I’m Faith Lapidus.
And I’m Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we report about the progress of the American space agency’s Deep Impact spacecraft that will crash into a comet in July.
We tell about an unusual object found on the surface of Mars. We begin with plans for NASA’s return to space flight with the Space Shuttle Discovery.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is preparing to return to space flight in May or June. Crewmembers of the Space Shuttle Discovery are working on how to solve problems they might experience during their flight. Recently, Flight Commander Eileen Collins and other crewmembers worked in an exact copy of the Space Shuttle Discovery. The copy is used for training.
The crewmembers, NASA flight controllers and other experts worked together to solve simple and complex problems. This training lasted for thirty-six hours. The training is called the “long sim.” This is a short way to say the long simulation. A simulation is a representation of a possible situation or problem.
One problem was a cooling device that would not work in a space suit. The problem had to be repaired quickly because astronauts need protective suits to do work in space outside the Discovery vehicle. Another problem involved a laser device. The crew had to solve an electrical problem that would not permit the laser to do useful work.
The laser device is used to inspect the outside of the shuttle for damage. It is extremely important to the crew of the Discovery.
Some of the problems are easy to solve. Others are extremely difficult. The astronauts must work closely with NASA controllers on Earth. They also often work with the people who built or designed the Space Shuttle and its equipment. Very often the Discovery crew, the ground controllers and engineers are expected to solve several difficult problems at the same time.
Commander Collins said the crew of Discovery has now been training for the flight for one-and-one-half years. She said the long sim training was difficult. All the training prepared the crew to work together quickly as a team. The training also prepared the NASA controllers who remain the ground. They too must work as a part of the extended team that makes space flight possible.
The seven astronauts for NASA’s return to space flight are Commander Collins, Pilot James Kelly, and Mission Specialists Charles Camarda, Wendy Lawrence, Soichi Noguchi, Stephen Robinson and Andrew Thomas.
The training for the Discovery crew did not stop with the end of the thirty-six hour-long sim. The crew will complete another thirty-six hour training test followed by a forty-eight hour long sim. Other training will also take place. For example, Astronauts Soichi Noguchi and Steve Robinson will put on spacesuits and take part in a difficult training problem underwater.
They will do this in NASA’s huge training pool. The two astronauts will train underwater because it is similar to the environment of space where this is little or no weight. They will do the same work underwater here on Earth that they will do in space during the flight of Discovery.
During the flight, they are expected to leave the inside of the Space Shuttle and work in space. They will replace a device that helps control the flight of the International Space Station. That device failed in June of two thousand two.
NASA officials give several good reasons for the long periods of difficult training. Plans for the flight include linking with the International Space Station and performing difficult work outside the Shuttle in space.
NASA officials also say none of the Space Shuttles or the shuttle crews have been launched into space for more than two years. The space shuttle program was stopped after the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the death of its crew on February first, two thousand three.
Commander Collins says the training is becoming more difficult, with more hard problems to solve. She says the training is creating a good crew that can complete any task. And she says all crewmembers are ready to fly in space again.
NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft is safely on its way to the comet Tempel-One. The Deep Impact vehicle was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on January twelfth. It is to fly near the comet on July fourth.
When it reached space, Deep Impact separated from the launch vehicle. It was then ordered to turn off all systems except the communications devices that are needed to receive commands from NASA.
NASA recently reported that all Deep Impact systems are now working. It deployed the long wings it uses to collect sunlight. Deep Impact is now using these wings to successfully change sunlight to electric power.
Deep Impact has two parts. One part of the vehicle will fly near the comet. A smaller part will be released into the comet’s path. That part will crash into the comet. The hole produced by the crash is expected to be about the size of the area used to play soccer football.
The larger part of Deep Impact will be used to observe the effects of the crash. NASA’s Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra space telescopes and other telescopes on Earth will also observe the event.
NASA scientists say the Comet Tempel-One may hold clues about the formation and development of the Solar System. Comets are made of ice, gas and dust. They are made of particles from the farthest and coldest areas of the Solar System that formed more than four thousand million years ago.
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover vehicle Opportunity has found an iron meteorite on the surface of Mars. A meteorite is a stony or metallic object that has fallen from outer space. This is the first meteorite of any kind ever identified on another planet. The meteorite is about the size of a basketball. Scientific instruments on Opportunity show the meteorite is made of the metals iron and nickel. Only a small number of meteorites that have fallen on Earth have a similar amount of metal. Most are made of rock.
Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, is the chief investigator for the science instruments on the rovers Opportunity and Spirit. Mister Squyres says finding the meteorite was a huge surprise. He said he never thought NASA scientists would be able to use Opportunity’s instruments to study a rock from someplace other than Mars.
Mister Squyres says an iron meteorite would have come from a planet that was destroyed or a huge space object that came apart. Scientists named the meteorite “Heat Shield Rock.”
This is because it was found near parts of the heat shield that protected Opportunity when it entered the atmosphere of Mars. This area of Mars is called Meridiani Planum. It has been Opportunity’s home since the vehicle landed more than one year ago.
NASA scientists are now discussing whether some rocks that Opportunity has seen on the ground are also rocky meteorites. Mister Squyres says many more rocky meteorites than iron meteorites should hit Mars.
He says Opportunity has sent back photographs of many rocks in the area. Scientists may be investigating some of those in coming weeks. Mister Squyres says the important thing is not what they will learn about meteorites because there are many meteorites on Earth. He says the meteorite can help them discover information about the surface of Mars in Meridiani Planum.
The two NASA exploration vehicles on the surface of Mars successfully completed the planned three months of work in April of two thousand four. NASA has extended their working life two times. This is because Spirit and Opportunity are still in good condition and can continue to explore the surface of Mars.
The two vehicles have found good evidence of a wet environment in the history of Mars. Scientists believe this wet environment could have supported life.
Opportunity has driven more than two kilometers across the surface of Mars. Sprit has driven more than four kilometers on the Martian surface.
This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program in VOA Special English.