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.)
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