Today’s Tidbits: January 10, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: January 10, 2018

Here are our tidbits for January 10, 2018:  Japanese astronaut apologizes — did not grow 3.5 inches after all; JWST optical system passes tests; NASA’s SWIFT telescope renamed in honor of Neil Gehrels.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

JAXA Astronaut Apologizes:  Did NOT Grow 3.5 Inches in 3 Weeks

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Norishige Kanai apologized today for having mismeasured his height.  He had tweeted that he grew 9 centimeters (cm), or 3.5 inches, in his three weeks in space.  The tweet formed the basis for a story on the effects of spaceflight on astronauts published by the Washington Post and summarized in yesterday’s Tidbits.

Although many astronauts grow a bit in space because the lack of gravity allows the spine to expand, 3.5 inches is an unusually large amount.

Russia’s official TASS news agency today reports [] that Kanai credits his Russian colleague Anton Shklaperov for pointing out that there must have been an error.  He redid the measurement and concluded that he has grown only 2 cm (just under one inch), which is more typical.  He tweeted that he was “sorry for the fake news.”

JWST Optical System Passes Tests

The James Webb Space Telescope OTIS optical module emerging from a vacium chamber at Johnson Space Center after successful testing, Dec. 1, 2017. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn.

The Optical Telescope Element and Integrated Science Instrument Module (OTIS)  — the scientific heart of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) — successfully passed testing in a cryogenic vacuum chamber at Johnson Space Center (JSC) last year.

At a JSC briefing today, JWST project manager Bill Ochs and other NASA officials gave an unqualified thumbs up following the 100-day test.   It took about 30 days to cool the chamber to 20 degrees Kelvin, then 30 days of testing, followed by another approximately 30 days to warm the chamber back up again.

During that time, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston.  The testing went on even though JSC itself was closed.  Ochs, JSC Director Ellen Ochoa and others at the briefing today praised everyone for their perseverance.

OTIS now will be shipped to JWST prime contractor Northrop Grumman’s facility in California for integration with the spacecraft bus and sunshield.  NASA announced in September that Northrop Grumman is encountering integration challenges and the JWST launch date has slipped by 6-9 months, from October 2018 to sometime between the end of March and end of June 2019.

Asked how much reserve remains in the JWST schedule, Ochs said he thinks there are several months, but noted that NASA Science Mission Directorate head Thomas Zurbuchen has decided to conduct an independent review.  Zurbuchen told Congress about the review at a hearing last month.  Ochs said the review would be at the end of the month. later clarified with NASA HQ that he meant the review will be completed, not begun, at that time.  A NASA spokeswoman replied on behalf of JWST Program Director Eric Smith that “The schedule review will be finished by the last week in January and will be briefed to agency officials then.”

NASA Renames SWIFT After Neil Gehrels

Dr. Neil Gehrels speaking at National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in 2015.  Credits: NASA Goddard/Judith Clark.

NASA has renamed its Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission after the late Neil Gehrels, a highly respected NASA Goddard Space Flight Center astrophysicist who was principal investigator (PI) for the mission.  It is now the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory.

Gehrels, the son of astronomer Tom Gehrels, died of pancreatic cancer in February 2017 at the age of 64 after an illustrious career in gamma ray astronomy. He started working at Goddard in 1982 after obtaining his PhD from the California Institute of Technology. He was director of the Goddard Astroparticle Physics laboratory, project scientist for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), and a professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland at the time of his death.

Launched in 2004, the observatory continues to make groundbreaking discoveries. NASA announced today that it has “captured an unprecedented change in the rotation of a comet.” Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák’s (or 41P for short) was observed to be spinning three times slower in May 2017 than in March 2017, “the most dramatic change in a comet’s rotation ever seen.”

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