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Amazing STS-51I flight
Imagine a space shuttle mission in which the astronaut crew launched two commercial and one military communications spacecraft, then conducted a pair of incredible spacewalks to recover, fix and redeploy a satellite that malfunctioned just four months earlier. The rescue mission was a success, starting with an astronaut making a catch of the spinning satellite with just his gloved-hand. Enjoy this post-flight presentation narrated by the astronauts as they tell the story of shuttle Discovery's August 1985 mission known as STS-51I.

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Discovery's debut
In our continuing look back at the classic days of the space shuttle program, today we show the STS-41D post-flight presentation by the mission's astronauts. The crew narrates this film of home movies and mission highlights from space shuttle Discovery's maiden voyage in August 1984. STS-41D deployed a remarkable three communications satellites -- a new record high -- from Discovery's payload bay, extended and tested a 100-foot solar array wing and even knocked free an icicle from the shuttle's side using the robot arm.

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"Ride of Your Life"
As the title aptly describes, this movie straps you aboard the flight deck for the thunderous liftoff, the re-entry and safe landing of a space shuttle mission. The movie features the rarely heard intercom communications between the crewmembers, including pilot Jim Halsell assisting commander Bob Cabana during the landing.

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Message from Apollo 8
On Christmas Eve in 1968, a live television broadcast from Apollo 8 offered this message of hope to the people of Earth. The famous transmission occurred as the astronauts orbited the Moon.

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ISS receives supply ship
The International Space Station receives its 20th Russian Progress cargo ship, bringing the outpost's two-man Expedition 12 crew a delivery of fresh food, clothes, equipment and special holiday gifts just in time for Christmas.

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Rendezvous with ISS
This movie features highlights of the December 23 rendezvous between the Russian Progress 20P vessel and the International Space Station. The footage comes from a camera mounted on the supply ship's nose.

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Stardust return preview
NASA's Stardust spacecraft encountered Comet Wild 2 two years ago, gathering samples of cometary dust for return to Earth. In this Dec. 21 news conference, mission officials and scientists detail the probe's homecoming and planned landing in Utah scheduled for January 15, 2006.

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Science of New Horizons
The first robotic space mission to visit the distant planet Pluto and frozen objects in the Kuiper Belt is explained by the project's managers and scientists in this NASA news conference from the agency's Washington headquarters on Dec. 19.

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Hubble Space Telescope
Scientists marvel at the achievements made by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope in this produced movie looking at the crown jewel observatory that has served as our window on the universe.

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Pluto colder than it should be
Posted: January 3, 2006

Mercury is boiling. Mars is freezing. The Earth is just right. When it comes to the temperatures of the planets, it makes sense that they should get colder the farther away they are from the Sun. But then there is Pluto. It has been suspected that this remote world might be even colder than it should be. Smithsonian scientists now have shown this to be true.

In this artist's concept, Pluto and its moon Charon are seen from the surface of one of Pluto's newly discovered candidate satellites. Credit: David A. Aguilar (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Scientists continue to discuss whether Pluto is a planet or should be considered a refugee from the Kuiper belt. Whatever its classification, Pluto and its moon Charon are certain to harbor secrets about the early history of planet formation. Charon is roughly half the diameter of the planet itself, and they form a unique pair in our solar system. How they came to be together remains a mystery.

Located thirty times farther away from the Sun than the Earth, sunlight reaching the surface of Pluto is feeble at best, with daytime resembling dark twilight here at home. Pluto's temperature varies widely during the course of its orbit since Pluto can be as close to the sun as 30 astronomical units (AU) and as far away as 50 AU. (An AU is the average Earth-Sun distance of 93 million miles.) As Pluto moves away from the Sun, its thin atmosphere is expected to freeze and fall to the surface as ice.

Reflected sunlight gathered with instruments such as the Keck telescope in Hawaii and the Hubble Space Telescope suggested the surface of Pluto might be colder than it should be, unlike Charon's. However, no telescope capable of directly measuring their thermal emission (their heat) was able to peer finely enough to distinguish the two bodies. Their close proximity presented a formidable challenge since they are never farther apart than 0.9 arcseconds, about the length of a pencil seen from 30 miles away.

Now, for the first time, Smithsonian astronomers using the Submillimeter Array (SMA) on Mauna Kea in Hawaii have taken direct measurements of thermal heat from both worlds and found that Pluto is indeed colder than expected, colder even than Charon.

"We all know about Venus and its runaway greenhouse effect," said Mark Gurwell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), co-author on this study along with Bryan Butler of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. "Pluto is a dynamic example of what we might call an anti-greenhouse effect. Nature likes to leave us with mysteries - and this was a big one."

During the observations, the SMA utilized its most extended configuration to obtain high-resolution interferometric data, allowing separate "thermometer" readings for Pluto and Charon. It found that the temperature of the ice-covered surface of Pluto was about 43 K (-382 degrees F) instead of the expected 53 K (-364 degrees F), as on nearby Charon. This fits the current model that the low temperature of Pluto is caused by equilibrium between the surface ice and its thin nitrogen atmosphere, not just with the incoming solar radiation. Sunlight (energy) reaching the surface of Pluto is used to convert some of the nitrogen ice to gas, rather than heat the surface. This is similar to the way evaporation of a liquid can cool a surface, such as sweat cooling your skin.

"These results are really exciting and fun as well," said Gurwell. "Imagine taking something's temperature from almost three billion miles away without making a house call!"

This research will be presented at the 207th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, DC.

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.