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29 December 2006

+ 3 - 3 | § Teaching Rover

Spirit on MarsPer JPL:
NASA's twin Mars rovers, nearing the third anniversary of their landings, are getting smarter as they get older.

The unexpected longevity of Spirit and Opportunity is giving the space agency a chance to field-test on Mars some new capabilities useful both to these missions and future rovers. Spirit will begin its fourth year on Mars on Jan. 3 (PST); Opportunity on Jan. 24. In addition to their continuing scientific observations, they are now testing four new skills included in revised flight software uploaded to their onboard computers.

One of the new capabilities enables spacecraft to examine images and recognize certain types of features.
Another new feature, called "visual target tracking," enables a rover to keep recognizing a designated landscape feature as the rover moves.
Visual target tracking can be combined with a third new feature -- autonomy in calculating where it is safe to reach out with the contact tools on the rover's robotic arm. The combination gives Spirit and Opportunity a capability called "go and touch," which is yet to be tested on Mars.
The new software also improves the autonomy of each rover for navigating away from hazards by building better maps of their surroundings than they have done previously.

27 December 2006

+ 2 - 4 | § RIP Gerald Ford

von Braun, Ford, Mahon and James Webb
Two US Congressmen, accompanied by NASA Administrator James E. Webb, visited the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) April 28, 1964, for a briefing on the Saturn program and a tour of the facilities. They are (left to right) Congressman Gerald Ford Jr., Republican representative of Michigan; Dr. Wernher von Braun, MSFC director; Congressman George H. Mahon, Democratic representative of Texas; and Mr. Webb.

Rest in Peace, President Ford.

And, from collectSPACE, here's more on Ford's place in spaceflight history.

Keywords: collectspace,history,politics,space

+ 2 - 3 | § Path Of NEO Update

Orion with asteroidsSo this update on the preparation of a proposal to send Orion to an asteroid may or may not have enough new information to really be blog-worthy, but it's a story that fascinates me personally, so here it is. (Plus, it's not like I've been inundating the audience with posts lately anyway.)

Interesting new bits include the fact that NASA is considering the possibility of using a commercial EELV, rather than an Ares booster, for the mission. This is presumably because Ares I would not be powerful enough, and that would open the option of flying the mission before Ares V goes online, but serious pursuit of human-rating a Delta or Atlas would potentially raise some questions in some camps about Ares.

As to what the rendezvous would look like, the article says:
[Astronaut Ed] Lu said that an Orion spaceship would hover in close proximity to the NEO. “We’re talking about an object that’s more than likely just 330 feet (100 meters) across, or less. We’re talking a big rock or probably a big rubble pile, and likely rotating.”

From their spot in space, a crew could deploy a remotely-piloted vehicle. Looking out spacecraft windows, an astronaut might fly a robotic probe via a joy stick, Lu envisioned, dropping off packages on the NEO or scooping up select samples for return to Earth.

+ 3 - 1 | § Shatner In Huntsville

space camp anniversaryPer The Huntsville Times:
Shatner, Rice, Leno on guest list for pivotal events during year

U.S. Space Camp is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2007, and Capt. Kirk is coming to the party.

William Shatner has agreed to emcee the Space Camp Hall of Fame induction banquet in June, said U.S. Space & Rocket Center CEO Larry Capps.
Ticket prices, location and other details about the banquet will be announced.

Shatner is not the only recognizable name on the Space Center's invitation list for various 2007 events. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, comedian Jay Leno, astronauts Story Musgrave and Bob Springer and Army pilot Michael Durant of Madison, whose story was featured in the movie "Black Hawk Down," could all make appearances during the year, Capps said.

22 December 2006

+ 4 - 2 | § STS-116 Update

STS-116 patchPer NASA:
Landing day has arrived for the Space Shuttle Discovery and its seven astronauts. Seven opportunities are available today, with the first at 3:56 p.m. EST at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

All three shuttle landing sites will be activated today due to unfavorable weather forecasts at Kennedy and Edwards Air Force Base in California. Weather is forecast to be favorable at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico.

The last opportunity at Kennedy is at 5:32 p.m. Three exist at Edwards – 5:27 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8:36 p.m. Two are available at White Sands – 5:27 p.m. and 7:02 p.m. Landing opportunities also are available Saturday at all three sites.

21 December 2006

+ 0 - 4 | § STS-116 Update

STS-116 patchPer The Las Cruces Sun-Times:
Chances of a Friday or Saturday shuttle landing at White Sands Space Harbor are greater than they have been since the shuttle landed at White Sands almost 25 years ago.

Poor weather conditions at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and at Edwards Air Force Base in California, could force NASA officials to land Discovery in New Mexico. Personnel at White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo began preparations for a possible shuttle landing Friday afternoon.

Jim Eckles, a WSMR spokesman who assisted the media when Columbia landed at White Sands in March 1982, said NASA's involvement in a possible landing is greater than it has been since then.

20 December 2006

+ 1 - 3 | § Hair Today

Suni WilliamsPer collectSPACE:
They appear as two line items in a final transfer list between the space shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station: items 811 and 811.1.

Uplinked to the shuttle crew as a final preparation for the undocking of Discovery from the station on Tuesday, the list identifies 811 as Suni Williams, FE-2, and 811.1 as a ponytail.
Williams, who arrived at the outpost last week with long flowing — and floating — hair, arranged to have her locks cut last Sunday and the clippings stowed on Discovery for a future hairpiece to be donated to a patient suffering from long-term medical hair loss, has learned.

Keywords: collectspace,international_space_station,nasa,space

19 December 2006

+ 0 - 4 | § STS-116 Update

STS-116 patchSo the finished retracting the 4B array wing yesterday, performing an unscheduled and somewhat improvised task on an unscheduled EVA. An example of our astronaut corps at its best.

18 December 2006

+ 2 - 2 | § STS-116 Update

STS-116 patchAnother EVA has been added to the schedule, and will begin at 1 p.m. today CST. Bob Curbeam will become the first person to make four EVAs in one spaceflight. The EVA will continue efforts to retract the P6 port arrays.

11 December 2006

+ 1 - 4 | § Picture Of The Day

Reiter on ISS

Thomas Reiter on ISS. Why is this the picture of the day? 'Cause of this. (Scroll to the bottom)

(And I disagree with this site's note. I think it's actually a 4G.)

+ 3 - 2 | § STS-116 Update

STS-116 patchPer Spaceflight Now:
Preliminary analysis of ascent video and radar indicate the shuttle Discovery's external tank performed well and that no major debris events occurred that might have damaged the orbiter's fragile heat shield. While it will take several more days to complete the assessment, incorporating crew inspections today and more planned for Monday, NASA managers said they were pleased with Discovery's performance so far.

And, if you're like most people, you're no doubt thinking, "Well, this whole shuttle mission thing is interesting, but it would be more interesting if I had accompanying content created by David and his friends." Well, you're in luck! Actually, I can't in good conscience recommend my stuff to the ATW audience, but the Picture Switcher is kinda fun. They'll also be adding profiles I wrote of the crew one a day during the mission, but they're all education-focused.

08 December 2006

+ 2 - 3 | § STS-116 Update

STS-116 patchSo, yeah, scrubbed.

Currently NET 7:47 p.m. CST Saturday.

Last I heard, Saturday was 70 percent No Go on weather. Sunday and Monday are 60 percent No Go, and Tuesday picks up at 60 percent Go. (The story I read indicates that there may be attempts on Saturday and Sunday, but then skip Monday.)

Updates can be found here.

Also, an interesting note from Flight International:
The launch of Discovery/STS-116 will potentially be the last from pad 39B as it is to be used for the development of NASA’s proposed Ares I crew launch vehicle. However because of NASA’s ongoing policy of launching a rescue shuttle if an Orbiter discovered it was damaged after its ascent 39B is the candidate pad for such a mission.
(This is particularly relevant for the Hubble servicing mission, when the lack of safe harbor on ISS would require a quick rescue launch if one became necessary, making it less likely one pad could be used for a primary and rescue launch.)

07 December 2006

+ 4 - 2 | § STS-116 Update

STS-116 patchDiscovery is theoretically Go for launch tonight at 8:36 p.m. CST, but I wouldn't cancel any important plans in order to be free then.

Weather was already 60 percent No Go even before they said there was a chance of rain. Updates can be found at Spaceflight Now's Mission Status Center.

If Discovery doesn't go tonight, the weather for Friday's window, which opens at 8:08 p.m. CST, is 70 percent No Go last I heard, and Saturday (7:42 p.m.) is about like today.

06 December 2006

+ 4 - 1 | § Liquid Assets Update

Mars Global SurveyorJust a reminder that the big Mars announcement is today at noon CST. supports the rumor posted here yesterday: "The buzz here in Houston at a Space Exploration conference is that years of photo snaps by the recently-lost Mars Global Surveyor has picked up a gullywasher of a finding."

The link on the site is "Impending Mars Announcement to Re-write Textbooks ... Again"

Are they still making those? Are these the textbooks that show nine planets? This is why we need some sort of electronic smartbooks.

Also in the bit was one other interesting item:
Meanwhile, take note that a small study group led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is looking at the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and its booster to mount a robotic Mars return sample mission. The modest study will run into the first quarter of next year.

Such an automated mission could shake out spaceship hardware and landing techniques useful for a future human trek to the red planet.

+ 0 - 5 | § STS-116 Update

STS-116 patchPer Spaceflight Now:
After a lengthy launch-minus-two-day review, NASA managers tonight tentatively cleared the shuttle Discovery for liftoff Thursday night, weather permitting, pending resolution of two last-minute technical issues. The issues do not appear to be show stoppers, but engineers are collecting additional data to make sure.

"We're on track and on target for Thursday," said LeRoy Cain, chairman of NASA's launch-site Mission Management Team. "All in all, we're in great shape."

Discovery's liftoff on NASA's third shuttle mission of 2006 - the agency's first night launch since 2002 - is targeted for 9:35:49 p.m. The forecast calls for a 60 percent chance of favorable weather.
But Discovery will not be formally cleared for launch until engineers resolve two last-minute issues that were left open at the end of the L-minus two-day review:

* A brief, half-second electrical transient was noted early today when engineers were configuring the shuttle's electrical power systems for launch. Cain said he asked engineers to work through the night to collect data showing whether the brief surge could have caused problems for any of the electrical systems in the orbiter, the external tank or the ship's twin solid-fuel boosters. Cain said a preliminary assessment indicates the shuttle's systems were not affected by the transient, but additional data is needed to make sure.

* A recent engineering test uncovered a potential issue with an adhesive used to bond insulation in the joints between solid-fuel booster segments. The adhesive is associated with so-called J-seals, a post Challenger safety improvement, but Cain said the test results were new and not yet fully understood. Engineers are studying the test data to determine if there are any concerns about the joints in Discovery's boosters.

05 December 2006

+ 2 - 3 | § Liquid Assets

Mars Global SurveyorI was going to wait until tomorrow, closer to the event, to note that NASA has a briefing scheduled for noon CST tomorrow to announce a "significant find on Mars" made by the Mars Global Surveyor before it decided to retire last month. But why wait for facts when there are juicy rumors?

Aviation Week and Space Technology reports that the agency "is ready to announce major new findings about the presence of water currently emerging onto the surface of Mars." (The report goes on to discuss what that would mean in regards to the l-word.)

Cool, no?

+ 3 - 2 | § STS-116 Update

STS-116 patchThe ISS has been successfully reboosted, re-opening FD3 docking opportunities for Discovery given any of the scheduled launch windows.

At this writing, the official countdown clock is running, at just under 32 hours (obviously, several holds are built into that).

Launch remains scheduled for 8:36 p.m. CST Thursday.

+ 0 - 3 | § Life On The Moon

lunar lander artworkBack in 1998 and 1999, I lived in Houston, Miss. for about six months, and Eupora, Miss. for another half year. In retrospect, I wasn't in either place for a terribly long period. But, at the time, they were home. When you go about your day-to-day life in a place for that long, even if its ultimately rather temporary, it becomes your life.

So when crews begin spending six months living on the moon, I wonder how they will feel about it. To what extent will it become, for those months, home? And what does that make the big blue and white globe hanging perpetually overhead?

There have been plenty of people to make their home for months, or even more than a year, away from our planet, on the space station. But there's still a very real connection to the Earth there. But to be the first people to make their home on another world? Wow.

NASA has announced its plans for the initial surface exploration of the moon following humanity's return there. Rather than an Apollo-esque series of sorties to a variety of locations, the missions will all focus on exploring one location and developing an infrastructure there that will, in four years or so, build to a permanent human settlement. Our first colony on another celestial shore.

My only complaint? I think this nation should dedicate itself fully, and without hedging, to return to the moon no later than July 20, 2019.

04 December 2006

+ 1 - 2 | § On The Moon

Orion CSMThe first question was "How do we get there?"

NASA spent last year on the Exploration Systems Architecture Study, which evaluated different ideas for spacecraft for getting to the moon. The result of the ESAS were the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles and the Orion capsule.

That done, a second study was launched, this one to answer the question "What do we do once we get there?"

Now NASA is ready to announce the answer to that question as well. At 1 p.m. CST today, NASA will announce its plans for the surface exploration of the moon. The briefing can be watched on television or online via NASA TV.

From what I've heard, it could be interesting stuff.

+ 2 - 3 | § STS-116 Update

STS-116 patchThe crew has arrived at KSC, and the official countdown begins tonight at 10 p.m. CST at the T -43 hour mark.

On a related note, another attempt to reboost the station will be made today, which would open up more launch opportunities (or, I guess more accurately, keep open the originally planned launch opportunities).

Launch is currently scheduled for NET 8:36 p.m. CST on Thursday.

01 December 2006

+ 1 - 1 | § Galactic Prospects

HawkingPer Cosmic Log:
British billionaire Richard Branson says he's sending over a medical officer to talk with physicist Stephen Hawking about getting him into space. That's how the founder of Virgin Galactic responded to Hawking's comment that "maybe Richard Branson will help" him achieve his long-held goal of reaching the final frontier, even though he's a quadriplegic who needs a blink-controlled computer to communicate.

Branson and other Virgin executives indicated today that if there's any way on earth to accommodate the good doctor-with-a-disability, they'll do it. And for practice, Hawking could conceivably experience weightlessness aboard a Zero Gravity Corp. plane as early as next year.

It would be one giant leap for the world's best-known physicist - and a powerful signal of support for other people with disabilities.

+ 2 - 2 | § Food For Thought

ISSIt's amazing what you can learn in the newspaper. Just check out, for example, this fascinating fact from USA Today: But NASA officials have slowly come to realize that food is central to the well-being of the astronauts living on the space station.

On the other hand, they don't like to talk about the time during training that they forgot to poke air holes in the shuttle simulator.

+ 1 - 2 | § Messages To The Moon

seleneHere's another of those free send-your-name-to-space things: This time, you can send your name, and a message, to the moon on Japan's Selene spacecraft, "the most scientifically full-fledged lunar spacecraft ... to the Moon since US Apollo Program," per The Planetary Society of Japan. In an unusual twist, unlike most recent missions, the names won't be stored digitally, but engraved on the lunar orbiter in letters micrometers tall. (The forty letter limit on the message, though, rules out "If you can read this, you're following too close."