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EXPLORATIONS - Space Station Crew Returns / Mars Exploration Rovers / GALEX Satellite / White Knight and Space Ship One - 2003-05-06


Broadcast: May 7, 2003

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VOICE ONE:

This is Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

And this is Phoebe Zimmermann with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. We have news about two exploration devices that will land on Mars. We tell about a new aircraft that can take passengers into space. We tell about a new device now in orbit that can see thousands of millions of years back in time. And we tell about the safe return to Earth of the crew of the International Space Station.

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VOICE ONE:

Russian cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin and American astronauts Ken Bowersox and Don Pettit have returned safely to Earth from the International Space Station. They landed Sunday in Kazakhstan. Astronaut Bowersox told reporters everything was fine after what he called a normal return to Earth.

However, their Russian Soyuz spacecraft landed about four-hundred kilometers from the place where it was expected to land.

Search planes found the spacecraft, but could not land in the area. The space crew waited several hours for helicopters that flew them to the Kazakh capital, Astana. Then they were flown to Russia’s Star City space training center near Moscow. They will spend at least two weeks there for medical tests and to learn how to deal with gravity after more than five months in space.

VOICE TWO:

The three men left the Earth on November twenty-third, two-thousand-two. Their trip back was the first time American astronauts returned to Earth in a Russian spacecraft. This is because the American Space Shuttles have not been in operation since the Space Shuttle Columbia was lost in February.

The three were replaced in the International Space Station by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, the Expedition Seven commander, and American astronaut Ed Lu. He is the crew’s new flight engineer and NASA science officer.

They arrived at the Space Station on April twenty-eighth. Malenchenko and Lu will be the crew of the space station until October. They have already begun a series of scientific and educational activities.

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VOICE ONE:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has announced the successful launch of the Galaxy Evolution Explorer satellite.

The explorer was launched April twenty-eighth, near Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was carried into orbit by a Pegasus rocket that was launched from a jet aircraft. It will begin its research work in about one month.

VOICE TWO:

The GALEX (GAL-ex) satellite carries equipment that will be used to observe more than one-million galaxies. A galaxy is a large system of stars. The explorer satellite will make these observations for the next twenty-eight months. Some of the galaxies it will observe are millions of light years from Earth. A light year is the distance light can travel in one year. Light travels at almost three-hundred-million meters per second.

Because of the great distances involved, GALEX will be observing and photographing events that took place thousands or even millions of years ago. The satellite will help space scientists learn when the stars we see today were formed.

VOICE ONE:

Scientists believe the universe began almost fourteen-thousand-million years ago with a huge explosion, called the “Big Bang.” Galaxies began to appear as the fireball of hydrogen and helium gas expanded and cooled. Recent observations suggest most stars in the universe were formed about eight to ten-thousand-million years ago.

The GALEX satellite was designed to investigate this idea and to find out why the stars were formed. The most important part of the satellite is a fifty-centimeter telescope. It is equipped with several devices that permit it to gather images of galaxies.

The devices will study the light from the galaxies to measure their shape, brightness and size. The GALEX satellite will also permit scientists to gather information about when carbon, oxygen and other chemical elements were created inside burning stars.

VOICE TWO:

Christopher Martin is the chief research scientist for the project. He is also an astrophysics professor at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Mister Martin says the GALEX satellite will provide the first important map of a universe of galaxies. He says researchers will be able to observe how some of these galaxies were formed.

Mister Martin says this information will bring us closer to understanding how our own galaxy was created. The GALEX will also make the first complete study of the sky beyond our own galaxy. Information gathered will be shared with all space scientists.

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VOICE ONE:

Many of us here on Earth would immediately accept the chance to fly into space even if it was only for a few minutes. This may be possible if airplane designer Burt Rutan (ru-TAN) is successful with his new aircraft called White Knight and Space Ship One.

Burt Rutan is a world famous designer of aircraft. He designed the Voyager -- the first aircraft to fly non-stop around the world with only the fuel it carried. That flight took place between December fourteenth and December twenty-third, nineteen-eighty-six.

VOICE TWO:

Mister Rutan has now designed an aircraft that carries his Space Ship One rocket plane. The aircraft is named the White Knight. It is designed to fly as high as sixteen-thousand meters. At this height, it will release the Space Ship One rocket plane. Space Ship One’s pilot will slow the plane and point the nose almost straight up. He will then fire the plane’s rockets.

The rocket plane will reach speeds of three-thousand-eight-hundred kilometers an hour as it flies into space about one-hundred kilometers above the Earth. This is an area of space called sub-orbital.

Sub-orbital means the craft has left Earth’s atmosphere, but is not high enough to orbit Earth. Space Ship One will then immediately return to Earth. The flight will take only about ninety minutes.

Mister Rutan says final tests are now being done on the Space Ship One craft. The White Knight aircraft that will carry the rocket flew for the first time in August, two-thousand-two.

VOICE ONE:

Burt Rutan says he would like to fly the craft into space for the first time before December seventeenth. That is the one-hundredth anniversary of the first powered aircraft flight by the Wright Brothers.

Mister Rutan says the flight will only carry one person. But he has plans to carry as many as three people into space in the near future. He says it will be the first privately financed flight into space.

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VOICE TWO:

NASA has chosen the areas where two exploring devices will land on the surface of the planet Mars early next year. The two areas are called the Gusev Crater and the Meridiani Planum. The Gusev Crater is a huge area that scientists say appears to have once been a lake. The Meridiani Planum holds an iron oxide mineral that usually forms when there is liquid water.

Both the Gusev Crater and the Meridiani Planum are south of the Martian equator. However the two landing areas are about halfway around the planet from each other.

VOICE ONE:

Peter Theisinger (TIE-sing-er) is the manager for the project. He says a huge amount of research was done before choosing the two areas. He says the areas were chosen because they offered the best possible chance of finding water on Mars.

Photographs and measurements from two NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars provided scientists and engineers with details of the two areas. The two spacecraft showed powerful evidence of past liquid water. Water is extremely important to any human exploration of Mars in the future.

VOICE TWO:

The two exploring devices that will soon be on their way to Mars are called the Mars Exploration Rovers. They are similar devices that can move across the Martian surface. Both will be controlled by scientists here on Earth.

Each rover carries several scientific devices. Each will be launched to Mars on a Boeing Delta Two rocket. The first rover flight will be launched between May thirtieth and June Sixteenth. The second rover will be launched between June twenty-fifth and July twelfth.

(THEME)

VOICE ONE:

This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

And this is Phoebe Zimmermann. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS, a program in Special English on the Voice of America.

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