Sunday, January 30, 2011

Apollo 14 at Forty: Crew return America to the moon

Commander Shepard stands upon the lunar surface. (NASA)

America's first man in space, Alan B. Shepard, stood on the dusty soil of the moon. His white space suit made it hard to move freely as he hopped across the plains at Fra Mauro, the landing site for Shepard and fellow moon walker Edgar Mitchell.

As the lunar journey neared its end, Shepard took his handle from a rock collection tool and fastened a six iron wedge at the end of it, dropped a small white ball onto the dry soil and made the first golf shot on another celestial surface.


The ball shot into a nearby crater, and he thought to himself, "A hole in one".


Shepard then perfected his back swing for the second and last golf ball.
"There it goes... miles and miles and miles!" he exclaimed as the second ball soared and arced out into the solid black sky.

It had been a long journey for America's fifth human to reach the moon. As NASA worked to return America back to space following the Apollo One fire, the space agency's senior astronaut was loosing his hearing in his left ear and his balance. His equilibrium was gone by autumn of 1968.

A secret ear operation suggested by fellow astronaut Tom Stafford was then performed by a Los Angeles doctor which allowed the astronaut to return to flight status a year later.

He was ready to now aim for a moon flight, particularly Apollo 13 and the Fra Mauro region.


However, crew rotation by chief astronaut Deke Slayton put Shepard on board Apollo 14, and when the preceding flight aborted it's lunar landing due to a blown oxygen tank, Fourteen set it's mission sights on Fra Mauro.


Apollo 14 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on January 31, 1971, at 4:03:02 pm EST,
forty minutes late due to rain over launch pad 39-A, to begin a nine day voyage upon the ocean of space.

Once the crew reached space and left earth orbit for the moon, they ran into a problem with the docking latches which connect the lunar module
Antares with their command module Kitty Hawk.

For one hour, Kitty Hawk's pilot Stuart Roosa brought the command module in slowly to dock it perfectly on four tries, however the capture latches would not latch. Kitty Hawk's fuel was running lower than had been planned at this point in the flight as well.

If the latches could not dock the two craft together, the mission would have to be aborted.


As the crafts moved past a distance of 20,000 miles away from earth, the idea was discussed to go in at a faster rate to awake those latches and dock the module. It worked and the crew sped on toward lunar orbit.

The three day journey to lunar orbit was quiet.


Antares trip down to the lunar surface was not.

Software issues with the lunar module's landing computer, and later with the landing radar caused big concerns for both the crew and in mission control.

Once the control center sent up new commands to the computer, they were given a go for landing.


Antares single engine fired to bring the craft down and land. It was human kinds third landing upon the moon.

Landing at Fra Mauro on the eastern edge of the Ocean of Storms occurred on February 5 at 4:18:11 a.m., just 130 feet shy from the target site.


"Okay, we made a good landing," the 47-year-old Shepard said upon landing Antares.

Hours later, he became the fifth human to set foot upon the moon and radioed to mission control on what it took for him to reach this point, "Al is on the surface. It's been a long way, but we're here."

To which Slayton replied, "Not bad for an old man." Shepard would be the only Mercury astronaut to reach the moon.

Shepard and Mitchell collected nearly ninety-three pounds of lunar rocks during their nearly five hour set of two moon walks.

This week marks the fortieth anniversary of Shepard and his crew's flight aboard Apollo 14, the mission which returned America to the moon following the odyssey of the Apollo 13 flight the following spring.


In October 1995, this aerospace reporter enjoyed a candid conversation with Alan Shepard on his thoughts about the space program of the time. And, although it has been fifteen years, his words echo true in 2011 as it did then.


Charles Atkeison
: How does the space program today differ from what you experienced during the 1960's and into the early 1970's? Do we still have a focus for what we want to do at NASA?

Alan Shepard: I think as far as NASA's concerned, yes. The difference as far as the general public's concerned is that the pure excitement of the early days is gone because, "so we've done that. What do we do tomorrow?", kind of routine. The fact that the public in general is excited about exploration made the lunar mission a very well recognized, well appreciated phase.

The folks that are flying today are just as dedicated as we were even knowing ahead of time that they are not going to receive the same kind of appreciation and recognition that those of us did in the early days.


Charles: Do you consider yourself the Christopher Columbus of the modern age?

Alan
: I really don't. I consider myself very fortunate to have been allowed to make a couple of space flights for the United States. I recognize a few of us get a lot of attention, but literally hundreds of our close associates are the ones that did all the work. I remember saying in May of 1961 at the White House, when I received a medal from President Kennedy acknowledging that these hundreds, yes thousands of dedicated individuals on the ground are the ones to whom the accolades of the day should go. And I still feel that very strongly.

Charles
: I remember the scene, Kennedy drops your medal during the presentation. What went through your head right then?

Alan
: Well, we almost banged heads 'cause both of us (Shepard laughs) ... it was kind of cute. 'Cause Jack said, "Here", and Jackie (Kennedy) said, "No. No, Jack, pin it on." So then he recovered and pinned it on. So we had a lot of fun with that.

Charles: Thank-you.

During a visit to the Kennedy Space Center's Saturn V center, guests can walk up to and study Kitty Hawk.


Commander Shepard passed away while at his home in California following a two year bout with leukemia in July 1998.
Crew mate Roosa past away three years earlier due to an inflammation of the pancreas; and Mitchell is now eighty and lives near West Palm Beach, Florida.

In May, America will once again recall the Christopher Columbus of the space age in Shepard, as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of America's first trip into space, Freedom 7.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Georgia science center marks Challenger anniversary with celebration of education

Neal Garner directs the children's Mars Mission Friday. (Atkeison)

The anniversary of the loss of space shuttle Challenger was marked with remembrance of the past and a renewed interest in the education of today's youth at Georgia's own Challenger Center for education.

One of forty-eight Challenger Centers across North America and the United Kingdom, Columbus State University's Coca-Cola Space Science Center hosted a brief ceremony to honor the fallen astronauts twenty-five years ago on January 28.

On hand for the remembrance ceremony was former NASA astronaut Alfred Worden who flew to the moon aboard Apollo 15. As he stayed in lunar orbit for thee days in July 1971, his two ship mates flew down and landed their module on the surface of the moon.

Worden spoke to the children of a local school on Friday before they entered a special set of rooms to undertake a fun yet challenging Mission to Mars simulation.

"It's the field trip of a life time for most of these children," stated the mission's flight director and center volunteer Neal Garner at the conclusion of the hour long simulation.

The Challenger Center runs several simulations a day for both the local schools, and schools over one hundred miles away, to promote team work, self confidence and to get a first hand look at how science and math works.

"It's just an honor to represent the (Challenger) crew and talk to the children," Garner said. "To carry on their legacy, it inspires me everyday."

Garner estimates the center averages nearly 200 simulated missions a year.

One mission which was close to Challenger's crew is the center's Mission to a Comet simulation.

The seven astronauts were to have deployed a space satellite to study Haley's comet and it's ultraviolet light. The satellite never made it to space.

The Challenger center steps up and sends the children on a mission to build and deploy a satellite to study the comet Encke. Using technologies such as computers, television monitors, sound and lights, the grade school children can feel the mission as it unfolds.

In the years that followed Challenger's ill-fated launch, the families of the seven crew members began the Challenger Center for space science education.

"They're making math and science fun for our young students," Jennifer Copley exclaimed as she toured the center's lobby filled with space memorabilia including the forward section of a space shuttle orbiter which houses a theater inside.

"The families thought it was important to begin the centers," Garner added. "I'm representing them everyday."


As the clock ticked past 11:39 a.m. on Friday -- the moment Challenger broke apart 25 years earlier -- the children's interest in science and space increased during a question and answer session with Mr. Garner.

Garner reflects on the children who, as they walk away from a mission, say that they, too, want to be an astronaut. "When I hear that, I ... We're here to inspire."

The Columbus Challenger Center also offers the Mead Observatory complete with a Meade 16-inch LX200 telescope; a solar observatory and the Omnisphere Theater featuring a documentary on Black Holes.

Visit Challenger.org or Columbus' Space Science Center's site for more detailed information including locations, astronomy programs, and show times of select movies.

Russian cargo craft en route to space station

Russia launched an unmanned cargo craft to the International Space Station on Thursday evening loaded with supplies, including a small satellite and birthday presents for the commander.

Items such as a mini satellite, fuel, water, oxygen, and science experiments were included aboard the Progress M-09M craft.

A mini satellite known as the Earth Artificial Satellite, nicknamed “Kedr", measures 21.7 x 21.7 x 15.7 inches, and will be the first of several planned small satellites to be placed in earth orbit by cosmonauts during a spacewalk.

"It is designed to transmit 25 greeting messages in 15 different languages, earth photos, and telemetry data for its scientific equipment and service systems," Russian officials stated on earlier.

The 66 pound box satellite was named Kedr after Russia's first man in space, Yuri Gagarin's call sign he used.

Kedr will be "launched" during a six hour spacewalk by cosmonauts Skripochka and Kondratievon on February 16.

"Several books, magazines, sweets were loaded into the Progress for Russians Alexander Kaleri, Dmitry Kondratiev and Oleg Skripocka," the Russian Space Agency stated Tuesday. "Books by famous Russian space exploration founder Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, sent by his grandson Sergey Samburov" will also be on board.

Even a few birthday gifts flew into space which the Russian cosmonauts are scheduled to deliver to their station commander, Scott Kelly.

Kelly will celebrate his 47th birthday in February, and the package includes a note which reads “Not to open till Feb. 21”.

The Progress craft aboard a Soyuz U rocket lifted-off on time at 8:31:39 pm EST, tonight (0131 GMT on Friday), from pad 1 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in western Kazakhstan.

The Progress will spend two days in a lower orbit of that of the space station as it automatically flies up to and docks with the Russian Pirs module on Saturday evening at 9:40 pm (0240 GMT on Sunday).


This weekend's Progress docking will mark the third major event for the station crew in eight days.

A five hour Russian spacewalk last Friday and a Japanese cargo craft which was captured by the station's robotic arm and docked to the Harmony module on Thursday have kept the six member crew busy.


Crew members Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli round out the station's Expedition 26 crew.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Space Station crew captures Japanese cargo craft

Japan's "White Stork" cargo craft awaits capture. (NASA)

A Japanese cargo craft loaded with tons of fresh food and equipment was plucked out of orbit by the crew of the International Space Station today following it's five day orbital journey.

Space station astronauts Paolo Nespoli and Catherine Coleman used a 58-foot robotic arm to capture the unmanned craft at 6:41 a.m. EST, as the orbital pair flew 224 miles high off the coast of eastern Madagascar.


At the Japanese Space Agency's control room, cheers and applause broke out as Nespoli confirmed the capture.

In Houston, mission control's Megan McArthur radioed congratulations to the crew and to the ground controllers.

"It demonstrates what we can do when humans and robots work together," Coleman exclaimed with pride. "We look forward to bringing Kounotori, or HTV 2, on board the International Space Station."

The Japanese craft is known as
KOUNOTORI 2, or "White Stork" in the native language, was launched from the southern end of Japan last Saturday with over four tons of water.

The craft will be docked to Harmony at about 11 a.m. this morning.


Working from the robotics work station in the Italian-built Cupola module, Nespoli and Coleman worked with ground controllers to monitor the 33-foot long craft's position.

Cupola is a 360-degree window view, earth facing node positioned to support incoming and out going spacecraft.


As the orbiting craft's flew 222 miles high above Turkey, the cargo craft began a holding position of 820 feet from the space station at 4:53 a.m.

Thirty minutes later, the craft resumed slowly closing in on the station's Destiny module.

By 5:45 am, the craft had moved to within 290 feet and with a closing rate of four feet per second.


The craft's arrival is the first of three unmanned cargo crafts and one space shuttle ferrying supplies to earth's orbital outpost in space over the next month.

On Saturday evening, a Russian Progress craft is scheduled to dock, followed by a European supply ship on Feb. 23. Shuttle Discovery loaded with tons of supplies and a new storage module is targeted to dock three days later.

On Feb. 18, the HTV 2 will be moved to the back side of the Harmony node due to space shuttle Discovery's expected station arrival a week later. The craft will stay at station until late-March when it will be undocked and sent back down toward a March 29 reentry.

Station commander Scott Kelly and Russian flight engineers Dmitry Kondratyev, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka round out the space station's Expedition 26 crew of six.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Russia prepares supply craft for space station flight

The Soyuz U including the Progress 41P today. (Energia)

Russia will launch an unmanned supply craft to the International Space Station on Thursday evening loaded with fresh supplies and personal items for the crew of six in earth orbit.

Fuel, water, oxygen, science experiments and items we take for granted here on earth will be included aboard the Progress M-09M craft.

"Several books, magazines, sweets will be loaded into the Progress for Russians Alexander Kaleri, Dmitry Kondratiev and Oleg Skripocka," the Russian Space Agency stated Tuesday. "Books by famous Russian space exploration founder Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, sent by his grandson Sergey Samburov" will also be on board.

Even a secret birthday gift will fly into space which the Russian cosmonauts are scheduled to deliver to their station commander, Scott Kelly.

Kelly will celebrate his 47th birthday in February, and the package includes a note which reads “Not to open till Feb. 21”.

Launch of the Progress craft aboard a Soyuz U rocket is set for Thursday night at 8:31:39 pm EST (0131 GMT on Friday), from pad 1 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in western Kazakhstan.

Following an on time launch, the Progress will automatically fly up to and dock with the Russian Pirs module on Saturday evening at 9:39 pm (0239 GMT on Sunday).

This morning as the Sun began to rise over a cold, cloudless Baikonur, the Soyuz U made its way by way of rail car out to launch pad 1.


This weekend's Progress docking will mark the third major event for the station crew in eight days.

A five hour Russian spacewalk last Friday, and a Japanese cargo craft which will be captured by the station robotic arm and docked to the Harmony module twelve hours prior to Progress' launch.


Crew members Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli round out the Expedition 26 crew.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Challenger's Enduring Mission: 25 years strong

Challenger's crew twenty days before their launch. (NASA)

The loss of the space shuttle Challenger and her crew of seven a quarter century ago this Friday marked not just a significant place in American history, but helped capture the imagination of the country and it's youth.

As Challenger sat poised to begin the twenty-fifth space shuttle mission, students around the United States and select countries around the world tuned in to CNN to watch the launch as it happened. Cable News Network was the only network to carry the launch live. In fact, the White House staff was tuned to the Atlanta-based network to watch the lift-off.

This flight attracted both the youth of the nation and their teachers. After all, one of their own was on board -- Teachernaut Sharon Christa McAuliffe.

McAuliffe, along with Barbara Morgan as her back-up, were chosen by NASA in July 1985 for the Teacher in Space project, and it was McAuliffe's excitement for science and space which created a media likeness toward her.

As the launch neared on that January morning, television sets clicked on in classrooms and student halls.

This reporter was one of those students, and my school's choral room was one of those rooms.

Challenger's crew of seven included commander Richard Dick Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, mission specialists Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair and payload specialists McAuliffe and Gregory Jarvis.

As an early-teen, I developed a strong respect for several astronauts in the corps. including Dr. Resnik. During 1985, I was able to place several phone calls to her office, including a few letters. She offered a lot of information about training, strength and the choices you make in your life.

A beautiful, personally signed portrait and a few items from Dr. Resnik remains in my possession to this day.

Tuesday, January 28, 1986 was extremely cold. Ice coated the launch tower where Challenger waited passively following a one day delay due to a stuck hatch handle.

I can recall the days leading up to the launch as if it occurred only twenty-five months ago.

Challenger's STS-51L mission, or STS-33 as the technicians handling Challenger's prelaunch payloads knew it, was originally targeted for Jan. 24 at 3:43 pm. The delays of the launch of Columbia weeks earlier forced a three day delay.

Much of America watched the Chicago Bears win in Super Bowl XX, but for the crew of Challenger and the launch support teams it was bedtime before halftime of the game the night before launch.

Recalling that morning before school, I had CNN on watching the smiles on the crew as they left the Operations and Checkout building. I remember thinking, "there (Dr. Resnik) goes."

The freezing temperatures forecast for launch morning did cause concern with key managers and their support personal, however almost everyone concluded late into the night that it would be safe fly.

The concern was the rubber O-ring seals on the solid rocket boosters which help trap hot gases from leaking out of the several sections which stack up the booster.

Recalling that morning before school, I had CNN on watching the crew walk out and their smiles as they left the Operations and Checkout building. I remember thinking, "there (Dr. Resnik) goes."

The space shuttle Challenger lifted-off into the blue skies over Cape Canaveral following a delay to allow for outside temperatures to warm up at 11:38:00 am EST.

"And, lift-off. Lift-off of the twenty-fifth space shuttle mission, and it has cleared the tower," launch commentator Hugh Harris announced.

It was the first space shuttle launch from pad 39-B.

It was to be an exciting mission as McAulliffe planned to make two 15 minute lessons from space from her classroom on the middeck; and collect data on other space news of the month, comet Halley's return.

A science satellite called Spartan-Halley would be deployed by Dr. Resnik using the ship robotic arm for forty hours of comet Halley observations. Experiments on Spartan would look into the ultraviolet regions of the comet.

Two seconds after the boosters ignited and Challenger began to rise, around eight puffs of black smoke shot out of the right hand booster and then stopped.

The tenth mission of Challenger was underway, and her crew of seven soared toward super sonic speeds.

In classrooms, teachers and school children cheered the space shuttle as it sailed out over the Atlantic Ocean.

Then it was over in a flash.

As Challenger passed through a region of strong winds, pressures from Challenger's speed and the crosswinds from a recent jet stream forced the same o-ring seal which had puffed smoke earlier to allow flame to burn through the seal and lick the lower back section of the external fuel tank.

The flame burned the booster's lower attach point to the tank, causing the forward nose of the booster to veer into the upper section of the external tank and puncturing it.

The entire vehicle disintegrated. And, the force of the disintegration broke apart Challenger. The orbiter itself did not explode.

Challenger's crew cabin was thrown free and traveled upward for a few seconds prior to falling into the ocean.

It's hard for most to put into words their memories of that day. I never have wanted to write about this for fear of... I guess I want to keep my memories to myself, many I will not write about here.

Moments after the tragedy, I finished a math exam and literally ran to the school's front office to call my mother.

I went home and mourned for weeks. Not just for the space program and the crew, but for an innocence lost. I grew up a bit and I vowed to improve myself and aim high.

I think a lot of students of all ages learned from the loss of Challenger, and made personal commitments to achieve higher goals.

In the years that followed, the families of the crew began the Challenger Center for space science education. Today, there are 48 learning centers across America, Canada and the United Kingdom teaching the science involved here on earth and in space. They're making math and science fun for young students, and that's important.

We all have our heroes, those who inspire us deep down to stay strong and strive further to meet our dreams. My father who taught me to fly planes, fish and work a computer at an early age, and Dr. Resnik are sincerely those two heroes who have reached out and touched the face of God.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Japan successfully launches cargo craft to space station

Japan's pride and their future lifts-off on Saturday. (JAXA)

Japan's largest rocket successfully carried into earth orbit today their second supply ship loaded with supplies bound for the International Space Station.

The 33-foot long supply craft, also known as the
KOUNOTORI 2, is an improved version of the first supply craft launched in 2009 to allow for more cargo.

KOUNOTORI was selected as the name in a contest held by Japan's space agency JAXA, and means "White Stork" in the native language.

On board the supply craft is 9,000 pounds of research equipment, computers, spacewalking equipment and personal gear for the crew.


One of the partners of the space station, the pride of Japan and their space future rode on today's launch.

"Even under the pressure of budget restrictions", HTV Project manager Yoshihiko Torano said prior to launch day, "no failure or excuse is acceptable."

The second flight of the HII-B rocket launched on time at 12:37:57 a.m. EST (2:37 pm local time) from the Tanegashima Space Center, located on the southern tip of Japan.

As the white
rocket launched using a cryogenic fueled main stage with a core engine and four strap on solid fueled boosters, it soared into several wind gusts prior to pushing into supersonic speeds.

At lift-off, the space station soared 224 miles high above the equator over the central Atlantic Ocean, while two of the outpost's six crew members stayed up several hours past their bed time to watch the lift-off.

Station crew members Cady Coleman and
Paolo Nespoli watched from the Destiny module the launch live over an Internet feed.

As the rocket tracked southeast from the island nation toward an orbital inclination of 51.65 degrees, the four boosters separated just over two minutes into the flight.

At 12:53:08 a.m., the new supply craft broke free from it's booster and was alone to soar upon the ocean of space and toward it's port-of-call.


It will be Coleman and Nespoli who on Thursday will snare the White Stork with the station's robotic arm and ease it to a docking to the earth facing side of the Harmony module at around 7:42 a.m.

Once the craft docks, sixteen bolts will be driven to secure the cylindrical module to the outpost.

Hours following the berthing of the new Japanese supply craft, Russia will launch their own resupply craft, Progress M-09M to begin a two day orbital trip to station.

One day after Progress' docking to the Russian Pirs module on Jan. 29, the KOUNOTORI 2 will be moved several meters away to the zenith port on Harmony.

Station commander Scott Kelly and Russian flight engineers Dmitry Kondratyev, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka round out the space station's Expedition 26 crew of six.

Japan became the fourth country in 2009 to have the ability to launch an unmanned craft to the station loaded with fresh supplies.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Spacewalk begins busy weekend on Space Station

Russian Kondratiev early into the spacewalk today. (NASA)

One of the busiest weekends aboard the International Space Station began this morning with the start of a Russian spacewalk.

As two cosmonauts prepared to step outside of the station's airlock, on the ground Japan rolled out to it's launch pad their rocket which will deliver several tons of supplies to earth's orbital outpost in space.

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripohcka and Dmitry Kondratiev officially began their six hour orbital walk at 9:29 a.m. EST (1429 GMT) today as they opened the hatch of the Russian Pirs module.

The space station was 224 miles high over the central Pacific Ocean approaching Baja California as the walk began.

It is the twenty-seventh spacewalk by the Russians based from the space station.

"A space walk is a big and important event in an ISS space mission, that's why preparations for it receive special attention on Earth," Kondratyev stated on Thursday.

Kondratyev added, "Spacesuit systems provide a supply of oxygen and dispose of carbon monoxide, maintain a comfortable temperature for a cosmonaut and also provide a radio connection." He refered to his suit as "a small spaceship", the Russian Space Agency added.

The only issue of the spacewalk occurred as
Kondratiev's medical harness in his Orlan spacesuit malfunctioned prior to airlock depressurization. He was approved to begin the spacewalk under the understanding he was to report how he was feeling over the six hours outside.

As the pair transitioned to the Zvezda service module a half-hour later, they activated an American helmet camera on
Skripohcka blue-stripped suit.

The duo began several tasks including the removal of "the impulse plasma injector from Zvezda’s outer surface, and installation of Russia's high-speed data transmission equipment Photon-Gamma intended to study gamma-bursts and optical radiation during thunderstorms", the Russian space agency stated to this reporter.

By 10:10 am, the space walkers were twenty-two minutes ahead of schedule, having completed task number 8 of 30 planned.

Meanwhile on earth, Japan's HII-B rocket was moved out to it's launch pad during the night at 9 a.m. EST.

Japan's largest rocket the HII-B will carry their second supply ship, KOUNOTORI 2 loaded with supplies for the space station in both a pressurized and non-pressurized section.

L
aunch remains set for Saturday at 12:37 a.m. (2:37 p.m. JST) from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan. The flight will mark the HII-B second flight.

On Sunday, the six member crew aboard the station will undock the Russian Progress 40P unmanned craft to make way for next Friday's launch of a fresh supply craft.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Massive Delta IV rocket launches from California

Boeing-built Delta IV-Heavy launches today. (VAFB)

A secret military defense satellite for the United States headed into space today aboard the most massive rocket ever launched from the California coast.

The United States' National Reconnaissance Office L-49 satellite is one of the largest payloads to be placed into a polar orbit around earth, and will serve as both an early warning platform for incoming foreign threats and to observe known hostile regions.

This flight marked the first space shot of the new year for the United States and the second worldwide.

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV-Heavy rocket's three liquid-fueled rocket boosters ignited to carry aloft the NROL-49 from launch pad SLC-6 at Vandenberg, AFB, at 4:10:30 pm EST (1:10 pm local) this afternoon.

This fifth flight of a Delta IV-Heavy lifted-off from the south base's space launch complex 6, the same pad which was primed in the mid-1980's for the military's space shuttle launches.

Four previous Delta IV-Heavy's have launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station since January 2004.

The countdown got underway at 10:38 am EDT, at the T-5 hour, 15 minute point. A slight two minute delay later occurred during the counts only hold to avoid space junk orbiting earth.

A half-hour later, the launch team began fueling the liquid oxygen tanks of the common booster core. Just over an hour later, the liquid hydrogen fueling started.

The 236-foot tall rocket features three common booster cores with a single engine, each delivering nearly 745,000 pounds of thrust at launch or 2,234,000 pounds combined.

Launch began at T-4 seconds when the three RS-68 engines ignited and throttled to full thrust.

Once the Delta rose into the blue midday sky, the launch became visible around the Los Angeles region to the south as the vehicle darted south and out over the Pacific Ocean.

Just over six minutes into the launch, the twin booster cores emptied their fuel and was jettisoned as the rocket flew nearly parallel with Baja California.

The exact deployment time of the payload will not be disclosed, according to the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg.

The next Delta IV-H is on the table to
fly from Cape Canaveral in December, however two medium size Delta IV's will launch beginning this spring also from the Cape.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bowen replaces Kopra on Discovery's flight

NASA astronaut Steve G. Bowen was selected this morning to replace one of space shuttle Discovery's six crew members just weeks before their scheduled launch.

Bowen will replace Timothy Kopra who fractured his hip following a bicycle accident on Saturday, as one of the four mission specialists.

Bowen began training with his new crew today.

"Tim is doing fine and expects a full recovery, however, he will not be able to support the launch window next month," chief of NASA's Astronaut Office Peggy Whitson stated today. "If for some unanticipated reason STS-133 slips significantly, it is possible that Tim could rejoin the crew."

Bowen will perform the two planned spacewalks in which Kopra had trained for during the 12 day flight to the International Space Station.

Bowen has flown to the space station twice prior aboard Endeavour in 2008 and last spring aboard Atlantis.

Bowen will become one of only a few who have flown to space on back-to-back flights.

Kopra launched to the space station in July of 2009 aboard the STS-127 flight, and returned to earth on the very next shuttle flight to the station, STS-128.

Discovery's crew includes commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott.

Discovery's launch remains planned for no earlier than February 24 from the Kennedy Space Center. The orbiter will then dock two days later on a resupply flight and two install a new storage module to the station.

"If you thought of the space shuttle as a dump truck, the MPLM is the thing on the back that carries all the stuff. It’s going to be packed up pretty full," Bowen commented recently about the Multipurpose Logistics Module. "It has a lot of supplies."

It was former chief of the astronaut office, Lindsey selected Bowen for his first space flight.

When asked what is the worst part of being an astronaut, "I can tell you the worst part of my job. It’s things like this, smiling and being nice in front of cameras. That’s the worst part of the job."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Japan's hopes ride on resupply trip to space station

Italy's Paolo Nespoli at the station's workstation. (NASA)

Japan will kick-off a very busy week on Saturday as they launch a resupply craft to the International Station Station along with the future of their space program.

The week promises to be one of the busiest periods aboard the space station in it's twelve year history.

Japan's largest rocket the HII-B will carry into earth orbit their second supply ship, KOUNOTORI 2 loaded with supplies located in both a pressurized and non-pressurized section.

The supply craft, also known as the HTV 2, is an improved version of the first supply craft launched in 2009 to allow for more cargo.


KOUNOTORI was selected as the name in a contest held by Japan's space agency JAXA, and means "White Stork" in the native language.

One of the partners of the space station, the pride of Japan and their space future will also be riding on this week's launch.

HTV Project manager Yoshihiko Torano expressed his thoughts on the flight, "I feel that expectations this time (for a successful flight) are probably 100 percent. If, by any chance, we fail this time, we will be criticized".

Japan became the fourth country in 2009 to have the ability to launch an unmanned craft to the station loaded with fresh supplies.

"Even under the pressure of budget restrictions", Torano added, "no failure or excuse is acceptable."

The HII-B rocket is scheduled to lift-off on January 22 at 12:37:05 a.m. EST (2:37 pm local time) from the Tanegashima Space Center. The flight will mark the HII-B second flight.

Clouds forecast for Thursday delayed the launch date by two days.


The HII-B is launched using a cryogenic fueled main stage rocket with a core engine and four strap on solid fueled boosters.

The rocket will head out over the central Pacific Ocean on a 51.65 degree inclination.


"I think we are more strained than the last (flight)," Torano states, "because I believe that the success of the second mission is often believed to be a matter of course."

Once the supply craft reaches orbit, controllers on the ground will spend the next week using it's thrusters to maneuver it higher as it catches up with it's port-of-call.

The KOUNOTORI 2 will arrive at the space station on January 27, and working from the robotics work station (below) in the American Destiny module, NASA astronaut Cady Coleman and Italian Paolo Nespoli will use the station's robotic arm to reach out and grapple the craft.

The station's arm is scheduled to dock the supply ship to the earth facing side of the Harmony module at around 7:42 a.m. later that same day.

During the past two weeks, Coleman and Nespoli have been busy running through software practices at the workstation preparing for the capture and mating of the craft to Harmony.

Once the craft docks, sixteen bolts will be driven to secure the cylindrical module to the outpost.


Station commander and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian flight engineers Dmitry Kondratyev, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka round out the space station's crew of six.

Hours following the berthing of the Japanese supply craft, Russia will launch their own resupply craft, Progress M-09M, for a two day orbital trip to station.

One day after Progress' docking to the Russian Pirs module on Jan. 29, the KOUNOTORI 2 will be undocked and moved several meters away to the zenith port on Harmony.

The busy week will also include a Russian spacewalk by Kondratyev and Skripochka from the Pirs airlock on Jan. 21, beginning at 9:21 a.m.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Classified military satellite nears California launch

A secret military defense satellite for the United States will head into space on Thursday aboard the most massive rocket ever launched from the California coast.

The United States' National Reconnaissance Office L-49 satellite is one of the largest payloads to be placed into a polar orbit around earth, and will serve as both an early warning platform for incoming foreign threats and to observe known hostile regions.

This flight will also mark the first space shot of the new year for the United States.

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV-Heavy rocket uses three liquid-fueled rocket boosters at launch, and will carry aloft the NROL-49 from launch pad SLC-6 at Vandenberg, AFB, on January 20 at 4:08:05 pm EST (1:08 pm local).

The brief launch window closes at 4:23 pm, Air Force officials said.


This fifth flight of a Delta IV-Heavy will lift-off from the south base's space launch complex 6, the same pad which was primed in the mid-1980's for the military's space shuttle launches.

Four previous Delta IV-Heavy's have launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station since January 2004.

The countdown will begin at 10:38 am EDT, on Thursday at the T-5 hour, 15 minute point.

A half-hour later, the launch team will begin fueling the liquid oxygen tanks of the common booster core. Just over an hour later, the liquid hydrogen fueling will start.

The 236-foot tall rocket features three common booster cores with a single engine, each delivering nearly 745,000 pounds of thrust at launch or 2,234,000 pounds combined.

Launch begins at T-4 seconds when the three RS-68 engines ignite and throttle to full thrust.

Once the Delta rises into the midday skies, the launch will be visible around the Los Angels region to the south as the vehicle darts south and out over the Pacific Ocean.

Just over six minutes into the launch, the three booster cores will have emptied their fuel and will be jettisoned.

The exact deployment time of the payload will not be disclosed, according to the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg.

The next Delta IV-H is on the table to fly from Cape Canaveral in December, however two medium size Delta IV's will launch beginning this spring also from the Cape.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Astronaut's wife shot, critical in mass shooting today

Giffords and astronaut Mark Kelly in 2006 prior to marriage.

The wife of the commander of April's space shuttle flight, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot and critically injured on Saturday during a meeting with supporters outside a grocery store near Tucson, Arizona.

Giffords, who oversees Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, was attending a “Congress on Your Corner” which began at 10 a.m. local time.

She is expected to survive a gunshot wound to the head according to the medical staff treating her and several others wounded.

Giffords met astronaut Mark Kelly in 2003 while in China. The couple were married four years later, her biography states.

According to a family friend, Kelly proposed to Giffords on the campus of his alma mater, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, in Kings Point, New York in October 2006.

Moments after the tragedy which left thirteen people injured and six dead including one of her aides, Kelly flew from his home near Houston to Tucson to be with his wife. The couple have no children together.

Dr. Peter Rhee of the the University of Arizona trauma center stated that Rep. Giffords' in critical condition, "The neurosurgeons have finished operating on her and... I'm very optimistic about (her) recovery."

He added that she was "following commands" following the single gun shot to the head. Dr. Rhee could not comment on where she was shot specifically.

NASA administrator Charlie Bolden issued a statement hours after the shooting, "We at NASA are deeply shocked and saddened by the senseless shooting of Representative Giffords and others at Saturday’s public event in Tucson".

"As a long-time supporter of NASA, Representative Giffords not only has made lasting contributions to our country, but is a strong advocate for the nation’s space program and a member of the NASA family," Bolden added. "She also is a personal friend with whom I have had the great honor of working."

Georgia's Rep. Tom Price (R-GA6) of north Atlanta issued a brief statement on Saturday's shooting, "My thoughts and prayers are with Gabrielle Giffords, the Giffords family, and the families of all those affected by this tragedy".

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) who flew on the space shuttle Columbia 25 years ago next week stated today, ""I am deeply saddened to learn of today's events in Tucson. My prayers go out to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and all the victims, as well as to our NASA family, which includes her husband, who is training to be the next commander of the space shuttle mission slated for April, and her brother-in-law, who is currently serving aboard the International Space Station."

President Obama addressed the nation in saying, "I ask all Americans to join me and Michelle in keeping Representative Giffords, the victims of this tragedy, and their families in our prayers".

This journalist enjoyed a few drinks with Kelly and his brother, Scott Kelly -- the current commander of the International Space Station -- a few months ago.

The Kelly brothers are a military pair who are very passionate about aerospace and the space program as a whole, and so is Gabrielle Giffords.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Space station crew prepares for a busy start to 2011

The busy crew of six aboard the space station. (NASA)

(Updated) An extremely busy first quarter of the new year is planned for the crew of the International Space Station which will pave the way for new transportation and growth as humankind lives and works in earth orbit.

Several flights to the International Space Station by both manned and unmanned craft will be the focus during the first 90 days of the year.

The station's crew of six known as the Expedition 26 will balance the arrival of several ferry flights of supplies; perform two spacewalks by two Russians and two by Americans; and prepare for the arrival of the six visitors and a new storage module aboard the much delayed space shuttle Discovery.

Japan's space agency JAXA will kick things off on January 20 with the launch of their unmanned resupply craft KOUNOTORI, or "white stork" in Japanese.

The ten-meter long KOUNOTORI craft will lift-off atop the H-IIB rocket from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex at the Tanegashima Space Center at 1:29 am EST (3:29 pm Japan ST time). It will mark the second time a supply craft from Japan will fly to the station.

Seven days later, the craft, loaded with some 16 tons of fresh supplies and hardware, will be captured by the space station's robotic arm and then berthed. The hatches into the KOUNOTORI will not open for nearly three weeks by the crew due to the busy nature of the first quarter.

Two Russian cosmonauts on January 21 will don their Orlan MK spacesuits and set out for an orbital walk in space to begin a multi-hour job outside Russia's Zvezda service module. The spacewalk should get underway just after 9 a.m. EST.

Cosmonauts Oleg Skripohcka and Dmitry Kondratiev will perform several tasks including the removal of "the impulse plasma injector from Zvezda’s outer surface, and installation of Russia's high-speed data transmission equipment Photon-Gamma intended to study gamma-bursts and optical radiation during thunderstorms", the Russian space agency stated to this reporter.

A second Russian-based spacewalk is planned for one month later.

The crew will undock the trash filled old Progress 40P from the Russian Piers docking module on Jan. 23 for it's fiery return to earth.

This will make room for Russia to then launch their freshly supplied Progress M-09M craft to dock with the Russian side of earth's orbital outpost in space.

Lift-off of the Soyuz U rocket with the Progress 41P unmanned craft is scheduled for January 27 at 8:30 pm EST ( 01:30 GMT on the 28th), from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in western Kazakhstan.

The Progress will dock three days later to the Russian Piers docking module.

South of Florida and into the northern jungles of South America lies the European spaceport in French Guiana -- home to the Arianespace's Ariane 5 heavy lift rocket.

An Ariane 5 is scheduled to launch after Discovery's lift-off on an unmanned cargo supply flight to the European Columbus module on the station.

Launch of the Ariane 5 with the automated transfer vehicle nicknamed Johannes Kepler is currently set for February 15 at 5:09 pm EST (2209 GMT), from Kourou.

Kepler is currently scheduled to dock with the Russian side of station on February 26.

In the United States, the space shuttle Discovery will be poised to lift-off on her 39th and final space flight. Delayed due to a gaseous hydrogen leak and a half-dozen cracks on the ship's external fuel tank, the current target launch date of no earlier than February 27 is under review as technicians strengthen the tank.

Discovery's brief February launch window closes on March 3, and reopens again on April 1.

When Discovery does fly, the orbiter will dock to the space station to begin eight days of off loading supplies; install a new permanent storage module; and perform two spacewalks.

On March 16, three of the station's crew members will depart for their return to earth. Alexander Kaleri, Scott Kelly and Skripochka will undock aboard the Soyuz TMA-01M craft and land several hours later in Kazakhstan.

Once the Soyuz departs, the remaining crew of three -- new station commander Dmitry Kondratiev and flight engineers Catherine "Cady" Coleman and Paolo Nespoli -- will form the core of the new Expedition 27.

The first quarter of 2011 will conclude with the launch of a new crew of three to the space station to begin a nearly six month stay.

Russian Soyuz 26 commander Alexander Samokutyaev and flight engineers Andrei Borisienko and Ron Garan will lift-off aboard a Soyuz rocket on March 29 at 8:43 pm EST (0043 GMT on the 30th), on a two day journey to the space station.

Of special interest to this reporter is what Garan will carry with him into earth orbit -- a Space Tweep Society patch.

In talking with Garan last spring, I asked him if he could represent those of us who write and discuss aerospace activities via Twitter and in blog form by flying the nearly 4-inch patch.

"Sure I'd be happy to take a patch with me", the NASA astronaut told me on May 26. "It will probably be a one way trip though since we will have retired the Shuttle by then."

The black circular patch features the society's logo of a bird named Meco high above a celestial object, and was created by the society's co-founder Jen Scheer.

Everyone involved with STwS would just as soon see the Meco patch stay in earth orbi

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Making the delayed trip of Discovery family friendly

Several of Discovery's family of six await their trip. (NASA)

Imagine you are a member of the crew of the next space shuttle flight who are taking a family trip into earth orbit.

You arrive at the Kennedy Space Center to review the itinerary for your twelve day trip to your "hotel in space", the International Space Station.

One sunny morning, you and your family of six astronauts head out and board your vehicle known as the space shuttle Discovery.

The last bags are loaded, the family is strapped in and at the last minute, Uncle Mike Massimino remembers to return the family video camera he used on his last vacation.

The family is excited to be going. For several, they haven't left the planet in a year or more.

However, there is a problem.

A neighbor three miles down the gravel road in a white long trailer-styled home next to a garage can tell that gaseous hydrogen is leaking from the vehicle's tank.

"This needs to be repaired," the father thinks, and tells the family to go back inside the house for a few days as the mechanics make a service call to perform the repair.

As the mechanic is draining the vehicle's tank of the fuel, several cracks on the fuel tank can be seen which are unrelated to the earlier leak.

So now the mechanic informs the family that they can make a few repairs at their home, but will need to have a tow service come out and move the vehicle to the garage for several weeks to ensure there are no further cracks.

Well, deep down the father and his family really wanted to be at the hotel in space hanging with several relatives and a few distant cousins, but feel it would be safer to have the mechanic perform the checks in the garage.

The tow service arrives a few weeks later after the mechanic fixes the cracks, puts new fuel in the tank and then empties the tank.

The tow truck then backs in but gets stuck, and has to spend a day adjusting by several inches just to pick up the vehicle for tow.

The technicians in the garage bring in the vehicle known as Discovery to begin examining her tank.

Meanwhile, the family of six wait... and wait through Christmas, and as they wait they think of new plans they want to try and do on their trip.

The boys say they are looking forward to swimming around for seven hours on two of their vacation days. While the mother wants to take a look at the hotel in space she lived in for six months as she worked away from home.

So the family calls the garage several times to check on their vehicle's progress, but the technicians say that they need to add strengtheners to the vehicles tank after discovering new cracks.

The repairs to the additional cracks continue.

The family waits through through the New Year.

They then consider to take that long awaited trip around Super Bowl Sunday in an attempt to get their father out of the house.

After all, he did have a desk job for a while...

Monday, January 03, 2011

NASA repairing new cracks today on Discovery's tank

Technicians have begun work today repairing newly discovered cracks on the support beams on the fuel tank of the space shuttle Discovery.

Four new cracks were discovered last week following x-ray scans of the inter tank region on the opposite side of where Discovery is mated on the external tank.

The four cracks being repaired are located on three vertical support beams known as stringers. The work is expected to finish up on Wednesday.

Around the center area of the tank are 108 twenty-one foot long aluminum brackets call stringers. The stringers help strengthen the tank's skin from crushing like a soda can as the space shuttle passes through MAX-Q -- the time in flight when the shuttle traveling at a high speed encounters the heavy atmosphere beginning at about forty-five seconds after launch.

Once the cracks are repaired, the NASA contractors will apply new foam insulation over the repaired areas.

Engineers today are also making aditional x-ray images on all of the tank's stringers using a backscatter method, NASA stated earlier.

The fuel tank is loaded with 535,000 gallons of super cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen on launch day. The fuels are stored inside two inner tanks and at launch they mix together to power the orbiter's three main engines during the first eight-plus minutes of flight.

Discovery's launch remains targeted for February 3 at 1:37 am EST, from launch pad 39-A.

Discovery must launch during a brief window which ends on Feb. 10, or stand down until Feb. 27 due to activity centered around the orbiter's port-of-call -- the International Space Station.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Space Station crew prepares for a busy 2011 start

The busy crew of six aboard the space station. (NASA)

An extremely busy first quarter of the new year is planned for the crew of the International Space Station which will pave the way for new transportation and growth as humankind lives and works in earth orbit.

Several flights to the International Space Station by both manned and unmanned craft will be the focus during the first 90 days of the year.

The station's crew of six known as the Expedition 26 will balance the arrival of several ferry flights of supplies; perform two spacewalks by two Russians and two by Americans; and prepare for the arrival of the six visitors and a new storage module aboard the much delayed space shuttle Discovery.

Japan's space agency JAXA will kick things off on January 20 with the launch of their unmanned resupply craft KOUNOTORI, or "white stork" in Japanese.

The ten-meter long KOUNOTORI craft will lift-off atop the H-IIB rocket from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex at the Tanegashima Space Center at 1:29 am EST (3:29 pm Japan ST time). It will mark the second time a supply craft from Japan will fly to the station.

Seven days later, the craft, loaded with some 16 tons of fresh supplies and hardware, will be captured by the space station's robotic arm and then berthed. The hatches into the KOUNOTORI will not open for nearly three weeks by the crew due to the busy nature of the first quarter.

Two Russian cosmonauts on January 21 will don their Orlan MK spacesuits and set out for an orbital walk in space to begin a multi-hour job outside Russia's Zvezda service module. The spacewalk should get underway just after 9 a.m. EST.

Cosmonauts Oleg Skripohcka and Dmitry Kondratiev will perform several tasks including the removal of "the impulse plasma injector from Zvezda’s outer surface, and installation of Russia's high-speed data transmission equipment Photon-Gamma intended to study gamma-bursts and optical radiation during thunderstorms", the Russian space agency stated to this reporter.

A second Russian-based spacewalk is planned for one month later.

The crew will undock the trash filled old Progress 40P from the Russian Piers docking module on Jan. 23 for it's fiery return to earth.

This will make room for Russia to then launch their freshly supplied Progress M-09M craft to dock with the Russian side of earth's orbital outpost in space.

Lift-off of the Soyuz U rocket with the Progress 41P unmanned craft is scheduled for January 27 at 8:30 pm EST ( 01:30 GMT on the 28th), from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in western Kazakhstan.

The Progress will dock three days later to the Russian Piers docking module.

In the United States, the space shuttle Discovery will be poised to lift-off on her 39th and final space flight. Delayed due to a gaseous hydrogen leak and a half-dozen cracks on the ship's external fuel tank, the current target launch date of February 3 will likely be delayed at least one week based on what several insiders at the Kennedy Space Center have stated.

Discovery's brief February launch window closes on the 10th, and reopens again on the 28th.

When Discovery does fly, the orbiter will dock to the space station to begin eight days of off loading supplies; install a new permanent storage module; and perform two spacewalks.

South of Florida and into the northern jungles of South America lies the European spaceport in French Guiana -- home to the Arianespace's Ariane 5 heavy lift rocket.

An Ariane 5 is scheduled to launch after Discovery's lift-off on an unmanned cargo supply flight to the European Columbus module on the station.

Launch of the Ariane 5 with the automated transfer vehicle nicknamed Johannes Kepler is currently set for February 15 at 5:09 pm EST (2209 GMT), from Kourou.

Kepler is currently scheduled to dock with the Russian side of station on February 26

On March 16, three of the station's crew members will depart for their return to earth. Alexander Kaleri, Scott Kelly and Skripochka will undock aboard the Soyuz TMA-01M craft and land several hours later in Kazakhstan.

Once the Soyuz departs, the remaining crew of three -- new station commander Dmitry Kondratiev and flight engineers Catherine "Cady" Coleman and Paolo Nespoli -- will form the core of the new Expedition 27.

The first quarter of 2011 will conclude with the launch of a new crew of three to the space station to begin a nearly six month stay.

Russian Soyuz 26 commander Alexander Samokutyaev and flight engineers Andrei Borisienko and Ron Garan will lift-off aboard a Soyuz rocket on March 29 at 8:43 pm EST (0043 GMT on the 30th), on a two day journey to the space station.

Of special interest to this reporter is what Garan will carry with him into earth orbit -- a Space Tweep Society patch.

In talking with Garan last spring, I asked him if he could represent those of us who write and discuss aerospace activities via Twitter and in blog form by flying the nearly 4-inch patch.

"Sure I'd be happy to take a patch with me", the NASA astronaut told me on May 26. "It will probably be a one way trip though since we will have retired the Shuttle by then."

The black circular patch features the society's logo of a bird named Meco high above a celestial object, and was created by the society's co-founder Jen Scheer.

Everyone involved with STwS would just as soon see the Meco patch stay in earth orbi

 
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