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NASA Accepting Applications for Aeronautics Scholarship Awards Friday, August 28, 2009 |

NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate will begin accepting scholarship applications on Sept. 1, 2009, for the 2010 academic year. The application deadline is Jan. 11, 2010.

"These scholarships are a fantastic way to support our brightest students and encourage them to finish their education, expose them to NASA's research programs and inspire them to pursue a career in aeronautics," said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

NASA expects to award 20 undergraduate and five graduate scholarships to students in aeronautics or related fields. Undergraduate students entering their second year of study will receive up to $15,000 per year for two years and the opportunity to receive a $10,000 stipend by interning at a NASA research center during the summer. Graduate students will receive up to $35,000 per annually for up to three years, with an opportunity to receive a $10,000 stipend interning at a NASA research center up to two consecutive summers.

Students who have not committed to a specific academic institution or program still may apply. However, if accepted, they must be admitted by fall 2010 into a suitable aeronautical engineering program or related field of study at an accredited U.S. university. All applicants must be U.S. citizens. Scholarship money may be used for tuition and other school-related expenses.

NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate conducts cutting-edge, fundamental research in traditional and emerging disciplines. The intent is to help transform the nation's air transportation system and to support development of future air and space vehicles. Goals include improving airspace capacity and flexibility; aviation safety and aircraft performance; reducing overall noise, engine emissions and fuel usage.

For details about this scholarship program, including how to apply, visit:

http://asee.org/nasaasp

For more information about NASA's aeronautics programs, visit:

http://www.aeronautics.nasa.gov

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

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NASA Launches New Technology: An Inflatable Heat Shield Tuesday, August 18, 2009 |


A successful NASA flight test Monday demonstrated how a spacecraft returning to Earth can use an inflatable heat shield to slow and protect itself as it enters the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds.

The Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment, or IRVE, was vacuum-packed into a 15-inch diameter payload "shroud" and launched on a small sounding rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., at 8:52 a.m. EDT. The 10-foot diameter heat shield, made of several layers of silicone-coated industrial fabric, inflated with nitrogen to a mushroom shape in space several minutes after liftoff.

The Black Brant 9 rocket took approximately four minutes to lift the experiment to an altitude of 131 miles. Less than a minute later it was released from its cover and started inflating on schedule at 124 miles up. The inflation of the shield took less than 90 seconds.

"Our inflation system, which is essentially a glorified scuba tank, worked flawlessly and so did the flexible aeroshell," said Neil Cheatwood, IRVE principal investigator and chief scientist for the Hypersonics Project at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. "We're really excited today because this is the first time anyone has successfully flown an inflatable reentry vehicle."

According to the cameras and sensors on board, the heat shield expanded to its full size and went into a high-speed free fall. The key focus of the research came about six and a half minutes into the flight, at an altitude of about 50 miles, when the aeroshell re-entered Earth's atmosphere and experienced its peak heating and pressure measurements for a period of about 30 seconds.

An on board telemetry system captured data from instruments during the test and broadcast the information to engineers on the ground in real time. The technology demonstrator splashed down and sank in the Atlantic Ocean about 90 miles east of Virginia's Wallops Island.

"This was a small-scale demonstrator," said Mary Beth Wusk, IRVE project manager, based at Langley. "Now that we've proven the concept, we'd like to build more advanced aeroshells capable of handling higher heat rates."

Inflatable heat shields hold promise for future planetary missions, according to researchers. To land more mass on Mars at higher surface elevations, for instance, mission planners need to maximize the drag area of the entry system. The larger the diameter of the aeroshell, the bigger the payload can be.

The Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment is an example of how NASA is using its aeronautics expertise to support the development of future spacecraft. The Fundamental Aeronautics Program within NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington funded the flight experiment as part of its hypersonic research effort.

For images and more information about the experiment, visit:


http://www.nasa.gov/topics/aeronautics/features/irve.html

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Satellites Unlock Secret to Northern India's Vanishing Water Saturday, August 15, 2009 |


Using NASA satellite data, scientists have found that groundwater levels in northern India have been declining by as much as one foot per year over the past decade. Researchers concluded the loss is almost entirely due to human activity.

More than 26 cubic miles of groundwater disappeared from aquifers in areas of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and the nation's capitol territory of Delhi, between 2002 and 2008. This is enough water to fill Lake Mead, the largest manmade reservoir in the United States, three times.

A team of hydrologists led by Matt Rodell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., found that northern India's underground water supply is being pumped and consumed by human activities, such as irrigating cropland, and is draining aquifers faster than natural processes can replenish them. The results of this research were published today in Nature.

The finding is based on data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), a pair of satellites that sense changes in Earth's gravity field and associated mass distribution, including water masses stored above or below Earth's surface. As the twin satellites orbit 300 miles above Earth's surface, their positions change relative to each other in response to variations in the pull of gravity.

Changes in underground water masses affect gravity enough to provide a signal that can be measured by the GRACE spacecraft. After accounting for other mass variations, such changes in gravity are translated into an equivalent change in water.

"Using GRACE satellite observations, we can observe and monitor water storage changes in critical areas of the world, from one month to the next, without leaving our desks," said study co-author Isabella Velicogna of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the University of California, Irvine.

Groundwater comes from the natural percolation of precipitation and other surface waters down through Earth’s soil and rock, accumulating in cavities and layers of porous rock, gravel, sand or clay. Groundwater levels respond slowly to changes in weather and can take months or years to replenish once pumped for irrigation or other uses.

Data provided by India's Ministry of Water Resources to the NASA-funded researchers suggested groundwater use across India was exceeding natural replenishment, but the regional rate of depletion was unknown. Rodell and colleagues analyzed six years of monthly GRACE data for northern India to produce a time series of water storage changes beneath the land surface.

"We don't know the absolute volume of water in the northern Indian aquifers, but GRACE provides strong evidence that current rates of water extraction are not sustainable," said Rodell. "The region has become dependent on irrigation to maximize agricultural productivity. If measures are not taken to ensure sustainable groundwater usage, the consequences for the 114 million residents of the region may include a collapse of agricultural output and severe shortages of potable water."

Researchers examined data and models of soil moisture, lake and reservoir storage, vegetation and glaciers in the nearby Himalayas in order to confirm that the apparent groundwater trend was real. The loss is particularly alarming because it occurred when there were no unusual trends in rainfall. In fact, rainfall was slightly above normal for the period. The only influence they couldn't rule out was human.

"For the first time, we can observe water use on land with no additional ground-based data collection," said co-author James Famiglietti of the University of California, Irvine. "This is critical because in many developing countries, where hydrological data are both sparse and hard to access, space-based methods provide perhaps the only opportunity to assess changes in fresh water availability across large regions."

GRACE is a partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR. The University of Texas Center for Space Research in Austin has overall GRACE mission responsibility. GRACE was launched in 2002.

For more and detailed information, please visit:


http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/india_water.html

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Florida Native to Live Aboard International Space Station Thursday, August 13, 2009 |


Nicole Stott, a native of Clearwater, Fla., will make her first journey into orbit on space shuttle Discovery's upcoming mission to the International Space Station. She will live and work aboard the station for three months.

Discovery is targeted to launch at 1:36 a.m. EDT, Aug. 25, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. To cover the launch on-site, U.S. reporters must request Kennedy credentials online at:


https://media.ksc.nasa.gov

Stott is one of seven astronauts who will fly on Discovery's STS-128 mission. The 13-day flight will deliver science and storage racks, a freezer to store research samples, a new sleeping compartment and a treadmill named after comedian Stephen Colbert. The name Colbert received the most entries in NASA's online poll to name the station's Node 3. NASA named the node Tranquility.

Once Discovery docks with the station, Stott will officially trade places with Tim Kopra, who has been aboard since July. At that point, Stott will become a member of Expedition 20 and will remain on board until the STS-129 shuttle mission in November.

Stott graduated from Clearwater High School and received a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. She also holds a Master of Science degree in engineering management from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Fla.

Stott was selected as an astronaut in 2000 and worked as a support astronaut for the crew of Expedition 10. She also lived and worked underwater in 2006 as part of the NEEMO 9 mission.

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Texas Native to Fly on Next Shuttle Mission |


NASA astronaut Danny Olivas, born and raised in El Paso, Texas, will conduct three spacewalks during the upcoming space shuttle mission to the International Space Station. This is the first shuttle flight to feature two Latino astronauts, Olivas and Jose Hernandez who are both of Mexican descent.

Discovery is targeted to launch at 1:36 a.m. EDT, Aug. 25, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. To cover the launch on-site, U.S. reporters must request Kennedy credentials online at:


https://media.ksc.nasa.gov

Olivas is one of seven astronauts who will fly on Discovery's STS-128 mission. The 13-day flight will deliver science and storage racks, a freezer to store research samples, a new sleeping compartment and a treadmill named after comedian Stephen Colbert. The name Colbert received the most entries in NASA's online poll to name the station's Node 3. NASA named the node Tranquility.

Olivas graduated from Burges High School and received a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas – El Paso. He holds a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Houston and a doctorate in mechanical engineering and materials science from Rice University in Houston. He holds six patents.

Olivas was selected as an astronaut in 1998 and served in various roles throughout NASA, including robotics and extravehicular activity. His first spaceflight was in 2007, when he flew as a mission specialist on STS-117. He logged 336 hours in space and more than 14 hours conducting spacewalks during that mission to the space station.

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Coiled Creature Wednesday, August 12, 2009 |


NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has imaged a wild creature of the dark -- a coiled galaxy with an eye-like object at its center.The 'eye' at the center of the galaxy is actually a monstrous black hole surrounded by a ring of stars. In this color-coded infrared view from Spitzer, the area around the invisible black hole is blue and the ring of stars, white.

The galaxy, called NGC 1097 and located 50 million light-years away, is spiral-shaped like our Milky Way, with long, spindly arms of stars.

The black hole is huge, about 100 million times the mass of our sun, and is feeding off gas and dust, along with the occasional unlucky star. Our Milky Way's central black hole is tame in comparison, with a mass of a few million suns.

The ring around the black hole is bursting with new star formation. An inflow of material toward the central bar of the galaxy is causing the ring to light up with new stars. And, the galaxy's red spiral arms and the swirling spokes seen between the arms show dust heated by newborn stars. Older populations of stars scattered through the galaxy are blue. The fuzzy blue dot to the left, which appears to fit snugly between the arms, is a companion galaxy. Other dots in the picture are either nearby stars in our galaxy, or distant galaxies.

This image was taken during Spitzer's cold mission, before it ran out of liquid coolant. The observatory's warm mission is ongoing, with two infrared channels operating at about 30 degrees Kelvin (-406 degrees Fahrenheit).

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Permafrost Could Be Climate's Ticking Time Bomb Thursday, August 06, 2009 |

Researchers conduct fieldwork to track permafrost melting in Alaska and gain insight about the release of carbon into the atmosphere

The terrain of the North Slope of Alaska is not steep, but Andrew Jacobson still has difficulty as he hikes along the spongy tundra, which is riddled with rocks and masks multitudes of mosquitoes.
Jacobson, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Northwestern University, extracts soil and water samples in search of clues to one of global warming's biggest ticking time bombs: the melting of permafrost.
Permafrost, or frozen ground, covers approximately 20 to 25 percent of the land-surface area in the northern hemisphere, and is estimated to contain up to 1,600 gigatons of carbon, primarily in the form of organic matter. (One gigaton is equivalent to 1 billion tons.)
By comparison, the atmosphere now contains around 850 gigatons of the element as carbon dioxide.
"Permafrost historically has served as a carbon sink, largely isolating carbon from participating in the carbon cycle," says Jacobson, whose research is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. "However, global warming could transform the Arctic into a new carbon source by accelerating the rate of permafrost melting. This undoubtedly would have a dramatic effect on the global carbon cycle."
Jacobson says the key concern is that permafrost carbon will oxidize to carbon dioxide as melting accelerates, causing a positive feedback to global warming. A vicious cycle is created as a warmer climate facilitates more carbon release, which in turn favors more warming.
So Jacobson and his colleagues collect river water and soil samples near NSF's Toolik Long-Term Ecological Research station, approximately 250 kilometers (km)--155 miles--north of the Arctic Circle. The Dalton Highway--built as a supply road to support the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System--provides the only access to the site.
"Planning constitutes a large part of our day--looking at maps, figuring out where to go and how to get there," he laughs. "Fieldwork is typically fraught with vehicle problems, poor roads and bad weather. One thing you can always count on is that every expedition is exciting."
While a logical first step for modeling global warming is quantifying carbon flow, unresolved complexities surrounding the Arctic carbon cycle make it difficult to create models for that element.
Jacobson and his team take a complementary approach by analyzing naturally occurring isotopes of other elements, such as calcium and strontium, which track permafrost melting and therefore provide insight into carbon release.
Initial data show that rivers and permafrost have distinctly different calcium and strontium isotope compositions.
When permafrost thaws during the summer and melts into rivers, the rivers show calcium and strontium isotope compositions that approach those for permafrost. Jacobson hypothesizes that in a warmer world, the permafrost signature in rivers will be more pronounced for longer periods of time.
Changes in the isotope composition of rivers can relate to changes in the release of carbon. So the calcium and strontium isotope composition of Arctic rivers can track the impact of warming on permafrost stability and carbon dioxide release.
"The ultimate goal is to establish a baseline to which future changes can be compared," Jacobson says. "Several years from now, we can compare real changes to model predictions and improve our understanding of how the system works."
The sampling season lasts for only a short time when permafrost thaws in the spring until it refreezes in the fall. Although he visited Alaska in May and will return in October, Jacobson has a team of colleagues and students who will conduct fieldwork throughout the season and again next year. Samples are shipped from the field to Jacobson's laboratory in Evanston, Ill., where he analyzes them in the off-season.
He received NSF funding in 2007 to acquire a multi-collector thermal ionization mass spectrometer for measuring isotopes of calcium, strontium and other elements. Northwestern currently is building a state-of-the-art "metal free" clean laboratory that will house the instrument and support Jacobson's research.

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What hit Jupiter? Monday, August 03, 2009 |


It began with a furrowed brow, a moment of puzzlement, quickly dismissed.




The date was July 19, 2009. Amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley was photographing Jupiter from his backyard observatory in Murrumbateman, Australia, when something odd caught his eye.



"My attention was fixed on the Great Red Spot, which was setting beautifully over Jupiter's horizon," recalls Wesley. "I almost didn't notice the dark blemish near Jupiter's south pole, and when I did, I put it out of my mind."



It's just another dark storm on Jupiter.



"That's what I thought at first, but something about the dark mark puzzled me, it didn't look right, and I couldn't stop stealing glances at it."







Above: South is up in this July 19th discovery image taken by Anthony Wesley using a 14.5-inch telescope in Murrumbateman, Australia. [more]



Slowly, Jupiter's rotation turned the blemish toward Earth, Wesley got a better look at it, and the truth struck him like a thunderbolt.



It was an impact mark. Something hit the giant planet!



"I had seen the scars caused by fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hitting Jupiter in 1994, so I knew what an impact looked like," he says. "After I'd convinced myself that this was real, I could hardly use the computer. My hands were shaking. It was quite unbelievable."



He quickly emailed his photos to friends and colleagues around the world, and within hours telescopes great and small were turning toward Jupiter to photograph the aftermath of a powerful collision.



"We believe it was a comet or asteroid measuring perhaps a few hundred meters wide," says Don Yeomans of NASA's Near-Earth Object Office at JPL. "If something of similar size hit Earth—we're talking about 2000 megatons of energy--there would be serious regional devastation or a tsunami if it hit the ocean."



In a stroke of luck almost as big as Wesley's, JPL astronomers Glenn Orton and Leigh Fletcher were already scheduled to observe Jupiter on July 20th, barely a day after impact, using NASA's Infra-red Telescope Facility (IRTF) atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The 3-meter telescope revealed a fresh cloud of debris about the size of Mars floating among Jupiter's clouds.



Above: An IRTF image of the Jupiter impact debris cloud on July 20, 2009. The cloud appears bright at this wavelength (2.12 microns) because particles in the cloud are reflecting infrared radiation from the sun, explains observer Glenn Orton. [more]



"The object, whatever it was, exploded in Jupiter's upper atmosphere," says Orton. "It blew itself to smithereens. What we're seeing now are bits and pieces of the impactor and possibly some strange aerosols formed by shock-chemistry during the impact."



On July 23rd, the Hubble Space Telescope took its first pictures of the blast site. Hubble was still undergoing checkout and calibration following the STS-125 servicing mission in May, but this event was too big to skip. Space Telescope Science Institute director Matt Mountain allocated emergency telescope time to a team of astronomers led by Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.



As usual, Hubble photos stole the show. They revealed a swirling maelstrom of dark cindery debris jostling with natural storms near the top of Jupiter's atmosphere:




Above: A Hubble Space Telescope image of the Jupiter impact scar taken on July 23, 2009, taken using Hubble's new camera, the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). [more]



"The debris cloud is lumpy because of atmospheric turbulence," explains planetary scientist Amy Simon-Miller of the Goddard Space Flight Center. "Polar winds blowing 25 m/s (~55 mph) are causing it to spread out and grow larger. This will make the cloud even easier to see through backyard telescopes."



Judging from the behavior of the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts fifteen years ago, she estimates that the 'Wesley debris cloud' could remain visible for many weeks to come. Researchers will put the time to good use. Further studies of the cloud might yet reveal the great unknown:


What hit Jupiter?

"We just don't know," says Yeomans. "No one saw the object prior to impact."

Indeed, there was no warning. The object emerged from darkness, unknown and uncatalogued, and—wham!—before anyone could photograph the body intact, it had become a cloud of debris. (There is a lesson here for Earth, but that is another story.)

The cloud's chemical composition holds clues to the nature of the impactor. Orton says ground-based observers are now analyzing light reflected from the cloud to figure out what it is made of. "If the spectra contain signs of water, that would suggest an icy comet. Otherwise, it's probably a rocky or metallic asteroid."

Meanwhile, it's a big dark mystery—the kind that Wesley can't take his eyes off of. "I am still observing Jupiter almost every night using my 14.5 inch telescope," he says. "The cloud is expanding and taking on some interesting shapes."

"I wonder," he says, "what will happen next?"

Source: NASA

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National Science Foundation, USA announces REESE Program Saturday, August 01, 2009 |

Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering (REESE)

Under the strand of Contextual Research Topics (part B), two sections from the former solicitation, Policy Studies and Evaluation Studies, have been combined and renamed Education Policy Studies and Research on National Initiatives in STEM. The text of this section provides further detail, as well as specific examples that demonstrate the type of research problems the program would welcome.
The solicitation now includes a new proposal type, Pathways, which provides opportunities for exploratory work to pilot new research questions and approaches and to conduct feasibility studies prior to submitting a full proposal.
The maximum award sizes for Empirical and Large Empirical projects have been increased to $1,500,000 and $2,500,000, respectively.
Please be advised that the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) includes revised guidelines to implement the mentoring provisions of the America COMPETES Act (ACA) (Pub. L. No. 110-69, Aug. 9, 2007.)   As specified in the ACA, each proposal that requests funding to support postdoctoral researchers must include a description of the mentoring activities that will be provided for such individuals.  Proposals that do not comply with this requirement will be returned without review (see the PAPP Guide Part I: Grant Proposal Guide Chapter II for further information about the implementation of this new requirement)
As announced on May 21st, proposers must prepare and submit proposals to the National Science Foundation (NSF) using the NSF FastLane system at http://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/. This approach is being taken to support efficient Grants.gov operations during this busy workload period and in response to OMB direction guidance issued March 9, 2009. NSF will continue to post information about available funding opportunities to Grants.gov FIND and will continue to collaborate with institutions who have invested in system-to-system submission functionality as their preferred proposal submission method. NSF remains committed to the long-standing goal of streamlined grants processing and plans to provide a web services interface for those institutions that want to use their existing grants management systems to directly submit proposals to NSF.

Full Proposal Deadline(s) (due by 5 p.m. proposer's local time):
November 12, 2009

Full Program Details at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2009/nsf09601/nsf09601.htm?govDel=USNSF_25 


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STS-127 Crew Celebrates Smooth Landing Aboard Endeavour |

Space shuttle Endeavour and a crew of seven astronauts touched down at 10:48 a.m. EDT at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, bringing an end to a complex mission to install the final section of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory on the International Space Station. All of the STS-127 crew members are doing well after today's landing.

"The folks that have worked this mission really deserve a lot of praise for what they got accomplished during the time that we were docked to the International Space Station," STS-127 Commander Mark Polansky said during an afternoon news conference Friday. "In addition to that, it's a tremendous pleasure and honor to bring back a great astronaut from Japan, Koichi Wakata."

Wakata returned from the station as a member of the STS-127 crew after serving as the outpost's flight engineer since March. Replacing him aboard the station is Flight Engineer Tim Kopra. When asked how he is handling the return to Earth, Wakata replied, "When the hatch opened, I smelled the grass from the ground and was glad to be back home. Still feeling a little shaky when I walk, but I'm feeling very good."

The 16-day mission showcased the international partnerships involved in the space station effort. Astronauts from five space agencies were on board the orbiting complex.

"It was truly an impressive demonstration of international collaboration all throughout this mission," said Canadian Space Agency Director General of Operations Benoit Marcotte.

The astronauts' return to Houston's Ellington Field is tentatively set for about 5 p.m. Saturday.

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NASA and Cafe Announce Green Aircraft Challenge |

The NASA Innovative Partnerships Program and the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation today announced the Green Flight Challenge. The contest is a flight efficiency competition for aircraft that can average at least 100 mph on a 200-mile flight while achieving greater than 200 passenger miles per gallon.

The prize for the aircraft with the best performance is $1.5 million. The competition is scheduled for July 2011 at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, Calif. A variety of innovative experimental aircraft using electrical, solar, bio-fuel or hybrid propulsion are expected to enter. Several major universities and aircraft builders have expressed their intention to enter teams in the challenge.

To win, teams must use cutting-edge technologies in mechanical and electrical engineering, structures, aerodynamics and thermodynamics. As a national showcase of "green" technology, the challenge is expected to help advance all three of the major climate mitigation initiatives: efficiency, conservation and zero-carbon energy sources. These technologies will support advances in aviation and may have broader applications in transportation and energy storage.

The Green Flight Challenge is administered for NASA by CAFE. Founded in 1981, CAFE is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the understanding of personal aircraft technologies through research, analysis and education.

NASA is providing the prize money as part of the Centennial Challenges program. The program seeks innovative solutions to problems of interest to NASA and the nation from diverse and unconventional sources. Competitors may not receive government funding for their entries in this challenge.

(Source: CAFE Foundation)

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ఒక మంచి మాట

"మనుషులను వారి డీగ్రీలను, మేధోసంపత్తిని చూసి అంచనా వేయకండి. అతని మనసును, ఆలోచనా విధానాన్ని బట్టి అంచనా వేయండి."

- మహాత్మాగాంధీ