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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Astronaut and University of Illinois graduate Michael Hopkins will deliver the commencement address at his alma mater's spring graduation next month.
Hopkins recently returned from a 166-day stay aboard the International Space Station. He says in a statement released by the university that he'll be every bit as nervous delivering his speech as he was for his first walk in space.
 
Hopkins graduated from Illinois in 1991 with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering. He was also a member of the school's football team.
The Richland, Mo., native was accepted into NASA's astronaut training program in 2011 after trying without success for almost 12 years.
 
The spring commencement ceremony will be May 17 in Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
   
 
Published in Local News
   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Our galaxy is looking far more crowded and hospitable. NASA on Wednesday confirmed a bonanza of 715 newly discovered planets outside our solar system.
   Scientists using the planet-hunting Kepler telescope pushed the number of planets discovered in the galaxy to about 1,700. Twenty years ago, astronomers had not found any planets circling stars other than the ones revolving around our sun.
   "We almost doubled just today the number of planets known to humanity," NASA planetary scientist Jack Lissauer said in a Wednesday teleconference, calling it "the big mother lode."
   Astronomers used a new confirmation technique to come up with the largest single announcement of a batch of exoplanets - what planets outside our solar system are called.
   While Wednesday's announcements were about big numbers, they also were about implications for life behind those big numbers.
   All the new planets are in systems like ours where multiple planets circle a star. The 715 planets came from looking at just 305 stars. They were nearly all in size closer to Earth than gigantic Jupiter.
   And four of those new exoplanets orbit their stars in "habitable zones" where it is not too hot or not too cold for liquid water which is crucial for life to exist.
   Douglas Hudgins, NASA's exoplanet exploration program scientist, called Wednesday's announcement a major step toward Kepler's ultimate goal: "finding Earth 2.0."
   It's a big step in not just finding other Earths, but "the possibility of life elsewhere," said Lisa Kaltenegger, a Harvard and Max Planck Institute astronomer who wasn't part of the discovery team.
   The four new habitable zone planets are all at least twice as big as Earth so that makes them more likely to be gas planets instead of rocky ones like Earth - and less likely to harbor life.
   So far Kepler has found nine exoplanets in the habitable zone, NASA said. Astronomers expect to find more when they look at all four years of data collected by the now-crippled Kepler; so far they have looked at two years.
   Planets in the habitable zone are likely to be farther out from their stars because it is hot close in. And planets farther out take more time orbiting, so Kepler has to wait longer to see it again.
   Another of Kepler's latest discoveries indicates that "small planets are extremely common in our galaxy," said MIT astronomer Sara Seagar, who wasn't part of the discovery team. "Nature wants to make small planets."
   And, in general, smaller planets are more likely to be able to harbor life than big ones, Kaltenegger said.
Published in National News
URBANA, Ill. (AP) - A University of Illinois graduate who is an astronaut on the International Space Station is going to take a walk in space.
 
The Champaign News-Gazette reports that Mike Hopkins will go with another American astronaut on what NASA calls an urgent spacewalk to fix a broken cooling line. The first walk will take about six hours and NASA has scheduled another one for Monday and a third to take place next week, possibly on Christmas Day.
 
Hopkins is a 1991 engineering graduate who was also a co-captain of the Illini football team. He has been on the space station for about seven months in what is his first space flight.
 
Published in Local News

   DENVER (AP) — Scott Carpenter, the second American to orbit the Earth, was guided by two instincts: overcoming fear and quenching his insatiable curiosity. He pioneered his way into the heights of space and the depths of the ocean floor.

   "Conquering of fear is one of life's greatest pleasures and it can be done a lot of different places," he said.

   His wife, Patty Barrett, said Carpenter died Thursday in a Denver hospice of complications from a September stroke. Carpenter, who lived in Vail, was 88.

   Carpenter followed John Glenn into orbit, and it was Carpenter who gave him the historic sendoff: "Godspeed John Glenn." The two were the last survivors of the famed original Mercury 7 astronauts from the "Right Stuff" days of the early 1960s. Glenn is the only one left alive.

   In his one flight, Carpenter missed his landing by 288 miles, leaving a nation on edge for an hour as it watched live and putting Carpenter on the outs with his NASA bosses. So Carpenter found a new place to explore: the ocean floor.

   He was the only person who was both an astronaut and an aquanaut, exploring the old ocean and what President John F. Kennedy called "the new ocean" — space.

   NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Thursday that Carpenter "was in the vanguard of our space program — the pioneers who set the tone for our nation's pioneering efforts beyond Earth and accomplished so much for our nation. ... We will miss his passion, his talent and his lifelong commitment to exploration."

   Life was an adventure for Carpenter and he said it should be for others: "Every child has got to seek his own destiny. All I can say is that I have had a great time seeking my own."

   The launch into space was nerve-racking for the Navy pilot on the morning of May 24, 1962.

   "You're looking out at a totally black sky, seeing an altimeter reading of 90,000 feet and realize you are going straight up. And the thought crossed my mind: What am I doing?" Carpenter said 49 years later in a joint lecture with Glenn at the Smithsonian Institution.

   For Carpenter, the momentary fear was worth it, he said in 2011: "The view of Mother Earth and the weightlessness is an addictive combination of senses."

   For the veteran Navy officer, flying in space or diving to the ocean floor was more than a calling. In 1959, soon after being chosen one of NASA's pioneering seven astronauts, Carpenter wrote about his hopes, concluding: "This is something I would willingly give my life for."

   "Curiosity is a thread that goes through all of my activity," he told a NASA historian in 1999. "Satisfying curiosity ranks No. 2 in my book behind conquering a fear."

   Even before Carpenter ventured into space, he made history on Feb. 20, 1962, when he gave his Glenn sendoff. It was a spur of the moment phrase, Carpenter later said.

   "In those days, speed was magic because that's all that was required ... and nobody had gone that fast," Carpenter explained. "If you can get that speed, you're home-free, and it just occurred to me at the time that I hope you get your speed. Because once that happens, the flight's a success."

   Three months later, Carpenter was launched into space from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and completed three orbits around Earth in his space capsule, the Aurora 7, which he named after the celestial event. It was just a coincidence, Carpenter said, that he grew up in Boulder, Colo., on the corner of Aurora Avenue and Seventh Street.

   His four hours, 39 minutes and 32 seconds of weightlessness were "the nicest thing that ever happened to me," Carpenter told a NASA historian. "The zero-g sensation and the visual sensation of spaceflight are transcending experiences and I wish everybody could have them."

   His trip led to many discoveries about spacecraft navigation and space itself, such as that space offers almost no resistance, which he found out by trailing a balloon. Carpenter said astronauts in the Mercury program found most of their motivation from the space race with the Russians. When he completed his orbit of the Earth, he said he thought: "Hooray, we're tied with the Soviets," who had completed two manned orbits at that time.

   Things started to go wrong on re-entry. He was low on fuel and a key instrument that tells the pilot which way the capsule is pointing malfunctioned, forcing Carpenter to manually take over control of the landing.

   NASA's Mission Control then announced that he would overshoot his landing zone by more than 200 miles and, worse, they had lost contact with him.

   Talking to a suddenly solemn nation, CBS newsman Walter Cronkite said, "We may have ... lost an astronaut."

   Carpenter survived the landing that day.

   Always cool under pressure — his heart rate never went above 105 during the flight — he oriented himself by simply peering out the space capsule's window. The Navy found him in the Caribbean, floating in his life raft with his feet propped up. He offered up some of his space rations.

   Carpenter's perceived nonchalance didn't sit well some with NASA officials, particularly flight director Chris Kraft. The two feuded about it from then on.

   Kraft accused Carpenter of being distracted and behind schedule, as well as making poor decisions. He blamed Carpenter for the low fuel.

   On his website, Carpenter acknowledged that he didn't shut off a switch at the right time, doubling fuel loss. Still, Carpenter in his 2003 memoir said, "I think the data shows that the machine failed."

   In the 1962 book "We Seven," written by the first seven astronauts, Carpenter wrote about his thoughts while waiting to be picked up after splashing down.

   "I sat for a long time just thinking about what I'd been through. I couldn't believe it had all happened. It had been a tremendous experience, and though I could not ever really share it with anyone, I looked forward to telling others as much about it as I could. I had made mistakes and some things had gone wrong. But I hoped that other men could learn from my experiences. I felt that the flight was a success, and I was proud of that."

   One of 110 candidates to be the nation's first astronauts, Carpenter became an instant celebrity in 1959 when he was chosen as a Mercury astronaut. The Mercury 7 were Carpenter, Glenn, L. Gordon Cooper Jr., Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Walter M. Schirra Jr., Alan B. Shepard Jr., and Donald K. "Deke" Slayton.

   Like his colleagues, Carpenter basked in lavish attention and public rewards, but it wasn't exactly easy. The astronauts were subjected to grueling medical tests — keeping their feet in cold water, rapid spinning and tumbling and open-ended psychological quizzes. He had to endure forces 16 times gravity in his tests, far more than in space, something he said he managed with "great difficulty."

   "It was the most exciting period of my life," he said.

   Carpenter never did go back in space, but his explorations continued. In 1965, he spent 30 days under the ocean off the coast of California as part of the Navy's SeaLab II program.

   "I wanted, No. 1, to learn about it (the ocean), but No. 2, I wanted to get rid of what was an unreasoned fear of the deep water," Carpenter told the NASA historian.

   Inspired by Jacques Cousteau, Carpenter worked with the Navy to bring some of NASA's training and technology to the sea floor. A broken arm kept him out of the first SeaLab, but he made the second in 1965. The 57-by-12-foot habitat was lowered to a depth of 205 feet off San Diego. A bottlenose dolphin named Tuffy ferried supplies from the surface to the aquanauts below.

   "SeaLab was an apartment but it was very crowded. Ten men lived inside. We worked very hard. We slept very little," Carpenter recalled in a 1969 interview. Years later, he said he actually preferred his experience on the ocean floor to his time in space.

   "In the overall scheme of things, it's the underdog in terms of funding and public interest," he said. "They're both very important explorations. One is much more glorious than the other. Both have tremendous potential."

   After another stint at NASA in the mid-1960s, helping develop the Apollo lunar lander, Carpenter returned to the SeaLab program as director of aquanaut operations for SeaLab III.

   He retired from the Navy in 1969, founded his company Sea Sciences Inc., worked closely with Cousteau and dove in most of the world's oceans, including under the ice in the Arctic.

   When the 77-year-old Glenn returned to orbit in 1998 aboard space shuttle Discovery, Carpenter radioed: "Good luck, have a safe flight and ... once again, Godspeed, John Glenn."

   Malcolm Scott Carpenter was born May 1, 1925, in Boulder, Colo. (He hated his first name and didn't use it). He was raised by his maternal grandparents after his mother became ill with tuberculosis.

   He attended the University of Colorado for one semester, joined the Navy during World War II, and returned to school but didn't graduate because he flunked out of a class on heat transfer his senior year. The school eventually awarded him a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering in 1962 after he orbited the Earth.

   He rejoined the Navy in 1949 and was a fighter and test pilot in the Pacific and served as intelligence officer.

   He married four times and had eight children, including two that have died. A daughter helped him write his memoir, "For Spacious Skies: The Uncommon Journey of a Mercury Astronaut." He also wrote two novels: "The Steel Albatross" and "Deep Flight." In addition to his children, he is survived by his wife, Patty Barrett.

   A public funeral and memorial are planned for later this month in Boulder, Barrett said. She didn't have further details.

   Carpenter earned numerous awards and honorary degrees. Carpenter said that he joined the Mercury program for many reasons: "One of them, quite frankly, is that it is a chance for immortality. Most men never have a chance for immortality."

   ___

   Borenstein reported from Washington.

   ___

   Online:  www.scottcarpenter.com

Published in National News

   MOSCOW (AP) — A Soyuz capsule carrying three astronauts touched down on Earth Wednesday after undocking from the International Space Station following 166 days in space.

   NASA's Chris Cassidy and Russians Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin landed safely in Kazakhstan, where they launched on March 29.

   Live NASA footage showed the three men emerging from the capsule and onto the sunny Kazakh steppe, where they were first put into reclining chairs to help them readjust to the earth's gravity.

   The Soyuz is the only means for international astronauts to reach the orbiting laboratory since the decommissioning of the U.S. space shuttle fleet in 2011.

Published in National News
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) - A rocket carrying an Earth observation satellite is scheduled to blast off from the California coast on a mission to keep a continuous eye on the planet's resources.

The countdown for the Atlas V launch begins Monday morning from the Vandenberg Air Force Base along California's central coast.

The Landsat satellite is the eighth of its kind to be launched since 1972 to track glaciers, forest fires, crop production and coastlines. Unlike its predecessors, the latest carries more powerful sensors and can return more images.

For the past four decades, the polar-orbiting Landsat satellites have documented changes to Earth's surface including the effects of deforestation and urban sprawl.

The $855 million mission is managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Published in National News

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