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    • By NASA
      This article tells the story of one small American flag fortunate enough to be singled out from a group of one thousand flags just like it and embark on an incredible journey. The other 999 flags likely ended up as gifts, but this one flag had a loftier fate. It wasn’t the first American flag to ride on a crewed spacecraft into space, that one flew aboard Freedom 7 with Alan B. Shepard on May 5, 1961. Or the most famous flag that went into space, the Stars and Stripes planted on the Moon by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin on July 20, 1969, holds that honor. Other American flags have even flown on spacecraft not just to other planets but out of the solar system entirely. And tens of thousands of other small flags have thundered into space aboard space shuttles and returned to Earth for distribution around the world. So what makes this one small flag, known as the Legacy Flag, so special?

      Left: Launch of space shuttle Columbia on the STS-1 mission, April 12, 1981. Right: Landing of Columbia, April 14, 1981.
      Space shuttle Columbia first lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on April 12, 1981, to usher in a new era of reusable crewed space transportation. It carried not only its two pilots, John W. Young and Robert L. Crippen, but also the Official Flight Kit (OFK), stowed away in the lockers in the shuttle’s middeck, along with food, clothing and other supplies. Many of the OFK items, including 1,000 8-by-12-inch American flags, were destined for distribution after the mission to commemorate its historic significance. Once they returned to Earth and workers removed them from the shuttle’s middeck, NASA distributed many of the flags to various people and organizations. But some remained and ended up in storage at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. As the shuttle program progressed over the next 30 years, the number of flags in storage dwindled as additional recipients were identified. Finally, in 2011 it was time for the last shuttle mission, STS-135, and NASA felt it a fitting tribute to refly one of the flags from STS-1 on the final flight. Since STS-135 delivered supplies to the International Space Station, the flag would remain on board until the next time an American spacecraft carrying American astronauts launched from American soil arrived at the station. At the time, no one knew exactly how long that would take.

      Left: Launch of STS-135, July 8, 2011. Right: The crew of STS-135 pose with the Legacy Flag on the flight deck of Atlantis.
      On July 8, 2011, space shuttle Atlantis lifted off to begin STS-135, the final mission of the program with Christopher J. Ferguson, Douglas G. Hurley, Sandra H. Magnus, and Rex J. Walheim aboard, and two days later they docked with the station. The six international crewmembers of Expedition 28 welcomed them aboard. The long-term plan for the little flag was publicly revealed during a live TV session between the crew and President Barack H. Obama. “I also understand that Atlantis brought a unique American flag up to the station,” said President Obama. Shuttle Commander Ferguson explained that before their departure they would present the flag to the crew aboard the station, where “it will hopefully maintain a position of honor until the next vehicle launched from U.S. soil brings U.S. astronauts up to dock with the space station.”

      Left: The crews of STS-135 and Expedition 28 pose with the Legacy Flag. Right: The crews of STS-135 and Expedition 28 place the Legacy Flag on the hatch of the Harmony module.
      On July 18, near the end of the docked phase of STS-135, during a televised ceremony the crews placed the flag, flanked by the patches of the first and last space shuttle missions, on the forward hatch of the Harmony module, from where Atlantis would soon depart and where the next American crewed spacecraft would dock. After the shuttle and its crew left, the flag remained on the hatch for a while, but as time passed, onboard crews needed to use that area for stowage and so they moved it to a nearby wall for safekeeping. In 2015, to further safeguard the flag against damage or loss, Mission Control asked the onboard crew to place it in a stowage bag. As sometimes happens with stowage bags, this one moved around and ended up in a different module of the station. Three years later, during a general inventory of stowage bags, the crew found the flag and placed in a Ziploc bag with the words “Flown on STS-1 & STS-135. Only to be removed by crew launching from KSC” attached.

      Left: The Legacy Flag, placed between the STS-1 and STS-135 patches on the Harmony module’s forward hatch as Atlantis prepared to depart. Middle: In May 2014, during Expedition 40, astronauts mounted the flag on a wall near the Harmony module’s hatch to allow that area to be used for stowage. Right: The Legacy Flag in July 2018 during Expedition 56, placed in a Ziploc bag for safety.
      On May 30, 2020, a Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from KSC’s Launch Pad 39A, the same pad used for STS-1 and STS-135, carrying SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on its Demo 2 mission. Aboard were Doug Hurley, who flew aboard the last shuttle mission, and Robert L. Behnken, the first American astronauts launched aboard an American spacecraft from American soil since STS-135. Once in orbit, Hurley and Behnken announced that they had christened their spacecraft Endeavour. The next day, Endeavour docked with the station, and Hurley and Behnken came aboard, welcomed by Expedition 63 Commander NASA astronaut Christopher J. Cassidy and Flight Engineers Anatoli A. Ivanishin and Ivan V.  Vagner representing Roscosmos. Mounted on the open hatch as they floated aboard the station was our intrepid little flag, in space for nine years, and 39 years after making its first trip into space. After their arrival, Cassidy, Hurley and Behnken held a press conference and proudly displayed the flag and how it stood as a symbol of the return of American launch capability. The flag’s nine-year journey came to end when Hurley and Behnken brought it back to Earth on Aug. 2, 2020. The flag first went on display at SpaceX’s facility in Hawthorne, California, then toured the country for a few months, making its final public appearance at the World Petroleum Congress in Houston in December 2021. Currently in storage at JSC, the Legacy Flag will fly again, possibly on even more distant journeys.

      Left: The Harmony module’s forward hatch bearing the Legacy Flag, opened to welcome the SpaceX Demo 2 crew. Middle: NASA astronauts Robert L. Behnken, left, Douglas G. Hurley (holding the Legacy Flag), and Christopher J. Cassidy during a press conference. Right: The Legacy Flag in its display case after its return to Earth.
      During its time on the space station, the Legacy Flag saw 100 visitors from many nationalities come and go, some of them more than once. Most stayed six months, some stayed longer, up to almost one year. A few made short visits of about a week. During all that time, the space station remained a busy beehive of activity, with hundreds of experiments conducted by the international crews. Many astronauts ventured outside, to repair equipment, place new experiments out, or bring older ones back inside. And in that time, the flag traveled more than 1.3 billion miles. 
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    • By NASA
      4 Min Read Flag Day – One Small Flag’s Incredible Journey
      This article is for students grades 5-8.
      This story tells the tale of one small American flag fortunate enough to embark on an incredible journey. It wasn’t the first flag to ride into space, or the most famous flag that went into space — that honor probably goes to the Stars and Stripes planted on the Moon by the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969. So what makes this one little flag so special? Let’s let the flag tell its own story.
      Here I am launching into space aboard the space shuttle Columbia for the first time in 1981.Credits: NASA Workers packed me away with many other small flags like me – there must have been a thousand of us – just 8-by-12-inch Stars and Stripes, in a locker aboard space shuttle Columbia. We took off on STS-1, the shuttle’s very first mission in 1981, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Although we couldn’t see anything, we could feel the vibrations and noises of the liftoff, the ride a bit rough for the first two minutes, then much smoother until we reached space. Once in orbit, we could hear the two astronauts working as they tested the new spaceship.
      And two days later, I’m back on Earth!Credits: NASA Then after just two days, we came home, making a smooth landing in California. Thirty years later, someone had the idea to send me into space again, this time on the very last space shuttle mission, STS-135. And this time I would be making a much longer trip, since I would be left aboard the International Space Station.
      Here I am starting my second trip into space in 2011, this time aboard the space shuttle Atlantis.Credits: NASA So I roared off into space again in 2011, this time aboard space shuttle Atlantis. I had four friends to keep me company, Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus, and Rex Walheim. They actually took me out of my locker, and we all took pictures together. That made me feel really special.
      Here I am posing with my friends Doug, Chris, Sandy, and Rex aboard Atlantis.Credits: NASA But there was more in store for me: Two days after our launch we arrived at the space station; wow, what a huge place this was! I met even more astronauts here, from America, Russia, and Japan! President Barack Obama called to congratulate the crews, and I heard him talking about me and what a unique American flag I was. I would have a position of honor aboard the station until the next team of Americans arrived aboard an American spacecraft launched from American soil. I couldn’t have been more proud! 
      Here I am with all 10 crewmembers aboard the station, from America, Russia, and Japan.Credits: NASA And here I am, taking my position of honor on the space station’s hatch.Credits :NASA The astronauts made a TV show and I was the star. They placed me in my position of honor on the forward hatch of the space station, between the patches of the first and last space shuttle missions. I stayed on the hatch for a while, but as no spacecraft arrived through that portal for a few years, the crews needed the space to store their stuff.
      Here I am between the STS-1 and STS-135 patches on the station’s forward hatch.Credits: NASA Worried I might be injured, they slipped me into a plastic cover and placed me on a wall near the hatch. People grew concerned about me and thought it would be good to put me away in storage for safekeeping, at least temporarily, so that’s what happened. And while I waited, the bag I was in got moved around, and after a few years, people weren’t really sure where I was. But luckily, they found me and placed me in a safer bag and wrote these words, “Flown on STS-1 & STS-135. Only to be removed by crew launching from KSC,” to let everyone know I was that special flag.
      Later I was moved to a nearby wall.Credits: NASA Later still, placed in a Ziploc bag for safety, with the words to let everyone know I was that special flag.Credits: NASA Two more years went by, and I began to hear rumblings that I might be needed again. My newest friend on the space station, Chris Cassidy, cleared out the area around the hatch. Was I about to resume my position of honor? Excitement was building, and Chris and his two crewmates, Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner prepared the station for its newest arrivals. Apparently two Americans had launched aboard an American spacecraft from American soil, the first time in nine years.
      Here I am welcoming the SpaceX Demo 2 crew.Credits: NASA Doug is holding me up to the camera during a press conference.Credits: NASA My long wait was over! Chris placed me on the now-open hatch, and first Bob Behnken and then Doug Hurley, my old friend from Atlantis, floated inside the station! I was there to welcome them aboard! Once again, I starred in another TV show. After returning to Earth with Doug and Bob – I’m told I had traveled 1.3 billion miles – I went on display in several places. And now I hear rumblings of another possibly more distant journey awaiting me. We’ll just have to see.
      Here I am all dressed up for public display after my return to Earth.Credits: NASA Share
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    • By NASA
      2 min read
      Hubble Views the Lights of a Galactic Bar
      This Hubble Space Telescope image reveals details in the barred spiral galaxy NGC 4731. ESA/Hubble & NASA, D. Thilker This new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the broad and sweeping spiral galaxy NGC 4731. It lies in the constellation Virgo and is located 43 million light-years from Earth. This highly detailed image uses data collected from six different filters. The abundance of color illustrates the galaxy’s billowing clouds of gas, dark dust bands, bright pink star-forming regions and, most obviously, the long, glowing bar with trailing arms.
      Barred spiral galaxies outnumber both regular spirals and elliptical galaxies put together, numbering around 60% of all galaxies. The visible bar structure is a result of orbits of stars and gas in the galaxy lining up, forming a dense region that individual stars move in and out of over time. This is the same process that maintains a galaxy’s spiral arms, but it is somewhat more mysterious for bars: spiral galaxies seem to form bars in their centers as they mature, which helps explain the large number of bars we see today, but they can also lose them if the accumulated mass along the bar grows unstable. The orbital patterns and the gravitational interactions within a galaxy that sustain the bar also transport matter and energy into it, fueling star formation. Indeed, the observing program studying NGC 4731 seeks to investigate this flow of matter in galaxies.
      Beyond the bar, the spiral arms of NGC 4731 stretch out far past the confines of this close-in Hubble view. Astronomers think the galaxy’s elongated arms are the result of gravitational interactions with other, nearby galaxies in the Virgo cluster.
      Text Credit: European Space Agency (ESA)

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      Last Updated May 30, 2024 Editor Andrea Gianopoulos Location NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Related Terms
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    • By NASA
      This majestic image of the dazzling green lights of the aurora borealis was captured on March 17, 2015, around 5:30 a.m. EDT in Donnelly Creek, Alaska.
      The aurora borealis and aurora australis, often called the northern lights and southern lights, are common occurrences at high northern and southern latitudes, less frequent at mid-latitudes, and seldom seen near the equator.
      These colorful ribbons of light are the visible manifestation of the solar wind – the flow of charged particles from the Sun – interacting with the Earth’s magnetosphere. Strong geomagnetic storms stimulate our atmosphere and light up the night sky, creating auroras.
      See how you can help track auroras around the world with the Aurorasaurus project.
      Image Credit: Sebastian Saarloos
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    • By NASA
      4 min read
      Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
      For 30 total minutes in February, NASA lit a beacon on the Moon – successfully testing a sophisticated positioning system that will make it safer for Artemis-era explorers to visit and establish a permanent human presence on the lunar surface.
      The Lunar Node 1 demonstrator, or LN-1, is an autonomous navigation system intended to provide a real-time, point-to-point communications network on the Moon. The system – tested during Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 mission as part of NASA’s CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) initiative – could link orbiters, landers, and even individual astronauts on the surface, digitally verifying each explorer’s position relative to other networked spacecraft, ground stations, or rovers on the move.
      Evan Anzalone, at lower left, principal investigator for the Lunar Node-1 demonstrator payload, monitors the LN-1 mission from the Lunar Utilization Control Area in the Huntsville Operations Support Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. LN-1 successfully tested an autonomous navigation and geo-positioning system that will make Artemis-era lunar explorers safer as they work to establish a permanent human presence on the lunar surface. That system would be a marked improvement over conventional, Earth-based radio data relays, NASA researchers said – even more so compared to Apollo-era astronauts trying to “eyeball” distance and direction on the vast, mostly grey lunar surface.
      “We’ve lit a temporary beacon on the lunar shore,” said Evan Anzalone, LN-1 principal investigator at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “Now, we seek to deliver a sustainable local network – a series of lighthouses that point the way for spacecraft and ground crews to safely, confidently spread out and explore.”
      The experiment was launched Feb. 15 as a payload on the IM-1 mission. The Nova-C lander, named Odysseus, successfully touched down Feb. 22 near Malapert A, a lunar impact crater near the Moon’s South Pole region, executing the first American commercial uncrewed landing on the Moon. The lander spent its subsequent days on the surface conducting six science and technology demonstrations, among them LN-1, before it officially powered down on Feb. 29.
      “This feat from Intuitive Machines, SpaceX, and NASA demonstrates the promise of American leadership in space and the power of commercial partnerships under NASA’s CLPS initiative,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement after the landing. “Further, this success opens the door for new voyages under Artemis to send astronauts to the Moon, then on to Mars.” 
      During IM-1’s translunar journey, the Marshall team conducted daily tests of the LN-1 beacon. The original plan was for the payload to transmit its beacon around the clock upon landing. NASA’s Deep Space Network, the international giant radio antenna array, would have received that signal for, on average, 10 hours daily.
      Instead, due to the lander’s touchdown orientation, LN-1 conducted two 15-minute transmissions from the surface. DSN assets successfully locked on the signal, feeding telemetry, navigation measurements, and other data to researchers at Marshall, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky. The team continues to evaluate the data.
      LN-1 even provided critical backup to IM-1’s onboard navigation system, noted Dr. Susan Lederer, CLPS project scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The LN-1 team “really stepped up to the task,” she said, by relaying spacecraft positioning data during translunar flight to NASA’s Deep Space Network satellites at the Goldstone and Madrid Deep Space Communications Complexes in Fort Irwin, California, and Robledo de Chavela, Spain, respectively.
      Taken on Tuesday, Feb. 27, Odysseus captured an image using its narrow-field-of-view camera.Intuitive Machines In time, navigation aids such as Lunar Node-1 could be used to augment navigation and communication relays and surface nodes, providing increased robustness and capability to a variety of users in orbit and on the surface.
      As the lunar infrastructure expands, Anzalone envisions LN-1 evolving into something akin to a network that monitors and maintains a busy metropolitan subway system, tracking every “train” in real time, and operating as one part of a larger, LunaNet-compatible architecture, augmenting other NASA and international investments, including the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Lunar Navigation Satellite System.
      And the technology promises even greater value to NASA’s Moon to Mars efforts, he said. LN-1 may improve data delivery to lunar explorers by just a matter of seconds over conventional relays – but real-time navigation and positioning becomes much more vital on Mars, where transmission delays from Earth can take up to 20 minutes.
      “That’s a very long time to wait for a spacecraft pilot making a precision orbital adjustment, or humans traversing uncharted Martian landscapes,” Anzalone said. “LN-1 can make lighthouse beacons of every explorer, vehicle, temporary or long-term camp, and site of interest we send to the Moon and to Mars.”
      Marshall engineers designed, developed, integrated, and tested LN-1 as part of the NPLP (NASA-Provided Lunar Payloads) project funded by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. Marshall also developed MAPS (Multi-spacecraft Autonomous Positioning System), the underlying networked computer navigation software. MAPS previously was tested on the International Space Station in 2018, using NASA’s Space Communications and Navigations (SCaN) Testbed.
      NASA’s CLPS initiative oversees industry development, testing, and launch of small robotic landers and rovers supporting NASA’s Artemis campaign. Learn more here.
      Jonathan Deal
      Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
      256-544-0034
      jonathan.e.deal@nasa.gov
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      Last Updated Mar 14, 2024 LocationMarshall Space Flight Center Related Terms
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