David Aguilar
(617) 495-7462

Christine Pulliam
(617) 495-7463


CfA Press Release



One of five potential candidates for future NASA spaceflight


CAMBRIDGE, MA -- A space experiment with major contributions from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, MA, has been chosen as one of the five candidates for NASA's Medium-Class Explorer, or MIDEX, program.

The Full-Sky Astrometric Mapping Explorer (FAME) would create an astrometric and photometric database containing 40 million stars in Earth's galactic neighborhood, enabling numerous scientific studies, including the investigation of companions to stars and the distribution of both dark and luminous matter in our portion of the Galaxy.

"FAME will increase by more than 1000-fold the volume of space in which we can determine the distances to stars. By using the parallax method, we should be able to make direct determinations of one of the lower rungs of the 'cosmic distance ladder,'" says Dr. Robert Reasenberg of the CfA who serves as project scientist. "Further, the star coordinates determined by FAME will be more than 20 times more accurate than any available today, opening the way for a rich scientific yield from the mission."

In addition to determining the positions, motions, and distances of the stars, this proposed satellite would measure the brightness of stars in each of several color bands - hundreds of times during the mission lifetime. When combined with the distance measurements, this photometric information would permit a determination of stellar type and intrinsic brightness, and would contribute to an understanding of the evolution of stars.

"FAME will also allow us to make a thorough search for giant planets and brown dwarfs in our corner of the Galaxy," says Dr. James Phillips, the deputy project scientist and a physicist at the CfA. "This will help us study both types of objects and the differences between them, a long-standing question that up to now could not be addressed effectively."

FAME and four other projects were chosen for further development on the basis of scientific value from a pool of over 30 entries. Each selected project must now complete a mission "Concept Study" and submit a detailed report to NASA by June 18, 1999.

If built, FAME would have a total cost of $138 million and be scheduled to be launched in 2003. In September 1999, NASA intends to announce the choice of the final two missions to be fully developed.

Led by Dr. Kenneth J. Johnston, Scientific Director of the U.S. Naval Observatory (Washington, D.C.), the FAME project is a collaborative effort among the U.S. Naval Observatory, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (Cambridge, MA), the Naval Research Laboratory (Washington, D.C.), Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space (Palo Alto, CA), the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (Pasadena, CA), and Omitron, Inc. (Greenbelt, MD).

More information can be found at the FAME website (http://www.usno.navy.mil/fame) or by contacting:

Robert Reasenberg, 617/495-7108, rreasenberg@cfa.harvard.edu

James Phillips, 617/495-7360, jphillips@cfa.harvard.edu

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