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Mars Odyssey detects an oddity, JPL opens its doors this weekend

Dr. Edward Tunstel Jr, (L), Mars Explora

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

A full-scale functioning model of the Mars rover in the In-situ Instrument Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory In Pasadena.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena will be welcoming space watchers to its annual "open house" this weekend where visitors will get the first look at JPL's new Earth Science Center, closely encounter scientists and engineers, and go outer limits with high-definition imagery and 3-D videos.

On Friday, NASA announced that the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, currently orbiting Mars, put itself into a standby safe mode after a problem was detected. JPL, managing the mission from Pasadena, is currently troubleshooting the Odyssey's oddity located in a gyroscope-like device that helps control orientation.

The Odyessy, launched in 2001, is photographing the planet's surface and will play an key role when NASA's lands its newest rover in August. JPL mission manager Chris Potts said in a statement that engineers are communicating with the spacecraft and working on a plan to resume normal operations.

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'Dawn' breaks discovery of double crater on Vesta, says NASA

Asteroid Mission

AP Photo/NASA

This Jan. 5, 2012 image provided by NASA shows bright and dark material at the rim of the Marcia crater on the Vesta asteroid, taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft. The lighter areas of the crater's edge is causing high interest and speculation by NASA scientists.

The NASA Dawn spacecraft mission has made some surprising discoveries about the asteroid Vesta, the parent body of an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Carol Raymond, with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told KPCC that the data Dawn gathers could help scientists better understand how Earth and other planets emerged.

"Vesta’s history appears to be more similar to rocky terrestrial planets -  Mars, Mercury, and the Earth’s moon - than to its larger sibling Ceres, which will be the second target of the Dawn mission," says Raymond.

Scientists say cosmic collisions, likely with a smaller asteroids, are to blame for Vesta's scars. High-resolution images have revealed, however, that two massive overlapping craters are creating the huge depression (the southern hemisphere depressions were first seen the Hubble Space Telescope).

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Closing arguments in NASA JPL/intelligent design termination case

Intelligent Design

Nick Ut/AP

In this March 7, 2012 photo, David Coppedge, left, is shown outside Los Angeles Superior Court with his attorney, William Becker. Coppedge, a mission specialist who claims he was demoted - and then let go - by Jet Propulsion Laboratory for his workplace comments promoting his views on intelligent design, the belief that a higher power must have had a hand in creation because life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory denies allegations that David Coppedge's employment as a lab specialist was terminated because of his belief in intelligent design. Closing arguments in the wrongful termination case are set to begin in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday.

The computer specialist — who worked for 15 years on the Cassini mission exploring Saturn and its moons — was let go last year. 

He says he was discriminated against for engaging co-workers in conversations about intelligent design, and for handing out related DVDs at work.

Intelligent design is a type of creationism that rejects evolution as the sole basis for life's origins believing instead that nature is too complex to have evolved without a higher-power based plan.

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The road less expensive: NASA redrawing map to Mars

Mars rover Curiosity

NASA/Paul E. Alers

A model of the Curiosity, NASA's mobile robotic laboratory

Forced into a less scenic route by budgetary constraints, NASA announced that it will be redrawing its map to Mars to cut down on mission costs.

With the intention of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s -- and a quicker goal of returning Martian soil and rock samples to Earth --  the space agency issued a call to arms of brains, asking scientists and engineers on this planet to come forward with robotic mission ideas.

A collaboration with European collegues to bring back the far out samples was aborted by NASA earlier this year due to budget cuts. 

Hoping for a determination by summer, a new team is being formed to assess idea proposals, mission priorities, and options.

NASA recently hit another rough turn when it issued a startling report in March detailing a universe of trouble in the agency's security department.

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NASA and JPL's holy 'GRAIL' of moon research

nasa jpl grail

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/KSC

GRAIL Mission Comes Together: NASA's twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft are lowered onto the second stage of their Delta II launch vehicle at Space Launch Complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida (8/18/2011). At the top of the image is the spacecraft adapter ring which holds the two lunar probes in their side-by-side launch configuration. The adapater ring and the probes are wrapped in plastic to prevent contamination outside the clean room in the Astrotech Space Operation's payload processing facility in Titusville, Fla. The spacecraft will fly in tandem orbits around the moon for several months to measure its gravity field. GRAIL's primary science objectives are to determine the structure of the lunar interior, from crust to core, and to advance understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/KSC)

nasa jpl grail

Courtesy NASA/KSC

GRAIL Twins are Covered: At Space Launch Complex 17B on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, spacecraft technicians monitor the movement of a section of the clamshell-shaped Delta payload fairing as it encloses NASA's twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory spacecraft. The fairing will protect the spacecraft from the impact of aerodynamic pressure and heating during ascent and will be jettisoned once the spacecraft is outside the Earth's atmosphere. The image was taken on Aug. 23, 2011. (Courtesy NASA/KSC)

nasa jpl grail

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

GRAIL Flying in Formation (Artist's Concept): Using a precision formation-flying technique, the twin GRAIL spacecraft will map the moon's gravity field. The mission also will answer longstanding questions about Earth's moon, including the size of a possible inner core, and it should provide scientists with a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed. GRAIL is a part of NASA's Discovery Program. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)

nasa jpl grail

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Testing the GRAIL Twins: In this photo, taken April 29, 2011, technicians install lifting brackets prior to hoisting the 200-kilogram (440-pound) GRAIL-A spacecraft out of vacuum chamber after testing. Along with its twin GRAIL-B, the GRAIL-A spacecraft underwent an 11-day-long test at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver that simulated many of the flight activities they will perform during the mission, all while being exposed to the vacuum and extreme hot and cold that simulate space. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)

nasa jpl grail

Courtesy NASA/JPL

GRAIL's Twin Spacecraft fly in Tandem Around the Moon (Artist's Concept): The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission utilizes the technique of twin spacecraft flying in formation with a known altitude above the lunar surface and known separation distance to investigate the gravity field of the moon in unprecedented detail. The technique utilizes radio links between the two spacecraft as well as radio links to stations on Earth. The mission also will answer longstanding questions about Earth's moon, including a possible inner core, and provide scientists with a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed. GRAIL is a part of NASA's Discovery Program. (Courtesy NASA/JPL)

nasa jpl grail

Courtesy NASA/JPL

GRAIL's Twin Spacecraft -- Crust to Core (Artist's Concept): The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission utilizes the technique of twin spacecraft flying in formation with a known altitude above the lunar surface and known separation distance to investigate the gravity field of the moon in unprecedented detail. The technique utilizes radio links between the two spacecraft as well as radio links to stations on Earth. The mission also will answer longstanding questions about Earth's moon, including a possible inner core, and provide scientists with a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed. GRAIL is a part of NASA's Discovery Program. (Courtesy NASA/JPL)


Twin NASA probes began studying the moon's gravity late Tuesday night in effort to determine why the moon, Earth's only natural satellite, is shaped the way it is.

Managed locally at NASA's Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the three-month GRAIL mission (Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory), will begin analyzing data in one month.

Scientists want to know why the Pink Floyd side of the moon appears to be more mountainous than the side that always faces Earth. Despite numerous missions, they still don't have that answer.

Additionally, by mapping the lunar gravity field, investigators hope to support or discredit a theory that Earth at one time had two moons.

Researchers hope the $496 million mission -- which includes spacecraft development, science instruments, launch services, mission operations, science processing and relay support -- will net significant intel about what lies below the surface.

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