NASA News: NASA's Wise Raises Doubt About Asteroid Family Believed Responsible for Dinosaur Extinction

WASHINGTON -- Observations from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey
Explorer (WISE) mission indicate the family of asteroids some
believed was responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs is not
likely the culprit, keeping the case open on one of Earth's greatest mysteries.

While scientists are confident a large asteroid crashed into Earth
approximately 65 million years ago, leading to the extinction of
dinosaurs and some other lifeforms on our planet, they do not know
exactly where the asteroid came from or how it made its way to Earth.
A 2007 study using visible-light data from ground-based telescopes
first suggested the remnant of a huge asteroid, known as Baptistina,
as a possible suspect.

According to that theory, Baptistina crashed into another asteroid in
the main belt between Mars and Jupiter about 160 million years ago.
The collision sent shattered pieces as big as mountains flying. One
of those pieces was believed to have impacted Earth, causing the
dinosaurs' extinction.

Since this scenario was first proposed, evidence developed that the
so-called Baptistina family of asteroids was not the responsible
party. With the new infrared observations from WISE, astronomers say
Baptistina may finally be ruled out.

"As a result of the WISE science team's investigation, the demise of
the dinosaurs remains in the cold case files," said Lindley Johnson,
program executive for the Near Earth Object (NEO) Observation Program
at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The original calculations with
visible light estimated the size and reflectivity of the Baptistina
family members, leading to estimates of their age, but we now know
those estimates were off. With infrared light, WISE was able to get a
more accurate estimate, which throws the timing of the Baptistina
theory into question."

WISE surveyed the entire celestial sky twice in infrared light from
January 2010 to February 2011. The asteroid-hunting portion of the
mission, called NEOWISE, used the data to catalogue more than 157,000
asteroids in the main belt and discovered more than 33,000 new ones.

Visible light reflects off an asteroid. Without knowing how reflective
the surface of the asteroid is, it's hard to accurately establish
size. Infrared observations allow a more accurate size estimate. They
detect infrared light coming from the asteroid itself, which is
related to the body's temperature and size. Once the size is known,
the object's reflectivity can be re-calculated by combining infrared
with visible-light data.

The NEOWISE team measured the reflectivity and the size of about
120,000 asteroids in the main belt, including 1,056 members of the
Baptistina family. The scientists calculated the original parent
Baptistina asteroid actually broke up closer to 80 million years ago,
half as long as originally proposed.

This calculation was possible because the size and reflectivity of the
asteroid family members indicate how much time would have been
required to reach their current locations -- larger asteroids would
not disperse in their orbits as fast as smaller ones. The results
revealed a chunk of the original Baptistina asteroid needed to hit
Earth in less time than previously believed, in just about 15 million
years, to cause the extinction of the dinosaurs.

"This doesn't give the remnants from the collision very much time to
move into a resonance spot, and get flung down to Earth 65 million
years ago," said Amy Mainzer, a study co-author and the principal
investigator of NEOWISE at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in
Pasadena. Calif. "This process is thought to normally take many tens
of millions of years." Resonances are areas in the main belt where
gravity nudges from Jupiter and Saturn can act like a pinball machine
to fling asteroids out of the main belt and into the region near Earth.

The asteroid family that produced the dinosaur-killing asteroid
remains at large. Evidence that a 10-kilometer asteroid impacted
Earth 65 million years ago includes a huge, crater-shaped structure
in the Gulf of Mexico and rare minerals in the fossil record, which
are common in meteorites but seldom found in Earth's crust. In
addition to the Baptistina results, the NEOWISE study shows various
main belt asteroid families have similar reflective properties. The
team hopes to use NEOWISE data to disentangle families that overlap
and trace their histories.

"We are working on creating an asteroid family tree of sorts," said
Joseph Masiero, the lead author of the study. "We are starting to
refine our picture of how the asteroids in the main belt smashed
together and mixed up."

JPL manages and operated WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
The spacecraft was put into hibernation mode after it scanned the
entire sky twice, completing its main objectives. The principal
investigator, astronomer Edward Wright, is at UCLA.

The mission was selected competitively under NASA's Explorers Program
managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan.

The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in
Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at
the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California
Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about WISE, visit:



Tests Under Way On The Sunshield For NASA'S Webb Telescope

WASHINGTON -- NASA is testing an element of the sunshield that will
protect the James Webb Space Telescope's mirrors and instruments
during its mission to observe the most distant objects in the universe.

The sunshield will consist of five tennis court-sized layers to allow
the Webb telescope to cool to its cryogenic operating temperature of
minus 387.7 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Kelvin).

Testing began early this month at ManTech International Corp.'s
Nexolve facility in Huntsville, Ala., using flight-like material for
the sunshield, a full-scale test frame and hardware attachments. The
test sunshield layer is made of Kapton, a very thin, high-performance
plastic with a reflective metallic coating, similar to a Mylar
balloon. Each sunshield layer is less than half the thickness of a
sheet of paper. It is stitched together like a quilt from more than
52 individual pieces because manufacturers do not make Kapton sheets
as big as a tennis court.

The tests are expected to be completed in two weeks.

"The conclusion of testing on this full size layer will be the final
step of the sunshield's development program and provides the
confidence and experience to manufacture the five flight layers,"
said Keith Parrish, Webb Sunshield manager at NASA's Goddard Space
Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

During testing, engineers use a high-precision laser radar to measure
the layer every few inches at room temperature and pressure, creating
a 3D map of the material surface, which is curved in multiple
directions. The map will be compared to computer models to see if the
material behaved as predicted, and whether critical clearances with
adjacent hardware are achieved.

The test will be done on all five layers to give engineers a precise
idea of how the entire sunshield will behave once in orbit. Last
year, a one-third-scale model of the sunshield was tested in a
chamber that simulated the extreme temperatures it will experience in
space. The test confirmed the sunshield will allow the telescope to
cool to its operating temperature.

After the full-size sunshield layers complete testing and model
analysis, they will be sent to Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach
Calif., where engineers verify the process of how the layers will
unfurl in space. There the sunshield layers will be folded, much like
a parachute, so they can be safely stowed for launch.

The Webb is the world's next-generation space observatory and
successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The most powerful space
telescope ever built, Webb will provide images of the very first
galaxies ever formed, and explore planets around distant stars. The
Webb is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the
Canadian Space Agency.

For more information and related images, visit:


For more information about the James Webb Space Telescope, visit:



The Challenge Is On: Robot Prize Competition Registration Opens

WASHINGTON -- NASA and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in
Worcester, Mass., are seeking teams to compete in a robot technology
demonstration competition with a potential $1.5 million prize.

During the Sample Return Robot Challenge, teams will compete to
demonstrate a robot that can locate and retrieve geologic samples
from a wide and varied terrain without human control. The objective
of the competition is to encourage innovations in automatic
navigation and robotic manipulator technologies. Innovations stemming
from this challenge may improve NASA's capability to explore a
variety of destinations in space, as well as enhance the nation's
robotic technology for use in industries and applications on Earth.

"NASA's Centennial Challenges competitions engage teams from across
the country to solve the technology hurdles NASA faces as we explore
new frontiers," said Mike Gazarik, director of NASA's Space
Technology Program in Washington. "We're looking forward to teams
registering to compete, so they can unleash their creative
problem-solvers to take on this robotic technology challenge."

NASA provides the prize money to the winning team as part of the
agency's Centennial Challenges competitions, which seek
unconventional solutions to problems of interest to the agency and
the nation. While NASA provides the prize purse, the competitions are
managed by non-profit organizations that cover the cost of operations
through commercial or private sponsorships. The competition is
planned for June 2012 in Worcester and is anticipated to attract
hundreds of competitors from industry and academia nationwide.

"WPI takes tremendous pride in being the first university selected by
NASA as a partner for a Centennial Challenge," said WPI President and
CEO Dennis D. Berkey. "This university is a hub of expertise and
innovation within the area of robotics, and like NASA, we believe
strongly in the promise of this industry. Accordingly, we have
invested deeply in growing our programs and growing interest in the
field among young people. We are looking forward to an exciting competition."

There have been 21 NASA Centennial Challenges competitions since 2005.
Through this program, NASA has awarded $4.5 million to 13 different
challenge-winning teams. Competitors have included private companies,
student groups and independent inventors working outside the
traditional aerospace industry. Unlike contracts or grants, prizes
are awarded only after solutions are successfully demonstrated.

For more information about the Sample Return Robot Challenge, visit:


The Centennial Challenges program is part of NASA's Office of the
Chief Technologist. For more information about NASA's Centennial
Challenges and the Office of the Chief Technologist, visit:



NASA Announces 15th Undersea Exploration Mission Date And Crew

WASHINGTON -- An international crew of astronauts will venture into
the Atlantic Ocean on Oct. 17 to test innovative solutions to
engineering challenges during a crewed mission to an asteroid.

NASA astronaut and former International Space Station crew member
Shannon Walker will lead the 15th expedition of NASA Extreme
Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO), a13-day undersea mission
aboard the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory near Key Largo, Fla.

Aquarius is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) and operated by the University of North
Carolina, Wilmington.

The NEEMO crew also includes Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
astronaut Takuya Onishi and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David
Saint-Jacques. They are members of the 2009 NASA astronaut class.
Rounding out the crew is Steven Squyres of Cornell University, James
Talacek and Nate Bender of the University of North Carolina,
Wilmington. Squyres is the scientific principal investigator for the
Mars Exploration Rover Project. Talacek and Bender are professional aquanauts.

In addition, NASA astronauts Stan Love, Richard Arnold and Mike
Gernhardt, all veteran spacewalkers, will participate in the NEEMO
mission from the DeepWorker submersible, which they will pilot. The
DeepWorker is a small submarine used as an underwater stand-in for
the Space Exploration Vehicle, which might someday be used to explore
the surface of an asteroid.

Jeremy Hansen and Jeanette Epps, members of the 2009 astronaut class,
are the capsule communicators for the mission. Hansen is from the
Canadian Space Agency, and Epps from NASA.

To request interviews with the NEEMO 15 crew during the mission,
contact Brandi Dean at brandi.k.dean@nasa.gov; Julie Simard of the
Canadian Space Agency at 450-926-4370; Takefumi Wakamatsu of the
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency at 281-792-7486; or Fred Gorell of
NOAA at 301-734-1010.

NEEMO 15 will be the first of the undersea missions to simulate a
visit to an asteroid. In May, a team of aquanauts set the stage for
the tests by working through some of the concepts in an effort to
improve efficiency.

"NEEMO 15 will require complex choreography between the submarines and
aquanauts living and working in their undersea home," said Bill Todd,
NEEMO project manager. "Researching the challenges of exploring an
asteroid surface in the undersea realm will be exciting for fans of
exploration pioneers Cousteau and Armstrong alike."

NEEMO 15 will investigate three aspects of a mission to an asteroid:
how to anchor to the surface; how to move around; and how best to
collect data. Unlike the moon or Mars, an asteroid would have little,
if any, gravity to hold astronauts or vehicles, so an anchor will be necessary.

NEEMO 15 will evaluate different anchoring methods and how to connect
the multiple anchors to form pathways. The aquanauts and engineers
will evaluate different strategies for deploying instruments and
moving along a surface without gravity.

For more information about NEEMO and links to follow the mission on
Facebook and Twitter, visit:


For more information about NASA field tests, visit:



NASA Administrator To Speak At 2011 Air And Space Conference

WASHINGTON -- NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will speak on Monday,
Sept. 19 at 4 p.m. EDT at the Air Force Association's 2011 Air and
Space Conference at the Gaylord Convention Center at the National
Harbor in Maryland. Bolden will announce developments in NASA's
commercial space efforts, including new milestones for the commercial
crew development program. He also will provide an update on the
agency's acquisition strategy to procure transportation services from
private industry to carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station.

Reporters are invited to attend the conference and the speech and must
register at the Press Office located in the Gaylord's Chesapeake D
room. For more information on registration, reporters may contact
Merri Shaffer at 800-727-3337, ext. 5847.

Bolden will provide an overview of NASA's evolving post-shuttle
priorities, including the development of a new multi-purpose crew
vehicle and heavy lift rocket for future missions beyond low Earth
orbit. He also will discuss technology development and key
aeronautics research to support U.S. commercial competitiveness and
next generation technologies emphasizing environmental sustainability
and energy efficiency.

The Air Force Association Air & Space Conference and Technology
Exposition brings together Air Force leadership, industry experts,
academia and aerospace specialists from around the world to discuss
the issues and challenges facing America and the aerospace community.

For more information about NASA's plans for future human space
exploration, visit:



NASA Announces Two Game-Changing Space Technology Projects

WASHINGTON -- NASA has selected two game-changing space technology
projects for development. The selections are part of the agency's
efforts to pursue revolutionary technology required for future
missions, while proving the capabilities and lowering the cost of
government and commercial space activities.

"NASA's Game Changing Technology Development program uses a rolling
selection process to mature new, potentially transformative
technologies from low to moderate technology readiness levels -- from
the edge of reality to a test article ready for the rigors of the
lab," said Space Technology Director Michael Gazarik at NASA
Headquarters in Washington. "These two new projects are just the
beginning. Space Technology is making investments in critical
technology areas that will enable NASA's future missions, while
benefiting the American aerospace community."

The "Ride the Light" concept seeks to provide external power on demand
for aerospace vehicles and other applications. The concept uses
beamed power and propulsion produced by commercially available power
sources such as lasers and microwave energy. The project will attempt
to develop a low-cost, modular power beaming capability and explore
multiple technologies to function as receiving elements of the beamed power.

This combination of technologies could be applied to space propulsion,
performance and endurance of unpiloted aerial vehicles or
ground-to-ground power beaming applications. Development of such
capabilities fulfills NASA's strategic goal of developing high payoff
technology and enabling missions otherwise unachievable with today's technology.

NASA has awarded approximately $3 million for concept studies to
multiple companies during this first phase of the Ride the Light
project. Systems engineering and analysis during this first phase of
the Ride the Light project will be done by Teledyne Brown Engineering
in Huntsville, Ala.; Aerojet in Redmond, Wash.; ATK in Ronkonkoma,
N.Y.; Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh; NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; and Teledyne Scientific, Boeing, and
the Aerospace Corp., all located in Los Angeles. Following these
studies, NASA expects to make an implementation decision in 2013.

NASA also has selected Amprius Inc. of Menlo Park, Calif., to pursue
development of a prototype battery that could be used for future
agency missions. Amprius is teaming with JPL and NASA's Glenn
Research Center in Cleveland on the project, with an estimated value
of $710,000 for one year of development.

The Amprius project will focus on the material optimization of silicon
anodes and electrolyte formulation to meet the agency's
low-temperature energy requirements. Amprius developed a unique
ultra-high capacity silicon anode for lithium ion batteries that will
enable NASA to dramatically improve the specific energy of mission
critical rechargeable batteries. NASA requirements are unique because
of the extremely low temperatures encountered in space.

These awards are being made through NASA's Game Changing Development
Program. For more information about the program and the agency's
Space Technology Program, visit:



NASA Holds Media Telecon On Development Of Composite Cryogenic Propellant Tanks

WASHINGTON -- NASA will hold a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT on
Tuesday, Sept. 20, to announce the company that will lead the
agency's Composite Cryotank Technologies Demonstration effort.

The selected company will design and manufacture two lightweight
composite cryogenic propellant tanks. The demonstration effort will
use advanced composite materials and manufacturing techniques to
develop new technologies that could be applied to multiple future
NASA missions, including human space exploration beyond low Earth
orbit. The Composite Cryotank Technologies Demonstration effort is
part of NASA's Space Technology Program.

Participants will be:
-- Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program at
NASA Headquarters in Washington
-- Robert Lightfoot, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
in Huntsville, Ala.
-- John Vickers, project manager of NASA's Composite Cryotank
Technology Demonstration effort at Marshall

To participate, reporters should call 800-369-6087 and use the
passcode "CRYO." Audio of the call will be streamed live at:


By investing in high payoff, disruptive technology that industry does
not have today, NASA matures the technology required for its future
missions while proving the capabilities and lowering the cost of
government and commercial space activities.

For more information about NASA's Space Technology Program, which is
part of the Office of the Chief Technologist, visit:



Media Opportunity With NASA's Sofia During Washington Stopover

WASHINGTON -- NASA is inviting journalists to tour and learn more
about the world's largest airborne astronomical observatory on
Thursday, Sept. 22, from 12 to 2 p.m. EDT at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a
highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft fitted with a 100 inch (2.5
meter) diameter telescope, is making a rare appearance on the East
Coast after a deployment to Germany. Media will hear from NASA Deputy
Administrator Lori Garver, Leland Melvin, former astronaut and NASA
associate administrator for Education, and Paul Hertz, NASA SOFIA
program scientist, from 12 to 12:30 p.m. before touring the aircraft.

Hundreds of children from military families also will be on-site to
tour the aircraft, visit NASA exhibits, and speak with scientists.
SOFIA's Washington-area stopover is part of the White House's
"Joining Forces" initiative to give service members and their
families opportunities they have earned. NASA works to inspire
interest in science, technology, engineering and math education and
careers among youth.

To attend, journalists must contact Trent Perrotto at
trent.j.perrotto@nasa.gov or 202-358-0321 by 12 p.m. EDT on
Wednesday, Sept. 21, for logistics. To allow time for check-in and
transportation to the aircraft hangar, news media representatives
will need to arrive at the base at 11 a.m.

SOFIA analyzes infrared light to study the formation of stars and
planets; chemistry of interstellar gases; composition of comets,
asteroids and planets; and supermassive black holes at the center of
galaxies. Infrared observations are optimal for studying
low-temperature objects in space such as the raw materials for star
and planet formation and for seeing through interstellar dust clouds
that block light at visible wavelengths.

SOFIA is a joint program between NASA and DLR in Bonn, Germany. The
SOFIA program is managed at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in
Edwards, Calif. The aircraft is based at the Dryden Aircraft
Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA's Ames Research Center
in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission
operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research
Association in Columbia, Md., and Deutsches SOFIA Institut in
Stuttgart, Germany.

For more information about SOFIA, visit:



NASA Astronaut Ron Garan Available For Media Interviews

HOUSTON -- NASA astronaut Ron Garan will be available for live
satellite interviews one week after returning to Earth from 6 to 7:30
a.m. CDT on Thursday, Sept. 22.

Garan completed 164 days in space as a member of the Expedition 27 and
28 crews aboard the International Space Station. The mission included
the last space shuttle visit to the station.

To arrange an interview, news media representatives must contact Derek
Sollosi at 281-792-7515 or by email at derek.sollosi-1@nasa.gov by 2
p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 21.

Garan and his crewmates, Expedition 28 Commander Andrey Borisenko and
Flight Engineer Alexander Samokutyaev, both of the Russian Federal
Space Agency, landed in their Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft in Kazakhstan
Thursday, Sept. 15 at 11 p.m.

While aboard the station, they continued work on a variety of
microgravity experiments and received provisions from two shuttle
missions in order to ensure the orbiting outpost has enough supplies
and spare parts until new commercial resupply spacecraft are ready to
join a suite of international cargo delivery vehicles.

Garan is a graduate of the State University of New York College at
Oneonta, and he received a master's degree in aeronautical science
from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. He flew on one
shuttle mission, STS-124 in 2008.

Garan will appear on NASA Television's Live Interview Media Outlet
channel. The channel is a digital satellite C-band downlink by uplink
provider Americom.

It is on satellite AMC 3, transponder 9C, located at 87 degrees west,
downlink frequency 3865.5 MHz based on a standard C-band, horizontal
downlink polarity. FEC is 3/4, data rate is 6.0 Mbps, symbol rate is
4.3404 Msps, transmission DVB-S, 4:2:0.

The interviews and preceding b-roll from 5:30 to 6 a.m. also will air
live on NASA TV. For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and scheduling
information, visit:


Garan provided updates throughout his mission through social media at:




For Garan's complete biography, visit:


For more information about the International Space Station, visit:



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