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Erickson to Retire after Over 40 Years of Service
December 1, 2023
It is my pleasure to share information about new hires within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) on this blog, and it is also my bittersweet duty to share information about retirements. After 40 years with NASA, Kristen Erickson – Director of NASA Science Engagement & Partnerships Division — will retire at the end of 2023.
Kristen has made many contributions to the agency. Over the years she has mentored dozens of scientists and engineers to carry on NASA’s legacy of sharing the science with audiences of all ages. Kristen started her career at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in 1983. After witnessing the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy, she transferred to NASA Headquarters in Washington for Return to Flight and led the Space Operations Business office for nine years during the heyday of the Space Shuttle Program when eight missions per year were flown.
After graduating from Harvard’s Kennedy School on a NASA fellowship, she returned to work for at NASA Headquarters. She was chosen as the lead management executive for the new Office of Biological and Physical Research – which has since joined as a division in the Science Mission Directorate. She then moved to leading the new Office of Communications Planning under then Deputy Administrator, Shana Dale, where her role was to forge a more cohesive strategic public engagement environment. Her work there included leading the agency’s 50th anniversary activities, including “NASA at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival,” Future Forums to engage top-tier community leaders, and the Apollo 40th Anniversary events.
Kristen brought those goals of working for a more integrated approach to engaging with audiences to her new job with NASA science in 2009. There she created the Year of the Solar System campaign to transition awareness and excitement post-Space Shuttle to science events and missions. Comet encounters, Venus transiting of the Sun, science launches, and the historic landing of Curiosity Rover on Mars – all broke engagement records and helped show that working together on a common theme (and using data to drive decisions) was better than a siloed approach.
In addition to integrating messages and plans, Kristen worked hard to create integrated working groups as well. She helped create robust teams of diverse individuals, whose different skills and expertise combined together to pull off giant and complex projects.
One such project was NASA’s 2017 total solar eclipse communications efforts, which engaged over 88% of the US adult population and still holds agency records – though Kristen says she hopes those records will soon be broken with the upcoming April 8, 2024, eclipse broadcast.
When asked to say something about her career, Kristen said: “The power of the NASA team to do the impossible never fails to inspire, especially when all feel included in the process.”
I wish her luck in the next phase of her life and know that her legacy lives on with a robust team of science engagement experts – whose integrated skills will continue to bring NASA science to learners of all ages.
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By European Space Agency
In around six months, ESA’s Earth Cloud Aerosol and Radiation Explorer mission will take to the skies to advance our understanding of the interactions between clouds, aerosols and radiation in Earth’s atmosphere. But how will it do that exactly?
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NASA Scientific Balloons Ready for Flights Over Antarctica
A scientific balloon payload is being prepared for launch in McMurdo Station, Antarctica. NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility NASA kicks off its annual Antarctic Long Duration Balloon Campaign around Dec. 1, which includes three scientific balloon flights planned for launch from the long-duration balloon (LDB) Camp near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. NASA’s stadium-sized, zero-pressure balloons will support a total of five missions on the long-duration flights with one mission vying to break NASA’s heavy-lift, long-duration balloon flight record, which stands at 55 days, 1 hour, and 34 minutes.
“The annual Antarctic long-duration balloon campaign is the program’s flagship event for long-duration missions,” said Andrew Hamilton, acting chief of NASA’s Balloon Program Office (BPO). “The environment and stratospheric wind conditions provide a unique and valuable opportunity to fly missions in a near-space environment for days or weeks at a time. The BPO team is excited to provide support to all our missions this year.”
Headlining this year’s campaign is the Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory (GUSTO) mission. This Astrophysics mission is managed by NASA’s Explorers Program Office at Goddard Space Flight Center. The mission is led by principal investigator Christopher Walker from the University of Arizona with support from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. GUSTO will aim for 55-plus days in flight above the southernmost hemisphere’s skies to map a large part of the Milky Way galaxy, including the galactic center, and the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud. The GUSTO telescope is equipped with very sensitive detectors for carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen emission lines. Measuring these emission lines will give the GUSTO team deep insight into the full lifecycle of the interstellar medium, the cosmic material found between stars. GUSTO’s science observations will be performed from Antarctica to allow for enough observation time aloft, access to astronomical objects, and solar power provided by the austral summer in the polar region.
Additional missions set to fly during the Antarctic LDB campaign include:
Anti-Electron Sub-Orbital Payload (AESOP-Lite): The mission, led by a team from the University of Delaware and University of California Santa Cruz, will measure cosmic-ray electrons and positrons. These electron measurements will be compared to Voyager I and II, which reached interstellar space and have been measuring cosmic ray electrons since 2012 and 2018, respectively. AESOP-Lite will fly on a 60 million cubic feet balloon, a test flight set to qualify the balloon for reaching altitudes greater than 150,000 feet, which is higher than NASA’s current stratospheric inventory. Long durAtion evalUation solaR hand LAunch (LAURA): This engineering test flight, led by NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, will utilize solar panels to extend the science capability of the hand launch platform from a few days in flight to long-duration flights. Hand-launched balloons are about 40 times smaller in volume than the heavy-lift balloons and have limited time aloft due to the amount and weight of batteries used for powering the science and balloon instruments. Anihala (Antarctic Infrasound Hand Launch): This piggyback payload on the AESOP-Lite launch, a cooperative mission between the Swedish Institute of Space Physics and Sandia National Lab, aims to measure natural background sound in the stratosphere over a continent where human-generated sound is largely absent. Zero-pressure balloons feature open ducts that allow gas to escape and prevent an increase in pressure from inside the balloon. Gas expansion occurs as it heats during the balloon’s rise above Earth’s surface or by temperature increases from a rising Sun. These balloons, which typically have a shorter flight duration due to the loss of gas from the cycle of day to night, can only fly long-duration missions during the constant daylight of summer in polar regions, where the balloon stays in constant sunlight.
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia manages the agency’s scientific balloon flight program with 10 to 15 flights each year from launch sites worldwide. Peraton, which operates NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) in Texas, provides mission planning, engineering services, and field operations for NASA’s scientific balloon program. The CSBF team has launched more than 1,700 scientific balloons over some 40 years of operations. NASA’s balloons are fabricated by Aerostar. The NASA Scientific Balloon Program is funded by the NASA Headquarters Science Mission Directorate Astrophysics Division.
For mission tracking, click here. For more information on NASA’s Scientific Balloon Program, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/scientificballoons.
Last Updated Nov 27, 2023 Editor Olivia F. Littleton Contact Olivia F. Littletonolivia.email@example.com Location Wallops Flight Facility Related Terms
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In 2003, an unidentified flying object, comparable in size to a football field, reportedly hovered over Vandenberg Air Force Base, as disclosed during a House Oversight Committee's national security subcommittee hearing on UFOs. The hearing, held on Wednesday, delved into UFOs, now termed "unidentified anomalous phenomena" by the U.S. government.
The proceedings included whistleblower accounts that shed light on purported government UFO programs spanning multiple decades, according to retired major David Grusch. Former Navy fighter jet pilot Ryan Graves, founder of the non-profit Americans for Safe Aerospace, presented testimony regarding the alleged UFO sighting at Vandenberg.
During questioning by Representative Anna Paulina Luna, Graves recounted the 2003 incident: "In the 2003 timeframe, a sizable group of Boeing contractors near a launch facility at Vandenberg observed a large, 100-yard-sided red square approaching from the ocean. It hovered at low altitude over the launch facility for about 45 seconds before rapidly darting off over the mountains around 8:45 a.m."
Graves further described a subsequent event 24 hours later, involving additional sightings on the base, with some objects displaying aggressive behavior toward security guards. The information, according to Graves, came from a witness who approached him at Americans for Safe Aerospace, and this witness possessed documented police blotter and records from the 2003 incidents.
Testimonies from former Major Grusch and ex-U.S. intelligence officer David Fravor were also part of the hearing, although they refrained from answering certain questions. Representative Tim Burchett emphasized the importance of government transparency in addressing the issue, clarifying that the aim was to uncover facts without sensationalizing the subject.
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2 min read
New Patterns in Mars’s Clouds Revealed by Volunteers
Volunteers found that clouds in Mars’s atmosphere cluster at certain latitudes and altitudes. White patches in this pair of plots shows where Cloudspotting participants spotted the most clouds (or “arch peaks” in the project lingo). Red labels highlight a few interesting regions: 1) where high-altitude Carbon Dioxide-ice clouds form; 2) water-ice clouds that show a different pattern between day and night; and 3) clouds that form in a cold region over the poles. Credit: Adapted from Slipski et al. (in press), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2023.115777. The first journal article about clouds identified by participants of the Cloudspotting on Mars project has been accepted for publication and is now available online! The article, “The Cloudspotting on Mars citizen science project: Seasonal and spatial cloud distributions observed by the Mars Climate Sounder” will appear in a special issue of Icarus titled “MRO: 16 Years at Mars”. MRO is the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Mars Climate Sounder is an instrument on MRO.
The paper shows several cloud maps, illustrating times and regions where many clouds were identified. The maps reveal several key cloud populations identified in data from the volunteers. The cloud populations include high-altitude CO2-ice clouds, clouds that form near the poles, and dusty-season water-ice clouds. The structure of the clouds follows the pattern of “thermal tides” in the atmosphere, which are global-scale oscillations in temperature. Where temperatures are lower than average, clouds are more common.
The paper also explains the motivation for the project and describes its setup on Zooniverse. It digs into the details of how cloud identifications made by participants were turned into a cloud catalog using machine learning. “Thank you to all the Cloudspotting on Mars participants for driving this research forward!” said project PI Dr. Marek Slipski, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory.
There’s plenty more to study in this dataset and there are more images online to analyze: the second Mars Year of data is only about 50% done. The data from the second Mars year will help reveal how changing dust conditions affect cloud formation. If you’d like to join the search for clouds in the Martian atmosphere, head to https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/marek-slipski/cloudspotting-on-mars.
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Last Updated Nov 01, 2023 Related Terms
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