Friday, December 18, 2015

NASA Pluto flyby honored with USPS stamp series

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday previewed a new series of 2016 space-themed stamp sets honoring both the planetary discoveries made by NASA and a stand alone set honoring the exciting views of the dwarf planet Pluto.

One of the space milestones of 2015 was the arrival and flyby of Pluto by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. New Horizons captured thousands of colorful photographs of the farthest planet from the Sun, a place yet unseen by human eyes until last July.

A four stamp sheet will feature two of the color enhanced view of Pluto highlighted by the popular heart shaped region named Tombaugh Regio. The second stamp is an artist's depiction of the spacecraft soaring through space. The Pluto stamps will be available in June.

“The New Horizons project is proud to have such an important honor from the U.S. Postal Service,” New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said on Wednesday. “It’s a wonderful feeling to see these new stamps join others commemorating first explorations of the planets.”

The Pluto stamps will arrive 25 years after the Postal Service released the first Pluto stamp which featured an artist's rendition of the unseen planet. The 29-cent stamp was titled "Pluto Not Yet Explored". In 2006, NASA launched that stamp aboard New Horizons and today that stamp

Astronauts to perform urgent spacewalk repair Monday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Two NASA astronauts will perform an unscheduled spacewalk next week to help free a stuck cargo transport rail car outside the International Space Station allowing an arriving cargo ship to dock two days later.

Station commander Scott Kelly and flight engineer Tim Kopra will go outside the orbiting laboratory on Monday to release the Mobile Transporter rail car's brake handle which locked during the car's relocation on Wednesday. The rail car became stuck just four inches from its destined work site as flight controllers remotely moved the vehicle along the station's truss located above the U.S. Destiny Laboratory.

"The ISS Mission Management Team met Friday morning and is targeting Monday for the spacewalk, but will meet again in a readiness review Sunday morning," NASA spokesperson Kelly Humphries said. "Managers could elect to press ahead for Monday, or take an extra day and conduct the spacewalk Tuesday."

Humphries explained the relocation work is in support of Wednesday's arrival of the newly upgraded Russian Progress MS resupply craft set to Monday and later dock to the Pirs docking module at 5:31 a.m. EST. The mobile transporter has to be locked down and electrically connected prior to the arrival of Progress.

"We can get there in relatively short order and do the task, but while we are going out the hatch we are going to look and see if there is anything in that general area we can go and work on," Space Station operations manager Kenny Todd said of the possibility of additional work for the spacewalking duo. "All that said, our primary objective is to go out and get this mobile transporter secured at the site. The direction we've given the (planning) team is to look at those things that are out there in that general area we might be able to do."

Friday, December 11, 2015

International space station crew safely returns to Earth

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American, Russian and Japanese astronaut concluded a five month working voyage aboard the International Space Station with the dynamic touchdown of their Soyuz taxi Friday upon the snowy steep of Kazakhstan.

Blowing snow flurries and overcast skies greeted the returning Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft as it landed with a thud in thick snow cover at about 8:12 a.m. EST (7:12 p.m. local time) nearly 80 miles northeast of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. Heavy winds then took hold of the craft's parachutes and toppled the Soyuz over dragging it a short way.

The crew's return was not telecast live as normal due to the inclement night time weather. Confirmation of the official landing time and exact location was delayed nearly eight minutes from the isolated site.

"They arrived in space like baby birds barely able to fly, and now they soar home as eagles," Space Station Commander Scott Kelly stated via Twitter following the crew's departure. "Great job Kjell and Kimiya!"

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, and Kimiya Yui of Japan separated their Soyuz spacecraft from the orbiting laboratory, and performed an engine burn to begin their journey home. Undocking occurred on time at 4:49 a.m., 252 miles above eastern Russia.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Cygnus resumes America's commercial launches to space station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American commercial supply craft successfully lifted off from America's Space Coast on Sunday beginning a nearly three day voyage en route to resupply the International Space Station.

The 60th flight of the Atlas V rocket also marked America's return to space station resupply missions following two separate launch failures by NASA's competing commercial partners SpaceX and Orbital ATK. Today's Orbital ATK mission began from the Florida beaches of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station instead of the tragic explosion last year one hundred feet above a Wallops Island, Virginia launch pad.

The Atlas launch team were overwhelmed by three consecutive days of launch scrubs due to rains, low clouds and high winds. Sunday's sunny afternoon turned to gray, overcast skies as the countdown neared zero with ground winds the primary concern.

Orbital ATK's Cygnus supply ship launched on time at 4:44:57 p.m. EST, a top a United Launch Alliance Atlas V and punching a hole through a thick layer of clouds as the vehicle began its northeasterly track to its port-of-call.

"We had a perfect orbit injection -- really right on the money,” Orbital ATK Manager of Cargo Resupply Frank DeMauro said late Sunday. “Everything’s looking great. The power system’s healthy; the propulsion system is healthy; we’re flying a good spacecraft. It was good to see the rocket head up there and put us exactly on target."

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