EXPLORATIONS -May 1, 2002: Space Digest
By Paul Thompson
This is Mary Tillotson.
And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about a
satellite that will search space for evidence of life on other planets. We tell about several new satellites that will
provide valuable information about Earth’s weather and oceans. And we tell about the flight of the Space
Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis returned to the Kennedy Space Center in the southern state of Florida, Friday, April
Nineteenth. The Atlantis and its crew spent ten days, nineteen-hours in space. The space shuttle carried two new
devices to the International Space Station. One device is ninety-one meters long. It is called an S-Zero Truss.
The S-Zero truss is the center of nine pieces that will be the outside frame of the
space station. It will be used to support future additions to the Space Station. When
all nine pieces are in place it will be one-hundred-nine meters long.
Another device called the Mobile Transporter also
arrived at the space station with the crew of Atlantis. The transporter is very similar
to a small railroad car. It moves along a track. It carries the space station
The arm is a device used to lift objects from one place to another. The transporter
permits astronauts to move the huge arm from one part of the space station to another.
The two devices were linked to the Space Station by crewmembers who left the space shuttle and worked in
space. One of these crewmembers, Jerry Ross, became the first human to be launched into space seven times. He
has also has the record for working outside the shuttle nine different times for more than fifty-eight hours.
NASA and the German Center for Air and Space Flight have successfully launched two new satellites. The two
satellites are called the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE for short.
Both satellites are exactly the same. They were launched by a Russian rocket launch
vehicle from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome on March Seventeenth.
The two satellites separated after they were launched. Their orbits are about five-
hundred kilometers above Earth, but they travel about two-hundred-twenty
kilometers apart. They will orbit the Earth sixteen times each day, one following the
The GRACE satellites are the first launch in NASA’s Earth System Science
Pathfinder program. Plans call for the GRACE satellites to be used by several
different kinds of scientific researchers for the next five years. They will make
monthly maps of Earth’s gravity. The maps will be made from the information the
satellites collect about very small changes in Earth’s surface mass and the
resulting changes in the pull of gravity. NASA officials say the GRACE satellites
are one -thousand times better at collecting correct information than methods being
The maps will be used by scientists who study the movement of masses of water on
Earth including the oceans and the ice in Earth’s polar areas. And they will be used by researchers who study
the effects of gravity on Earth ’s climate.
As the GRACE satellites orbit the Earth, areas of stronger gravity will pull the first satellite a little farther away
from other satellite. By measuring the change in distance between the two satellites, scientists can draw an
extremely good gravity map.
The satellites are being tested to make sure they are providing correct information. These tests will continue for
about six months. After the tests are finished, the GRACE satellites will begin providing gravity map information
to scientists around the world.
NASA plans to launch a new Earth science satellite on May Second from Vandenberg Air Force Base in
California. The new satellite is named Aqua. The name means water. The task of the Aqua satellite will be to
gather information about water in the Earth’s ecological system.
Aqua will carry six of the most modern scientific instruments. They will collect
information about how water is formed into rain and how it changes back into a gas
that rises into the atmosphere.
NASA scientists say the Aqua satellite’s greatest strength is its ability to gather
several different kinds of information from many places around the Earth at the
same time. This kind of information includes water temperature, air temperature and
areas of cold and heat.
The scientists say the satellite will let them study how this information is linked into systems that affect Earth’
atmosphere. In the past this kind of information was gathered from only small areas of the Earth. The Aqua
satellite information will be used in research that will aid in understanding changes in weather and the movement
of water and much more.
One of the instruments on NASA’s new Aqua satellite will help the weather experts provide the public with
much better information about future weather conditions. It is called the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder. The
device will measure Earth’s atmosphere and provide scientists with a lot of information about atmospheric
temperature, water in the air, clouds, ozone and other gases.
Eric Fetzer is a weather expert at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. He says it is difficult for weather
experts to be correct because they can not get information from many different places at the same time.
He says information is now gathered from weather balloons which are sent high into the atmosphere and from
some satellites. He says there is often no information from some areas of the world, especially over the oceans.
That is because no one is there to collect the information.
Aqua ’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder instrument was designed to provide new information that weather
experts need from most areas the Earth. And it will provide it very quickly.
Mister Fetzer says the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder on the Aqua satellite will begin providing weather
information to the world’s weather experts within a year. He said NASA will be able to send the information
from the Sounder to weather experts around the world within three hours.
Mister Fetzer says the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder will help weather experts recognize large ocean storms as
they are developing. He said a famous example took place in October of Nineteen-Eighty -Seven --the worst storm
to hit Britain in two-hundred years.
Weather experts did not have the information to correctly warn the public about the large storm. Mister Fetzer
says the new weather instrument will help provide some kind of warning of such dangerous storms in the future.
In the past ten years astronomers have discovered more than seventy planets outside our solar system. New
instruments are planned that will permit astronomers to search for life on these and other planets that might be
discovered in the future.
The first of these new instruments to be sent into space is called the Terrestrial Planet Finder. NASA scientists
say it will carry the necessary technology to search for the kind of atmosphere or the chemicals that make life
NASA scientists say the Terrestrial Planet Finder should be launched sometime in the year Two-Thousand
Fourteen. The planet finder satellite will include instruments that can block the light from far away stars. This
will let other instruments on the satellite search for smaller planets that cannot be seen by devices in use now.
Astronomers will then be able to observe these planets and investigate the chemicals that are part of these planets.
They will search for chemicals that produce atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide, water and ozone.
NASA scientists say the best candidate for closer study would be any planet that has a moderate climate. If
planet is too hot, water disappears into a gas. If a planet is too cold, water freezes. Scientists say the best place to
find life would be a planet that has water like we have here on Earth.
NASA scientists say the Terrestrial Planet Finder may help provide the information needed to answer a very old
question.”Are we alone in the Universe?
This Special English program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. This is Steve
And this is Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of
Email this article to a friend
Printer Friendly Version