Sarah Keegan

Headquarters, Washington, DC December 20, 1999

(Phone: 202/358-1902)

RELEASE: 99-149


NASA’s achievements in 1999 extended from terrestrial
airport runways to extrasolar planets and addressed
concerns ranging from the environmental to the
cosmological. Background information is available to
illustrate the top 10 NASA stories of the year at the URLs
listed. Plans are to air NASA’s major 1999 video stories
on NASA TV Tuesday, Dec. 21, through Thursday, Dec. 23, at
noon and to list its top ten Internet stories at URL:

Hubble Illuminates Universe’s Rate of Expansion
Hubble scientists found a value for how fast the
universe is expanding after eight years of painstaking
measurement. The rate of expansion, called the Hubble
Constant, is essential to determining the age and size of
the universe. Measuring Hubble’s constant was one of the
three major goals for the telescope when it was launched in

Astronomers Find Evidence of First Planet Orbiting a Pair
of Stars
Astronomers funded by NASA witnessed for the first
time a distant planet passing in front of its star,
providing direct and independent confirmation of the
existence of extrasolar planets that to date has been
inferred only from the wobble of their star.

Mars Global Surveyor Provides First Global 3-D Map of Mars
An impact basin deep enough to swallow Mount Everest
and surprising slopes in Valles Marineris highlight a
global map of Mars that will influence scientific
understanding of the red planet for years. Generated by
the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA), the high-
resolution map represents 27 million measurements gathered
in 1998 and 1999.

Gamma Ray Burst Imaged for First Time
Astronomers racing the clock managed to take the
first-ever-optical images of one of the most powerful
explosions in the Universe — a gamma ray burst — just as
it was occurring on Jan. 23, 1999. Such bursts occur with
no warning and typically last just for a few seconds.

First Female Shuttle Commander
Orbiter Columbia’s 26th flight (July 22-27) was led by
Air Force Col. Eileen Collins, the first woman to command a
Shuttle mission. STS-93 successfully carried to orbit the
Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the third of NASA’s “Great
Observatories,” joining the Hubble Space Telescope and the
Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.

First Docking of Space Shuttle with International Space
STS-96 was the four-million-mile flight of Discovery,
from May 27 to June 6, on which the crew performed the
first Shuttle docking to the International Space Station
and delivered more than 3600 pounds of supplies — ranging
from food and clothes to laptop computers — for the first
crew to live on the station next year.

New Technology to Help Planes Land More Safely in Bad
NASA and industry partners have developed new
technology to allow planes to land safely in bad weather on
parallel runways spaced as closely as 2,500 feet apart.
Airports where this new approach, which expands on existing
communication and navigation technology, could improve on-
time arrivals are Detroit, Seattle, Minneapolis and

Chandra, Third Great Observatory, Begins Work
After barely two months in space, NASA’s Chandra X-Ray
Observatory in September took a stunning image of the Crab
Nebula, the most intensively studied object beyond our
solar system, and revealed something never seen before: a
brilliant ring around the nebula’s heart.

X-34 Rocket Plane Takes to the Sky for Safety Checks
Locked to the belly of its newly modified L-1011
carrier aircraft, a test version of NASA’s X-34 rocket
plane made its first flight in June as part of a
certification process. The prototype of the robotic
spacecraft will test new technologies and methods of
operations needed to develop low-cost reusable space

Flagship of NASA’s Earth Observing System Launched Dec. 18
Almost on the eve of the millennium, Terra was
launched into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, and
at press time, was operating as expected. The mission will
enable new research into the ways that Earth’s land,
oceans, air, ice and life interact as a whole climate


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