars.
Latest news from the Mars Exploration Rovers »
Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft Arrives at Saturn
After a seven-year, two billion mile journey, Cassini-Huygens became the first spacecraft to go into orbit around Saturn. The NASA, European and Italian Space Agencies' mission found the planet roiled by storms, detected lighting, discovered a new radiation belt, found four new moons, a new ring around Saturn, and mapped the composition of the planet's rings. Cassini flew within 745 miles of Titan, the closest any spacecraft has come to Saturn's largest moon.
The latest news from Cassini and Huygens »
Recovering from the Tragedy of Space Shuttle Columbia
Shuttle processing activities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., assumed a pre-launch rhythm, after almost two years of innovative and intensive agency-wide effort to make the fleet safer. The most significant Return to Flight work was on the Shuttle External Fuel Tank, which was redesigned to reduce debris from striking the spacecraft. NASA also focused on the ability to assess the condition of Shuttles in orbit. The first Shuttle mission since the Columbia accident, Discovery (STS-114), had a launch window opening in mid-May 2005.
The Columbia story »
Columbia recovery NASA »
Columbia investigation NASA »
Return to Flight Task Group NASA »
International Space Station Enters Fifth Year
Three crews lived on the Station during 2004, as the orbiting laboratory entered its fifth year as a staffed facility. Each two-person crew, working with ground teams, did its part to keep the Station safely operating. Crews made unprecedented repairs to an oxygen generator, a crucial piece of exercise equipment and a U.S. spacesuit. They also performed a spacewalk to restore power to a gyroscope. All three U.S. crewmembers had personal milestones. Expedition 8 Commander Mike Foale returned to Earth as the U.S. record-holder for time in space, logging 374 days, 11 hours and 19 minutes over several missions. Expedition 9 Flight Engineer Mike Fincke is the first U.S. astronaut to have a child born, while he was in orbit. Expedition 10 Commander Leroy Chiao is the first U.S. citizen to vote from space in a presidential election.
CFT ISS Implementation Plan NASA PDF 827 Kb »
Genesis Crash Lands Bringing Home Samples
The Genesis solar-sample return mission made a hard landing in the Utah desert, but NASA managed to preserve a significant portion of the precious samples of the sun it brought back from space. Genesis scientists believe they will achieve the most important portions of their science objectives, which should tell us about the conditions when the sun and planets were created more than five billion years ago. Genesis was launched in August 2001.
Genesis Buries Itself in Utah Desert »
Stardust Flies By Comet, Then Heads Home
NASA's Stardust mission flew within 147 miles of the comet Wild 2. Sent to collect samples, images and other data, the flyby yielded the most detailed, high-resolution comet images ever -- revealing a rigid surface dotted with towering pinnacles, plunging craters, steep cliffs, and dozens of jets spewing material into space. Launched in 1999, Stardust is headed back to Earth with its payload of thousands of captured particles. The sample return capsule is scheduled for a soft landing in the Utah desert in January 2006.
Stardust Heading Home »
Spitzer Unveils Strange Cosmic Sights
The Spitzer Space Telescope pierced cosmic dust to reveal previously hidden objects. It unmasked a family of newborn stars whose birth was triggered by the death of another star; a dying star surrounded by a mysterious donut-shaped ring; a cannibalistic galaxy and what may be the youngest planet ever detected. Spitzer identified one of the farthest galaxies yet seen, measuring its age and mass for the first time. Spitzer was launched August 24, 2003.
Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope »
Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Telescope Launched
NASA's Swift satellite will pinpoint the location of distant, fleeting explosions that appear to signal the births of black holes. Each gamma-ray burst is a short-lived event, and Swift should detect several weekly. Swift, launched Nov. 20, is a mission with British and Italian participation designed to solve the mystery of the origin of gamma-ray bursts.
Swift Hunts Gamma-Ray Bursts »
Hubble Sees Farther Than Ever
With NASA insisting on killing the great observatory in space sometime in the next few years, astronomers rushed to get the most they could from the Hubble Space Telescope in 2004. One result was the deepest portrait ever of the visible universe. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field revealed the first galaxies to emerge from the time shortly after the big bang, when the first stars reheated the cold, dark universe. The image should offer new insights into what types of objects reheated the universe. The image exposed galaxies too faint to be seen by ground-based telescopes.
The Beauty of Hubble »
Aura Atmosphere Measurer Launched
NASA's Aura spacecraft, a next generation Earth-observing satellite launched on July 15, is supplying the best information yet about the health of Earth's atmosphere. Aura will help scientists understand how atmospheric composition affects and responds to Earth's changing climate; help reveal the processes that connect local and global air quality; and track the extent Earth's protective ozone layer is recovering.
The A Train »
Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter is Being Designed
NASA began to design the Prometheus Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) spacecraft. JIMO will be the first NASA mission using nuclear electric propulsion. The system will enable the craft to orbit Jupiter's three planet-sized moons, Callisto, Ganymede and Europa. When it gets there in 15-20 years, JIMO will perform extensive investigations of their composition, history and potential for sustaining life.
Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter »
Scramjet Flies Near Mach 10
NASA's X-43A scramjet-powered research vehicle successfully broke its own speed record, flying nearly Mach 10. That's 7,000 mph. It showed promise for developing more airplane-like operations in ultra high-speed flights within the atmosphere, increased affordability, flexibility and safety for the first stage to Earth orbit.
Other Important NASA Project Results in 2004
Earthquake Prediction Program's Good Track Record
A NASA-funded earthquake prediction program has an amazing track record. Published in 2001, the forecast has accurately predicted the locations of 15 of California's largest earthquakes this decade, including September's California tremors. Of 16 earthquakes, magnitude five and higher occurring since Jan. 1, 2000, 15 fell on hotspots identified by the forecasting program.
Satellites Act as Thermometers in Space
NASA satellites, acting as thermometers in space, confirmed Earth has experienced an increasing "fever" for decades. Satellites were used to develop a record from 1981 to 1998 of global land-surface temperatures. The research provided better proof Earth's snow-free land surfaces, on average, warmed during this period. This unique satellite record is more detailed and comprehensive than previously available ground measurements.
Moon Sheds Light on Earth's Climate
A NASA-funded study found insights into Earth's climate might come from the moon. During the 1980s and 90s, the Earth bounced less sunlight out to space. The trend reversed during the past three years. The apparent change in the amount of sunlight reaching Earth in the 1980s and 90s is comparable to doubling the effects of greenhouse-gas warming since 1850. Increased reflectance since 2001 suggests change of a similar magnitude in the opposite direction.
Satellites and Balloons Spot Airborne Pollution in Earth's Atmosphere
NASA scientists, using multiple satellites and balloon-borne sensors, discovered pollution could catch an airborne wind current from Asia all the way to the southern Atlantic Ocean. Scientists believe, during certain seasons, as much as half the ozone pollution above the Atlantic may be speeding down a track of air and precipitation from the Indian Ocean.
TRMM Extended Operations Help Weather Forecasters
NASA extended the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM). The extension ensured data for forecasters and researchers during worldwide storm seasons. TRMM data aids government agencies and others researching, monitoring and predicting rainfall and storms.
Gene Studies Help Understand Disease
NASA scientists and their academic colleagues provided valuable insights into how DNA encodes instructions to control basic biological functions. This research may change the understanding of human diseases and will help NASA ensure astronauts' well being during long-duration space missions.
Dust Bowl Drought Explained by Satellite Data
NASA scientists used a computer model developed with satellite data to look at the climate over the past 100 years. The study found cooler-than-normal tropical Pacific Ocean surface temperatures combined with warmer tropical Atlantic Ocean temperatures turned America's breadbasket into a dust bowl from 1931 to 1939.
Columbia Supercomputer Improves Research and Forecasting
NASA named its newest supercomputer Columbia to honor the crew of the Shuttle Columbia. It is one of the world's most powerful supercomputing systems. It will dramatically increase NASA's capacity for conducting scientific research, modeling, forecasting and engineering. Improvements in the supercomputer's climate model are being used to explore the Earth's atmosphere. Results from the model indicate significant improvements in forecast accuracy for major storms and hurricanes.
Exploration, Research and Technology Proposals Selected
NASA selected proposals from industry and academia to support the research, technology goals and objectives of the Vision for Space Exploration. The selections were part of the effort to develop new partnerships among NASA, industry and academia. NASA also awarded the first contracts to conduct preliminary concept studies for human lunar exploration and the development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle.
Next Generation of Astronauts Selected
NASA announced the 2004 astronaut candidate class, the first focused on fulfilling the Vision for Space Exploration. The class includes three educator astronauts, three military pilots, a Navy SEAL, an astrophysicist, two physicians and an engineer.
Research on Space Station Yields New Health Information
A NASA-funded study revealed how bone loss increases the risk of injuries, highlighting the need for additional measures to ensure the health of spacecraft crews. This research may aid people on Earth who suffer from similar conditions including osteoporosis. Space Station astronauts, using ultrasound techniques developed by NASA, demonstrated the ability to quickly and remotely transmit medical data to the ground. These techniques are directly transferable for Earth use to improve patient care in remote locations.
NASA Window on the World Web Portal Receives 17 Billion Hits
Highlighting agency-wide programs and missions, the NASA portal served up more than 17 billion hits and 1.6 billion page views during 130 million visits. It sent out more than one million webcast streams of NASA TV. Interest peaked quickly with the landings of the Mars Rovers in January, as nearly 50,000 people watched the live webcasts during the landings. Portal traffic had a four-fold increase from 2003 to 2004, and a ten-fold increase from 2002.
NASA Works Hard to Transform Itself
NASA transformed into a mission-oriented agency during the year. Four major mission directorates -- Exploration Systems, Space Operations, Science and Aeronautic Research were formed to manage agency operations. Mission support offices, including the Independent Technical Authority, were established to ensure safety, quality assurance and effective program management. Transformation of NASA's organization structure was designed to streamline the agency and create a framework that affixes clear authority and accountability, while positioning the agency to implement the Vision for Space Exploration.
20,000 Explorer Schools Across the U.S. Catch the NASA VIsion
NASA's 2004 Explorer Schools Program provided information and interactive activities for more than 20,000 elementary-to-high-school pupils in 46 states and Washington. The three-year partnership between NASA and selected schools in diverse communities offers opportunities and materials for teachers to spark interest in science, technology and math. Applications for 2005 Explorer Schools Program are being accepted.
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