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*** MAY 2009 ***

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...NASA today successfully launched two hypersonic experiments as secondary payloads atop a NASA-built Terrier-Orion two-stage research sounding rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Va., at 9:52 a.m. PDT.
The rocket lofted two Sub-Orbital Aerodynamic Re-entry Experiments, or SOAREX, probes more than 80 miles high. The two NASA-developed experiments will help engineers and scientists design efficient ways to return experiments to Earth from the International Space Station. Additionally the technology could be used to supplement future missions to Mars.
"Both experiments performed very well, but the Tube Deployed Re-entry Vehicle experiment performed even better than we had predicted," said Marc Murbach, the principal investigator for the SOAREX missions, which are managed by the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. "Because of how well the instruments worked, we expect to get very interesting and useful data." ...

...NASA's Kepler spacecraft has begun its search for other Earth-like worlds. The mission, which launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on March 6, will spend the next three-and-a-half years staring at more than 100,000 stars for telltale signs of planets. Kepler has the unique ability to find planets as small as Earth that orbit sun-like stars at distances where temperatures are right for possible lakes and oceans.
"Now the fun begins," said William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "We are all really excited to start sorting through the data and discovering the planets."
Scientists and engineers have spent the last two months checking out and calibrating the Kepler spacecraft. Data have been collected to characterize the imaging performance as well as the noise level in the measurement electronics. The scientists have constructed the list of targets for the start of the planet search, and this information has been loaded onto the spacecraft.
"If Kepler got into a staring contest, it would win," said James Fanson, Kepler project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "The spacecraft is ready to stare intently at the same stars for several years so that it can precisely measure the slightest changes in their brightness caused by planets." Kepler will hunt for planets by looking for periodic dips in the brightness of stars -- events that occur when orbiting planets cross in front of their stars and partially block the light...