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NASA through the decades
This film looks at the highlights in NASA's history from its creation in the 1950s, through the glory days of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, birth of the space shuttle and the loss of Challenger, launch of Hubble and much more.

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STS-49: Satellite rescue
If at first you don't succeed, keep on trying. That is what the astronauts of space shuttle Endeavour's maiden voyage did in their difficult job of rescuing a wayward communications satellite. Spacewalkers were unable to retrieve the Intelsat 603 spacecraft, which had been stranded in a useless orbit, during multiple attempts using a special capture bar. So the crew changed course and staged the first-ever three-man spacewalk to grab the satellite by hand. The STS-49 astronauts describe the mission and narrate highlights in this post-flight presentation.

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First satellite repair
The mission for the crew of space shuttle Challenger's April 1984 flight was two-fold -- deploy the experiment-laden Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) and then track down the crippled Solar Max spacecraft, capture it and perform repairs during spacewalks. Initial attempts by the astronauts to grab the craft while wearing the Manned Maneuvering Unit spacewalk backpacks failed, but the crew ultimately retrieved Solar Max and installed fresh equipment while it was anchored in the payload bay. The crew narrates this post-flight presentation of home movies and highlights from mission STS-41C.

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STS-26: Back in space
The space shuttle program was grounded for 32 months in the painful wake of the 1986 Challenger accident. Americans finally returned to space in September 1988 when shuttle Discovery safely launched for its mission to deploy a NASA communications satellite. Enjoy this post-flight presentation narrated by the astronauts as they show movies and tell the story of the STS-26 mission.

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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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Spitzer captures our galaxy's bustling center
Posted: January 10, 2006

A new infrared mosaic from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope offers a stunning view of the stellar hustle and bustle that takes place at our Milky Way galaxy's center. The picture shows throngs of mostly old stars, on the order of hundreds of thousands, amid fantastically detailed clouds of glowing dust lit up by younger, massive stars.

This Spitzer image shows hundreds of thousands of stars crowded into the swirling core of our spiral Milky Way galaxy. In this false-color picture, old and cool stars are blue, while dust features lit up by blazing hot, massive stars are shown in a reddish hue. Both bright and dark filamentary clouds can be seen, many of which harbor stellar nurseries. The plane of the Milky Way's flat disk is apparent as the main, horizontal band of clouds. The brightest white spot in the middle is the very center of the galaxy, which also marks the site of a supermassive black hole. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Download larger image version here

"With Spitzer, we can peer right into the heart of our own galaxy and see breathtaking detail," said Dr. Susan Stolovy of the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "This picture is crammed with fascinating features that we have just begun to explore." 

The Milky Way's core is indeed a very busy place. Stars are packed together like subway riders as they race around the supermassive black hole that lies at the center. Our sun is located 26,000 light-years away in a more peaceful, spacious neighborhood, out in the galactic suburbs. It circles the galaxy about every 225 million years, which amounts to 20 trips over the course of its 4.5-billion-year lifetime. In contrast, stars at the galactic center complete one lap in only a few million years or less.

"One question we hope to address is how stars can form so efficiently in a place like the galactic center," said Stolovy. "Stars there are still able to form in an environment with unusually strong magnetic fields and tidal shear forces."

Viewing the center of the Milky Way from Earth can be difficult because the plane of the galaxy's spiral disk is filled with cold dust. Visible light coming from this distant region is virtually impossible to observe because dust dims it by a factor of one trillion. But infrared light can shine through this dust. The infrared light in this Spitzer view has wavelengths about 10 times longer than what the human eye can see, and is dimmed only about four times.

This infrared advantage, combined with Spitzer's superb image quality, has resulted in the deepest and sharpest view yet of an expansive stretch of the galactic center. The pictured region, located in the Sagittarius constellation, is 900 light-years across. It covers the same area on the sky that a grid of four by three full moons would occupy.

Features within the new mosaic include dust clouds of a dizzying variety, such as glowing filaments, wind-blown lobes flapping outward from the plane of the galaxy, and finger-like pillars. The Spitzer image also shows newborn stars just beginning to break out of their dark and dusty cocoons, and exquisitely detailed dark clouds so dense they are opaque even in infrared wavelengths. Some of these features are located near the physical center of our galaxy, while others lie closer to Earth.

"Our Spitzer data, combined with data obtained by other telescopes, will allow us to determine which of these objects are truly at the galactic center, and which are in spiral arms along the way," said Stolovy. "This survey will help us to better understand the mass distribution and structure of our own galaxy and how it compares to other galaxies."

Stolovy and her colleagues are particularly thrilled about the high quality of the Spitzer image when they remember the challenges they overcame in obtaining it. The galactic center is very bright in infrared wavelengths, and could have potentially saturated Spitzer's sensitive detectors. The astronomers solved this problem by taking advantage of Spitzer's ability to take very short exposures. They collected the thousands of snapshots that make up their final mosaic in just under 16 hours.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech. JPL is a division of Caltech. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., built Spitzer's infrared array camera, which took the new image. The instrument's principal investigator is Dr. Giovanni Fazio of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Stolovy presented the image today during the 207th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.