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May 20, 2009 at 5:44 PM
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NASA tests largest rocket parachutes

YUMA, Ariz., May 20 (UPI) -- U.S. space agency and industry engineers say they've completed the first test of the Ares I rocket's three main parachutes -- the largest ever manufactured.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials said the parachutes are designed to slow the rapid descent of the rocket's spent first-stage motor, permitting its recovery for use on future flights.

"The Ares I, the first rocket in NASA's Constellation Program, is designed to launch explorers aboard the Orion crew capsule on journeys to the International Space Station, the moon and beyond," NASA said. "The three main parachutes measure 150 feet in diameter and weigh 2,000 pounds each. They are a primary element of the rocket's deceleration system, which also includes a pilot parachute and drogue parachute."

NASA said the parachutes deploy in a cluster, with the main parachutes opening at the same time. That provides the drag necessary to slow the huge solid rocket motor for a soft ocean landing.

"The successful main chute cluster test today confirms the development and design changes we have implemented for the Ares I first stage recovery system," said Ron King, a subsystem manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "Thanks to our great, collaborative team, the test went as anticipated, and all of our design objectives were met."

Wednesday's test was conducted at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground near Yuma, Ariz.


Drug promising as cystic fibrosis therapy

DURHAM, N.C., May 20 (UPI) -- U.S. pharmaceutical researchers say a new sodium channel blocker is showing promise as a potential treatment for cystic fibrosis.

Scientists who developed the drug at Parion Sciences Inc. in Durham, N.C., said cystic fibrosis patients could benefit from the medication that increases airway hydration and prevents the buildup of mucous.

"Our results suggest that we have identified a new agent that acts directly on a specific pathway, which is involved in the development of cystic fibrosis," Andrew Hirsh, Parion's senior director of drug discovery and preclinical development, said. "Cystic fibrosis patients have a genetic ion transport defect, which decreases the hydration level on the airway surface and therefore reduces the body's ability to effectively clear mucous, which is a primary defense mechanism of the respiratory system.

"Diminished mucous clearance leads to chronic respiratory infection and impaired pulmonary function," Hirsh added. "Currently there are no therapies available to specifically target this channel in patients with cystic fibrosis."

The research was presented Sunday during the American Thoracic Society's 105th International Conference in San Diego.


NASA launches a nanosatellite

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va., May 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. space agency said its nanosatellite PharmaSat was orbiting Earth Wednesday after its launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

The nanosatellite lifted off at 7:55 p.m. EDT Tuesday from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration facility at Wallops Island, Va., riding into orbit 285 miles above Earth aboard a four-stage Air Force Minotaur 1 rocket.

Also aboard were the Air Force Research Laboratory's TacSat-3 satellite and other NASA CubeSat technology demonstration experiments, which include three four-inch cubed satellites developed by universities and industry, NASA said.

The biological experiment is expected to last approximately 96 hours. NASA said the nanosatellite could transmit data for as long as six months.


AIDS patients helped by early retrovirals

STANFORD, Calif., May 20 (UPI) -- U.S. medical researchers say they've determined AIDS patients with serious complications benefit from early antiretroviral treatment.

Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine said a multicenter trial they led determined patients testing positive for the human immunodeficiency virus who don't seek medical attention until they have a serious AIDS-related condition can reduce their risk of death or other complications by half if they get early antiretroviral treatment.

The researchers said their findings could lead to widespread changes in HIV treatment, particularly for patients diagnosed at an advanced stage.

"Even in San Francisco, one of the first epicenters of HIV in the United States, we still find that many people present late in the course of their illness with an opportunistic infection," said Dr. Mitch Katz, San Francisco's director of health, who was not involved in the study. "This study shows that it is life-saving to treat those persons with antiretroviral drugs while they are still in the hospital.

"The results of this study will change practices throughout the world," he added.

The research that involved 262 patients at 39 U.S. sites, as well as 20 patients in South Africa, is reported in the online journal PLoS One.

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