(CBS) Since its first launch in 1985, Atlantis has accomplished quite a lot in its lifetime. The shuttle has carried more than a dozen satellites into orbit, been a launching point for probes to Venus and Jupiter, and helped build the International Space Station. But as we watch Atlantis' last voyage I think it's appropriate to look back at one other notable moment in this shuttle's history: when Atlantis carried into orbit a special payload for CBS News.
In 2009 I was a summer intern at CBS News in New York. One day I asked correspondent Steve Hartman if he would ever consider bringing back his popular 'Everybody Has a Story' series where he would toss a dart at a map of the United States, travel to wherever it landed with CBS cameraman Les Rose, and randomly pick a person and a story out of the town's phone book.
Steve said sure, he'd consider bringing back the series. Then he laid out the idea that had been floating around in his head for nine years: the series would go global, NASA would launch a globe into space and astronauts would spin it, pointing to the countries he would visit. But fear of NASA rejecting his idea had kept the plan grounded.
"You should do it," I told him after hearing his idea.
"Okay," he said to me, "why don't you give them a call and ask them if they wouldn't mind doing that for us?"
And so I took on perhaps the most daunting task ever assigned to an intern: convince NASA to launch something of ours into space.
I grabbed some CBS letterhead and typed up a letter to NASA headquarters outlining our proposition. I tossed in a DVD with a sampling of Steve's stories and popped the envelope in the mail. A week went by.
Then a month.
I was back in Florida for school and had almost forgotten about the whole idea when I received a phone call one afternoon from NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. They got the letter, liked the idea, and wanted to talk about it.
After a series of meetings, NASA officials decided to try to get the globe on the next scheduled shuttle flight, STS-129, being flown by Atlantis. Former CBS News producer Melissa Smith ordered a few plastic, inflatable globes online and had them rushed to NASA to be tested for space-worthiness.
Finally on November 16, four months after we first pitched the idea to NASA, Atlantis blasted off from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center with our inflatable globe on board. Steve, cameraman Bob Caccamise, and I watched from three miles away as the 'Everybody in the World Has a Story' project launched with a crackling roar.
Two days later and about 200 miles above Earth, Atlantis docked with the International Space Station and our globe was delivered into the hands of station commander Jeff Williams. A few weeks later (after NASA took care of more pressing tasks), commander Williams videotaped himself spinning and pointing to different countries on the globe, sending Steve and Bob on an around-the-world adventure to prove that everybody has a story.
So as Atlantis carries out its final, historic mission, I'll be thinking about when that spacecraft took this network to new heights.
(CBS) - Monday morning, we witnessed NASA's Endeavour take off. Shooting 100 mph in just eight seconds, it quickly disappeared from view through the clouds. Those who were on the ground at Cape Canaveral to see the shuttle off didn't have the best view.
But, Brian Lifrieri of Harrison, NY did. This is what he saw from his Jetblue flight that morning. At count 1:14, you'll see what we mean. "Watch till the end when the shuttle ignites the other burners," Lifrieri told Youtube viewers.
Stefanie Gordon of Hoboken, N.J., woke up on Delta Air Lines flight 2285 Monday traveling from New York's LaGuardia Airport to West Palm Beach, Fla., in time to watch the space shuttle Endeavour break through some cloud cover on its way to the International Space Station.
"The captain made an announcement that we would probably see it," Gordon told CBS News. "I really couldn't hear what he was saying, and then all of a sudden people started getting up and going over to the windows."
By Charles Q. Choi This story originally appeared on Space.com
Cosmic lenses created by the ultra-strong gravity of some objects in space may spoil upcoming estimates of the number of galaxies during the universe's earliest days by as much as a factor of 10, a new study warns.
A great deal of mystery surrounds the days when stars were first born. To learn more about the first galaxies that formed, astronomers focus on the farthest ones they can see. If light from a galaxy took a long time coming to Earth, the galaxy must be very old as well as very distant.
After all, the universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years old.
The problem that researchers now face has to do with the way gravity warps space-time. The greater the mass of an object in space, the stronger its gravitational pull. This in turn can bend light around it, affecting the view by telescopes on Earth.
Scientists call this cosmic effect "gravitational lensing." When it is caused by galaxies that lie on the way toward the ancient ones scientists want to study, it can lead to distorted views of the targets' light.
The probability of gravitational lensing distorting measurements of distant galaxies had been estimated at just 0.5 percent.
However, the study found that astronomers failed to account for "magnification bias," which can make a galaxy appear brighter than it is.
"Gravitational lensing is magnifying all galaxies lying behind a gravitational lens, and this happens much more often for the most distant galaxies," said the study's lead author, Stuart Wyithe, an astronomer at the University of Melbourne in Australia.
When astronomers search for galaxies in a certain patch of space, they don't want their images to be flooded with unnecessary light, so their telescope limits the brightness that can be detected (making some galaxies too faint to be observed). However, because gravitational lensing magnifies the light from galaxies relative to their intrinsic brightness, intrinsically faint galaxies start popping up in the results.
"Since faint galaxies are much more common than bright galaxies, the number of sources observed behind gravitational lenses is significantly enhanced," Wyithe told SPACE.com.
At very large distances, magnification bias can increase the number of gravitationally lensed galaxies detected by as much as a factor of 10, according to Wyithe and his colleagues.
The implication is that our view of the most distant galaxies through the Hubble Space Telescope "might be distorted significantly by gravitational lensing, a kind of cosmic hall of mirrors," Wyithe said.
Better Telescopes Needed
The next-generation James Webb Space Telescope will be required to properly investigate the lensing phenomenon. By looking for redshift — the distortion in light from an object as it moves away from an observer — one might be able to overcome this magnification bias "and measure an unbiased census of early galaxies," Wyithe said.
Knowing how many galaxies existed in the early universe is key to investigating enigmas such the so-called "reionization" of the early universe. This critical, but not yet fully understood, event occurred when the atomic hydrogen that once pervaded the universe was ionized into its constituent protons and electrons, increasing the temperature of the universe to some 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit (10,000 degrees Celsius).
Studies of the most distant, ancient galaxies suggest they did not put out enough radiation to reionize the early universe.
"This reionization occurred between about 400 million and 900 million years after the Big Bang, but astronomers still don't know which sources of light caused it to happen," Wyithe said. The new galaxy candidates now being seen in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field come from right in this important epoch in the evolution of the universe, and could thus help solve the mystery.
The scientists detail their findings in the Jan. 13 issue of the journal Nature.More Tech and Science Stories from Space.com
The next shuttle launch window opens Feb. 27, but NASA is assessing whether it might be possible to move that up a few days.
Additional meetings are planned next week to review progress with already-ordered crack repairs, potential work to beef-up other structural ribs (or stringers) in the external tank, and the results of an on-going analysis into the root cause of the eight cracks discovered to date.
A new target launch date is expected after a program requirements control board meeting Jan. 13 at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The next shuttle launch window - the one NASA managers ruled out Thursday - opens Feb. 3 and closes Feb. 10. The following window opens Feb. 27 and closes March 6.
Rivers may be a significant source of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, scientists now find.
Their calculation suggests that across the globe the waterways contribute three times the amount of nitrous oxide to the atmosphere as had been estimated by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations scientific body charged with reviewing climate change research.
They found that the amount of nitrous oxide produced in streams is related to human activities that release nitrogen into the environment, such as fertilizer use and sewage discharges.Continue »
When the unmanned Wide-Field Infrared Explorer spacecraft launched into orbit around the Earth a year ago, scientists hoped the craft's infrared-sensitive telescope would return new data about our solar system, the Milky Way, and the Universe. By that measure, the mission has been a success - though much work remains: the larger ambition is to image the entire sky.
To celebrate the project's one-year anniversary, NASA has released a fraction of the nebulae that the craft, commonly referred to as "WISE," has imaged to date.
The camera has a good vantage point: WISE was sent into orbit, hovering "several hundred miles above the dividing line between night and day on Earth," according to NASA. Its telescope points out at right angles to the Sun and always faces away from Earth. The infrared sensitive digital camera gets a workout, taking a picture each 11 seconds. So far, it's taken about 3 million pictures covering the entire sky. You can read more about the WISE mission here.