Lagrange 5

waypoint to the past, present, and future of space

Monday, February 28, 2005

NASA interested in Indian moon mission

Indian newspapers reported on Saturday that NASA is interested in participating in India's planned moon mission, Chandrayan-1, slated for 2007.

NASA wants to outfit the spacecraft with imaging equipment which will help map the lunar surface, according to an article in the Times of India.

Russian supply rocket bound for station

A Russian rocket loaded with supplies for the international space station has lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, according to a BBC News report.

The rocket carrying the Progress M-52 spacecraft lifted off at 12:09 a.m. local time Tuesday.

Aside from providing supplies to the station, the cargo flight will help prepare the station to act as a "lifeboat" in case of an accident aboard the space shuttle. Discovery is scheduled for launch in May.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Russia to simulate Mars mission

Russia's Interfax news agency is reporting that the Russian Space Agency is preparing a Mars mission experiment, in an earthbound environment, to test human endurance for long space missions.

There was no indication of where the experiment would take place, except that a mock space station would be built for its purpose.

The report quoted a Russian Space Agency press release as saying that the experiment would begin in 2006 and last for 500 days, with a possibly multinational crew of six men.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Europe warming up to Mars exploration

The European Space Agency is getting more interested in exploring Mars, as the success of its Mars Express spacecraft continues paying dividends.

A report from Reuters discusses Europe's growing interest in the red planet. The article hints that the ESA may be interested in sending a sample return mission to Mars as a next possible project.

Mars Express has gathered a wealth of data suggesting the presence of martian life. On Tuesday, data from Mars Express suggested that ice may exist in large quantities under the martian regolith. Those successes have increased the desire among scientists to continue looking for water and life on the red planet.

Japan launches satellite

ABC News is reporting that Japan has successfully launched a rocket carrying a weather and navigation satellite on Saturday.

The launch was the first for Japan since a launch failure in November 2003 that set back its space program.

The launch was scheduled for 5:09 p.m. Japan time, according to a pre-launch report on NHK.

According to a Reuters report on Yahoo, the launch took place at 6:25 p.m. local time. The rocket successfully deployed the satellite into orbit about 40 minutes after liftoff.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Frozen bacterium may be analogous to Mars

Reuters is reporting that a bacterium from 30,000 years ago, found in permafrost in Alaska, was thawed by NASA scientists and found alive, despite its extreme age.

The discovery could help in the search for life on Mars, according to Richard Hoover, a scientist from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

Scientists believe the permafrost on Mars is a similar environment to where the Alaska bacterium was found.

The finding is significant because water, not ice, had been widely believed to be the most likely catalyst for life on Mars. If signs of life can be found frozen for thousands of years in permafrost on earth, the same could also be possible on Mars.

Shuttle commander confident

Space shuttle commander Eileen Collins has expressed her confidence in the mission she and her crew will fly later this year aboard Discovery, according to a Houston Chronicle report.

STS-114 will test many new features and procedures during NASA's return to space operations. Three spacewalks are scheduled for the mission, and the flight will test a number of measures intended to increase safety aboard shuttle missions.

"If I didn't want to fly this mission or if I thought that it wouldn't be safe, I wouldn't have flown it," Collins said.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Boeing sells Rocketdyne division

Boeing sold its Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power division to United Technologies on Tuesday in a deal reportedly valued at $700 million.

An article in the Los Angeles Daily News covers the story.

Rocketdyne has a storied history, having built rocket engines for NASA for decades. The company built the main engines for the space shuttles, and the F-1 engines for the Apollo moon program's Saturn V rocket.

Rocketdyne was originally a part of Rockwell International, which sold its space business to Boeing in 1996. That deal helped push Boeing into a leading role in the space sector, when previously they had concentrated on aircraft.

The acquisition by United Technologies is considered a good fit. Its division, Pratt & Whitney, is a leading manufacturer of aircraft engines, and Rocketdyne should complement its business.

Spacewalk rules to change following close call

The Voice of America reported on February 18 that spacewalk rules will be changed on the international space station, following an incident in which Leroy Chao ventured too close to the station's maneuvering jets during an EVA.

The space station's position in orbit is maintained by a series of thrusters that fire automatically at irregular intervals. During a spacewalk last month, Chao came too close to one of these unsafe zones, and was warned away from the area. NASA officials say Chao's spacesuit was not contaminated by exhaust fumes.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A sea of frozen ice may be present on Mars

Images analyzed by scientists suggest that a sea of frozen ice may be present underneath the surface of Mars.

BBC News was one of the first online news sources to feature the story. The New Scientist also carries a feature article, which includes a quote from Michael Carr of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The analysis comes from observations made by the ESA's Mars Express orbiter of the Elysium region of Mars, about 5 degrees north of the martian equator.

If found to be true, such a discovery would be the first confirmation of significant water deposits on the red planet.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Shuttle damage detection still uncertain

According to a USA Today article, NASA is still not certain that new sensors can detect damage to the space shuttle while in orbit.

Shuttle crews need a way to check the orbiter for possible damage while in space, and a contingency must be available to the astronauts in case a shuttle is damaged after launch. These are key requirements of a NASA safety panel overviewing the agency's readiness to return the shuttle to service.

NASA's plan is to use two sensors mounted on the shuttle's remote manipulator arm to detect possible damage to the orbiter's protective tiles. However, there is some question over how small an area the sensors can examine effectively.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

NASA scientist refutes article

An article reporting that life may currently exist on Mars -- a claim allegedly made by NASA scientists -- was sharply refuted by one of those scientists in a recent e-mail, even before an official statement by NASA was made public.

"The story is based on hearsay and is factually incorrect," according to Dr. Carol Stoker, of NASA's Ames Research Center, writing in a private e-mail to a colleague in New Mexico.

Stoker is one of two NASA employees used indirectly as sources for's February 16 article.

The e-mail, undated but apparently written on Thursday, February 17, was leaked on the bulletin board of Bad Astronomy, a space-related blog.

Stoker went on to write that no paper had been submitted to a journal making any such claim.

NASA Watch has coverage of the controversy here.

The article said that two scientists from NASA's Ames facility claimed to have found evidence of present life on Mars, and had submitted their findings to a scientific journal for peer review and publication.

Is May 15 shuttle launch date a setback?

At least two online articles characterize NASA's scheduled May 15 launch date as a setback.

One article gets the snappy title, "Jittery NASA sets back Discovery launch date."


Another article claims that NASA "pushed back" its launch date.

Here's a news flash for everybody. The launch window begins on May 12, and lasts until June 3. The scheduled date, May 15, is the fourth day of the launch window. NASA slated May 12 as the first opportunity in the launch window, but never announced it as the official target launch date.

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, May 15 was chosen in part because NASA wants to launch Discovery in the sunlight, so that the orbiter can be viewed and scrutinized in the best possible detail after it lifts off.

Jittery? Pushed back?

It isn't unnecessary hyperbole if it sells the story, right? responds to NASA's rebuttal

An article published on responds to NASA's Friday press release disputing a report that two of the agency's scientists have claimed evidence of present life on Mars.

On Wednesday, posted an "exclusive article" saying that two scientists from NASA's Ames Research Center claimed that they found evidence that life may now exist on Mars, and that a research paper had been submitted to a scientific journal for peer review. NASA issued a statement Friday refuting the claims.'s article on Saturday was intended to shore up its sources behind its original story and provide clarification, if not justification, for how it was presented.

Brian Berger,'s staff writer for both pieces, indicated in Saturday's article that it was unclear whether or not the work of the scientists was submitted for peer review -- some sources said it had, others said it was a work in progress.

This moved away from the assertion in Wednesday's article, which said that two NASA scientists "have submitted their findings to the journal Nature for publication in May, and their paper currently is being peer reviewed."

Berger's work is hampered by the fact that the NASA scientists, Carol Stoker and Larry Lemke, were unavailable for further clarification on the article, according to NASA.

However, a representative for the science journal Nature did say that it was not preparing to publish research by Stoker and Lemke.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Mars life claims incorrect, says NASA

A press release issued by NASA today refutes claims that Mars may currently host life.

The claims, attributed to two of NASA's Ames facility scientists, became the source of an exclusive article made public on Wednesday by The article was written by Brian Berger, a staff writer.

NASA's press release is certainly an effort to quell the story and prevent what it deems to be a premature conclusion.

The body of the press release reads as follows:
News reports on February 16, 2005, that NASA scientists from Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., have found strong evidence that life may exist on Mars are incorrect.

NASA does not have any observational data from any current Mars missions that supports this claim. The work by the scientists mentioned in the reports cannot be used to directly infer anything about life on Mars, but may help formulate the strategy for how to search for martian life. Their research concerns extreme environments on Earth as analogs of possible environments on Mars. No research paper has been submitted by them to any scientific journal asserting martian life.

MSNBC also carries an informative story following up on the article, the work of the scientists cited in their article, and NASA's press release.

According to the MSNBC report, stands by its story.

So what went wrong? Was overzealous, or is NASA overreacting?

One thing is certain: the title of's original article, "NASA Researchers Claim Evidence of Present Life on Mars," is misleading, and arguably draws an inference that the scientists did not intend to make. The body of the article does point out that the NASA scientists were careful not to characterize their findings as direct evidence, but rather indications that could lead to clearer answers later on.

Also, what about's claim that the scientists submitted a paper for peer review of their findings? Did they or did they not submit a paper to a scientific journal?

Well, NASA's wording in their press release is careful -- "No research paper has been submitted by them to any scientific journal asserting martian life" (emphasis mine). So NASA isn't exactly saying a paper was not submitted. It could be that the scientists have indeed submitted their findings for peer review, but that the paper makes no claims of direct evidence of martian life.

We'll see what comes of's article in the days ahead.

Discovery set for May 15 launch

An ABC News/Reuters report says that NASA has set May 15 as its target date to launch space shuttle Discovery.

The flight will be the first U.S. manned space launch since the Columbia's accident in February 2003.

NASA also set a date of July 12 for its second shuttle launch, but the report did not mention which of the space shuttle fleet was scheduled for the mission.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

EU to increase involvement in space

Fresh off its success with the Huygens probe, the European Union is indicating that it wants to expand its role in spaceflight, according to a report on Reuters.

Guenter Verheugen, the EU commissioner in charge of enterprise, industry and space, believes space has become an increasingly important part of the EU's economic and political goals. He said he would propose increases in research funding in the coming budget periods.

EU summit calls for more space cooperation

A Yahoo/AP report says the European Union wants more cooperation in space endeavors, highlighting earth observation programs.

The report comes as EU members meet to discuss budgetary matters.

One of the main goals is to integrate some independent earth observation programs and create more collaboration.

Ex-astronaut chosen as interim NASA chief

NASA has apparently chosen former astronaut Fred Gregory as its acting administrator, following the departure of Sean O'Keefe.

Gregory will become the first African-American to lead the space agency.

Gregory is a veteran of three space shuttle flights, and has served as NASA's deputy administrator since 2002.

The Reuters report adds that it's not clear whether Gregory would fill the role permanently.

Russian cargo flight readied for space station

A Russian cargo flight is being readied for launch to the international space station, according to a Reuters report.

The launch is scheduled to take place February 28 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The cargo spacecraft should then reach the space station on March 2.

Mid-2005 shuttle launch still on track

The chair of a NASA safety panel says the space shuttle has no "show stoppers" to prevent a launch from proceeding in May or June, according to a report on Reuters UK.

The Houston Chronicle carried a similar story on Thursday.

According to the Reuters report, Richard Covey, former astronaut and co-chair of a panel assessing NASA's compliance with safety standards for the next shuttle flight, says the agency has fully met seven of the panel's 15 recommendations and has made progress on an eighth.

NASA's efforts to certify the integrity of the space shuttle's wing structures and heat shield tiles were said to be a key part of the panel's requirements.

The findings are a milestone for NASA as it plans to launch space shuttle Discovery in May or June, with a launch window starting May 12.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Mars may have life, says NASA scientists is reporting an "exclusive" story that two NASA researchers are claiming that evidence of present life may exist on Mars.

The scientists, both from NASA's Ames facility in California, told a group in Washington of their findings recently. They believe life may exist under the planet's surface, and that water may sustain it.

The article says that the scientists are not claiming to have found direct evidence of life, but rather a series of clues that point to the probability of existing martian life.

Yahoo News carries the same report.

The article says the scientists' claims are currently being peer-reviewed by the journal Nature.

Mars rover finds new evidence of a watery past

NASA's Mars rover Spirit has found a new class of rock that points to a wetter Mars environment, according to an article on

The rock is an exposed part of martian bedrock nicknamed "Peace" by planet scientists.

The evidence found by Spirit suggests that water played a part in the history of the neighboring rock, bolstering the belief that Mars was once a watery planet.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Cassini flies by Titan

NASA's space probe Cassini has flown by Saturn's moon Titan for the fourth time since arriving at the planet. The Tuesday flyby brought Cassini within 1,580 kilometers of the moon, according to a CNN report.

The encounter was the first flyby of the moon since Cassini released its Huygens probe last month. Cassini was scheduled to collect data during the pass and relay it back to earth late Tuesday, after the maneuver is complete.

BBC News includes an informative article about the imaging performed by the spacecraft during its encounter.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Huygens a continuing success for ESA

Europe is quietly getting bullish on spaceflight.

Early Tuesday morning, NASA's Cassini space probe will fly by Saturn's largest moon, Titan, for the first time since releasing the ESA's Huygens probe to Titan's surface in January. The encounter highlights last month's Huygens landing, and comes days after the return to space of the ESA's Ariane 5 booster system.

An article in Tuesday's Christian Science Monitor revisits the success of Cassini and its European-built Huygens probe, which has become a milestone for the European Space Agency. Huygens is ESA's highest profile mission to date, and in the minds of some Europeans, it finally puts the ESA on par with the United States and Russia as a leading spacefaring entity.

According to the article, the success of Huygens has brought a new enthusiasm about spaceflight to European countries, where no such mood existed for space projects before.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Hubble's fate uncertain

With the departure of NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe, space policy observers are now wondering what the fate of the Hubble Space Telescope will be. O'Keefe unceremoniously cut off funding for maintenance to the Hubble, citing safety and budgetary factors in repair missions, which have always fallen under the space shuttle's aegis.

An op/ed piece in Monday's International Herald Tribune laments O'Keefe's decision and wants Congress to step in to mandate Hubble's future.

Another opinion piece, posted on TechNewsWorld by author Robert Zimmerman, argues that the Hubble mission is neither as risky nor as costly as detractors would have us believe.

Zimmerman's points are well-founded, and the axing of Hubble is probably too reactionary, but we need to remember that NASA has been given a daunting new task by the Bush administration. Somehow NASA must figure out how to remake itself from a space shuttle program into a space station program, while phasing out the shuttle and bringing in a new launch system, then lean back toward the moon, and do all of it without significant budget increases.

Someday Hubble will have aged beyond the feasibility to repair it, and we have to get used to that idea. O'Keefe and NASA have decided that Hubble's better days are behind it, and like having a Cadillac from the 1980s that's costly to repair and hard to find parts for, it may be time to find Hubble's pink slip.

Pluto as mysterious today as ever

An Associated Press article on ABC News celebrates this week's 75th anniversary of the discovery of planet Pluto.

Or is it really a planet? Is it formerly a moon of another planet, or another object altogether, such as a comet?

Pluto was discovered on February 18, 1930, by Clyde Tombaugh of the Lowell Observatory, during a search for a so-called Planet X.

The article observes that Pluto's eccentric orbit around the sun follows the Kuiper Belt, which may contain as many as 100,000 objects.

Its status as a planet is still very much alive in the public mind. It is the only planet not yet visited by terrestrial spacecraft. And until that happens, Pluto will continue to be a riddle for us to solve.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Ariane 5 reaches orbit

The European Space Agency (ESA) reports on its official website that its Ariane 5 rocket was launched from French Guiana and has successfully reached orbit.

The flight is designated Ariane Flight 164. The Ariane 5 ECA booster is an upgraded design from the earlier Ariane 5G "Generic" configuration.

The launch marks the first operational flight for the upgraded Ariane booster, following a launch failure in 2002.

Ariane 5 lifts off

BBC News reports the ESA's Ariane 5 rocket has lifted off from its launch facility in French Guiana. The rocket left the launch pad at 2103 GMT, or 2:03 p.m. Pacific time.

More details to follow.

Ariane 5 awaiting launch in French Guiana

Two years after a post-launch failure, the ESA's Ariane 5 rocket system is poised to launch from French Guiana.

According to an article on Reuters, the rocket is outfitted with two payloads: one a Spanish military satellite, and the other a fluids experiment.

CNN is reporting that the Ariane's countdown was stopped 59 seconds before its launch window was to have begun. The rocket was scheduled to lift off sometime between 1949 and 2110 GMT today.

The Ariane 5's last attempted launch ended in failure in December 2002, when the rocket veered off course over the Atlantic and had to be destroyed.

O'Keefe leaves NASA

NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe bade farewell to NASA Friday in Washington on his last day leading the space agency. O'Keefe leaves NASA after accepting the position of chancellor of Louisiana State University.

An article in the Houston Chronicle reports his departure from the agency.

O'Keefe led NASA through one of its darkest times, following the space shuttle Columbia's accident on February 1, 2003. In 2004 he helped spearhead the Bush administration's goals of future spaceflight, including a possible return to the moon.

Friday, February 11, 2005

NASA will test two heat shield repair techniques

A Reuters article reports that NASA has decided to test two repair techniques for making on-orbit repairs of the space shuttle's heat shielding. The report seems to indicate that these experiments will take place on the next space shuttle flight.

Space shuttle Discovery is tentatively scheduled for launch on May 14.

About L5

Lagrange 5 is a portal to Internet news and sites about space and spaceflight. It evolved from a series of similar sites hosted from GeoCities since 1999.

Lagrange points are five points in space around two gravitational bodies (such as the earth and the moon), where future spacecraft will be able to achieve "fixed" orbits. The most stable of these points are L4 and L5. Each of these are equidistant from the earth and the moon, so that the forces between the objects are balanced.

Lagrange points are named for Italian-born French mathemetician Joseph Louis Lagrange (1736-1813), who discovered them. They are considered ideal staging areas for future exploration within the solar system.

L5 Beginnings

I originally built Lagrange 5 in prototype form in late 2003 in a semi-blog format, just to test the concept and try out formatting. I write HTML by hand, which gave me the freedom to format the template exactly the way I wanted. But as the number of posts added up and the test site grew larger, the hand-coded HTML made the process of posting rather tedious, especially archiving.

I decided I wasn't quite ready to enter the blogosphere at that point, because I wanted control of the template I wrote and I didn't want to fiddle with a blogging application (I had had a very bad experience with MS Front Page in the past, and did not want to replicate that). So I shelved the test site about three months later, knowing I wanted to revisit it more seriously in the future.

So on a whim, here's the beginning of what I hope is a nice experiment in space blogging: Lagrange 5. In the coming days and weeks I hope to upload the template I settled on, so the site gradually comes to look more professional.

Next I'll post the "About" part of L5, which is essentially the site's mission statement.


Welcome to Lagrange 5. I hope this will become a place to post space-related news articles on a semi-regular basis. Thanks for visiting.