From Hubble to Moon Water: NASAs Stellar Headlines in 2009

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From Hubble to Moon Water: NASAs Stellar Headlines in 2009

by Roy Mark

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February: Orbiting Carbon Observatory Goes Up in Smoke

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite to study atmospheric carbon dioxide launched aboard a Taurus XL rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California fails to separate upon command and is lost.

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March: Discovery Crew Installs Final ISS Solar Arrays

The new president gives a shout out to the Discovery crew installing the International Space Station's fourth and final set of solar array wings. Within weeks, Obama will order a review of NASA's current mission of returning to the moon while mothballing the shuttle fleet.

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April: Colbert Wins NASA Contest, Denied Victory

Comedian Stephen Colbert wins NASA's online contest to name a node on the International Space Station, but NASA reserved the right to reject the winning choice and it did. Second prize for Colbert? A treadmill heading to the ISS named the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill or, more simply, the COLBERT.

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May: Overhauling the Hubble Space Telescope

Desperately in need of repairs, the space shuttle Discovery embarks on a much-needed systems overhaul to the 19-year-old telescope icon. Tasks include repairing failing batteries, busted gyroscopes, and spotty electrical and communications systems. However, the real buzz comes from the installation of a new, more powerful wide-field camera and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph.

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May: Obama Orders Review of NASAs Mission

The White House says it plans an outside review of NASA's mission to return to the moon. The 90-day inquiry will re-exam NASA's replacement plans for the space shuttle fleet, currently scheduled for retirement late next year, and whether it might be better to bypass the moon for missions further out into the solar system.

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June: Gas Leaks Ground Endeavour Mission

NASA twice in June attempted to launch the space shuttle Endeavour for a construction mission to the International Space Station. Alas, a hydrogen gas leak on the launch pad forced NASA to officially call off the launch and reschedule it for July. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

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June: NASA Heads to the Moon

With no luck on its June space shuttle launch, NASA in June launches it first mission to the moon in almost a decade, sending two satellites on single Atlas rocket: One satellite will orbit the moon for mapping purposes while the other will deliberately slam into the lunar surface in search of water ice.

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June: The Circus Readies for Space

Accordionist, stilt-walker, fire-breather and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte began training in Star City, Russia, preparing for his scheduled Sept. 30 "poetic social mission" to the ISS. The Quebec billionaire and paying space tourist—approximately $25 million—will join a Soyuz TMA-16 crew that includes NASA astronaut Jeffery Williams. (Photo courtesy of

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July: Aldrin Creates Buzz with New Manned Plan

The moon? Been there, done that. Count former astronaut Buzz Aldrin among those who think NASA is off target with its current plans to reach the moon by 2020. Aldrin calls the new race to the moon a "glorified rehash of what we did 40 years ago." Instead of the moon, Aldrin envisions an ambitious manned space flight plan that targets a 2025 manned landing on the Martian moon Phobos.

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July: Endeavour Finally Completes Mission

After hydrogen gas leaks delayed Endeavour's construction mission to the International Space Station, the shuttle finally gets clearance and heads to the ISS. During the course of the mission, the crew unloaded and installed Japan's Kibo outdoor laboratory, a literal "front porch" for the ISS allowing for space-exposed science experiments. The mission is the second longest in shuttle history.

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July: 40th Anniversary of Moonwalk

Apollo 11 astronauts Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are honored worldwide for their remarkable achievement of July 20, 1969. To hear them tell the tale now, the most amazing feat was getting back alive considering the technology.

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July: Refurbished Hubble Sends First Pictures

After a May overhaul by the space shuttle Atlantis' crew, the Hubble Space Telescope is back in business, and judging by the first images sent by the iconic space telescope, the state-of-the-art upgrade was a success. Among the new images: NGC 6302, roiling cauldrons of gas heated to more than 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The gas is tearing across space at more than 600,000 miles an hour—fast enough to travel from Earth to the moon in 24 minutes.

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August: Resupplying the International Space Station

After two launch delays, the space shuttle Discovery finally gets under way for a 13-day resupply mission to the International Space Station. The Discovery mission is primarily focused on delivering more than seven tons of supplies, science racks and equipment, as well as additional environmental hardware, to sustain the six crew members on the ISS.

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September: Obama Space Panel Pans Moon Plans

Led by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine (left), President Obama's committee reviewing NASA's future concludes the space agency is on an "unsustainable trajectory." The panel presents options to the White House including spending billions more on the space program, international partnerships, commercial spacecraft, and extending the life of the space shuttle program and the International Space Station.

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October: Spaces First Clown Reaches ISS

Billionaire Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte arrives at the International Space Station and—true to form—dons a clown nose. During his brief tourist trip to the ISS, Laliberte coordinates from the ISS a 120-minute, 14-city show on Earth featuring former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Peter Gabriel and U2.

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November: NASA Finds Water on Moon

NASA threw water on the theory that the moon is a dry, desolate place Nov. 13 after revealing preliminary data from October's LCROSS bombing of the moon. The project indicates that there are significant amounts of water near the moon's South Pole. The landmark finding opens a new chapter in scientists' understanding of the moon.

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November: Atlantis Heads to International Space Station

The mission is NASA's last to the space station in 2009 and is primarily dedicated to delivering spare parts to the ISS. With only five missions left in 2010 before NASA retires the shuttle fleet, the space agency is focused on using the shuttle's unique ability to haul large pallets of equipment to position spare parts on the orbiting laboratory.

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