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    • By NASA
      4 Min Read NASA Celebrates 20 Years of Earth-Observing Aura Satellite
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      “The Aura mission has been nothing short of transformative for scientific research and applied sciences,” said Bryan Duncan, project scientist for NASA’s Aura satellite mission. “The mission’s data have given scientists and applied scientists an unparalleled view of air pollution around the world.”
      Aura has revealed the effects of industrialization, environmental regulations, wildfires, the COVID-19 pandemic, and many other aspects of the air we breathe. The satellite paved the way for recent missions to study the atmosphere and its inner workings, including PACE and TEMPO. As the Aura mission team celebrates its launch anniversary of July 15, 2004, here are a few of the many highlights from the last 20 years.
      Aura Eyes Ozone Hole over Antarctica
      The first publicly released image from the Aura mission (autumn 2004) showed dramatically depleted levels of ozone in the stratosphere over Antarctica.
      NASA Study: First Direct Proof of Ozone Hole Recovery Due to Chemicals Ban
      In a 2018 study, scientists showed for the first time through direct satellite observations that levels of chlorine in the atmosphere declined, resulting in less ozone depletion. Because of an international ban on chlorine-containing manmade chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons, there was about 20% less ozone depletion during the Antarctic winter in 2016 than there was in 2005. 
      New NASA Satellite Maps Show Human Fingerprint on Global Air Quality
      This global map shows the concentration of nitrogen dioxide in the troposphere as detected by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument aboard the Aura satellite, averaged over 2014. NASA Using high-resolution global maps of air quality indicators made with data from the Aura satellite, NASA scientists tracked air pollution trends between 2005 and 2015 in various regions and 195 cities around the globe. The study found that the United States, Europe, and Japan saw improved air quality due to emission control regulations, while China, India, and the Middle East, with their fast-growing economies and expanding industry, saw more air pollution.
      How NASA is Helping the World Breathe More Easily
      Many of NASA’s Earth-observing satellites, including Aura, can see what the human eye can’t — including potentially harmful pollutants lingering in the air we breathe. These satellites help us measure and track air pollution as it moves around the globe and have contributed significantly to a decades-long quest for cleaner air. For example, data from Aura’s Ozone Monitoring Instrument helped the EPA and NASA identify a drop in nitrogen dioxide that researchers cited as evidence of the success of the Clean Air Act.
      Air Quality: A Tale of Three Cities
      Air quality in Beijing, Los Angeles, and Atlanta — like air quality across the globe — is dynamic. This video describes how scientists use instruments like Aura’s Ozone Monitoring Instrument to study questions including what causes ozone, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide emissions. It also explores why reductions in volatile organic carbon pollution worked to reduce ground-level ozone in Los Angeles, but not in Atlanta.
      Seeing the COVID-19 Pandemic from Space
      Economic and social shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic led to noticeable changes in Earth’s environment, at least in the short term. NASA researchers used satellite and ground-based observations – including nitrogen dioxide levels from Ozone Monitoring Instrument – to track these impacts on our air, land, water, and climate. 
      A Satellite’s View of Ship Pollution
      With natural-color satellite imagery of the atmosphere over the ocean, scientists have observed “ship tracks” — bright, linear trails amidst the cloud layers that are created by particles and gases from ships. Scientists used Ozone Monitoring Instrument data to detect the almost invisible tracks of nitrogen dioxide along several shipping routes from 2005 to 2012.
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      Volcanic sulfur dioxide emissions from Indonesia’s many volcanoes are shown in shades of orange. The data was produced from observations from NASA’s Aura satellite. With the Ozone Monitoring Instrument data, researchers compiled emissions data from 2005 to 2015 create the first global inventory for volcanic sulfur dioxide emissions. The data set helped refine climate and atmospheric chemistry models and provided more insight into human and environmental health risks.
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      This map shows the size and shape of the ozone hole over the South Pole on Sept. 21, 2023, the day of its maximum extent that year, as calculated by the NASA Ozone Watch team. Moderate ozone losses (orange) are visible amid widespread areas of more potent ozone losses (red). By Erica McNamee and Kate Ramsayer
      NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
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      Last Updated Jul 16, 2024 Editor Erica McNamee Contact Erica McNamee erica.s.mcnamee@nasa.gov Location Goddard Space Flight Center Related Terms
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    • By European Space Agency
      ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) will return to Earth on 19–20 August, with flight controllers guiding the spacecraft first past the Moon and then past Earth itself. This ‘braking’ manoeuvre will take Juice on a shortcut to Jupiter via Venus.
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    • By European Space Agency
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    • By NASA
      A few days before they left Skylab on Feb. 8, 1974, the final crew to occupy the station raised its altitude, hoping to keep it in orbit until a future space shuttle could revisit it. But higher than predicted solar activity caused the Earth’s atmosphere to expand, increasing drag on the large vehicle, causing its orbit to decay faster than expected. In 1978, controllers reactivated the station and changed its attitude, hoping to keep it in orbit as long as possible by reducing atmospheric drag. In the meantime, delays in the space shuttle’s development eventually made it impossible for a shuttle to revisit Skylab before it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. On July 11, 1979, Skylab reentered, with debris landing over the Indian Ocean and Australia. Lessons learned from deorbiting large spacecraft like Skylab and others will inform the eventual deorbiting of the International Space Station.

      Left: Skylab as it appeared to the final crew upon its departure. Middle: Illustration of a proposed Skylab boost mission by the space shuttle. Right: A more whimsical depiction of the Skylab reboost by the space shuttle, as drawn by a cartoonist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
      When the Skylab 4 astronauts departed the station on Feb. 8, 1974, they left it in a 269-by-283-mile orbit. Just one day after the crew left the station, operators in the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston ran a few final systems checks, oriented Skylab in a gravity-gradient attitude – meaning the heavier workshop faced the Earth – vented its atmosphere, and turned off its power. In this attitude, and based on predictions of the Sun’s activity in the upcoming solar cycle that would increase atmospheric drag and reduce Skylab’s altitude, scientists estimated that the station would remain in orbit until March 1983. However, the solar cycle intensified into the second most active one in a century and atmospheric perturbations shifted Skylab out of the gravity-gradient attitude, increasing its drag. By 1977, revised estimates projected Skylab’s reentry occurring as early as mid-1979. Although the space shuttle had yet to fly, NASA devised a plan for astronauts on one of its early missions to attach a rocket stage to Skylab and use it to either boost the station into a higher storage orbit or deorbit it in a controlled fashion into the Pacific Ocean. At 169,000 pounds, Skylab represented the heaviest spacecraft to reenter up to that time, and engineers believed that some of its components would survive the entry. Keeping the debris away from populated areas remained a priority.

      Left: Plot of Skylab’s altitude from launch until reentry. Right: Illustration of the five ground stations used during the reactivation and tracking of Skylab.
      To ensure that Skylab stayed aloft long enough for this shuttle mission to reach it, NASA needed to reactivate it. Because Skylab had no ability to reboost itself, its rate of decay could only be slightly controlled by changing the station’s attitude. Between March and June 1978, using the limited communications afforded by five ground stations, a small team of controllers methodically reactivated Skylab after a more than four-year passive period. Remarkably, the station’s systems, including its all-important batteries, had survived the intervening period in good condition. When controllers fully reactivated Skylab on June 11, 1978, its altitude had decreased to 250 miles, and to prolong its life NASA decided to keep the station activated to control its attitude. Using its Thruster Attitude Control System, operators commanded Skylab into an End On Velocity Vector (EOVV) minimum drag attitude, with its forward end pointing in the direction of flight. Skylab remained in the EOVV attitude until Jan. 25, 1979, and engineers estimated that this extended the station’s orbital life by 3.5 months. By late 1978, with slips in the shuttle schedule, saving Skylab seemed no longer feasible. In a Dec. 19, 1978, press conference, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Transportation Systems John F. Yardley announced the cancellation of the shuttle reboost mission and the end of efforts to control Skylab’s attitude. Yardley emphasized the low likelihood of an uncontrolled Skylab reentry resulting in debris hitting populated areas, citing the example of the spent second stage of the Saturn V rocket that launched Skylab. That empty stage, larger in size although at 83,000 pounds less massive than Skylab, reentered out of control on Jan. 11, 1975, falling harmlessly into the Atlantic Ocean, about 1,000 miles west of Gibraltar.

      Left: Illustration of Skylab in the End On Velocity Vector minimum drag attitude. Middle: Cartoon of “Skylab is falling” fever. Image credit: courtesy Chicago Tribune. Right: Ground track of Skylab’s final orbit and the debris footprint in the Indian Ocean and Australia.
      On Jan. 25, 1979, controllers maneuvered Skylab from EOVV to solar inertial attitude, the orientation it maintained during its operational life, to ensure its solar arrays remained pointed at the Sun to keep the station’s batteries charged. Studies indicated that as Skylab descended below 161 miles, aerodynamic torques would make it difficult to maintain the solar inertial attitude. On June 20, with Skylab at 163 miles, controllers commanded it into a high-drag Torque Equilibrium Attitude (TEA). This gave controllers the ability to select the best orbit to execute the final reentry, one that overflew mostly water to minimize any potential harm to people and property. Orbit 34,981 on July 11 met those criteria. On that orbit, after Skylab passed over North America, it flew southeast over the Atlantic Ocean, round the southern tip of Africa, then northeast across the Indian Ocean before passing over the next major landmass, mainly sparsely populated areas of Australia. On the planned day of reentry, controllers commanded Skylab into a slow tumble at an altitude of 93 miles to better aim the entry point to the east of the southern tip of Africa, causing the breakup over the Indian Ocean. After this point, the ground no longer controlled the station. With a debris footprint possibly 3,500 miles long, some debris landing in Australia remained a possibility.

      Left: Skylab’s entry path over Western Australia, showing sites that recovered debris from the station. Middle and right: The museum in Esperance, Western Australia, displays an oxygen tank and a titanium tank from Skylab. Image credits: courtesy Ben Cooper.

      Left: Operators in Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston during the Skylab reentry. Right: Managers and flight controllers monitor Skylab’s reentry.
      Tracking at the Bermuda station indicated Skylab’s large solar array still attached to the workshop. Controllers at Ascension Island in the South Atlantic made contact with Skylab as it flew 66 miles overhead, its large solar array beginning to detach from the workshop, itself already heating from the reentry. Once the disintegrating station passed out of range of Ascension, it continued its reentry unmonitored. Skylab finally broke apart at an altitude of 10 miles, slightly lower than expected, moving the impact footprint further east than planned. Pieces of Skylab falling on Western Australia created sonic booms heard by the inhabitants of the few towns in the Outback. The actual documented debris footprint stretched 2,450 miles. A museum in Esperance houses some of the recovered debris. Skylab Flight Director Charles S. Harlan said in a news conference after the event, “The surprise is over. No more suspense. Skylab is on the planet Earth.”

      Left: The Salyut 7-Kosmos 1686 complex photographed by the last departing crew. Middle: Reentry trajectory of the Salyut 7-Kosmos 1686 complex. Image credit: courtesy H. Klinkrad. Right: A piece of Salyut 7 recovered in Argentina. Image credit: courtesy Carlos Zelayeta.
      In contrast to the partially controlled Skylab entry, the Salyut 7-Kosmos 1686 complex made an uncontrolled reentry over Argentina on Feb. 7, 1991. At 88,491 pounds, the complex had about half the mass of Skylab. Although controllers had sent all previous Salyut stations on controlled reentries into the Pacific Ocean, they lost communications with Salyut 7 more than two years before its reentry. A crew last occupied the Salyut 7-Kosmos 1686 complex in June 1986. In August 1986, engines on the Kosmos 1686 module raised the complex’s orbit by 84 miles to 295 miles, with an anticipated reentry in 1994. Like Skylab, controllers considered a possible retrieval of Salyut 7 by a Buran space shuttle before that program’s cancellation. The last communications with Salyut 7 occurred in December 1989. Again, like Skylab, higher than anticipated solar activity in the late 1980s accelerated its descent. The station initially entered a gravity gradient attitude with the heavier Kosmos 1686 facing the Earth, but that attitude degraded significantly as the station encountered denser atmosphere in January 1991. And although said to be uncontrollable, apparently on Feb. 5, ground teams commanded it into a head on attitude to reduce drag and direct entry to an orbit that overflew less populated areas. Fuel depletion did not allow completion of the maneuver and atmospheric drag torqued the vehicle away from this attitude. Although planned for reentry over the south Pacific Ocean, Salyut 7 overshot the target and came down over Argentina, with a few fragments recovered.

      Left: The Mir complex in 1998. Middle: The March 2001 reentry of Mir photographed from Fiji. Right: The reentry trajectory of Mir in March 2001.
      Lessons learned from the earlier reentries of large space stations led controllers to devise a three-stage process to deorbit the Mir space station in a controlled fashion into the Pacific Ocean in March 2001. In the first stage, controllers allowed orbital drag to bring the 285,940-pound station, at the time the heaviest object to reenter, down to an average altitude of 140 miles. For the second stage, on March 23, the docked Progress M1-5 fired its engines twice to lower Mir’s orbit to 103 by 137 miles. Two orbits later, the Progress fired its engines for 22 minutes to bring Mir out of orbit. It burned up on reentry over the South Pacific Ocean, with observers in Nadi, Fiji, watching its final moments.

      The International Space Station, the largest spacecraft in orbit.
      In anticipation of the eventual controlled disposal of the International Space Station, on June 26, 2024, NASA selected SpaceX to develop and deliver the U.S. Deorbit Vehicle. The vehicle will safely deorbit the space station, the largest and, at over 900,000 pounds, by far the heaviest spacecraft in orbit, after the end of its operational life, currently expected in 2030. Past experiences can provide useful lessons learned.
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    • By NASA
      Christy Hansen’s journey with NASA spans more than two decades and is marked by roles that have shaped her into a leader in space exploration. Now serving on a six-month rotation as the deputy manager for NASA’s CLDP (Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program) at Johnson Space Center in Houston, she brings 25 years of human spaceflight experience and a global perspective on Earth sciences to her role. 

      Prior to her rotation, she served as the Artemis deputy mission manager in the Moon to Mars Program Office at NASA Headquarters in Washington, where she supported Artemis missions and facilitated the integration of science and utilization activities into the mission architecture and planning.  

      Hansen now leverages her vast expertise to advance NASA’s commercial space initiatives and support the agency’s long-term goals. 
      Christy Hansen serves a six-month rotation as deputy manager for NASA’s Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program at Johnson Space Center in Houston. NASA/Bill Hrybyk She is no stranger to Johnson. From 1999 to 2010, Hansen worked as an operations engineer in Johnson’s Flight Operations Directorate, focusing on astronaut training and flight control. She developed procedures, planned spacewalks, and trained astronauts to work in space suits with specialty tools on Space Shuttle, International Space Station, and Hubble Space Telescope missions. She was instrumental in supporting real-time operations as a flight controller for space station assembly missions and the final mission to service Hubble in 2009. 

      In 2010, Hansen became the operations manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland for the Robotic Refueling Mission, a technology demonstration payload that flew to the orbiting laboratory on STS-135. By 2012 she transitioned to airborne science project management at Goddard, leading multiple missions including Operation IceBridge’s first deployment to Antarctica. Her work focused on studying changes in Earth’s ice sheets and sea ice in Greenland and Antarctica, where she collaborated with scientists, engineers, and managers to design aircraft-based Earth science missions. 
      Christy Hansen at Antarctica’s geographic south pole in 2012. Faced with her husband’s diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2014, Hansen drew on her vast experience and passion for engineering to solve a deeply personal issue on the ground. Combining her technical expertise and pioneering spirit, she led an effort to bring eye-gaze technology to Goddard, enabling individuals with neurodegenerative disabilities to continue working without the use of their hands or voice. 

      Her husband, Dave Parker, an engineer at Goddard who worked on all hubble servicing missions and tech demo payloads on the space station, was determined to keep working even when he could not use his arms, legs, hands, or voice. Together, they researched and pushed for this capability, ensuring that the technology could help many others in similar situations. 

      After collaborating with Goddard information technology and the commercial-off-the-shelf Tobi eye gaze company, they managed to implement the system within a year. Parker worked for a year and a half using this technology and supported the real-time installation of space station hardware he helped design from his hospital bed before passing away in March 2021.  

      Hansen continues to work with NASA’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity to make this a standard accommodation option. 

      In her new role, she aims to support the development of an innovative acquisition strategy that fosters a robust commercial low Earth orbit environment. “I look forward to working with the CLDP team and our stakeholders to develop a creative and smart approach that enables a commercially led and operated low Earth orbit destination,” she said. “This includes fostering an open dialogue across disciplines, including critical tech authorities, programs, our industry and international partners, and Johnson and headquarters leadership. We can only go great places together.” 

      Her background in human spaceflight and science missions has given her a unique perspective. “I truly enjoy building partnerships and working across broad teams to achieve amazing goals,” she said. “This diversity of experience gave me an understanding of the critical goals, priorities, and culture of our key NASA stakeholders – and how we must integrate and work together to achieve the NASA mission.” 

      Through her career, she has learned to be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. “Be curious and proactively create space for all voices to be heard; there is more than one way to do things, and you must be open and receptive to different communication styles and experiences,” she said. “I lean on my broad experiences wherever I go.” 
      Christy Hansen at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland during her time as the project manager for NASA’s Operation IceBridge. NASA/Bill Hrybyk For young girls interested in a career in space, her advice is clear: “Go, go, go! You will face challenges and hurdles, but human spaceflight and NASA need your ideas, experiences, and energy. You uniquely bring momentum in a way others cannot – so don’t compare yourself to others. Study and do what you love – as that will get you through the hard times.” 

      Looking ahead, she is eager to help make space accessible and affordable to all, enabling a broader and diverse field of future flyers. “These destinations will enable critical science, human research, and tech development – important steppingstones to help us achieve our goals of landing on the Moon again and ultimately going to Mars,” she said. “No matter how dynamic and challenging our work is, my passion for human spaceflight and the NASA mission is inherently part of me.” 

      The agency’s commercial strategy for low Earth orbit will provide the government with reliable and safe services at a lower cost and enable the agency to focus on Artemis missions to the Moon in preparation for Mars while also continuing to use low Earth orbit as a training and proving ground for those deep space missions. 

      Learn more about NASA’s commercial space strategy at: 
      https://www.nasa.gov/humans-in-space/commercial-space/
      View the full article
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