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+ 1 - 1 | § Hydrogen Atom Scale Model

"Possibly the biggest page you've ever seen."

+ 1 - 0 | § The Science Of Superman

From Cosmic Log -- turns out some of Superman's abilities may be a bit unrealistic.

+ 0 - 1 | § Virgin Galactic to recruit astronauts from NASA

Spaceline aims to recruit half of its pilots from NASA corps, half from Virgin airlines.


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29 June 2006

+ 0 - 1 | § Editorial Note

ATW logoBlogging will be light over the next few days as I go watch it rain on the space shuttle.

If possible, I'll post updates about the trip.

+ 1 - 0 | § Space Cat-Fight!

dream chaserPer The Register:
A most unusual cat-fight broke out last night at the NASA Ames center here, as two women battled to learn when they will be able to take cheap flights into space.
SpaceDev founder James Benson had plowed through the majority of his presentation on space tourism opportunities when the cackling broke out. "Will you sit down. I can't see the screen," barked one woman. "Well, I can't hear the lecture. We came hear to listen to Mr. Benson not to hear you gossip," replied an older Asian lady not much more than 5 feet tall. The squabble escalated from there with both sides agreeing that they despised each other's lack of social graces.
Eventually, the bitching match devolved into a playground-level spat with both of the ladies verging on yelling, "I know you are but what am I?" A dose of comic tension filled the NASA Ames conference room, and then the two ladies quieted down.

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-121 Update

STS-121 mission patchWeather still looking very iffy.

Official countdown is in a planned hold at T-27 hours.

+ 1 - 1 | § Lunar Support

artist's rendition of lunar landerThe Vision for Space Exploration got a huge vote of support in the U.S. House yesterday, when representatives voted 259-163 to reject a proposal by Barney Frank to shut down plans to send man to Mars.

At least, that's the way the story puts it. Reading it, I'm assuming he's really talking about the plans that would, more immediately, return humans to the moon; but there's no reference to the moon in the article. My guess, and this may be unfair, is that Frank's move was part of the uninformed "we don't need to spend money on Mars" attitude that you see from people who have a knee-jerk reaction without really knowing what they're talking about.

Another vote yesterday, by a more narrow margin, also rejected a proposal to shift almost a half-billion from the Vision to local law enforcement. While the 236-185 vote was closer than the one on the Frank proposal, it was a slightly wider spread than a similar vote last year.

28 June 2006

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-121 Update

STS-121 mission patchThe clock is ticking.

The countdown is officially, right now, at 38 hours, 54 minutes. And counting.

+ 0 - 1 | § STS-121 Update

STS-121 mission patchIf I've counted correctly, this is my 41st "STS-121 Update" post since I started posting them on August 12.

I don't know how many "RTF Update" posts I made because I started them on the old blog, but from the time I moved over here, I count 66 from Aug. 26, '04 until the landing in August of last year.

I'm looking forward to the day I don't have time to post quite so many updates between launches.

But that day's not here yet.

Today's news:

There's only about six hours left until the official countdown starts at T-43 hours.

Dick Cheney will be attending the launch.

And, per Florida Today's Flame Trench blog:
The shuttle launch team is working no technical issues that would prohibit an on-time liftoff on Saturday afternoon from the Kennedy Space Center.

Jeff Spaulding, the NASA test director on the launch team, says Discovery could get up to four launch opportunities over the five days beginning Friday. After that, the team would have to take a day or two off before preparing the vehicle for another round of launch attempts.

So it's all about the weather at this point.

Kathy Winters, the weather officer, says afternoon storms are the worry for Saturday, Sunday and Monday launch attempts. The chance of acceptable launch weather all three days is just 40 percent. Winters says conditions could actually worsen next week, though it is far too early to give specific forecasts.

"While they sound a little gloomy, we have certainly launched with a higher-percentage no-go than we have for Saturday," Spaulding said.

More on the weather can be found here.

+ 1 - 0 | § Shuttle Trivia

shuttle launchHere's an interesting bit of space shuttle trivia I just learned:
The shuttle, of course, burns its main engines for about eight minutes and 40 seconds to reach orbital velocity. During that time, though, I didn't realize it will reach its apogee at the 5:32 mark, and then actually descend about three and a miles before beginning to ascend again shortly before main engine cut-off. At MECO, the shuttle's altitude is still under 70 miles, but it's traveling at 17,606 miles per hour.

27 June 2006

+ 2 - 0 | § STS-121 Update

STS-121 mission patchThe STS-121 crew is expected to arrive at Kennedy Space Center in about half an hour of this writing to prepare for Saturday's launch.

The official countdown clock will start tomorrow 4 p.m. CDT at the T-43 hour mark. Then, at midnight, the process begins of getting the dorman shuttle ready to come to life.

+ 1 - 0 | § Too Much Stuff

stowage on ISSTurns out my house has a couple of things in common with the International Space Station -- they both have the equivalent of three bedrooms, and they're both filled with too much stuff.
There's so much stuff on the station that it blocks access to storage cabinets, fills up rooms and makes losing objects easy. And the overflow is about to get worse. NASA plans to have space shuttle Discovery drop off 5,000 pounds of supplies next week. The shuttle will haul items back but will leave behind more than it takes away.

26 June 2006

+ 2 - 0 | § STS-121 Update

STS-121 mission patchLacking for actual updates, here's a link to a profile of Mark Kelly, who is the one astronaut on the STS-121 crew whom I've actually met.

In the history of the astronaut program, there have been three people selected with the last name Kelly, and they were all brought in as part of Group 16. (A big coincidence, but not as odd as Group 7, which included two men named Gregory Johnson.) Two of the three Kellys were are twins, Mark and Scott. When I met Mark, the story was that one of the twins had a mustache, but that you couldn't really use that to tell them apart, because it wasn't always the same one. At any given time, one did and one didn't, but they would take turns shaving and growing it out. That may be apocrophyl, but it's a good story.

On an only semi-related note, it's looking now like I may be heading down to the launch, due to peer pressure.

+ 2 - 0 | § Progress Towards ISS

Progress launchThe International Space Station is about to be the Grand Central Station of space, currently preparing for the first of two arrivals in as many weeks.

A Russian Progress spacecraft will dock with the station today at 11:30 a.m. CDT, after launching on Saturday. The ISS crew will unpack only critical items this week, leaving the rest until after the STS-121 crew leaves.

Two other spacecraft are already docked to the station -- the crew's Soyuz and the last Progress, which docked on April 23.

24 June 2006

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-121 Update

STS-121 mission patchIt's now less than a week until launch.

Cool, huh?

23 June 2006

+ 1 - 0 | § Return To The Moon

Return to the moon coverHere's an opportunity to get a great deal on a moonwalker autograph, if anyone's interested:

Apollo 17's Harrison Schmitt will be signing copies of his book, Return to the Moon, at Rocket Town next month, and signed copies can be pre-ordered now. Schmitt's cut down on his signing in the past few years, so it's really a great opportunity.

(If any ATW readers who know me personally are interested in this, let me know, and I'll sweeten the pot a bit.)

+ 0 - 1 | § Chasing Dreams

dream chaserI do understand why, in many ways, the space shuttle was a flawed vehicle, doomed by the very hubris of its creation. I also understand why, for moving ahead with space exploration, for once more traveling beyond low Earth orbit, a completely different architecture is extremely advantageous. I'm looking forward to the return to a straightfoward capsules-and-big-rockets system.

That said, having lived with the shuttle basically my entire life, I do like the idea of the still being a spacecraft flying that is vaguely shuttle-esque.

(Oh, and, hey, for the sake of full disclosure, I own stock in SpaceDev, which is developing the vehicle; but that has nothing to do with this post, inasmuch as I didn't even make the connection until I was about to save it to the blog. Still, that's kinda cool. [Although it would be much cooler if I hadn't lost money on them; albeit way less than I've lost on Apple and Space Propulsion Systems. This whole buying stock thing isn't working out nearly as well as I'd hoped.])

22 June 2006

+ 1 - 1 | § Moons Get Names

Pluto systemThe two recently discovered moons of Pluto have been given names. Like Charon, the two names fit with the mythology of the planet -- Nix after the Greek goddess of night and the mother of Charon, and Hydra after, of course, the Hydra, which guarded Hades. The names are also a tip of the hat to the spacecraft currently heading towards the Pluto system; the first letters of the two moons are also the initials of the New Horizons mission.

With all the debate about the naming of 2003 UB313 (aka, sigh, Xena), I have to say that I really like these names.

21 June 2006

+ 0 - 2 | § Space Museum

STS-114 view of DiscoveryI'm not entirely sure of the logistics, but, let me just say now that if, for some reason, Discovery had to be abandoned in flight, I would hope that every effort would be made to keep her preserved in orbit rather than deorbited.

20 June 2006

+ 1 - 1 | § Pam's Turn

Pam MelroyMuch was made in the press around last year's Return to Flight STS-114 mission about Eileen Collin's status as the first female shuttle commander. Her recent retirement from the astronaut corps, however, meant that the population of female commanders had gone back from one to zero.
Now, however, that's changed, as Pam Melroy has been named as commander of the STS-120 mission, which will carry Node 2 to the International Space Station.
The rest of the crew shows NASA's dedication to giving current astronauts a chance to fly before the agency runs out of shuttle seats. Only one crewmember, mission specialist Scott Parazynski, has flown previously. The rest, pilot George Zamka, mission specialists Douglas Wheelock and Michael Foreman, and ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli will all be making their first flight.
STS-120 is the last mission that had been manifest prior to the loss of Columbia (thus the upcoming mission, added after the tragedy, being STS-121), when it was originally scheduled for Feb. 18, 2004 and would have marked the ISS reaching U.S. Core Complete status, which was a really big deal back in the day.

19 June 2006

+ 1 - 1 | § Better Mileage

Mars pic by OpportunityTo be sure, the fact that the Mars rover Opportunity now has five miles on its odometer and is still going strong, almost two and a half (Earth) years into a 90 (Earth) day mission, is a testament to the importance and value of robotic exploration of our solar system.

However, it's just as strong a testament to the importance and value of human exploration. Opportunity's five miles is wonderful, but, when put in the context of the fact that the Apollo 17 crew's lunar rover has about 18 miles on its odometer, accumulated during about 75 hours of exploration by the crew, it's clear that we'll be covering more ground when we finally put a person on Mars.

17 June 2006

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-121 Update

STS-121 mission patchThe Flight Readiness Review is complete, and the launch date is July 1.

Meaning that launch is now scheduled for less than two weeks away.

14 June 2006

+ 0 - 0 | § Comic Book Sequel

STS-114 movie posterOne of the popular bits of swag that came out last year associated with the STS-114 Return to Flight mission was the RTF "movie poster." An engineer at Glenn Research Center created the movie-style poster for his friend, 114 astronaut Charlie Camarda, but it proved so popular with those that saw the design that it was turned into an official NASA product.

The engineer, Matthew Melis, has taken another shot at it this year, creating a new poster for STS-121. Not content to replicate what he did last year, Melis has tackled another genre this year, capturing the mission scheduled for next month in a comic-book-cover-inspired design.

You can see the new design in its debut on collectSPACE.

Keywords: collectspace,comics,design,movies,nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_114,sts_121

+ 0 - 0 | § STS-121 Update

STS-121 mission patchPer NASA:
NASA officials will host a news conference no earlier than 2 p.m. EDT, Saturday, June 17, following a two-day detailed assessment of the readiness of Space Shuttle Discovery for launch. The briefing will air live on NASA TV from the Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

The news conference follows the traditional Flight Readiness Review, a thorough assessment of preparations for the mission. The June 16-17 meeting is designed to produce a number of key decisions about Discovery's mission, STS-121, including selection of an official launch date.

As of this writing, the ATW countdown clock is at 17 days, 6 hours. And counting. (Though I guess that could change Saturday, huh?)

13 June 2006

+ 0 - 0 | § Simpsons Pi

J-2 engineFor those who doubt the merit of the amount of tax money spent on NASA, I offer Exhibit A:
The Simpsons writers have a perfectionistic streak when it comes to math on the show, even when it's just for a throwaway joke. ... In another episode, Kwik-E-Mart proprietor Apu brags that he can recite pi to 40,000 decimal places. "The last digit is 1," he announces. To get that detail right, the Simpsons writing team faxed a query to NASA, where mathematician David Bailey obliged with the digit in question.


By the way, that's from an article about math on The Simpsons that is rather interesting.

08 June 2006

+ 0 - 0 | § STS-121 Update

STS-121 mission patchThe external tank currently on the launch pad for STS-121 has received flight certification for the mission, currently scheduled for launch on July 1 at 3:48 p.m. EDT.

As of this writing, the ATW countdown clock is at 23 days, 4 hours. And counting.

07 June 2006

+ 1 - 0 | § The Once And Future Moon Engine

J-2 enginePer Florida Today:
A California company has been awarded a $50 million NASA contract for development of an engine the agency intends to use on two new rockets that will loft astronauts and payloads on missions to the moon and Mars.

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne Inc. of Canoga Park, Calif., will build the J-2X, an upgraded version of the engine that powered the second and third stages of the Saturn 5 rockets that launched Apollo astronauts to the moon.

NASA intends to use the J-2X to power the second stage of a new rocket called the Crew Launch Vehicle that will be built to launch Apollo-style capsules that will carry astronauts on missions to the International Space Station, the moon, Mars and other celestial destinations.

The cost-reimbursement contract extends until Nov. 30. The money will be used to start conceptual design of the engine and procure long lead items for the J-2X.

I'm irrationally excited about this -- I just cannot wait for J-2 testing to begin again at Stennis. That, to me, will be one of the biggest signs that we're actually moving towards going back to the moon; when one of the engines that carried us there last time is fired again at its old testing grounds. I'm guessing, also, that the J-2 will be one of the first components of the new system to begin serious testing, or, at least, one of the first non-shuttle-based components.

+ 0 - 1 | § Partners?

CLV and CaLVHere's an interesting article about the future of international space cooperation. A reporter on Monday asked NASA administrator Mike Griffin about whether Russia would be welcome to work with NASA on missions beyond the International Space Station. His reply, per the article:
Griffin replied that in his travels to Russia since becoming administrator, he also has spent a good deal of time with senior officials at both Roskosmos and the S.P.Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia. With regard to robotic missions, he said, "frankly, we welcome coordination with any of the international partners who want to work with us."

He said it is a "rare NASA science mission that doesn't have a substantial international component to it," but added that it has been a long time "since the Russians have expressed any interest in planetary explorations, so with the energy dollars that are flowing into Russia, if they are interested in revitalizing their very proud history of planetary exploration, I'd say I'm all for it and we would absolutely look forward to working with them."

Griffin added that on several occasions he has said "the Russians have been great partners on (the International Space Station)." It was a tough learning experience, however, he noted.

"I was on board at the start of that learning experience and it was a tough 10 years," he said, "but the two nations have learned to work together and have forged a very effective station partnership, and the Russians have really stepped up to the plate after our loss of Columbia."

Griffin said he sees "no reason why, in the robotic, lunar and Mars programs, we cannot do the same - and I'm very willing to do that."

So, um, did Griffin really say that comma in the last sentence there? Up until then, all he talked about was robotic exploration, and if you assume that comma is not there, that's still all he's talking about. Fascinating.

06 June 2006

+ 0 - 1 | § Former Future

OSP at USSRCI went yesterday and took some pictures at the ribbon-cutting for a "CEV" mock-up that LockMart has donated to the Space & Rocket Center here. Turns out, though, that it's not really a CEV, but a leftover Orbital Space Plane test article.
That said, I got to have my name and pics on the front page of collectSPACE, and the link was picked up by, though the discussion there wasn't much to write home about. (Though it would be easier to take it seriously if it were at all informed.)

Keywords: collectspace,constellation,orion,photography,space,ussrc

05 June 2006

+ 0 - 0 | § Moonport Florida

Shuttle launch padPer Florida Today:
NASA soon will decide how to start converting Kennedy Space Center back into a moonport, narrowing options for launch pads needed to stage human expeditions to the lunar surface.

The transformation required to launch two new rockets could be subtle. Or it could be sweeping.

A clearer picture will emerge in coming weeks, but this much is certain: The choices will change the face of NASA's prime launch operations center for decades.
Coming up first: The selection of a pad for a Crew Launch Vehicle.
Among options under consideration: modifying one of NASA's twin shuttle launch complexes -- either pad 39A or 39B.

A new pad also could be built. Launch Complex 40, an abandoned Titan rocket pad at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, could be converted.

But pad 39B appears to be the leading candidate.

A May 12 forecast from the KSC Procurement Office indicates NASA is considering awarding contracts in 2007 to demolish the launch tower and a 100-foot-tall rotating service structure at the pad.
NASA Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale said pad 39B could be handed over for modifications next spring.
Another factor: whether NASA chooses to have a second shuttle ready to fly a rescue mission should something go awry on a Hubble flight.
[Which would require shuttles on two pads simultaneously.]

The one thing the article doesn't address is what will be done about a pad for the heavy-lift Cargo Launch Vehicle. Perhaps 39A would be dedicated to the big rocket. A set-up like that, it seems, would limit how frequently you could launch either one, but these are designed to support a different schedule than the shuttle, so that might not be a problem.

+ 0 - 0 | § Everybody Else Is Doing It...

STS-115 mission patchAt first glance, I thought this was going to be one of those "Everybody else is going to the moon, so why don't we?" stories about yet another country deciding to add an entry to the fleet of robotic spacecraft that will be heading moonward in the next few years (or, more accurately, which has already started).
Upon further reading, it looks, though, like it's one of those "Show me the money" stories about the Russian space program. This would be very cool if they do it, but I'll believe it when it happens.
Russia's planning a super "Luna-Glob" mission to the moon for 2012, which will consist of an orbiter, 12 impactors and a lander. It'll do everything from gather longitudinal seismic data from the Apollo 11 and 12 sites to check the southern polar region for water ice.
And, as if that' not ambitious enough, it's coming on the tail of a 2009 launch of a sample return flight to the Martian moon Phobos.
Cool stuff, if it happens. (Though a 2009 mission, one assumes, would have to be well into development.)

01 June 2006

+ 0 - 0 | § STS-121 Update

STS-121 mission patchThe STS-121 mission today passed a Debris Verificaion Review, bringing Discovery one step closer to launch.

There will be a Design Certificaion Review for the external tank next week, annd the all-important mission Flight Readiness Review is scheduled for June 16 and 17.

At 2:49 CDT today, it will be exactly one month until the scheduled launch. (You'll notice I've started the countdown clock at the top of the left sidebar.)