As NASA's space odyssey for 2001 comes to an end, the Agency faces a year of transition and new challenges as it prepares to continue its mission of discovery into the new millennium.
In the last year, the International Space Station, the largest and most sophisticated spacecraft ever built, celebrated its first full year of human habitation. The successful arrival of NASA's Mars Odyssey at the red planet energized space scientists and, for the first time, NASA was able to create a complete biological record of Earth.
In 2001, the Space Shuttle turned 20 as NASA launched a new initiative to find better and cheaper access to space, all while facing new fiscal realities that could fundamentally change the way the agency does business.
"The people of NASA have much of which to be proud as we reflect on the agency's accomplishments in 2001," said Acting Administrator Dr. Daniel R. Mulville. "Our future challenges are formidable, but our resolve to overcome those challenges is equally intense. In 2002, NASA will continue its mission to expand air and space frontiers with renewed vigor."
CHANGE OF NASA LEADERSHIP For the first time in nearly a decade, NASA will have new leadership. President George W. Bush nominated Sean O'Keefe, the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget, to be the agency's new Administrator. Daniel S. Goldin, the longest-serving Administrator in NASA's history, resigned in November after serving more than nine years under three American presidents. During the transition, Mulville, NASA's Associate Deputy Administrator was appointed Acting Administrator.
FLAGS FOR HEROES AND FAMILIES
The tragic events of September 11 brought the nation together with a new sense of pride and determination. Expedition Three commander Frank Culbertson was the only American not on Earth the day of the attacks and documented visible signs of the destruction from the International Space Station. To honor those heroes killed and seriously hurt in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, NASA sent more than 6,000 American flags into space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The flags will be distributed to the victims and their families.
NASA'S MARS PROGRAM SEES RED
The agency's Mars exploration program rebounded in 2001 when Mars Odyssey successfully entered orbit around the red planet following a six-month, 286-million mile journey. NASA's Mars Global Surveyor sent back its 100,000th image of the Martian surface. The orbiter has been snapping dramatic and images for four years. In 2001, Mars Global Surveyor, in tandem with the Hubble Space Telescope, had a ringside seat to the largest global dust storm on the Martian surface seen in decades.
THE SEARCH FOR UNIVERSAL LIFE
Is there life on another world? In 2001, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope measured the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system. Astronomers funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation discovered eight new extrasolar planets that have circular orbits, similar to the orbits of planets in our own solar system. Also, NASA's Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite provided the first evidence that there are water-bearing worlds beyond our solar system.
REMOTE SENSING SEES A CLIMATE CHANGE
NASA announced the creation of the first complete "biological record of Earth" by using data from NASA's Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-View sensor. Researchers also suggested the Earth is becoming a greener greenhouse, determining that plant life in the northern latitudes has been growing more vigorously since 1981. In February, NASA released a new map of Antarctica made from Radarsat data. Using the new maps and comparing them to maps produced in 1981, scientists will track Antarctic ice changes, a key to understanding our global environment and climate change. In 2001, NASA research also suggested that desert dust in the atmosphere over Africa might actually inhibit rainfall in the region, contributing to drought conditions.
NASA COMES DOWN TO EARTH
In 2001, NASA announced a commercial partnership that will allow placement of advanced global positioning technologies in farm equipment. The technology will be used to help farmers navigate fields in poor weather and at night. Throughout the summer of 2001, NASA satellites tracked the devastating spread of wildfires around the western United States, helping federal, state and local governments mitigate these natural disasters.
NASA RESEARCH BENEFITS LIFE ON EARTH
Using lasers developed by NASA, researchers discovered a way to bring a beam of light to a stop, store it, and then send it on its way. The discovery could lead to next-generation technologies, such as increasing the speed of computers. A revolutionary early breast cancer detection tool based on NASA technology began human clinical trials in November. The technology may one day allow physicians to diagnose tumors without surgery. In 2001, NASA and the National Cancer Institute began a three-year program to explore new biomedical technologies to develop and study microscopically small sensors that can detect changes at the cellular and molecular level.
SOLAR SYSTEM EXPLORATION NEARS PERFECTION
NASA's Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Shoemaker spacecraft did something it wasn't designed to do when mission managers gently landed the spacecraft on the asteroid Eros after a yearlong orbital mission. In a risky fly-by maneuver, the Deep Space 1 spacecraft successfully navigated past a comet, giving researchers an unprecedented view inside the glowing core of icy dust and gas. During 2001, a NASA-funded research team presented evidence that Earth's most severe mass extinction, an event 250 million years ago that wiped out 90 percent of life, was triggered by a collision with a comet or an asteroid.
HUMAN SPACE FLIGHT PROGRAMS REACH MILESTONES
Celebrating its first full year of human habitation, the International Space Station's research odyssey began in 2001 with the launch of the Destiny module, the first science lab delivered to the station. The space station is now the most complex and powerful spacecraft ever built. Facing financial challenges in the coming years, an independent task force produced a report that is expected to help managers get the program back on track. The construction of the International Space Station is made possible by NASA's robust fleet of Space Shuttles. The Shuttle celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2001, having carried more than three million pounds of cargo and more than 600 passengers into space.
FUTURE NASA TECHNOLOGY TODAY
In 2001, NASA launched an ambitious multi-billion-dollar initiative designed to develop the technologies needed to build a second-generation reusable launch vehicle. NASA's Space Launch Initiative, or SLI, will also identify 21st-century designs that can provide safer, more reliable and less expensive access to space. Instead of rocket fuel, NASA's propeller-driven Helios aircraft used solar energy to help set a world record altitude of 96,500 feet. NASA researchers also tested a revolutionary cockpit display that will offer pilots an electronic picture of what is outside their windows, no matter the weather or time of day. This Synthetic Vision will show terrain, ground obstacles, air traffic and other important data to the flight crew.
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