Wednesday, December 18, 2013

New Apollo exhibit features second largest moon rock

ATLANTA -- A piece of the second largest moon rock ever collected has taken center stage in a new exhibit which pays tribute to NASA's heralded Apollo moon missions at the Tellus Science Museum.

The Cartersville museum's new exhibit includes a real lunar module engine and an Apollo Rock Hammer similar to ones used by the Apollo astronauts as they explored the moon's surface over forty years ago.

It is the five ounce piece of the moon which has caused the biggest draw of crowds to the exhibit.

Cut from the largest rock collected during Apollo 15, the rock was named "Great Scott" after being plucked from the moon's surface on August 1, 1971 by NASA astronaut and mission commander David Scott.

"Great Scott" measured 10.2 inches in length and weighed in at just over 21 pounds as it sat upon the moon's surface on the north section of Hadley Rille. Once Apollo 15's crew returned to earth, the light grey lunar sample was numbered 15555.

Created from a lava flow over three billion years ago, the sample is made up of olivine basalt, and sits inside a nitrogen filled glass display case so that it does not come in contact with the earth's environment.

As Scott and lunar module pilot Jim Irwin explored the moon during their third moonwalk, Scott located the rock, and struggled a bit to lift it up from the surface -- not due to it's weight but due to it's size and the use of one pressurized gloved hand.

The moon's 1/6th gravity gave the rock a weight of only 3.3 pounds. Scott eventually got a hold of "Great Scott" resting it on his right thigh as he moon hopped over to the lunar rover and placed it on board.

NASA has listed "Great Scott" as the second largest moon rock ever recovered during the six lunar landings.

The lunar module engine, on loan from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, was test fired by the space agency in Mississippi in preparation for the moon landings beginning in 1969.

Adjacent to the Apollo exhibit at Tellus is a new massive gallery featuring several incredible NASA images of the planets and galaxies entitled "From the Earth to the Solar System".

To purchase tickets, call Tellus at 770-606-5700. Schulman adds that over the phone ticket purchases will end on Friday at 5:00 p.m.

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

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

NASA schedules spacewalks to repair space station cooling system

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- On the heels of Christmas week NASA on Tuesday decided to delay this weeks launch of a resupply ship to the orbiting International Space Station in hopes to perform three spacewalks to repair a broken cooling system.

A failed valve on a pump module which controls the flow of coolant through lines to keep the space station's electrical systems cool stopped functioning on December 11 prompting NASA and the international partners to troubleshoot the exact cause and how to repair the issue.

"The pump is associated with one of the station's two external cooling loops, which circulate ammonia outside the station to keep both internal and external equipment cool," said Brian Dunbar, a spokesperson at the Johnson Space Center near Houston. 

Three 6 hour space walks by two NASA astronauts will allow the space agency to uninstall the failed cooling pump module with a spare located on the Starboard Truss segment of the station. 

The first spacewalk is planned to start on Saturday at 7:10 a.m. EST, and will see Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins translate over to the external stowage platform to retrieve the replacement pump module.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book Review: 'Orbit of Discovery' salutes the Buckeye astronauts

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ring up one well deserved thumbs up for the Buckeye State.

A new book by NASA astronaut Don A. Thomas chronicles a group of Ohioans who paved the way in aviation and space, and includes an up close look at his own flight aboard space shuttle Discovery.

A four-time space shuttle astronaut, Thomas describes the story first hand as his all-Ohio flight crew overcame a troublesome woodpecker to fly one of the space agency's "more important" missions in Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission.

The 1995 shuttle mission was set to become America's 100th human space flight, however an unexpected delay by nature forced an interesting turn of events resulting in a humorous outcome.

"I wanted to share this story because I always thought STS-70 was a cool story -- it's the woodpecker flight, it's the all-Ohio mission," Thomas recounted to this aerospace journalist at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Dulles, Virginia. "It wasn't the sexiest mission in the world. We didn't fix Hubble (Telescope), we didn't build the space station. We deployed a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) that replaced the one lost on Challenger so I thought this was an important mission."

As the astronaut and I stood next to NASA's third space worthy orbiter, Thomas pointed out the symbolism above as he pointed to the massive TDRS mock-up hanging high above Discovery in the Smithsonian hanger and exclaimed, "This was our STS-70 mission -- Discovery with TDRS high above her."

Published by the University of Akron (OH) Ringtaw Books, the 400-page hardbound book takes you into the mind of a veteran astronaut as he describes his time as an astronaut training for the STS-70 mission. Thomas also narrates his flight aboard the space shuttle with interesting details and fun anecdotes.

The Cleveland native discusses his crew's disappointment as their flight to deploy the huge communications satellite is delayed by a Northern Flicker Woodpecker who single handily held up the mission by pecking over 200 holes into their space shuttle's massive external fuel tank.

The book's candid discussion on how a wayward woodpecker forced Discovery back to the assembly building for necessary repairs sets the stage for some comedic flare by mission control once they arrived on orbit and deployed TDRS G.

Co-written by journalist Mike Bartell, Orbit of Discovery gives the average reader an insightful look into Thomas' feelings and thoughts as he describes the dramatic lift-off, and includes the pros and cons on what floating in microgravity feels like.

"When I flew on STS-70, it was my second mission and the first time I launched up on the flight deck," Thomas recalled during our interview. "To be on the flight deck, I had a small mirror on my knee and I could look out the window and into the (launch pad) flame pit."

Thomas continued, "To watch the engines start up, and to watch with such violence the flame and smoke shooting out of the flame pit... here I am about 150-feet above watching it and I think my jaw dropped, and I thought, 'Look at what's going on back there'."

I asked Don if he thought all the woodpecker humor became too cheesy. "Not too cheesy, we all enjoyed it on the crew," he said. "We got a big laugh out of it. We weren't too embarrassed by it and we decided to embrace it. Once we deployed the satellite, it was open season on woodpeckers and the jokes just flowed afterwards."

The book notes with statistics the Ohio astronauts of yesteryear through the current ones flying today. Ohio Senator John Glenn, America's first human to orbit earth, takes to pen to illustrate a beautifully written foreword giving great insight into the state's historic aviators.

Among the 26 notable Ohio astronauts included are: Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot upon the moon; Dr. Judy Resnik, America's second woman in space and the first female to fly aboard Discovery; and Dr. Sunny Williams who holds the most time in space by an Ohioan, 322 days, and the most time spacewalking by a female, nearly 51 hours.

Orbit of Discovery is set to arrive in book stores in time for the holidays, and just days ahead of the 110th anniversary of the first powered airplane flight.

The book also gives a tip of the hat to the two Ohio brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, who left their home in Dayton, Ohio in 1902 for the winds at Kitty Hawk. The pair later soared into the history books on December 17, 1903.

Loaded with thirty-two pages of colorful images, including NASA and private crew photographs, Orbit of Discovery is a treasure chest of incredible memories giving the reader an insiders track on what it took to fly aboard humankind's greatest flying machine ever built.

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

Friday, December 06, 2013

Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit showcases her storied career

 CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Space shuttle Atlantis, a newly retired spacecraft with a combined 306 days in earth orbit, today rests high above the center ring inside a new $100 million facility spotlighting the enormous work of NASA space shuttle program.

Located at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Center the Atlantis Exhibit showcases it's star attraction poised high above the ground floor and tilted 43.21 degrees in the 90,000 square-foot building.

The unusual tilt is in a countdown fashion allowing visitors to view her underside from the ground level while providing a look inside her payload bay from the top level. Her fifty-foot robotic arm rests parked over the bay giving visitors a true perspective of her working in earth orbit.

Surrounded by the latest in shuttle flight simulators and a full scale mock-up of the Hubble Space Telescope, Atlantis is now retired following the completion of thirty-three space flights between 1985 thru 2011.

Visitors to the new facility begin with a twelve minute theatrical style movie filmed especially for the space center. The high quality feature introduces the public to the origins of the space shuttle program including the detailed work needed to achieve that successful first flight in 1981.

The exhibit has attracted the attention of former astronauts and NASA engineers.

"Watching the video presentation on the space shuttle, I stood there in awe of everything that was accomplished in the thirty year history of the program," four-time space shuttle astronaut Don A. Thomas said with a smile to this aerospace reporter. "Then seeing Atlantis up close in all her glory brought a tear to my eye. Atlantis is there still in orbit, high above earth just as most astronauts would prefer to remember her."

Illuminated in purple light, visitors receive their first glimpse of the majestic orbiter as the movie screen lifts upward reveling Atlantis pointed in their direction.

"I felt extremely proud to have had the incredible opportunity to have flown on the shuttle", said Thomas whose new book Orbit of Discovery is due out this month and chronicles his space shuttle missions. "It's an absolutely stunning exhibit which took my breath away, and brought back a flood of memories about my own four flights."

The exhibit's June 29 grand opening marked the final chapter of America's space shuttle fleet as Atlantis became the last of the three surviving orbiters to move into museum retirement.

Adjacent to the orbiter is the full scale mock up of the space telescope in which Atlantis made the final servicing trip to in 2009. Detailed history and a brief movie accompanies the telescope's own exhibit.

"Amazing!" exclaimed Thomas Howell, a native of nearby Palm Beach on vacation with his wife Debbie. "It's awesome how we can stand here so close to this telescope and a real space shuttle, too. Atlantis is so large."

The Atlantis Exhibit is included in the visitor center's admission price; and is open seven days a week excluding major holidays.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. He covered numerous missions by Atlantis from Kennedy Space Center. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

U.S. Navy Blue Angels look forward to 2014 season

PENSACOLA, Fla -- As the sunshine and blue sky lay above the warm waves on Pensacola Beach, a pair of high performance jets soar high over the northern gulf waters in a aerobatic display which captures the attention of the sunbathers below.

The twin U.S. Navy jets quickly break away in a planned maneuver and begin to soar higher into the cloudless sky. Suddenly, the jets ignite a white smoke trail which begins to trace their aerobatic flight path of twin circles.

The United States Navy's elite Flight Demonstration Squadron is known to the public as the Blue Angels. The team's blue and gold jets are a familiar sight and sound along the sugar sand beaches along the northern Gulf Coast just a few miles from their home at the Naval Air Station Pensacola.

The team's public demonstration flights is the Navy's most popular recruiting tool to attract interested young adults into a career with the military. One of those young adults is a pilot today with the Angels.

For many on Pensacola Beach, the sight of the unexpected air show above is in reality only a low level practice flight by two of the six Blue Angels.

A typical week may find all six Blue Angels in flight as they practice flying wing tip to wing tip, just eighteen inches apart; and perfecting a stunning performance which has two of the jets speed toward each other before each jet breaks into a left and right hand 180-degree turn.

This year, however, the Blue Angels' F/A-18 Hornet jets were ordered to stay home. Their practice hours limited to only eleven hours a month.

2013 marked a year of major budget cuts in the U.S. military, cuts which grounded the team from performing at any of their planned air shows during their annual March to November season.

For the first time in sixty years, the Blue Angels were not allowed to perform at any of the planned thirty-five airshows across North America.

This aerospace journalist soared with Angels pilot Lt. Mark Tedrow in 2012 in Angel 7 jet, a two seater F/A-18D Hornet, and experienced nearly every maneuver these incredible pilots endure during an air show performance.

This year would have marked Tedrow's first year as Angel 6, one of two solos performing fast paced, highly intense flight demonstrations along with Angel 5.

As the aerobatic pair take center stage over an airshow runway, Angels 1, 2, 3 and 4 are typically lining up in a formation to soar high above as 5 and 6 finish.

As Lt. Tedrow and I stood on the flight line at the Blue Angels home base this week, we began to discuss about this season, and what inspired him to join this elite flight squadron.

Charles Atkeison: Lt. Tedrow, take us in the cockpit with you and explain what it's like to soar with your team.

Lt. Mark Tedrow: "It's really hard to describe for people who have not done it before, luckily you have so you what the feelings and sensations are like... it's pretty incredible being part of the solo routine for the Blue Angels, number five and number six because unlike the one thru four pilots, we demonstrate the maximum performance capabilities of the FA-18. We're the ones that wow the crowd with some of the amazing maneuvers, we fly our jets at just below the speed of sound and pull between 7 and 8 G's, during the demonstration. It's hard to describe to the person who has never felt G-forces before, but actually pretty painful but good at the same time because you know you're max performing the aircraft and it's definitely a crowd pleaser.

It's incredible to go through what we go through."

Atkeison: With the Angels grounded due to the sequester, how do you continue to practice and stay prepared for a hoped 2014 season?

Lt. Tedrow: "We've been flying locally here since we got shutdown. We fly two to three times a week and we do basic maneuvers. We have a local working area out over the (Gulf) water there that we go and practice some of the airshow maneuvers that we do, so that's the way we stay proficient as we're waiting to hear about the 2014 season.

Are we flying as much as we normally would if we were doing a season this year? No. Are we proficient to do a demo tomorrow? No. But, we defiantly are keeping are skills sharp so that we will be able to fly a demo in '14. The knowledge is there all we have to do is sharpen our skill set with a bunch of practicing before we pick-up and fly during the 2014 season."

Atkeison: Blue Angel 1 is your "Boss" and is flown by commander Thomas Frosch. Run through with me a few of his speech techniques he uses to keep your team's mental edge prepared.

Lt. Tedrow: "I would not want to be in his shoes especially this season. He has done a phenomenal job and I do not know how everyday he comes to work - he's so optimistic. And, that is what he has passed on to us.

Throughout the weeks and the months we kinda hear different things, different stories, from 'Hey, we're gonna have a 2014 season' or 'Hey, we're gonna be flying in the Fall.' It's back and forth, up and down, we get different information, but throughout the entire process, he has been nothing but optimistic about what we're going to be doing in the future and the mission of this team in 2014.

The Boss always is optimistic 'Hey, we're still the Blue Angels... we have a mission to accomplish and it's still looking good for 2014". So, he's been great throughout, and without him, I don't what we would've done."

Atkeison: O.K., let's back up a few years... you grew up outside of Pittsburgh. What lead you into a career with the U.S. Navy and later, the Blue Angels?

Lt. Tedrow: "Growing up in Pittsburgh, we didn't have much of a Navy presence, and I didn't have many family members that were in the military. In that area, sports are a big deal - especially high school football - so I grew up playing a lot of football games. In high school, I was luck enough to be recruited by United States Naval Academy.

It kinda sparked my interest... I showed up to the Naval Academy and I started playing football there, and the first year I was there the Blue Angels performed at graduation and I had never seen them before. I said, 'Wow, that is one of the coolest things I've ever seen in my life. I'd love to do that one day'.

I went thru the four years at the academy. I was lucky enough I selected naval aviation, went through flight school and selected jets. I did a few combat deployments to Afghanistan and worked my way through the fleet... I was lucky enough to get picked up, so here I am living that dream that I had since I was eighteen years old, and I'm super lucky to be here, and I'm honored to be a part of the team."

Atkeison: So what's it like to perform a carrier landing? What's the sensation versus maybe an Angels flight?

Lt. Tedrow: "It's a lot different. What sets naval aviators apart from the rest of the aviators throughout the world is the ability to land on aircraft carriers and ships. It's one of the unique skill sets we bring to aviation, it's one of the hardest things that we do. So to learn it is a lot of pressure, it's a lot of stress. It's very hard briefs and debriefs to get to the point where you're ready to land on the aircraft carrier.

I'll tell you first hand, the first time I landed on the aircraft carrier was in one of those jets right there, a T-45, and It was the most terrifying experience of my life. You're coming around the corner and all you see is this ship. Aircraft carriers are huge, but from the sky at 500 to 800 feet, they look tiny, they look like a postage stamp. You're coming around the corner in the landing pattern thinking to yourself, 'There's no way I'm gonna land this thing'.

To land is the most abrupt stop and landing you can ever image going from 140 m.p.h. to 0 m.p.h. in about two seconds, so that's pretty incredible. And the take-off is even more incredible to go from 0 m.p.h. to 140 m.p.h. in a about a second and a half is pretty phenomenal as well. I think I screamed the first time I got launched from the carrier in a T-45 cause their so little and light. It's one of the hardest things we do.

I'm lucky to be apart of naval aviation."

As it stands for now, Tedrow and his Blues team are due to travel out to their winter base at the Naval Air Facility El Centro, California the first week of January for three months of intense training.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter and on Instagram @BlueAngels_7.)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

NASA confirms Voyager 1 has left the solar system

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- In what NASA calls a historic moment, the space agency announced on Thursday that the first human-made object has officially left our solar system and crossed into interstellar space.

NASA scientists who continue to track the 36 year-old planetary space probe Voyager 1, discovered that new transmissions from the craft indicate it left the "solar bubble" in August 2012.

However, Voyager is still under trace influences of our Sun.

"No one has been to interstellar space before, and it's like traveling with guidebooks that are incomplete," Voyager project scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena said. "Still, uncertainty is part of exploration. We wouldn't go exploring if we knew exactly what we'd find."

Due to the craft's age and older technology, Voyager cannot tell NASA exactly where it is nor does it have an operating plasma sensor to detect recent output from the Sun's Heliosphere.

Instead, scientists used a powerful burst of solar wind from the Sun which occurred in March 2012. Thirteen months later, the the solar burst eventually reached Voyager and the craft detected that it was forty times denser. They compared this data with a similar solar wave during 2012.

"Now that we have new, key data we believe this is mankind's historic leap into interstellar space," Stone explained. "The Voyager team needed time to analyze those observations and make sense of them. But we can now answer the question we've all been asking, 'Are we there yet?' Yes, we are."

Monday, September 09, 2013

Space station trio set to return to earth Tuesday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Three of six crew members living aboard the International Space Station are poised to undock and return to earth on Tuesday after 168 days in space.

Outgoing Expedition 36 space station commander Pavel Vinogradov handed over command of the orbiting outpost to fellow cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin on Monday in preparation for his crew's planned departure.

Russians Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin and American Chris Cassidy, who arrived aboard the space station on March 28, are due to board their Soyuz TMA-08M craft at about 4:00 p.m. EDT on Tuesday in preparation for the craft's hatch closure at 4:20 p.m.

They will leave behind Yurchikhin, NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano who will stay aboard the space station until their departure in November.

Cassidy, along with Luca, performed two spacewalks during his stay to prepare the orbiting outpost for an upcoming Russian research module this December.

Based on the Russian timeline, the Soyuz spacecraft will undock from the Poisk docking port at 7:35 p.m., and slowly back straight out to a distance a few hundred feet out before circling around the station and departing.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Astronauts complete needed tasks during spacewalk

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American and an Italian astronaut took a stroll in space outside the International Space Station on Tuesday to perform much needed repairs and to retrieve a few experiments.

American Chris Cassidy and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano spent just over six hours working in space, marking the second spacewalk of the year by an American.

Today's six hour, seven minute spacewalk officially began at 8:02 am EDT, as the pair switched their spacesuits to internal power. They then opened the station's Quest airlock hatch and floated outside.

This marked the first time an Italian astronaut walked in space, and was the first spacewalk by a European since February 2008.

As the orbital laboratory soared 260 miles above Saudi Arabia in the darkness of night, the pair adjusted to their new surroundings to prepare for their first tasks.

Cassidy, wearing red stripes on his spacesuit, went right to work ten minutes later to replace a Ku-Band video and data transmitter controller. One of two used to send and receive information from the ground failed in December.

The new controller will give the space station "redundant capability for the station's Ku-Band" transmissions, stated NASA's Rob Navis during the spacewalk.

Using a space styled wrench known as a pistol grip tool, Cassidy had trouble with a stubborn bolt, and tried adjusting the proper torque setting to release the bolts which held the controller in place on the station's Z1 truss.

Meanwhile, Parmitano translated over to the station's right side truss to retrieve a couple of NASA experiments known as MISSE 8 which tested the effects of direct sunlight, radiation and the other harmful elements in the vacuum of space.

NASA will use the results from Materials on International Space Station Experiment 8 as they look for the best materials to create new spacecraft as they steer toward deep space flights by astronauts during the 2020's.

As the Italian astronaut returned the two experiments back to the Quest airlock for their return to earth later this year, Cassidy commented to Parmitano, "Outstanding! Nice job".

Cassidy later strung a few new power cables along a section of the station in a task which will be completed during a upcoming spacewalk to support of a new Russian laboratory module.

Russia plans to launch it's Nauak module in December, and will also serve as an airlock and docking port beginning in 2014.

Parmitano received an out of this world view of both the space station and earth as he rode high above at the end of the Canadian-built 57-foot robotic arm as he and Cassidy removed and replaced two radiator grapple bars.

Inside the American Destiny module, Karen Nyberg controlled the robotic arm and swung Parmitano over to the region of the station's truss so that Cassidy could bolt the grapple bars down on either side.

NASA's Josh Byerly explained to this aerospace reporter today that the new grapple bars will help in case one of the station's extended thermal radiators fail and needs to be replaced.

The thermal radiators are located across the core truss and help transfer heat from the station's electronics out into space.

Tuesday's spacewalk marked the 170th to support maintenance and construction of the space station since 1998.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @SpaceFlight360.)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Shuttle Atlantis hoisted upon the shoulders of America

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- For nearly three decades, the space shuttle Atlantis hoisted astronauts upon the shoulders of giants allowing America to live and work in earth orbit.

This weekend, the nation returns the favor as the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Center hoists Atlantis upon America's shoulders to celebrate her countless achievements in advancing humankind in space.

Nearly two years following her final space flight, she now takes center ring of a new $100 million facility for admirers to view up close.

Nestled inside the Atlantis Exhibit on America's Space Coast, NASA's fourth space worthy orbiter now rests in a 90,000 square-foot attraction, raised and tilted 43.21 degrees to the floor.

The unusual tilt is in countdown fashion, "4, 3, 2, 1 Lift-off", and allows visitors to view her belly as well as look deep inside her payload bay as a 50-foot robotic arm extends outward just as she looked as she through space.

"The space shuttle Atlantis attraction not only gives visitors the chance to get nose to nose with Atlantis, it gives them a chance to see what it's like to be an astronaut," states the chief operating officer of the Visitor's Center Bill Moore. "We're proud to launch Atlantis on its new mission, to educate and inspire a future generation of space explorers."

Atlantis' celebratory grand opening on June 29 marks the final chapter of America's space shuttle fleet.

Friday, April 26, 2013

'Meteorite Men' uncover new clues in Universe formation

ATLANTA -- The sun rises over the Australian outback and over an isolated desert.

The area marks the location for the likely discovery of several historic space rocks which survived the plunge through earth's atmosphere long ago.

A real treasure to geologists and astronomers alike, these rocks are known as meteorites and they hold the clues into the creation of our universe several billion years ago.

As the wind gusts over the untouched desert, the whirl of metal detectors grows stronger as two long time meteorite experts patiently search for one space rock which broke apart as it impacted earth's southern hemisphere decades ago.

As professional meteorite hunters Geoffrey Natkin and Steve Arnold detect several possible iron rich stony materials buried deep below, and begin to dig towards their treasure. The internal makeup of each rock will give scientists a look into what new minerals are out there.

Their findings will also rewrite what scientists had believed happened during the impact, not only of our solar system but our universe.

These meteorite men will spend the next several days researching the region until they have exhausted their search for the debris from a single meteorite.

Steve and Geoff are the Meteorite Men, an award winning show on The Science Channel which continues to draw a huge following across the globe.

Both men share host duties of the entertaining weekly television show as they investigate the world's known impact sites.

This aerospace reporter spent the day being schooled by the wise-cracking duo as they toured and spoke with guests at the Tellus Science Museum near Atlanta.

My first topic went directly to the famous Russian meteorite on February 15, as I asked the pair to share their thoughts on the widely video recorded shock wave and impact at Chelyabinsk.

"Biggest thing ever!", Geoff said with a laugh.

Steve immediately steps in, "We really don't know how big it is until all the snow melts and how much gets picked up. This one didn't make any craters and there are tens of thousands of pieces."

Steve then hinted that "there's a slight chance there could be something television related with us going over there to (Chelyabinsk)."

Geoff found a strong interest in the historic value the recent meteorite gave the planet, "Major firsts, Chelyabinsk, first time there's ever been major damage to modern civilization documented by a meteorite fall. This is serious damage to modern human infrastructure by a meteorite."

In his strong British tone, Geoff explained how serious Chelyabinsk could have been, "It's time for the world to wake up and take the threat of near earth objects seriously. This should be a wake up call for the whole world. (Chelyabinsk) was nothing, that was a pin drop compared to what could happen, and if the fall had come in at a slightly different angle and all those meteorites had smashed into all those buildings, we could have seen ten times the injuries."

Steve added even stronger words, "If that rock was an iron, same size but iron, it would have killed everybody within five kilometers, and it would have burned like a hundred miles of forest. It is a very serious situation."

Geoff recently worked with NASA Edge television show about Near Earth Objects as they filmed an episode at the famous Meteor Crater in Arizona.

"If you need any more of a warning about what NEO's can do, stand on the rim of Meteor Crater and you will go, 'Yes, we should do something about this problem'," Geoff said with a nod.

Geoffrey is also owner of Aerolite Meteorites, a popular Internet business specializing in sales of rare and colorful meteorites. Steve, meanwhile, is owner of a retail business near his Huntsville, Arkansas home known as Arnold Meteorites.

As Meteorite Men's popularity grows with new fans, the show is facing it's final season unless it's hosts can discover a new format.

"We can't continue to do the show exactly the way it's been done," Geoff explains. "If we want to make new shows, we need to reboot it. We need to look at some new ideas perhaps we could do more historic stories and meteorite legends, and maybe investigate meteorite craters."

"In the format that everyone's been used too, it's reached the end of it's limit," Steve adds.

As viewers tune in for the funny banter and cool location shoots, the show has also led to the discovery of unknown space rocks in the homes of several viewers. The show continues to educate on just how to look for and recognize a meteorite.

"Yes, we love the adventure, we love the hunt, but we also love the science", Geoff states of his multi season show. "We hope we've contributed something positive to the science of meteoritics."

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

Friday, March 01, 2013

Dragon supply craft's thruster issues delay it's space station arrival

 Falcon 9 lifts-off on Friday from America's Space Coast.  photo: SpaceX

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A private spacecraft en route to resupply the International Space Station experienced the failure of several thrusters a minute after arriving on orbit leaving it's future uncertain.

Space Exploration Technologies Inc. or SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stated that blockage of oxidizer pressurization on the Dragon supply craft's thrusters is "the preliminary guess" of what caused the thrusters to fail off.

"Dragon is in orbit and is stable," SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell confirmed at the start of a mid-afternoon news conference on Friday.

By 4:00 p.m. EST on Friday, thrusters on pods 1 thru 4 were back online with more tests ahead. There are five thrusters on pod 1 and four thrusters on pod 4. Pod's 2 and 3 each carry four thrusters.

However, Saturday morning's planned grapple by space station astronauts has been delayed until no earlier than Sunday morning for now.

Both NASA and SpaceX deferred to comment on exactly when it will be safe for Dragon to make it's approach to the space station.

NASA did state that they can allow Dragon to approach for berthing up until around March 13. After the thirteenth, the station's attention will turn toward the departure of three of the space lab's six crew members on March 15. The next available Dragon approach would then be allowed after March 17.

Musk added that Dragon could stay in orbit for several months, however he would not keep the craft aloft that long. Musk said he would keep Dragon in orbit for one month to support berthing.

Dragon is carrying over 1200 pounds of oxygen, food, fuel and science experiments which it will deliver following docking.

The Dragon supply craft arrived into an elliptical orbit of 123 x 199 miles high orbit at 10:20 a.m. EST on Friday, ten minutes after lift-off from Cape Canaveral.

"The Falcon 9 rocket performed it's job super well," Musk confirmed.

Once on orbit, solar array deployment was then delayed when the thrusters issue developed.

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

Commercial cargo craft Dragon launches to Space Station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A privately owned cargo craft destined to resupply the International Space Station with new science experiments and supplies lifted-off from America's Space Coast on Friday.

The flight by Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (SpaceX) marks it's second operational resupply flight by a commercial company, and will repeat the company's first flight last October in which saw their unmanned craft captured by the station's robotic arm for docking.

On the same day as a major government spending cuts began, NASA associate administrator Lori Garver today applauded the private sector's venture into space exploration moments before launch.

As the countdown ticked closer to zero, the weather forecast improved and the Falcon 9 rocket was pressurized for flight.

The 157-foot Falcon 9 launched into the cloudy skies over Cape Canaveral at 10:10:13 a.m. EST, to begin it's twenty-hour sprint to earth's orbital outpost in space.

This flight will also mark the quickest time in which America has sent a spacecraft to the orbiting laboratory. Currently, Russia has developed a flight plan which allows their Progress M cargo craft to arrive at the complex just six hours after launch.

Powered by nine Merlin engines, the Falcon 9 soared out over the Atlantic waters just as the space station passed 250 miles high over the southern tip of Florida.

Three minutes later, the engines were shutdown and the first stage separated followed seconds later by the protective payload fairing.

The second stage's engines quickly took over pushing the Dragon module higher and faster.

The resupply craft was then let go from the second stage ten minutes after lift-off.

However, one minute later, SpaceX controllers in Hawthorne, California delayed the deployment of the craft's twin solar arrays when three of four thruster pods which are used to move around.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk later Tweeted that the solar arrays were successfully deployed before noon after a second thruster pod became active.
The thruster issue has forced a delay in Dragon's ability to reach the outpost early on Saturday.

Dragon is loaded with over 1200 pounds of oxygen, fuel, food and experiments which it will deliver following docking on Saturday, including a special package of California grown apples, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said on Thursday.

On Saturday, space station astronauts Kevin Ford and Thomas Marshburn will use the station's 57-foot Canadarm 2 to reach out and snag the arriving cargo craft.

Two hours later, flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center near Houston will slowly guide the craft over for it's docking to the station's Harmony node.

Dragon is the only unmanned supply craft in the world to have a heat shield and parachutes which allows NASA to return real time science experiments back to earth safely.

Twenty-five days following it's launch, Dragon will be unberthed and will soar towards a same day splashdown in the Pacific Ocean some 200 miles off the coast of Baja California.

CRS 3 is planned for late-Fall of this year, Gwynne Shotwell stated on Thursday, and it will fly atop an upgraded Falcon 9.

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

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Asteroid 2012 DA14 to break across earth's orbital plane

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A space rock the size of half the distance of a football field is closing in on earth and will make one of the closest flyby's of our planet in recent history.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass very close to earth on Friday, soaring to within 17,200 miles of the surface, as it speeds across our solar system.

"There is no chance of this object hitting the earth," notes chief astronomer David Dundee of the Tellus Science Museum near Atlanta. "If it were to hit the earth, it would flatten an area 750 miles in diameter."

NASA is calling this space encounter "a close shave".

Most of the communications and weather satellites are located in an orbit 22,236 miles above the planet. DA14 will pass much lower than that.

"This is a record setting close approach," states Donald Yeomans, a project manager at NASA's Near Earth Object Observation Program. "The odds of an impact with a satellite are extremely remote."

NASA adds that the International Space Station and it's crew of six will not be any danger as it orbits 250 miles above earth.

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