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EXPLORATIONS - Space Digest - 2004-04-28


Broadcast: April 28, 2004

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VOICE ONE:

This is Doug Johnson.

VOICE TWO:

And this is Phoebe Zimmermann with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today, we have news about the American vehicles exploring the surface of the planet Mars. We tell you how to find Mars and three other planets in the night sky. We also will talk about a planet-like object named Sedna. But first, we begin with a report about the International Space Station and its new crew.

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VOICE ONE:

The new Commander and Science Officer of the International Space Station entered their new home for the first time last week. Gennady Padalka and Mike Fincke are serving as the Expedition Nine crew on the Space Station. The American space agency reports their Russian Soyuz Eight space vehicle linked up with the Space Station early Wednesday, April twenty-first. After testing for possible air leaks, the doors between the two spacecraft were opened.

Expedition Eight Commander Michael Foale and Flight Engineer Alexander Kaleri greeted the new crew and Astronaut Andre Kuipers. Mister Kuipers is a medical doctor from the Netherlands. He has studied the effects of space flight on people. He flew to the Station as part of an agreement between the European Space Agency and Russia’s Federal Space Agency.

VOICE TWO:

The two crews expect to work together for nine days. They are carrying out a number of joint operations. Astronaut Kuipers is working with a number of scientific experiments for the European Space Agency.

On Thursday, he, Astronaut Foale, and Cosmonaut Kaleri will leave the Space Station and return to Earth on the Soyuz Seven spacecraft. Soyuz Seven is the same vehicle that brought the returning crew to the Station in October of last year.

Cosmonaut Padalka and Astronaut Fincke will spend the next six months on the Space Station. Commander Padalka is an officer in the Russian air force. He spent one-hundred-ninety-eight days on the Russian space station Mir in nineteen-ninety-nine. Astronaut Fincke is an officer in the United States Air Force. This is his first trip into space.

VOICE ONE:

The new Space Station crew will have little time to enjoy their new surroundings. They must quickly prepare for the arrival of a spacecraft named Progress. The Progress is to arrive on May twenty-first. It will be launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Progress is similar in size and shape to the Soyuz spacecraft, but carries no crew. The Progress is used to transport fuel and other supplies to the Space Station. After the Progress has completed its flight, it will carry away objects that are of no more use to the crew. It will be sent down to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

VOICE TWO:

Commander Padalka and Astronaut Fincke plan brief trips outside the Space Station on July twenty-second and August twenty-fourth. The two men will work on the Zvezda, a service spacecraft already linked to the Station.

They will connect cameras, communications equipment and other devices to the Zvezda. They will be preparing the spacecraft to link up with a supply vehicle operated by the European Space Agency.

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VOICE ONE:

An American vehicle exploring the planet Mars has found rocks that may have been formed under a large amount of salt water. Steven Squyres is the lead investigator for the science equipment on the American space agency’s explorer vehicle, Opportunity. He says Opportunity entered an area on the surface of Mars that scientists believe was once the edge of a large saltwater lake. Evidence that was gathered does not show how long ago liquid water covered the area.

Opportunity was then sent toward an area with thicker rocks to gather more evidence.

VOICE TWO:

The space agency’s other explorer vehicle on Mars, Spirit, completed a drive of seventy-five meters earlier this month. It traveled around an area of the surface scientists have called, “Missoula Crater.” Spirit has used its large camera and scientific instruments to take pictures and measure the atmosphere of the red planet.

On April first, Spirit found evidence that liquid water used to flow across Mars. Space agency officials say the evidence came from tests of a volcanic rock discovered on the planet.

Hap McSween is a science team member for the Mars explorer vehicles. He says the discovery suggests that water may have been on the surface in this area in small amounts. Mister McSween also said the water might have been underground.

VOICE ONE:

Recently, the American space agency approved a plan to extend the life of the two Mars explorer vehicles. Agency officials say it is possible for the vehicles to keep operating on the planet for about another five months. Spirit and Opportunity were expected to operate for about three months each after they landed.

Orlando Figueroa is the Mars Exploration program director at the Washington headquarters of the space agency, NASA. Mister Figueroa said the two vehicles have been extremely successful. He said that is why officials decided to provide the fifteen million dollars needed to operate them until sometime in September.

VOICE TWO:

Ed Weiler is NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Science. He said this new evidence of water in Martian history is adding to scientists’ knowledge of the planet that is most like Earth.

Mister Weiler said this evidence is the proof the space agency needed to expand its programs for exploring Mars. He said the agency must now learn if microbes ever lived on the red planet. Also, he said, NASA must learn if humans can live there in the future.

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VOICE ONE:

Scientists are studying thirty-five pictures recently produced by the Hubble Space Telescope. They are attempting to answer questions about the farthest known object in our solar system. The object is called Sedna. It is almost thirteen-thousand-million kilometers from Earth.

Sedna is like a very small planet. Like Earth, Sedna is in orbit around our sun. The mystery scientists are attempting to settle is, does Sedna have a moon?

Mike Brown is a scientist with the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, California. He announced the discovery of Sedna on March fifteenth. Mister Brown says he believes that Sedna must have a moon. The problem is no one has have been able to see a moon near the planet-like object.

Mister Brown said this might be because Sedna turns very slowly and the moon is now behind Sedna. He said it turns much slower than other objects in space. Mister Brown said Sedna makes one turn about every forty Earth days. He thinks that the gravity of a small moon is the best reason that Sedna turns so slowly.

VOICE TWO:

Mister Brown said this makes Sedna a very interesting object. He said it is difficult to see Sedna even with the Hubble Space Telescope. He said it is a little like attempting to see a football from one-thousand-five-hundred kilometers away.

Mister Brown said he keeps expecting a small moon to “pop-up” in the new pictures. But so far he has not been able to see any moon. Mister Brown said the mystery may be solved in time. He said he could think of no other reason why the small planet-like object moves so slowly.

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VOICE ONE:

You may be able to observe something unusual in the northern sky if it is clear tonight. You may be able to see four objects near the moon. They are four planets: Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. You can see them with your eyes. These four can be seen almost together until Thursday.

It is really very easy. First, find the moon. Just below and a little to the left of the Moon is the planet Jupiter. Jupiter is the third brightest object in the night sky, after the Moon and Venus.

Venus is easy to find. It is extremely bright this time of year. Just to the left of Venus is Mars, where NASA’s explorer vehicles are busy working on the surface. If you look to the left and up from Mars, the largest object you will see is Saturn.

It is easy to see the four planets with only your eyes, but even more fun with a small telescope. If you have a telescope, you may easily see the rings of Saturn and the rings of Jupiter. When this many planets are close together in the night sky, it makes them very easy to see.

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VOICE TWO:

This program was written by Paul Thompson. Caty Weaver was our producer. This is Phoebe Zimmermann.

VOICE ONE:

And this is Doug Johnson. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program in VOA Special English.

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