Archive for the ‘Rockets’ Category
Down to Earth
A couple of updates on Space Shuttle artifacts being displayed. First, the original external fuel tank test article was shipped from KSC to the “Wings of Dreams Aviation Museum” in Starke, Florida. Second, the space shuttle Atlantis was “unwrapped” at its new display at the KSC visitor center.
Rumor has it that Virgin Galactic might have their first powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo next week.
The Texas state legislature is a few steps away from approving key measures that would enable SpaceX to build a launch site near the Mexico border outside of Brownsville. This week the Texas House of Representatives approved a bill that would allow closure of state beaches during launches. The bill still needs to go to the State Senate before passing.
Mars One, the… company? … that plans to colonize Mars, has opened up their astronaut application process. What the heck, why not apply?
Orbital Sciences successfully launched their first Antares rocket on April 21st. It was a beautiful launch into a clear blue sky. We look forward to seeing them on ISS in a few months.
Up on the Space Station, two cosmonauts – Pavel Vinogradov and Roman Romanenko – went on a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk to work on some external experiments and also some various maintenance.
On Wednesday, the latest Russian Progress resupply craft launched on its way to ISS. The docking is planned for just a few moments from now, on Friday morning (coverage is live on NASA TV if you catch this post right after it goes up). The Progress will be docking to ISS despite a rendezvous antenna that was unable to fully deploy after launch. The retracted antenna is physically in the way of the docking mechanism, so flight controllers will have to come up with a plan to get the antenna out of the way… or something else. Otherwise the cargo inside will not be accessible. One possibility is to plan another spacewalk after docking to move the antenna.
And on a lighter note, Commander Hadfield talks about barf bags in space.
Around the Solar System
At Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft has been observing meteors impacting the planet’s rings. Awesome.
It has been a while since I have posted one of my weekly space news links posts. Part of the reason has been a whirlwind move that we (my girlfriend and I) made from our apartment into a new house. We currently don’t have internet, which hampers my blogging a bit. But also, I have been busy at work, including having the privilege of working rather closely on the current SpaceX mission to ISS, which has been exciting. I even attended a joint planning meeting for the mission today to talk about unberth and departure of the Dragon capsule on March 25th, which I will get to support from the Mission Control Center.
Down to Earth
It’s official. As of late last month, the US House of Representatives finally passed a bill to rename the Dryden Flight Research Center in California the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center. The proposal still needs to be approved by the Senate.
An international research team working in Antarctica has found an 18 kg meteorite on the ice surface of that barren continent. This is the largest meteorite find in Antarctica since 1988.
Millionaire and former space tourist, Dennis Tito, announced last month that he intends to create a new space “adventure” (not venture) known as Inspiration Mars. The intent of the project is to send humans (ostensibly a single married couple) on a circum-Martian flight that would take about 500 days. The mission would not involve a landing on the planet, due to cost and complexity, but would seek to inspire a generation and possibly lead to greater adventures (and ventures) in the future. Color me skeptical, but I hope they can do it! Fundraising will be a challenge.
Here are some helpful ideas of how Inspiration Mars might be able to generate revenue to make their mission a success.
SpaceX did another hover test of their huge Grasshopper vertical landing test rocket. Cool stuff.
On March 1, SpaceX successfully launched another Dragon cargo craft to ISS on the first attempt.
SpaceX had some issues with their propellant system that delayed their spacecraft’s arrival at ISS by a day. Dragon arrived with no problems on Sunday, March 3, after many meetings to discuss the issues and agree to a replan. I was working in the Houston Mission control Center that weekend and was impressed to see the machine of mission operations chugging away to produce such a quick turnaround of the timeline!
I enjoyed watching the ISS crew open the Dragon hatch and begin unloading on Sunday evening, which I already wrote about in a previous post.
Around the Solar System
On Mars, the Curiosity rover is having some unknown computer memory issues. On February 28th, ground controllers intentionally commanded the rover to use the backup computer, which put the rover into safe mode (coincidentally, on the same day that SpaceX’s Dragon capsule was having issues). The rover is currently functioning while teams back on Earth prepare to send software “patches” to the rover later this week.
NASA’s Van Allen Probe mission has discovered a third distinct radiation belt around Earth.
This week, the comet panSTARRS is making an appearance in the Northern hemisphere’s skies. This is one of the two comets (the other being comet Lemmon) that were supposed to make a splash this year. PanSTARRS has not turned out to be dimmer than hoped, but still worth looking for. The comet just passed the sun and is coming around the other side, which is why it is fading out of peak brightness while also creeping higher above the horizon after sunset. I was able to find panSTARRS with my binoculars this evening and she is definitely pretty, if small.
Speaking of comets, a newly discovered comet, named Siding Spring, is predicted to have a very close approach of Mars (not us, phew!) in late 2014. The uncertainty in the orbit leaves the possibility open that the comet make actually impact Mars. This would be a bad day for Mars and our spacecraft stationed there. Phil Plait explores the possibility of destruction, while Emily Lakdawalla considers the more benign possibility of a nice meteor shower.
Last weekend, the six-man crew onboard the ISS got a special delivery from Earth. The third in what we hope will be a long line of SpaceX Dragon capsules was grabbed by the space station robot arm on Sunday morning. It didn’t take very long after the Dragon was firmly attached for the crew to start working diligently to get the hatches open and get to the cargo inside, even though it was supposed to be partly their day off.
Why the rush? Well if you had only eaten fresh food a few times in the last four months you would be excited too! About 2-4 cargo deliveries will happen during an astronaut’s stay on ISS – so that means you only get to enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet for a few weeks of your stay.
I was on shift in ISS mission control on Sunday when the crew got the hatch open and you bet they wanted to know where the bags of apples were stored away. Not only did they find the expected NASA manifested bag of apples, tomatoes, and other items, but SpaceX had hidden away a special care package of extra apples and oranges. Their excitement was clear and I’m sure they had a good dinner that night.
What I think comes to light in this case is the interesting economics of supplying a space station, or I suppose any remote operating base. An orange is cheap – your neighbor’s tree might drop some over the fence into your yard and they would never know they were missing nor probably care. But the cost of launching those oranges to ISS makes them worth a lot – not quite equivalent to gold by weight, but getting close. Imagine if the trip to the grocery store cost you 10,000 times more than the groceries themselves? That’s a cost of living that would make even San Franciscans cringe.
This is obviously one important reason that spaceflight is so expensive. By having companies like SpaceX to run supply missions, launch costs can be reduced through efficiency and frequency. But even so, launch costs can only drop by so much. Thus, we will never truly be a spacefaring species unless we learn to be self-sufficient. The European colonies in America only prospered when they learned to live off of the local resources. As long as oranges are worth $2,000, we will be stuck in low earth orbit like some colonists in a coastal fort waiting for the next ship from England.
Someday the lessons we are slowly learning about self-sufficiency on ISS and elsewhere (like bases in Antarctica) will take us outward – but until then I would hate to be the astronauts up there stuck with the guilt of eating a $2,000 orange. What does it feel like to know that so much effort went into getting you just a few bites of fruit?
Down to Earth
Monday night had a stunning Moon and Jupiter conjunction in the sky that I hope you saw if you had clear skies! I was able to view the Moon and Jupiter together on a clear night here in Texas through my binoculars. In case you missed it, here is a collection of images from the conjunction.
Another company that claims it will make billions mining asteroids in a few short years? Yes. Enter, Deep Space Industries.
The ten year anniversary of the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia is coming up. On January 31, a documentary about Israeli Columbia astronaut Ilan Ramon will air on PBS.
In the realm of space law (yes, I know, exciting!) a compromise has been reached regarding liability for space tourism flights out of New Mexico. The new law is intended to appease Virgin Galactic so that they don’t consider leaving the New Mexico spaceport as their home base.
Kazakhstan has not approved all of Russia’s launches from their Baikonaur spaceport for this year (if you need a history refresher – Kazakhstan used to be part of the USSR and that is where the Soviets built their launch facility. Russia continues to use the existing infrastructure in Kazakhstan even now, long after the fall of the USSR). This is unfortunate for the Russian program and a good reason not to have such an important facility in a foreign country. Fortunately for Russia, they are already building a new native facility in the far Eastern reaches of the nation. NASA should pay attention and make sure Texas and Florida don’t secede!
As I wrote about last week, the European planet hunting space telescope CoRoT may be a lost mission. Well, it seems luck is not with astronomers this month; NASA’s Kepler space telescope has had an issue with one of its momentum wheels (excess friction) and is spending a week or so in safe mode, suspending all science, in hopes the situation will improve. Kepler is already down one of 4 reaction wheels, which failed in July. It needs at least 3 to be able to control attitude precisely to do science.
To lighten the mood, here’s a quick NASA bit from The Onion (you have to watch a commercial for their fake Joe Biden book first).
Here is an official statement from NASA about the new Bigelow inflatable module that will be tested on ISS. It seems the module will be scheduled to launch on a SpaceX cargo mission in 2015.
More on future NASA plans: here’s an update on the four companies that are developing vehicles for NASA’s commercial crew program.
And here’s a quick update on Orbital Sciences’ launch schedule for ISS commercial cargo resupply missions.
The Robotic Refueling Mission has continued in earnest this week. I have had the pleasure of working the day shifts in ISS mission control this week, being tangentially involved in these operations by disabling thruster firings to protect the robotics hardware.
I wouldn’t say that 2012 either came in or went out with a bang (unless the last minute federal budget politiking* strikes you as “a bang”). Nevertheless, 2012 was a busy year for space enthusiasts. The last twelve months held much to wonder, celebrate, contemplate, mourn, debate, and of course explore. Here I will try to sum up the space related events, deaths, discoveries, and anniversaries that I find interesting. If you are interested in a full recap of worldwide events in 2012, I’d suggest starting with the “Year in Pictures” at Boston.com’s “Big Picture” blog – Part I, Part II, and Part III.
In order to try to honor some fallen heroes, I will start out with the saddest part of my recap.
In 2012 we lost three American astronauts – Alan Poindexter, Sally Ride, and Neil Armstrong.
Captain Poindexter was 50 years old when he died in July 2012. He was a veteran of 2 space shuttle flights, having been selected in the 1998 group of astronauts. Coming from a Navy test pilot background, he was the pilot for STS-122 and then Commander of STS-131. 131 was the last night launch of the shuttle program and helped set the record for most women in space at one time – with 3 women on the crew of Discovery plus one on the space station. During his military career Poindexter flew F-14s on carriers – very cool.
Sally Ride needs no explanation. More important people than me provided lots of memories about Sally Ride after her death back in July. She certainly left us too soon – but she left a legacy. Sally Ride Science will continue to do great things, and you should consider supporting them if you can.
And of course, everyone heard when Neil Armstrong died in August at the age of 82. Like Sally Ride, I can provide no words here better than what has already been written. Armstrong was in many ways the model of a public hero and should not have left us so soon.
There would be no astronauts without first someone to inspire us to dream. Thus, we should also remember legendary author Ray Bradbury who died aged 91.
Lastly, engineer Roger Boisjoly died at the age of 73. Mr. Boisjoly is known for being the SRB (Solid Rocket Booster) project manager at Thiokol who warned not to launch mission STS-51L during a meeting the day before the flight. His warnings were ignored and the Space Shuttle Challenger was lost.
Major Events or Discoveries
Whether your interest lies more in planetary exploration, new technology, or manned spaceflight, there were many milestones and missions in 2012.
NASA achieved what I will subjectively dub their triumph of the decade (so far) when the Mars rover Curiosity touched down at Bradbury landing in Gale Crater on August 6th. You have got to love this video…
Curiosity could easily explore Mars for a decade, with its RTG that should keep it powered long enough that something else will wear out first. The vistas we have seen of Gale crater from MSL are stunning and I think she will be a huge source of inspiration – and of course science – for many years ahead.
Curiosity isn’t alone on Mars. Another huge milestone of 2012 is the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity continuing to quietly do its job at Endeavour Crater on the other side of the planet. In fact, Opportunity and Curiosity are now racing each other to find clay minerals known as “phylosillicates”.
SpaceX impressed the world with their first successful (test) flight to the International Space Station in May which was followed up by the first official contracted resupply mission in October.
The Chinese performed their first in orbital rendezvous of a manned spacecraft when Shenzhou 9 docked with the Tiangong 1 space station on June 18.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft continued to explore asteroid Vesta (where it arrived in 2011) and finally departed in September 2012 to start the long interplanetary flight to larger asteroid Ceres, where it will arrive in 2015.
NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft found evidence of water ice in polar craters of Mercury.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft continued to to perform well at Saturn, more than 8 years after arriving (15 years since launch) and discovered a vast river system of methane and ethane on the moon Titan. Time to send the riverboat robots to explore.
Anniversaries: 50 years since Kennedy’s famous “Moon speech” in Texas, 50 years since John Glenn’s orbital flight, and 40 years since the last flight to the moon – Apollo 17.
Back in June many people around the world – including those who are not even space geeks – enjoyed the rare passing of Venus across the face of the sun. The next Venus transit will not be until 2117.
One of my absolute favorite events of 2012 was the discovery of a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B, the nearest star system to Earth. And only a few weeks later, a “super earth” was found in the habitable zone of HD 40307 only 40 light years away. The discovery of exoplanets is turning into the science story of the 21st century…
Unless you are a physics geek. Then the science story of the 21st century will be the ongoing unlocking of secrets of the quantum world, which continued in 2012 with the announcement that the Large Hadron Collider in Europe has discovered the “Higgs Boson”.
But in any case, the idea of people living on a planet at Alpha Centauri is the inspiration for my blog’s name, so I have a bias for the planets.
This year was nostalgic for us Millenials – who grew up watching space shuttle launches – as the three remaining space shuttle orbiters reached their final homes in California, Virginia, and Florida.
NASA and the astronaut office finally caught on to 21st century communications and media in earnest. More astronauts than ever are actively interacting with the general public on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Reddit, and elsewhere on the ‘net. NASA astronauts have made this communication a part of their mission while on ISS, with many of them writing blogs or maintaining exciting Twitter and Flickr streams from space. This will certainly continue in 2013 as the “Net Generation” begins to come of age and will have real influence on the personality of America, and whether we stay committed to space exploration. My guess is that this video helped.
What will 2013 bring? Well, probably most importantly – but least excitingly – are the pending federal budget decisions in Washington, DC. Congress still needs to decide on a 2013 budget and then a 2014 budget. Some of their choices will shape the future of space exploration, especially for planetary science missions.
Here is my list of the more cheery things to look for in 2013:
- Finally the first powered flight tests of tourist space vehicles. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo should be hopping into space this year.
- SpaceX should continue to demonstrate reliability of their rockets as they fly two more missions to the ISS as well as a fairly packed launch schedule for other customers.
- SpaceX’s competitor for ISS commercial flights, Orbital Sciences**, will attempt to make good on their contract with NASA.
- Russia will fly the 50th Progress resupply mission to ISS, this being the 15th year since the launch of the first ISS module.
- Late in 2013, the next Mars launch window will see two missions: NASA’s MAVEN orbiter and India’s first interplanetary mission.
- NASA will launch the LADEE lunar probe.
- Continued excellence in the field of extrasolar planet astronomy – smaller and more numerous rocky planets will be discovered further out from main sequence stars.
Round ups from other blogs
For some other summaries of 2012 in space and science see:
Houston Chronicle’s top 10 skywatching events of 2013 (one is the Quadrantic meteor shower tonight!)
Parabolic Arc’s “NewSpace” year in review (that one’s a quick read)
*yes, Congress did pass a bill to avert the “fiscal cliff” at the very last minute on Tuesday, January 1, 2013
**the author has a small shareholding in Orbital Sciences
Down to Earth
Before we proceed, let’s get one thing out of the way: please don’t expect anything to change this Friday.
In some less than cheery news that is actually based in reality, some estimates indicate that Johnson Space Center (where I work) would not do well if the pending “sequestration” of US federal spending were to occur.
Yet another lost moon rock display has been located – this one belonging to the State of Alaska. This CollectSpace account of the finding is rather long, but well worth a read if you like shady intrigue…
Early Wednesday morning, a Soyuz launched from Kazakhstan that will bring the Expedition 34 crew on ISS to its full complement of six. The latest flight includes Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, American Tom Marshburn, and first time Soyuz commander Roman Romanenko. The Soyuz mission is numbered TMA-07M, which I point out because their patch is so creative. See if you can spot the cleverness below.
The crew will dock to ISS on Friday.
In anticipation of the launch, Universe Today ran a feature about the legacy of the Soyuz launch vehicle, which has been flying since 1966. I found this discussion of the Soyuz from Chris Hadfield’s perspective more interesting still. Hadfield has done a great job sharing his pre-flight activity via social media and there are some videos worth watching in that last article.
Hadfield’s son, Evan, wrote an article about growing up as an astronaut’s son that is pretty sobering and worth a read. Surely he and his family are happy that Commander Hadfield made it to orbit, but I suspect their fear and stress does not end until he returns to Earth.
NASA is planning to test color-changing lights on ISS that should help with astronauts sleep cycles.
Even the mainstream news media was talking about this bit of space news: the North Korean rocket launch that supposedly put a satellite in orbit. According to Hyperbola Blog, independent experts claim to be tracking the object but it appears to be tumbling in its 100 km orbit and not operating. Unfortunately, Hyperbola does not often cite sources so I’m not sure about the veracity of their post…
Around the Solar System
As planned, China’s Chang’E 2 probe was able to make a close fly-by of NEA Toutatis. Very impressive.
Here’s a sequence of radar observations of Toutatis (via Universe Today).
Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society updated her nifty graphic showing all asteroids and comets visited by humanity’s spacecraft – it now included Toutatis. Toutatis is near the upper right. Emily does not included Vesta, which was visited by the Dawn spacecraft, because it is so much more massive than the others. You can buy a poster print of the graphic at the Planetary Society’s store.
The two lunar gravity probes that make up NASA’s GRAIL mission were deliberately slammed into a mountain on the Moon this past Monday. The impact site was named for Sally Ride, who died this year. Sally Ride helped get the probes to carry the MoonKAMs which were designed only for educational outreach.
If you’re wondering why NASA would blow up a space mission that had only been in operation for about a year, there is a reason! Ebb and Flow orbited the moon at the extremely low 50 km. This required significant amounts of propellant to maintain, but allowed extremely detailed gravity mapping of the moon. This fall, the fuel had all but run out and the science was all but done. Thus, end of GRAIL. You can read more about it on the NASA mission page or on Wikipedia (which has many more source links).
An “international team of astronomers” (the A team?) announced this week (with a published paper and a press release) that they believe they have found a five-planet system around the Sun-like star Tau Ceti. Tau Ceti is only 12 light years from us and initial data indicates one or more of the planets is in the habitable zone of the star. All of the stars are between 2 and 6 Earth-mass. The discovery used new techniques looking at existing data. Thus, sober voices are saying that additional follow-up is needed before the planet(s) can be confirmed. Surely, that followup will come quickly for such an important discovery.
Down to Earth
Well, these guys are decidedly not down to Earth, but since they haven’t gone anywhere yet, I put them here - Golden Spike is the latest space industry startup with big dreams. They think they can make a profit flying manned missions to the moon in the 2020s. I wish them luck!
You can now purchase SpaceX mission patches from their online company store.
Look out for Geminid meteors later this week!
The Russians have finally finished building Nauka, or the MLM, a large module that has been slated to fly to the ISS for some time. According to the Russian press they plan to launch in early 2014. This module will add nearly 1/3 to the size of the Russian pat of ISS but has been delayed for years.
Speaking of the Russian space program, their Proton rocket had its third upper stage failure in under 18 months when the launch on December 8 was not able to place its communications satellite payload in the expected orbit. This is indeed the same class of rocket that will be needed to launch the MLM to ISS in a year or two. the Breeze-M upper stage that is causing all of these problems is not common to the Soyuz family of rockets used to launch small payloads and astronauts to ISS.
The Air Force is scheduled to launch the third flight of their X-37B tomorrow. The flight had been delayed due to a failure of a different United Launch Alliance rocket that uses the same upper stage RL-10 engine. The problem was determined to be a fuel leak that should not affect the upcoming launch.
The jumping spider Nefertiti that spent time on the ISS died in the Smithsonian last week. The spider went on display and was expected to make it a few months but only survived a few days.
Chris Hadfield is getting set to launch on a Soyuz next week with the rest of his Expedition 35 crew. The Universe Today has a nice feature on Hadfield, who will be the first Canadian commander of ISS.
Around the Solar System
The much anticipated press briefing about recent Curiosity rover results happened last week at the AGU (American Geophysical Union) meeting in San Francisco. The summary is that no, the rover did not make a big discovery, much to the disappointment of the online hype machine. Emily Lakdawalla has a great summary of what exactly happened and why the results -basically a first test of the rovers instruments that showed they work great – are exciting nonetheless.
NASA last week announced a 2020 mission to send another MSL-class rover to Mars. The rover is being jokingly called MSL 2.0 or the MSL sequel because a key part of the announcement is that the new rover will use mission architecture and even spare parts from the MSL mission. Interestingly, the science instruments and objectives for the mission have not been defined yet. Really the announcement was just to tell the public that a new rover mission is being planned, not what it will be exactly.
There have been some very mixed reactions in the planetary science community about this new 2020 rover. Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society explains how the mission does not appear to follow the Decadal Survey. Casey Dreier explains the budget details behind the mission. Lastly, I enjoyed this assessment by Andrew Symes.
This gravity map of the moon is just cool.
There will be a close flyby of Earth by two asteroids tomorrow, the 11th. One is a small rock just discovered just yesterday. The other is 4179 Toutatis, a large NEA we have known about since the early 90s. The Toutatis encounter is special because China’s Chang’E 2 orbiter will be attempting a flyby on December 13. This will be the first deep-space rendezvous by the Chinese.
Because it’s Cool
This volcanic ice cave in the Kamchatka peninsula is just amazing.
It has been said that if there is a person out there in the real world that approximates Tony Stark – of the Marvel comic book universe – then it is Elon Musk. Unfortunately, his speaking ability is several orders of magnitude below the scripted dynamicism of Robert Downey Jr. in the Iron Man films. I guess I’m willing to give Elon a bit of a pass for being a real person.
I wanted to write a short post about the ambitions of SpaceX because their CEO was on somewhat of a press tour of England (or Britain? I’m not really sure) during which he discussed his ideas for Mars colonization and methane powered rockets. If you like video, Mr. Musk talks through some of his ideas below. Or you can read a very detailed summary over at Flight Global of his comments while at the Royal Aeronautical Society.
I like the relentless optimism of Mr.
Stark Musk. However, I really wish he would stop laughing off malfunctions and admit when there is an issue that needs to be worked out – like the Merlin engine failure on SpaceX’s recent ISS cargo resupply flight. Calling it “an anomaly and not a failure” doesn’t change what happened. SpaceX needs to show a string of successes before they will really start to be taken seriously when it comes to talk of 50 ton-to-orbit rockets. The fact that they are talking about being involved in such varied projects as Planetary Resources and Stratolaunch is exciting, but they need to be careful not to spread themselves too thin.
This all started when I tried to watch the below lecture…
But got distracted wishing reality could more approximate fiction…
Maybe if he tried making an entrance via sky dive – maybe crossing Tony Stark with Felix Baumgartner – I would be more endeared to him personally.
Down To Earth
Lots of news about future launches and missions to write about today:
First off, the first test launch of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket – which will be used for missions to ISS – has been delayed into 2013.
Also, SpaceX may not reach ISS again until at least March – a delay of about 2 months – due to investigations into the Falcon 9 engine failure that occurred during their mission this past summer.
The third flight of the U.S. Air Force’s classified X-37B program has been delayed slightly - into December. The delay is presumably due to concerns with reliability of a specific component of the launch vehicle provided by ULA (United Launch Alliance).
The first orbital test article of the Orion spacecraft from Lockheed was discovered to have structural cracks in the shell during pressure testing. This is of course why we do this kind of testing, but it will take some time until we know how much this will delay the program.
In news not related to delays:
SpaceX has purchased more land near Brownsville. The company has been considering Southern Texas a site for a future spaceport – presumably once they begin launching bigger rockets like the Falcon 9 Heavy.
Boeing, which won a large commercial crew award from NASA for its CST-100 capsule – is publically talking about investing more money in the program. Boeing received $460 million to SpaceX’s $440 million in the latest awards from NASA.
The ISS astronaut’s enjoyed some smoked turkey for their Thanksgiving dinner this past Thursday.
News of Sarah Brightman’s (singer) potential trip to ISS in a couple of years only came out a bit over a month ago but there is already rumor from Russia that she might not fly after all. Is it a publicity stunt? A negotiating tactic? Is Russia getting outside pressure to not fly tourists again? Who knows. As a reader at Parabolic Arc points out, when the “New Space” companies start flying in earnest no one will want to spend the dozens of millions of dollars to fly on a Soyuz anyway, so the days of ISS tourists may be up.
Before Expedition 33 returned on Soyuz TMA-05M last weekend, Commander Sunita Williams recorded a nice long tour of ISS. NASA posted an edited version on YouTube. My favorite moment is at 12:45 when Commander Williams points out a view of her Soyuz from the Cupola windows (via Universe Today).
Around the Solar System
Curiosity recently did her first touch-and-go operation. This basically involves doing a scientific reading with her robotic arm on the same day as a long drive, which you can see in the animation below.
Curiosity may be joined by a European Mars lander later in the decade after all. ESA (European Space Agency) has officially reached an agreement with Roscosmos (Russia) to jointly fund and develop the ExoMars orbiter and lander.
There hasn’t been much big news about Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO) recently, so I was excited to see new science about Makemake – discovered in the mid-aughts by Dr. Mike Brown’s successful dwarf planet hunting team.
Down to Earth
Atlantis was rolled from the VAB to the KSC visitor center last week. NASA no longer has the “title” to the last orbiter to fly in space.
Roscosmos has announched their latest Cosmonaut candidates. NASA’s class of 2013 still pending.
SpaceX had another test flight of their Grasshopper rocket (via Parabolic Arc).
Interesting stat: China launches more rockets to space in 2011 than the United States.
Expedition 33 astronauts Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide completed an EVA to help save the thermal control system for a crucial power channel. You can read about the work they did here (via Space Cadet Gets Moving). The fun part of the spacewalk was the deployment of a radiator that had been stowed for about 6 years. Here are my action shots of the radiator partially and then fully deployed.
It was a busy week on ISS. The day before the spacewalk we also docked a new Progress freighter.
Here’s a NASA TV weekly recap of all that went on at ISS last week, if you are interested.
Around the Solar System
You’ve got to love this full self-shot by the Curiosity rover.
Speaking of Curiosity, results are coming back from the first in situ soil analysis of the mission. They are finding the soil to be similar to Hawaiian volcanic basalt (which is not unexpected).
The fragmentation of Comet Hergenrother was discovered last week.
I blogged back in February that the planet imaged around Fomalhaut is probably not a planet after all. But it looks like further study of the system has led some astronomers to change their conclusions yet again. Fomalhaut b may yet get to hold the title of first imaged exoplanet.
Speaking of exoplanets, this shirt is cool but likely to become outdated quickly.
A computer model of the Orion Nebula has led some scientists to conclude that there is a moderately sized black hole at the heart of the nebula, in the Trapezium. They will need to redo the Orion fly-through sequence from Hubble 3D.