December 2003 Top Story Archives



Does Vega Have a Planetary System Like Ours? »» Does Vega Have a Planetary System Like Ours?

[Monday, December 01, 2003] Astronomers have produced compelling new evidence that Vega, one of the brightest stars in the sky, has a planetary system around it which is more like our own Solar System than any other so far discovered.

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Pushing out the Kuiper belt »» Pushing out the Kuiper belt

[Monday, December 01, 2003] A new study provides an explanation for one of the more mysterious aspects of the population of objects beyond Neptune. In doing so, it provides a unique glimpse into the proto-planetary disk from which the Solar System's planets formed.

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Biggest Star in Our Galaxy Sits within a Rugby-Ball Shaped Cocoon »» Biggest Star in Our Galaxy Sits within a Rugby-Ball Shaped Cocoon

[Monday, December 01, 2003] An international team of astronomers have zoomed-in on the inner part of Eta Carinae's stellar wind - which turns out to be extremely elongated. The star itself is highly unstable because of its fast rotation.

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NASA's Stardust Photographs Target Comet - Wild 2 »» NASA's Stardust Photographs Target Comet - Wild 2

[Monday, December 01, 2003] Forty-nine days before its historic rendezvous with a comet, NASA's Stardust spacecraft successfully photographed its quarry, comet Wild 2, from 25 million kilometers (15.5 million miles) away.

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NASA Names Crew for  STS-121 »» NASA Names Crew for STS-121

[Tuesday, December 02, 2003] Four NASA astronauts have been chosen to fly on the newly created Space Shuttle mission, STS-121. It is the mission following the Space Shuttle's Return to Flight.

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NASA's Mars Rovers Head for Exciting Landings in January »» NASA's Mars Rovers Head for Exciting Landings in January

[Tuesday, December 02, 2003] NASA'S robotic Mars geologist, Spirit, embodying America's enthusiasm for exploration, must run a grueling gantlet of challenges before it can start examining Mars. Spirit's twin Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, also faces tough Martian challenges.

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Pulsar Find Boosts Hope for Gravity-Wave Hunters »» Pulsar Find Boosts Hope for Gravity-Wave Hunters

[Wednesday, December 03, 2003] Neutron star pairs may merge and give off a burst of gravity waves about six times more often than previously thought, scientists report in the current issue of the journal Nature.

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Mars Missions Have An International Flavor »» Mars Missions Have An International Flavor

[Wednesday, December 03, 2003] A European Space Agency (ESA) mission that will arrive at Mars this month has American participants, and Europeans are team members for two NASA spacecraft that will reach Mars in January.

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Stormy Space Weather Slips Through Cracks in Earth's Magentic Field »» Stormy Space Weather Slips Through Cracks in Earth's Magentic Field

[Wednesday, December 03, 2003] Immense cracks in Earth's magnetic field remain open for hours, allowing the solar wind to gush through and power stormy space weather, according to new observations from NASA's IMAGE spacecraft and the joint NASA/ESA Cluster satellites.

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Firestorm of Star Birth Seen in Local Galaxy »» Firestorm of Star Birth Seen in Local Galaxy

[Thursday, December 04, 2003] NGC 604 is one of the largest known seething cauldrons of star birth in a nearby galaxy and is similar to familiar star-birth regions in our own galaxy, such as the Orion Nebula, but it is vastly larger in extent.

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SpaceX Falcon Launch Vehicle Unveiled in Washington D.C. »» SpaceX Falcon Launch Vehicle Unveiled in Washington D.C.

[Thursday, December 04, 2003] SpaceX held a reception this evening at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. Several hundred quests were in attendance. But the star of the show wasn't human - but rather, a Falcon launch vehicle.

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NASA Scientists Use Radar to Detect Asteroid Force »» NASA Scientists Use Radar to Detect Asteroid Force

[Saturday, December 06, 2003] NASA scientists have for the first time detected a tiny but theoretically important force acting on asteroids by measuring an extremely subtle change in a near-Earth asteroid's orbital path.

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30th Anniversary of Pioneer 10's Visit to Jupiter »» 30th Anniversary of Pioneer 10's Visit to Jupiter

[Saturday, December 06, 2003] Thirty years ago, on 3 December 1973, Pioneer 10 made its closest encounter to Jupiter passing within 81,000 miles. This historic event marked humans' first approach to Jupiter and opened the way for exploration of the outer solar system.

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Cassini Begins to See Details on Saturn »» Cassini Begins to See Details on Saturn

[Saturday, December 06, 2003] One year since last sighting Saturn, and less than eight months before reaching the planet, the cameras on NASA's Cassini spacecraft have caught another glimpse of the ringed planet, growing more detailed with time.

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Rings Around the Planets: Recycling of Material May Extend Ring Lifetimes »» Rings Around the Planets: Recycling of Material May Extend Ring Lifetimes

[Sunday, December 07, 2003] Although rings around planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are relatively short-lived, new evidence implies that the recycling of orbiting debris can lengthen the lifetime of such rings, according to University of Colorado researchers.

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The Measure of Water: NASA Creates New Map for the Atmosphere »» The Measure of Water: NASA Creates New Map for the Atmosphere

[Monday, December 08, 2003] NASA scientists have opened a new window for understanding atmospheric water vapor, its implications for climate change and ozone depletion.

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A Sneak Preview of America's Air and Space Cathedral »» A Sneak Preview of America's Air and Space Cathedral

[Monday, December 08, 2003] Many have referred to the current National Air and Space Museum on the Mall in Washington D.C. as a shrine to achievements in air and space. If the original museum is a shrine (it is), then its new Udvar-Hazy annex is a cathedral.

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Trail of Black Holes and Neutron Stars Points to Ancient Collision »» Trail of Black Holes and Neutron Stars Points to Ancient Collision

[Monday, December 08, 2003] An image of an elliptical galaxy has revealed a trail of black holes and neutron stars stretching more than 50,000 light years across space. The trail of intense X-ray sources is evidence that this galaxy collided with another a few billion years ago.

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Voyager 1 Is Approaching The Edge Of Our Solar System »» Voyager 1 Is Approaching The Edge Of Our Solar System

[Monday, December 08, 2003] A University of Iowa space physicist says that NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft -- the most distant manmade object at some 90 astronomical units (AU) or 8.4 billion miles from the sun -- has provided a new estimate of the distance to the heliopause, the

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Odyssey Studies Changing Weather and Climate on Mars »» Odyssey Studies Changing Weather and Climate on Mars

[Monday, December 08, 2003] Mars may be going through a period of climate change, new findings from NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter suggest.

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NASA Releases Station and Shuttle Utilization Reinvention (SSUR) Final Report »» NASA Releases Station and Shuttle Utilization Reinvention (SSUR) Final Report

[Tuesday, December 09, 2003] The Station and Shuttle Utilization Reinvention (SSUR) team was formed to develop and recommend change strategies that would streamline the utilization process and embrace the research community for research on the ISS and the Space Shuttle.

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NASA's ICESat Captures Earth in Spectacular 3-D Images »» NASA's ICESat Captures Earth in Spectacular 3-D Images

[Tuesday, December 09, 2003] NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) is sending home important scientific data and 3-D views of Earth's polar ice sheets, clouds, mountains, and forestlands.

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Extensive Destruction Powers Solar Explosions »» Extensive Destruction Powers Solar Explosions

[Tuesday, December 09, 2003] Large-scale destruction of magnetic fields in the sun's atmosphere likely powers enormous solar explosions, according to a new observation from NASA's Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI) spacecraft.

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Japan Abandons Nozomi »» Japan Abandons Nozomi

[Wednesday, December 10, 2003] After no sucess in communicating with its Mars-bound spacecraft "Nozomi", JAXA has decided not to try and put Nozomi into orbit around Mars and has formally abandoned the mission.

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A Giant Cocoon of Molecular Hydrogen Discovered Around a Massive Young Star »» A Giant Cocoon of Molecular Hydrogen Discovered Around a Massive Young Star

[Wednesday, December 10, 2003] Astronomers have discovered a giant envelope or disk of glowing gas more than half a light year across, illuminated by shockwaves caused by winds travelling at up to 360,000 km/hour. The disk is orbiting a massive star 20,000 light years from Earth.

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Scientists »» Scientists "Reconstruct" Earth's Climate Over Past Millennia

[Wednesday, December 10, 2003] Using the perspective of the last few centuries and millennia, speakers in a press conference at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union will discuss the latest research involving climate reconstructions and different climate models.

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Planet Formation Model Indicates Earthlike Planets Might Be Common »» Planet Formation Model Indicates Earthlike Planets Might Be Common

[Wednesday, December 10, 2003] In 44 computer simulations of planet formation near a sun, astronomers found that each simulation produced one to four Earthlike planets, including 11 so-called "habitable" planets about the same distance from their stars as Earth is from our sun.

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Why is Money Stuck to the Wall of the International Space Station? »» Why is Money Stuck to the Wall of the International Space Station?

[Wednesday, December 10, 2003] If you look at the upper right hand corner of this photo taken inside the Service Module you will see dollar bill and a 50 Ruble note clipped together on the wall.

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NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer Mission Captures Galaxies »» NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer Mission Captures Galaxies

[Thursday, December 11, 2003] The most sensitive and comprehensive ultraviolet image ever taken of the Andromeda Galaxy, our nearest large neighbor galaxy, has been captured by NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer.

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Solar electrons, auroras associated with recent geomagnetic storms »» Solar electrons, auroras associated with recent geomagnetic storms

[Thursday, December 11, 2003] Using an orbiting camera designed to block the light from the sun and stars, solar physicists have been able for the first time to directly image clouds of electrons surrounding Earth that travel from the sun during periods of solar flare activity.

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Why Astrobiologists Look to Titan »» Why Astrobiologists Look to Titan

[Thursday, December 11, 2003] Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the best place in the solar system to study primordial soup -- the stuff from which life emerged.

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Radioactive potassium may be major heat source in Earth's core »» Radioactive potassium may be major heat source in Earth's core

[Friday, December 12, 2003] Radioactive potassium appears also to be a substantial source of heat in the Earth's core, according to recent experiments by University of California, Berkeley, geophysicists.

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Insight into NASA Space Tether Experiment »» Insight into NASA Space Tether Experiment

[Sunday, December 14, 2003] Last week NASA MSFC posted a solicitation notice which called for launch of a large (15-16 metric tonne) payload into an equatorial low Earth orbit (LEO). This solicitation was suddenly pulled a day later.

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New Pictures; New Name for SIRTF »» New Pictures; New Name for SIRTF

[Monday, December 15, 2003] The first colorful and revealing cosmic images from NASA's Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) will be unveiled at a news conference Thursday, Dec. 18. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe will also announce a new name for the observatory.

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Evolving Traditions Aboard the International Space Station »» Evolving Traditions Aboard the International Space Station

[Monday, December 15, 2003] On 5 December 2003, Expedition 8 Astronaut Michael Foale commented from the International Space Station on a story which appeared on SpaceRef and NASA Watch.

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X-ray view of the Red Planet »» X-ray view of the Red Planet

[Monday, December 15, 2003] Another ESA mission is turning its gaze towards Mars. This recent image was taken by the X-ray observatory XMM-Newton.

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A Century of Flight on Earth - and in Space »» A Century of Flight on Earth - and in Space

[Wednesday, December 17, 2003] All ISS systems continue to function nominally, except as noted previously or below. 100 years ago today, powered flight was born.  There are about half a million people in the air at any one time today.  In space, there are (just) two.

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SpaceShipOne Breaks the Sound Barrier »» SpaceShipOne Breaks the Sound Barrier

[Wednesday, December 17, 2003] Today, a significant milestone was achieved by Scaled Composites: The first manned supersonic flight by an aircraft developed by a small company's private, non-government effort.

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Mars May be Emerging from an Ice Age »» Mars May be Emerging from an Ice Age

[Wednesday, December 17, 2003] NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey missions have provided evidence of a relatively recent ice age on Mars. Martian ice ages wane when the poles cool and lock water into polar icecaps.

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Global Methane Release About 600 Million Years Ago? »» Global Methane Release About 600 Million Years Ago?

[Wednesday, December 17, 2003] In a study published in the December 18 issue of the journal Nature, scientists describe new evidence from south China that explains how the planet might have thawed from its icy past.

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How Stardust Stays on Target »» How Stardust Stays on Target

[Wednesday, December 17, 2003] Imagine driving through heavy fog to a place you've never been, guided only by a faint taillight in the distance. The challenge is similar to flying Stardust mission through the halo of dust that surrounds the nucleus of a comet.

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NASA Releases Dazzling Images from Spitzer Space Telescope »» NASA Releases Dazzling Images from Spitzer Space Telescope

[Thursday, December 18, 2003] A new window to the universe was opened with today's release of the first dazzling images from NASA's newly named Spitzer Space Telescope, formerly known as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility.

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Mars Express releases Beagle 2 »» Mars Express releases Beagle 2

[Friday, December 19, 2003] This morning, ESA's Mars Express released the Beagle 2 lander. Beagle 2 is now on its journey towards the surface of Mars, where it is expected to land early in the morning of 25 December.

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NASA Announces Name for Space Infrared Telescope Facility »» NASA Announces Name for Space Infrared Telescope Facility

[Friday, December 19, 2003] NASA's Space Infrared Telescope Facility has been renamed the Spitzer Space Telescope. It was named in honor of the late Dr. Lyman Spitzer Jr., one of the 20th century's most distinguished scientists.

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Space Infrared Telescope Sees Disk around Fomalhaut »» Space Infrared Telescope Sees Disk around Fomalhaut

[Friday, December 19, 2003] UA-built MIPS detectors took the first-ever image of dust in the inner part of the massive disc of dusty debris left over from planet formation around Fomalhaut, a star 25 light years away.

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MESSENGER Shipped to NASA Goddard for Prelaunch Testing »» MESSENGER Shipped to NASA Goddard for Prelaunch Testing

[Friday, December 19, 2003] Less than six months from its scheduled launch to Mercury, NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft is set for the next round of tests to prepare it for the first orbital study of the innermost planet.

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Rover Wheel Holes to be Used to Study Mars »» Rover Wheel Holes to be Used to Study Mars

[Friday, December 19, 2003] After the twin Mars Exploration Rovers bounce onto the red planet and begin touring the Martian terrain in January, onboard spectrometers and cameras will gather data and images --- and the rovers' wheels will dig holes.

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NEO News: Near Earth Objects Less than 1 Km in Diameter »» NEO News: Near Earth Objects Less than 1 Km in Diameter

[Sunday, December 21, 2003] This edition of NEO News is devoted to the report of the NASA Science Definition Team (SDT), led by Grant Stokes, describing the situation with respect to NEAs less than 1 km in diameter: both the impact threat and proposals to deal with it.

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Chandra reveals glowing shell created by massive star's destruction »» Chandra reveals glowing shell created by massive star's destruction

[Monday, December 22, 2003] The X-ray glow from supernova remnant N63A is from material heated to about ten million degrees Celsius by a shock wave generated by the supernova explosion. The age of N63A is estimated to be in the range of 2,000 to 5,000 years.

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Three Dusty Beauties »» Three Dusty Beauties

[Monday, December 22, 2003] Nowadays, we know that the Milky Way is just one of billions of galaxies in the Universe. They come in vastly different shapes - spiral, elliptical, irregular - and many of them are simply beautiful, especially the spiral ones.

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Ion Engine Design Passes Key NASA Test »» Ion Engine Design Passes Key NASA Test

[Tuesday, December 23, 2003] A team of engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory successfully tested a new ion propulsion engine design, one of several candidate propulsion technologies under study by NASA's Project Prometheus.

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Beagle 2 - No signal received during the first pass of Mars Odyssey »» Beagle 2 - No signal received during the first pass of Mars Odyssey

[Wednesday, December 24, 2003] At 2.47am GMT the Beagle 2 probe entered the martian atmosphere to begin the final descent to the surface, coming to rest at 2.54am.

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Mars Express Successfully Orbits Mars »» Mars Express Successfully Orbits Mars

[Wednesday, December 24, 2003] Europe's Mars Express, the first spacecraft it has ever sent to Mars has successfully reached capture orbit.

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Scientists Await First Call From Beagle »» Scientists Await First Call From Beagle

[Thursday, December 25, 2003] Although the first attempt to use NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter to communicate with the lander three hours later was unsuccessful, scientists and engineers are still awaiting the best Christmas present possible.

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Beagle 2 Teams Continue Efforts To Communicate With The Lander »» Beagle 2 Teams Continue Efforts To Communicate With The Lander

[Saturday, December 27, 2003] Two attempts to communicate with Beagle 2 during the last 24 hours - first with the 250 ft (76 m) Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, UK, and then this morning with the Mars Odyssey orbiter - ended without receiving a signal.

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Planetary Survivor Strategy: Outeat, Outweigh, Outlast! »» Planetary Survivor Strategy: Outeat, Outweigh, Outlast!

[Monday, December 29, 2003] Astronomers have found that planet formation is a contest, where a growing planet must fight for survival lest it be swallowed by the star that initially nurtured it.

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Major Mars Express scheduled orbit change successful »» Major Mars Express scheduled orbit change successful

[Tuesday, December 30, 2003] This morning, at 09:00 CET, Mars Express registered another operational success. The flight control team at ESOC prepared and executed another critical manoeuvre, bringing the spacecraft from an equatorial orbit into a polar orbit around Mars.

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Spirit Rover On Final Approach to Mars »» Spirit Rover On Final Approach to Mars

[Tuesday, December 30, 2003] NASA's Spirit rover spacecraft fired its thrusters for 3.4 seconds on Friday, Dec. 26, to make a slight and possibly final correction in its flight path about one week before landing on Mars.

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NASA Comet Hunter Closing on Quarry »» NASA Comet Hunter Closing on Quarry

[Tuesday, December 30, 2003] Having trekked 3.2 billion kilometers (2 billion miles) across cold, radiation-charged and interstellar-dust-swept space in just under five years, NASA's Stardust spacecraft is closing in on the main target of its mission -- a comet flyby.

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Stardust Raises its Shields »» Stardust Raises its Shields

[Wednesday, December 31, 2003] T-minus 48 hours and counting to a historic rendezvous, NASA's Stardust spacecraft has officially entered a comet's coma, the cloud of dust and gas surrounding the nucleus.

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Mars Global Surveyor Images Beagle 2 Landing Site »» Mars Global Surveyor Images Beagle 2 Landing Site

[Wednesday, December 31, 2003] This Mars Global Surveyor image shows the Beagle 2 landing zone about 18 minutes after the probe was scheduled to touch down on 25 December 2003. The white ellipse shows the approximate location of the landing site.

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NASA's Year of Sorrow, Recovery, Progress, and Success »» NASA's Year of Sorrow, Recovery, Progress, and Success

[Wednesday, December 31, 2003] NASA's plans for 2003 were abruptly changed February 1 with the sudden and tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the brave crew of STS-107.

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Hubble Sees Record-breaking ancient galaxy clusters »» Hubble Sees Record-breaking ancient galaxy clusters

[Wednesday, December 31, 2003] Studies of two distant galaxy clusters using a combination of the largest radio, optical and x-ray telescopes on the ground and in space have independently found that galaxies formed relatively early in the history of the Universe.

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