Monday, February 28, 2011

Discovery astronauts wrap first of two spacewalks

Drew (left) and Bowen work outside station today. (NASA)

Two spacewalking astronauts wrapped up several long awaited chores outside the International Space Station today, the first of two planned walks in space this week.

Shuttle Discovery crew members Steve Bowen and Alvin Drew concluded a six hour, thirty four minute orbital walk in space this afternoon at 5:20 p.m. EST, as the station-shuttle complex flew 222 miles off the Newfoundland coast and out over the northern Atlantic Ocean.

On the agenda first was the installation of the J612 power cable, a back up which runs from the Unity to the Tranquility nodes.

The combined twelve crew members of both the shuttle and station over came a few issues during the spacewalk.

First, Bowen's helmet video camera failed to work. Controllers on the ground in talking with spacewalk coordinator Nicole Stott spent over an hour to troubleshoot the issue. It looked to be working halfway through the walk.

Just over 100 minutes into the spacewalk, the Robotics Work Station computer in the Cupola node shutdown, stopping control of the station's robotic arm.

Arm operators station commander Scott Kelly and Discovery astronaut Mike Barratt were told to switch to the Destiny module's backup work station to resume using the arm to translate Bowen around the truss segment.

As Bowen rode the end of the arm holding the ammonia pump section, Barratt swung the arm over to the Quest airlock. Drew then screwed in four bolts to secure the 780-pound pump module to a storage platform as Bowen held it in place.

Mission Control states that the ammonia pump will be returned back to earth on the final space shuttle mission aboard Atlantis this July.

In the closing minutes of the spacewalk, the astronauts approached the Japanese Kibo module and removed a bottle-styled container and opened the lid.

As the crew inside played The Police's "Message in a Bottle" over the radio communications channel, Drew filled the Japanese metal container with the elements of 'space'.

It will be returned to earth and handed over to JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency, and placed in a museum in Japan in support of space flight. It's designed to inspire future engineers and space voyagers.

"You guys did an excellent job today, you rocked," Stott radioed her crew mates as they concluded work outside the station.

Today's spacewalk was the 154th spacewalk by Americans, Russians, Japanese and Europeans to both construct and maintain the space station. A total 967 hours and 39 minutes of spacewalking since the orbiting lab complex began construction in 1998 have been completed.

This was lead spacewalker Bowen's sixth trip outside a spacecraft and has now logged 41 hours, 04 minutes. For Drew, this was his first trip outside and into the vacuum of space.

NASA's station control room capcom Stan Love spoke to station commander Scott Kelly and Discovery's commander Steve Lindsey at 6:00 p.m. to say that Discovery will receive an extra day docked to the space station.

The extra day in space may mean a special photo opportunity as a Russian Soyuz TMA could undock and fly out to photograph the visiting shuttle as she and several international unmanned craft sit parked at the complex. Russia may be uneasy with the idea.

NASA's Johnson Space Center informed this reporter tonight that NASA is "awaiting a formal decision on a Soyuz fly around which will be made tomorrow at the space station Mission Management Team meeting".

Landing will now be rescheduled for March 8 at about 11:35 a.m. at the Kennedy Space Center.

Discovery astronauts begin first spacewalk of mission

Discovery astronauts work outside space station today. (NASA)

(UPDATED: 2:05 p.m. EST) -- Shuttle Discovery astronauts Steve Bowen and Alvin Drew left the comfort of the International Space Station this morning to perform several chores in support of earth's orbital outpost.

Today's spacewalk began at 10:46 a.m. EST, and is Bowen's sixth orbital walk having accumulated 34 1/2-hours of spacewalking time on two shuttle flights.

Drew became the 200th person to perform a spacewalk in human history as he set out on his first walk in space.

Bowen and Drew paused prior to departing the airlock to acknowledge former Discovery crew mate and lead spacewalker Tim Kopra who will help the duo from Mission Control during the spacewalk.

"I'm really looking forward to working with you guys," Kopra radioed astronauts Bowen and Drew moments before the walk began. "You're a good man for the job," Kopra addressed to Bowen his replacement on the mission.

Bowen was added to Discovery's crew on January 19 to replace Kopra following a bike accident by Kopra a few days earlier in which he suffered a fractured hip in January.

As the crew worked 222 miles above earth, Discovery astronaut and former station resident in 2009 Nicole Stott is serving as the coordinator of the spacewalk.

The spacewalk is the first of two planned during Discovery's week long visit to the space station, and is the 154th 'walk in support of space station construction and maintenance.

Today's walk also marked the 234th venture outside a spacecraft by an American astronaut since Ed White first left his Gemini IV craft in 1965.

The duo will install a power extension cable to the Unity; relocate a failed ammonia module which failed last year to a storage platform for it's return to earth; and a Japanese "Message in a Bottle" experiment which will be released into space and return to earth.

The first issue in the early minutes of the spacewalk was Bowen's spacesuit helmet camera failed to work. Controllers on the ground along with Stott trouble shot the camera issue. It was later fixed a bit later.

"I think we're moving along pretty well here...", Stott radioed the astronauts as they completed the installation of the J612 power cable, a back up which runs from the Unity to the Tranquility nodes.

Bowen then transitioned over to the space station's 58-foot robotic arm followed by Drew to install a work platform on the end of the arm. Bowen will ride the arm as the pair moves the ammonia tank to a new storage location.

Just over 100 minutes into the spacewalk, the
Robotics Work Station computer in the Cupola node shutdown, stopping control of the station's robotic arm.

Arm operators station commander Scott Kelly and Discovery astronaut Mike Barratt were told to switch to the Destiny module's backup work station to resume using the arm to translate Bowen over the lab complex.

By 2 PM, the astronauts were running fifteen minutes behind schedule.

Air Force space plane ready for second test flight

The Air Force will launch their second X-37B space plane into earth orbit on Friday to begin a test flight which could last six months in space.

The nearly ten-foot high, twenty-nine foot long X-37B has a wing span of fifteen feet from tip to tip, and is designed to increase the military's knowledge of reentry style vehicles which can return experiments from space.

The first flight lifted-off last April 22 and flew what the Air Force deemed a successful flight of the unmanned craft. The only known issue was a tire which blew after landing upon runway 12 at Vandenberg, AFB in California.

Launch of the X-37B a top a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5-501 rocket is planned for March 4 at 3:39 p.m. EST, the opening of a two hour launch window, from complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

This flight will mark the Atlas 5's twenty-fourth launch since it's first flight in 2002.

Several minutes into the launch, the Air Force will send the public into a news black out as this still top secret developmental Orbital Test Vehicle heads to orbit.

Several of this X-37B's flight details will go beyond the tests of the 224 day first X-37B flight last year. A payload or two will be flown on board the spacecraft.

The spacecraft will settle into an average orbit of about 350 statue miles.

ULA performed a fueled mock countdown of the Atlas 5 on February 4.

The Boeing Satellite Systems space plane uses bipropellant thrusters developed by American Pacific Corporation's In-Space Propulsion, and are used for vernier reaction control to achieve orbit; to change it's attitude while on orbit; and to leave orbit.

NASA begun the X-37 project in 1999, however the space agency handed it over to the Arlington, Virginia based DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) five years later.

DARPA, originally formed in 1958 as the Advanced Research Projects Agency, is an office designed to prevent technological surprises against the United States, such as the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957.


The OTV project partnership between the military, DARPA and NASA was announced in October 2006.

The vehicle's return home is expected toward the end of this summer with an auto-landing at Vandenberg.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shuttle Discovery docks with Space Station

Shuttle Discovery at 600 feet from space station today. (NASA)

The International Space Station welcomed six astronauts and a new storage module today as shuttle Discovery docked to the outpost this afternoon.

Like a white dove soaring to her nest upon the black vastness of space, Discovery cruised up to and slowly backed in to dock one last time with a space station.

On this her final space flight, Discovery had docked with two different space stations beginning with Russia's MIR in 1998.

Discovery's commander Steve Lindsey steered the shuttle to the station's forward section and docked to the end of the Harmony node on time at 2:14 p.m. EST, after completing a 46 hour chase of the outpost.


Docking occurred during an orbital sunrise as the two spacecraft flew 225 miles above southern Australia.

One hour earlier, Discovery performed a rendezvous pitch maneuver in which the nose of the shuttle is pitched up and performs a 360-degree back flip so that the belly of the shuttle can be photographed from the space station.

As Discovery soared 219 miles high over the cloudy Amazonian jungles of central South America, station astronauts Cady Coleman and Paolo Angelo Nespoli in the Zvezda module began snapping several hundred detailed images of Discovery's heat shield during an 89 second period.

A post-Columbia standard, the space shuttle pitch maneuver has happened on each shuttle flight to station beginning in 2005.

In two hours, the station's crew of six will greet the shuttle's six astronauts as they begin nearly eight days of resupply work, spacewalks and the transfer of a new cargo module to the station.

The new arrivals will receive a station safety briefing and tour during the next hour.

The now 1.2 million pound space station-shuttle complex could see a Russian Soyuz TMA craft separate and perform a fly around maneuver later during Discovery's visit.

Shuttle Discovery closes in on space station

Station astronauts prepare today for Discovery's arrival. (NASA)

Shuttle Discovery's astronauts are fine tuning their orbit in preparation for today's docking to the International Space Station and one week of supply transfers, two spacewalks and the delivery of a new pressurized module.

Discovery's all veteran crew includes commander Steve Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Mike Barratt and Nicole Stott. Barratt and Stott spent nearly six months aboard the station nearly two years ago.

Two trim burns by Discovery will increase and correct the shuttle's orbit followed by a critical burn at 11:33 a.m. by astronauts Lindsey and Boe. A fourth planned burn at 12:50 p.m. known as the NC-4 burn will place Discovery at the space station.

The post-Columbia standard space shuttle pitch maneuver is planned to begin at 1:16 p.m.

As Discovery's nose is pitched up and around 360-degrees, station crew members Cady Coleman and Paolo Angelo Nespoli will use 400 and 800-mm cameras to photograph the belly of Discovery as they look for any tile damage following Thursday's dramatic ride to orbit. Station commander Scott Kelly will be nearby to time the pitch maneuver.
Discovery's crew will only have fifteen minutes in which to perform the maneuver as the sun begins to set behind the earth.

At about forty-five minutes prior to docking, Discovery will transition to the front of station will flying in an orbital ballet with the outpost nearly 600-feet away.

Discovery is due to dock to earth's orbiting outpost in space at 2:16 p.m. EST, as the two crafts soar into an orbital sunrise.

Two hours later, the station's crew of six will greet the shuttle's six astronauts as they begin nearly eight days of docked operations.

Discovery's crew of six were awoken at 6:54 a.m. today, to the music from Disney's Toy Story, "Woody's Roundup", for mission specialist Alvin Drew, as the shuttle flew high over the southern Atlantic Ocean.

At the same time, Discovery was some 2,300 miles behind the space station, and closing at a rate of 500 miles per each 90 minute orbit of the earth.

Discovery will remove from it's payload bay the final American segment known as the Permanent Multipurpose Module, a bus sized cylindrical segment which will be used for storage. It will begin to free up more space inside the station's working and living segments.

Formally known as the Leonardo logistics module, the PMM has actually flown to the space station several times most recently two flights ago.

Inside the PMM will be 6500 pounds of cargo, spare parts, R2 - a robo-naut which will be used outside the outpost; and personal crew supplies to help resupply earth's orbiting outpost in space. Discovery's middeck will carry another 1500 pounds of supplies, too.

Robonaut 2 will remain in the PMM through Discovery's flight, and weeks later will later be moved so that it's two halves can be mated together and placed outside the station.

Bowen and Drew will perform two spacewalks during this 35th shuttle flight to earth's outpost in space, during flight days 5 and 7, Monday and Wednesday respectively.

The duo will install a alternative power cable between the Tranquility and Unity modules on the first spacewalk; relocate a failed ammonia pump module to another part of the station; and perform work on a camera and the railway system on the truss segment.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Former astronaut times skydive with launch

Fred Leslie skydives as Discovery launches behind him. (Leslie)

The Huntsville Times broke the story moments ago of former astronaut Fred Leslie and his perfectly timed skydiving jump as space shuttle Discovery lifted-off from Cape Canaveral on Thursday.

While over Deland, Florida -- some sixty miles northeast of the Kennedy Space Center -- Leslie and his wife Kathy made a special jump at 4:45 pm EST, to coincide with the shuttle's launch trajectory.

However, a nearly three minute delay in Discovery's launch almost kept the jump from happening as the shuttle's launch window began to run out due to a faulty Air Force computer which controls the eastern test range.

Discovery launched with only three seconds left in her window.

As the couple soared over 13,000 feet above Deland, Leslie informed this reporter that the photographs were "taken by skydiving photographer Curt Bartholomew".

As The Times Elizabeth Hoekenga described it, "The jump had a special meaning to Fred, who is a former astronaut and works for NASA. He wanted a picture of himself wearing the flight suit he wore on a 1995 mission aboard Space Shuttle Columbia."

Leslie's single spaceflight of nearly sixteen days included astronaut Cady Coleman, who is currently living aboard the space station.

Both Leslie and his wife are veteran skydivers with nearly 8,000 jumps between them.

This reporter recalls visiting with Leslie, Coleman and the crew during their launch training in the autumn of 1995, and later at several crew walk outs related to the several mission scrubs.

Leslie works as a researcher at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Discovery crew begins shuttle inspections with arm

Discovery pilot Eric Boe during a engine burn today. (NASA)

The crew aboard the space shuttle Discovery nudged their craft a bit higher as they prepare for Saturday's arrival at the International Space Station.

Discovery fired the ship's right orbital maneuvering jet at 9:44 a.m. EST, to help adjust the craft's orbit as it trailed the station by several thousand miles.

Commander Steve Lindsey and pilot Eric Boe fired the engine for 13 seconds to increase the shuttle's speed by 7 mph.

A small increase as the shuttle flies at an average speed of 17,300 mph or 5 miles per second.

Minutes later, crew members began work to use the Discovery's robotic arm to survey regions of her thermal protective tiles and blankets.

The fifty-foot Canadian-built robotic arm grappled an extension boom known as the Orbiter Sensor Boom which carries an infrared camera at the opposite end.

It's this camera which is used with a laser to scan both the thermal tiles and blankets which cover the skin of Discovery, and check for any debris hits or punctures during her dramatic launch yesterday.

The crew began scanning the spacecraft's right side before moving over to the left side late. In all the scans take about six hours to complete.

The second day of the final flight of Discovery began on a musical note this morning.

Discovery's six member crew awoke to the music "Through Heavens Eyes" for crew member Mike Barratt, as Discovery flew over the southern Pacific at 6:54 a.m.

Discovery's crew of all space veterans include commander Lindsey, pilot Boe and mission specialists Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Barratt and Nicole Stott.

Discovery is expected to close in and dock to earth's orbital outpost in space at 2:19 p.m. on Saturday.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Shuttle Discovery launches on her final voyage


Discovery soars toward space on her final launch. (NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The space shuttle Discovery lifted-off today on one last voyage upon the ocean of space.

Carrying a crew of six astronauts and one robonaut, Discovery leaped skyward and along a path up the eastern coastline of the United States.

"For those watching, get ready to witness the majesty and the power of Discovery as she lifts-off one final time," Discovery's commander Steve Lindsey announced minutes before lift-off.

The countdown was halted at T-5 minutes in an unplanned hold due to an Air Force Range Safety computer issue which is needed to communicate with the spacecraft during launch.

With nearly three minutes of available time to hold the count, the range worked the issue with style and coolness. The countdown was held and the launch team waited.

Two minutes went by and no word from the range.

Then word came that the range would be go for launch, and the control center asked for an official word, "Go" was the word from the range safety and they disabled the hold fire button.

The countdown picked up at T-5 minutes giving the launch team only three seconds to spare before launch control would have had to scrub for the day.

The eastern range enabled the hold fire switch so that launch control could not launch with the down computer.

"The inhibit had to be removed and then we had to instruct the GLS (ground launch sequencer) operator (George Thomas) to pick up the count,"
Mission Management Team chairman Mike Moses stated.
"They are the launch decision authority for launch," Mosses added.
Today marked Thomas' last day at NASA as he is one of several beginning a volunteer lay-off due to the scale back of the shuttle program with only two shuttle flights left after Discovery.

NASA's oldest space shuttle launched at 4:53:24 p.m. EST, from launch complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center to begin an 11-day flight to resupply the International Space Station.

An external tank camera witnessed several foam pieces shake free from the tank, the largest at just before the four minute mark into the launch. The 8-inch x 10-inch piece of foam was likely not haven impacted the orbiter since it was above the dense region of the atmosphere.

Mission control radioed the foam loss to the crew at 7 PM, stating that there was no strong concern.

None of Discovery's burns to catch up with the station will change, NASA states.

NASA and it's international partners will likely elect to have a Russian Soyuz TMA spacecraft fly around the space station for an out of this world photo opportunity on the last day of docked operations.

A decision to have the Soyuz fly around will come midway into Discovery's mission, and it will also add an additional day to shuttle's flight.

Today's launch marked Discovery's thirty-ninth and final climb to space. The most traveled of any of the five space-flown orbiters, Discovery has traveled over 143 million miles and will add nearly five million more upon touchdown in twelve days at Kennedy.

Huge crowds gathered along the Space Coast, from north Titusville south to Jetty Park and Port Canaveral, and across the space center, to watch the final launch of the storied spacecraft.

Guests included Florida Gov. Rick Scott and former House speaker Nancy Pelosi.



(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

European cargo craft docks with space station

Europe's Kepler approaches the space station today. (ESA)

A European cargo craft arrived at the International Space Station today following a one week journey to deliver fresh supplies and fuel.

The Automated Transfer Vehicle Johannes Kepler docked to the space station's Zvezda service module's aft section at 10:59 a.m. EST, today

Kepler is Europe's second space station resupply flight by an ATV.

As the ATV approached the space station this morning, station astronaut Paolo Nespoli of Italy monitored the craft's approach via television monitors.

Earlier, at 9:10 am EST, the automated transfer vehicle flew at a distance of 2,205 meters or 10,515 feet away from the space station.

As the spacecraft drew closer, it's heads on approach gave it the look of an X-Wing fighter from the later Star Wars episodes.

Kepler will have it's first task at the station as it fires it's thrusters to perform a reboost of the space station into an orbit 1.1 statue miles higher on Friday at 5:33 a.m. The engine's will burn for just over three minutes.

The third and final budgeted ATV is scheduled for launch in Spring 2012; and Europe is working to have a fourth ATV funded and built for a late-2013 launch.

Kepler was launched a top an Ariane 5 rocket on Feb. 16 from the northeast coastline of South America following a one day delay.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Science and flying inspired Eric Boe to aim high

Pilot Eric Boe arrives at Kennedy Space Center Sunday. (KSC)

Atlanta resident and future space shuttle astronaut Eric A. Boe grew up in the Peach State involved in sports and flying planes while having a strong focus on science and education.

Boe will make his second trip into space as pilot of the space shuttle Discovery tomorrow on a voyage to resupply the International Space Station.

Born in Miami, Florida, his parents moved soon after to a home in east Atlanta, a city which became a launching pad for his future goals in life.

"I grew up in Atlanta, and it had a big influence on me," the 46 year-old Air Force Colonel said. "It kind of put in motion the kind of goals and objectives, and obviously the schooling was a real important part of having the opportunity of working here at NASA."

The seeds of science and flying were planted in his life's ambitions as the Apollo astronauts explored the moon in 1969.

"I remember specifically when the moon landings happened," Boe recounted. "I was 5 years old and I remember my parents calling me into the room and telling me 'Hey, watch this. This is really important stuff.'"

Sports was a strong foundation while attending Henderson high school in metro Atlanta in the early 1980's.

"I enjoyed soccer. I participated in cross country and I also was on the wrestling team," Boe said proudly of his high school career.

But one person helped give the young lad the gift of science.

"I had a teacher at Fernbank Science Center which is in my local community, Debbie Huffman," Boe discussed. "She works encouraging youth in aviation and other scientific fields so she really helped me out along the way."

Mrs. Huffman continues her long career at Fernbank today.

Boe also served as a cadet in Georgia's Civil Air Patrol, which promotes aerospace education and emergency management including search and rescue. The north Atlanta resident received the Patrol's highest honor, the General Carl A. Spaatz Award.

At 16, he flew solo for the first time as a part of the CAP. "That was my first real opportunity to fly an airplane by myself," Boe remembers. "CAP gave me that opportunity."

He continues to serve and support the Florida branch of the Civil Air Patrol.

Upon graduating from high school in 1983, Boe left Atlanta for the United States Air Force Academy, and four years later received a Bachelor of Science in Astronautical Engineering.

The Air Force called upon Boe and his 60th Fighter Squadron based out of Eglin, AFB in Florida, for duties in Kuwait and Iraq during Operation .

A flight commander for the F-15C, Boe and his crew would fly fifty-five combat missions across southern Iraq in 1994.

A year later, he returned home to Atlanta.

Ten years after completing his first degree, Col. Boe received his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech, located just twelve minutes from his boyhood home.

That year also included a trip out to Edwards, AFB in California and the Air Force's Test Pilot's school.

While living at Eglin, Boe was selected as a pilot astronaut during July 2000, while at the same time his wife Kristen and Eric were expecting a son.

During the years of astronaut training and assisting with future spacecraft design projects at the Johnson Space Center near Houston, Boe left for a year in Star City, Russia to serve as NASA's director of operations at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.

Then while on a working trip at the Marshall Space Flight Center in 2007, Boe received the call he had long waited to hear.

Boe remembers the day so clear, "
The chief of our office, Steve Lindsey, called me up on my cell phone and I was talking to him and he goes, “Hey, how would you like to fly on STS-126?” It was a great day."

During the second half of November 2008, Col. Boe made the trip of a lifetime when he spent nearly sixteen days in space, including over a week spent docked at the space station.

"I did get the chance to see the Atlanta area in space, and one of the things that was pretty cool was that they were having a Georgia Tech game," Boe said of his flight aboard Endeavour. "The shuttle actually flew over the top of Atlanta, and we were looking down while they were looking up and they actually talked about it at the football game."

Boe and his crew made the November 20 night time pass over northern Georgia as Tech played ACC rival Miami in a game shown on ESPN. And, yes, Georgia Tech later won 41-23 that night.

On Thursday, Lindsey will command Boe and four mission specialist astronauts on a nearly two week mission aboard Discovery.

Boe will become the last person to serve as pilot aboard the storied spacecraft on this, the thirty-ninth and final flight of Discovery.

As the mission winds down, Boe's focus will turn toward space station undocking.

Boe will get the chance to 'fly' Discovery in a 360-degree revolution around earth's orbiting outpost before firing twin engines to separate and begin the crew's return trip home.

Taurus XL countdown stopped; launch reset for Friday

The launch countdown of an Orbital Sciences Taurus rocket was stopped minutes before lift-off today due to a command issue to halt the launch if a true problem arose.

The Taurus XL was set to deliver a NASA atmospheric research satellite known as Glory into earth orbit from Vandenberg, AFB in California.

The count was stopped at 5:02 a.m. EST, at the T-7 minute, 41 second mark this morning due to the vehicle interface control console stating that the rocket was in a safe mode.

"A hold fire condition was noticed" at the T-12 minute point, "which basically means a safe condition was sent," assistant launch director Chuck Dovale said. He added that it was an external signal which said the rocket was in a safe configuration.

Dovale pointed out that when the issue arose, the launch team went to a back up computer but they received the same issue.

"We don't understand the problem at the moment," Dovale added, and that "trouble shooting is continuing" for the next few hours.

NASA has targeted launch for Friday at 5:09:43 a.m., once the launch team completes trouble shooting the source which placed the rocket in a safe mode.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shuttle Discovery poised for her final flight Thursday

The countdown for the delayed flight of the space shuttle Discovery remains on track today for a Thursday launch from America's Space Coast.

NASA weather officer Kathy Winters forecasts an 80% favorable weather rating at launch time.

Plagued by several leaks and cracks on the shuttle's fuel tank and later an injured crew member, the original launch date of Discovery had been set for early-November.

However, the November 5 launch attempt revealed a gaseous hydrogen leak at a connection point on the back side of the fuel tank. Hours later as the launch team drained the tank of it's super cold fuels, several cracks were discovered beneath the foam insulation.

Additional cracks were discovered following a fueling test, and it was elected to return the space shuttle back to the high bay of the vehicle assembly building a few days before Christmas to perform further x-rays of the tank and make repairs.

On January 15, as crack repairs on the top section of the fuel tank were nearing completion, Discovery astronaut Tim Kopra suffered a hip fracture following a bike accident near Houston. He was replaced a few days later by Stephen Bowen.

Bowen comes fresh off the last flown space shuttle flight last May, and will become the only astronaut to have ever launched on back-to-back shuttle missions.

Over the past month, Kopra helped coach Bowen on the detailed tasks he was to have performed during the two planned spacewalks.

Discovery astronauts Alvin Drew and Nicole Stott will split Kopra's duties as flight engineer during the launch and landing phases, respectively, of the flight.

Launch of Discovery on her final voyage upon the ocean of space is set for Thursday at 4:50:24 p.m. EST, from launch complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center.

Once launched, Discovery's all veteran crew of commander Steven Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Drew, Bowen, Michael Barratt, and Stott will spend two days performing rendezvous maneuvers to catch up with and dock with the International Space Station.


Once at station, Discovery will deliver the final American segment known as the Permanent Multipurpose Module, a bus sized cylindrical segment which will be used for storage. It will begin to free up more space inside the station's working and living segments.

The orbiter is scheduled to dock with the station on Saturday at 10:15 a.m.

Formally known as the Leonardo logistics module, the PMM has actually flown to the space station several times most recently two flights ago.

Inside the PMM will be 6500 pounds of cargo, spare parts, R2 - a robo-naut which will be used outside the outpost; and personal crew supplies to help resupply earth's orbiting outpost in space. Discovery's middeck will carry another 1500 pounds of supplies, too.

Robonaut will remain in the PMM through Discovery's flight, and will later be moved so that it's two halfs can be mated together and placed outside the station in the weeks to come.

Bowen and Drew will perform two spacewalks during this 35th shuttle flight to earth's outpost in space, during flight days 5 and 7 -- Monday and Wednesday of next week.

The duo will install a alternative power cable between the Tranquility and Unity modules on the first spacewalk; relocate a failed ammonia pump module to another part of the station; and perform work on a camera and the railway system on the truss segment.

The second orbital excursion will focus on the change out of a bracket on the European Columbus module; and a Japanese glass bottle which the space walkers will fill up with the vacuum of space for a museum display back on earth.

After 170 revolutions of the planet, Discovery will head home to Florida on March 7 for a midday landing upon the Space Coast at about 12:44 pm EST.

NASA could decide
a few days into Discovery's flight to perform a historic photo opportunity.

NASA and Russia's mission control center's could elect to have a Russian Soyuz TMA craft undock and perform a fly around of the space station to take several last pictures of Discovery docked to her port-of-call.

A "go" for the fly around will add an additional day to the mission, according to NASA Test Director Steve Payne this morning.

Payne added that the configuration of Discovery and three international cargo crafts will allow for the fly around.

Landing will mark the conclusion of Discovery's nearly twenty-seven year storied career.

Discovery's mission will also mark the first of the final three space shuttle flights left, with Endeavour flying her final scheduled flight on April 19 and Atlantis on June 28.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

NASA spacecraft poised to study earth's environment

Glory will study the earth's atmosphere over a three year period.

A NASA satellite is poised to begin a mission of understanding as it studies the earth's atmosphere and it's reaction to the Sun's output.

NASA's Glory spacecraft will join several current satellites in orbit known as the A-Train as they research the composition of the earth's atmosphere, or "biosphere and climate", according to Goddard Space Flight Center.

"Data from the Glory mission will allow scientists to better understand how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth's climate," NASA's George Diller stated from the launch site.

Two science instruments aboard Glory will be trained on several layers of the atmosphere, the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM) and the Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor (APS).

Built by the University of Colorado, TIM will be pointed toward the Sun as it measure just how much solar energy is emitted and passed into the atmosphere of our planet.

Meanwhile, APS will be trained on the measurements and identity of the aerosols which collect and pass into the upper layers of the atmosphere, including dust and dirt from storms and black carbons.

Using a rotating mirror and six small telescopes, the APS will be used to "collect visible, near infrared, and short-wave infrared data", Goddard added.

Both instruments will be activated about four weeks following launch. The first data samples will then be received the next day at NASA's Goddard near Greenbelt, Maryland.

Every sixteen days of the spacecraft's multi-year mission, Glory will shift it's orbit every 233 revolutions of the earth as it sweeps and scans the atmosphere.

The Afternoon Train (A-Train) is a satellite constellation of seven science spacecrafts which travel in close proximity with each other as they circle the earth once every 100 minutes. Glory will become the sixth of the seven planned.

Launch of an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL 3110 rocket with Glory is set for Wednesday at 5:09:43 a.m. EST (2:09 a.m. local time) from space launch complex 576-East at Vandenberg, AFB in California. The exact launch time is set for the middle of a 48 second launch window.

This ninth flight of a Taurus rocket comes exactly two years following it's last flight which ended in failure when the payload fairing did not separate away from the craft minutes into the flight.

The ninety-one foot tall rocket consists of four solid fueled stages.

The Thiokol-built first stage will burn for the first 83 seconds of flight, followed by the second stage ignition and burn for the next 73 seconds of flight. The third and fourth stages burn at just over a minute each.

Glory will separate from Taurus' upper stage at 5:22 a.m. as it soars in a polar orbit.

Glory weighs 1,157 pounds (525 kilograms) and once in space, the satellite will measure 6 feet across from solar array tip to solar array tip and nearly five feet long.

In addition to Glory, three small cube science satellites will be launched.

NASA's Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) is a program in which colleges and universities can fly their own experiment into low earth orbit using a CubeSat.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Discovery: America's Spacecraft of the Ages


The author and Discovery prior to her STS-56 flight in 1993.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The space shuttle Discovery -- a beautiful white dove and NASA's work horse for over a quarter century -- is just days away from the start of her thirty-ninth and final voyage upon the ocean of space.

This reporter has personally witnessed dozens of Discovery's milestones, including a beautiful low pass over Kelly AFB, Texas in 1989 as she rode a top a Boeing 747 after her STS-29 mission; the dramatic launches of her flights beginning with STS-53 from the Kennedy Space Center; and the beautiful IMAX high quality video as she sailed around two different space stations.

On Thursday, Discovery will set out on a twelve day mission to resupply the International Space Station, and deliver a permanent storage module, with a crew of six.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Space station crew photographs Ariane 5 launch

Ariane 5 soars into space in this image from the space station.

Exclaiming "We actually saw the ATV launch!", International Space Station crew member Paolo Nespoli took one of several images on tonight's lift-off of an Ariane 5 rocket 222 miles high over South America.

"Tally Ho!," stated space station commander Scott Kelly upon witnessing the rocket soar following booster separation.

Several of the crew members, including flight engineer Cady Coleman, were huddled in the Cupola section of the station watching through windows 3, 4 and 7.

Using a Nikon D3S camera, Nespoli recorded over a dozen images of the liftoff as the space station sailed over northern Bolivia at 4:51 pm EST.

The views were shot from the Cupola looking northeast.


"Congratulations to Arianespace and ESA on ATV’s launch. E26 is looking forward to welcoming it on the ISS," Nespoli later wrote to the ground.

The Johannes Kepler automated transfer vehicle is in a 166 mile high orbit, lower than that of station to enable it to catch up with and dock next week.

Ariane 5 boosts European cargo craft towards space station

Ariane 5 launches cargo craft bound for space station. (Ariane)

The workhorse of the European Space Agency lifted off today and into a setting sun with a cargo craft loaded with fresh supplies bound for the International Space Station.

The 200th launch of an Ariane rocket and only the 56th Ariane 5 flight launched on time with the rocket's heaviest payload to date riding a top.

Known as the Automated Transfer Vehicle, the cargo craft is named Johannes Kepler in honor of the German astronomer and mathematician from the 1600's.

Ariane 5 launched from the northeast coastline of South America late today at 4:51:02 pm EST (13 GMT), on Europe's second station resupply flight by an ATV.

At launch, the space station soared 222 miles high over northern Bolivia, South America.

"Tally Ho!," space station commander Scott Kelly radioed down upon witnessing the rocket soar following booster separation. Several of the crew member were huddled in the Cupola section of the station watching through windows 3, 4 and 7.

The Ariane tilted on a course heading northeast and up over the northern Atlantic Ocean and over Europe.

Loaded with 15,620 pounds of fresh supplies such as fuel and oxygen for earth's orbital outpost, the Kepler cargo craft can deliver more cargo than Japan's HTV-II or Russia's Progress-M supply crafts, according to ESA.

Several racks of experiments made the journey into microgravity.

Sixty-four minutes after launch, the ATV Kepler was released from the rocket's third stage as it passed 166 miles above a region south of New Zealand.

Eighty-eight minutes after launch, the ATV 2 deployed a criss cross of four solar array sections near the aft section which will generate power.


Kepler become the third cargo ship to leave earth to resupply the space station in the last four weeks, coming on the heels of Japan and Russia's launches.

The mission's director Kris Capelle and his team of nearly sixty engineers and controllers will receive station updates and be told from the Russian Space Agency's control room during the ATV's trek toward the station.

We are responsible for the ATV side of it. The Russian's are responsible for the (station) side of it," Capelle said this week. "So (Russia) will give us a go if we are allowed to go to the next step or not."

Kepler was placed into an initial orbit of 162 miles, lower than that of space station's 222 mile high orbit. This will allow the automated cargo craft to catch up with it's port-of-call at a quicker rate.

Sixty-four minutes after launch, the ATV Kepler will be released from the rocket's third stage as it passes south of New Zealand.

As Johannes Kepler sails upon the ocean of space, the craft will use twenty thrusters to maneuver and control it's attitude as it's orbit is raised.

As the ATV approaches the space station, ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli will monitor the craft's approach via television monitors. The craft's approach will be out of view from the station's windows.

Docking to the space station's Russian Zvezda module is planned for Feb. 23 at about 10:45 a.m.

The third and final budgeted ATV is scheduled for launch in Spring 2012. Europe is working to have a fourth ATV funded and built for late-2013.

Today's launch is important to NASA as they prepare for the launch of the space shuttle Discovery late next week. A NASA flight readiness review by managers is scheduled for Friday, and they will set a firm launch date based on today's lift-off.

Cosmonauts install experiments outside space station

Cosmonauts install the Radiometria experiment today. (NASA)

Two Russian cosmonauts left the International Space Station today to perform several housekeeping chores 222 miles above earth.

Station flight engineers Dmitry Kondratiev and Oleg Skripochka began their six hour orbital walk at 8:30 a.m. EST (1330 GMT), fifteen minutes behind their planned start.

It is the second spacewalk by the cosmonauts within the past month, and the twenty-eighth by Russia in support of the space station.

Twenty-seven minutes into the spacewalk, the duo had installed the Molniya-Gamma experiment on the right side of the Russian Zvezda module.

Molniya "will look at gamma splashes and optical radiation during terrestrial lightning and thunderstorm conditions using three sensors", the Russian Space Agency said on Tuesday.

The cosmonauts then went to work to hook up several electrical connectors between the experiment and the station.

Meanwhile, the station's commander Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri worked from the Russian Poisk segment during the spacewalk, while American Catherine Coleman and Italian Paolo Nespoli followed the spacewalk from the Rassevet module which is linked to the Zayra module.

Running ten minutes ahead of schedule, the pair began the installation of a second science experiment just over two hours into the spacewalk.

Installed on the left side of Zvezda, the Radiometria will "collect information useful in seismic forecasts and earthquake predictions," NASA's mission control stated.

The spacewalkers will remove and later bring inside the station "two Komplast panels from the exterior of the Zarya module", NASA's mission control explained today.

"The panels contain materials exposed to space, and are part of a series of international experiments looking for the best materials to use in building long duration spacecraft," the Johnson Space Agency said.

As the spacewalk moved into it's third hour, the launch of a European Space Agency cargo craft moved into it's final hours on earth.

The
Johannes Kepler automated transfer vehicle is set to lift-off at 4:55:55 pm EST today, and will dock to the space station eight days later.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Stardust craft successfully encounters comet Tempel 1

An aging NASA spacecraft completed a Valentine's night pass by a fast moving comet in the hopes of learning more about the icy rock by studying it's nucleus.

The Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of Tempel) spacecraft flew to within 112 miles of comet Tempel 1 on Monday at about 11:58 pm EST.

In a deep space ballet 208.8 million miles from earth, Stardust both scientifically scanned and photographed Tempel 1 during a thirty minute closest approach period.

The first of the images were received at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, Calif. three hours following the close approach.

The twelve year old spacecraft's aging instruments include a hard drive which only supports 720 MB of storage, and a black and white camera which was made in the 1970's.

Comets are mostly icy chunks of rock material which are locked in an elliptical orbit around the Sun. As the comet nears the Sun, a white fuzzy atmosphere envelopes around the icy rock and forms a tail region due to solar radiation.

As Stardust raced near the comet at 24,300 miles per hour, the craft's science and navigation instruments will be activated.

The Comet and Interstellar Dust Analyzer and the Dust Flux Monitor were turned on moments prior to the encounter. The analyzer studied the masses of ions from the dust particles which surround the comet.

The nearly five mile long and three mile wide comet rotates once every forty-one hours.

The mission's project manager, Tim Larson, explained, "We want to extend the mapping and observation of (Tempel's) nucleus to see new areas of the nucleus we hadn't seen before, so it will help complete the mapping of the nucleus of this comet. And, then if possible, we would like to be able to image a crater that was left behind" from the Deep Impact.

There are about 4,000 known comets, and Tempel 1 orbits past the Sun once every 5 1/2-years, and out to a region between Mars and Jupiter.

To understand where in deep space the encounter occurred, imagine that the Sun is the center of a clock's face. The earth would be located at the 1 o'clock position while Stardust and Tempel 1 would be at the 9 o'clock position nearly 209 million miles away from earth.


The mission received an extension in late 2006 at a cost of $29 million to keep the spacecraft alive through September of this year in support of the encounter.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

NASA Stardust craft to make Valentine pass by comet

A NASA spacecraft will make a Valentine's night pass by a fast moving comet in the hopes of learning more about the icy rock.

The Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of Tempel) spacecraft is on a course to fly very close to the comet Tempel 1 on Monday at about 11:37 pm EST.

"Stardust-NExT is a mission to reuse the Stardust spacecraft to further the exploration of comet Tempel 1," principle investigator Joe Veverka explained.

"Temple 1 was the target of Deep Impact. Deep Impact discovered that this is a most interesting comet," Veverka added. "We want to see more of the surface and we also want to see what changes have occurred since Deep Impact went there five years ago."

In a deep space ballet 209 million miles or 2.25 AU from earth, Stardust will both scientifically scan and photograph Tempel 1.

The two space objects are expected to fly to within 124 miles apart.

The mission's project manager, Tim Larson, explained, "We want to extend the mapping and observation of (Tempel's) nucleus to see new areas of the nucleus we hadn't seen before, so it will help complete the mapping of the nucleus of this comet. And, then if possible, we would like to be able to image a crater that was left behind" from the Deep Impact.

Comets are mostly icy chunks of rock material which are locked in an elliptical orbit around the Sun. As the comet nears the Sun, a white fuzzy atmosphere envelopes around the icy rock and forms a tail region due to solar radiation.

There are about 4,000 known comets, and Tempel 1 orbits past the Sun once every 5 1/2-years, and out to a region between Mars and Jupiter.

As Stardust races near the comet at 24,300 miles per hour, the craft's science and navigation instruments will be activated.

The Comet and Interstellar Dust Analyzer instrument will be turned on at about 8:30 pm, and run until about 2:30 am Tuesday morning. This analyzer will study the masses of ions from the dust particles which surround the comet.

The Dust Flux Monitor will be turned on at about 11:16 pm, and will study the make up and size of dust originating from Tempel 1's coma.

The nearly five mile long and three mile wide comet rotates once every forty-one hours.

The Stardust mission has had a very storied career since it's February 1999 launch aboard a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral.

In 2002, the craft flew by the Annefrank asteroid making observations and taking thousands of images. Over a year later, the craft flew by it's main target, comet Wild 2.

A section of Stardust known as the sample material capsule collected dust and particles from Wild 2.

In January 2006, the sample material capsule returned to earth, landing in Utah.

The mission was then extended in late 2006 at a cost of $29 million to keep the spacecraft alive through September of this year.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Europe's Johannes Kepler cargo craft nears launch

Johannes Kepler approaches the space station over Europe. (ESA)

The European Space Agency will send their second unmanned cargo craft in to earth orbit on Tuesday to begin a week long trip to the International Space Station.

Loaded with 15,620 pounds of fresh supplies such as fuel and oxygen for earth's orbital outpost, the Johannes Kepler cargo craft can deliver more cargo than Japan's HTV-II or Russia's Progress-M supply crafts, according to ESA.

Several racks of experiments will also make the journey into microgravity.

Kepler will become the third cargo ship to leave earth to resupply the space station this year coming on the heels of Japan and Russia's launches.

Named for the 17th century German astronomer, the Kepler will also raise the altitude of the station, and serve as a trash storage unit as the new supplies are off loaded during it's 100 days docked.

Lift-off of an Ariane 5 rocket with Europe's cargo craft is set for Tuesday at 5:13:27 pm EST (2213 GMT), from pad ELA-3 at Kourou Space Centre in French Guiana. The launch will also mark the 200th launch of an Ariane.

This flight will also mark the heaviest payload which Ariane 5 has carried into orbit, nearly 21 tons.

The launch path will carry the Ariane northeast and over the northern Atlantic Ocean and over Europe.

As the Ariane lifts-off, ground stations in the north Atlantic Ocean will feed data on the spacecraft's health to the control rooms at ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France.

The mission's director Kris Capelle and his team of nearly sixty engineers and controllers will receive station updates and be told from the Russian Space Agency's control room during the ATV's trek toward the station.

We are responsible for the ATV side of it. The Russian's are responsible for the (station) side of it," Capelle said this week. "So (Russia) will give us a go if we are allowed to go to the next step or not."

Kepler will be placed into an initial orbit of 162 miles, lower than that of space station's 222 mile high orbit. This will allow the automated cargo craft to catch up with it's port-of-call at a quicker rate.

Sixty-four minutes after launch, the ATV Kepler will be released from the rocket's third stage as it passes south of New Zealand.

As Johannes Kepler sails upon the ocean of space, the craft will use twenty thrusters to maneuver and control it's attitude as it's orbit is raised.

As the ATV approaches the space station, ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli will monitor the craft's approach via television monitors. The craft's approach will be out of view from the station's windows.

Docking to the space station's Russian Zvezda module is planned for Feb. 23 at about 10:20 a.m.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Station crew prepares for cargo craft, space shuttle

Japan's cargo craft docked to Station high above earth. (NASA)

The six member crew aboard the International Space Station remain busy unloading two recently arrived cargo crafts while preparing for the arrival of a third, a few upcoming spacewalks and the arrival of the space shuttle Discovery in two weeks.

On the heels of cargo craft launches by Japan and Russia in January, the European Space Agency is close to launching their unmanned craft loaded with tons of fresh supplies next week.

Europe's ATV-2 cargo craft Johannes Kepler is scheduled to launch to the space station this Tuesday from the Kourou Space Centre on Tuesday at 5:13 pm EST, to begin a eight day trip to the outpost.

Currently, docking of the Kepler ATV-2 is planned for the morning of February 23.

Russia's second spacewalk of the new year is planned as two cosmonauts venture outside the Zvezda service module for six hours.

Station flight engineers Dmitry Kondratiev and Oleg Skripochka will begin their spacewalk at 8:15 am EST on Wednesday.

The duo will release a small satellite known as Kedr -- the call sign of earth's first man in space Yuri Gagarin's used during his historic flight fifty years ago.

The satellite will operate at a amateur radio frequency of 145.95 MHz, and use the call sign RS1S, according to the Russian Space Agency.

Three days later, on February 19, the Russian Progress 39P unmanned cargo ship will undock from Zvezda, fully loaded with trash, and sent off toward a fiery reentry onto earth's atmosphere.

The much delayed flight of Discovery is scheduled to lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center on February 24, to begin an eleven day flight of which eight days will be spent docked to earth's orbiting outpost.

Launch time of the final flight of Discovery is targeted for 4:50:19 pm EST.

Based on an on time launch, Discovery will slowly move in from below the space station and dock two days later at 2:09 pm. The first of two spacewalks will begin two days later, and Discovery's prime payload full of supplies -- the Leonardo permanent multipurpose module -- will be attached to the station's Unity node.

Leonardo will provide an extra 2,472 cubic feet of storage space for the expanding station.

"This whole program is like one big science experiment," Commander Scott Kelly discussed today. He likened the operations centered around the space station as an experiment for one day leaving earth orbit for a six month trip to Mars.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Skylab 4: Around the world during 84 days

It was the morning of November 16, 1973, and America was enjoying the success of their first space station.

A Saturn 1B rocket lifted off to carry America's third crew to the Skylab space station orbiting 270 miles above.

Commanded by Gerald "Jerry" Carr, the Skylab 4 mission set out to become a human endurance test to help simulate a flight time to the planet Mars; perform astrophysics research; and to study the Earth's ever-changing atmosphere and landscape.

The three man crew included science pilot Dr. Edward Gibson and pilot William R. Pogue.

This would become the third manned Skylab flight coming on the heels of Skylab 2 and 3 earlier in the year.

Skylab 2 opened the orbital workshop and the crew, commanded by moon walker Charles Conrad spent an American record 28 days in space. Skylab 3 later beat that record by living and working in orbit for 59 days. The actual launch of the space station is known as Skylab 1.

During the opening days of America's thirtieth manned space flight, Carr and Pogue overcame space sickness, a problem which at least one in every crew experiences during the first day of space flight.

One week into their flight, Gibson and Pogue performed the first of four spacewalks. This orbital walk lasted six and one-half hours as they installed fresh film in cameras which took solar observations and repaired an antenna.

The crew spent the holidays in space, including a second spacewalk on Christmas day; and on January 23, 1974, Pogue celebrated his 44th birthday aboard the space station.

Carr expressed the fun he and his crew had as they made-up experiments in microgravity, "It was such an interesting thing to turn loose a blob of water to see what you can do with it."

Completing work on over ninety-five experiments during twelve weeks including observing Comet Kohoutek, the Apollo command module undocked from Skylab for the final time.

Twelve hours after undocking on February 8, 1974, the crew landed their module in the waters of the Pacific Ocean just north of Hawaii -- the same region in which the first two Skylab's had splashed down.

Prior to the crew's departure, the station was placed in a safe mode, and the crew even used Apollo to boost the orbital workshop into a higher orbit.

It was during this time that NASA was aiming to have the space shuttle operational by 1979, as to fly up to and reboost Skylab in the hopes of reactivating it.

However, extreme solar activity forced the Skylab's orbit to decay at a quicker rate. At just after midnight on July 12, 1979, the space station plunged into the earth's atmosphere where fragments rained down over sections of Australia.

Visitors to the Marshall Space Flight Center's Space and Rocket Center in Alabama can view one large section -- an insulated oxygen tank.

The command module hangs high above at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Washington, D.C.


The Skylab missions rewrote the books on living and working for long periods in space.

Skylab taught us that humans can spend three months in the microgravity environment with no ill effects. NASA scientists learned that astronauts can loose calcium without a proper diet; muscle loss without proper exercise; and a pint of blood can be lost from your system during several weeks in space.

Skylab 4 totals:
Duration.... MET+ 84 days, 1 hour and 15 minutes
Traveled..... 34,469,696 miles
Orbits......... 1,214 revolutions

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Military payload launches into low earth orbit

An Orbital Sciences rocket lifted off this morning from it's California launch site on a military satellite delivery flight.

The 63-foot tall Minotaur I launched from Vandenberg, AFB at 7:26 a.m. EST (4:26 a.m. local time) today from Space Launch Complex-8.

The launch carried the small National Reconnaissance Office's 66 (NROL-66) spacecraft for the U.S. military into low earth orbit.

"I am extremely proud of the large group of professionals that came together to launch this rocket," stated 30th Space Wing commander Colonel Richard Boltz moments after the launch.

"The 30th Space Wing and its mission partners have a long history of successful Minotaur launches and we are proud to continue that history again here today," Col. Boltz added.


The secret payload looks to have made a successful arrival into a polar earth orbit located between 200 to 500 miles high.

The Minotaur I is made up of solid fueled first and second stages of a Minuteman II missile. The Orion third and fourth stage are also solid fueled.
 
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