2004: NASA's year in review
NASA NEWS RELEASE
Posted: January 2, 2005
NASA started the year on an upbeat and positive note, when President George W. Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration on January 14. His announcement at NASA Headquarters in Washington of a robust space exploration program to advance U.S. scientific, security and economic interests became the keystone for NASA's transformation.
"NASA has a new face and new approach to operations and programs," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "We've taken the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, the President's Commission on Implementation of U.S. Space Exploration Policy, and input from other key advisory panels, and applied them to our return-to-flight efforts, International Space Station operations, and our implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration," he said.
President Bush said in June, "The Vision for Space Exploration is a sustainable and affordable long-term human and robotic program to explore space. We will explore space to improve our lives and lift our national spirit."
"The enthusiastic support of the Congress, both in spirit and as reflected in NASA's fiscal year 2005 budget, will allow us to begin implementing the Vision for Space Exploration and to continue our exciting and extensive exploration projects," Administrator O'Keefe said.
"As we approach the return to Space Shuttle operations, NASA is facing the most exciting time in the agency's 46 year history. How we meet the technical and cultural challenges and how we successfully change this agency will guide our path within the Vision for Space Exploration for decades," Administrator O'Keefe said. "We expect continued success as NASA leads the efforts to explore the Earth and the universe through space- based research," he said.
NASA is enthusiastically approaching restoration of Space Shuttle operations, completion of the International Space Station and scientific exploration in a safe, milestone-driven manner. NASA's budget is an endorsement of the Vision for Space Exploration and agency efforts to understand and protect the Earth; explore the universe; search for life; and inspire the next generation of explorers, as only NASA can.
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.
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.
NASA successfully landed the mobile geology labs Spirit and Opportunity on Mars on January 3 and January 24, respectively. Opportunity discovered evidence its landing site was 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.
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.
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 eliminate 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), has a launch window opening in mid-May.
NASA developed the initial Centennial Challenges prize competition to tap the nation's ingenuity to make revolutionary advances to support the Vision for Space Exploration.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Astronomers used NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to take 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.
NASA's Aura, 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.
NASA selected Northrop Grumman Space Technology, Redondo Beach, Calif., to co-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. JIMO will perform extensive investigations of their composition, history and potential for sustaining life.
NASA's X-43A scramjet-powered research vehicle successfully broke its own speed record, flying nearly Mach 10 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.