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Astronaut's son follows him in space

Astana, Kazakhstan -- The son of a U.S. astronaut blasted off Sunday from Kazakhstan as a tourist aboard a Russian rocket headed for the International Space Station.

British-born Richard Garriott, 47, joined U.S. astronaut Mike Fincke and Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov aboard the Soyez craft on the 18th space station expedition, RIA Novosti reported.

Garriott, who paid $30 million to the Russian space agency to become the sixth tourist to travel to the station, made his fortune in computer games such as Ultima Online, The Sunday Times of London reported.

Garriott's father, Owen, 77, flew aboard one of the last Apollo missions 35 years ago to Skylab, the United States' first orbiting laboratory. Richard Garriott's parents were on hand Sunday to watch his launch.

NASA plans Mars launch next fall

Washington -- NASA plans to launch a new exploration rover to Mars next fall, despite budget and technical concerns, a NASA official said Friday.

"All indications are that they're still on track for the '09 launch," Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program, said at a teleconference.

The space agency will review the mission's progress again in January, he said.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in charge of building the spacecraft, believes it needs an additional $100 million, on top of previous budget increases, to meet the current launch schedule.

The original $1.6 billion budget has already been increased to $1.9 billion, McCuistion said.

Agency officials are working with the White House and Congress on budget challenges and monitoring progress on hardware and software development, McCuistion said.

Gravity lens used to study distant galaxy

Pasadena, Calif. -- U.S. and British scientists say they have completed the most detailed study yet of a galaxy in its first stages of development.

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology led the study, joined by researchers from Durham University and Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. They used the Keck telescope in Hawaii to observe a distant galaxy using a technique called gravitational lensing that was proposed by Albert Einstein.

The scientists said light from the galaxy, 11 billion light-years from Earth, was magnified eight times by the gravitational influence of another galaxy 2.2 billion light-years from Earth.

Study co-author Mark Swinbank of Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology said gravitational lensing is providing astronomers with a glimpse of what they will commonly achieve when the next generation of telescopes comes on line in about 10 years.

NASA to discuss next shuttle mission

Houston -- The U.S. space agency says it will provide live TV coverage next month as it previews space shuttle Endeavour's next trip to the International Space Station.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said NASA-TV and its Web site will telecast live coverage of the Nov. 3 briefings from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Endeavour's 15-day flight, designated STS-126, is targeted for launch Nov. 14.

NASA said the flight will deliver supplies and equipment to prepare the station for six-person crews starting next spring. The mission includes four spacewalks to service the solar arrays that track the sun, providing the ISS with power.

Chris Ferguson will command Endeavour's STS-126 crew, which includes pilot Eric Boe and astronauts Donald Pettit, Steve Bowen, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Shane Kimbrough, and Sandra Magnus.

NASA awards space network contract

Washington -- The U.S. space agency has awarded a $1.2 billion contract to the ITT Corp. to support its Space and Near Earth Communications Network.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said ITT's advanced engineering and sciences division in Herndon, Va., will perform telemetry, tracking and command services for a wide range of science-based Earth-orbiting spacecraft, including the International Space Station, the space shuttle, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Earth Observing System satellites.

The cost-plus-award-fee core and indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract has a basic period of five years and three months, and includes two one-year options.

The contract calls for ITT to provide operation and maintenance services at locations that include Guam, American Samoa; Ascension Island; Australia; Wallops Island, Va.; the White Sands Complex in Las Cruces, N.M.; the Merritt Island Launch Annex in Florida; McMurdo Station in Antarctica and the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

New, smaller satellites are developed

Ann Arbor, Mich -- U.S. scientists say they are developing a satellite about the size of a loaf of bread that will be deployed to study space weather.

The National Science Foundation-funded project called Radio Explorer, or RAX, is being led by the University of Michigan and the SRI International Corp., a California independent research and technology development organization.

The satellite, called CubeSat, is to be the first free-flying spacecraft, and will be built, in part, by members of the university's Student Space Systems Fabrication Laboratory.

CubeSats are approximately 4-inch cube-shaped devices that launch from inside a P-Pod -- a special rocket attachment developed by California Polytechnic
State University and Stanford University.

Webb telescope model to head to Germany

Washington -- The U.S. space agency says it plans to display a full-sized model of the James Webb Space Telescope at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany.

The actual James Webb Space Telescope, now being built, is to be launched in 2013. The life-sized model was built by the Northrop Grumman Corp. to give people a better understanding of its size, scale and complexity.

NASA said the German museum has an extensive telescope collection, including the Fraunhofer Refractor, which was used to discover Neptune.

The model is to be displayed at the museum Oct. 13-28, in conjunction with a nearby meeting of Webb telescope scientists and engineers. NASA said the display will allow people working on the project to see the life-sized model.

The space agency said the model was designed for an environment subject to gravity and weather. It weighs 12,000 lbs. and is approximately 80 feet long, 40 feet wide and 40 feet tall. It requires 2 trucks to ship it and assembly takes a crew of 12 approximately four days.

NASA-derived technology is highlighted

Washington -- The 2008 edition of the U.S. space agency's Spinoff publication celebrates NASA's 50th anniversary by highlighting space technology now being used on Earth.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's annual publication features a 50-year time line of NASA-derived technologies from historical programs and projects and a summary of award-winning NASA technologies included in Spinoff over the years.

"The results of NASA research and technology are all around us, providing benefits to many aspects of our daily lives and well-being," said NASA's Deputy Administrator Shana Dale.

Some examples listed in Spinoff include advanced polymer coatings for implantable devices to help avert heart failure, robotic technology used for minimally invasive knee surgery; space suit-derived textiles to help protect firefighters and race car drivers, and astronaut food supplements now in worldwide use to improve baby formula.

NASA studies 35-year-old Apollo equipment

Greenbelt, Md -- U.S. space agency scientists say they are studying a heat shield used 42 years ago on an Apollo space mission to develop more modern shields.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration researchers developing the next generation Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle are analyzing the Apollo heat shield to help in the development and engineering process for Orion vehicles.

The old heat shield was found in the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum Garber Facility in Suitland, Md.

The Orion team said it was interested in the heat shield because it had flown into low Earth orbit and then returned to Earth Aug. 26, 1966.

"We are examining the design of the carrier structure (the metal structure that connects the heat shield to the vessel that contains the astronauts) and the heat shield material's thermal response," said Elizabeth Pugel of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Missouri girl named 'Top Young Scientist'

Greenbelt, Md. -- The U.S. space agency said Melissa Rey, 14, of Parkway Central Middle School in Chesterfield, Mo., has won the "America's Top Young Scientist" competition.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said Edward Evans of Mount View School in Welch, W.VA., was named "America's Top Science Teacher" during the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Goddard scientists, engineers and resident astronaut Paul Richards assisted in challenging each participant on their knowledge of space related themes.

Challenges included jet propulsion, repair of the Hubble Space Telescope, Martian topography and how to simulate lunar gravity on Earth.

"The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge targets middle school students in the years when research indicates their interest in science begins to fade and encourages them to explore scientific concepts and creatively communicate their findings," NASA said.