NASA tracks heavenly bodies, reconstructs human faces

As scientists continue to scan the heavens for asteroids and comets moving in Earth's direction, NASA has developed a home page on the subject.

NASA's "Asteroid and Comet Impact Hazards" home page, at http://ccf.arc.nasa.gov, gives you the rundown on NEOs (near Earth objects) and a look at how scientists are working to prevent an unexpected house call from a flying space boulder. Notably missing from the NASA site is a reference to the new Near Earth Asteroid Tracking System, started by NASA [FCW, May 20]. However, the site will link you to the Spaceguard Foundation, at http://www.mi.astro.it, which points out that a 12-member international coalition recently signed a mutual agreement to keep an eye on the sky for asteroids. Through the same site, you can connect to the Smithsonian Institution's Astrophysical Observatory's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, which sends out alerts on new sky sightings, from comets to planets to stars.

And speaking of objects hurling through space, NASA Johnson Space Center sponsors a Web site addressing the growing problem of orbital debris. "Millions of objects the size of a BB-gun pellet are believed to orbit the Earth, passing one another at speeds that average about 22,000 miles per hour," according to the opening page of the site, located at http://www-sn.jsc.nasa.gov/Space.htm.

NASA has operated a radar in Massachusetts for the last six years to detect particles as small as 6 millimeters from 1,000 kilometers away. Most of the debris is thought to be made of rocket and satellite fragments.

Creating the Virtual Face

Coming back from outer space, NASA operates a virtual reality environment to study something very earthly: the human face.

The Virtual Environment for Reconstructive Surgery, co-developed by the NASA Ames Biocomputation Center and the Department of Reconstructive Surgey at Stanford University, aims to create virtual faces. Next month the six-month project will begin to create an interactive, collaborative virtual environment for planning facial bone surgery. The virtual face reconstructions will mimic the facial structure of real patients and allow doctors to practice in a virtual environment before conducting operations. Access the site through NASA's Biocomputation Center home page by pointing your browser to http://biocomp.arc.nasa.gov/vers/.index.html.

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