What will be the legacy of ISS?

What will be the legacy of the International Space Station? It seems ridiculous to ask at this early stage, with probably a decade of operations remaining. But when you ask the man who was ISS program manager since August 2005, you get a pretty convincing answer. Michael Suffredini, who retired from NASA earlier in August, recently sat down and gave a refreshingly frank interview with Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle. Simply put, this is a must read if you care enough to have a strong opinion of the ISS and the future of NASA. By the end of the article, not only did Suffredini have me fairly convinced that ISS will have a lasting legacy – leaving in the dust all that talk of station as a “white elephant” – but he had me feeling somewhat optimistic.

Over the past ten years, through all the ups and downs of the ISS, NASA, and this country, Suffredini was the guy who had to deal face-to-face with US politicians, heads of foreign space programs, and CEOs of major contractors. You’d think there’d be a lot of frustration and head-banging involved with those kinds of dealings, and yet Suffredini provides optimistic statements about the two most important players today in the space business other than NASA.

First, when Berger asks if there is any question about the safety of SpaceX’s rockets following their accident earlier this year, Suffredini expresses some pretty strong confidence in the corporation:

And I can tell you, my involvement with what they’ve been doing, they’re taking it very seriously. They’ll do far more mods than are mandatory to fix the problem that occurred. It’s that kind of mindset that’ll allow you to be able to fly crew safely.

Things have come a long way from even just five years ago when the public perception was that NASA didn’t trust SpaceX and SpaceX didn’t want NASA’s help. Such a strong statement as Suffredini’s makes the vision of an affordable and more adaptive future for NASA and the space industry seem very likely.

However, that vision has been thwarted somewhat by shifting federal funding in the area of the ISS commercial crew program. My favorite quote from the interview came from Suffredini’s thoughts on commercial crew funding:

Even our Russian partners would tell you, to have a single crew vehicle to ISS, is not the right way to operate in low-Earth orbit.

I don’t believe this quote is just rhetoric. Suffredini probably had to deal with the heads of the Russian space program on the regular to do his job successfully, so he knows what they think. In fact, if I had to guess, they’ve probably had conversations behind closed doors about this very topic and they probably told Suffredini directly they wished there was more redundancy for crew transportation.

This cuts right to something I have been trying to tell people when the “relying on the Russians” angle of the ISS program comes up. The folks working ISS over in Moscow just want to explore space, same as us. If something unfortunate grounded the Soyuz fleet, everyone would be disappointed – obviously – and I’m sure the Russians would be grateful if NASA had a SpaceX or Boeing capsule ready to go to keep the program on its feet.

So what is the legacy of station? In Suffredini’s answer to that particular question, he only discussed contributions to furthering exploration and learning lessons to get us to Mars. However, in his answers throughout the rest of the interview, he implied much more: international collaboration, catalyzing a commercial space market beyond just satellite manufacturing, and the early success of SpaceX.

Sign me up… oh wait.

August 24, 2015 9:15 pm

Weekly Links

Down To Earth

The Smithsonian Institution met their funding goal for their Kickstarter project to raise money to restore both Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 suit and Alan Shepard’s Mercury suit.

Last week, water tanks were “harvested” from the Space Shuttle Endeavour (on display in California), for use on the ISS.

China recently had a successful engine test of the propulsion system for their new Long March 5 rocket.

The pop band One Direction released a music video filmed almost entirely at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The video for Drag Me Down has reached over one million views on YouTube.

While we’re talking about space in popular culture, here is the latest full length trailer for The Martian.

In Orbit

The latest ISS resupply mission successfully launched from Japan on August 19th and is on track for a Monday, August 24th, arrival at the space station. Here is NASA TV’s schedule of live coverage.

The European Space Agency also launched a rocket last week. The Ariane 5 rocket launched from the Kourou launch site on August 20th with two communication satellites.

ISS Commander Scott Kelly got a great shot of tropical cyclone Danny last week that got a lot of media attention.

Another amazing picture from the ISS was this picture of lightning which also captured a rare red “sprite” in the upper atmosphere.

Around The Solar System

New analysis from the LADEE spacecraft (which has already been crashed into the moon) confirm the presence of neon in the moon’s tenuous exosphere.

I failed to link to this awesome imagery of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko outgassing just after passing perihelion earlier this month.

Imagery via ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft

The Cassini spacecraft had its last close flyby of Saturn’s small but interesting moon Dione and sent back some of its own awesome imagery.

This awesome Curiosity rover “selfie” from Mars got a lot of press last week. Curiosity recently “celebrated” 3 years on Mars and is still going strong.

If you’re into that sort of thing, you can send your name (and your cat’s) to Mars with the Insight probe, launching next year.

August 23, 2015 8:46 pm

Busy month for ADCO on ISS

It’s always busy on the ISS – there is always at least some kind of exciting science or important maintenance activity keeping one particular set of flight controllers or another working hard. But August has been particularly busy for those of us concerned with visiting vehicle traffic and ISS attitude control. Pretty much anytime anything is coming or going, something comes inside or goes outside (spacewalks, for instance), or you need to test some thrusters or purge some fuel lines, you can bet ADCO is doing something with the ISS Motion Control System to keep the spacecraft nice and stable. Our whole job can be summed up as trying to prevent a LOAC (pronounced “low-ack”), or loss of attitude control.

The period from August 10th to September 11th is a busy final month of Expedition 44 ripe with LOAC-prone activities. Two cosmonauts crawled outside for a spacewalk back on August 10th, which includes an airlock depress that has LOAC potential. The very next day the prop lines for Progress 58 were purged overboard in preparation for the undocking on the 14th. All three of those events required special procedures to keep the station straight and level.

Next week, things are busy again with HTV5 capture and install on Monday, a thruster test for Soyuz 42 on Wednesday morning, and then the Soyuz 42 relocate on Friday, to make room for Soyuz 44 docking on September 2nd. The Expedition ends on September 11th when Soyuz 42 undocks and lands in Kazakhstan.

All of these “complex ops” (to use our common jargon) means extra team members beyond the standard skeleton crew have to staff the consoles in the control centers. The Russian visiting vehicle events can present an extra challenge for the staffing schedule as they often happen in the middle of the night, which is when the ISS tends to pass over the Russian communication ground sites. In ADCO, one of the ways that we try to ease the scheduling complexity is to have a standard rotation of “operators” on the schedule and then if some complex ops fall on a particular day, a “specialist” will volunteer to come in and help out. Generally, we like a two-person team with a front-room and a back-room flight controller, in case anything tricky or unexpected happens.

As a specialist myself, I get excited when the weekly email goes out asking for volunteers for any upcoming complex ops. Working a complex ops shift often means getting to interact with your flight control team colleagues and sending commands to the spacecraft itself. By comparison, a “quiescent” shift for ADCO involves a whole lot of not commanding to the spacecraft, hoping nothing breaks on you, not really talking to anyone, and working on the planning paperwork for upcoming complex ops. It’s of course always awesome to get to work in the mission control center on any shift, but being a part of a team to do something really exciting like dock a new spacecraft is a special privilege.

So, what did I volunteer for then? Well, it actually turns out that I’ll be helping out with all three of the complex ops next week. I’ll be the second shift for the HTV rendezvous (I take over after they’ve already grabbed it but still have to berth it) and then I’ll come back for the Soyuz thruster test and the then the Soyuz relocate itself. I actually keep a list at my desk of which types of events I have worked. Soyuz relocation events are rare and far between, so this is my first opportunity to be a part of one! I actually spent some time today sending myself calendar invites called “sleep” for next week, to make sure I get enough rest in between shifts. I actually didn’t think that was that weird until I wrote it just now. Anyway, while everyone else is looking forward to the weekend, I’m actually looking forward to Monday because that’s when the fun begins!

If you are interested in following along with next week’s events, check out NASA’s TV schedule. There should be live coverage of the HTV capture and then the Soyuz relocation.

August 20, 2015 8:52 pm

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Veteran astronaut Steve Swanson, who flew on the space shuttle and commanded the ISS last year, is retiring from NASA. According to his Wikipedia page, he has spent an impressive 195 days in space with almost 28 hours of spacewalk time across 5 EVAs. This leaves NASA with 45 active astronauts (which doesn’t count ESA and JAXA astronauts who are qualified to fly to ISS).

Last week an important engine test in the development of the new SLS rocket was conducted at Stennis Space Center. The RS-25 engine was run for almost a full ten minuets. Here’s a video (test starts at 31:15).

In Orbit

Last Monday, August 10th, two Russian Cosmonauts went outside the ISS for a spacewalk. Padalka and Kornienko spent about five and a half hours outside. It was Padalka’s tenth spacewalk, which should put him nicely on this list once it is updated.

Later in the week, on Friday morning, a Russian Progress cargo craft undocked from the aft port of the ISS. That port will be empty until Soyuz 42S does a “relocate” from the Poisk port later this fall. The relocate is needed to free up Poisk for the docking of the next Soyuz. There will be three Soyuz onboard for a direct handover this fall.

Some cool stuff happened inside the ISS this past week as well. The astronauts were able to eat some red romaine lettuce grown on the space station in the “VEGGIE” experiment.

Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui did some remote robotics experiments.

The launch of the next ISS resupply flight from Japan has been delayed to Monday, due to bad weather.

Also in ISS cargo news, Orbital Sciences announced they will launch not just one but two or more of their Cygnus cargo resupply missions on someone else’s rocket. Orbital is working hard to recertify their Antares rocket with new Russian engines, following the loss of one of their rockets last October. In the meantime, they are buying Atlas V rockets from United Launch Alliance in order to fulfill their NASA contract.

Around the Solar System

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has reached perihelion (closest point to the sun), which has made the comet rather “active”. Check out these images from Rosetta, in orbit about the comet.

How cool is this? There is evidence of cryovolcanism (ice volcanoes) on Pluto.

Speaking of Pluto, here’s an awesome simulation of the New Horizons flyby in real-time, based on actually imagery from the spacecraft.

If you love the ins and outs of Martian rover exploration, here’s a comprehensive update on what the Curiosity rover has been up to.

August 15, 2015 8:55 am

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Russia recently made it official that they are willing to fund joint operations of ISS through 2024. Meanwhile, NASA sent Russia almost half of a billion dollars to renew the contract for sending astronauts to the ISS on Soyuz spacecraft. The new contract is to protect against further slips in the commercial crew program schedule, as insufficient funds are being allocated by Congress, according to administrator Charlie Bolden.

NASA’s ISS program manager, Mike Suffredini, is retiring from NASA. His replacement will be Kirk Shireman.

Buzz Aldrin has taken a faculty position at Florida Tech.

Don’t forget that the Perseid Meteor Shower is this week!

In Orbit

Two cosmonauts on the ISS will go for a spacewalk Monday morning (August 10). You can watch live on NASA TV.

NASA has named the astronauts that will make up Expeditions 51 and 52 in 2017.

Check out this view of the moon passing in front of the Earth from the DISCOVR satellite.

As usual, lots of great tweets from the crew on the ISS this week, including stunning shots of Super Typhoon Soudelor.

Around the Solar System

Check out this animation of our current map of the asteroid Ceres, from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft.

Comet 67P, Where ESA’s Rosetta probe is in orbit, will reach perihelion this week. ESA is hosting a Google Hangout on August 13th.

Comet orbit diagram from ESA

The number of potential landing sites for NASA’s “Mars 2020″ rover has been reduced to 8 candidates.

Meanwhile, Curiosity just celebrated its third anniversary on Mars.

August 9, 2015 10:21 pm

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Astronauts Stephen Frick and Michael Foreman announced their retirement from NASA this week. If you are interested, NASA maintains an updated list of active astronauts here, which can be easily copied into a spreadsheet. With the addition of the class of 2013 as active astronauts, the number is currently at 46 after recent retirements. Interestingly, the oldest class still represented is the class of 1996, of which Scott Kelly (currently in space) and Peggy Whitson and Jeff Williams (upcoming ISS commanders), are all members.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released their findings regarding the accident last fall that destroyed the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo spacecraft and one of its pilots. Their findings are summarized nicely at Parabolic Arc or you can read the longer executive summary of the report. In short, it was indeed the “early unlocking” of the spaceplanes “feather system” that doomed the craft. the NTSB’s analysis found that the risk of human error was not properly taken into account during development.

Rumors out of Russia is that a new “Manned Spaceflight Center”, analogous to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, is in the planning stages, and would be headed by former cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev.

In Orbit

Last weekend, on Saturday, July 25th, ISS flight controllers had to command a debris avoidance maneuver to dodge orbital debris that was headed to the ISS.

Check out this absolutely awesome virtual ISS tour published by ESA and narrated by Samantha Cristoforetti. Some people are calling it “Google Street View on ISS” but it’s really just an old school click-through VR tour. It’s very well done!

ESA is exposing the bacteria found in kombucha to space on the ISS to see how it fares in the harsh environment.

Another cool experiment I learned about while at an ISS payloads meeting in Huntsville, Alabama last week is a small genetic sequencer called minION, which will launch next year.

Peggy Whitson, who will command ISS Expedition 51 in 2017, has joined Twitter!

Speaking of Twitter, here are some good posts from the three tweeters in space right now:

Around the Solar System

The Cassini spacecraft has discovered strange red stripes or streaks on the surface of Saturn’s moon, Tethys. Check it out.

The Curiosity rover is busy investigating some interesting new rocks it has found on the slopes of Mount Sharp on Mars.

Out There

A combination of observations from the HARPS-North ground telescope and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have confirmed the existence of a rocky exoplanet just about 21 light-years away.

While studying another star that is about 20 light-years away, NASA astronomers from JPL have discovered aurora in the atmosphere of a brown dwarf star.

August 1, 2015 1:00 pm

Weekly Links

Down To Earth

Last Monday, SpaceX announced preliminary findings related to the loss of a Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon cargo mission last month. Here’s the companies official statement on their investigation so far. They have found that a structural support (or “strut”) holding up a pressurant tank in the second stage failed. Elon Musk hopes a delay of only a few months to their manifest.

Tony Antonelli, who piloted two space shuttle missions, has retired from the astronaut office.

The Smithsonian Institution has started a new Kickstarter campaign called “Reboot the Suit” to raise money to restore Neil Armstrong’s moonsuit. The restoration is planned to be completed in time for a new exhibit for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 in 2019. I pledged!

In Orbit

Three launches from the Earth’s three spacefaring nation’s this past week: first, a Russian Soyuz rocket launched from Kazakhstan on July 22nd, followed a few hours later by a successful docking to ISS. The crew is now back up to full strength of 6, with the addition of Oleg Kononenko, Kimiya Yui, and Kjell Lindgren. Lindgren and Yui are on Twitter, so you should follow my “people in space” Twitter list.

Second, a Delta IV rocket launched from Florida on July 23rd. The mission delivered a new military communications satellite to orbit.

China also had a successful orbital launch last week. A Long March 3B delivered two navigation satellites to orbit on July 25th.

Around the Solar System

New pictures from the New Horizons’ Pluto flyby! Check out the new views of small moons Nix and Hydra.

Also, check out this view of the dark side of Pluto, with the sun lighting up its thin nitrogen atmosphere!

via Universe Today

Not to mention they discovered nitrogen glaciers!

via Universe Today

Closer to home, at Ceres, the Dawn spacecraft has discovered evidence of a “haze” in Occator crater. This is the large crater with several “bright spots” in its center.

JAXA is accepting applications to choose a name for asteroid 1999 JU3 which will be visited by their Hayabusa-2 spacecraft.

Out There

NASA announced the discovery of Kepler-452b, a small planet around a Sun-like star about 1,400 light years distant. This is the most similar planet in size and circumstance to Earth that we have yet found, but it still has 1.6 times Earth’s diameter (mass, and thus surface gravity, unknown). However, the fact that it is so small and in the habitable zone, makes it an awesome discovery.

July 26, 2015 8:00 pm

Book Review: Below Tranquility Base

Almost 50 years after Apollo 11 landed on the moon, triumphantly ending America’s space race with the USSR, it is hard to find a fresh perspective on that slice of history. So much has been written about the early space program that it can be hard even to get through all of the old stuff. I have read memoirs from Collins, Cernan, Slayton, Shepard, Kranz, Kraft, Worden, and Scott, but have actually still never read The Right Stuff or A Man on the Moon (I know, I know). Despite the mountain of material out there, new books continue to be written. Not only are there new histories being written, like Dr. John Logsdon’s After Apollo?, but there are new astronaut memoirs: John Young’s Forever Young just came out a couple of years ago. But with all due respect to Captain Young, I have read a lot of test-pilot-astronaut memoirs.

The thing is, there are thousands of stories to tell from the Apollo program. It was a massive project that cost billions upon billions of dollars, which means that thousands upon thousands of people had their hands on the spaceships, on the control centers, on the Deep Space Network communications dishes. Everyone loves hearing from the astronauts, but what about all those other people who were a part of history? Fortunately for us space fans, some of those people have written those stories down to share with us. They are out there if you search for them!

One of those stories is Below Tranquility Base by Richard Stachurski. I wouldn’t expect you to recognize his name, because he is one of those thousands of small but important players in the epic story that is the Apollo program. Stachurski served as a flight controller starting in 1965. He started in the backroom and was promoted to the “Network” position for Apollo. Network was the call sign back then for the person in charge of the ground network comm link to the spacecraft, which is now called GC (Ground Control). Stachurski is a geek through and through. He is so excited to talk about his experiences in mission control during Apollo 11 that he spends very little time on his personal history and background. The book starts out “Did you ever have a job that you would pay to do? I did.” and the book thoroughly convinced me he meant it. Stachurski looks back on his time with NASA with almost unbelieving reverence to have been a part of something so amazing.

The details of Stachurski’s work as a Network flight controller are interesting in their own right, and Stachurski is happy to explain all of it. In fact, the book is so heavy on technical details that it may be off-putting to some more casual readers who aren’t already familiar with the details of an Apollo mission timeline. In fact, most of the book is a description of the Apollo 11 mission from the Network consoles perspective, detailing things that were broken and fixed, technical conversations on “the loops”, and Stachurski’s own emotions throughout the whole mission. So what exactly was “Network” responsible for?

While the movies and histories focus on the astronauts, their spacecraft, and the people in the Flight Control Room (FCR) with the Flight Director, there were hundreds of people working around the world trying to hold on to a communications link with the spacecraft so that the Flight Director could do his job. Anyone who has seen the movie The Dish knows a little about that. Today our link to the ISS is a bit simpler, since we have the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) in geostationary orbit. These still require ground antennae to get data back to mission control, but there are fewer stations, not to mention we have 50 years of experience coordinating that kind of worldwide network. In the 1960s, the entire concept was brand new, they had no geostationary comm satellites, and the missions were flying all the way to the moon, where the geo sats wouldn’t have helped anyway.

Stachurski paints a vivid picture of how this communications network worked (or didn’t). In some ways, there was more drama in the struggle to keep comm with the spacecraft than in what was actually going inside the Lunar Module during powered descent to the moon. Before I read Below Tranquility Base, I never would have guessed how close to the hairy edge of holding on to that link NASA was at several points during Apollo 11. As a flight controller myself, I can relate to Stachurski’s feeling of not being important or noticed until his system has a problem, and then all eyes are on him until the problem can be fixed. The speed with which they coordinated ground site swaps is impressive. Stachurski and his team from Apollo 11 truly were “steely-eyed missilemen” despite the humility in the face of history that he alludes to throughout his tale.

It is in fact this humility that makes Below Tranquility Base such an interesting read, and will probably help most readers get through the technical parts of the book. Stachurski’s academic background in fact is not technical at all. He studied history in college while in the ROTC program to help pay his tuition. After school, he went into active duty, which got him assigned to a bomber wing in Indiana. In those days, a bomber wing in the heartland meant that you looked after airplanes that stood at the ready 24/7 to take off with nuclear warheads to drop on our enemies. After Indiana, Stachurski spent some time babysitting nuclear missiles in the Dakotas. He was one of the guys with his finger on a launch key the Cuban Missile Crisis. The frank look we get from Stachurski into what these Cold War jobs were like is not something you would expect from a space program memoir, but is fascinating nonetheless.

This all leads to Stachurski’s assignment by the Air Force to support mission control in Houston for the Apollo program, where he feels like just a “liberal arts puke” (his words) out of his element. His journey from an overwhelmed nobody in the backroom to a front room flight controller for both the Apollo 11 launch shift and the lunar ascent shift is inspirational. In addition, his own opinion of himself that he was not that important of a player during Apollo 11 affords an unfiltered perspective on life in mission control. For instance, Stachurski gives us his frank opinion that he actually didn’t care for Gene Kranz much, feeling that his leadership style was a little bit overbearing and relied too much on micromanagement. He also tells us about the dirty magazines that they had hidden away on console for boring night shifts…

Below Tranquility Base and books like it are an important but rare part of the story of the early space age. Without them, we miss out on the small dramas that were happening all the time. Small triumphs, like having a solution when a whole network switch catches on fire in Spain during a crucial Apollo 11 mission phase, put in perspective how many people were required and how many things had to go right for the Apollo program to be successful. The book also helps to chronicle the early development of the culture of flight control in Houston that survives today. I even learned the definition of an acronym* I use regularly at work from Stachurski! This is a book that should make it onto the reading list of all avid space history fans and current flight controllers at NASA, but will probably be enjoyed by most casual fans of NASA or US history. You can get it for free on Kindle Unlimited here (it is $11.31 in paperback).

*Apparently a “pad” in a procedure is actually a PAD, standing for Pre-Advisory Data.

Some other good books that give the ground level perspective on the early space program include:

Full Circle by David L. Cisco, lunar module electrical technician.

Apollo EECOM by Sy Liebergot, Apollo flight controller.

The Unbroken Chain by Guenter Wendt, Apollo launch pad closeout team leader.

July 19, 2015 3:53 pm

Weekly Links

Obviously the big news this week was that New Horizons had its encounter with Pluto this past week. My space news feed was almost entirely Pluto news starting on July 12th, two days before the encounter. Rather than provide you a dozen links, some of which might be out of date, I would just suggest going over to The Planetary Society blog for up to date coverage of the latest pictures coming in from the outer solar system. Ok, on with some non-Pluto news…

Down to Earth

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the first joint manned spaceflight between the US and Russia (the USSR at the time). The mission is today remembered as an early precursor to the partnership that led to the ISS. NASA TV did a nice piece marking the anniversary, with interviews with the two commanders: Leonov and Stafford. Check it out! (jump to 9:27 for some prophetic words from President Gerald Ford about the future of cooperation in space)

In Orbit

There was a bit of excitement up on the ISS this week. Early on Thursday morning, Houston time, flight controllers in charge of monitoring the trajectory of the ISS were notified of a debris threat without enough notice to coordinate a debris avoidance maneuver rocket firing. Thus, the crew of Expedition 44 had to execute what is called a “shelter in place”. Essentially, they hunker down in their return capsule until the all clear call. No actual debris strike was noted at the “time of closest approach”.

In less scary ISS news, several sets of cubesats were launched from one of the ISS robotic arms. The spring-loaded launcher was built by the company Nanoracks and the cubesats came from various sources, including one test flight for the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources.

Nanoracks recently announced they will also work with Blue Origin to help them fly suborbital research, building on their experience on the ISS.

The next crewed launch to the ISS from Baikonaur will be on Wednesday, July 22nd. You can see NASA TV’s launch and docking coverage schedule here.

There were two successful orbital launches in the last week, both on Wednesday, the 15th: an Atlas V rocket launched a GPS satellite from Florida and an Ariane 5 rocket launched two satellites (one communication and one earth-observing) from Korou.

Around the Solar System

Of course, I can’t resist discussing Pluto at least a little bit… On Tuesday, July 18th, the NASA New Horizons probe made its closest approach to Pluto and survived, phoning home later that evening. The entire dataset from the flyby will take months to downlink back to mission control over the Deep Space Network, but the initial photographs of both Pluto and its largest moon Charon are enough to surprise and excite scientists with some odd unexpected features on both bodies. Some are calling this a “last first look” now that all the large bodies of the solar system have been photographed up close by spacecraft.

July 19, 2015 8:19 am

Weekly Links

Down To Earth

Claudia Alexander, a successful planetary scientist who has been a project manager for NASA, died Saturday, July 11th.

William Borucki, Principal Investigator of the Kepler Space Telescope, has retired from NASA after over 50 years with the agency.

A few announcements out of NASA’s astronaut office this week: Chris Cassidy is the new chief of the astronaut office, replacing Bob Behnken, who will be busy training as one of the four astronauts chosen for the first commercial crew flights in 2017. The other three are Sunita Williams, Eric Boe, and Doug Hurley. Also, the class of 2013 has officially graduated from ASCANs (astronaut candidates) to astronauts, after finishing what is basically their “basic training”.

Nicole Stott, who recently retired from the astronaut office, is taking up space-themed art as her new mission. Very cool!

In Orbit

Follow-up to the launch news from last week: the Progress resupply vehicle launched on July 3rd made it to ISS on the 5th, keeping the supply chains flowing. The next ISS cargo mission is a Japanese HTV flight in August.

Also in rocket news, there was one orbital launch last week from India, carrying several commercial and technology demonstration satellites. Upcoming launches include an Ariane 5 launch from Kourou and an Atlas V launch from Florida, both on the 15th (I use this Wiki page to track launch schedules).

You’ve got to love a good ISS transit photo. Here’s one of the station passing in front of the moon.

Around the Solar System

It’s time! New Horizons will fly past Pluto on Tuesday! Here is a summary of NASA TV’s coverage of the flyby. The probe gave us a scare last weekend when it went into safe mode briefly, but it is back up and running now and sending home new pictures every day.

One of the latest looks at Pluto

The Dawn spacecraft, in orbit around dwarf planet Ceres, also went into safe mode recently, but was also recovered. Dawn was planning to spiral down to a lower mapping orbit but the issue has delayed that next step in the flight plan.

Mission controllers for the Curiosity rover are dealing with some troubles of their own on Mars. The rovers wheels are continuing to show signs of worsening wheel damage. However, the JPL guys know what they are doing, and they don’t seem too worried yet. Here are some good details from Space.com.

July 12, 2015 4:00 pm