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EXPLORATIONS - December 5, 2001: Space Digest - 2001-12-04


VOICE ONE:

This is Shirley Griffith.

VOICE TWO:

And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today, we tell about science experiments that will be sent to the planet Mars. And we tell about the hunt for gravity in extremely deep space.

We also tell about a possible new medical technology and about new plans to send a spacecraft to study the planet Pluto. And we tell about the study of the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system.

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VOICE ONE:

Scientists have used the Hubble Space Telescope to make the first direct examinations and chemical tests of the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system. Their work shows that it is possible for the Hubble telescope and other telescopes to measure the chemicals in a planet’s atmosphere.

The planet that was tested is about two-hundred-twenty times the size of Earth. The planet orbits a yellow Sun-like star called H-D two-zero-nine-four-five-eight. The star is about one-hundred-fifty light years away in the constellation Pegasus. NASA says almost anyone can find the star with a small telescope.

VOICE TWO:

The lead researcher for the project is David Charbonneau of the California Institute of Technology and the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Mister Charbonneau says his team used the Hubble space telescope to find sodium in the planet’s atmosphere. He said the research team found much less sodium in the atmosphere than expected. The team’s research is to be published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Mister Charbonneau said using the Hubble telescope in this kind of research opens up many new exciting possibilities in space research. Researchers say using the space telescope to examine the atmosphere of distant planets could lead to the first direct evidence of life beyond Earth.

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VOICE ONE:

NASA has selected seven researchers to spend the next three years developing new medical technologies. The new devices and methods will be able to find, study and treat disease inside the human body.

The researchers will develop extremely small devices are called nanoscale biomedical sensors. They are less than one thousand-millionth of a meter. They are so small they can enter the body without doing damage. They will find changes in cells within a human body and communicate problems to a device outside the body.

NASA says such devices will help medical workers observe and treat early any health problems of astronauts in space. And the new devices will provide the National Cancer Institute with new technologies to find and treat the earliest signs of some kinds of cancer.

VOICE TWO:

In the past year NASA asked scientific researchers for proposals to develop the nanoscale sensors. NASA and the National Cancer Institute received fifty-three proposals. The National Cancer Institute, technical experts from major universities, government scientists and industry experts studied them.

The seven researchers chosen will receive eleven million dollars during the next three years to do the work.

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VOICE ONE:

NASA will place a new satellite into orbit around the planet Mars in the year Two-Thousand-Five. The satellite is called the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It will carry six special scientific instruments.

Recently, NASA announced that the instruments on the satellite will be used to do ten science investigations. One of the most important will use a device called HiRISE.

HiRISE is a multi-color imaging system. It is a thirty-one million-dollar device similar to a camera. HiRISE will be able to take extremely close pictures of the surface of Mars. It is expected to provide pictures that will be used to find water and to help identify future landing areas on the planet.

A second instrument will also produce special picture like images. This device will produce maps of different kinds of rock and surface material found on Mars.

VOICE TWO:

The eight other investigations will use the satellite’s six scientific instruments to gather and study information. These instruments include special radar that can study areas below the surface of the planet. Another device will study the gravity of Mars.

Several of the instruments on the satellite will be the same as those that were lost when the Mars Climate Orbiter disappeared. These instruments will study the weather on Mars.

VOICE ONE:

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a scientific observation project that will bring together teams from universities, industry, NASA centers and other organizations. The spacecraft will be developed by Lockheed-Martin Astronautics in Denver, Colorado. It is to be launched in August of Two-Thousand-Five.

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VOICE TWO:

Small amounts of gravity move through deep space. This gravity is similar to ocean waves. NASA scientists know the space gravity waves can slow down the speed of objects.

Space scientists believe these waves began with the movements of huge bodies, such as black holes or large stars that have exploded. The famous physics expert Albert Einstein wrote that such space waves would be found. Some evidence of this theory was confirmed in the Nineteen Seventies.

VOICE ONE:

NASA has just begun a forty-day study of the effects of gravity in deep space. The study will use the Cassini spacecraft and new, special equipment. The equipment is at NASA’s Deep Space Communications Network in Barstow, California, Madrid, Spain and Canberra, Australia. Researchers will use the radio equipment of the Deep Space Network to measure changes in the speed of the Cassini spacecraft as it continues to move away from Earth.

VOICE TWO:

The spacecraft Cassini is in a quiet part of its trip through space. It passed the planet Jupiter eleven months ago. It should reach Saturn in about thirty months. Researchers will use radio broadcasts between Cassini and Earth to search for gravity waves. The radio equipment will be able to measure changes in the speed of Cassini that amount to less than a second of time.

John Armstrong is a space scientist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He says study of the gravity waves is extremely important to space science.

Randy Herrera is an engineer for the project. He says gravity waves will give science another way to see into the universe. Mister Herrera says understanding how the gravity waves work will help scientists study black holes and other huge objects in space.

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VOICE ONE:

NASA has accepted a proposal to begin the design studies for a spacecraft that will fly to Pluto, the most distant planet in our solar system. The spacecraft is to study the planet and also explore the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto. The Kuiper Belt is made up of space rocks and comets. Water and the simple chemicals that supported life on Earth are believed to have come from the Kuiper Belt.

NASA says the scientific value of the flight to Pluto depends on the spacecraft being launched by Two-Thousand-Six. The spacecraft would have to fly near Pluto well before Two-Thousand-Twenty.

VOICE TWO:

NASA says two important conditions must be met before the spacecraft can be launched. First a study must approve the risks involved in the use of a nuclear power system that would be needed for the spacecraft. And Congress would have to approve the money needed for the project.

NASA now calls the proposed flight New Horizons. It would include devices for creating images. It would also include radio science experiments that study the surface rocks of Pluto and its moon Charon. The spacecraft would also make maps of Pluto and study any atmosphere found there.

Colleen Hartman is the Solar System Explorations Director in NASA’s office of Space Science. She says a trip to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt would mean a visit to the most ancient material in our solar system. She says all the other planets including Earth are made of that material. Mizz Hartman says the most exciting thing about going to an unexplored planet is what we may find there that we are not expecting.

VOICE ONE:

This Special English program was written Paul Thompson. It was directed by Cynthia Kirk, and our studio engineer was Mick Shaw. This is Shirley Griffith.

VOICE TWO:

And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.

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