Science Scanner: As One Mission Ends, NASA Readies Its Last

Posted June 2nd, 2011 at 4:51 pm (UTC-4)
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One down, one more to go…

This past Wednesday was a rather busy day at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Space Shuttle Endeavour and her six-member crew flew home for the last time, landing at 2:34 a.m. EDT.

Endeavour’s final mission, STS-134, lasted 16 days and covered more than 10,460,736 kilometers (6.5 million miles).

The mission’s accomplishments included the delivery and installation of an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a cosmic ray detector, at the International Space Station.

The youngest of the space shuttle fleet, Endeavour first launched in 1992. Throughout its nearly 20-year career, she flew 25 missions, spent 299 days in space, orbited Earth 4,671 times and traveled 197,761,262 kilometers (122,883,151 miles).

Now that it’s Earth-bound for good, Endeavour will be fully retired, cleaned and shipped to the California Science Center in Los Angeles where it will be readied for display, hopefully by next spring.

Meanwhile, Atlantis is being readied for what will be the final overall flight of the space shuttle program. That launch is scheduled at the Florida space center on July 8.

Atlantis arrived at launch pad 39A early Wednesday morning and was secured there at 3:29 a.m. The space shuttle was delivered to the launch pad on top of a giant crawler-transporter.

The huge machine left the Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building the night before, at 8:42 p.m. EDT.  Traveling at less 1.61 kilometers per hour (1 mph), the transporter made the nearly 5.5-kilometer (3.4 miles) journey to the launch pad in approximately seven hours.

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Your face looks familiar but I just can’t place you

Did you know that every time you see a person that you know, your brain processes a series of instructions that rapidly and – with what seems to be very little effort – recognizes that person by his or her face.

Researchers at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University say  they’ve uncovered just how the brain processes faces by identifying the neural system responsible for face recognition

The Carnegie Mellon team discovered that an entire network of cortical areas (outer areas of the brain) works together to identify faces.

A study based on the team’s research is published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The scientists involved in this discovery hope the findings will change the future of neural visual perception research and that others will use the findings to develop targeted remedies for disorders such as face blindness.

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Did the Vikings in Greenland say, ‘It’s too cold, let’s get out of here’?

Severe weather might have helped doom the Vikings, according to new research.

Scientists have long wondered what became of the western settlements of the Vikings on Greenland and how they met their demise in the 14th and 15th centuries. While archaeological evidence might provide some insight, the lack of written evidence suggests the full story of how the Norse colony met its end will probably remain a mystery.

Climatologists have said that an extended severe cold snap, called the “Little Ice Age” gripped Greenland in the 1400s. This “Little Ice Age” has often been cited as a major cause of the disappearance of the Norse people.

Now research, developed by scientists from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island,  shows that the climate turned colder earlier, perhaps several decades earlier than previously thought, setting off what could have been the beginning of the end of the Greenland Norse.

However, researchers say the severe climate isn’t the only reason for the demise of the Norse Western Settlement.

The Vikings’ sedentary lifestyle, their reliance on agriculture and livestock for food, dependence on trade with Scandinavia and combative relations with the neighboring Inuit (indigenous people of the Arctic region) are also believed to be contributing factors.

The findings of this study were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Getting to the root of childhood obesity

What’s behind childhood obesity? Can it be more than what the kids are eating?

According to the World Health Organization, childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. The global problem is steadily affecting many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings. The WHO also says the prevalence of childhood obesity has increased at an alarming rate.

A group of scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champlain, representing a variety of disciplines, is teaming up to examine the factors that contribute to childhood obesity.

The team is taking a multidisciplinary approach because individual researchers have found that the problem is too complicated for any one of them to tackle alone.

The scientists are looking at a variety of factors such as genetic predisposition, the effect of breastfeeding, how much TV a child watches and even where the child lives.

The research will examine the problem of childhood obesity from the following angles: cell, child, clan (or family), community, country and culture. The research team published its paper detailing this unique approach in a recent issue of Child Development Perspectives.

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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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