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SMOS satellite instrument comes alive

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The MIRAS instrument on ESA's SMOS satellite, launched earlier this month, has been switched on and is operating normally. MIRAS will map soil moisture and ocean salinity to improve our understanding of the role these two key variables play in regulating Earth’s water cycle.

"Following the switch-on, MIRAS is working beautifully well with all key subsystems, including all of the receivers, the optical fibers and the correlator unit, in perfect functioning condition," said ESA’s Manuel Martin-Neira, SMOS Instrument Principal Engineer. "We have been able to produce reasonable test data even without in-orbit calibration."

MIRAS (Microwave Imaging Radiometer using Aperture Synthesis) is an L-band radiometer with 69 receivers mounted on three deployed arms to measure the radiation coming from Earth.

In order to measure accurately, the receivers must be within a +/-3°C temperature range of each other, with the optimal operating temperature at 22°C. Heaters are installed on the satellite to achieve the temperature needed.
Switching on the instrument begins with activating the central payload computer, which controls many of the instrument’s subsystems and gives instructions to the distributed command and monitoring modes on each arm.

To assess the electrical performance of the instrument after switch-on while limiting the consumption of heater power, the physical temperature for start up was set to 10°C.

"The active thermal control is now in operation and is keeping the instrument well within the expected temperature range," Mr Martin-Neira said. "Tomorrow we expect to assess the payload at the final 22°C temperature."

The central payload computer also controls the 'mass memory', which collects all the science data from the receivers and sends them to receiving stations on the ground. The high-speed downlink, which transmits the data to the ground station, was switched on, and data have been transmitted to ESA’s European Space Astronomy Center (ESAC), in Villafranca, Spain. The data acquisition and processing systems located at ESAC are also working well, and the first test of the product generation system has been successful.

"With the critical launch and early orbit phase completed, the engineers can now evaluate the quality of the downlinks and concentrate on the calibration of the instrument," SMOS Project Manager Achim Hahne said.

Data provided by MIRAS will be important for weather and climate modeling, water resource management, agriculture planning, ocean currents and circulation studies and forecasting hazardous events such as floods.

"We are very happy that we have received the first data from MIRAS, which we expect to make very strong contributions to scientists' understanding of Earth's water cycle," said Guillermo Buenadicha, SMOS Payload Operations Engineer at ESAC.

"We are now looking forward to analyzing the first data and to start testing the processing systems in the ground station," SMOS Mission Manager Susanne Mecklenburg said.

The SMOS (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity) Earth Explorer satellite and ESA's Proba-2 were launched into orbit together from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia on 2 November.


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Video Caption: The SMOS Microwave Imaging Radiometer using Aperture Synthesis (MIRAS) consists of a central structure and three deployable arms that carry 69 antenna receivers. From an altitude of 758 km, the SMOS will view an area almost 3000 km in diameter. Due to the interferometry measurement principle and the Y-shaped antenna, the field of view is limited to a hexagon-like shape about 1000 km across. The orbit will result in global coverage every three days.
Video Credit: ESA /AOES Medialab
Source: ESA
Time Stamp: 11/19/2009 at 3:59:36 PM UTC

ESA supports efforts to protect public health and safety

Monday, November 17, 2008

A consortium of Portuguese and Italian companies, led by the Portuguese National Health Institute and with the support of ESA, is developing a Health Early Warning System designed to enable timely detection and tracking of emerging threats to public health and safety via satellite.

The Health Early Warning System (HEWS) system is being developed as an integrated management platform devised to support epidemiologic surveillance, public health monitoring, crisis management and civil protection program. The Portuguese National Health Institute (INSA) is responsible for its scientific and management aspects. The other consortium partners are Tekever (Portugal) and Ridgeback (Italy).

HEWS was recently put to the test in Angola, Africa, through the collaboration of local health institutions and the involvement of higher-level Angolan institutions such as the Ministry of Health. The scenario for this test was a simulated surge of the Marburg virus.  

Through this scenario, as well as a scenario staged in Lisbon, Portugal earlier this year, the HEWS system has demonstrated the added value of satellite communications in situations in which there are threats to public health.

Both scenarios offered a demonstration of the developed modular HEWS system that can add institutions, customize data input, implement envisaged alert systems of early warning and response to health situations, with automated distribution of the respective alert information and guarantee all required security levels of information.

The implemented system was successfully tested in the town of Caxito, where there is no other reliable means of communication. Communication via satellite is currently the only fully viable solution, not only for emergency situations but also for regular health, epidemiological and administrative reporting.

“At the ministry level, interest was shown in the use of HEWS system, not only for endemic pathologies that periodically plague the country, for example cholera, but also for health programs that are part of the basic health interventions in African countries, usually sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO), such as the vaccination program, to which HEWS could be easily adapted,” explains Giorgio Parentela, ESA Telemedicine Task Force Manager.

At this time, the HEWS team is exploring the possibilities of making the developed HEWS service suitable for the needs of the population with the Angolan authorities.

The Lisbon scenario involved the staging of a bio-terrorist attack at an international conference. During the course of events, the attack by means of the release of Bacillus anthraces spores or anthrax takes place, causing panic among the population, traffic jams and the saturation of the mobile telephone network.

Through the course of events it was determined that HEWS played a crucial role in two areas; the release of a powder in a public square and the isolation and storming of a building. HEWS would be able to maximize the coordination of the information flows between the several involved institutions, overcome communication difficulties and increase the efficiency of the response effort.

The major points of relevance were considered to be the fact that the HEWS system is a reliable and versatile communication system and has the potential to act as a manager and distributor of information between the institutions,” says Parentela.

Image Caption: A consortium of Portuguese and Italian companies, led by the Portuguese National Health Institute (INSA) and with the support of the European Space Agency, is developing a Health Early Warning System (HEWS) designed to enable timely detection and tracking of emerging threats to public health and safety via satellite.
Image Credit: ESA
Source: ESA
Time Stamp: 11/17/2008 at 3:38:27 PM UTC

Universal Declaration of Human Rights reaches space as the ISS gets ready for crew of six

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was carried into space early this morning with the successful launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The launch of the Declaration on board Endeavour is part of a year long calendar of celebrations to mark 60 years since the document was first adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France.

Ms Rama Yade, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights within the French government, handed over a copy of the Declaration to ESA’s Director General, Jean-Jacques Dordain in a special ceremony on 7 November.

Protected in space-proof packaging, the Declaration is scheduled to reach the International Space Station when Endeavour docks with the orbital outpost on 16 November. It will be stored on a permanent basis inside ESA’s Columbus space laboratory.

Also on board Space Shuttle Endeavour is new equipment for expanding the Space Station's crew capacity. From May 2009, with the arrival of the Soyuz TMA-15 crew, including ESA astronaut Frank De Winne, the ISS will for the first time have to accommodate a permanent six-member crew.

To cater for the two-fold increase in crew size, during their 15-day mission the Shuttle crew will install a new kitchen area, a second toilet and a water recycling unit in the US Destiny laboratory and two new bedrooms in the Harmony module. Endeavour also delivers new exercise equipment which is vital to help the crew stay fit in the Station's zero gravity environment.

Along with new supplies, such as food and clothes, the extra equipment for the ISS is carried inside Leonardo, the Italian-built Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), in the Shuttle's cargo bay.

The Shuttle crew will also perform four spacewalks during their stay at the Space Station. Their main task outside the ISS is to perform maintenance work on two solar alpha rotary joints - wagon-wheel-shaped joints on the Station’s truss that allow the electricity-generating solar arrays to rotate with the Sun. The repair is essential to allow the solar arrays to generate sufficient power needed for the increase to six crew members.

PDF of Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Image Caption: Ms Rama Yade, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights within the French government, handed over a copy of the Declaration to ESA’s Director General, Jean-Jacques Dordain in a special ceremony on 7 November.
Image Credit: ESA
Source: ESA
Time Stamp: 11/15/2008 at 3:50:20 PM UTC

Tiny animals survive exposure to space

Monday, November 10, 2008

Scientists recently revealed that tiny creatures called water bears are the first animals to survive exposure to space. Sending water bears into space is one of several ESA experiments looking at organisms which can survive longer periods in open space.

Water bears, also known as tardigrades, are very small, segmented animals. The largest species is just over one millimeter in length. Water bears live in temporary ponds and droplets of water in soil and on moist plants. They are known to survive under conditions that would kill most organisms – they can withstand temperatures ranging from -272 deg C to +150 deg C, they can be without water for a period of 10 years, and they are extremely resistant to radiation.

Knowing them to be so hardy, the Swedish and German scientists behind the ‘Tardigrades in space’ (TARDIS) experiment wanted to find out how the water bears would fare in the harsh space environment. For 12 days in September 2007, some 3000 water bears hitched a ride into space on ESA’s orbital Foton-M3 mission.  

Our principle finding is that the space vacuum, which entails extreme dehydration and cosmic radiation, were not a problem for water bears,” says TARDIS project leader Ingemar Jönsson, from the University of Kristianstad in Sweden.

That the water bears survived, shows just how robust they are. The next step will be to understand what mechanism makes this possible. Jönsson: “How do their cells stabilize the membrane and DNA when they dry out for example?” Understanding these mechanisms can open the door to many insights both in space bioscience and in other areas.

The tardigrades join a fairly select group of organisms which are able to cope with the extreme conditions in space. Over the past 10 years, other ESA experiments have shown that lettuce seeds and lichen were also able to survive exposure to space. If shaded from direct sunlight, bacterial spores are also known to survive for many years under space conditions.

The water bears are something new. Nobody knew about that capability” says René Demets, ESA project biologist. “The question is why are terrestrial organisms prepared to survive exposure to space conditions? Is there a rationale? Nobody knows at the moment.”

Survival in space is often linked to a much wider theory about how life originated here on Earth. “Perhaps the starting point for life was not even here on Earth,” says Demets. “Could life as we know it have started elsewhere, to be carried later for instance on a meteorite and delivered here on Earth? Favorable conditions meant that it could further propagate, develop, grow and live on. Now we have actually found some organisms that can survive under harsh space conditions.”

If these organisms were to travel on board a meteorite, they would also have to survive the entry through Earth’s atmosphere. ESA’s series of Stone experiments, also conducted on the Foton missions, show that in the upper layer of the meteorite, up to 2 cm depth, nothing could survive the atmospheric entry because of the high temperature and pressure. Only an organism that could live inside deeper cracks or pores in the rock could perhaps survive.

These space exposure experiments have so far been limited to one or two weeks in mission duration. ESA is now also testing longer duration exposure with an suite of experiments on the International Space Station called Expose. Several trays filled with terrestrial organisms are already installed on the outside of the European Columbus laboratory as one of the nine payloads of the European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF). Another Expose unit, scheduled for launch on a Russian Progress cargo carrier in November, will be attached to the Russian segment of the Space Station.

After about one and a half years we will get the Expose trays back and see what the situation is after long duration exposure,” explains Martin Zell, Head of ESA's ISS Utilization Department. “We could have a brilliant result with survival of the organisms as we have seen with the water bears, or we could have a quite negative result and know for sure that long-duration exposure will never work. With these experiments we are probing the alterations of organisms in space and their ultimate limits of survival.”

Image Caption: Water bears, also known as tardigrades, are very small, segmented animals. The largest species is just over one millimeter in length. Water bears live in temporary ponds and droplets of water in soil and on moist plants. They are known to survive under conditions that would kill most organisms – they can withstand temperatures ranging from -272 deg C to +150 deg C, they can be without water for a period of 10 years, and they are extremely resistant to radiation.
Image Credit: Willow Gabriel and Bob Goldstein
Source: ESA
Time Stamp: 11/10/2008 at 4:13:32 PM UTC

Chilean Volcano Captured Blasting Ash

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Chile’s Chaiten Volcano is shown spewing ash and smoke (center left of image) into the air for hundreds of km over Argentina’s Patagonia Plateau in this Envisat image acquired on 5 May 2008.
The 1000 m-high volcano had been dormant for thousands of years before erupting on 2 May, causing the evacuation of thousands. Chaiten Volcano is located in southern Chile 10 km northeast of the town of Chaiten on the Gulf of Corcovado.

Envisat’s Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) instrument processed this image at a resolution of 1200 m.

Satellite data can be used to detect the slight signs of change that may foretell an eruption. Once an eruption begins, optical and radar instruments can capture the lava flows, mudslides, ground fissures and earthquakes.

Atmospheric sensors onboard satellites can also identify the gases and aerosols released by the eruption, as well as quantify their wider environmental impact.

To boost the use of Earth Observation (EO) data at volcanic observatories, ESA has started to monitor volcanoes worldwide within the Agency’s Data User Element program.

The Globvolcano project, started in early 2007, will define, implement and validate information services to support volcanological observatories in their daily work by integration of EO data, with emphasis on observation and early warning.  

Image Caption: Chile’s Chaiten Volcano is shown spewing ash and smoke into the air for hundreds of km over Argentina’s Patagonia Plateau in this Envisat's Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) image, acquired on 5 May 2008. (click image for Hi-Res Version)
Image Credit: ESA
Source: ESA
Time Stamp: 5/8/2008 at 2:44:38 PM UTC

Green light awaited for Europe’s Mars mission

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The cornerstone of ESA's Aurora exploration program is ExoMars, a mission to deliver Europe’s first planetary rover to the Red Planet. After more than a year of studying various mission concepts, the ExoMars team is preparing to move on to the detailed design of the ExoMars spacecraft and rover.
"ExoMars has evolved since first proposed in 2005 into a major Mars exploration mission with more than double the initial payload of scientific instruments. We have now selected the baseline configuration and are ready to move on to the next stage, known as Phase B2," said Don McCoy, ESA's ExoMars project manager. "Over the coming weeks we will prepare our proposals for the implementation of the next phase, and these will be presented to the Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration Program Board in late November."

The chosen baseline mission envisages the delivery of the ExoMars rover and landing station to the surface of Mars. Currently scheduled for an Ariane-5 ECA launch from Kourou in 2013, the five tonne spacecraft will take 9 – 10 months to arrive at Mars.

After spending several months in orbit around the planet to ensure that its mission will not be disrupted by the Martian dust storm season, the spacecraft will head towards the surface, protected by a heat-resistant aeroshell. The final stages of the descent will require the deployment of large parachutes, followed by inflation of a vented airbag that will cushion the landing.

"We have not yet selected a landing site, but we anticipate that ExoMars will touch down fairly near the equator, between 10 degrees South and 35 degrees North," said Don McCoy.

Once the airbags deflate and the petals of the landing stage open out, the rover will be able to begin its six-month exploration of Mars. Fed by daily instructions from Earth, the 'intelligent', solar powered vehicle will use information from its stereo cameras to make its way from target to target, traveling up to 1 km during each Martian day.

As its six independently powered wheels leave their tracks in the rust-red dust, the rover’s Pasteur payload of 11 scientific instruments will search for signs of life – past or present – and investigate the alien environment.
One of the most valuable tools will be a drill that can penetrate to a depth of two meters. Soil samples retrieved by the drill will be crushed and distributed to the onboard experiments for chemical analysis.

Further information of value to scientists will be sent back by the Geophysical and Environmental Payload on the landing stage. The lander's instruments will include a weather station, a subsurface radar, a seismometer, a mole and a radio experiment to study tiny variations in the motion of Mars.

The prime contractor for the ExoMars spacecraft will be Thales Alenia Space of Turin, Italy. Prime contractor for the rover will be Astrium UK, while development of the landing stage will be led by Astrium Gmbh of Germany.

International partners will contribute to the ExoMars mission in several ways. In addition to providing some of the scientific instruments, the United States will ensure communication links with Earth via one or more NASA satellites in orbit around Mars. Discussions are also under way regarding co-operation with Russia, which has announced its intention to send the Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars in 2009.

Image Caption: ExoMars rover - phase B1 concept
Image Credit: ESA
Larger Version:
Source: ESA
Time Stamp: 3/13/2008 at 10:20:30 AM CST

Jules Verne ATV Atop Launcher

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jules Verne, the first Automated Transfer Vehicle, has been encapsulated in its huge fairing on top of the Ariane 5 launcher. With a total mass of about 19 360 kg, Jules Verne is the largest payload ever launched by Ariane 5. This historical mission with the first European space supplier for the ISS is scheduled for a night time launch on 8 March at 04.23 UT.
In mid-February, Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), having been filled with a total of 6.5 tonnes of four different propellants and 20 kg of oxygen, was transferred in a payload container from the S5 building to the Ariane 5 Final Assembly Building at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Since then, Ariane 5 and ATV have been undergoing a complex combined operations plan.

The 19.4-tonne Jules Verne mass represents more than twice the heaviest single payload Ariane 5 has ever lifted in the past, including Envisat, ESA's 8-tonne environment satellite. To handle such a heavyweight, the Vehicle Equipment Bay which supports the ATV on top of the launcher, has been structurally redesigned and strengthened.

Through the upper level of the Final Assembly Building - the so-called 'chimney' - the cylindrical ATV was installed on top of Ariane 5 and carefully bolted to the launcher interface.

Seeing the fairing encapsulation on Jules Verne was on the one hand a very exciting step in the final countdown to launch. On the other hand it was rather sad as we all knew we will not see again on Earth our old friend who we have been working with so closely over so many years,” said John Ellwood, ESA's ATV Project Manager.

During the coming week all connections – electrical, pyrotechnical and fluid interfaces – will be checked on ATV and Ariane 5. The entire spacecraft will be activated to check the spacecraft’s 'health', and to charge the batteries once again.

The entire cylindrical vehicle with its numerous protuberances, thrusters and antennas has been carefully covered with a white insulating foil layer (MLI / Multi Layer Insulator). This blanket thermally protects the ATV from the enormous temperature changes in orbit. Like a huge white thermal flask, the foil layer also keeps the interior of the vehicle at a constant temperature.

The exterior of the spacecraft has been thoroughly vacuum cleaned, removing every last small part or flake which could float around the ATV once the European vessel is in orbit. About 250 small 'remove before flight' flags and red covers were taken off one by one as each associated action was completed; including the protective covers on Jules Verne's rendezvous optical sensors.

On 25 February, after extensive checks and visual inspection of the ATV, the largest Ariane 5 fairing – a version measuring 17 meters in height and weighing 2500 kg – was successfully installed over the ATV. Besides the large Arianespace team in charge of the launcher, some 50 people from Astrium and its subcontractors (Thales Alenia Space, RSC Energia) and ESA have supported the integration of ATV over the last few weeks.

The campaign has been very successful with no major issues and has kept perfectly to a tight schedule. Most of our teams have worked on two 8-hour shifts, six days a week. Some of the engineers and technicians have worked on this program for 6 to 10 years. It was an emotional moment when the ATV was covered with its fairing. The next time anyone will see Jules Verne ATV, it will be in orbit for rendezvous in the first days of April”, said Nicolas Chamussy, ATV Program Manager for EADS Astrium.

One week before launch, all the launch teams and different control centers around the world will simulate a full 10-hour countdown to lift-off with the real Ariane 5 and ATV vehicle. After the launch onboard Ariane 5, the ATV's high-precision navigation system will guide the spacecraft to the International Space Station, with docking planned in early April.

Image Caption 1: Jules Verne, the first Automated Transfer Vehicle, has been integrated and encapsulated under its huge fairing on top of its Ariane 5 launcher. With a total mass of about 19 360 kg, Jules Verne is the largest payload ever launched by Ariane 5. The historical mission with the first European space supplier for the ISS is scheduled for a night time launch on 8 March at 01:23 local time in French Guiana (04.23 UT).
Image Caption 2: Jules Verne, the first Automated Transfer Vehicle, has been integrated and encapsulated under its huge fairing on top of its Ariane 5 launcher. With a total mass of about 19 360 kg, Jules Verne is the largest payload ever launched by Ariane 5. The historical mission with the first European space supplier for the ISS is scheduled for a night time launch on 8 March at 01:23 local time in French Guiana (04.23 UT).
Image Credits: 2008 - ESA /CNES/Arianespace/Photo optique video du CSG
Source: ESA
Time Stamp: 2/27/2008 at 12:53:16 PM CST

Jules Verne ATV Launch Approaching

Monday, February 11, 2008

After the successful launch of ESA’s Columbus laboratory aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis on Thursday (7 February), it is now time to focus on the next imminent milestone for ESA: the launch of Jules Verne, the first Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) to be sent to the International Space Station.
The 20-tonne European resupply and space-tug module will be carried into orbit by a special version of the Ariane 5 launch vehicle. The launcher, operated by Arianespace, is now scheduled to lift off from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on 8 March at 01:23 local time, 05:23 CET.

From 2008 onward, ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle will be one of the space station’s supply spacecraft, delivering experiments, equipment and spare parts, as well as food, air and water for its permanent crew.

Constructed by EADS-Astrium, the ATV, which is the most powerful automatic spaceship ever built, will carry up to 9 tonnes of cargo to the station as it orbits 400 km above the Earth.
Equipped with its own propulsion and navigation systems, the ATV is a multi-functional spacecraft, combining the fully automatic capabilities of an unmanned vehicle with the safety requirements of a crewed vehicle . Its mission in space will resemble that, on the ground, of a truck (the ATV) delivering goods and services to a research establishment (the space station).

A new-generation high-precision navigation system will guide the ATV on a rendezvous trajectory towards the station. In early April, Jules Verne will automatically dock with the station’s Russian Service Module, following a number of specific operations and maneuver (on 'Demonstration Days') to show that the vehicle is performing as planned in nominal and contingency situations.

It will remain there as a pressurized and integral part of the station for up to six months until a controlled re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere takes place, during which it will burn up and, in the process, dispose of 6.3 tonnes of waste material no longer needed on the station.

Image Caption: Preview of the maiden launch and docking of ESA's Jules Verne ATV. Jules Verne will be lifted into space on board an Ariane 5 launch vehicle.
Image Credit: ESA - D. Ducros
Source: ESA
Time Stamp: 2/11/2008 at 11:28:34 AM CST

Air France, ESA Join To Offer Passengers Unique View Of Voyage

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Have you ever wished you could clearly see the mountains, coastline, desert, ocean or city underneath your aircraft as you flew over? Passengers onboard select Air France flights will soon be able to explore the unique range of destinations being flown over, such as the Alps, Himalayas or Gulf of Siam, thanks to satellite images provided by ESA.
The show, which has been integrated into the in-flight Geovision program, will begin automatically with beautiful and captivating images correlating to the route appearing on onboard screens on all Air France flights operating between Paris and Singapore, Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

In order to provide the most interesting images of each destination, ESA selected 250 acquisitions from various satellites, including ESA’s Envisat and Proba, Korea’s Kompsat and CNES’s (French Space Agency) Spot.

"It is an example of the innovative initiatives that Air France aims to develop for our passengers. We are looking forward to extending this exclusive offer to others destinations," Air France’s Patrick Roux Vice-President Marketing said.

ESA’s Head of Communication Fernando Doblas said: "Integrating satellite images into Air France’s in-flight service provides an excellent opportunity to create public awareness and interest for space technologies, and in particular for those related to Earth Observation.

"The imagery has been specifically chosen to afford passengers the possibility to tour the planet from a bird’s-eye view and to gain a different perspective and appreciation of Earth by witnessing its splendor as well as its vulnerable spots."

Since their advent, Earth-observing satellites have become powerful scientific tools for enabling a better understanding of the various components of the Earth system – land, ice, atmosphere, biosphere and oceans – and how these processes interact and influence each other.

Acquired continuously, satellite data provide reliable and timely information about the state of our world, allowing us to improve our management of the Earth and, thus, our quality of life.

Image Caption: One of ESA satellite images displayed on screens through Geovision system onboard select Air France flights.
Image Credit: ESA
Source: ESA
Time Stamp: 9/5/2007 at 9:20:32 AM CST

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