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STS-61A: German Spacelab
Eight astronauts, the largest crew in history, spent a week in space during the fall of 1985 aboard shuttle Challenger for mission STS-61A, the first flight dedicated to the German Spacelab. The crew worked in the Spacelab D-1 laboratory conducting a range of experiments, including a quick-moving sled that traveled along tracks in the module. A small satellite was ejected from a canister in the payload bay as well. The astronauts narrate the highlights of the mission in this post-flight film.

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Discovery moves to VAB
Perched atop a trailer-like transporter, space shuttle Discovery was moved May 12 from its hangar to the 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building for mating to its external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters in preparation for the STS-121 mission.

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Astronaut Hall of Fame 2006 induction
The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame inducted its 2006 class of shuttle commanders Henry Hartsfield, Brewster Shaw and Charles Bolden. The ceremony was held inside the Saturn 5 museum at Kennedy Space Center.

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STEREO arrival
NASA's twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory satellites (STEREO) arrive via truck at the Astrotech processing facility outside Kennedy Space Center for final pre-launch testing and preparations. They will be launched this summer aboard a Boeing Delta 2 rocket to provide the first 3-D "stereo" views of the sun and solar wind.

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STS-51F: Shuttle becomes observatory
Space shuttle Challenger was transformed into an orbiting observatory to study the sun, stars and space environment during the Spacelab 2 mission in the summer of 1985. But getting into space wasn't easy. The shuttle suffered an engine shutdown on the launch pad, then during ascent two weeks later lost one of its three main engines. It marked the first Abort To Orbit in shuttle history. In this post-flight film, the crew of STS-51F narrates highlights of the mission that includes tests using a small plasma-monitoring satellite was launched from Challenger's robot arm.

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STS-51G: Space truck
A seven-person crew featuring payload specialists from France and Saudi Arabia flew aboard the June 1985 mission of space shuttle Discovery. They narrate the highlights of STS-51G in this post-flight film. Three communications satellites -- for Mexico, the Arab countries and the U.S. -- were launched from the payload bay. And the SPARTAN 1 astrophysics spacecraft was deployed from the shuttle's robot arm for a two-day freeflight to make its science observations before being retrieved and returned to Earth.

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Planetary system with three "Neptunes" found
EUROPEAN SOUTHERN OBSERVATORY NEWS RELEASE
Posted: May 18, 2006


An artist's rendering of the planetary system. Credit: ESO
 
Using the ultra-precise HARPS spectrograph on ESO's 3.6-m telescope at La Silla (Chile), a team of European astronomers has discovered that a nearby star is host to three Neptune-mass planets. The innermost planet is most probably rocky, while the outermost is the first known Neptune-mass planet to reside in the habitable zone. This unique system is likely further enriched by an asteroid belt.

"For the first time, we have discovered a planetary system composed of several Neptune-mass planets", said Christophe Lovis, from the Geneva Observatory and lead-author of the paper presenting the results.

During more than two years, the astronomers carefully studied HD 69830, a rather inconspicuous nearby star slightly less massive than the Sun. Located 41 light-years away towards the constellation of Puppis (the Stern), it is, with a visual magnitude of 5.95, just visible with the unaided eye. The astronomers' precise radial- velocity measurements allowed them to discover the presence of three tiny companions orbiting their parent star in 8.67, 31.6 and 197 days.

"Only ESO's HARPS instrument installed at the La Silla Observatory, Chile, made it possible to uncover these planets", said Michel Mayor, also from Geneva Observatory, and HARPS Principal Investigator. "Without any doubt, it is presently the world's most precise planet- hunting machine".

The detected velocity variations are between 2 and 3 metres per second, corresponding to about 9 km/h! That's the speed of a person walking briskly. Such tiny signals could not have been distinguished from 'simple noise' by most of today's available spectrographs.

The newly found planets have minimum masses between 10 and 18 times the mass of the Earth. Extensive theoretical simulations favour an essentially rocky composition for the inner planet, and a rocky/gas structure for the middle one. The outer planet has probably accreted some ice during its formation, and is likely to be made of a rocky/ icy core surrounded by a quite massive envelope. Further calculations have also shown that the system is in a dynamically stable configuration.

The outer planet also appears to be located near the inner edge of the habitable zone, where liquid water can exist at the surface of rocky/icy bodies. Although this planet is probably not Earth-like due to its heavy mass, its discovery opens the way to exciting perspectives.

With three roughly equal-mass planets, one being in the habitable zone, and an asteroid belt, this planetary system shares many properties with our own solar system.

"This alone makes this system already exceptional", said Willy Benz, from Bern University, and co-author. "But the recent discovery by the Spitzer Space Telescope that the star most likely hosts an asteroid belt is adding the cherry to the cake."

"The planetary system around HD 69830 clearly represents a Rosetta stone in our understanding of how planets form", said Michel Mayor. "No doubt it will help us better understand the huge diversity we have observed since the first extra-solar planet was found 11 years ago."

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