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EXPLORATIONS - The Year in Space  - 2004-12-28


Broadcast: December 29, 2004

VOICE ONE:

I’m Faith Lapidus.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about some of the major space stories of the past year. We begin with the landing of two American vehicles that were sent to explore the surface of the planet Mars.

VOICE ONE:

On January third, two thousand four, the United States successfully landed the first of two exploration vehicles on Mars. The device is named “Spirit.” It landed safely on target in an area of Mars called the Gusev Crater.

Exactly three weeks later, a similar exploration rover named “Opportunity” landed almost half way around the planet in an area called Meridiani Planum.

Both vehicles began sending back exciting information. The information included extremely good photographs. NASA officials announced that anyone who could link with the Internet communications system could see the new photographs taken by the rovers.

VOICE TWO:

Very quickly, millions of people began linking with NASA to see the photographs. NASA announced a new record. On February nineteenth, NASA reported it had received more than six thousand million “hits” to its Internet Web site. A hit is recorded for every piece of information a computer user receives from a Web site. All of these hits were to see the NASA photographs taken by the two Mars exploration vehicles, Spirit and Opportunity.

On March third, scientists at the American space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California again received exciting news from Mars. Opportunity had sent back good evidence that liquid water once was an important part of the environment of Mars. Earlier this month, both Spirit and Opportunity sent back more evidence of water on Mars. One scientist said it was the best evidence of water yet received from the rovers.

NASA scientists have said the evidence of water suggests that life may have once been possible on the Red Planet.

VOICE ONE:

Both the Spirit and Opportunity rovers continue to send back valuable information. They have done so for almost one year now. That is well past the planned working life NASA scientists expected of the two rovers. Spirit has had some problems with its right front wheel. NASA experts have solved this problem by driving the rover backwards and not using that wheel.

Opportunity also continues to send back huge amounts of information about the surface of Mars. NASA officials say Opportunity continues to work as well now as it did the day it landed on the Red Planet.

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VOICE TWO:

On July first, the Cassini-Huygens (HOY-guns) spacecraft arrived at the planet Saturn. It flew into orbit from below the famous rings that circle the planet. It reached Saturn after almost seven years. It had traveled more than three thousand million kilometers through space.

It did not take long for Cassini to start making discoveries. Cassini took photographs of Saturn’s giant moon Titan in its first few days of orbit. These photographs provided details of Titan’s surface that had never been seen before.

NASA officials said the photographs showed Titan has a thick atmosphere that usually looks white in photographs. However Cassini has special cameras that can see though the giant moon’s atmosphere to study the surface. These photographs show very unusual features. NASA officials said it will take a great deal of study to understand the surface of Titan.

VOICE ONE:

The study of Titan is one of the major goals of the Cassini-Huygens flight. The exploration of Titan is exciting for many scientists. Titan is very large -- even larger than the planets Mercury and Pluto. Scientists are very interested in Titan because it is the only known moon in our solar system to have an atmosphere.

Plans call for Cassini to make more than seventy orbits around Saturn. Forty-five of these will include passing close to Titan.

On December twenty-fourth, the Huygens part of the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft separated from the larger spacecraft. The Huygens instrument is expected to enter the atmosphere of Titan on January fourteenth.It will descend to the surface of the huge moon by parachute.

NASA scientists hope the Huygens instrument will provide more information about Titan.

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VOICE TWO:

On April twenty-first, a Russian Soyuz Eight space vehicle linked up with the International Space Station. The Soyuz space vehicle delivered Commander Gennady Padalka and Science Officer Mike Fincke. They became the ninth International Space Station Crew.

For six months, the two men lived and worked on the International Space Station. Science Officer Fincke completed one hundred percent of the twenty-four research experiments that had been planned for his stay on the station.

VOICE ONE:

During their mission, Cosmonaut Padalka and Astronaut Fincke received two Russian Progress cargo supply ships. They also left the safety of the station four times to work in space. Their work in space included gathering test materials that had been in space for more than two years.

They placed radio equipment and new navigation equipment needed for the arrival of the European Automated Transfer Vehicle next year. The unmanned space vehicle will carry equipment and supplies from Earth to the International Space Station.

VOICE TWO:

International Space Station Crew number ten arrived in October a few days before Commander Padalka and Science Officer Fincke returned to Earth. They are American Commander Leroy Chiao and Russian Flight Engineer Salizhan Sharipov. They are to prepare the space station for the arrival of the first Space Shuttle to visit the station since the Space Shuttle Columbia accident.

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VOICE ONE:

Not all of the news from space during the past year was good news. On September eighth, a spacecraft named Genesis entered Earth’s atmosphere high above the Western United States.

It was traveling at speeds of more than eleven kilometers a second. The spacecraft was supposed to deploy a parachute at almost thirty kilometers above the surface of the Earth. The device failed and the parachute was not deployed. The two hundred sixty million dollar spacecraft crashed in the desert in the state of Utah. It hit the ground at a speed of more than three hundred kilometers an hour. It hit so hard that it buried itself half underground.

The Genesis spacecraft had been in an orbit almost one and one half million kilometers from the Earth for the past three years. Its purpose was to collect extremely small pieces of material from the Sun. Some of the material weighs no more than a few grains of salt.

VOICE TWO:

At first, scientists who were working with Genesis believed it had been destroyed in the crash. However, in October they reported finding a large amount of material within the Genesis scientific collectors.

This material was gathered from deep space. The NASA Genesis team says the material will provide information about the beginning and development of our solar system.

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VOICE ONE:

On December eighth, NASA completed placing the three main engines in the Space Shuttle Discovery. The work was completed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the state of Florida.

NASA is preparing the shuttle Discovery for its Return to Flight program. Plans call for Discovery to be ready for launch in May, two thousand five.

Discovery and its seven-person crew will fly to the International Space Station. One of the main tasks for the crew will be to test new flight safety plans.

These tests will include inspecting the space shuttle and testing methods to repair possible damage. The new safety measures were the result of the accident that destroyed the Space Shuttle Columbia and its crew on February first, two thousand three. That accident was caused by safety problems and damage to the Columbia during its launch.

VOICE TWO:

NASA officials say returning the Space Shuttle Discovery to flight is the first step in renewing human exploration of space. NASA hopes the flight of Discovery will be the first of many attempts to reach new exploration goals. Two of these goals are returning to the Moon and flying humans to the surface of Mars and returning them safely.

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VOICE ONE:

This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I’m Faith Lapidus.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program in VOA Special English.

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