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NASA Names Premier X-Ray Observatory and Schedules Launch

December 21, 1998

RELEASE: CXC PR: 98-04

NASA's Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility has been renamed the Chandra X-ray Observatory in honor of the late Indian-American Nobel laureate, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. The telescope is scheduled to be launched no earlier than April 8, 1999 aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia mission STS-93, commanded by astronaut Eileen Collins.

Chandrasekhar, known to the world as Chandra, which means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit, was a popular entry in a recent NASA contest to name the spacecraft. The contest drew more than six thousand entries from fifty states and sixty-one countries. The co-winners were a tenth grade student in Laclede, Idaho, and a high school teacher in Camarillo, CA.

The Chandra X-ray Observatory Center (CXC), operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, will control science and flight operations of the Chandra X-ray Observatory for NASA from Cambridge, Mass.

"Chandra is a highly appropriate name," said Harvey Tananbaum, Director of the CXC. "Throughout his life Chandra worked tirelessly and with great precision to further our understanding of the universe. These same qualities characterize the many individuals who have devoted much of their careers to building this premier X-ray observatory."

"Chandra probably thought longer and deeper about our universe than anyone since Einstein," said Martin Rees, Great Britain's Astronomer Royal.

"Chandrasekhar made fundamental contributions to the theory of black holes and other phenomena that the Chandra X-ray Observatory will study. His life and work exemplify the excellence that we can hope to achieve with this great observatory," said NASA Administrator Dan Goldin.

Widely regarded as one of the foremost astrophysicists of the 20th century, Chandrasekhar won the Nobel Prize in 1983 for his theoretical studies of physical processes important to the structure and evolution of stars. He and his wife immigrated from India to the U.S. in 1935. Chandrasekhar served on the faculty of the University of Chicago until his death in 1995.

The Chandra X-ray Observatory will help astronomers worldwide better understand the structure and evolution of the universe by studying powerful sources of X rays such as exploding stars, matter falling into black holes and other exotic celestial objects. X-radiation is an invisible form of light produced by multimillion degree gas. Chandra will provide X-ray images that are fifty times more detailed than previous missions. At more than 45 feet in length and weighing more than five tons, it will be one of the largest objects ever placed in Earth orbit by the Space Shuttle.

Tyrel Johnson, a student at Priest River Lamanna High School in Priest River, Idaho, and Jatila van der Veen, a physics and astronomy teacher at Adolfo Camarillo High School in Camarillo, California, who submitted the winning name and essays, will receive a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to view the launch of the Chandra X-ray Observatory, a prize donated by TRW.

Members of the contest's selection committee were Timothy Hannemann, executive vice president and general manager, TRW Space & Electronics Group; the late CNN correspondent John Holliman; former Secretary of the Air Force Sheila Widnall, professor of aeronautics at MIT; Charles Petit, senior writer for U.S. News & World Report; Sidney Wolff, Director, National Optical Astronomy Observatories; Martin Weisskopf, Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility project scientist, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL.; and Harvey Tananbaum, director of the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility Science Center, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, MA.

The Chandra X-ray Observatory program is managed by the Marshall Center for the Office of Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. TRW Space and Electronics Group, Redondo Beach, CA, is NASA's prime contractor for the observatory. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls science and flight operations of the observatory for NASA from Cambridge, MA.

EDITORS NOTE: Further information on NASA's Chandra Observatory is available on the internet at http://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news and http://chandra.harvard.edu

For information about S. Chandrasekhar, or comments from his Chicago colleagues, including those who will use the Chandra X-ray Observatory, contact Steve Koppes, University of Chicago, 773/702-8366

The NASA Video File normally airs at noon, 3:00, 6:00, 9:00 p.m. and midnight Eastern time. NASA Television is available on GE-2, transponder 9C at 85 degrees West longitude, with vertical polarization. Frequency is on 3880.0 megahertz, with audio on 6.8 megahertz.

Note to editors: Digital images to accompany this release are available via the Internet at: http://chandra.harvard.edu/resources/

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