NASA News: Texas Students to Speak Live With Space Station Crew

WASHINGTON -- Fifth- through eighth-grade students at Asa Low
Intermediate School in Mansfield, Texas, will speak with NASA's
Expedition 30 Commander Dan Burbank and Flight Engineer Don Pettit
aboard the International Space Station at 11:50 a.m. EST on Tuesday,
Jan. 31. Media representatives are invited to attend. The event will
be broadcast live on NASA Television.

On Jan. 27, the students will take part in a series of activities
focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The school also will host a space night to share lessons about space
with students. Administrators temporarily have renamed the school
"N"Asa Low in honor of the event.

To attend, media representatives must contact Richie Escovedo at
richieescovedo@misdmail.org or 817-299-6349. Asa Low Intermediate
School is located at 1526 N. Walnut Creek Drive.

Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin
arrived at the station Nov. 15. Pettit, European Space Agency
astronaut Andre Kuipers and cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko joined them Dec. 23.

This in-flight education downlink is one in a series with educational
organizations in the United States and abroad to improve STEM
teaching and learning. It is an integral component of NASA's Teaching
From Space education program, which promotes learning opportunities
and builds partnerships with the education community using the unique
environment of space and NASA's human spaceflight program.

The exact time of the downlink could change. For NASA TV downlink,
schedule and streaming video information, visit:


For information about NASA's education programs, visit:


For information about the International Space Station, visit:


To follow Twitter updates from Burbank and Pettit, visit:





Astronaut Jerry Ross, First Seven-Time Flier, Retires

HOUSTON -- Jerry Ross, the first person to launch into space seven
times, has retired from NASA. In a career that spanned more than
three decades, Ross spent almost 1,400 hours in space and conducted
nine spacewalks to rank third on the list of most extravehicular
activity time in space.

"Jerry has been instrumental in the success of many of NASA's human
spaceflight missions and numerous spacewalks," said Peggy Whitson,
chief of the Astronaut Office. "Not only were his skills and
operational excellence key in major spaceflight activities but his
expertise and vigilance also helped all those who followed in his
footsteps. We are the better for his years of dedication to the corps
and NASA."

Ross joined NASA in 1979 as a payload officer and flight controller.
In 1980, he was selected as an astronaut. He and Franklin Chang-Diaz
are the only two astronauts to have flown into space seven times. In
addition to Ross' spaceflight mission accomplishments, he went on to
serve NASA in the critical role of managing the Vehicle Integration
Test Office.

"Jerry was equally invaluable leading this critical team, especially
through space station assembly, the transition to the space shuttle
retirement, and during the initial phases of our future programs,"
said Janet Kavandi, director of Flight Crew Operations. "He was
considered a mentor to many he worked with there. We wish him the
best in his well-deserved retirement."

Of his seven flights into orbit, Ross flew on space shuttles Endeavour
and Columbia once each and a record-setting five times on shuttle
Atlantis, including his first and last missions. His first flight was
on the STS-61B mission in 1985. His final flight into space was on
the STS-110 mission in 2002.

During his seven missions, he assisted in deploying a number of
satellites and other payloads. He performed experiments in life,
material and Earth sciences, and physics, robotics and astronomy.
Ross was a member of the STS-74 mission's crew, the second mission to
dock to the Russian space station Mir. He also traveled to the
then-fledgling International Space Station, where he helped connect
the U.S.-built Unity node to the Russian Zarya module. On the STS-110
mission, Ross' final trip to space, he was instrumental in delivering
and installing the S0 (S-Zero) truss. Ross accumulated more than
1,393 hours in space, including 58 hours and 18 minutes on nine spacewalks.

For Ross' complete biography, visit:



NASA Awards Safety And Mission Assurance Contract Extension

HOUSTON -- NASA has exercised two six-month options to the agency's
Safety and Mission Assurance Support Services Contract with Science
Applications International Corp. (SAIC) of San Diego for the Johnson
Space Center in Houston. The options are worth $32.9 million.

Exercise of the options provides continuity of support services in
safety, reliability and quality assurance, engineering products and
technical services for Johnson's Safety and Mission Assurance
Directorate for the International Space Station Program, Orion
Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, and Extravehicular Activity Office. The
options also include all new Johnson programs and projects.

The options begin May 1 and end April 30, 2013. They will bring the
total contract value to $365.1 million. The original contract,
awarded in 2006, was for three years, with two one-year options
ending April 30, 2011. In April 2011, the contract was extended to
add an additional base year and two six-month options ending April 2013.

Work under the contract will be performed at Johnson; NASA's Kennedy
Space Center in Florida; White Sands Test Facility near Las Cruces,
N.M.; and SAIC's facilities in Houston.

For information about NASA and agency program,visit:



NASA's Kepler Announces 11 Planetary Systems Hosting 26 Planets

MOFFET FIELD, Calif. -- NASA's Kepler mission has discovered 11 new
planetary systems hosting 26 confirmed planets. These discoveries
nearly double the number of verified planets and triple the number of
stars known to have more than one planet that transits, or passes in
front of, the star. Such systems will help astronomers better
understand how planets form.

The planets orbit close to their host stars and range in size from 1.5
times the radius of Earth to larger than Jupiter. Fifteen are between
Earth and Neptune in size. Further observations will be required to
determine which are rocky like Earth and which have thick gaseous
atmospheres like Neptune. The planets orbit their host star once
every six to 143 days. All are closer to their host star than Venus
is to our sun.

"Prior to the Kepler mission, we knew of perhaps 500 exoplanets across
the whole sky," said Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA
Headquarters in Washington. "Now, in just two years staring at a
patch of sky not much bigger than your fist, Kepler has discovered
more than 60 planets and more than 2,300 planet candidates. This
tells us that our galaxy is positively loaded with planets of all
sizes and orbits."

Kepler identifies planet candidates by repeatedly measuring the change
in brightness of more than 150,000 stars to detect when a planet
passes in front of the star. That passage casts a small shadow toward
Earth and the Kepler spacecraft.

Each of the new confirmed planetary systems contains two to five
closely spaced transiting planets. In tightly packed planetary
systems, the gravitational pull of the planets on each other causes
some planets to accelerate and some to decelerate along their orbits.
The acceleration causes the orbital period of each planet to change.
Kepler detects this effect by measuring the changes, or so-called
Transit Timing Variations (TTVs

Planetary systems with TTVs can be verified without requiring
extensive ground-based observations, accelerating confirmation of
planet candidates. The TTV detection technique also increases
Kepler's ability to confirm planetary systems around fainter and more
distant stars.

Five of the systems (Kepler-25, Kepler-27, Kepler-30, Kepler-31 and
Kepler-33) contain a pair of planets where the inner planet orbits
the star twice during each orbit of the outer planet. Four of the
systems (Kepler-23, Kepler-24, Kepler-28 and Kepler-32) contain a
pairing where the outer planet circles the star twice for every three
times the inner planet orbits its star.

"These configurations help to amplify the gravitational interactions
between the planets, similar to how my sons kick their legs on a
swing at the right time to go higher," said Jason Steffen, the
Brinson postdoctoral fellow at Fermilab Center for Particle
Astrophysics in Batavia, Ill., and lead author of a paper confirming
four of the systems.

Kepler-33, a star that is older and more massive than our sun, had the
most planets. The system hosts five planets, ranging in size from 1.5
to 5 times that of Earth. All of the planets are located closer to
their star than any planet is to our sun.

The properties of a star provide clues for planet detection. The
decrease in the star's brightness and duration of a planet transit,
combined with the properties of its host star, present a recognizable
signature. When astronomers detect planet candidates that exhibit
similar signatures around the same star, the likelihood of any of
these planet candidates being a false positive is very low.

"The approach used to verify the Kepler-33 planets shows the overall
reliability is quite high," said Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist
at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., and lead
author of the paper on Kepler-33. "This is a validation by multiplicity."

These discoveries are published in four different papers in the
Astrophysical Journal and the Monthly Notices of the Royal
Astronomical Society.

Ames manages Kepler's ground system development, mission operations
and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, Calif., managed the Kepler mission's development.

For more information about the Kepler mission and to view the digital
press kit, visit:



NASA Hosts Briefing on New Observations of Interstellar Matter

WASHINGTON -- NASA will host a Science Update at 1 p.m. EST, Tuesday,
Jan. 31, 2012, to discuss new analysis from NASA's Interstellar
Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft of material from outside our
solar system and the interstellar boundary region that surrounds our
home in space.

The interstellar boundary region shields our solar system from most of
the dangerous galactic cosmic radiation that otherwise would enter
the solar system from interstellar space.

The briefing will take place at NASA Headquarters in the James E. Webb
Auditorium, located at 300 E St. SW, Washington, and will air live on
NASA Television and the agency's website.

Briefing panelists are:

-- David McComas, IBEX principal investigator and assistant vice
president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest
Research Institute in San Antonio
-- Priscilla Frisch, senior scientist, Department of Astronomy and
Astrophysics at the University of Chicago
- Eberhard Möbius, professor, Space Science Center and Department of
Physics University of New Hampshire and currently visiting professor
at the Space Science and Applications Group Los Alamos National
Laboratory, N.M.
-- Seth Redfield, assistant professor, Astronomy Department, Wesleyan
University, Middletown, Conn.

Reporters unable to attend may ask questions from participating NASA
centers or by telephone. To participate by phone, reporters must
contact Dwayne Brown at 202-358-1726 or dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov by 11
a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 31.

For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and scheduling information, visit:


For more information about NASA's IBEX mission, visit:



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