Cool links

+ 0 - 1 | § Obese would be perfect astronauts, if only we had bigger rockets

(Link) | Now I'm even more in favor of Ares V!

+ 0 - 1 | § Space World

(Link) | Apparently, this is really cool, but I'm too busy or lazy or something to play with it. If anyone does, I would appreciate a report.

+ 0 - 0 | § House approves NASA anniversary coins

(Link) | Space Politics noted about this story that apparently the U.S. government still considers Pluto a planet.

+ 0 - 0 | § Huntsville Men Working On Building Jet Pack

(Link) | That's right -- folks here in Huntsville build rocket jetpacks and make plans to nuke asteroids. What's your city got to compare with that?

That's what I thought.

+ 1 - 0 | § Bruce Willis Rocks KSC

(Link) | I was gonna pull out a quote to go here, but it was too tough to pick one. Among the candidates: "He can play that harmonica" and "You've only got one daddy."


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30 August 2007

+ 0 - 0 | § Assembly Continues At ISS.

ISSSpace station assembly gets the most attention during space shuttle missions, and rightly so. The big modules are carried up on the shuttle, and are installed with the orbiter still there. Most of the really big tasks that don't involved new modules also take place during docked periods.

Today, however, is a pretty major exception to that. The station crew is relocating a pressurized element with no help from the shuttle. By moving the PMA-3 docking port from the port side of the Unity node to its nadir, the crew makes room for the Harmony node which will be delivered on STS-120, currently scheduled for NET. Oct. 23.

Keywords: international_space_station,nasa,space

28 August 2007

+ 0 - 0 | § An Elegant Weapon For A More Civilized Spaceflight

Luke Skywalker with lightsaberPer collectSPACE:
When the space shuttle Discovery launches the STS-120 crew in October, the force will be with them.

Stowed on-board the orbiter, in addition to a new module for the international space station, will be the original prop lightsaber used by actor Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in the 1977 film "Star Wars". The laser-like Jedi weapon is being flown to the orbiting outpost and back in honor of the 30th anniversary of director George Lucas' franchise.
Chewbacca ... will officially hand the lightsaber over to officials from Space Center Houston during a ceremony at the airport. Joining "Chewie" will be other characters from the six-part sci-fi classic, including Boba and Jango Fett and together they help push back the airplane on the tarmac.
Once on the ground in Houston, the flight will be greeted by a troop of Stormtroopers and other Star Wars notables including the droid R2-D2, who will deliver the lightsaber to a waiting line of Hummers outside the baggage claim of the William P. Hobby Airport.
Space Center Houston, as the official visitor center for NASA's Johnson Space Center, plans to publicly display the lightsaber through Labor Day, after which it will be prepared for its launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Keywords: collectspace,nasa,space,star_wars,sts_120

+ 0 - 0 | § Ares I Update

Ares IA bit of cool Constellation program news, courtesy of The Huntsville Times:
NASA is expected to award a major contract to one team of aerospace companies to build the upper stage for its Ares 1 rocket today. The contract could bring up to 400 jobs between contractor and federal positions to Huntsville over the next decade.

The award will be made at 3 p.m. at NASA headquarters in Washington.
The stage, which will use liquid rocket fuel, will boost the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle to the International Space Station. The Ares I is slated to be used in conjunction with the Ares V cargo rocket for trips to the moon.
The next major Ares contract is the instrument unit, which is the flight computer. That contract is expected to be awarded by early December.
I blogged a while back about how these contracts will go a long way to ensure the future of exploration, and today's announcement is just one more step toward making sure that changes in the political wind won't prevent America from reaching the moon.

Keywords: ares,constellation,huntsville,marshall_space_flight_center,nasa,space

27 August 2007

+ 0 - 0 | § Building For The Future

test stand groundbreakingGround was broken last week for a new test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi, which will be used for altitude-simlation testing of the J-2X Ares upper-stage engine.

The 300-foot-tall A-3 test stand will be the first new large test stand built at Stennis since the center openeed in the 1960s. The A-1 test stand, originally used for Saturn hardware before transitioning to the shuttle program, was transitioned back to lunar exploration last year, and will begin component testing for the J-2X later this year.

Keywords: ares,constellation,mississippi,nasa,space

+ 0 - 0 | § STS-120 Update

STS-120 patchNASA has decided to make repairs to the external tank for STS-120, but the work is not expected to delay the NET Oct. 23 launch. It may, however, have an impact on the December launch date for STS-122.

I've started the countdown clock at the top of the left sidebar.

Keywords: launch_schedule,nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_120,sts_122

+ 0 - 0 | § Mars Rover Update

SpiritPer NASA:
After six weeks of hunkering down during raging dust storms that limited solar power, both of NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have resumed driving.

Opportunity advanced 13.38 meters (44 feet) toward the edge of Victoria Crater on Aug. 21. Mission controllers were taking advantage of gradual clearing of dust from the sky while also taking precautions against buildup of dust settling onto the rover.

"Weather and power conditions continue to improve, although very slowly for both rovers," said John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif, project manager for the rovers. With the improved energy supplies, both rovers are back on schedule to communicate daily. Opportunity had previously been conserving energy by going three or four days between communications.

No new storms have been lifting dust into the air near either solar-powered rover in the past two weeks. Skies are gradually brightening above both Spirit and Opportunity. "The clearing could take months," said rover Project Scientist Bruce Banerdt. "There is a lot of very fine material suspended high in the atmosphere."

Keywords: mars,nasa,rovers,space

21 August 2007

+ 0 - 0 | § STS-120 Update

STS-120 patchIn the wake of the foam-shedding incident during the launch of STS-118, there has been discussion as to whether NASA might fast-track a modification to that area of the External Tank in order to start using it with the next launch, and as to whether that would delay the launch schedule.

Ironically, the change, according to shuttle program manager Wayne Hale, could probably be made with little impact on STS-120, currently scheduled for NET Oct. 23, but could have greater impact on the NET Dec. 6 date for STS-122. Performing the work on the 120 tank, he explained, would tie up the facility that otherwise would be preparing 122's tank.

Keywords: launch_schedule,nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_120,sts_122

+ 0 - 0 | § STS-118 Update

STS-118 patchPer NASA:
Space Shuttle Endeavour and the STS-118 crew are scheduled to return home today, ending a successful assembly mission to the International Space Station. Landing is scheduled for 12:32 p.m. EDT at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

The seven astronauts will make final preparations this morning for landing. The payload bay doors are scheduled to be closed at 8:45 a.m. If flight controllers decide to press ahead with landing, Commander Scott Kelly and Pilot Charles Hobaugh will fire Endeavour’s engines at 11:25 a.m. to begin the descent to Kennedy.

If flight controllers choose to pass on the first opportunity a second one is available at the Florida spaceport. It calls for touchdown at 2:06 p.m., with the deorbit burn at 1 p.m. White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico will not be called up today as a possible site. Edwards AFB, Calif., will be staffed, but is not expected to be used.

The landing will be covered live on NASA TV, which is also available to be watched online.

Keywords: nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_118

20 August 2007

+ 0 - 0 | § Today In History

voyager 2

On this date 30 years ago, the Voyager 2 spacecraft left Earth for the outer solar system, a journey that now has taken it to the borders of interstellar space. I tried to find out how far away Voyager 2 is now, but the best I could get is really far away.

Keywords: nasa,space

+ 0 - 0 | § Mars Rover Update

SpiritThe bad news first: "We got a good demonstration that Mars could kill them."

The good news, though, is that it didn't this time. The two Mars rovers appear to have been through the worst of the dust storms, and are still working, though Opportunity could use a nice breeze to clean its solar arrays.

Adds "As of sol 1,282, or August 13, 2007, Spirit surpassed the nuclear-power Viking Lander 2's record and is now the second-oldest operational robot on Mars."

Keywords: mars,nasa,rovers,space

+ 0 - 0 | § STS-118 Update

STS-118 patchPer NASA:
The seven-member STS-118 crew is preparing for its return to Earth aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour after a successful stay at the International Space Station.

The crew completed tests this morning of Endeavour’s systems and engines that will be used for re-entry and landing. Other activities include stowing equipment and a 30-minute deorbit briefing. The crew will also have some off-duty time to prepare for Tuesday's landing opportunities.

Endeavour’s first landing opportunity is at 12:32 p.m. EDT at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., with the deorbit burn occurring at 11:25 a.m. A second opportunity is available at the Florida spaceport at 2:06 p.m. The deorbit burn would occur at 1 p.m. White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico will not be called up for a possible Tuesday landing there. A decision on whether to call up Edwards AFB, Calif., is expected this morning.
The STS-118 crew members spent almost nine days at the international outpost. They continued the on-orbit construction of the station and transferred tons of cargo between the two spacecraft. The STS-118 crew conducted four spacewalks at the station. The two major objectives were the installation of the S5 and the replacement of a failed attitude control gyroscope.

Keywords: nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_118

17 August 2007

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-118 Update

STS-118 patchPer NASA:
Today, the STS-118 and Expedition 15 crews will continue cargo transfers and prepare for Saturday’s spacewalk. The 10 astronauts and cosmonauts will also hold the traditional joint crew news conference.

The Mission Management Team decided Thursday that Saturday’s spacewalk will not include repair of Space Shuttle Endeavour’s heat shield. After hours of reviewing data and imagery collected during the inspections by the STS-118 crew , the managers decided the damage did not pose a safety risk to the crew or Endeavour.

Keywords: eva,nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_118

15 August 2007

+ 0 - 1 | § Into That Silent Sea

Into That Silent Sea coverFirst of all, I'm no good at doing reviews. But I promised I would write one, so here goes.

I have finally, shamefully late, finished reading 'Into That Silent Sea' by Francis French and Colin Burgess, the first book in the Outward Odyssey series.

Almost a year ago, I had the pleasure of having dinner with Francis French at a local German restaurant, and we discussed our respective entries in the Outward Odyssey series. I told him that, while I was probably unusual in this respect, my thoughts on writing about the era covered in Silent Sea and its follow-up, In the Shadow of the Moon, was "Better you than me."

Yes, it would be a fun sandbox to play in, and, yes, it would be very cool to get to talk to the people you would have to interview to write the book.

But, it's been done, you know?

The Gemini period perhaps a bit less so, but how many books and movies and documentaries have covered the Mercury and Apollo programs? No, I'll stick with something a bit more fresh, like, say, Skylab, thanks.

But the great thing about Silent Sea is that it is, in fact, fresh.

For the people who are relatively new to these stories, it's a wonderful introduction. To say that it's thorough is putting it lightly. Yes, the Mercury program is covered completely. The book includes everything you need to know. And it's told in a way that's interesting not only to a technical crowd but also to a lay audience, because, ultimately, Silent Sea is the story of the people who lived the history. These people who have become legends, after all, were people. Where did they come from? What were they like as children? How did they get to the point where they were making history? What was the experience like for them? What was it like living with having done something so exceptional? With the aforementioned thoroughness, Silent Sea paints portraits of the individuals behind the history.

Silent Sea is unusual, as well, in that it's not a history of the Mercury program. It's a history of human spaceflight from 1961 through 1965, regardless of where those humans were from. The U.S. and Soviet programs are covered in a combined chronological account, presenting the stories side-by-side as two components of one historical period. As a result, even for someone who is fairly well-versed in the history of NASA spaceflight, Silent Sea is an extremely informative volume, filling in the gaps from the far side of the Iron Curtain.

Even in telling the more familiar stories, however, Silent Sea keeps it fresh. No matter how many times a reader has heard these stories, they haven't been told in quite this way before. Yes, the major events are covered in detail, but they're shown as seen through different eyes, people like Dee O'Hara and Wally Funk. If you know who those people are, you know why you need to read the book. If you don't know who those people are, that is why you need to read the book.

Keywords: history,mercury,nasa,outward_odyssey,skylab,soviet,writing

+ 1 - 0 | § Education Mission

Barbara MorganBecause I'm taking so long to respond to a couple of comments, I thought I'd do it in the blog itself, rather than in the comments. Plus, it's a good question that's been raised, which might merit a slightly higher-profile answer. That said, this is one of those rare posts where I'm going to step beyond the usual blog disclaimer in the sidebar (as if anyone's actually noticed it) and point out in the post itself that the content of this post (and the blog itself) represent only myself, and not in other organization with which I might be affiliated.

OK, that out of the way, Johnny wrote:
I prefer your nomenclature “Teacher-turned-astronaut” to the official NASA designation. I’m happy she’s found a new job on the robotic arm ... but they should just drop the whole “educator” appellation. First, because half the people who’ve been in space have been professors at some point. And secondly, her mission on this ride doesn’t include teaching. Every layperson I’ve spoken to has been disappointed to hear she’s not doing a lesson from space. Imagine all the crestfallen children who won’t get a half-hour respite during science class!

And Heather replied:
That’s a good point. There are astronauts who have taught at universities so doesn’t that make them the first teachers in space? And aren’t we all teachers on some level so then all astronauts are teachers making all astronauts ‘educator astronauts’???

First off, I have to point out that the "teacher-turned-astronaut" phrasing was not mine, but was in a quoted passage. Personally, while I understand why it's being used, I find it less than optimal. You don't see descriptions like "pilot-turned-astronaut" or "doctor-turned-astronaut."

Let me share two quotes from astronauts I've interviewed that are relevant to this discussion.

When she retired, Eileen Collins told me she thought the nation benefited more from her letting someone else fly than flying again herself: "I think we as a country are better off if we have more people who have been in space, even if they've only flown one mission. I think after astronauts fly, whether it's one time, or two, or three, or four times, they need to go out and work in industry and education and other places in the government. They need to work in other areas in the space program, and take that expertise and spread it around."

Don Lind had to wait 19 years from his selection in the fifth group of astronauts in 1966 until his first flight on the shuttle in 1985. I asked him whether the wait had been worth it. “Oh, yes, absolutely. Because the nineteen years was not just standing in line waiting." He explained with great pride, as an example, his involvement in the lunar laser ranging experiment, the only Apollo experiment still used today. "There were some very interesting, satisfying experiences going along."

A lot of the discussion about Morgan as an Educator Astronaut has focused on her time on orbit during STS-118, what she is or isn't doing while she's up there.

But the truth is, that really doesn't matter.

Barb has already been an astronaut for eight years. And, whether she flies again or not, she's going to have a long career after STS-118, both with NASA and elsewhere. In the many, many years that she will be known as an Educator Astronaut, her two weeks on Endeavour are a drop in the bucket.

It's easy to forget that. Buzz Aldrin will forever be known as the second man on the moon. But the truth is, any number of people could have filled that historical role just as easily. Much less known are some of his more significant personal contributions, involving rendezvous and spacewalk preparation. Contributions made on the ground.

Likewise, Harrison Schmitt lived up to his "Scientist-Astronaut" designation by using his experience as a geologist on the moon. But before he did, he had already made substantial contributions as a geologist in preparations for the Apollo landings.

Morgan is an Educator Astronaut not because she's the only astronaut to stand in front of a classroom, and not because her chief flight duty is education-related. Rather, she's an Educator Astronaut because during the bulk of her career, the part spent on the ground, she has a specific role to serve as a bridge between NASA and the education community.

Audiences respond to an astronaut speaker. And, having heard several unflown astronauts speak, including Morgan, I can tell you audiences respond different to a flown astronaut speaker. The biggest thing people want to know is what it's like. And no matter how well trained unflown astronauts are, they still have to answer those questions, "Well, I've been told..."

And that's what NASA, and the nation, get out of this ... an experienced classroom teacher who has flown in space and knows what it's like. I'm not going to get into the issues involved with why she's doing what she's doing in orbit versus doing something else, but I will say that I think it's great that she is a real, contributing member of the crew. Because when she gets back, and talks about it, she's going to be able to tell students and teachers not what it's like to be a "teacher in space," but what it's really like to be an astronaut.

Keywords: nasa,space,sts_118

+ 0 - 1 | § STS-118 Update

STS-118 patchPer NASA:
STS-118 crew members will prepare for future International Space Station assembly when they conduct the mission’s third spacewalk. The excursion, scheduled to begin at 11:01 a.m. EDT, will be conducted by STS-118 Mission Specialist Rick Mastracchio and Expedition 15 Flight Engineer Clay Anderson.

The spacewalking duo will prepare the Port 6 (P6) truss and its solar arrays for relocation from atop of the station to the end of the Port 5 truss when STS-120 visits later this year. Their tasks include the relocation of an antenna from the P6 to the Port 1 (P1) truss, retrieval a transponder for return to Earth and the relocation of two rail carts on the station’s Integrated Truss Structure. They will install a new transponder on the P1, which along with the relocated antenna will upgrade the station’s communications capability.

Per Spaceflight Now:
Sophisticated computer analysis indicates the aluminum skin directly below a small gash in the shuttle Endeavour's heat shield will not exceed NASA's 350-degree safety limit during re-entry, a top NASA manager said late today, despite temperatures of up to 2,100 degrees just outside the gouge. If overnight tests in a high-temperature furnace show the computer models are accurate - and if independent analysts agree - NASA managers may decide there's no need for a spacewalk repair job.
For his part, shuttle Commander Scott Kelly said today he would be comfortable flying Endeavour back to Earth "as is" if mission managers decide the gouge doesn't require repairs. But he would be equally at ease overseeing a repair spacewalk.
A team of astronauts, flight controllers and engineers is studying repair options in case the ongoing computer modeling and arc jet tests indicate a repair is needed. If so, the preferred approach would be to defer a station spacewalk planned for Friday and instead stage a repair EVA on Saturday.
Two repair options are on the table: application of emittance wash, a black paint-like material that would be dabbed into the gouge to improve the heat rejection capability of the damaged tiles and/or injection of a heat-resistant putty-like material called STA-54.

Keywords: eva,international_space_station,nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_118

14 August 2007

+ 0 - 1 | § If You Build It...

SundancerWhat if they built a space station and nobody came?

I've been impressed with the progress that Bigelow Aerospace has made so far with its inflatable space structures, with two of its Genesis modules currently in orbit.

Yesterday, though, the company announced it was going to kick things into higher gear. Due to higher launch costs, and based on the success of its first two spacecraft, the company has designed to skip launching the next iteration of its concept, and instead have an inhabitable module be its next launch.

The company plans to still build the second-generation Galaxy module for the experience, but, even so, could end up moving the launch of the inhabitable Sundancer module sooner.

The only question is, if so, how will people get there?

Keywords: altspace,bigelow,space

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-118 Update

STS-118 patchPer Spaceflight Now:
The foam-damaged heat-shield tiles on the belly of the shuttle Endeavour do not represent a Columbia-class threat of catastrophic failure during re-entry, the chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team told reporters today. John Shannon said the issue is more a matter of whether post-landing repairs might be needed that could delay Endeavour's next flight or whether it might make more sense to stage a relatively simple spacewalk repair job to give the shuttle additional margin during re-entry.

"We're not talking about catastrophic damage," Shannon said. "But if I have to pull off five or six tiles (after landing) and put a doubler on some structure, replace a rib or anything like that, that's going to increase my turnaround time between (flights) and I'd like to avoid that if possible, if I have an EVA that I think is easy to execute. Now all of that assumes we come back and show that we would have localized heating that could cause some damage underneath and we haven't done that yet."
A decision one way or the other is expected by late Tuesday or Wednesday.

And in other news:
Astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Dave Williams successfully replaced an ailing control moment gyroscope on the international space station (Monday) to accomplish the primary goal of their second spacewalk.
This was the 90th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998 and the 13th so far this year. Seventy two men and women from the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Sweden have now logged 557 hours and 29 minutes of EVA time building and maintaining the lab complex.

Keywords: eva,international_space_station,nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_118

13 August 2007

+ 0 - 1 | § Future's Legacy

Ares IWith the April 2009 launch of the Ares I-X demonstration flight drawing gradually nearer, it's encouraging to read news that the pieces are coming together. For example, in a bit of unshocking but still significant news, NASA has contracted with SRB maker ATK to make the SRBs for the early Ares program, including the I-X launch.

In a related bit of news that makes the upcoming flight seem even more real to me, collectSPACE has obtained a chart showing exactly which SRB segments will be used on the I-X launch. The SRB segments are, of course, reusable, and are restacked in different combinations for different flights.

According to cS, the I-X first stage will include segments flown on the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope and on the first shuttle flight to dock with the Mir space station.

Keywords: ares,collectspace,constellation,hubble,mir,nasa,space,space_shuttle

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-118 Update

STS-118 patchPer Spaceflight Now:
...Endeavour astronauts are gearing up for a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk today to replace one of the international space station's stabilizing gyroscopes, one of four needed to maintain the lab's orientation, or attitude, in orbit.

A "focused inspection" of the shuttle Endeavour's heat shield today, prompted by concern over foam impact damage spotted earlier in the mission, revealed a deep gouge that nearly penetrates two adjacent tiles on the orbiter's belly.
Based on pictures snapped by the space station's crew during Endeavour's final approach Friday, mission managers had already decided the shuttle could safely re-enter as is if some other emergency forced a speedy return to Earth. The close-up pictures today did not change that judgment and John Shannon, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team, said the orbiter's heat shield was healthy enough to handle re-entry as is if another emergency of some sort forced a speedy return to Earth.

"I did poll the team and it was still unanimous that there was no change in the thought process," Shannon said. "If we were in a significant emergency case we would feel comfortable deorbiting this vehicle. However, not being in an emergency case, we're going to proceed very methodically, understand exactly what we have and go get the vehicle in the best configuration we can for re-entry."

The astronauts accomplished all of their objectives (in Saturday's spacewalk), attaching a new solar array truss segment and latching down a folding radiator on another solar array segment to clear the way for relocation later this year.

And per NASA:
Mission managers decided Sunday to extend the STS-118 mission by three days. The decision came after the successful operation of the new Station-to-Shuttle Power Transfer System (SSPTS).

Endeavour is now scheduled to undock from the International Space Station on Aug. 20 and land Aug. 22. In addition to the extra time at the orbital outpost, managers added a fourth spacewalk that is scheduled to take place Aug. 17.

The SSPTS reroutes power from the space station to the shuttle during docked operations, allowing the orbiter to conserve materials needed to generate power and spend more time in space.

Keywords: eva,international_space_station,nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_118

09 August 2007

+ 0 - 1 | § STS-118 Update

sts-118 launch

NASA's Administrator and top launch managers celebrated the flawless liftoff of Space Shuttle Endeavour Wednesday evening as the fulfillment of a legacy.

"A launch operation doesn't get any better than this, it can't," Administrator Mike Griffin said following the launch.

The flight placed seven astronauts, a space station segment and 5,800 pounds of cargo and supplies into orbit and on the way to the International Space Station. The 11-day mission calls for attachment of the space station segment, transfer of the cargo and supplies and a test of a new power transfer system. If the system works, the mission would be extended to 14 days.

Teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan will also conduct several educational programs during the flight.

Keywords: nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_118

08 August 2007

+ 0 - 1 | § STS-118 Update

STS-118 patchToday's the day. Launch remains scheduled for 5:36 p.m. CDT.

Good ongoing updates can be found at Spaceflight Now.

Keywords: launch_schedule,nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_118

07 August 2007

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-118 Age Range

CaldwellBarbara MorganRecently came across two facts about the STS-118 crew that are interesting separately, but more interesting, to me, together:
I just thought that was a fascinating dichotomy.

Keywords: nasa,space,sts_118

+ 1 - 0 | § Space Race '08

white house at nightAnother installment in my series of posts about space-related comments by presidential candidates:

Mitt Romney

"Regarding NASA's plans to return to the moon and Mars, he said he hadn't decided if that was the exact plan he'd pursue, 'but I have no reason to change that at this point.'" -- Florida Today, 7 August 2007

It joins the previous entries:

Rudy Giuliani

"He said he supported continuing to aggressively pursue space exploration." -- The Tallahassee Democrat, 5 April 2007

Newt Gingrich
"...he said he would ... offer a $20 billion reward for the first private company that successfully completes a Mars mission. 'Somebody would be there and back about 40 percent of the way into the NASA process.'" --, 9 June 2007

Bill Richardson

"He did say that he sees space as 'a bona fide area of economic growth and opportunity'..." -- Space Politics, 4 June 2007

John Edwards
"I am a strong supporter of our space program. It reflects the best of the American spirit of optimism, discovery and progress.

We need a balanced space and aeronautics program. We need to support solar system exploration as an important goal for our human and robotic programs, but only as one goal among several. And we need to invite other countries to share in a meaningful way in both the adventure and the cost of space exploration." -- A Blog Around The Clock, 9 July 2007

Keywords: politics,space

+ 1 - 0 | § STS-118 Update

STS-118 patchThe launch is still scheduled for tomorrow, and things are going so smoothly that the STS-118 item on the front page of today is not a mission update, but rather a link to the education resources that my team has been instrumental in putting together.

Since they're a little bit buried, I would like to point out specifically a series of STS-118 career profiles that Heather and I wrote, based on a series of interviews we conducted at Johnson Space Center with, primarily, members of the ground team behind the mission. There's a lot of focus, of course, on the crew, so it was a lot of fun to talk to people like the flight director and rendezvous trainer and flight surgeons and crew secretary and payload folks. Stories that you don't frequently hear that, to me, were very fascinating.

Keywords: nasa,sts_118,writing

06 August 2007

+ 0 - 0 | § Nuking Asteroids!

Ares VI was going to paraphrase this article on Flight International, but really can't say it any better than their first couple of paragraphs:
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center has designed a nuclear-warhead-carrying spacecraft, to be launched by the US agency's proposed 's Ares V cargo launch vehicle, to deflect an asteroid that could threaten all life on Earth.

The 8.9m (29ft)-long "Cradle" spacecraft would carry six 1,500kg (3,300lb) missile-like interceptor vehicles that would carry one 1.2MT B83 nuclear warhead each, with a total mass of 11,035kg.
I have no idea how serious a proposal this is, but, if it's something really being considered, I'm all for it. Darned asteroids have it coming anyway.

Keywords: ares,marshall_space_flight_center,nasa,space

+ 0 - 0 | § STS-118 Update

STS-118 patchWork is still progressing towards a Wednesday launch of Endeavour for the STS-118 mission.

The official countdown clock started this weekend, and, at this writing, is at 28 hours and 47 minutes, factoring in built-in holds.

Weather appears to abe about 70 percent Go for both Wednesday and Thursday.

Launch is scheduled for 5:36 p.m. CDT on August 8.

Keywords: launch_schedule,nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_118

+ 0 - 0 | § Phoenix Rising

phoenix launchPer NASA:
NASA's Phoenix Mars Mission blasted off Saturday, aiming for a May 25, 2008, arrival at the Red Planet and a close-up examination of the surface of the northern polar region.

Perched atop a Delta II rocket, the spacecraft left Cape Canaveral Air Force Base at 5:26 a.m. EDT into the predawn sky above Florida's Atlantic coast.

"Today's launch is the first step in the long journey to the surface of Mars. We certainly are excited about launching, but we still are concerned about our actual landing, the most difficult step of this mission," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Tucson.
"The launch team did a spectacular job getting us on the way," said Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Our trajectory is still being evaluated in detail; however, we are well within expected limits for a successful journey to the red planet. We are all thrilled!"

Phoenix will be the first mission to touch water-ice on Mars. Its robotic arm will dig to an icy layer believed to lie just beneath the surface. The mission will study the history of the water in the ice, monitor weather of the polar region, and investigate whether the subsurface environment in the far-northern plains of Mars has ever been favorable for sustaining microbial life.

"Water is central to every type of study we will conduct on Mars," Smith said.

Keywords: mars,nasa,space

+ 0 - 0 | § "Is That A Lot?"

congress logoQuite a while back, I wrote a lengthy piece on this blog about how NASA's budget fits into the overall federal budget, addressing the idea that we should cancel NASA and put that money towards other problems by showing that, really, NASA's budget would only be a small drop in the bucket if added to the funding already allocated for those issues (i.e. education, environment, deficit, etc.)

I keep meaning to go back and update my post with current figures, but that would involve actual work.

This weekend, though, I came across an excellent piece by Jeff Brooks at The Space Review that paints a good picture of NASA's budget in the overall perspective. Highly recommended reading.

Keywords: budget,nasa,politics,space

03 August 2007

+ 0 - 0 | § UPDATED: STS-118 Update

STS-118 patchUPDATE: Launch has been rescheduled for NET 5:36 p.m. CDT Wednesday, August 8. I've updated the countdown clock in the left sidebar.

According to, the leak on Endeavour has been fixed. The crew will arrive today at 4 p.m. CDT. The official countdown begins tomorrow at 8 p.m. CDT. Launch remains schedled for 6:02 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, August 7.

As of this writing, we are four days, nine hours and nine minutes from the scheduled launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the STS-118 mission to the International Space Station.

Keywords: launch_schedule,nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_118

+ 0 - 0 | § Lander Launch

Mars PhoenixPer NASA:
A NASA robotic explorer equipped to dig up and analyze icy soil on Mars sits atop a 13-story tall stack of rocket engines prepared for liftoff before sunup on Saturday.
Phoenix will travel 679 million kilometers (422 million miles) in an outward arc from Earth to Mars. It will determine whether icy soil on far northern Mars has conditions that have ever been suitable for life.
"Phoenix investigates the recent Odyssey discovery of near-surface ice in the northern plains on Mars," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. "Our instruments are specially designed to find evidence for periodic melting of the ice and to assess whether this large region represents a habitable environment for Martian microbes."

Keywords: launch_schedule,mars,nasa,space

02 August 2007

+ 0 - 0 | § Waning Opportunity Update

SpiritPer NASA:
Rover engineers are growing increasingly concerned about the temperature of vital electronics on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity while the rover stays nearly inactive due to a series of dust storms that has lasted for more than a month.

Dust in the atmosphere and dust settling onto Opportunity's solar panels challenges the ability of the solar panels to convert sunlight into enough electricity to supply the rover's needs. The most recent communication from Opportunity, received Monday, July 30, indicates that sunlight over the rover's Meridiani Planum location remains only slightly less obscured than during the dustiest days Opportunity survived in mid-July. With dust now accumulating on the solar panels, the rover is producing barely as much energy as it is using in a very-low-power regimen it has been following since July 18.
"This means there is a real risk that Opportunity will trip a low-power fault sometime during this plan. When a low-power fault is tripped, the rover's systems take the batteries off-line, putting the rover to sleep and then checking each sol to see if there is sufficient available energy to wake up and perform daily fault communications. If there is not sufficient energy, Opportunity will stay asleep. Depending on the weather conditions, Opportunity could stay asleep for days, weeks or even months, all the while trying to charge her batteries with whatever available sunlight there might be."

Spirit, meanwhile, is also accumulating some dust on solar panels under a sky at Gusev Crater that remains nearly as dusty as the worst Spirit has recorded.

Keywords: mars,nasa,rovers,space

+ 0 - 0 | § STS-118 Update

STS-118 patchThe cause of the crew cabin leak has been identified, and engineers should have it fixed today, with no impact on the launch schedule, which calls for for the official countdown to begin Saturday and for launch at 6:02 p.m. CDT Tuesday.

So kudos to NASA for their hard work toward my birthday celebration!

Keywords: launch_schedule,nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_118

01 August 2007

+ 1 - 0 | § Grounded Virgin

BransonI was intrigued by this passage in an article about the impact last week's fatal explosion at Scaled Composites would have on Virgin Galactic:
Of course, Britain's favourite tycoon won't confirm that his delayed venture to blast 7,000 prospective travellers into space in 2009 is dead or that he will be returning their deposits.
He won't confirm it? It hadn't even occurred to me that those would be the case. I guess it's possible the explosion was caused by a fundamental flaw in an non-replaceable system, but it seems very unlikely. I assumed they would find it, fix it, fly it.

So the question is, in the wake of the explosion, should Virgin Galactic:
Keep moving foward. (3 votes)
Shut down. (2 votes)

Keywords: altspace,poll,space,virgin_galactic

+ 0 - 0 | § A Brand New Car!

EndeavourI've posted before about the common "thirty-year-old technology" fallacy when it comes to the shuttle, so I thought I would share this article about the modifications made to Endeavour since its last mission.
"It's like a new space shuttle," Wayne Hale, NASA's shuttle program manager, said of Endeavour, adding that the orbiter has been inspected from stem to stern. "It's like driving a new car off the showroom floor."

Keywords: nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_118

+ 0 - 0 | § STS-118 Update

STS-118 patchAs mentioned below, Apple's celebration of my birthday is now a sure thing, but it appears NASA's may be less so.

Engineers are currently working to find and fix a leak in Endeavour's crew cabin. While plans are still in place for the official countdown to begin Saturday for a Tuesday launch, they must figure out exactly what the problem is before being sure they can fix it. But as of this writing, things are looking good.

Keywords: launch_schedule,nasa,space,space_shuttle,sts_118

+ 0 - 0 | § No NASA iPhone

iPhone at NASAPer MacNN:
NASA officials have decided that the iPhone is not ready for use intra-office by its astronauts and other employees according to meeting minutes obtained by InformationWeek. Deeming the iPhone not "enterprise ready," Jeff Stephens of NASA's Outsourcing Desktop Initiative (ODIN) reportedly made an announcement that the phone would be barred from the workplace. The minutes did not provide any exact reasoning for the iPhone ban, but did indicate that the BlackBerry 8800 from Research In Motion and the Palm Treo 750 would soon be certified for employee use.

The article did not specifically address any orbiters other than Enterprise.

Keywords: apple,iphone,nasa