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STS-4: Last test flight
The developmental test flights of the space shuttle concluded with Columbia's STS-4 mission. Commander Ken Mattingly and pilot Henry Hartsfield spent a week in space examining orbiter systems and running science experiments. The 1982 flight ended on the Fourth of July with President Reagan at the landing site to witness Columbia's return and the new orbiter Challenger leaving for Kennedy Space Center. Watch this STS-4 post-flight crew presentation film.

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STS-3: Unique landing
Columbia's STS-3 mission is best remembered in the history books for its conclusion -- the first and so far only landing at the picturesque Northrup Strip at White Sands, New Mexico. In this post-flight presentation film, the crew describes the highlights of the March 1982 mission and shows some of the fun they had in orbit. The commander also tells how he accidentally "popped a wheelie" before bringing the nose gear down to the runway surface.

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STS-2: Columbia is a reusable spaceship
Seven months after the successful maiden voyage of space shuttle Columbia, astronauts Joe Engle and Richard Truly took the orbiter back into space on mission STS-2. The November 12, 1981 launch demonstrated that the space shuttle was the world's first reusable manned spacecraft. Although their mission would be cut short, Engle and Truly performed the first tests of the shuttle's Canadian-made robotic arm. The crew tells the story of the mission in this post-flight presentation.

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STS-1: America's first space shuttle mission
The space shuttle era was born on April 12, 1981 when astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen rode Columbia into Earth orbit from Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A. The two-day flight proved the shuttle could get into space as a rocket and return safely with a runway landing. Following the voyage of STS-1, the two astronauts narrated this film of the mission highlights and told some of their personal thoughts on the flight.

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NASA's 2007 budget
NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, along with his science, spaceflight, exploration and aeronautics chiefs, hold this news conference in Washington on February 6 to discuss the agency's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2007. The budget would give NASA a slight increase in funding over 2006, but it features cuts in some projects to pay for funding shortfalls in the shuttle program.

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Suit tossed overboard
The Expedition 12 crew tosses overboard an old Russian spacesuit loaded with ham radio gear during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station. The eery view of the lifeless suit tumbling into the darkness of space was captured by station cameras.

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STS-95: John Glenn's return to space
The flight of shuttle Discovery in October 1998 captured the public's attention with the triumphant return to space by John Glenn. The legendary astronaut became the first American to orbit the Earth some 36 years earlier. His 9-day shuttle mission focused on science experiments about aging. This post-flight presentation of highlights from the STS-95 mission is narrated by the astronauts.

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Launch of New Horizons
The New Horizons spacecraft begins a voyage across the solar system to explore Pluto and beyond with its successful launch January 19 aboard a Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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Pulsar is on its way out
Posted: February 16, 2006

The Milky Way's fastest observed pulsar is speeding out of the galaxy at more than 670 miles a second, propelled largely by a kick it received at its birth 2.5 million years ago.

Using the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), 10 radio telescopes spanning 5,000 miles from Hawaii to the U.S. Virgin Islands, James Cordes, professor of astronomy at Cornell University, his former student Shami Chatterjee, now of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and colleagues studied the pulsar (a fast-spinning neutron star) B1508+55, about 7,700 light years from Earth. With the ultra-sharp radio vision of the continentwide VLBA, they precisely measured both the distance and the speed of the pulsar.

The team then plotted the star's motion backward to a birthplace among groups of giant stars in the constellation Cygnus, which contains stars so massive they inevitably explode as supernovae.

Commenting on the research, which was published last fall in Astrophysical Journal Letters, Chatterjee said, "We know that supernova explosions can give a kick to the resulting neutron star, but the tremendous speed of this object pushes the limits of our current understanding. This discovery is very difficult for the latest models to explain." Chatterjee is also a Jansky fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).

The VLBA measurements show the pulsar moving at nearly 1,100 kilometers (more than 670 miles) per second. At this speed, it could travel from London to New York in five seconds.

To measure the pulsar's distance, the astronomers had to detect a very slight wobble in its position caused by the Earth's motion around the sun. This enabled them to calculate the pulsar's speed by measuring its motion across the sky.

"The motion we measured with the VLBA was about equal to watching a home run ball in Boston's Fenway Park from a seat on the moon," Chatterjee said. "However, the pulsar took nearly 22 months to show that much apparent motion. The VLBA is the best possible telescope for tracking such tiny apparent motions."

"The physics is not well understood because the high pulsar speed is the result of the implosion of the core of a star that took only a few seconds about 2.5 million years ago," said Cordes. "The reason this is so different is the precision of it. In astronomy one of the big problems is getting the distance scale. In the past we've identified objects whose velocity we've estimated, but what makes this special is there's no uncertainty in the distance. It's ironclad. There's no wiggle room. It gets rid of any question."

The star's presumed birthplace lies within the plane of the Milky Way, a spiral galaxy. The new VLBA observations indicate that the pulsar now is headed away from the Milky Way's plane with enough speed to leave the galaxy. Since the supernova explosion, the pulsar has moved across about a third of the night sky as seen from Earth.

"We've thought for some time that supernova explosions can give a kick to the resulting neutron star, but the latest computer models of this process have not produced speeds anywhere near what we see in this object," Chatterjee said. "This means that the models need to be checked, and possibly corrected, to account for our observations," he said, noting that other processes could be at work as well.

The observations were part of a larger project to use the VLBA to measure the distances and motions of pulsars. "This is the first result of this long-term project, and it's pretty exciting to have something so spectacular come this early," said NRAO's Walter Brisken, a co-author.

Each of the radio telescopes in the VLBA, which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), has a dish 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter and weighs 240 tons. The VLBA provides astronomers with the sharpest vision of any telescope on Earth or in space.

Chatterjee is lead author of the Astrophysical Journal Letters article. Other co-authors include Joseph Lazio of the Naval Research Laboratory, Miller Goss and Edward Fomalont of NRAO, Stephen Thorsett of the University of California-Santa Cruz, and Andrew Lyne, Wouter Vlemmings and Michael Kramer of Jodrell Bank Observatory. The NRAO is a facility of NSF, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities Inc.