Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

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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!

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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.

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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


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?”


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!

Friday Links

Links are late again this week because I’ve been busy with stuff for my buddy’s wedding this weekend.  Today about half of the links are related to ATV-3 and its docking to the ISS this Wednesday (March 28th). A lot of the great ATV updates come from ESA’s ATV blog. They have been posting updates constantly so I haven’t included all of their content, go check it out for yourself!

ATV Stuff

Don Pettit got some great pictures of ATV on final approach looking aft from the Russian segment. He put them up along with a timelapse of docking at his blog. You have to see this

Speaking of timelapse, here is a timelapse of final approach and docking using the  NASA TV feed (rather than astronaut photography).

What stood out the most to me was how much wobble ATV had during the final hold at about 30 feet. In slow motion it usually looks and feels like approaching vehicles are holding perfect attitude, but that’s not possible of course. Then on contact, ATV drifts significantly in the docking ring before the probe is retracted for a hard mate. Realize that we’re talking about a very large vehicle (see photo on left) so that’s a lot of mass drifting around and a lot of force needed by the docking system  to rein it all in.

In celebration of the third ATV mission to ISS, ESA produced the following Beatles parody music video called Back at the ISS. Enjoy!

Here’s the first picture of Andre Kuipers inside ATV3. From the ESA blog.

ATV is having some sort of power problem that flight controllers are still resolving, but it seems ATV Control Center is confident they have good redundancy.

Down To Earth

Tonight at 8:30 PM is Earth Hour! The astronauts on ISS will be participating.

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There was a brief article in the Washington Post about a Zero Gravity airplane flight.

NASA finally got the ATREX mission of the ground on Monday night creating a psychedelic light show in the sky for people on the Easy Coast. The mission released some tracers into the high atmosphere to track the wind currents, something still not well understood.

Photo via APOD

Jeff Bezos has announced that his research team has found the first stage of the Apollo 11 Saturn V launch vehicle in the Atlantic ocean. They plan to raise the engines from 14,000 feet of water. NASA has openly supported the private venture.

The Ukraine celebrates 50 years of spaceflight for their country.

If you’re into space politics (which I don’t post much about here. I like to keep it upbeat) then this might be a good summary of the Senate hearings last week, from Parabolic Arc.

In Orbit (not ATV-related)

Don Pettit takes the millionth astronaut photo from the ISS!

Speaking of Don Pettit’s pictures, he wrote an interesting post about ISS star trail photography.

The date for Expedition 30’s return to Earth date was revised. Dan Burbank, along with Russians Shkaplerov and Ivanishin, will come home on that date after 165 days on ISS (more than a month longer than originally planed).

I finally found how to get the English translation of Andre Kuipers’ blog from space. I recommend subscribing! Here is his post about taking refuge in the Soyuz vehicles last Friday, due to late notice space debris. I was on console as ADCO when we preparing, the shift before.

Friday Links

Down to Earth

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new book Space Chronicles is out. I already wrote a dedicated post about him this week. I would recommend listening to his interview on NPR’s Science Friday and watching this video of his testimony before Congress earlier this week (Thanks to @failedprotostar for helping me locate the video)!

The Canadian Space Agency is facing a potential 14% budget cut.

There was a Space Shuttle shuffle at KSC today. Atlantis and Discovery traded places as Discovery is prepped for an April flight to the Smithsonian in Dulles. There will be an official welcome ceremony for Discovery at Dulles on April 19 with a small VIP tweetup (if that’s the right way to describe it). I would love to be there but won’t be able to make it.

Astronaut Mike Massimino talks with Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle about his new position with the Rice University Space Institute. He spends a minute discussing his cameo on the Big Bang Theory, which was funny but too short.

NASA has decided that the first Orion capsule test flight in 2014 will be launched by a Delta IV Heavy rocket.


In Orbit

I have quite a few things to post regarding ISS Flight Engineer Don Pettit. He has been an awesome ambassador of the space program during Expedition 30 and has done some unorthodox PR that I hope is getting ISS some extra attention.

First, I have to link to Pettit’s series of educational science videos. When he was on ISS in during Expedition 6 he called his videos “Saturday Morning Science”. This time around they are “Science Off The Sphere” (although I have heard him still call them Saturday Morning Science on the space-to-ground loops). His latest involves thin film physics in zero-g.

Don was also the first ever Expedition crew member to be “flashed” successfully from the Earth. No, not that kind of flash! My blog is strictly safe for work! A club out of San Antonio arranged with Don Pettit over email to flash him with a laser and some spotlights on a pre-decided orbit this past Sunday. Here’s the picture Don took of the laser light.

I think they should have gone with green instead…

In unorthodox space news, NASA has partnered with iPhone game developer Rovio to promote Angry Birds Space which will use zero-g environments with “gravity fields” to simulate real physics. Here is Don Pettit in what must be the first video game commercial filmed in space.

Some other good stuff from Don’s blog (I guess I shouldn’t expect less). He writes about aerogel storage bags used by NASA to keep things warm in Antarctica or cold on ISS. He also writes about how the ISS ECLSS (ie, life support system) is an engineering experiment – today’s coffee is tomorrow’s coffee.

Okay, so with all my Don Pettit news out of the way, here are some other things going on with ISS.

The launch date of the European Space Agency’s ATV3 has slipped to later this month. The new launch date is March 23 with docking to ISS about a week later. Original launch date was March 9th.

The engineering test that is the “Robotic Refueling Mission” has been going well this week on ISS.

Around the Solar System

Nearly every space blog on the internet wrote about the high resolution picture of a Martian dust devil in action taken by the HiRISE camera on MRO from February 16th. It’s a stunning picture, but I like that Ryan from The Martian Chronicles reminds us this is far from a one-of-a-kind shot. Check out this set of images from the Spirit rover.

It seems this week’s solar storm may have knocked out Venus Express’ star trackers. Obviously not good for that mission.

Two Near-Earth Objects have garnered a lot of attention this week. 2011 AG5 and 2012 DA14 are both NEOs worth watching, but only 2011 AG5 is on the Minor Planet Center’s list of PHAs (potentially hazardous asteroids). As always, Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy has the best coverage of all potential doomsdays. Go read his post on 2012 DA14 and then his post on 2011 AG5. And here is a brilliant animation of 2012 DA14 on closest approach next February (also via BAblog).

I fully support Don Yeomans, Rusty Schweickart, and the B612 Foundation who feel that we need to seriously start funding case studies into how to deflect PHAs now, and at the federal or international level. I wish I could go to Austin for SXSW this week to see this panel discussion!

Because it’s cool

Check out the lights of Dubai taken by the ISS Expedition 30 crew. It’s pretty until you think about all the energy wasted on light pollution.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been returning newer, higher resolution images of the Apollo landing sites from the new low mapping orbit. Several sites were imaged but I’ve linked to the Apollo 15 image since I just finished reading Falling to Earth by Apollo 15 CMP Al Worden. These images are much higher quality than Worden even saw from his CM during the mission.

LEGO shuttle launched into space (okay, near-space)! – via Universe Today

Here is one of my favorite shots of the multiple planet conjunction this past week – from Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. The fun’s not over yet though. Jupiter and Venus will have their conjunction in the sky next week.

This new DARPA robot is pretty freaking awesome (or scary?) – via SciGuy

But it still has nothing on AMEE from Red Planet

It’s a mess out there

So far this year the ISS has had to move out of the way of debris twice. First on January 13th due to debris from the Iridium/Cosmos collision in 2009, and then again on January 28th due to Fengyun-1C debris. If it seems like this is happening more often, that’s because it is. I haven’t done enough research to confirm that twice in one month is a first, but twice in the first 4 weeks of the year is definitely a first. This is the first time two DAMs (debris avoidance maneuvers) have happened in such a short time. The highest density of DAMs before this year was in 2010 with DAMs in April, July, and October. Two DAMs in the first month of the year is a bit foreboding.

In case you forgot, Fengyun-1C is the satellite that China deliberately blew to smithereens in 2007. That satellite was at a high low earth orbit (yes, high low) above the ISS. That debris has been slowly “falling” back to Earth over the past 4 years (it’s really not falling but just losing orbital energy due to drag). The plot below, from NASA’s orbital debris office, shows just how much debris was added to Earth orbit from the two destructive events (one deliberate and one accidental) in the past few years.

Plot of orbital debris over time

In case you’re confused, it’s the two huge jumps at 2007 and 2009. Find them yet? Yeah, thought so.

At this point, there’s nothing we can do to help reduce this problem for the rest of ISS orbital life. The problem of space debris needs to be dealt with before launch of satellites with sound “cradle-to-grave” mission design as well as strong international policy that is enforced. Right now, there are no such policies, only “voluntary guidelines” created by the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. NASA is stuck with the constant close calls as long as we operate the ISS at its current orbit. Fortunately, we have well written Flight Rules and well trained trajectory officers to keep us on the straight and narrow – or threading the needle, if you prefer.

Tech writers love to report on new crazy ideas for orbital debris removal. These ideas include your standard “go grab it and bring it back”, your “ground laser broom”, your “giant space net”, your “inflatable balloon”, your “giant aerogel sticky ball”, and other wacky ideas. Thinking outside the box is good, but none of these would be cheap to implement. Who is going to spend the money on debris cleanup? There is no profit margin there. It would have to be a government funded project, but NASA doesn’t have billions of dollars to spare on a giant space net right now.

This problem has to be solved in international politics as well as in satellite mission design now, in the first half of the 21st century, so that later missions do not become too cumbersome to operate due to constant adjustments of orbital trajectory. The situation is by no means catastrophic, as some of the bee hive style graphics of Earth orbit would imply. But the problem does make it expensive and difficult to operate a mission in low Earth orbit.

A debris hit to the space station is one of the more common scenarios we run in ISS flight controller simulations. This is partly because with a piece of speeding orbital debris the training team can make anything break that they want. Need a specific water pump to fail at the same time as a certain computer? Send some debris on a straight line through both of them! But we also sim those cases so often because they are real and they are serious. We may train those cases to death, but the last thing I want to hear when I am on shift in the control room is that we are in a “rapid depress” emergency. If that day every comes, it will be a bad one.