NASA Awards Contract for a Methane-Powered Balloon to Explore Saturn's Moon

NASA's original concept for a balloon scout on Saturn's moon Titan called for using waste heat from a radioisotope power system. But such systems come with the major downside of not providing enough heat for sudden course changes -- a problem that one company plans to solve by using hot air balloon technology, The Register reports.

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Cocaine Found In Space Shuttle Hangar

Apparently, outer space isn't high enough for some folks over at NASA. Earlier today, NASA confirmed that a small baggie of cocaine was found in the hangar housing the space shuttle Discovery. A shuttle maintenance worker found the dime bag outside the men's room, and reported it to security. So far, no one knows who brought the bag into the Kennedy Space Flight Center.

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Space Station Toilet Clogged with Calcium Deposits; Could Astronauts' Bone Loss Be the Culprit?

It's a bit cliché to kick off a story about NASA with "Houston, we have a problem," but seriously, they've got a problem: the plumbing on the International Space Station is clogged, and NASA isn't exactly sure why, or how to fix it. To clarify, it's not the actual toilet component that's broken, but the $250 million system designed to recycle astronauts' urine, sweat, and exhaled vapor into clean, potable water.

Engineers working on the problem believe high concentrations of calcium in the astronauts' urine is causing deposits to build up, clogging the system that provides up to two-thirds of the water used on the station.

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Hubble 3D IMAX Trailer Released, Looks Amazing

Just refrain from trying to touch the screen

NASA launched one of its boldest space missions in 2009 to repair and save the aging Hubble Space Telescope. Now everyone can get a glimpse of astronaut derring-do in a preview trailer for the upcoming Hubble 3D IMAX film slated for release on March 19.

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Robotic Arm on Space Station Will Try Refueling a Satellite

NASA's bold repair mission for the Hubble Space Telescope has inspired engineers to tackle another challenge -- using the robotic arm on the International Space Station to refuel a satellite. Aviation Week reports that the Canadian "Dextre" arm could use a special tool to cut into a spacecraft that was never designed to be refueled, pierce the insulation, and access the fuel plumbing.

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Inside Sofia, NASA's Airplane-Mounted Telescope

After a slew of successful of space telescope repair missions and launches in recent months, NASA is taking it easy these days. To use the newest powerful telescope, scientists will take a ride in a convertible. Sort of. The space agency's new telescope is situated inside a 747 with a hole in its side.

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or Sofia, has an open hatch so a telescope can watch the sky while the plane flies at 500 mph.

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Proof of Life in Three Martian Rocks May Come This Year

NASA says advanced instruments will allow it to definitively prove whether three Martian meteorites contain evidence of life

Monoliths may not have transformed Jupiter into a star and made Europa a new Earth, but the late science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke might still be pleased, wherever he is, with NASA's prediction for 2010. Spaceflight Now reports that this year should prove whether fossilized life truly exists in three Martian meteorites, one way or the other.

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NASA Readies Three Important Climate Science Satellites For 2010 Launches

Nothing lasts forever -- especially when it's government-funded -- and so, with just a few more missions, NASA will wrap up the Space Shuttle program in the year ahead, putting the period on a long chapter in America's history in space. But as its flagship shuttle program goes out to pasture for good, NASA will put an important three-piece climate research legacy into orbit that will help scientists going forward keep tabs on both global warming and solar weather events that affect life here on Earth.

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Pulsars Could Provide "Galactic GPS" for Detecting Gravitational Waves

Who needs the Hitchhiker's Guide when you have spinning star cores?

Millisecond pulsars left in the wake of supernovas could provide the basis for a type of "galactic GPS," radio astronomers say. A growing constellation of known pulsars could allow the scientists to make the first direct detection of gravitational waves -- a predicted consequence of Einstein's relativity theory. The concept might even help guide future spacecraft and explorers, not to mention errant galactic hitchhikers.

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WISE Infrared Telescope Opens Eyes, Snaps Its First Starry Image

There’s art and then there’s science, but every now and then the two cross paths spectacularly. NASA’s newest celestial shutterbug popped its lens cap today and captured this stunning vista of the cosmos as part of a nine-month mission to map the entire sky in infrared light.

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NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory Captures Star Torn Apart by Black Hole

We know that super-massive black holes can devour stars, and we know that stellar-mass black holes born of collapsing stars often anchor at the center of galaxies, but the elusive middleweight black hole is more theory than knowledge. While scientists have long thought they are hiding out there, hard evidence of their existence has been hard to come by.

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Kepler Telescope Spots Hotter, Weirder Bodies Than Ever Before Seen (In The Sky, That Is)

It's been less than a year since NASA launched the Kepler Space Telescope, and the device is already paying off with new discoveries. In particular, NASA scientists have identified a planet with the consistency of styrofoam, a gaggle of exoplanets, and two never-before-observed objects too small to be stars, but too hot to be planets.

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Mars Orbiter Images Suggest Water Flowed on Mars Far Later Than Once Thought

Spirit is still stuck in the sand, and Opportunity's future beyond Mars' next solstice is unclear, but the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter continues to beam back groundbreaking images from high above the Red Planet. Using images taken from NASA's MRO, researchers at Imperial and University Colleges London have determined that water-filled lakes existed on the Martian surface 800 million years later than previously thought.

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Russia Wants to Launch Armageddon-Style Mission to Deflect Asteroid

The head of Russia's space agency says such a mission would save lives, but U.S. astronomers strongly differ

Leave it to Russia to jumpstart the long-debated idea of deflecting killer asteroids that might threaten Earth. A top Russian space official announced just prior to the New Year that he wants to put together a mission for heading off the space rock Apophis, which represents a poster child of sorts for the risk of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs). But NASA astronomers caution that a failed deflection attempt could simply make matters worse.

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A Global 'Planetary Skin' Network Will Monitor Earth's Resources

NASA and Cisco officially launch a $100 million effort to integrate ground, sea, air and space sensors

Every day, farmers and legislators make billions of small- and large-scale decisions that affect the Earth's resources, and typically rely on thousands of fragmented sources of data.

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