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Gravity Probe B begins its scientific mission.
The crew of Expedition 9, Gennady Padalka and Mike Fincke, completed their fourth and final walk outside the International Space Station on Friday. The spacewalkers spent a total of 5 hours and 21 minutes in space installing equipment to prepare for the arrival of the new European cargo ship next year, including three communication antennas. Three more antennas will be installed by the next station crew, and Expedition 11 will upgrade equipment inside the Zvezda module to prepare for the new cargo ships as well.
After four months in orbit, NASA's Gravity Probe B is finally ready to begin its scientific mission - to find out if two predictions by Einstein about relativity are correct. It wasn't easy, though. Controllers expected to get the spacecraft orienting on its target star within a few days, but it took weeks because sunlight reflecting off of dust particles confused its tracking system. Engineers also had to tweak the spacecraft's software to compensate for cosmic rays that flashed into its telescope. Everything's working fine now, and in a year or so, we should have some answers.
The European Space Agency's Envisat Earth has a whole suite of tools to analyze Hurricane Frances with, and that's just what it's done. The Earth observation satellite has both optical and radar instruments, and it can observe high-atmosphere cloud structure in both the visible and Infrared spectrum, and use radar backscatter to look at the roughness of the water underneath to calculate wind speeds. Frances is expected to make landfall in Florida on Saturday and cause a significant amount of damage.
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