Three New Moons Found Near Neptune / Shuttle Flight / Asteroid Has Same Orbit as Earth

This is Mary Tillotson. And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about a space rock that has the same orbit around the sun as Earth. We tell about three new moons discovered near the planet Neptune. We tell about the launch of two new satellites. And we tell about the current flight of the space shuttle Columbia.

The space shuttle Columbia was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January sixteenth. The seven crew members include the first astronaut from Israel. Columbia is expected to return to the Kennedy Space Center on February first after sixteen days in space.

Columbia took into orbit eighty science experiments. These include a study of Earth and space science and advanced technology development. Other experiments deal with cancer cell research and astronaut health and safety.

One experiment includes two special cameras built in Israel. They are being used to measure the amount of dust in the desert and in the atmosphere over the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. University scientists in Tel Aviv were interested in learning how clouds of dust affect weather.

Columbia's crew formed two teams because of the large number of experiments. This permitted work to be performed twenty-four hours each day while the Columbia is in space. Most of the experiments were carried into orbit in the SPACEHAB research module. This large, round vehicle fits inside the Columbia's cargo area.

The SPACEHAB was designed as a very modern scientific vehicle. It is two times the size of former scientific study areas carried by the space shuttles.

This new size permits four members of Columbia's crew to work in the SPACEHAB at the same time. It also permits the shuttle crews to carry larger and more difficult scientific experiments into space. The SPACEHAB vehicle also has new and improved life support systems. These include temperature controls and better control of the environment inside the shuttle.

The new SPACEHAB also carries new high-speed communications equipment. This permits scientists on Earth to better control and observe the experiments. NASA says the new SPACEHAB laboratory means that new and exciting experiments can be done in space.

Thousands of young students from six countries are closely watching the experiments on Columbia. The students are part of the Space Technology and Research Students program, called STARS.

This program permits experiments designed by students to be taken into space on shuttle flights. Students worked for the past two years developing the experiments that were carried on Columbia.

These experiments were designed by students from the United States, Japan, China, Australia, Israel and Liechtenstein. Each of the students' experiments needs to be done in space where there is a lack of gravity.

For example, students in Japan believe that a small fish called the Medaka will develop faster in an environment with no gravity. They think this is true because the small fish would have to expend less energy to swim while in space.

Students from Australia called their experiment "Astrospiders in Space." They want to learn if a spider would build a different kind of web in space than it would on Earth. They want to learn if the shape and material of the web would be different because of a lack of gravity.

Chinese students designed an experiment that tests the idea that young silkworms, or larvae, would develop differently in an environment with no gravity. Students from the United States designed an experiment to see if ants would create tunnels more slowly in space than on Earth. Students from Israel studied the growth and structure of crystal fibers developed within a chemical. They want to see if the fibers would grow differently with a lack of gravity.

And, students from Liechtenstein designed an experiment with carpenter bees. They want to learn if a lack of gravity would cause eating, working and social changes among the bees. Liechtenstein's government has been so excited about the experiment that they issued a special postage stamp to honor their students.

Results of the experiments are not expected until the students study the information collected in space.

NASA successfully placed two new satellites in orbit around the Earth on January twelfth. One is called the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation satellite, or ICESat. The other is the Cosmic Hot Interstellar Spectrometer, called CHIPS. Both satellites were launched on the same rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

A NASA spokesman said the ICESat satellite will be carefully moved to a height of six-hundred kilometers above the Earth to its final orbital position. The ICESat satellite is the newest in a series of satellites used to observe the Earth. ICESat will observe the increase or decrease in large areas of ice around the world. It will provide information about Earth's climate system. It will also observe climate change and changes in sea level.

The CHIPS satellite will study the gas and dust in space. Scientists believe this gas and dust are the building materials that make up stars and planets. The CHIPS satellite weighs only sixty-kilograms. It is about the size of a large suitcase. It will orbit above Earth at about five-hundred-ninety kilometers and is expected to work for about one year.

Space scientists have discovered three new moons that orbit the planet Neptune, the eighth planet from the sun in our solar system. There are now eleven known moons around Neptune.

The discovery was announced by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The team of astronomers was led by scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center and the National Research Council of Canada.

Each moon is about thirty or forty kilometers around. Scientists found the moons by using two telescopes, one in Chile and one in the American state of Hawaii.

Another moon-like object is also in the news. NASA scientists say the first space rock discovered to orbit the sun in almost the same orbit as Earth came close to Earth this month. The space rock, or asteroid, was discovered about one year ago. It is called Asteroid Two-Thousand-Two A-A-Two-Nine. The asteroid is only about sixty meters across. It never comes closer to our planet than five-point-eight million kilometers.

However the asteroid is extremely unusual. It comes near Earth on one side and then escapes to travel along our planet's orbit around the sun. It then approaches Earth from the other side and then it goes back again. It takes almost one-hundred years to make this trip.

Paul Chodas is a space scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Mr. Chodas discovered the asteroid's unusual orbit. He says the Earth moves near the asteroid, and their combined gravity forces the asteroid to speed up and move away.

In ninety-five years, the asteroid will have traveled all the way around the orbit until it nears the Earth from behind. A similar reaction with gravity from both the Earth and sun will then push the asteroid back into a slower obit and the action will be repeated. Don Yeomans is the manager of NASA's Near Earth Objects program. He says there is no danger of a crash between the Earth and the asteroid. He says the asteroid and Earth take turns moving toward each other, but they never get too close.

And this space news story: President Bush has awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor to American astronaut William Shepherd. Mr. Shepherd was the first astronaut to command a crew on the International Space Station.

As the commander of Expedition One, Mr. Shepherd and the two other members of his crew spent one-hundred-forty-one days in space.

This Special English program was written and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Mary Tillotson. And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.

Voice of America Special English

Source: EXPLORATIONS - Three New Moons Found Near Neptune / Shuttle Flight / Asteroid Has Same Orbit as Earth
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