Science Scanner: NASA Readies for Human Deep Space Exploration

Posted May 25th, 2011 at 7:43 pm (UTC-4)
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NASA Spacecraft to Take Humans into Deep Space

NASA has revealed the new US spacecraft which will take humans into deep space.

The vehicle will carry four astronauts for 21-day missions and be able to land in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast. It is designed to be 10 times safer during ascent and entry than its predecessor, the space shuttle.

The new system will be based on designs originally planned for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and will be used to develop a new spacecraft known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).

“We are committed to human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and look forward to developing the next generation of systems to take us there,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.  “The NASA Authorization Act lays out a clear path forward for us by handing off transportation to the International Space Station to our private sector partners, so we can focus on deep space exploration”, said Bolden.

Lockheed Martin Corporation, an American aerospace company, will continue working to develop the MPCV.  The spacecraft will have a pressurized volume of 690 cubic feet, with 316 cubic feet of habitable space.

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Genetic Study Reveals Shared Ancestry

A new study by Harvard researchers finds a distinct presence of African ancestry in Southern European, Middle Eastern and Jewish populations.

The finding sheds new light on the intermingling and migration of European, Middle Eastern and African and populations since ancient times.

David Reich, an Associate Professor of Genetics at the Harvard Medical School and his colleagues investigated the proportion of sub-Saharan African ancestry present in various populations in West Eurasia – defined as the geographic area spanning modern Europe and the Middle East.

While previous studies have established that such shared ancestry exists, they have not indicated to what degree or how far back the mixing of populations can be traced.

The researchers detected no African genetic signatures in Northern European populations.

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Could Global Warming Limit Trees Ability to Store Carbon?

One of the most positive steps that anyone concerned about global warming can do is to plant trees and preserve forests.

Trees and plants capture carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, thereby removing the most abundant greenhouse gas from the atmosphere and storing some of it in their woody tissue.

Yet global warming may affect the capacity of trees to store carbon by altering forest nitrogen cycling. That’s the conclusion of a 7-year study led by Jerry Melillo of the Marine Biological Laboratory, which was published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For the first time in a field experiment, the study showed that warmer temperatures stimulate the gain of carbon stored in trees as woody tissue, partially offsetting the soil carbon loss to the atmosphere.

The carbon gains in trees, the scientists found, is due to more nitrogen being made available to the trees with warmer soil.

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Recently Discovered Massive Star Rivals the Sun

An international team of astronomers has discovered a massive star with a mass that is 150 times greater than the sun.

It was detected during a major study of the Tarantula Nebula, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The star, called VFTS 682, is one of the more massive stars (up to 300 times the mass of the Sun) ever known.

It was first observed a few years ago but was initially found not to be very massive. The team has now shown that a large part of its light is absorbed and scattered by dust on its way to the Earth and that the star is actually much brighter than first thought.

But the major surprise is that the star lies on its own and is not a member of a dense star cluster.

Up to now, astronomers have believed that very massive stars could only exist at the center of very dense star clusters.

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Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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