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Latest NASA news and updates

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NASA: Discovery to launch Tuesday

Cape Canaveral, Fla. -- The U.S. space agency has cleared space shuttle Discovery for a Tuesday launch following a two-day review of its readiness for flight.

Discovery's STS-128, 13-day mission to the International Space Station is to begin with a 1:36 a.m. EDT lift off from its the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The launch date was announced after a flight readiness review, during which senior NASA managers assessed the risks associated with the mission and determined the shuttle's equipment, support systems and procedures are ready for launch pending the resolution of one remaining issue.

Glycine found in samples of a comet

Pasadena, Calif. -- U.S. space agency scientists say they've found glycine, a basic building block of life, in samples of comet Wild 2 returned by NASA's Stardust spacecraft.

"Glycine is an amino acid used by living organisms to make proteins, and this is the first time an amino acid has been found in a comet," said Jamie Elsila of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Our discovery supports the theory that some of life's ingredients formed in space and were delivered to Earth long ago by meteorite and comet impacts."

Elsila is the lead author of a paper on the research that's been accepted for publication in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

NASA demonstrates inflatable heat shield

Wallops Island, Va. -- The U.S. space agency has demonstrated how a spacecraft can use an inflatable heat shield to slow and protect itself during re-entry to Earth's atmosphere.

The Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment was launched on a small sounding rocket from NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia at 8:52 a.m. EDT Monday. The 10-foot diameter heat shield, made of several layers of silicone-coated industrial fabric, inflated with nitrogen to a mushroom shape in space several minutes after liftoff.

Satellites study India's vanishing water

Greenbelt, Md. -- Scientists using satellite data say they've determined northern India's groundwater has been declining by as much as 1 foot per year during the past decade.

The researchers, led by Matt Rodell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, blame the water loss nearly entirely on human activity.

Hydrologists said they determined more than 26 cubic miles of groundwater disappeared from aquifers in areas of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and India's capitol territory of Delhi between 2002 and 2008. That's enough water to fill Lake Mead -- the largest man-made reservoir in the United States -- three times.

NASA gets a new view of a Martian crater

Pasdena, Calif. -- NASA says its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has returned a dramatic oblique view of a Martian crater that a rover explored for two years.

"The new view of Victoria Crater shows layers on steep crater walls, difficult to see from straight overhead, plus wheel tracks left by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity between September 2005 and August 2007," the space agency said.

"The orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera shot it at an angle comparable to looking at landscape from an airplane window. Some of the camera's earlier, less angled images of Victoria Crater aided the rover team in choosing safe routes for Opportunity and contributed to joint scientific studies."

Astronaut to spend three months on the ISS

Cape Canaveral, Fla. -- U.S. astronaut Nicole Stott is scheduled to make her first journey into orbit to spend three months aboard the International Space Station, NASA said.

She will be aboard space shuttle Discovery when it launches Aug. 25 at 1:36 a.m. EDT from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Stott, a native of Clearwater, Fla., is one of seven astronauts who will be involved in the 13-day STS-128 mission that will deliver science and storage racks, a freezer to store research samples, a new sleeping compartment and a treadmill named after comedian Stephen Colbert. The name Colbert received the most entries in NASA's online poll to name the station's Node 3. NASA, however, named the node Tranquility and the treadmill Colbert.

NASA assigns final shuttle crew

Washington -- NASA says it has assigned Navy Capt. Mark Kelly to command the final space shuttle flight -- the 36th mission to the International Space Station.

Space shuttle Discovery's STS-134 mission, scheduled for launch Sept. 16, 2010, will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the station. The space agency said the instrument is a state-of-the-art cosmic ray particle physics detector designed to examine fundamental issues about matter and the origin and structure of the universe.

Retired Air Force Col. Gregory Johnson will serve as the shuttle's pilot, while Air Force Col. Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff and Andrew Feustel will serve as mission specialists, along with European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.

Mars orbiter resumes normal operations

Pasadena, Calif. -- The U.S. space agency says its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has resumed full operations, conducting intensive science observations of Mars.

The operations resumed Monday, four days after the spacecraft unexpectedly switched to its backup computer.

Mission engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and at
Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver said they were able to resume operations of the spacecraft's science instruments Monday at 5:32 p.m. EDT.

Astronauts prepare for August mission

Cape Canaveral, Fla. -- NASA said it was conducting flight training and other practice sessions Monday for the astronauts of the STS-128 mission.

Space shuttle Discovery -- scheduled for an Aug. 25 launch at 1:36 a.m. EDT -- will carry some 15,000 pounds of supplies and equipment to the International Space
Station during a mission that will also include three spacewalks, NASA said. In addition, the shuttle will deliver astronaut Nicole Stott, a new ISS crew member who will take the place of Tim Kopra, who moved into the station during STS-127.

Commanded by veteran astronaut Rick Sturckow, the mission's cargo includes the Colbert treadmill, an exercise device named after comedian Stephen Colbert.

Public to view NASA's Orion spacecraft

Houston -- NASA says a full scale mock-up of its Orion crew exploration vehicle is being moved from Florida to Texas and will make several stops for public viewing.

The mock-up, which is used in tests to study the environment for astronauts and recovery crews after an ocean splashdown, stopped Monday at the Challenger Center in Tallahassee, Fla. Other stops this week are planned at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla., Tuesday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. CDT; The StenniSphere at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. CDT; the Museum of Natural Science in Jackson, Miss.,