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+ 1 - 1 | § Laying Traps for Space Tourists

Ladies and gentlemen, the Future...

+ 1 - 1 | § Weird Al Video -- White And Nerdy

A friend sent this to me. Some of it kinda strikes home. Just a little, you understand.

+ 1 - 0 | § Old Soviet Images of Venus Yield Fresh Surprises

Turns out Venus looks kinda like Titan and Mars.


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29 September 2006

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-116 Update

STS-116 patchThe countdown clock on the left just dropped by a week.

Launch is now scheduled for Dec. 7, 9:38 p.m. EST.

+ 0 - 1 | § SpaceShipTwo Revealed

SpaceShipTwoOK, this is fascinating to me.

I'd read that the design for SpaceShipTwo was going to be unveiled yesterday, but had to read through five space news sites this morning before I found one that had anything about it. Apparently the Rutan lovefest may be waning.

Anyway: SpaceShipTwo.

28 September 2006

+ 0 - 1 | § The Dream Is Still Alive

dream chaserI've blogged before about Dream Chaser, a spacecraft design proposed by SpaceDev based on an old NASA lifting body design. The spacecraft was the company's entry in NASA COTS commercial spaceflight bid contest, but was turned down in favor of two other companies.

It turns out, though, Dream Chaser isn't dead. SpaceDev founder Jim Benson has started a new company that will pursue development and commercial operation of the spacecraft.

This makes me happy for two reasons. One, I just like the design. As NASA moves back to an Apollo-esque architecture, Dream Chaser keeps alive a sort of "son of space shuttle" motif, particularly in the pics where it's mounted on a booster package not onlike the STS SRB/ET combo. Second, as a SpaceDev shareholder (albeit a very very tiny one), it sounds like a good model -- the new company, it seems, will bear the risk, while paying SpaceDev for the hardware.

To be honest, I wouldn't take bets right now on whether the Dream becomes reality, but that's true of a lot of spacecraft on the books right now. But it's just such an exciting time, with so many new spacecraft being pursued, from Orion on down.

27 September 2006

+ 0 - 1 | § Door To The Moon

high bay doorPer Florida Today:
CAPE CANAVERAL - NASA quite literally opened the door Tuesday on a new era in space exploration at Kennedy Space Center.

For the first time since the end of the Apollo program in the mid-1970s, NASA raised an 80-foot-tall door on the west side of the KSC Operations & Checkout Building.

The high bay inside -- which once housed moon-bound Apollo spacecraft -- is being converted into a factory for the Crew Exploration Vehicles that will carry U.S. astronauts back to the lunar surface before the end of the next decade.

25 September 2006

+ 1 - 0 | § Heaven On Its Shoulders

Atlas VForty-four years ago, the first American in orbit got there a top an Atlas rocket. Now, there's a possibility that the booster will reprise its historic role in the commercial arena. Bigelow Aerospace (the "space hotel" folks) is working with Lockheed Martin to study the feasability of human-rating the Atlas V. Doing so would still require the creation of an orbital crew spacecraft, but would solve the problem of how to get that vehicle into orbit -- and to the Bigelow hotel.

22 September 2006

+ 1 - 0 | § Beyond Genesis

If the planned Jan. 30 launch of Bigelow Aerospace's Genesis 2 space module on a Russian Dnepr rocket is successful, Las Vegas entrepreneur Robert Bigelow plans to send a human-rated habitat into orbit in either the second half of 2009 or the first half of 2010.

Bigelow's Genesis 1 module was launched July 12 and continues to provide data on its condition in low Earth orbit. But while it is hosting some experiments, Genesis 1 – and Genesis 2 – will not be capable of supporting low Earth orbit space tourism, Bigelow's ultimate goal.

But the module Bigelow plans to launch at the end of the decade would be capable of supporting visiting crews of up to three people.

At a luncheon speech today in San Jose, Calif., at the AIAA Space 2006 Symposium, Bigelow said his third module, dubbed Sundancer, would have a mass of 8,618.4 kilograms and be equipped with life support systems, attitude control, three windows, on-orbit maneuverability, reboost and de-orbit capability.

He plans to place it at an altitude of 250 nautical miles at an orbital inclination of 40 degrees. Bigelow said that while Sundancer will be a scale model of the large, human-rated habitat he eventually plans to launch into orbit, it will nonetheless have 180 cubic meters of habitable space.

"We're pretty damn serious," Bigelow said in his lunch address.

Initially Sundancer will require a six-to-nine month period to check out all of its onboard systems. After that, Bigleow said, Sundancer would be able to stay in orbit for several years, which may be necessary since he acknowledged that at present there are no commercially available spacecraft designed to take humans into orbit.

Sundancer will, in effect, be a destination waiting for a means to get there.

21 September 2006

+ 0 - 1 | § Picture Of The Day

12A configuration of ISS
The ISS as seen by the departing Atlantis.

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-116 Update

STS-116 patchAnd, with Atlantis down, I've reset the launch countdown clock at the top left for the Dec. 14 STS-116 launch of Atlantis. (It'll have to be tweaked a little on the time -- right now, it's only set to the minute, rather than the usual second, for the time that I have, and that's subject to change also; but the date should be right.)

I'm thinking now that I may just leave the countdown clock up there as a permanent feature until 2010, though it may be a bit much for some of the longer gaps, like the almost four months between 117 and 118 next year. What think y'all?

Addendum: Even the date may soon be wrong, per Florida Today: "Next up: A complicated mission to rewire the entire 235-ton station. Six astronauts are scheduled to launch aboard Discovery on Dec. 14, but NASA is going to attempt to get the flight going a week early so its shuttle team can be home for Christmas."

+ 2 - 0 | § Final STS-115 Update

STS-115 mission patchWheels stop.

Welcome home, Atlantis, and congratulations on a succesful mission!

20 September 2006

+ 1 - 1 | § STS-115 Update

STS-115 mission patchIn case you didn't hear while I was gone, today's scheduled landing of Atlantis has been delayed until at least tomorrow, due in part to weather at KSC, but also in part to an object Mission Control observed near Atlantis, which they are now working to determine if it came off the orbiter.

The first landing opportunity tomorrow would be at 5:22 a.m. CDT.

18 September 2006

+ 1 - 0 | § Just Like The One-Winged Dove

ISS in 12A configuration

It doesn't look like NASA has posted any flyaround photos of the new 12A configuration of ISS yet, but Spaceflight Now has a screen capture from NASA TV taken during the shuttle's departure. Those arrays are so big that it almost looks like the truss is the primary axis of the station, rather than the crew modules.

According to collectSPACE, the ISS icon on the tracking screen at Mission Control changed Saturday for the first time in about four years to reflect the change.

Keywords: collectspace,international_space_station,space_shuttle,sts_116

+ 0 - 1 | § Three Up

Expedition 13 patchSTS-115 mission patchExpedition 14 patch

At the moment, there are three separate crews on three separate spacecraft orbiting the Earth, with a total of 12 people. The Expedition 13 crew is on the International Space Station, the STS-115 crew of Atlantis is on their way home from ISS and the Expedition 14 crew is on their Soyuz on their way to ISS. That's just kinda cool.

(And, to be technical, there are actually four crewed spacecraft on orbit right now, counting the Expedition 13 Soyuz taxi docked with ISS.)

15 September 2006

+ 0 - 1 | § Madonna In Space!!!!!!

STS-115 mission patchDear Roskosmos:
Don't Tell Me I can't fly on Soyuz! As the second female space tourist, I could tell the world What It Feels Like For A Girl. I would love to appear in the night sky as a Ray of Light, a real Lucky Star. If you Justify My Love of space tourism (which seems to be all the Vogue these days), I'll Live To Tell what a great experience it was.
So, please, Open Your Heart, and let's work things out.
If not, I may have to buy my spaceflight from some other group, Like A Virgin.
Crazy For You,

+ 0 - 1 | § Walking Again

STS-115 mission patchAstronauts Joe Tanner and Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper are currently performing the STS-115 mission's third and final spacewalk.

+ 0 - 1 | § A New Set of Wings

new ISS solar array

I'm really looking forward to seeing the pictures the Atlantis crew takes as they leave the ISS this time. The picture above of one of the new solar arrays is nice, but I can't to see what the station as a whole looks like.

It was a fortuitous coincidence that the station was at the point in its assembly that it was when Columbia was lost. During the almost four years that there has been only minimal station upgrades, the ISS has been in a symmetrical configuration, which has been advantageous for long-term operation without shuttle support. Its relatively streamlined shape offered controllers options for new flight protocols that allowed them to make the most of their resources.

The 12A configuration the station will be in at the end of this mission is notably asymmetric, and it'll be interesting to see how it looks in real life.

+ 0 - 1 | § Naming Names

artist's concept of ErisThe world that has been variously called Lila, Xena and 2003 UB313 (and, in the common noun category, "planet') now has a name: Eris, after the Greek goddess of discord and strife, which seems to capture the effect its had on the world of astronomy (uh, does that phrase even mean anything?) over the past year or so.

Personally, I like it.

13 September 2006

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-115 Update

STS-115 mission patchThey're spacewalking again.

More truss installation and activation work. I saw an article about how unusual it is to have back-to-back spacewalk days like this the other day, but I lost it, and can't find the information now. Anyway, suffice it to say, it's unusual; I just don't know how unusual.

+ 1 - 0 | § Replacing Kennedy At Kennedy

Bill ParsonsHe's been sort of low-key since being reassigned from his position as shuttle program manager, but NASA yesterday announced that Bill Parsons will become the next director of Kennedy Space Center at the beginning of the year.

I post this solely because it amazes me to see an Ole Miss engineering grad in a position like that.

+ 1 - 1 | § Monopoly Space

JSC Monopoly artworkA while back, I posted a piece asking ATW readers to vote for Johnson Space Center to get a space on a new Monopoly set.

Well, your hard work and dedication paid off. JSC represents the city of Houston on the new Monopoly Here and Now board (In fact, JSC took 79 percent of the vote on Houston locations.)

Ironically, the graphic used to represent Houston "Here and Now" is outdated, showing the Saturn V outside the center the way it appeared a couple of years ago, before renovation work began and a shelter was constructed around it. (But what can you do? Johnson's just not as photogenic as some other NASA centers I could name.)

Among other locations near me -- Atlanta is represented by ATL, which I guess is probably the part of the city seen by more people than anywhere else (the square is the equivalent of one of the railroads in classic Monopoly), and Centennial Olympic Park, making it a rare location to get two squares. New Orleans is represented by the French Quarter, which I guess worked out well. Nashville's square features the Grand Ole Opry (Nashville? Really? If you're going to Tennessee, why not the larger Memphis? [At first I thought it might have been the fact that it's the capital, but New Orleans belies that.] Plus, Memphis has locations far more interesting that the Opry, like the Pyramid or Beale Street or Corky's. [Uh, actually, I guess Nashville has Corky's also, but that's not the same.])

+ 0 - 1 | § STS-116 Update

STS-116 patchHey, look, it's the first ATW STS-116 Update!

One could make the argument that I'm jumping the gun, and that this really should be another 115 update. And one would be completely correct! I'm just really digging on the whole being-back-to-working-on-one-mission-while-the-previous-one's-still-in-space thing. It's good to be back.

Anyway, per Spaceflight Now, things are looking good for progressing with 116 as scheduled:
"The team overall does feel extremely confident about launching at night," he said. "The radar that we have, we got another test of it this flight, and it worked extremely well for us. We also think we'll get some good imagery still just from the backlighting form the solid rocket boosters. So we're feeling good about the night launch.

"What you might lose for a night launch is further understanding of the external tank or the solid rocket boosters or the environment that we're flying in. Launching at night does not impact the safety of that crew, because we're going to do the full inspection just like we did on this flight. So, all you would lose launching at night is additional information about the environment that you might apply to ... future shuttle missions. It will not affect, though, the safety of the crew that actually launches at night. So we're feeling very comfortable that we could do that."

That same article also has a bit of a STS-125 Update: (more)

12 September 2006

+ 0 - 1 | § Name-Calling

PlutoThe Minor Planet Center has assigned the asteroid number designation 134340 to erstwhile planet Pluto.

Which, though it doesn't really meen much, in my opinion, nevertheless has a pretty major emotional impact for me. I'm all for stripping Pluto of its planetary status, but I have to admit I kind of winced reading that article.

+ 0 - 1 | § STS-115 Update

STS-115 mission patchPer NASA:
STS-115 Mission Specialists Joe Tanner and Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper continue work outside the International Spacewalk to prepare the newly installed P3/P4 integrated truss for operation. The spacewalk began at 5:17 a.m. EDT and is scheduled to wrap up about 11:37 a.m.

During the early stages of the spacewalk, the Mission Control Center in Houston told the STS-115 crew that no focused inspections of Atlantis’ heat shield were needed. The good news allows the crew to press ahead as planned with the mission’s second spacewalk Wednesday.

The new truss element, which includes a set of new solar arrays, was attached to the station at 3:48 a.m. EDT. Tanner and Piper began their excursion after bolts connecting the P3/P4 to the P1 truss were tightly secured. The third of four bolts was tightened at 4:35 a.m., officially making the P3/P4 a part of the station.

The new 17.5-ton, 45-foot truss will provide power, data and communication services for the station. The arrays will be unfurled to a full length of 240 feet on Thursday and will eventually double the station’s power capabilities.

11 September 2006

+ 0 - 1 | § STS-115 Update

STS-115 mission patchPer NASA:
There was no fumble in space today when Space Shuttle Atlantis’ robotic arm handed off the P3/P4 integrated truss structure to its counterpart on the International Space Station. The orbital exchange took place at 10:52 a.m. EDT today and sets the stage for installation of the truss on the station on Tuesday.

The truss arrived with the STS-115 crew when Atlantis docked to the station at 6:48 a.m. The STS-115 and station’s Expedition 13 crews quickly went to work shortly after the hatches opened at 8:30 a.m.

Lead STS-115 Flight Director Paul Dye said rendezvous and docking operations went smoothly. “The rendezvous this morning was probably as perfect as any rendezvous that I have been a part of,” Dye said.

And per Spaceflight Now:
An initial assessment of the shuttle Atlantis' heat shield gives mission managers "high confidence" the spaceplane completed its climb to space Saturday without any potentially dangerous debris impacts, officials said today.

John Shannon, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team for orbital operations, said the results of a detailed analysis of ground imagery, radar data, shuttle inspections, wing leading edge sensor data and photos shot from the space station during final approach Monday will take several more days to complete.

But so far, it would appear what little foam that did fall away from Atlantis' external tank during launch did so well after the shuttle had climbed out of the dense lower atmosphere where debris can attain the energy needed to damage the ship's heat shield.
"All the foam we saw lost was after what we call the aerodynamically sensitive transport time that ends at 135 seconds. The first piece of foam we saw come off was after four minutes. So we're in good shape there."

09 September 2006

+ 0 - 1 | § STS-115 Update

STS-115 mission patchFinally!

Godspeed, Atlantis!

08 September 2006

+ 0 - 1 | § Project Highwater

SA-2 launchJust came across a bit of NASA history I hadn't read before -- the second and third launches of the Saturn I rocket were used for something called "Project Highwater."

The Saturn testing was done, literally, in stages -- the first launches involved only the first stage being fired. For the first launch, the rest of the rocket consisted of a dummy structure, filled with water to provide ballast to provide accurate aerodynamics for testing the lower stage. (Something similar is being planned for development testing of the Ares I rocket.)

For the second and third launches of the Saturn I, Marshall decided to put that ballast to use to research cloud formation. The S-IV and S-V stages were filled with 95 tons of water, again serving as ballast for the lower stage. However, at an altitude of 150 kilometers, explosive charges ruptured the two stages, releasing the 30,000 gallons of water into the upper atmosphere.

Within five seconds of the detonation, ground observers witnessed the formation of a huge ice cloud estimated to be several kilometers in diameter.

And there's your NASA history lesson for the day.

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-115 Update

STS-115 mission patchSCRUB until tomorrow, 10:15 a.m. CDT.

+ 0 - 1 | § STS-115 Update

STS-115 mission patchGracious, OK, let's see...

At this writing, it's within three hours of the scheduled launch time. The crew is on board the spacecraft.

BUT -- there's been another Engine Cutoff (ECO) sensor failure... remember those? MMT is trying to decide whether to go as-is or not.

BUT -- if they decide to stand down, apparently tomorrow is now an option, at 10:15 a.m. CDT.

For the latest updates, a good place to check is Spaceflight Now's Mission Status Center.

And, of course, there's now a live feed on NASA TV, which can be watched online through the NASA homepage.

07 September 2006

+ 0 - 1 | § Our Nine Planets, Goshdarnit!

artwork showing planetsDespite an official agency statement that "NASA will, of course, use the new guidelines established by the International Astronomical Union," the Principal Investigator for the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt announced yesterday that "The New Horizons project, like a growing number of the public, and many hundreds if not thousands of professional research astronomers and planetary scientists, will not recognize the IAU's planet definition resolution of Aug. 24, 2006."

So, at NASA, there are officially eight planets, unless you're working on the mission to the ninth planet. (This is one of those interesting areas -- New Horizons is a NASA mission, managed by the Advanced Phyics Laboratory at John Hopkins University, for whom, I believe, Alan Stern works.)

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-115 Update

STS-115 mission patchSo, um, tomorrow? Maybe?

The MMT will meet at noon CDT today to decide what to do.

If Friday, launch time would be 10:40:37 CDT. If not, the next possible daylight slot would be late October.

06 September 2006

+ 1 - 0 | § Our, Uh, Planets

artwork showing planetsOK, I'm sure this has been all over the place, but it's one of those details I'm just now noticing; something I realized while reading this article about the Tombaugh family joining the pro-Pluto protests (say that five times fast) -- The eight planet solar system means that now, once again, no planets have been discovered by Americans. Also interesting is that on the other extreme, the first "12-planet" proposal could have resulted in the next few years by a solar system consisting of a majority of American-discovered planets (and immediately America would have discovered more planets not known to antiquity than any other nation).

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-115 Update

STS-115 mission patchScrub.

The launch has been delayed until at least tomorrow because of a problem with a fuel cell. The Mission Management Team will meet at noon CDT to decide what to do, and an announcement will be made following the meeting. If the MMT decides to shoot for tomorrow, there will two launch opportunities, on Thursday and Friday, before the window ends.

05 September 2006

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-115 Update

STS-115 mission patchSince I've been gone for a while, I'll start with a reminder that STS-115 is scheduled for launch tomorrow at 11:29 CDT (12:29 EDT), with weather reports currently showing 80 70 percent Go.

NASA has announced that if necessary launch attempts would be made all three days of the remaining window. Weather is looking like 70 percent Go Thursday and Friday. (If the launch can't be made my Friday, the next opportunity would be in late October.)

01 September 2006

+ 0 - 1 | § Our Indeterminate Planets

artwork showing planetsMore than 300 astronomers have signed a petition saying they're still going to call Pluto a planet.

So there. Nyaaaah.

+ 1 - 0 | § That SMARTs

SMART-1 artworkPer
A European lunar orbiter is on track to hit the Moon over the weekend.

The controlled crash of the probe will occur September 2-3, coming to a "rest in pieces" site within the Moon's southern hemisphere called the Lake of Excellence.

The high-tech spacecraft—Small Missions for Advanced Research and Technology—belongs to the European Space Agency (ESA), and is better known as SMART-1.

For spacecraft operators to precisely pinpoint ahead of time the exact crash locale of SMART-1 would be a bit of dumb luck. Meanwhile, the call is out for professional and amateur skywatchers to monitor the result of the probe's purposeful suicide ending. It is not clear, however, what might be visible from Earth.

At present, the favored prediction is that SMART-1 spacecraft will impact the Moon's surface Sunday morning at 1:41 a.m. ET. However, it might hit roughly 5 hours earlier on its planned next-to-last orbit.

+ 0 - 1 | § Orion Update

Orion CSMJordan asked me yesterday what I thought about the fact that Lockheed Martin will build Orion.

The truth is, I really don't have any strong feelings about it. There were two strong proposals, and one of them was going to be accepted. I have no reason to believe NASA didn't pick the best, nor any reason to believe that the NG/B team submitted a bad proposal. This was simply deemed the better of the two, and chosen.

Mostly, I'm just excited that the contract has been awarded, and that the project is moving forward. I can't wait to start seeing hardware.

(This being a dignified blog, I'm not going to share my photographic evidence that the Orion model shown at the announcement yesterday would make a really cool hat.)