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Final Atlas 3 launched
The last Lockheed Martin Atlas 3 rocket launches from Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 2:41 a.m. EST carrying a classified spy satellite cargo for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. This movie follows the mission through ignition of Centaur. (5min 30sec file)
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Atlas 3 onboard
A camera mounted on the Centaur upper stage captured this dramatic footage of the spent first stage separation, deployment of the RL10 engine nozzle extension, the powerplant igniting and the rocket's nose cone falling away during launch.
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Farewell to Complex 36
Following the 145th and final Atlas rocket liftoff from Cape Canaveral's Complex 36, officials "toast" the historic two-pad site and its blockhouse. Then the spotlights illuminating the pads are turned off as the complex "goes dark." (10min 50sec file)

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Shuttle crew in training
Astronauts Soichi Noguchi and Steve Robinson go under water in the Neutral Bouyancy Lab's gigantic pool to practice spacewalk activities for the upcoming STS-114 return-to-flight space shuttle mission. (3min 45sec file)
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Visiting the Cape
The STS-114 return-to-flight space shuttle crew visits Kennedy Space Center to inspect Discovery and the new sensor boom that will look for orbiter launch damage. (2min 22sec file)
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Day of Remembrance
NASA pays tribute to those lost while furthering the cause of exploration, including the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews, during this Day of Remembrance memorial from agency headquarters on Jan. 27. (38min 58sec file)

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Even in heaven, stars can only get so big
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN NEWS RELEASE
Posted: February 5, 2005

New research from the University of Michigan shows that there may be an upper limit to the mass of a star, somewhere around 120 to 200 times bigger than our sun.

The sun is the closest star to Earth and therefore looks very big to us, but compared to other stars in the Milky Way, it's considered a low-mass star. Knowing that there may be a limit to a star's mass answers a fundamental question, but raises a raft of other issues about what limits their mass, said Sally Oey, assistant professor of astronomy.

The study is the first to determine the stellar upper mass limit by examining a wide range of star clusters, Oey said. (rhymes with chewy) In the paper, "Statistical Confirmation of a Stellar Upper Mass Limit," Oey and colleague Catherine J. Clarke, from the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge, England, compared historical data on 12 OB associations, large aggregates of hundreds to several thousand young stars.

The paper will appear in the Feb. 10 edition of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Other studies have suggested an upper mass limit of about the same size, but had looked at only one cluster. "Ours has more statistical significance because we were able to use many clusters," Oey said.

Oey and Clarke looked at star clusters in the Milky Way, our galaxy, and the Magellanic Clouds, the Milky Way's brightest satellite galaxies, because they are close enough to enable seeing individual stars and making measurements, Oey said.

"If you looked at any of the clusters, you'll see roughly the same ratio of big to little stars," Oey said. Based on the size and number of stars, the probability of finding stars above a certain mass dropped significantly at 120-200 solar masses, Oey said.

The question of mass is an important one because it relates to basic star formation, Oey said. "My African violets won't grow any bigger now because their roots are totally taking up the maximum room in the pot," she said. "If I repotted them they would grow larger. Are the stars maxed out because the parent clouds are limiting them, or because, like a whale in the sea, there's something else physical about stars themselves that limits the size?

"The question about why stars have the masses that they do is fundamental, and our lack of understanding shows that we really don't know some basics of how stars form."

The biggest stars output huge amounts of energy by exploding when they die or by releasing ultraviolet radiation during the star's normal life. That puts tremendous energy into the interstellar medium, which in turn leads to evolutionary activity like renewed star formation and the conversion of gas into stars.

"If you have more stars and energy in the interstellar medium it means more evolutionary activity," Oey said. "It stirs things up."

Ares 1-X Patch
The official embroidered patch for the Ares 1-X rocket test flight, is available for purchase.
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Apollo Collage
This beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.
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Expedition 21
The official embroidered patch for the International Space Station Expedition 21 crew is now available from our stores.
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Hubble Patch
The official embroidered patch for mission STS-125, the space shuttle's last planned service call to the Hubble Space Telescope, is available for purchase.
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