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Monday, February 28, 2011

Space shuttle Endeavour begins her rollover to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on February 28, 2011.
NASA / Jack Pfaller

ENDEAVOUR PREPS FOR HER FINALE... At 8:13 AM, Pacific Time today, the orbiter Endeavour rolled into the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the final time. Over the next week or so, the youngest vehicle in NASA’s space shuttle fleet will be mated to her external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters and undergo tests before being rolled out to the launch pad next month. Scheduled for liftoff on April 19, Endeavour will fly on mission STS-134...which will deliver a large physics experiment known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station (ISS). Unless NASA does find funding for STS-135 (which would involve Atlantis flying to the ISS this June), Endeavour’s voyage will mark the final flight in the 30-year-old shuttle program. That is all.

Kennedy Space Center workers take a group photo with space shuttle Endeavour during her rollover to the VAB, on February 28, 2011.
NASA / Jack Pfaller

Space shuttle Endeavour approaches the VAB at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on February 28, 2011.
NASA / Jack Pfaller

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in THE KING'S SPEECH.

83rd ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS... It was worth watching the Oscar telecast in its entirety this year—obviously for the fact that all the movies and actors/actresses I rooted for won in their respective categories tonight. I rooted for Christian Bale to win Best Supporting Actor for The Fighter (this oughta’ earn The Dark Knight Rises an extra $75 million at the box office next year...for a total domestic gross of $675 million), hoped that Natalie Portman took home the Best Actress trophy for Black Swan (no, I never saw that movie. All hail Queen Amidala though), was expecting Inception to win for Best Visual FX (though it would’ve been a good consolation prize if Iron Man 2 won instead) and wasn’t surprised that The King’s Speech became the Best Picture of 2010. That was a great flick... Very inspirational.

Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in THE FIGHTER.

I’m still annoyed that Revenge of the Sith wasn’t nominated for Best Visual FX in 2006, Transformers wasn’t nominated for the same award in 2008 and The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated for Best Picture in 2009, but at least the Academy got it right this time around... (Along with handing the late Heath Ledger the Best Supporting Actor trophy in 2009 for his role as The Joker in The Dark Knight, and crowning The Hurt Locker as Best Picture last year.)

Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman in BLACK SWAN.

By the way, I didn’t know Jeremy Renner got a Best Supporting Actor nomination for last year's bank heist movie, The Town. That movie was awesome. That is all.

Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the only one awake, so to speak, as his peers sleep and embark into another dream realm in INCEPTION.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Space shuttle Discovery launches from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on her final voyage to the International Space Station, on February 24, 2011.
NASA

DISCOVERY’S SWAN SONG... At 1:53 PM, Pacific Standard Time today, space shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on her final voyage to the International Space Station (ISS). Discovery will dock with the ISS this Saturday, February 26, and undock on March 5 before returning to KSC on March 7. Eventually, the orbiter will be moved to her final home at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.

Below are several photos of Discovery when she was constructed at Rockwell International (now Boeing) in Palmdale, California during the early 1980s. The images are courtesy of Space.com.

Assembly is done on Discovery’s forward bulkhead and payload bay.
Boeing

Assembly is done on Discovery's aft bulkhead and port wing.
Boeing

Assembly is done on the lower part of Discovery’s fuselage and her crew cabin.
Boeing

Assembly continues on Discovery’s forward bulkhead, while thermal protection tiles are added to the bottom of one of the orbiter’s wings.
Boeing

Assembly is completed on Discovery at her Rockwell manufacturing facility in Palmdale, California.
Boeing

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Taurus XL rocket carrying NASA's Glory spacecraft is prepped for launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on February 20, 2011.
NASA - Randy Beaudoin / VAFB

LESS THAN TWO DAYS FROM NOW, the Glory spacecraft is set to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on a long-awaited mission to see how airborne particles—called aerosols—affect Earth’s climate. Posted here are photos of Glory as it underwent processing at Vandenberg AFB before being mated to its launch vehicle, a Taurus XL rocket, last week.

The Taurus XL rocket carrying NASA's Glory spacecraft is about to be hoisted atop its launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on February 14, 2011.
NASA - Randy Beaudoin / VAFB

Godspeed Glory. If the rocket gods want this week to be a successful one for NASA, then the launch of space shuttle Discovery on STS-133 will take place exactly a day after Glory heads into space (assuming Glory launches on schedule this Wednesday). *Crosses fingers.*

NASA's Glory spacecraft is about to be encapsulated by the Taurus XL's payload fairing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on February 2, 2011.
NASA - Randy Beaudoin & Don Kososka / VAFB

Friday, February 18, 2011

A life-size Voyager spacecraft replica inside the von Kármán Auditorium...where the GRAIL lecture was held.

LAST NIGHT, I attended a lecture at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Pasadena, Calif., about NASA’s upcoming GRAIL mission to the Moon. Interesting presentation. GRAIL—which stands for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory and comprises of two identical lunar-orbiting spacecraft—is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station this September. Awesome. Below are camera phone pics that I took before and after the lecture yesterday.

For photos that I took at the most recent JPL Open House I attended, click on the red link.

LINK: Photos I took at the 2010 JPL Open House

Waiting for the GRAIL lecture to begin.

A life-size Galileo spacecraft replica...inside an exhibit room right next door to the von Kármán Auditorium.

A life-size Mars Rover replica...inside the exhibit room right next door to the von Kármán Auditorium.

An actual Moon Rock on display...inside the exhibit room right next door to the von Kármán Auditorium.

A full moon shines above NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shockwave...the main villain of TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON.

IMAGES OF THE DAY... Two cool pieces of artwork showing Shockwave—the main villain of Transformers: Dark of the Moon...courtesy of the Transformers Movie Blog.

Shockwave...the main villain of TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The X-47B UCAS-D drone takes off on its maiden flight from Edwards Air Force Base in California on February 4, 2011.
Northrop Grumman / U.S. Navy

PHOTOS OF THE DAY... A week ago, a military drone known as the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft took off on its historic first flight from Edwards Air Force Base in California. If all goes well, the X-47B will eventually become the precursor to actual drones that the U.S. Navy hopes will deploy from aircraft carriers in the not-too-distant future. Carrier sea trials for UCAS-D are scheduled for 2013.

Two quick notes about the X-47B and the picture above: 1.) This drone was featured in last year’s sci-fi movie Skyline (bet you wanted to know that), and 2.) Do those houses in the image above belong to Edwards AFB personnel? Or are civilians living that close to this airbase? Pretty awesome if it’s the latter.

The X-47B UCAS-D drone flies above Edwards Air Force Base in California on February 4, 2011.
Northrop Grumman / U.S. Navy

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers celebrates with the Lombardi Trophy after his team won 31-25 against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, on February 6, 2011.
Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images

SUPER BOWL 45... Congratulations to the Green Bay Packers for defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25, at Cowboys Stadium tonight. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers tied his predecessor Brett Favre with one NFL championship ring. Unlike Favre, however, Rodgers also won the MVP award for today’s victory. Well— At least Favre has his cameo in the 1998 film There’s Something About Mary to brag about. Anyways, am I the only one here who noticed the irony of having a show like Glee aired right after an NFL game? Not to imply anything politically incorrect... Okay that was intentional.



In terms of Super Bowl ads, the 30-second spot for Transformers: Dark of the Moon was awesome. Too bad Shockwave (the main villain in Dark of the Moon) wasn't shown though. View the spot above, and then check out the obligatory screencaps below. That is all.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON.
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON.
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON.
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON.
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON.

Friday, February 04, 2011

An artist's concept of the 1 World Trade Center in New York.
Silverstein Properties

PHOTO OF THE DAY... The image below shows the Freedom Tower, officially known as 1 World Trade Center, three days after construction on the skyscraper reached the halfway point (at the 52nd floor level) in New York on December 19, 2010. Once the building reaches its full height (around the end of this year), it will stand 1,776 feet above sea level...making it the tallest building in the United States. In case you’re not a U.S. citizen or are a Yank who flunked American History class in high school, the 1,776 feet height symbolizes the year 1776...when the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed. That is all.

The 1 World Trade Center as of December 19, 2010.
Photo courtesy of Luigi Novi

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

An artist's concept of the six exoplanets orbiting the sun-like star Kepler-11.
NASA / Ames / JPL - Caltech

KEPLER DOES IT AGAIN...

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Earth-Size Planet Candidates Found in Habitable Zone (Press Release)

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Kepler mission has discovered its first Earth-size planet candidates and its first candidates in the habitable zone, a region where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface. Five of the potential planets are near Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of smaller, cooler stars than our sun.

Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets. Kepler also found six confirmed planets orbiting a sun-like star, Kepler-11. This is the largest group of transiting planets orbiting a single star yet discovered outside our solar system.

"In one generation we have gone from extraterrestrial planets being a mainstay of science fiction, to the present, where Kepler has helped turn science fiction into today's reality," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "These discoveries underscore the importance of NASA's science missions, which consistently increase understanding of our place in the cosmos."

The discoveries are part of several hundred new planet candidates identified in new Kepler mission science data, released on Tuesday, Feb. 1. The findings increase the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler to-date to 1,235. Of these, 68 are approximately Earth-size; 288 are super-Earth-size; 662 are Neptune-size; 165 are the size of Jupiter and 19 are larger than Jupiter. Of the 54 new planet candidates found in the habitable zone, five are near Earth-sized. The remaining 49 habitable zone candidates range from super-Earth size -- up to twice the size of Earth -- to larger than Jupiter.

The findings are based on the results of observations conducted May 12 to Sept. 17, 2009, of more than 156,000 stars in Kepler's field of view, which covers approximately one four-hundredth of the sky.

"The fact that we've found so many planet candidates in such a tiny fraction of the sky suggests there are countless planets orbiting sun-like stars in our galaxy," said William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., the mission's science principal investigator. "We went from zero to 68 Earth-sized planet candidates and zero to 54 candidates in the habitable zone, some of which could have moons with liquid water."

Among the stars with planetary candidates, 170 show evidence of multiple planetary candidates. Kepler-11, located approximately 2,000 light years from Earth, is the most tightly packed planetary system yet discovered. All six of its confirmed planets have orbits smaller than Venus, and five of the six have orbits smaller than Mercury's. The only other star with more than one confirmed transiting planet is Kepler-9, which has three. The Kepler-11 findings will be published in the Feb. 3 issue of the journal Nature.

"Kepler-11 is a remarkable system whose architecture and dynamics provide clues about its formation," said Jack Lissauer, a planetary scientist and Kepler science team member at Ames. "These six planets are mixtures of rock and gases, possibly including water. The rocky material accounts for most of the planets' mass, while the gas takes up most of their volume. By measuring the sizes and masses of the five inner planets, we determined they are among the lowest-mass confirmed planets beyond our solar system."

All of the planets orbiting Kepler-11 are larger than Earth, with the largest ones being comparable in size to Uranus and Neptune. The innermost planet, Kepler-11b, is 10 times closer to its star than Earth is to the sun. Moving outward, the other planets are Kepler-11c, Kepler-11d, Kepler-11e, Kepler-11f, and the outermost planet, Kepler-11g, which is half as far from its star as Earth is from the sun.

The planets Kepler-11d, Kepler-11e and Kepler-11f have a significant amount of light gas, which indicates that they formed within a few million years of the system's formation.

"The historic milestones Kepler makes with each new discovery will determine the course of every exoplanet mission to follow," said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Kepler, a space telescope, looks for planet signatures by measuring tiny decreases in the brightness of stars caused by planets crossing in front of them. This is known as a transit. Since transits of planets in the habitable zone of sun-like stars occur about once a year and require three transits for verification, it is expected to take three years to locate and verify Earth-size planets orbiting sun-like stars.

The Kepler science team uses ground-based telescopes and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to review observations on planetary candidates and other objects of interest the spacecraft finds. The star field that Kepler observes in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra can only be seen from ground-based observatories in spring through early fall. The data from these other observations help determine which candidates can be validated as planets.

Ames manages Kepler's ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes the Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and is funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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An art concept of a Jupiter-like world with two of its moons, by Dan Durda.
Dan Durda - Cornucopia3D Portfolio

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Xenon spotlights focus on space shuttle Discovery as it heads back to Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on January 31, 2011.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

BACK AT THE PAD... Not to state the obvious, but here’s hoping that the next time space shuttle Discovery leaves her pad at Launch Complex 39A, it will be to head for the International Space Station 220 miles above on February 24...and not to undergo more repairs inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. By the way, may the 7 astronauts of space shuttle Columbia rest in peace. Today marks 8 years since STS-107 ended in tragedy. The space shuttle program is 3 flights away from ending in hopeful triumph. That is all.

900 NASA employees and their families and friends watch as space shuttle Discovery heads back to LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on January 31, 2011.
NASA / Jack Pfaller

Space shuttle Discovery returns to LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on February 1, 2011.
NASA / Jack Pfaller

Dawn is about to rise above space shuttle Discovery and LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on February 1, 2011.
NASA / Kim Shiflett