Archive for the ‘Space Shuttle’ Category
Lots to catch up on since my last post on July 23rd. The great summer for spaceflight continues.
Down to Earth
After Eileen Collins spoke at the RNC, another Space Shuttle commander, Mark Kelly, spoke at the DNC.
Sierra Nevada is getting ready to start test flights of their Dream Chaser spaceplane in California, once their full-scale vehicle is shipped their from Colorado.
Virgin Galactic was awarded an operations license from the FAA as they are preparing to resume flight tests with their new SpaceShipTwo vehicle.
A small sample bag from the Apollo 11 mission is at the center of two lawsuits. I’m sure Dr. Jones would agree that it belongs in a museum.
One of the Orbiter Access Arm’s from the Space Shuttle program is now on display at Houston’s Space Center Houston.
Meanwhile, the next generation of crew access arms, for Boeing’ Starliner capsule, was delivered to the Atlas V pad in Florida.
SpaceX conducted a full duration test fire of one of their recovered first stage boosters. Here’s the video:
Google Lunar X Prize competitor, Moon Express, has received approval from the United States government for their private mission to land a rover on the moon.
Vector Space Systems completed their first successful sub-orbital launch.
Speaking of launches, there were four successful orbital flights since my last post. This brings the year’s total to 50 for 50 on orbital launches. For comparison, 2015 had 87 total with 5 failures.
First was an Atlas V launch from Cape Canaveral carrying a secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.
Lastly was the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch early in the morning ofAugust 14. The rocket successfully delivered the Japanese JCSAT communications satellite to orbit and recovered the first stage booster on the ASDS at sea. Very impressive. This brings SpaceX’s year up to 8 successful launches for 8 attempts – a yearly record already in August – and 5 for 8 on booster recovery.
Coming up next week is a spacewalk on ISS by NASA astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins to install the new International Docking Adapter.
Around the Solar System
The Chinese Yutu rover is still communicating with the ground from the lunar surface, although it has long since stopped roving. Despite some reports that it is “dead” it is still expected to wake up from hibernation after the current lunar night.
Follow this link for an update on the Curiosity rover mission on Mars, including some nice pictures.
Here is a full year of observations of the Earth NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite. The cyclones in the Pacific are quite obvious.
Apparently claims of a discover of an Earth-like planet around Proxima Centauri (our nearest neighboring star) are exciting, but it is worth waiting for more reputable news sources to pick it up than just a small German newspaper… or a peer-reviewed journal paper?
Down to Earth
Buzz Aldrin has published a new book titled “No Dream is Too High.”
United Launch Alliance and Bigelow Aerospace have announced a new partnership. Bigelow will launch their enormous BA-330 expandable module on a ULA Atlas rocket.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 recovered first stage returned to port last week after landing on a droneship the week before. Check out the pictures.
An online auction for a camera lens used on the moon during Apollo 15 is now open.
Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, who was in the news last year for pledging millions of dollars to SETI, has announced his plan for a robotic interestellar mission called Breakthrough Starshot.
The last external tank from the Space Shuttle program left Michoud in Louisiana last week on an ocean voyage to California, where it will become a part of the display with Space Shuttle Endeavour.
— NASA Marshall News (@NASA_Marshall) April 12, 2016
Orbital ATK and Intelsat have struck a deal that may lead to the first commercial use of “robotic satellite servicing”.
NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope unexpected entered emergency mode last week, but has since been successfully recovered. The cause of the event is still being investigated.
The new Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was installed on the Node 3 module of ISS on Saturday. Here is a time-lapse of it being moved from the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft via the robotic arm.
It’s been a while since I have shared links to some of my favorite tweets from ISS here. The three US astronauts onboard have been furiously posting beautiful pictures of Earth pretty much every day. Here are just a few recent ones from just the past couple of days.
— Tim Kopra (@astro_tim) April 13, 2016
— Tim Kopra (@astro_tim) April 15, 2016
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) April 15, 2016
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) April 16, 2016
Suez Canal entrance on Med. pic.twitter.com/pjKjZw7wJq
— Jeff Williams (@Astro_Jeff) April 16, 2016
— Tim Kopra (@astro_tim) April 16, 2016
And here is a quick video from Jeff Williams showing us around the cupola and their cameras.
Let me show you this Cupola view, the window on the world! Plus how we take pictures up here.https://t.co/PIQZiCb7Tw
— Jeff Williams (@Astro_Jeff) April 13, 2016
Around the Solar System
This is pretty cool. An amateur astronomer captured a video of a fireball in Jupiter’s atmosphere, as a large asteroid or some other object slammed into the planet.
Down To Earth
Two space shuttle astronauts, Brian Duffy and Scott Parazynski, were recently inducted into the astronaut hall of fame.
Apollo astronaut and moonwalker, Edgar Mitchell, died at the age of 85.
Former President George H.W. Bush (Bush 41) visited Johnson Space Center and talked to the ISS astronauts from the Mission Control Center.
All of the segments of the primary mirror to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) have been assembled!
The Laser Interferometer Gravity-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has detected “gravitational waves”, which is what it was designed to do. This is a basically a new way to see the universe – like the first time an X-Ray observatory was put into space and returned data. Not only that, it validates parts of Einstein’s theories. Here are some brief articles from Phil Plait and Sean Carroll, who explain it well.
Check out this amazing zero-gravity music video by Ok Go, which doesn’t use any digital effects. Wow!
Curators at the Smithsonian recently did a 3D scan of the inside of the Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, and found previously unknown handwritten notes on the walls.
Astronaut Kevin Ford has retired from NASA.
The new SpaceX “transporter erector” at pad 39A in Florida is pretty cool looking.
A number of rocket launches since my last post in late January: a Chinese rocket launched one of their navigation satellites (Beidou), a ULA Atlas V launched a GPS satellite, a Russian Soyuz rocket launched one of their navigation satellites (GLONASS), a ULA Delta IV launched a secret USA reconnaissance office payload, and lastly North Korea launched something.
This brings the worldwide launch cadence for the year up to 10 so far, or almost 2 per week. We are still waiting for the first SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of the year, which should be before March.
Veteran cosmonauts Sergey Volkov and Yuri Malenchenko conducted a successful spacewalk on the Russian Segment of the ISS.
Around the Solar System
The European Space Agency has announced that they are no longer attempting to send commands to the lost Philae lander, which has not transmitted from the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in months.
China has released some new photos of the moon from it’s Yutu rover mission (the rover died some time ago).
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.
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.
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) August 20, 2015
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.
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.
Down to Earth
A new exhibit called ‘Forever Remembered’ at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center has opened, featuring artifacts from the fateful STS-51L and STS-107 missions.
NASA is offering to lease parts of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and Mobile Launch Platforms (MLP) at the Kennedy Space Center to commercial users. I guess NASA doesn’t need both high bays all the time due to the low launch rate expected for the new SLS rocket.
Famous composer James Horner died in a plane crash this week. Here are some excerpts from my favorite work of his, the Apollo 13 soundtrack:
In orbital launch news, the Russian military launch I wrote about last week was successful on June 23rd. The rocket was a Soyuz-2.1b, which has a different third stage than the Soyuz rockets used to launch missions to ISS. Here is a good discussion of the Soyuz rocket family from Russian Space Web.
There was also a Chinese Earth-observing satellite launch on June 26 (was early in the day, so June 25 in the US).
And of course, another much-anticipated SpaceX Falcon 9 launch is still scheduled for tomorrow. The pre-launch static fire test was successful on Friday, June 26, so they are ready for launch on June 27 at around 10:20 AM Eastern.
This Falcon 9 launch is supposed to have another barge landing attempt. SpaceX recently launched this new tracking cam footage of the almost-made-it attempt in April. This should get you excited for tomorrow!
As always, here are some more great photos from ISS, posted by @StationCDRKelly
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) June 23, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) June 24, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) June 26, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) June 27, 2015
Around the Solar System
The European Space Agency has extended the Rosetta mission, in orbit of comet 67P, until late 2016. Good thing too, because Rosetta keeps finding new things about comet 67P, like the recent announcement that they have found exposed water ice on the surface.
This song about the New Horizons mission to Pluto is rather fun. If you don’t like sentimentality or kitsch, you might want to skip it.
Some cool astronomy news worth sharing this week. First, the V404 Cygni system, which is a black hole orbited by a companion star, has recently become very active and is flaring into the brightest X-ray object in the sky (so you can’t see it).
Second, astronomers have discovered that exoplanet GJ436b (which is about the size of Neptune) has a giant cloud of hydrogen following it in its orbit, like a comet tail.
NASA’s Foundations of Mission Operations is meant to be a reminder to all working in the manned spaceflight program of the responsibility we hold to the taxpayer and to the astronauts we train and protect. Among other core values, the foundations state:
To always be aware that suddenly and unexpectedly we may find ourselves in a role where our performance has ultimate consequences.
As part of that goal, certified flight controllers must complete annual proficiency training, which includes reading key chapters of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board’s report (the report is often simply referred to as “the CAIB”). We are not required to read the entire report annually – both because it is very long at over 200 pages and because many chapters are irrelevant now that the Shuttle program has retired. However, we read chapters that have a direct relation to how we continue to do our job as flight controllers, such as chapter 7: “The Accident’s Organizational Causes”. These parts of the report drive home the importance of good leadership, speaking up when you see a problem, and technical rigor, among other skills. For instance, page 191 has a very relevant discussion of the danger of trying to present a precise technical topic on a brief PowerPoint slide.
The most important part of the CAIB ultimately is the list of recommendations found in chapter 11, especially those that are organizational and apply still today. Nevertheless, it is human nature to ask “what if?” about the Columbia accident. A 2-page section of chapter 6, titled “Possibility of Rescue or Repair”, seeks to answer this question, however briefly. Chapter 6 (and the longer associated appendix) explain that, had NASA managers understood Columbia’s plight early in the flight, resources could have been conserved onboard to extend STS-107 to a mission length of several weeks and Atlantis – already being prepped for STS-114 in the Orbiter Processing Facility – could have been rushed for a possible bid at rescue. This section of the CAIB, almost a footnote, is the premise of the fictional novel Launch on Need by Daniel Guiteras.
Launch on Need takes the “what ifs?” about as far as they can go, exploring both the how the world would react to the drama of a stranded space shuttle as well as detailing NASA’s mobilization efforts for rescue. Surprisingly, the most central character to the novel is fictional CNN reporter John Stangley, rather than a NASA flight controller or astronaut. It is actually the novel’s biggest failing that Stangley is the only character who is truly explored with depth or appreciable character arc. At 350 pages, this means that a lot of time is spent with characters of little emotional interest to the reader. The fact that all of the characters are fictional – including STS-107 astronauts, rescue astronauts, and mission managers – definitely slowed down my ability to connect with them. However, to be fair to Guiteras, the book likely would not have faced problems getting published if he had assigned invented dialogue and motivations to real people, especially the crew of Columbia.
Fortunately, the reason I read Launch on Need was not really for complex characters. The book intrigued me probably for the same reasons Guiteras wrote it. NASA has not had to publically “save” a crew since the successful failure of Apollo 13, a generation ago. Both accidents during the space shuttle program were tragedies, not crises. By the time the public knew of the Challenger and Columbia accidents, the astronauts were already dead. What would a modern day Apollo 13 look like? How would the public react? Could NASA really pull it off? Of course, without a time machine, we will never really know the answers to these questions. But Launch on Need makes a compelling case for how things may have turned out differently. Despite the weak characters, and often weak dialogue, Guiteras’ loving attention to technical detail creates a drama that carries the reader all the way to the finish.
Guiteras sets up the structure of the novel in a clever way, with three parts titled The Discovery, The Challenge, and The Endeavour, using the names of three of NASA’s fleet of space shuttles. The Discovery starts at launch of STS-107 and ends with the wing inspection EVA, The Challenge covers the rescue flight’s prep for launch, and The Endeavour is the rescue mission itself. This means that, rather surprisingly, the rescue mission launches well over half way through the novel. If this story were ever to be made into a movie (unlikely) this would not fly. The big screen eye candy comes from action in space. The excitement of launch day and the drama of the rendezvous and tense rescue EVA would certainly be the focus, and launch would occur, at latest, halfway through the film. But this imagined big-screen version would steal the soul of Guiteras’ story. The real drama of the story occurs during part 2, as NASA prepares Atlantis for launch. Guiteras does a great job of building up the conflict of man versus schedule in this part of the book, which is hard to do, since the antagonist is not a person but is time itself.
One of my favorite chapters in the book comes in the middle of part 2, while Atlantis is still in the OPF, and NASA is working 3 shifts and struggling to shave precious hours of the launch prep timeline so that Atlantis can reach orbit before Columbia runs out of CO2 scrubbers. In the middle of this chaos, a careless worker drops a large bucket from an upper level of the OPF onto Atlantis’ wings, potentially putting the entire mission in danger, if the damage is bad enough. Not only did I fear for Atlantis herself but I really felt for Wally Jensen, the OPF manager you meet only for the brief 5 pages of this chapter. The accident’s impact on Jensen really painted an accurate picture of how the stress of something like a real rescue mission might take its toll on NASA’s employees.
In contrast to the parts of the novel about Atlantis being readied for launch are the chapters following the rescue crew, which I felt really missed the mark. For instance, during one chapter, we join two of the rescue mission astronauts who are selected to do the spacewalk to ferry all 7 astronauts from Columbia to Atlantis. They are training at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) the week before the flight. Actually, it is the day after they were assigned to the mission and they are already on their first NBL run. As they alone in the locker room getting ready for prebrief, one astronaut begins to confide in the other that he is worried and scared, that he has lost confidence in himself. While astronauts are just humans like you and me, and surely feel the pressure leading up to a big mission, the timing of the confession and the dialogue was rather contrived. Keep in mind that these two characters were introduced as NASA’s best spacewalkers. Unfortunately, this was a theme throughout and I felt that the astronauts were the weakest characters in the story. Similarly, a lot of the scenes that occur in mission control itself felt off to me, based on my experience in mission operations for the ISS. The most jarring scene for me was when a “tiger team” of 4 members is formed in the middle of the climactic rescue EVA to figure out how to open a stuck hatch, or else the last two crew of Columbia will die aboard. The entire logistics of this episode do not match how we do things at mission control: the IMMT chair, who was at the back of the control room at the management console, grabs 3 flight controllers who are currently on shift in the front room during an EVA and leave the room to come up with options. This would never happen. Instead, the army of back room flight controllers and engineering support rooms would be working together on the comm loops to come up with a plan.
Despite Guiteras lack of ability to provide believable astronaut or flight controller characters, the story has another strength in its exploration of the space program in the American psyche. One of the most interesting scenes to me (regardless of its realism) comes near the beginning of Part II, shortly after NASA has committed to rescue as the only option for Columbia. The NASA administrator is holding a meeting with the heads of his public affairs and communications divisions and outlines an innovative approach to media relations during preparations for the rescue mission: hide nothing, let the media in everywhere. The administrator realizes that this is an “Apollo 13 moment” and seizes on the opportunity to get everyone talking about NASA again.
As NASA starts to let reporters into the VAB and OPF, just inches from Atlantis as she is prepared for her rescue mission, the American public begins to become fixated on the mission. The 24-hour news channels essentially have a launch countdown ticker on the screen at all times and they do daily status updates. STS-300 is on the front page of the New York Times. This is my favorite part of Launch on Need. I think Guiteras has a great sense of how Americans really feel about space. Sometimes it seems NASA is ignored, often even forgotten, but that is not because people don’t love space. Spaceflight is in the background fabric of our culture, the way we expect to have a football game on TV on Sunday night or that we get 100 options of breakfast cereal at the grocery store. You don’t notice something so ingrained in our culture until they are gone. Everyone wants to talk about space when something goes wrong; we see this every time a cargo launch doesn’t make it to ISS – you see a headline in every news media outlet, even if they just use the AP brief. Often those launches aren’t covered when they are successful.
Guiteras seems to understand all of this about American culture, which makes his fictional tale about how STS-107 could have ended in triumph an optimistic but cautionary tale that I think leaders within NASA should read and learn from. Launch On Need is an interesting thought experiment about NASA public affairs. It points out that people love space (which I think is true of the majority), but that NASA needs to actively share its mission in an exciting and emotional way if we want people’s love of space to be active and conscious, and not just like their love of the breakfast cereal aisle.
We will never know if Atlantis really could have made it to orbit to save the Columbia crew before Flight Day 30. All we can say is that if NASA hadn’t made the errors in management, communication, and decision making which are outlined in the CAIB, there could have at least been a chance to try. Even if a rescue mission had been attempted and failed, the way we remember the Columbia disaster would be very different. The idea of following the Foundations of Mission Operations – of being ever vigilant – is not because we believe we can prevent all disasters from happening, but instead is to at least give ourselves the chance to turn something like Columbia from a tragedy that no one saw coming into a crisis that we can put forth our best effort to recover from. This is the point of the last line of the Foundations of Mission Operations:
To recognize that the greatest error is not to have tried and failed, but that in the trying we do not give it our best effort.
I would recommend Launch On Need to fans of space history and flight controllers alike. In fact, with some good editing and improved character development in another edition, I think it could be quite good. I hope that if and when NASA has another crisis in manned spaceflight, we will have improved our blind spots that led to disaster for Challenger and Columbia and will instead give ourselves the chance for redemption shown by Guiteras in Launch on Need.
You can read Launch on Need for free if you have Kindle Unlimited or order it for $11.60 in paperback. Here is the Amazon link.
Down to Earth
Many space enthusiasts and planetary scientists were unsettled by a NASA announcement on December 3rd about a restructuring of the planetary science budget. In particular, the money allocated for planetary science grants is being reorganized into new programs – and half of that money will not be used for new grants in 2014. In short, this means there is less money available to scientists writing new proposals.
In other disappointing news, some vandals in Houston spray-painted graffiti on the side of the Space Shuttle mock-up Independence. Independence lived for almost 20 years at KSC where it was known as Explorer. The mock-up is displayed outside near the Space Center Houston parking lot, with no significant security at night (in contrast to the nearby Rocket Park which is behind a locked fence at night).
On December 3rd, NASA scientist and former JPL director Ed Stone was on Stephen Colbert to talk about Voyager entering interstellar space. At the end of the episode, Stephen Colbert surprised Dr. Stone with the NASA distinguished service medal. You can watch the interview here and the award presentation here (both links to the Colbert Report’s website and the clips come with ads).
On December 6, 1957 (56 years ago today), the Vanguard TV3 was the first attempted launch of a satellite by the United States – which ended in a spectacular explosion on the launch pad.
41 years later, December 4, 1998, the Space Shuttle mission STS-88 attached the “Unity” Node to Russia’s “Zarya” – the first step in what would be over 10 years of ISS assembly.
Around the Solar System
According to Chinese media, the Chang’e 3 probe has reached lunar orbit. The lander is expected to make it to the surface on December 14th.
While we have seen imagery of Saturn’s mysterious North Pole hexagon before, the newly released images (and movie!) from Cassini is the highest resolution view yet, through multiple color filters. Pretty.
Astronomers using the Keck II telescope in Hawaii have taken images of 3 large (bigger than Jupiter) exoplanets. So few planets from other systems have been directly imaged that each new one is notable, even if the planets are unlikely to be habitable or otherwise remarkable. Phil Plait provides the images at the top of his post on the results.
Down to Earth
Virgin Galactic has hired two new pilots, including former Space Shuttle Commander and Navy TOPGUN pilot, Frederick “CJ” Sturckow. Awesome!
At the Kennedy Space Center’s new visitor center, the payload bay doors were opened on Space Shuttle Atlantis, which is slated to go on display this summer.
In honor of the new Star Trek movie, here’s something that has nothing to do with space at all. But it’s funny.
A lot has happened at the space station in the past week and a half! Apart from Soyuz TMA-07M returning to Earth on Monday, May 13…
…on Thursday, May 9, in the morning, (while I was working in the Flight Control Room) the astronauts noticed some mysterious debris floating outside the space station…
…which led to an emergency spacewalk to fix a leaky coolant pump only two days later.
For more information, check out my friend and colleague, Anthony, talking about the space station quick fix.
Chris Hadfield’s return to Earth marks the end of a very successful mission that was more than just a typical ISS expedition. Commander Hadfield reached out to people through social media more than any astronaut before. Here is a small “greatest hits” list of some of his photography. But for me, even better than all the pictures from his mission, was the way Hadfield seamlessly connected his love of music to space. Check out this music video he released just hours before coming home last week.
In less successful orbital news, the Kepler Space Telescope – NASA’s planet-finding spacecraft – seems to be in trouble. On May 15, NASA announced that a second of Kepler’s four reaction wheels may be failed. Kepler needs 3 reaction wheels to accurately point the telescope for precision science measurements. If they cannot recover the lost reaction wheel, Kepler’s mission is effectively done. Kepler has been able to discover thousands of planets in our galaxy (most still being officially “confirmed”) but it easily has thousands more left to discover. Save Kepler!
Around the Solar System
In only one day last week, the sun emitted three X-class solar flares (X-class is the biggest class of solar flare, but just like the earthquake scale, an X10 is significantly bigger than an X2, so it’s all relative). Welcome to solar maximum! If you live somewhere where you can see it, there should be some good aurora to see this year.
Remember that rover on Mars? No, not the bigger shiny new one, that one on the other side of the planet – Opportunity. The plucky rover that could just hit a distance record for NASA set by the Apollo 17 moon rover in 1972. Back in 1972, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt drove their lunar rover 35.74 km in just a few days. After almost 10 years on Mars, Opportunity just broke that record this week. Also, there’s still the Russian moon rover Lunokhod 2 which drove 37 km in 1973. Opportunity still has a ways to go. But it is amazing that she is still going at all!
Down to Earth
I wrote last week about a few updates to Space Shuttle artifact exhibits coming online around the country. And there is yet more news to tell this week.
The exhibit of the Space Shuttle (not) Orbiter Enterprise at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum is coming together after recovering from hurricane Sandy. The new upgraded “pavilion” is being built over Enterprise now and will open on July 10.
The last pieces of wrapping paper were taken off of Space Shuttle Atlantis at KSC.
The first Canadarm, or Space Shuttle robotic arm, was put on display at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum last week. ISS Commander Chris Hadfield was linked to the museum live from space for the unveiling.
Speaking of the Canadian Space Agency, Canada also revealed this past week that the new Canadian $5 bill will feature space images, including a picture of the Space Station Robitc arm and an astronaut on a spacewalk.
NASA resigned the contract with the Russian space agency to provide transport for American astronauts to ISS on Soyuz launch vehicles. The renewal paid for seats through 2017 – which is only 3 years before the official end of ISS in 2020 (but everyone expects the program to extend into the late 2020s).
Boeing successfully completed a flight test of the X-51A scramjet known as “Waverider”. This was the longest airbreathing scramjet flight to date (that’s unclassified…).
Not Quite in Orbit
As I wrote about in a separate post, Virgin Galactic had their first powered flight of SpaceShipTwo last week on April 29. The video is too good not to repost.
In the wake of all the excitement surrounding that flight, Virgin Galactic has confirmed that ticket prices are about to go up 25% from $200,000 to $250,000 to account for inflation.
The European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory ran out of helium coolant last week and officially ended its mission.
A 3-D printer will fly to the ISS next year. This is a good idea in how to test ways to make spacecraft more self-sufficient, which will be necessary if humanity ever takes true deep space missions.
Chris Hadfield explains in a little over a minute my job as an Attitude Determination and Control Officer for ISS. Thanks, Chris!
The Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope did a debris avoidance maneuver in early April to avoid a nasty collision with an old Soviet Satellite. This was apparently the first time in Fermi’s mission (launched in 2008) that they had to use the thruster system for such a maneuver. This is a common problem for low Earth orbit spacecraft and the ISS has close calls with debris – and performs maneuvers – more than we would like to.
Around the Solar System
I enjoyed this story of unexpected scientific discovery. The team searching the outer solar system for an object for New Horizons to visit after it reaches Pluto happened to discover a new Trojan asteroid of Neptune (he explains what a Trojan asteroid is).
The Mars probes and rovers have woken up from solar conjunction. Opportunity and Curiosity should be off and roving again. Opportunity actually had a minor glitch when NASA initially resumed contact but she recovered no problem.
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.