Archive for the ‘Space Tourism’ Category
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.
Earlier today, Virgin Galactic flew the first powered flight of their SpaceShipTwo suborbital spacecraft.
In case you are out of the loop, Virgin Galactic is the company that intends to fly paying tourists to suborbital space on their 8 passenger spacecraft. The company was founded after Scaled Composites won the Ansari X Prize in 2004 for being the first private company to reach space with their SpaceShipOne. Virgin Galactic was formed when Sir Richard Branson saw dollar signs after the X Prize was won and decided to partner with Scaled Composites to design an upgrade to SpaceShipOne that could make a profit off of tourism. Virgin Galactic has around 500 customers already with down payments ready for a quick suborbital hop – for a mere several hundred thousand dollars – as soon as the SpaceShipTwo flight test program ends later this year.
From my view here at Johnson Space Center, as a member of the International Space Station flight control team, SpaceShipTwo should look like small potatoes. The max altitude of SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo each is a meager 110-120km – barely past the Karman Line, or the official border of space. And yet, this morning I found myself waiting for news of Virgin Galactic’s flight in eager anticipation, like a typical fan boy.
Let’s look at some other space news to see if maybe I’m just a big fan boy all the time?
Earlier this month, the White House released their federal budget proposal for 2014, which includes the exciting prospect of funding “for a robotic mission to rendezvous with a small asteroid—one that would be harmless to Earth—and move it to a stable location outside the Moon’s orbit”. This is classic stuff. Exactly what most space advocates would say we should be spending our NASA tax dollars on. This idea combines robotic planetary exploration with human spaceflight (astronauts will visit the rock once it is in Earth orbit) with the practical application of planetary defense. Awesome. This is the kind of stuff I would be happy to spend my career working on. So why am I underwhelmed by this and excited by Virgin Galactic?
The likelihood of either of these missions failing is reasonably high. Both are high risk. But, I think the key difference is in the type of risk we are talking about. Virgin Galactic has a high risk of failure due to the challenges of spaceflight, and the reaction from their shareholders and customers if and when they have a major failure. Rockets fail. Accidents happen. People die. The company already lost three employees in 2007 in a rocket test stand explosion, which surprisingly did not slow down development much. Virgin is facing the same kind of risk that aerospace pioneers have always had when operating at “the edge of the envelope.” This is understood and accepted in the industry. But since they are trying to send rich comedians like Russell Brand to space and not trained test pilots, I’m not sure the program could sustain itself after a fatal accident.
By contrast, I think the risk that NASA’s new asteroid mission faces has largely to do with politics and little to do with the risks of high performance spaceflight.
In the same year that SpaceShipOne successfully earned Scaled Composites the Ansari X Prize, US President George W. Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) which evolved into the Constellation Program. Over the next 6 years, Constellation progressed as most government aerospace projects due – with steady progress, but a growing budget. Eventually, in 2010, the new Obama Administration cancelled Constellation, taking NASA back to square one with the cancellation of the Space Shuttle Program also on the horizon. In the meantime, Virgin continued steady development of their space plane – admittedly, with their own budget growing past expectations – and here we are less than ten years later looking at paying customers flying to space by the end of the year.
So, to answer to my rhetorical question…
The reality is that the chances of the political winds in Washington cancelling or underfunding an exciting Near-Earth Asteroid mission seems higher than the chances of SpaceShipTwo failing in flight, based on historical evidence. Thus, I am watching the skies for successful suborbital tourism with eager anticipation, while I also read about political progress in NASA exploration missions with cautious optimism.
In the meantime, you should support organizations like The Planetary Society, who hope to show lawmakers the benefits of space exploration of all kinds. This kind of lobbying seeks to secure steady funding for NASA to prevent the kind of stop-and-go programs that has most of us jaded to taxpayer funded exploration. With more excited enthusiasts showing support and private companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX posting more successes, the future may be brighter. But in the end a rocket’s flame is more convincing than a balance sheet, and that’s really what has me cheering for Virgin Galactic. Results.
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.
Down to Earth
Earlier this month, the White House released their proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2014. Which includes an allocation of $17.7 billion for NASA. Much has been said about the budget already – but the focuses seem to be on the $200 million cut from planetary science and the proposal to start planning an asteroid retrieval mission. Yes, you read that right, the idea is that NASA will send a robotic mission to find a worthy asteroid to drag back to cislunar space (that’s fancy space talk for bringing it as close to Earth as the moon). This may be the direction, focus, and “mission” that many have been saying was lacking from NASA’s portfolio since the cancellation of Constellation and the Space Shuttle. It is far too early to know what will come of it, at least until the mission starts being paid for in 2014. Personally, I think the idea makes sense and is exciting… more thoughts on this in a later post.
In truly down to Earth news, the ambitious Thirty Meter Telescope project received a permit to begin construction atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. They project plans to begin construction in early 2014. the Thirty Meter Telescope (or TMT) will have almost 10 times the light gathering area of the Keck telescopes, also on Mauna Kea. TMT is going to be an amazing tool for astronomers. It should be able to look “further back in time” and see aspects of the beginning of the universe as well as be an awesome exoplanet finding tool, among many other science applications.
The Navy has announced they will be naming a new research vessel after Sally Ride (first American woman in space).
Virgin Galactic has been busy doing glide flights of SpaceShipTwo, getting ready for their first powered flight this year. In their most recent flight last week, the engine had a “cold flow” test – they flowed some propellant through the engine but did not ignite it.
Boston.com’s “The Big Picture” blog has a nice photo essay of two different Mars analog missions going on here on Earth.
After a planned launch this past Tuesday was delayed, today Orbital Sciences is going to attempt the maiden flight of the Antares rocket, which is planned to take the Cygnus freighter on resupply flights to the ISS. The launch is planned for 5 PM Eastern today (Saturday, April 20). If you read this in time, you can follow along at Spaceflight Now’s mission status center.
Around the Solar System
The Mars rover Curiosity went into hibernation starting on April 4 for the “solar conjunction”. This is the period when Mars is behind the sun as seen from Earth, making it difficult to communicate with probes at the red planet.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was able to spot the fresh craters left by the GRAIL missions two probes that crashed into the moon last year (on purpose).
Some Mars enthusiasts from Russia have been scouring Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter images to look for the lost Mars 3 lander that the USSR sent to Mars in 1971. They seem to have found it!
NASA has announced two new missions in the agencies Astrophysics Explorer Program. Two space telescopes, TESS and NICER, are being developed for launch later this decade. TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Sattelite) is somewhat of a successor to Kepler, and will be an Earth-orbiting satellite that hunts for exoplanets. NICER (Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer) will be attached to the International Space Station and will look at x-ray wavelengths from neutron stars.
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.
Down to Earth
NASA administrator Charles Bolden and Buzz Aldrin laying a wreath at Arlington.
You thought it was all over last month didn’t you? Well think again. The deal that the 112th Congress agreed to early in January only delayed the “sequestration” of the federal budget. Sequestration is a returning threat if a more permanent deal can’t be reached by March. This will of course have far-reaching impacts in this country, including in space exploration. Here’s a summary from the Planetary Society about what sequestration would mean for NASA’s planetary science programs. The bottom line though is that NASA leadership has not publicly indicated how drastic budget cuts would be dolled out within the administration.
Ron McNair died in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. His brother remembers him in a story that was turned into this cartoon by StoryCorps.
Later this morning – at 10:30 AM eastern – famed actor William Shatner will have a public video conference with ISS astronaut Chris Hadfield. As I understand it, some of America’s major news networks plan to cover the brief event.
The large asteroid 2012 DA14 will fly within just 17,200 miles of the Earth next week, on the 15th. That distance is below the roughly 22,400 mile altitude of geosynchronous orbit. The asteroid is about 50 meters or so across so it will be too small to see with the naked eye. I have not read anything that indicates we should be worried about a gravitational “keyhole” for 2012 DA14. It does not seem to be at a high risk for impact in the near future.
In less serious asteroid news, there is one out there with the newly minted official name “Wikipedia”.
There was some speculation earlier this week that the Iranian space monkey launch was faked. The accusation was based on the before and after pictures of the monkey, which appeared to be of a different animal, to experts. Iran has said they simply used the wrong photos, but they did really send their monkey on a successful suborbital flight.
Bigelow Aerospace has posted pricing information for trips to their planned Earth orbit space station. Visitors would fly up on SpaceX’s Dragon capsule or Boeing’s CST-100. The flights are noticeably cheaper than what tourists have paid in the past to travel to ISS. This is all well and good, but I want to know why Bigelow is calling their station “Alpha Station” when some NASA astronauts still refer to ISS as “Space Station Alpha”. Could get confusing.
Around the Solar System
Mercury and Mars are having a very close conjunction in the sky (as seen from Earth). At dusk today, February 7th, you should look West if you have a clear view to the horizon, and you may be lucky enough to spot this unlikely pair. You probably need binoculars to easily see the planets.
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
SpaceX’s reusable vertical take-off and landing rocket, Grasshopper, had another successful flight. This one longer and higher than the last two.
This is a big rocket. There was a six-foot mannequin riding the side and you wouldn’t see it unless you knew it was there.
SpaceShipTwo, the long awaited tourist space plane, had a first drop test in flight configuration – meaning with the full rocket engine strapped in the back (but not turned on). They are expected to do the first powered flights before the end of 2013.
The Intrepid Air & Space Museum in New York reopened on Friday, Dec 21, but the Space Shuttle Enterprise is still being repaired from damage from Sandy.
NASA has been talking about their next gen space suit, the Z-1, which uses a bright green color scheme that reminds us of Buzz Lightyear.
The rest of the Expedition 34 crew arrived at ISS with no problems on Friday, Dec 21. Jump to 2:15 to see the new guys come through the hatch.
Expedition 34 Commander Kevin Ford has finally updated his blog since arriving at ISS in the Fall and has shared a few stories.
Around the Solar System