Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Russian Soyuz U launches cargo craft to space station

A Russian rocket left earth today carrying an unmanned craft loaded with fresh supplies bound for the orbiting International Space Station.

The Soyuz U rocket with the Progress M-10M cargo craft lifted-off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in western Kazakhstan on time at 9:05 a.m. EDT (1305 GMT), loaded with 2 1/2 tons of supplies.

"The new Progress is loaded with 1,940 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds of oxygen and air, 926 pounds of water and 2,976 pounds of maintenance hardware, experiment equipment and resupply items," NASA's Space Station Flight Control Room at the Johnson Space Center stated on Tuesday.

The white and green rocket launched into a cloudless afternoon sky of blue as it soared eastward as it began it's chase to catch up with the six person crew aboard the space station.

As the Soyuz arched out over the desert, the space station orbited 225 miles above the central Atlantic Ocean, crossing the equator to begin a new orbit.

Docking is planned for Friday at 10:29 a.m., just hours before NASA launches the space shuttle Endeavour on a two week mission to resupply earth's orbiting outpost in space.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Families explore real science at Tellus Science Museum

Tellus Science Museum features a world of exploration. (Atkeison)

Science and nature come to life as dinosaurs and space exhibits take center stage at the world-class Tellus Science Museum located in northwestern Georgia.

Opened in January 2009, the science museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and home to four main exhibit areas -- the Science in Motion Gallery, a rocks and minerals gallery, the Fossil Gallery and breathtaking Planetarium.

The Science in Motion exhibit features vintage models from over 100 years of transportation.

A full-scale model of the Wright Brother's Flyer fills one room as it overlooks some of the first automobiles and motorcycles from the turn of the 20th century.

A recreated burned-out shell of the Apollo 1 command module -- used in the Tom Hanks HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon -- is featured in the exhibit. The module was used in the film to dramatize the January 1967 Apollo launch pad fire which claimed the lives of three astronauts during a launch pad practice countdown.

Adjacent to the module is a model of the Mercury spacecraft which carried the first Americans into space fifty years ago on May 5; and an actual tire used by the space shuttle Atlantis as she landed in 1996.

Beautiful paintings based on the space shuttle program by historical artist Mort Kunstler line the center's walls providing a decorative look at the personal side of NASA's human space flight.

Across the hall, the museum's 120-seat Planetarium is located near the main entrance and offers a variety of astronomical shows every forty-five minutes.

A digital projector in the domed room gives visitors a unique prospective as they soar upon the ocean of space and past galaxies during a detailed narrative show.

Tellus will celebrate national Astronomy Day on Saturday, May 7 with a full slate of activities for kids and adults alike.

Gaze up at earth's closest star, the Sun, in a safe way through Tellus' telescope, and end the day with star gazing views during two shows at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Tellus recently joined a small NASA network of meteor watching camera's designed to spot and record incoming meteors from below 100 miles high as they near the earth's atmosphere.

The science museum's astronomy program manager David Dundee noted the first meteor was tracked by the new Tellus camera on March 17, just two hours after the camera became operational.

"We're seeing two to four meteor events every night," Dundee explained to this aerospace reporter. "The camera is triggered by a light in the sky, and begins tracking" with the other three regional cameras which back up one another as if to say it is not a plane or other object.

Tellus' new camera on the sky can help NASA determine the "direction, speed and orbital plotting of where the meteor came from in our solar system," Dundee added.

It demonstrates how Tellus has become a working science center in partnership with the space agency's location at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Funding for the camera comes from NASA's astronaut safety program, which helps calculate meteorite impacts on orbiting space craft.

Images are relayed to Marshall in real time via an Internet line and studied by engineers to understand the space rock's nature.

Rocks and minerals are a favorite item of Tellus' employees as they work in what was a former mineral museum beginning in 1983.

Rocks and fossilized items are on display in several exhibits around the museum.

Tellus' Fossil Gallery is a favorite for children as they stare up at 41-foot Tyrannosaurus rex poised in a walking stance, or use specialized brushes to discovery fossils located beneath 'dirt'.

A 13-foot long Eremotherium laurilardi, also known as a giant ground sloth, is also on display cast from the bones discovered in Daytona Beach, Florida.

In fact the skeletal make-up of several land and water creatures are displayed giving visitors an in depth look at the mammals and fish from long ago.

Children can uncover real shark's teeth and stones as they search for the rare fossil treats in one section inside the museum. Nearby visitors can pan for colorful stones embedded in beach sand located in a water trough.

Located northwest of Atlanta just off exit 293 and I-75 in Cartersville, this science museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The center is closed on July 4th, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Day.

As summer vacation time approaches, Tellus is a fun-filled, inexpensive option for those looking for a short day trip with the children.

Please visit the Tellus web site for the latest on membership, guest pricing, directions and schedule information.

As you conclude your visit and depart, be sure to take note as your child's head turns back one last time as the world of science educates their minds for learning.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Europe's Ariane 5 launches satellites for Africa, UAE

An Ariane 5 rocket lifts-off on Earth Day. (arianespace)

Europe's heavy lift work horse delivered two communications satellites into earth orbit this evening as the Sun set over the South American launch site.

The two satellites -- Yahsat Y1A and Intelsat New Dawn -- will be placed into a geostationary orbit over the next few days to begin a fifteen year life to provide direct communications to the public and government's over several continents.

Lift-off of an Ariane 5 rocket with it's dual-stack of satellites occurred on time today at 5:37:07 p.m. EDT (2137 GMT), from launch pad 3 at Kourou, French Guiana.

Al Yah Satellite Communications Company Yahsat Y1A satellite will operate over the Indian Ocean near the coastline of Somalia to relay both communications and data streams to homes, businesses and government buildings in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The Yahsat Y1A will also relay high-definition television and high speed Internet through it's 25 KU-Band and 14-C-Band transponders.

Al Yah stated to this reporter that Y1A "will be followed by the launch of Y1B in the second half of 2011".

Y1A will be the first satellite for Al Yah which is a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi government’s strategic investment buisness Mubadala Development Company.

Yahsat will become the first satellite for UAE with a secure Ka-band transponder to support private military communications within it's footprint.

Located in the United Arab Emirate's capital, Abu Dhabi, Mubadala is currently sponsoring several UAE students in training at a few NASA facilities across America.

The Orbital Sciences-built Intelsat New Dawn satellite will be used by Africa's private companies, and provide wireless telecommunications, multimedia content, and broadband Internet from it's location over Lake Victoria in central Africa.

New Dawn will use 24 Ku-Band and 28 C-Band transponders set at 36 MHz in support of high speed data flow.

Tom commorate the African satellite's launch, a special decal was attached to the rocket's upper stage bearing the signature of the historic freedom fighter for South Africa, Nelson Mandela.

Along with Mandela's signature was the phrase, Hamba Kahle New Dawn, which translates to “Go Well, New Dawn” Arianespace announced tonight.

The Ariane 5's core single Vulcain 2 engine then ignited seven seconds prior to launch, and was brought up to proper thrust.

The rocket's twin solid fueled boosters then ignited releasing the several million pounds of thrust and pushing 22,187 pounds of payload upward and faster to escape earth's gravity.

The Ariane began a four-second pitch program high over the Atlantic coastline twelve seconds after lift-off beginning the craft's eastward heading on a 5.98 degree inclination.

Soaring about 42 miles above the southern Atlantic waters, the twin booster rockets emptied their fuel and separated seconds later.

One minute later, the rocket's protective payload fairing will split vertically and fall away as the Ariane enters the first traces of space.

Nearly nine minutes after departing Kourou, the Vulcain 2 engine shutdown, and the main stage separated allowing for the engine of the second stage to begin it's burn for several minutes.

The satellite duo arrived into it's injection elliptical orbit of 155 by 22,345 miles.

Geostationary orbit is an orbital plane above the equator located 22,250 miles over a fixed location, and will stay at that one fixed location until acted upon by a force.

Twenty-seven minutes after launch, Yahsat Y1A separated from the rocket's upper stage as it soars 292 miles above earth.

New Dawn then separated and flew free eight minutes later as the upper stage swings the satellite higher in it's elliptical orbit 1,582 miles above the planet.

The next Ariane 5 launch is planned for May 19 with another pair of satellites.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Summer camp plans take-off with Aviation Challenge

Instructors like Cheapshot teach teamwork and confidence. (Atkeison)

Integrity. Strength. Parent and child bonding. Excitement.

Not just words on paper, but personal life experiences for those who pass through the gates of Aviation Challenge at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Aviation Challenge is a program designed as a Top Gun-styled camp course teaching kids of all ages the fundamentals of outdoor survival and fighter pilot training.

As summer approaches across America, children and adults alike can discover an exciting "summer camp" experience with real adventures and personal growth.

Located three hours west of Atlanta, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is a NASA visitor's center for the Marshall Space Flight Center. The facility houses two museums and dozens of attractions, and is home to the popular Space Camp and Aviation Challenge programs.

This aerospace journalist recently went through the exciting three day program with instructors Chris Edwards, call sign "Cheapshot" and Sami DeWeese, call sign "Mule". Both have aviation backgrounds and carry with them a strong interest in the program.

Call signs are given on the day you arrive at Aviation Challenge, and usually reflect something about you as a person -- much like Tom Cruise's risk taking character "Maverick" in the movie Top Gun.

Just like real fighter pilots, you will use your call sign instead of your own name during your three to seven day career as an aviator trainee. My call sign as a trainee, "Dash".

Teamwork is high on the instructor's mind as both Cheapshot and Mule bring a group of children ages 7 thru 12 -- strangers to one another -- together as a squadron team.

"In Aviation Challenge, they have to work together," Cheapshot explained on how he views the program. "I have to be their leader, that role model and show them I'm in charge" much like a military instructor would for his or her unit.

In our session, the opening hours allowed for the children and their parents to learn more about what is expected of them and just what lies ahead for them.

"We also try to get everyone talking and to become go getter's," Cheapshot added as he stood in his green flight suit next to a NASA T-38A aircraft.

The first day included walking tours around the space and military museums; incredible rides or what the instructors call "simulators"; and a hearty dinner before boarding a private bus and heading out for the first of several training sessions upon a private field.

At a secure location one mile from the space center is a five acre field in which the actual training is held.

Flight simulations combined with classroom sessions introduce the parents and their children to the career of an military aviator.

Lessons on building a camp fire safely; using a compass to navigate an unknown wooded terrain; and learning how to recognize and find fresh water are just a few of the activities during Aviation Challenge.

Adjacent to the exercise field are two special buildings which house flight training operations.

Inside trainees are taught how to fly one of the current jets used by the U.S. Navy, the F/A 18E Super Hornet.

Led by Cheapshot and Mule, trainees are taught how to perform preflight checks of their powerful jet, such as setting wing flaps in the ready position and how to taxi the aircraft toward the runway.

Several control levers and a large video screen inside a cockpit mock-up provide a realistic approach to the flight session as one begins to practice take offs and build towards a flight to a designated airport.

Training Director Kim "Spud" Thornton helps supervise the flight sessions from an air traffic control station near the flight simulators.

Several will crash and burn on their first attempt, while some will fly like an ace behind the stick of their Super Hornet.

For those who crash after take-off, Spud becomes your wing-man as she resets your aircraft back onto the tarmac for another training exercise.

"You learn by doing," Mule says firmly, eyes focused on her own flight simulation screen. "And when you succeed your confidence soars."

Following one session, I witnessed an emotional bond as father and son exchanged hand slaps and laughter upon learning how to fly their jet successfully and land at the right military base.

Jet flight simulations are taken to a higher level later in the day as the group of trainees, dressed in military camouflage fatigues, head to one of the highlights of the training, the Centrifuge.

Built and used by NASA, the Centrifuge is how test pilots and astronauts alike train to ensure they can handle the stresses of high "G" loads on the body.

A "G" is gravity and for pilots making a sweeping turn they may encounter nearly four times their body's weight, known as four G's.

Those trainees interested in the Centrifuge were allowed to ride it only twice, their bodies experiencing up to 3.2 G's as their secured module traveled at nearly fifty m.p.h. in a circle thus creating the G loads.

Boys and girls in the group enjoyed the Centrifuge so much they rode it a second time.

As the sun set across northern Alabama, the camouflaged trainees were led out to a wooded region of the training field by Mule and Cheapshot and briefed on their next "mission".

As their mission unfolded, they soon discover their own personal strengths as these aviator trainees worked hard to meet objectives under the blackness of the star draped night.

Following the exercise, the tired squadron gathered together to shake hands and celebrate the recent accomplishment with treats over an open fire.

Sharing smores together, a parent's smile gives further encouragement to their child at the completion of a full day.

Training requires rest times and enjoyment and at the Space and Rocket Center will you find an IMAX theater with a gigantic 180-degree field of view movie screen.

The high definition IMAX movie Hubble, the prehistoric Sea Rex 3D, and an aviator's choice Legends of Flight are now showing at the Space and Rocket Center's two theaters.

As summer nears, make plans now to attend a fulfilling summer camp experience.

For Dads, it is one of the most rewarding Father's Day gifts one can give -- time shared with their child and memories which last a lifetime.

Aviation Challenge managers state openings are available in May and into the summer months for most ages. Visit Aviation Challenge's web site for detailed information and to check on availability dates for your planned visit.

Parents soon discover how important Aviation Challenge is upon graduation, as they grow closer with their children and reconnect in this busy world we all share.

Atlas 5 launches military payload from Vandenberg

Atlas V rocket lifts-off from California on a military flight. (ULA)

An unmanned rocket successfully launched on a classified military payload delivery flight this evening from the California coastline.

It was the twenty-fifth flight of an Atlas V rocket since the rocket series began in 2002.

In an unusual styled launch, the Air Force used a single solid rocket booster to aide the core engine's thrust at lift-off.

Lt. Col. Jenns Robertson with the 4th Space Launch Squadron operations said on Tuesday, "This Atlas rocket launch is unique in that it has just one booster attached to the side of the rocket."

asymmetrical look of the vehicle with just one booster was drawn up over a decade ago to assist specific weight payloads at launch.

Lt. Col. Robertson added, "
We didn't need two solids, with the powerful RD-180 engines on board, so we use just the one."

Lift-off of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 occurred on time at 9:24 p.m. PDT (12:24 a.m. EDT today) from pad SLC-3East at Vandenberg, AFB in California. It was the fifth Atlas V launch overall from the West Coast.

"The wind cooperated with us this evening enabling us to launch without compromising public safety," 30th Space Wing commander Col. Richard Boltz stated minutes after lift-off. "Without a doubt, every launch is a major feat, and I'm extremely proud of Team Vandenberg for yet another job well done."

Winds were of concern earlier in the day, but it never delayed the Atlas from departing on time.

As the rocket soared into the dark night sky, it's Russian built RD-180 engine burned for just over four minutes providing over 930,000 pounds of thrust.

Meanwhile, the Atlas' lone booster burned in sync for just over ninety seconds giving the rocket an additional 285,000 pounds of thrust.

Following the booster's departure, the first stage engine shutdown on time and seconds later the first stage separated.

The Centaur stage then ignited pushing it's payload higher as it soared southerly out over the Pacific Ocean.

The classified payload is known as the NROL-34, a military satellite which will join the fleet of larger NROL satellites.

Specifics of the payload is unknown, but once operational in weeks, it will help support U.S. operations around the world, including early warning detection of enemy aircraft.

Tonight's launch marked the 605th Atlas launch since the first Atlas rocket's flight in 1957.

The next launch from this historic launch complex is a Delta II in June.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Retirement locations announced for NASA orbiters

The planned $100 million shuttle Atlantis exhibit in Florida. (KSCVC)

NASA announced today the locations in which the three surviving space shuttle orbiters will be housed following their retirement this year.

In a ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center to mark the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle launch, NASA administrator Charlie F. Bolden laid out where the three space rated orbiters and one air flown orbiter will be placed on display for the public to view.

In an emotional address to space center workers and Space Coast political aides, Bolden stated with excitement the future homes of NASA's pride for thirty years.

A veteran of 39 space flights, Discovery will be retired to the much anticipated Smithsonian Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.

Discovery will occupy a spacious indoor facility which was home to the test model orbiter, Enterprise.

Florida's Kennedy Space Center's Visitors Center will receive orbiter Atlantis, the fourth space rated shuttle craft.

The Kennedy Space Center's Visitor's Center will begin construction soon of a $100 million exhibit to showcase Atlantis for the public.

The planned 64,000-square foot indoor floor plan will be highlighted by displaying the space flown orbiter above the crowd, angled slightly and the payload bay doors open.

A scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope is expected to hang behind the orbiter with the orbiter's robotic arm raised skyward.

The California Science Center located in Los Angeles, near where the orbiters were built will become the new home for NASA's youngest orbiter Endeavour.

Each of the five main orbiters and the one prototype test orbiter were built at Rockwell over an eighteen year period.

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space museum, located on New York City's west side, was selected to receive Enterprise.

The aeronautical museum hosted a viewing event in which museum president Susan Marenoff- Zausner, managers and the public were invited to watch the announcements on a 40-foot screen.

As the venue was announced as a future home, applause and screams sounded loudly over Bolden's announcement in the theater.

Named for the United States World War II aircraft carrier, the USS Intrepid is the center piece for the museum as she floats upon the Hudson River.

"People from across our nation and around our world will continue to learn from these amazing vehicles," Bolden said. "I want to congratulate all of these fine institutions, and wish them many visitors and exciting programs with the space shuttle fleet."

An emotional Bolden then added, "For all of them, take good care of our vehicles. They've served the nation well, and we at NASA have a deep and abiding relationship and love affair with them that's hard to put into words."

Visibly absent from the announcement list was the home of the astronaut corps., the Johnson Space Center.

Employees and local politicians near Houston had hoped an orbiter would become a new resident at the space center.

NASA's first and second space-rated orbiters, Columbia and Challenger, were lost during flight in 2003 and 1986, respectively.

Most of what remains of both orbiters following their break up as Challenger launched on January 28, 1986, and Columbia re-entered the earth's atmosphere on February 1, 2003, are interned and sealed in old missile silos at Cape Canaveral.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Crew begins five month excursion aboard space station

Yuri Gagarin spacecraft nears space station docking. (NASA)

Three new crew members arrived at the International Space Station tonight aboard their spacecraft Yuri Gagarin to begin a five month stay and join three current residents in earth orbit.

The coming days mark the golden anniversary of humankind's first steps into the vastness of space.

As the two crafts sped into an orbital sunset over the southern Pacific Ocean at 17,250 m.p.h, earth hung as a backdrop as the Soyuz closed in on it's port-of-call.

"We are confirming good approach, everything looks good," Russia's mission control radioed as the Soyuz inched closer seconds before docking.

The Soyuz TMA21 spacecraft, code name Gagarin, arrived at the orbiting lab 49 hours following it's launch from western Kazakhstan with two Russian cosmonauts and one NASA astronaut.

Docking occurred to the Russian Poisk module several minutes early at 7:09 p.m. EDT (3:09 a.m. on Thursday, Moscow time), as the two crafts sailed 222 miles high over the coast of Chile.

Soyuz commander Aleksander Samokutyaev and flight engineers Andrei Borisenko Ronald Garan spent the next three hours powering down spacecraft systems and performing leak checks as they began to open the three hatches leading into the station.

Inside the station, three crew members photographed the Soyuz arrival and greeted the new space travelers with words of welcome.

The space station's current residents, Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev, NASA astronaut Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli of Italy, have been orbiting alone since the March 16 departure of a Soyuz TMA 01M with Russian's Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka and Expedition 26 commander and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.

Hatches were officially opened at 10:13 p.m. and the two Russian commanders shook hands and

Kondratyev, Coleman and Nespoli will complete their five months aboard the space station in May and return home to earth.

As the trio undocks on May 16 aboard their Soyuz TMA20,
Borisenko will become the new commander of the Expedition 28 crew.

During the new crew's stay aboard station, they will be busy as the space shuttle Endeavour arrives on May 1 to install t
he Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and deliver spare parts for the outpost, and Atlantis will visit in early-July on a resupply flight and the final space shuttle mission ever.

Garan will perform a spacewalk with an Atlantis astronaut on July 2nd. Garan performed three spacewalks totaling nearly 21 hours combined on his first spaceflight STS-124.

Garan and his Russian crew mates will head home during the middle of September, just weeks shy of Ron's own fiftieth birthday celebration.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

U.S. Space & Rocket Center to host April Tweet-up

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center's Space Camp announced this afternoon that they will host their first Tweet-up for 16 lucky people to coincide with the April 29 launch of space shuttle Endeavour.

The two-day Tweet-up is scheduled for April 28 and 29, and will focus on tours of nearby Marshall Space Flight Center and the Space & Rocket Center's museum and rides.

Registration begins on April 7 and will close on April 12.

Those registering need to be U.S. citizens with a government issued photo ID; and follow @SpaceCampUSA and/or their Aviation Challenge Twitter feed @check_six.

"We will provide lunch and dinner meals onsite," Social Media Manager Charity Stewart stated today. "Part of the Tweetup will include a tour of Redstone Arsenal and Marshall Space Flight Center."

Space Camp's STS-134 Tweetup event will concluded a big screen viewing of the afternoon launch of Endeavour at 2:47 p.m. CDT.

The Davidson Center building, located adjacent to the main museum building, is home to one of the three actual Saturn 5 rockets which was to have flown on Apollo 18, 19 or 20.

Mark your calendar and prepare to register beginning on Thursday morning at

Monday, April 04, 2011

Russian Soyuz crew lifts-off bound for the space station

Russia's Soyuz pre-dawn lift-off with a crew of three. (Roscosmos)

A Soyuz rocket with two Russians and one American lifted-off today for the International Space Station from the same launch pad which sent the first human into space fifty years ago this week.

The Soyuz TMA21 spacecraft, nicknamed Yuri Gagarin in honor of the first human to sail upon the ocean of space, lifted-off with cosmonauts Aleksander Samokutyaev, Andrei Borisenko and NASA astronaut Ronald Garan inside at 6:18:20 p.m. EDT(4:18 a.m. local time Tuesday).

Riding a top a Soyuz FG rocket powered by
one RD-118 center engine and four small boosters, the craft soared from the desert of western Baikonur.

The crew of three departed earth at an exact moment which favored a low fuel method to catch up with and rendezvous with the orbiting lab on Wednesday.

At launch, the space station soared 222 miles over the southern Atlantic Ocean, northeast of the Falkland Islands.

The 162-foot grey rocket's liquid-fueled engine assisted by the four RD-117 liquid-fueled engines on attached side boosters, provided 1,143,378 pounds of thrust during the first two minutes of ascent.

Nine minutes into the crew's flight, the third stage separated from the Soyuz TMA 21, and settled into an orbit of 143 x 118 miles.

A minute later, the Soyuz commander Samokutyaev began flipping switches to deploy a high gain antenna and twin solar arrays.

Two hours prior to lift-off the crew boarded their Soyuz craft dressed in their Russian launch and entry pressurized suits.

As they climbed the ladder to the Soyuz craft, they turned and waved to the ground team.

The Gagarin craft will dock to the space station on Wednesday at 7:18 p.m.

Conflict with Russian spacecrafts delays Endeavour's mission

The coming and going of two Russian unmanned supply ships for the International Space Station has forced NASA to delay the final mission of space shuttle Endeavour by ten days.

On Sunday, insiders from Roscosmos stated that Russia will not delay an incoming craft's arrival to the outpost, and that Endeavour would not be at the station during the craft's arrival.

NASA's shuttle mission management team later officially announced the delay.

Endeavour was due to begin ten days docked operations beginning on April 21.

Russia's Progress M-09M resupply craft is scheduled to undock from the station on April 26, for deorbit and burn-up upon a fiery reentry.

One day later, a new unmanned supply craft is scheduled to be launched to the station, arriving there two days later.

The Progress M-010 planned docking on April 29 is a hazard to Endeavour as the spacecraft's engine exhaust blows over the shuttle and could lay a sheet of blinding film on the forward windows.

However, an April 29 launch by Endeavour could shorten her time at the space station from the planned ten days.

On May 16, Russia will undock a Soyuz TMA20 spacecraft with a crew of three having completed nearly six months aboard and return them home.

If Endeavour docks on May 1, Russia could ask NASA to send Endeavour home early to allow for one American, one Italian and one Russian's Soyuz departure and return to earth.

Lift-off is now scheduled for 3:47 p.m. EDT on Friday, April 29.

NASA will hold a management flight readiness review on April 19 to underscore each detail of Endeavour's flight to ensure the crew, vehicle and ground teams are ready.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Russian launch to mark 50th anniversary of human spaceflight

Russia and the world will begin celebrations Tuesday of the golden anniversary of humankind's first steps into space with the launch of two Russians and one American aboard a Soyuz bound for the International Space Station.

It was April 12, 1961, in which Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin lifted-off from a then-secret launch site to become the first human ever to not only fly in space but to orbit the earth.

Russia in his honor has named the crew's Soyuz TMA21 spacecraft Gagarin in honor of the late-cosmonaut.

Two Cosmonauts, Soyuz commander Aleksander Samokutyaev and flight engineer Andrei Borisenko, and NASA astronaut and flight engineer Ron Garan are scheduled to lift-off aboard a Soyuz-FG rocket on April 4 at 6:18 p.m. EDT (4:18 a.m. April 5 local time), from the Baikonur Cosmosdrome in western Kazakhstan.

Lift-off will occur from the same launch pad which sent Gagarin into space fifty years earlier.

This launch will mark the twenty-fifth flight of the Soyuz FG, and the twenty-second flight to carry humans aboard.

At lift-off the Soyuz will use one RD-118 center engine and four small boosters to send the craft aloft from the desert of Baikonur.

The two stage, 162-foot grey rocket's liquid-fueled engine is assisted by the four RD-117 liquid-fueled engines on attached side boosters providing 1,143,378 pounds of thrust.

Two minutes after launch, the four boosters will separate from the core stage, and the center engine will continue it's burn for a little over two additional minutes.

As the rocket soars toward orbit, it will fly over the length of Kazakhstan toward southern China.

Forty-nine hours after launch, Samokutyaev will guide his craft to a slow docking to the space station as the trio begins a nearly six month stay aboard earth's orbiting outpost.

The Soyuz crew will spend nearly three hours shutting down systems aboard the Soyuz and preparing for hatch opening, as the station's crew prepares to open the hatch from their side.

The space station's current residents of three -- Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev and flight engineers Paolo Nespoli of Italy and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman -- have been orbiting alone since the March 16 departure of a Soyuz TMA 01M with Russian's Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka and Expedition 26 commander and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.

A Lt. Colonel in the Russian Air Force, Aleksander M. Samokutyaev will be making his first space flight.

Married and the father of one daughter, Samokutyaev attended military pilot school and later served as squadron leader at a helicopter training school in the Ukraine. In July 2005, he became a test cosmonaut and began training for his first flight.

Russian Andrei Borisenko will also be making hist first trip into space, and will celebrate his forty-seventh birthday ten days after docking to the orbiting lab.

The married father of two children is a non-military cosmonaut. After spending several years as a civilian in the Russian Navy, he went on to support the Russian space station MIR program and in 1999, served as a flight director from a seat inside Mission Control.

He oversaw MIR's de-orbit and destructive reentry over the Pacific Ocean in March 2001, and qualified as a test cosmonaut four years later on the very same day as Samokutyaev.

The only space flight veteran of the trio, United States Air Force Colonel Ronald J. Garan flew to the space station in June 2008 as a member of space shuttle Discovery's STS-124 flight.

The two week shuttle flight delivered the Japanese Kibo module and allowed Garan to perform three spacewalks totaling nearly 21 hours combined.

Married and the father of three sons, Garan holds three degrees including one in aerospace engineering.

An F-16 pilot who flew combat missions in Desert Storm in 1991, he enjoys teaching Sunday School at a church near his home in south Houston, Texas, and occasionally coaches boys football and baseball teams as time permits.

Last May, this aerospace reporter spoke with Col. Garan and asked if he would carry with him a special 4-inch patch on his space flight.

The patch features a bird named "Meco" poised above earth's moon, and represents the Twitter-based aerospace friendly members known as the Space Tweep Society.

Founded by former Kennedy Space Center technician for the space shuttle, Jennifer Scheer, the Space Tweep Society patch is also her creation as recognition for those who enjoy to Tweet, blog or photograph activities surrounding aviation and space.

Ron messaged this journalist two weeks ago saying, " I hope to take a picture of the (MECO) patch with Earth in the background".

During the crews stay aboard station, they will bear witness to the final two space shuttle flights as Endeavour arrives on April 21 to install the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, and Atlantis visits in early-July on a resupply flight.

Garan and his Russian crew mates will head home sometime in mid-September, just weeks shy of Ron's own fiftieth birthday celebration.
copyright 1998 - 2010 Charles Atkeison, All rights reserved.