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Weekly Links

Down to Earth

The Chinese astronauts, or “taikonauts” if you prefer, of Shenzhou 10 landed on Wednesday, June 26, after 15 days in space.

NASA has chosen 8 new astronaut candidates, who will be known as the class of 2013. And yes, if you are wondering, people who get to be astronauts react the same way you would.

SpaceX continues to buy up land in Cameron County, Texas. Cameron County contains, Brownsville, South Padre Island, the border with Mexico, and the beach where SpaceX wants to build their next launch site.

ULA (United Launch Alliance) has been awarded a huge military satellite launch contract.

Today, the new exhibit of Space Shuttle Atlantis opened at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Make sure to go read the article at CollectSpace, and check out the picture of 40 astronauts (at least one from every one of Atlantis’ 33 space shuttle flights) posing with the orbiter. I can’t wait to go visit!

In Orbit

In the wake of the sad news that Kepler has probably come to an early end of mission (announced in late May), NASA has turned off the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), an ultraviolet space telescope that orbited for 10 years. Additionally, the French planet-hunting spacecraft CoRoT, which has been broken since November, was decommissioned this past week.

This past Monday, two Russian cosmonauts completed a successful 6 hour spacewalk on the ISS. I was fortunate enough to sit in the Houston Flight Control Room for the EVA! Things went smoothly for both my system and the spacewalk itself, and now crew members Chris Cassidy and Luca Parmitano are getting ready for a pair of US segment based EVAs in mid-July.

Around the Solar System

The Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii has found the 10,000th near-Earth asteroid ever discovered.

The Mars rover Opportunity is hitting the highway again. She is heading South along the rim of Endeavour crater, getting ready for her biggest “climb” of her mission. The rover drivers are trying to get Opportunity to Solander Point before Martian winter sets in.

Out There

PayPal and the SETI Institute have apparently launched something called PayPal Galactic. They supposedly are trying to come up with how transactions will happen when more of humanity lives and works in space or other planets. I personally don’t see how it needs to be much different than the current way that we bank and pay for things online, and their video is pretty vague. But I guess good for them for thinking of it? We’ll have to see what happens.

Musk is no Stark, but has good ideas

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.

Friday Links

Happy autumn! The weather is great here in Houston. I’m writing this with the living room sliding door open for the first time since April, I think. the nice weather is just in time for the excitement of Endeavour’s cross-country trip from KSC to LAX, which started on Wednesday and ends today. Some of my own pictures and video are below, mixed in with some stuff I grabbed from the popular blogs. Enjoy!

Endeavour

There was a lot of activity on Twitter this week with the hashtag #spottheshuttle. I bet if you follow it more today you will see great pictures of Endeavour over California sights!

Below is a time-lapse of the last Space Shuttle Orbiter mating to an SCA (Shuttle Carrier Aircraft). Also the last use of a mate-demate device at the Shuttle Landing Facility.

On Wednesday Endeavour flew over the gulf coast to land just a few miles away from my home. I was at work near the Ellington Field airport when she arrived. Later that evening I got to go see her up close!

Ben with Endeavour on September 19. Rocking the Think Geek.

Thursday morning I got up early to see Endeavour leave. Here is my video of her takeoff. It’s not very good – iPhone 4 video – but it is uniquely mine!

And here’s my favorite still that I got of Endeavour flying over JSC before turning Northeast to leave Houston for good.

Endeavour rides off into the sunrise

After she left Houston on Thursday Endeavour toured the rest of Texas with a stopover in El Paso before flying over Tucson and then landing at Edwards.

Down to Earth

There is a new legislative bill out there (in the US House) to change the management structure of NASA drastically. The idea is to make NASA less politicized so that money will not so often be wasted on cancelled programs. It’s an interesting premise that I think is worth talking about. However, Parabolic Arc points out that maybe the bill is a bit misleading about how much money has actually been “wasted” in the past.

Speaking of Congress, the House recently passed a bill confirming that astronauts own any artifacts they may still have from the Apollo era. Hopefully this means there will be no more stories int he news about American heroes suing the US government (or the other way around). It seems the law may still be ambiguous when it comes to actual moon rocks, however.

In Orbit

NASA and SpaceX have officially announced October 7th as the launch date of the next Dragon resupply mission. I will be working the “planning shift” the day before Dragon arrives at ISS.

Before Dragon arrives, ATV will be departing the ISS next week on the 25th.

Of course, the vehicles coming and going are just logistics. ISS is all about the people, the science, and the engineering (see my previous post). So I would remiss not to point out the triathlon that Sunita Williams ran on ISS September 16th or her account of what HTV departure was like.

Around the Solar System

Curiosity continues to send back beautiful pictures of the foothills of Aeolis Mons.

Curiosity is also taking a look at an unusual rock on Mars that looks like a pyramid. Very strange.

Lack of Links

Took a week off last week due to vacation and being very busy in the office. Regular posts will return this Friday.

In the meantime, Curiosity is returning amazing MastCam images…

And there will be a US segment EVA on ISS on Thursday (August 30).

Friday Links

Down to Earth

NASA JSC will allow tourists from Space Center Houston to tour the Shuttle Avionics Integration Lab (SAIL) – an “honorary” space shuttle.

Two space shuttles met during a KSC “rollover” for the last time.

The air force’s X-51 failed a flight test this week.

Early in the week the President of the United States made a phone call to the Mars Science Laboratory team at JPL. Politics aside, that’s pretty cool. (via Universe Today).

A sporty descent trajectory test by Masten Space Systems.

In Orbit

During an ISS reboost this week there was a failure (or perhaps “anomaly”) that caused the correction burn to end early. ESA’s ATV3 was controlling the reboost at the time. ISS and ATV teams are working together to correct the problem and plan for a repeat reboost next week. I was flying the ADCO console a few hours before the reboost on Wednesday morning but have otherwise not been involved.

More awesome ISS timelapse imagery…

Ron Garan highlights just one of the many reasons spaceflight is worth the investment.

Around the Solar System

While Curiosity is still warming up its wheels, Opportunity is roving strong on the other side of the planet.

Even though Curiosity is not yet on the move, there’s still a huge gallery of images already piling up on the JPL website. You can go dig through them, or just check out this list of the best images so far. Here’s the first full resolution mastcam panorama.

Here’s a video update of what’s been going on with Curiosity this week (mostly engineering tests to get ready for mobility) – via Universe Today.

Oh, and by the way… in one of the first images Curiosity sent back from Mars, JPL captured an image of the dust plume of the descent stage crashing 2 kilometers away. Whoa.

J.R.R. Tolkien finally has a solar system feature named after him – a crater on Mercury.

Mars may have plate tectonics?

Evidence of a crater on Mars that is less than 3 years old.

Out There

This is a very imaginative video of all the planets discovered by Kepler in orbit at once.

RfC Going on Vacation

I will be taking a little over a week off from the blog while I vacation. I will miss one week of “Friday Links” but should resume regular posts in less than 2 weeks. Have a great June!

Ad astra.

Friday Links

Venus transit this Tuesday!

This post from The Planetary Society is all you need to plan your viewing party.

Don Pettit will be having his own viewing party from ISS!

Gennady Padalka of Expedition 31 will have been on ISS for both transits of Venus this century!

Down to Earth

Yesterday, Friday, June 1, the space shuttle mock-up Explorer arrived by barge in Houston. I fought my way through traffic to hang out by the lake during the last half-hour of her coming in for “docking”. While the mock-up never flew in space, she is a good looking replica and will add some modern diversity to the artifacts at Space Center Houston. It’s not every day you see a space shuttle floating in the lake, real or otherwise.

Steve Robinson and I were flying the T-38 and noticed this unusual sight in the gulf. Not something you see every day. http://t.co/NAoFxutG
@Astro_Box
Gregory H. Johnson

The pictures of the Shuttlebration at CollectSpace, linked above, are better than the ones I took but I’ll post any pictures I get tomorrow. Tomorrow morning the replica will be rolled down NASA Parkway past JSC to the museum. I think I will get up early before my shift and go watch the fun, if I can. I have to take an alternate route to get to work at Mission Control on Sunday morning because they are closing the major intersection!

Apparently the astronaut band Max Q put on a good show at the Shuttlebration. Speaking of astronaut musicians, Cady Coleman finally returned her space flutes to The Chieftains and got to play a gig with them. Cool!

Onstage w The Chieftains in Dublin! Returning their flutes to Ireland after 6 mo on ISS. Every seat filled! Terrifying! http://t.co/C8rE8Hed
@Astro_Cady
Cady Coleman

Space Shuttle Enterprise arriving in NYC is old news, but I thought the candid-ness of this video made it interesting.

While we’re on old news, here’s a time lapse of Enterprise being removed from a carrier aircraft for the last time.

Enterprise will get moving in NYC on its way to the Intrepid this week on June 5th.

In Orbit

Of course, the big news was that the Dragon mission was completed successfully with a splashdown in the Pacific on Thursday. I’ve heard that there’s a pretty quick turnaround to get downmass cargo back to NASA so equipment might already be in hand!

This picture might be my favorite from the entire SpaceX mission. Andre has a good eye.

My Soyuz reflected in one of Dragon's solar panels. http://t.co/HAjjGiu9
@astro_andre
André Kuipers

Speaking of gorgeous orbital photography: the Himalayas.

It might be interesting to see what it looks like looking back at the astronauts while they take these photos. Well, here you go (via Bad Astronomy).

Andre writes about how it feels to be the veteran ISS resident teaching the new guys the ropes.

I really like this essay about “the orbital perspective” from a “guest bloggernaut” over at Fragile Oasis.

Out There

Here’s a cool science story about an exoplanet discovered by how it affects the orbits of other planets in the KOI 872 system.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Picture of a Saturn V launch in my living room

History

Someone pointed out to me recently that the year 1990 is now closer to the July 20, 1969 moon-landing than we are to the year 1990. For most people that are old enough to remember 1990 (just barely for me) this is somewhat surprising. It’s simple math: 43 years since Apollo 11 and 22 years since 1990. I usually get tired of people pointing out “oh my god, do you realize [thing that happened when they were a kid] was [X] years ago?!” Time is very predicable, so it’s a bit silly to become surprised that 43-22=21. However, as I said in this post last month as Discovery left Florida for the last time, it is important for the space community to come to terms with what is now history. So, in the interest of moving on, let’s build some perspective.

 

Part of what prompted me to write this post was a recent slew of articles popping up about “new amateur Challenger footage” being revealed. I’ve seen at least 3 unique videos, which I won’t repost here (if you want to relive that event, there’s plenty of video out there), claiming to be newly released videos of the event. I’m no historian, but a tragic event must be pretty old for new footage to make Brian Williams’ show on NBC. Challenger was lost 26 years ago. Novak Djokovic, current world number 1 tennis player, was born well over a year after Challenger and has already managed to win 5 Majors and $36.5 million dollars. Lindsay Lohan was born in 1986 and her career has already lived and died. You get the idea.

Atlantis final flight photo in my dining room

Also History

What surprised me even more was realizing that the loss of Columbia can now, in a sense, be considered “history”. We will mourn the anniversary of that day for the 10th time next year. Wayne Hale writes about Discovery’s return-to-flight mission in a poignant and honest way that is not possible until the immediate impact of an event has truly passed.

The point is not to make you sad by thinking about Challenger and Columbia, but to point out that the Space Shuttle Program is now the same as Mercury or Apollo or Skylab and is part of history. People will write books about it and discuss its significance. Kids will probably still have Space Shuttle toys. I will probably always have pictures of space shuttles on my wall. But it is well past time to let go. If the “space community”* wants to convince the world its ideas are worth tax dollars then they need to realize that a lot of people still think space is cool. Get them excited about the the present and stop whining about how history came too soon. Because then you are just another person surprised by the passage of time…

Not History

*National Space Society, The Planetary Society, The Moon Society, The Mars Society, SEDS, Coalition For Space Exploration…

 

Back on shift tomorrow

Anyone who is paying attention – but who would be – would notice that this is my fourth post in about 24 hours. Normally, I post once or twice a week. The departure is due to my attempt to “sleep shift”. Last night I was up until after midnight, tonight I’ll be up until 3-4 AM and tomorrow night I’ll report to the Mission Control Center at 11 PM for my first of seven 9-hour shifts flying the ISS!

I’m excited to be back on console. I had 5 days in the flight control room in March and some in February as well, but this week will be the first time in a few months that I’ll spend a solid week as part of the integrated ISS team in MCC. Not that I love working the graveyard shift. The sleep isn’t as good not to mention a reduced social life. But for a whole week my job will be to fly a space station. The honor of that responsibility makes it worth it.

During my week of shifts there will be a few “complex activities” leading to a flurry of dockings and undockings at the end of April. Progress 46 undocking, Progress 47 docking, Soyuz 28 undocking, and SpaceX Dragon rendezvous will all happen between April 19 and May 2. There will be a lot of plans to review!

It’s far too easy on the night shifts, even with lots of planning to do, to get bored and lose sight of where you are. My goal this week will be to spend more time watching the video screens of live cameras on the ISS and appreciating my unique vantage point. If I had Don Pettit’s view of things during space station reboosts, that would be easier!

 

Friday Links

Down To Earth

NASA is hosting a “social” for the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch on April 30. I applied to attend but they are only taking something like 50 guests. Here’s hoping!

Hot on the heels of ATV-3 docking, ESA has shut down production of more ATV cargo vehicles. After the fifth vessel in 2014, the program’s future is uncertain.

NASA has published a timeline of events for Space Shuttle Discovery’s trip to the Smithsonian on April 17.

Unrelated to spaceflight, but of interest to astronomy enthusiasts, the Keck I telescope has started using its new MOSFIRE instrument. MOSFIRE is a wide-field near-infrared spectrometer that is very sensitive. This past week it was activated and took its first pictures. My father is a software engineer at Keck and worked on this instrument so it was fun to get emails from him with updates from activation and testing. I even received one of the first MOSFIRE images in my personal inbox (but I won’t be sharing it here with you EDIT: some first light images have been made public)! Here’s a not-very-exciting video of MOSFIRE being installed in Keck I the other day.

In a lot of ways, operations of the multi-million dollar Keck telescopes is similar to operations of the multi-billion dollar ISS that I work on. Both programs are basically “24/7 operations” with science, maintenance, repairs, and troubleshooting planned every day. My dad was even up on a late shift supporting MOSFIRE activation. I’ll be sure to post here if MOSFIRE makes any stunning discoveries!

In Orbit

A NASA senior review has approved mission extensions for several orbiting astrophysics missions including Hubble, Kepler, and Swift (among others). Of course Phil Plait is enthusiastic about it!

I was at the traditional “100-day party” here in Houston. When an ISS crew reaches (roughly) 100 days in space a happy hour is planned at one of our local hangouts. Beer and food is enjoyed, of course, but we also set up a video conference with the astronauts in space! Friends and family get in line to say hi and say “haha don’t you guys wish you had beer too?”

20120406-053148.jpg

I love this photo of Italy by Andre Kuipers in ISS. The black hole of Mount Vesuvius really stands out.

This shot of the Great Barrier Reef isn’t bad either.

Speaking of Andre Kuipers, he continues to tell us interesting stories about life on ISS.

Because it’s Cool

This has nothing to do with space but I loved these photos and video of a close encounter with a sperm whale.

Of all the internet April Fool’s jokes, I thought APOD’s was pretty funny. You have to read the caption for full effect.

What geek doesn’t like to see the President hanging out with Uhura and throwing up a little LLAP? Too bad Nemoy and Bolden weren’t there!