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+ 2 - 1 | § Uncle Sam spoils dream trip to space

Poor guy.

+ 2 - 2 | § Blue Origin Unveiled

That's one funky rocket.


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30 January 2007

+ 2 - 1 | § Hubble Update

The Hubble Space Telescope’s primary camera is offline, with some science capabilities likely lost for good, NASA officials said Monday.

An electrical short in the backup system for Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) pushed the space telescope into a protective “safe mode” over the weekend and prompted the formation of an Anomaly Investigation Board on Monday, NASA officials said.

29 January 2007

+ 1 - 2 | § Lunar Sooner

Orion CSMPer
NASA is studying a variant of its planned Ares 5 heavy-lift rocket that would enable an Apollo 8-like trip around the Moon in the 2015 time frame, a top U.S. space agency official told reporters Jan. 25.

Scott Horowitz, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration systems, said he asked engineers at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., to study a rocket design that would combine the Ares 5 main stage with the Ares 1 upper stage to permit an around-the-Moon-and-back shakeout flight of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle [image] several years ahead of the first lunar landings.

The article never uses the name Ares IV, but it sounds like that concept is what they're talking about here. OK, the idea of a circumlunar flight in less than a decade is cool. I have to admit, I do like that.

That said, that's pretty soon, especially when they're talking about not having Ares I, which is pretty far along its development cycle already, ready for manned flight before 2014. Is it really to get a rocket which is now basically a napkin sketch flying and human-rated the following year? And what would all of that mean for the development of Ares V?

To be sure, I'm not saying no, just curious. Interesting times.

26 January 2007

+ 0 - 4 | § It's Personal

Rather than wait until Sunday:


I met astronaut Clay Anderson only very briefly. On a trip to Johnson Space Center to meet with education officials, his wife, Susan Anderson, who works in JSC education, gave me a tour of some of the center facilities. As we were leaving the cafeteria after lunch, she spotted Clay and introduced me to her husband. As we walked off, I asked, “So what does he do?”

I’ve met Barbara Morgan a couple of times. The first, I believe, was at an education conference in Houston, where I spoke to her for a second -- not too long, of course, because at an education conference in Houston, Morgan, the first Educator Astronaut is pretty close to rock-star status. Despite the fact that our conversation was cursory and one of hundreds she had that night alone, when I next saw her, in Huntsville, she recognized immediately that we had met.

Pam Melroy came to Marshall for Safety Day one year. At the time, STS-121 had just been assigned, meaning that the crews had already been chosen for the next eight shuttle flights, putting her pretty far down the queue for her next flight. She was already a two-time pilot at that point, and I told her that I looked forward to seeing her again when she came to Marshall after she commanded her next flight. I’m thrilled for her that’s happening much sooner than either of us imagined.

Scott Parazynski was my new co-worker’s first astronaut. Last month, we traveled out to Johnson to conduct some interviews for a series of feature stories we’re going to be publishing this year. Parazynski was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to talk to us. Despite his great stories of his past and future missions, my co-worker was at least as fascinated by his experiences as an Olympic bobsled coach and almost-Olympian.

Alan Poindexter was another brief encounter; he had a signing table at another Marshall Safety Day event -- he autographed a NASA safety poster featuring Snoopy in a space suit for my niece. We talked about his upcoming flight. Unlike Melroy, we thought then he would be flying much sooner than it has worked out, but the delays in 114 and 121 pushed thing back. Poindexter has never flown before, and I’m glad things seem to be on track for his mission now.

I interviewed Rex Walheim several years ago, pretty early on in my NASA career. To be honest, I don’t remember much of our phone conversation now, except that, considering we were a pretty low-profile site, and I knew then about spaceflight only a fraction of what I do now, he was very gracious.

While interviewing someone at Johnson Space Center last month, I noticed his “I Think Safe Because…” badge. The safety organizations at the NASA centers let employees make these by laminating a picture onto the badge -- a spouse, a child, perhaps a pet. Someone who is important to you, someone who wants you to come home that day, someone you want to be there for. A reason to be careful, to take safety seriously.

This person, though, didn’t have his wife or child on his badge. His Think Safe badge featured the crew of STS-107. He was involved in crew training, and, like many of the people we talked to during those interviews, had worked with the astronauts on Columbia’s last mission. His team had made up the badges as a reminder of why they must be ever vigilant. Why that must never happen again as a result of someone being lax, of not doing enough.

I didn’t know any of the crewmembers of STS-107. I had never met any of them. They were just names and faces in the news. The tragedy affected me, to be sure, but just as it did people around the country. I mourned the loss of the crew -- and, to be honest, Columbia herself -- but it wasn’t personal.

I wouldn’t say I really know any of the people I’ve listed above, but I have met them. And since Feb. 1, 2003, I have gotten to really know people who have pursued the same profession, accepted the risk involved in leaving the Earth for a while. I count a couple as friends.

Those six people I started out talking about are members of crews of shuttle missions scheduled to fly during 2007.

They are the individuals, the real people, who will be carrying out those missions this year. Who will be accepting those risks. Who will venture into space, remembering well their friends who, so recently, did so and did not come back.

Barbara Morgan understands this well. She was Christa McAullife’s back-up. If history unfolded differently by a few germs, she would have been aboard Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986. In 2003, she was scheduled to fly on the next launch of Columbia. She understands the risks. And accepts them.

Flying with her is Charles Hobaugh. He was the Capcom for entry on Feb. 1, 2003. The voice repeating “Columbia, Houston, comm check” that morning? That was Hobaugh. Like Morgan, he understands.

I’ve tried to record my feelings many times over the years since Jan. 28, 1986. I’ve reflected on memories about that tragedy, and, more recently, another. I’ve tried to pay respect to the crews of those missions and the astronauts conducting a pad test on Jan. 27, 1967, forty years ago. I’ve looked ahead to the future -- the best way to honor the fallen is to further the cause for which they gave their lives.

This year, though, looking at the flight rosters, seeing those names, I wanted to do something different. I’m sure reading about the people I’ve mentioned makes them no more real to you than the news stories I read about the 107 crew did for me.

But the idea of the national endeavor of exploration aside, there is a human story here. Real people, flesh and blood, with families, loved ones, friends, accepting a risk they understand all too well, driven home by memories all too fresh.

The idea of the national endeavor of exploration aside, it is personal.

+ 4 - 0 | § Shatner in Huntsville Update

space camp anniversarySpace Camp ran a full-page ad in The Huntsville Times yesterday that featured a little more information about the special guests and schedule for their anniversary year.

On May 17, DS9's Chase Masterson (whom the ad mentions first as being known worldwide for her starring role in Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, which is kind of a sad commentary on the state of Trek [technically, the ad mentions her "staring" role, which makes one think that perhaps Spielberg was involved {go to around the 8 minute mark in the clip}])...

OK, that aside got too long, let's try again: On May 17, Chase Masterson and "award-winning director" James Kerwin will host a panel discussion of Wernher von Braun's lost-and-recently-found-and-published novel, Project Mars.

On June 13, Shatner will emcee the first-ever Space Camp Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Other special guests during the year will include astronauts Story Musgrave and Bob Springer.

25 January 2007

+ 3 - 0 | § STS-117 Update

STS-117 patchAnd STS-117 has moved a day to the left, with the flight now scheduled for the morning of March 15.

The SRB and ET stack is assembled in the VAB, waiting for Atlantis to roll over on February 7 (I think, and am too lazy to look it up.)

22 January 2007

+ 1 - 3 | § Falcon I Update

SpaceXAnd the much-delayed Falcon I maiden (successful) launch has been delayed again.

I understand that you want to make sure and get it right -- particularly so that there's not a repeat of the first launch -- but they've got a ways to go before being able to offer customers timely access to space.

The revolution waits.

19 January 2007

+ 1 - 2 | § Why Explore Space

OrionNASA Administrator Michael Griffin has a new article on the NASA homepage titled "Why Explore Space?"

In case anyone's interested.

17 January 2007

+ 1 - 2 | § Falcon I

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) announced Jan. 16 that it plans to attempt its second launch of the Falcon 1 rocket within the week.

The Falcon 1’s first flight, conducted last March, ended in failure. The rocket achieved only 30 seconds of powered flight before an engine fire traced back to a corroded nut brought the mission to an abrupt and premature conclusion.

In an update posted on the El Segundo, Calif.-based company’s Web site, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the Falcon 1 is on the pad at the company’s private launch complex in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean and is being readied for a static fire test currently planned for Jan. 18. If all goes smoothly, according to Musk, SpaceX will attempt to launch during a two-day window that opens Jan. 21. He also said that SpaceX is working with range officials “to secure a couple of additional days as contingency.”

As I've blogged before, the Falcon could be an important step toward the future of commercial spaceflight. But first it has to get off the ground. (Well, I said that before its last launch attempt, too, and, technically, it did get off the ground, but that's not exactly what I was thinking of.)

16 January 2007

+ 1 - 2 | § Ares IV Update

Ares IVSo apparently the Ares IV is real. Flight International has an article where they quote exploration launch systems director Steve Cook.
Rebutting persistent rumours that the Ares I has insufficient thrust to launch Orion, Cook says the more-powerful Ares IV will be studied over the next year, but only so that the booster could give NASA "some earlier mission capability".

12 January 2007

+ 3 - 0 | § Mike Mnemonic

PlutoFrom Cosmic Log:
Back when there were nine planets, you could keep them straight with a cute little memory aid: "My very eager mother just served us nine pizzas." But now, at least according to the International Astronomical Union, there are only eight (planets, that is ... not pizzas): Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Pluto was drummed out of the planet platoon in part because something was finally discovered out on the solar system's edge that was bigger than Pluto: an icy world at first nicknamed Xena, and now dubbed Eris. Does Eris' co-discoverer, Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology, feel bad about Pluto's comedown? If so, he still has a sense of humor about it all, based on his favorite memory aid for the solar system's current lineup: "Mean, very evil men just shortened up nature."

+ 1 - 2 | § Chief Designer

KorolyovHappy Korolyov Centennial!

10 January 2007

+ 0 - 3 | § Night Of The Comet

cometPer Space Weather:
Comet McNaught has continued to brighten as it approaches the sun and it is now the brightest comet in 30 years. For observers in the northern Hemisphere, tonight is probably the best time to see it: Go outside this evening and face the sunset. A clear view of the western horizon is essential, because the comet hangs very low. As the twilight fades to black, it should become visible to the naked eye. Observers say it's a fantastic sight through binoculars.

In the days ahead, Comet McNaught will pass the sun and emerge in good position for southern hemisphere viewing later this month. Meanwhile, solar heating will continue to puff up the comet, causing it to brighten even more. It could become one of the brightest comets in centuries, visible even in daylit skies.

08 January 2007

+ 2 - 1 | § Ares Milestone

AresPer NASA:
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- NASA has completed the Ares I crew launch vehicle system requirements review -- the first such milestone for a U.S. human-rated launch vehicle system in more than 30 years. This review brings the agency one step closer to developing a new mode of space transportation for astronauts on missions to explore the moon, Mars and other destinations.

"This is a critical step for development of the Ares I crew launch vehicle," said Constellation program manager Jeff Hanley. "A great deal of engineering analysis and planning has culminated in a thorough review that gives us confidence to go forward with Ares I design work."

The system requirements review confirmed that the Ares I system requirements were complete, validated and responsive to mission requirements.

It also confirmed that the Ares I architecture and design concept can fulfill the mission objectives and that the Ares project is ready to begin engineering design activities. The Ares preliminary design review is scheduled for mid-2008.

+ 2 - 2 | § Earth Versus The Martians

MarsMy immediate reaction, when I saw at the headline Mars Mission Missed Microbes, Report Claims, was "Eh."

Without clicking the link, I already knew it was going to be about Viking. And, the thing is, saying Viking "missed" signs of life is just unfair. There were those at the time who said the test results indicated life, but it was ultimately decided that, since they were not conclusive, to take the stand that they weren't.

But, then I opened the story, and read the lead: "Two NASA space probes that visited Mars 30 years ago may have stumbled upon alien microbes on the Red Planet and inadvertently killed them, a scientist theorizes in a paper released Sunday."

Oh, man, how cool is that!? Our first encounter with alien life, and we kill them. We came, we saw, we kicked their butts! Boo-yah!

That's right, universe -- it's Earth 1, aliens nothing.

04 January 2007

+ 0 - 3 | § Ares IV?

Ares IVRemember back in the days before Episode III came out? How there were all sorts of rumors being posted on the internet that turned out to be utterly bogus? People wanting to share their supposed inside information about casting or plot or what have you? For that matter, it still happens some with the television series. A fragment of fact here, a bit of conjecture there, and, boom, instant internet revelation.

Well, NASA's exploration launch systems office has clearly hit the big time, because the Ares rockets are apparently the Star Wars of modern spaceflight. They're the target of constant rumors and "insider" expose, largely from detractors who are convinced the Ares I, in particular, won't fly, and want to have "I told you so" rights (safe in the conviction that when it does fly no one will remember an internet post they made several years earlier).

And that's why ATW is generally loathe to post Ares rumors -- I'd be wasting my time and yours.

I'm making an exception for this post, simply because it doesn't have anything to do with a real Ares rocket, but I'm including all of that lead-in to say, take it with a grain of salt.

All that said, Flight International is reporting that NASA is considering an Ares IV.

03 January 2007

+ 3 - 1 | § Lunar Brits

mike foale in spacePer The London Times:
Manned space missions will be an adventure and are no longer seen as a waste of money, Malcolm Wicks, the Science Minister, reveals
The Government’s long-standing refusal to fund manned spaceflight could be reconsidered to allow British astronauts to join expeditions to the Moon and Mars, the new Science Minister has indicated.

Britain will be an active participant in American and European projects to explore the solar system and should not automatically opt out of missions with human crews, Malcolm Wicks told The Times.

Efforts to send people to the Moon and Mars will be “this millennium’s great adventure”, and Britain must be open-minded about getting involved, Mr Wicks said.

+ 2 - 2 | § Three Years On Mars

Mars  panoramaHappy anniversary to Spirit, which landed on Mars three years ago today.