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NOAA assists NASA Mars mission (Forwarded)

Subject: NOAA assists NASA Mars mission Forwarded
From: Andrew Yee
Date: Sun, 05 Mar 2006 11:09:30 -0500
Newsgroups: sci.astro
Washington, D.C.

Media Contact:
Carmeyia Gillis, NOAA Space Environment Center
(301) 763-8000 ext. 7163

March 3, 2006


Space Environment Center Keeps Close Watch for Solar Storms

The NOAA Space Environment Center, home to the nation's early warning system for solar storms, is assisting NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission as the satellite approaches its critical orbit insertion phase. The SEC is providing daily briefings to the NASA MRO Mission Operations Assurance Group as well as providing appropriate warnings and alerts of space weather.

"This operation presents some significant challenges," said Joe Kunches, chief of the NOAA Space Environment Center's forecast and analysis branch. "The greatest issue is the fact that Mars is a long way from Earth, but more importantly, Mars is facing a different part of the Sun than we Earthlings."

Currently, the SEC expects space weather conditions to be quiet, and NOAA forecasters anticipate they will stay that way through the next week. "Accurate forecasts are imperative," added Kunches. "If the MRO were to encounter a solar radiation storm while in an operational mode that is vulnerable to an energetic proton it could cause a computer component to malfunction and the spacecraft could be lost."

The SEC also provides similar information in a NASA requested space weather briefing every day for the NASA Space Radiation Analysis Group at Johnson Space Center. SRAG monitors the radiation environment for the crew of the International Space Station and astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle when it is in flight.

The NOAA Space Environment Center is one of the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Prediction. SEC's 24 hour-a-day, 7 days-a-week operations are critical in protecting space and ground-based assets. Through the SEC, NOAA and the U.S. Air Force jointly operate the space weather operations center that continuously monitors, analyzes and forecasts the environment between the Sun and Earth. In addition to the data gathered from NOAA and NASA satellites, the center receives real-time solar and geophysical information from ground-based observatories around the world. NOAA space weather forecasters use the data to predict solar and geomagnetic activity and issue worldwide alerts of significant events.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources.

Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and nearly 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.

Relevant Web Sites:

* NOAA Space Environment Center
* NOAA Solar X-ray Imager -- Latest Images of the Sun

[ (57KB)] NOAA image of the Sun taken at 11:42 a.m. EST on March 3, 2006. Credit: NOAA.

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