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*** JULY 2006 ***

Liquid methane drizzles on the surface of Titan, a moon of Saturn, according to a paper by NASA and university scientists that appears in today's issue of the journal, Nature.
Data from the European Space Agency's Huygens probe indicates there is a lower, barely visible, liquid methane-nitrogen cloud that drops rain to the surface of Titan, reported a team of scientists from universities, an observatory and NASA...
"The rain on Titan is just a slight drizzle, but it rains all the time, day in, day out. It makes the ground wet and muddy with liquid methane. This is why the Huygens probe landed with a splat. It landed in methane mud," said Christopher McKay, a scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley and second author of the study. The principal author is Tetsuya Tokano from the University of Cologne, Germany.
On Titan, the clouds and rain are formed of liquid methane. On Earth, methane is a flammable gas, but Titan has no oxygen in its atmosphere that could support combustion. Also, the temperatures on Titan are so cold - minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 149 degrees Celsius) - that the methane can form liquid. Titan's landscape includes fluvial, river-like features that may well be formed by methane rain, scientists noted.
A gap separates the liquid methane cloud -- the source of the rain - from a higher, upper methane ice cloud, according to the scientific study. Scientists say the downward flow of methane due to the rain is balanced by upward transport of methane gas by large-scale atmospheric circulation.
According to scientists, the rain comes from thin clouds of methane. The upper clouds are methane ice, and the lower clouds are liquid and composed of a combination of methane and nitrogen. Computer models indicate these thin liquid methane clouds cover about half of Titan, even though methane abundance on the moon decreases with latitude, the team reported...

NASA is partnering with industry to develop a new health monitoring system to increase safety and efficiency in complex industrial plants, such as power generation and water treatment facilities.
The new industrial plant health monitoring system will be based on the Inductive Monitoring System (IMS), a technology developed at NASA Ames Research Center, located in California's Silicon Valley. The IMS technology uses artificial intelligence and data-mining techniques to build system-monitoring knowledge bases from archived or simulated sensor data to detect unusual or anomalous behavior that may indicate an impending system failure. The IMS currently is helping analyze data from systems that help fly and maintain the space shuttle and the International Space Station. Previously, the IMS has been used by NASA's hybrid combustion facility, an advanced rocket fuel test facility, the RASCAL UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, and to monitor engine systems on an F/A-18 Hornet aircraft.
"We recently granted a non-exclusive patent license to a local company to develop new software based on the IMS technology developed at NASA Ames," said Phil Herlth, technology partnership manager at NASA Ames. "This agreement represents a continuation of NASA's commitment to transfer technology to the commercial marketplace," he added.
"We have integrated the NASA technology into our Remote Manager software platform to provide complete early warning and diagnostics software for the process industries," said Peter Millett, CEO of iSagacity, Inc., of Half Moon Bay, Calif. According to Millett, the NASA technology will greatly enhance the capabilities of its Web-based monitoring products, such as Remote Manager...

Reporters are invited to observe a NASA Mars prototype drill, controlled by artificial intelligence, bore into a crater in the Canadian arctic. This is the first time artificial intelligence will have completely controlled a drill rig.
Drilling Automation for the Mars Exploration (DAME) Project's field exercise is being held at the Haughton Crater on Devon Island in Canada's Nunavut Territory north of Ontario and Quebec. The main objective of the exercise is to evaluate the automation software.
An eight-person team, made up of scientists and engineers from NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., will set up drilling equipment. Earth-based experiments will help scientists learn if synthetic brainpower is able to control a rig on Mars for many hours of drilling without human intervention. Future Mars missions with drills will likely have the ability to communicate with Earth only once or twice a day...

NASA Launches New Education Initiative for Minority Students
NASA kicked off a new initiative with the United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corporation on Wednesday. The initiative will give researchers and students from minority institutions direct access to NASA facilities, scientists and capabilities.
Funded by a $3.5 million grant from NASA, the corporation will establish the NASA Science and Technology Institute for Minority Institutions. The institute will be in the NASA Research Park at the agency's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the institute will bring together the talent and expertise of historically black colleges and universities; Hispanic-serving institutions; tribal colleges and universities; and other minority institutions through research-based fellowships, internships, co-ops and grants.
"I am truly delighted that NASA is partnering with the corporation to establish this revolutionary new institute." said Ames Director S. Pete Worden. "This joint venture will give minority students and researchers access to NASA and the opportunity to collaborate with researchers in the surrounding community of universities, high-tech research and development companies."
The goal of the initiative is to provide professional development that will prepare faculty, students, researchers, visionaries and entrepreneurs to become highly-skilled science and technology leaders and managers. The preparation will enable them to compete in the national and global workforce...

Someday, astronauts may grow food efficiently in space and use plants to clean spaceship air, thanks to a two-year experiment scheduled aboard the International Space Station.
The next space shuttle mission, STS-121, will carry the Tropi experiment's apparatus into space when the shuttle hurtles into orbit after its July 1 scheduled launch. Scientists will study a weed in the cabbage and mustard family, to see if its roots grow more readily toward red or blue light, according to scientists.
"Arabidopsis thaliana is a common weed, which we've found in our parking lots," said Mike Eodice, the experiment's project manager at NASA Ames Research Center, located in California's Silicon Valley.
"NASA has selected this plant as a model specimen for space research since the plant's genetic structure has been fully mapped. The plant is also a good research specimen because it is very hearty," Eodice explained.
Researchers will use a small video camera to observe the roots while they grow inside seed cassettes. The cassettes will be housed within a special plant research facility, called the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS), developed by the European Space Agency...