constellation Hercules
NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer has gathered its first celestial images, a "first light" milestone dedicated to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

The ultraviolet survey mission, launched on April 28 from Cape Canaveral, Fla, made the observations using its onboard telescope. To honor the contributions of the Columbia astronauts to scientific exploration, the Galaxy Evolution Explorer observed an area of the sky in the constellation Hercules. That region was directly above Columbia when it made its last contact to NASA Mission Control on February 1, over the skies of Texas. During the 16-day mission, the shuttle crew completed 82 science experiments.

"We're really pleased with the "first light" images captured by the telescope," said Dr. James Fanson, Galaxy Evolution Explorer project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The telescope has cameras tuned to two colors, the far and near ultraviolet. The two "first light" images were obtained on the mornings of May 21 and May 22, respectively. Each comprises only four minutes of observing time, yet over 400 stars and star-forming galaxies appear in the far ultraviolet image and over 1,500 in the near ultraviolet image. As more data are gathered, astronomers expect the number of galaxies visible in the Hercules field will grow to many thousands. Over the course of the mission, planned for at least 28 months, millions of galaxies may be observed.

The Galaxy Evolution Explorer was the first NASA mission to launch since the Columbia accident. Its goal is to map the celestial sky in the ultraviolet and determine the history of star formation in the universe over the last 10 billion years.

The new images are available online at: http://www.galex.caltech.edu/firstlight.html and http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/galex and http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov

The Galaxy Evolution Explorer mission is led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, which is also responsible for science operations and data analysis. JPL, a division of Caltech, manages the mission and built the science instrument. The mission was developed under NASA's Explorers Program, managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Va., is responsible for the spacecraft, integration and testing, ground data system and mission operations, and the launch vehicle. Other partners include the University of California, Berkeley, which provided the ultraviolet detectors, as well as Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., and the Space Telescope Science Institute. Key flight optics components were developed and contributed by France's Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille. Important test equipment and science operations software was developed and contributed by Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea.

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2003-078