NASA’S AIM MISSION SOARS TO THE EDGE OF SPACE

NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research InstituteNASA’S AIM MISSION SOARS TO THE EDGE OF SPACE

VANDENBERG, Calif. – NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM)
spacecraft, the first mission dedicated to the exploration of
mysterious ice clouds that dot the edge of space in Earth’s polar
regions, successfully launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base,
Calif., at 1:26 p.m. PDT on Wednesday, April 25.

The mission will study clouds that are noctilucent, meaning they can
be seen from the ground only at night, when they are illuminated by
sunlight no longer visible from the Earth’s surface.

“The successful AIM launch initiates an exciting new era in
understanding how noctilucent clouds form and why they vary,” said
Principal Investigator James M. Russell, III, of Hampton University
in Hampton, Va. “The coordinated AIM measurements will provide the
first focused and comprehensive data set needed to unravel the
mysteries of these clouds.”

Noctilucent clouds are increasing in number, becoming brighter and are
occurring at lower latitudes than ever before. “Such variations
suggest a connection with global change,” said Russell. “If true, it
means that human influences are affecting the entire atmosphere, not
just the region near the Earth’s surface.”

The Stargazer L-1011 aircraft released a Pegasus XL rocket at a drop
point over the Pacific Ocean, 100 miles offshore west-southwest of
Point Sur, Calif. AIM was launched at an azimuth of 192.5 degrees
into a circular polar orbit of 375 miles with an inclination of 97.7
degrees.

At approximately 1:36 p.m., communications from a Tracking Data and
Relay Satellite confirmed spacecraft separation, and the solar arrays
deployed autonomously soon thereafter.

The spacecraft was declared operating nominally at approximately 2:44
p.m., when it passed over the Svalbard, Norway, ground station.
Spacecraft bus commissioning activities will be performed during the
next six days while controllers verify satisfactory performance of
all spacecraft subsystems.

Throughout a 30-day check-out period, all the spacecraft subsystems
and instruments will be evaluated and compared to their performance
during ground testing to ensure satisfactory operation in the space
environment. The instruments will maintain their protective covers to
shield the near pristine optical surfaces from contamination while
the spacecraft outgases volatile materials. Fourteen days after
launch, the optical covers will be removed in sequence by ground
commands, and the instruments will begin scientific operations.

During the next two years, AIM scientists will methodically address
each of six fundamental objectives that will provide critical
information needed to understand cloud formation and behavior.

“This mission has many firsts, including that Hampton University is
the first historically black college and university to have the
principle investigator and total mission responsibility for a NASA
satellite mission,” said Program Executive Victoria Elsbernd, NASA
Headquarters, Washington.

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., is responsible for launch
vehicle/spacecraft integration and launch countdown management.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., is responsible
for the overall AIM mission management in collaboration with Hampton
University, the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Virginia
Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg. Orbital
Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Va., is responsible for providing the
Pegasus XL launch service to NASA.

AIM is the ninth small-class mission under NASA’s Explorer Program,
which provides frequent flight opportunities for world-class
scientific investigations from space within the heliophysics and
astrophysics science areas.

For more information about NASA and the AIM mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/aim

April 25, 2007

Dwayne Brown/Tabatha Thompson
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726/3895

George H. Diller
Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
321-867-2468

Cynthia O'Carroll
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
301-286-4647

Nina Stickles
Hampton University, Hampton, Va.
757-727-5457

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