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Earth, an Ice Age on Mars.
Data gathered by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey spacecraft show evidence that the Red planet might be coming out of a recent ice age. Unlike on Earth, an ice age on Mars happens when the poles warm up and water vapour can escape to lower latitudes on the planet. scientists examined global patterns of landscape shapes and near-surface ice levels and found that a covering of ice and dust covered the surface to latitudes as low as 30 degrees - and it's currently on the retreat. They believe this ice age happened just 400,000 to 2.1 million years ago.
NASA has tested out rocket engines and parachutes that could help astronauts escape from the Orbital Space Plane (OSP) if there's a problem on the launch pad. The RS-88 engines, which would launch the astronauts away from the OSP, were fired 14 times for a total of 15 seconds of operation. The parachutes were tested at the US Army's Yuma Proving Grounds and verified that the four main and single drogue parachutes were working as expected. NASA has several Pad Abort Demonstration tests planned for the future, which should give astronauts a better chance of surviving if there's a problem with the spacecraft.
A Lockheed Martin Atlas III rocket carried a Navy communications satellite onto orbit on Thursday morning. The Atlas III lifted off at 0230 UTC (9:30 pm EST), and it placed the UHF Follow-On (UFO) satellite into an elliptical transfer orbit approximately 32 minutes later. The launch was delayed from Monday because a boltcutter on a liquid oxygen valve needed to be replaced. This was the 68th consecutive successful launch for the Atlas rocket.
Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne achieved an important milestone this week when it broke the sound barrier on a test flight. The suborbital prototype was carried to 14,600 metres by the White Knight carrier plane, and then released. It fired up its hybrid rocket engine and flew up to an altitude of 20,700 metres, breaking the sound barrier in the process. There was a slight problem with the plane's landing gear, which caused some minor damage on its landing; it's going to be easily repaired and there were no injuries. SpaceShipOne is considered the frontrunner to win the $10 million X-Prize.
NASA announced today that the Spitzer space telescope will be their new name for the Space Infrared telescope Facility, which was launched a few months ago. The space observatory was named after the late Dr. Lyman Spitzer Jr., who was an influential scientist and one of the first to propose building space-based telescopes. As part of the announcement, NASA also released a series of new images taken by the observatory, including a glowing stellar nursery, a dusty galaxy, and a disc of planet-forming debris.
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