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Thursday, August 31, 2006

LOCKHEED MARTIN Logo

ORION CREW EXPLORATION VEHICLE Update... And the winner is... Yup, you guessed it— The same company that built the F-117A Stealth Fighter, the F/A-22 Raptor, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and...um, NASA's now-defunct X-33 spaceplane. Of course, you probably didn't guess right if you don't know anything about American military aircraft, but oh well. I actually thought Northrop Grumman and Boeing were gonna win the contract, since they’re comprised of old companies that were actually responsible for building the Apollo spacecraft in the 1960’s (although most of the people who built Apollo are obviously not around anymore to lend their experience to building Orion), but whatever. Northrop and Boeing should be used to getting the short end of the stick... What after the YF-23 and Joint Strike Fighter losses (respectively). What’s really cool is that we finally have a contractor that will be responsible for bending metal and doing wiring on the vehicle that will hopefully take us back to the Moon by 2020. Go Lockheed! Don’t screw it up again... We don’t need another X-33 debacle...


NASA management unveils a miniature mock-up of LOCKHEED MARTIN's Orion spacecraft

An artist's concept of the ARES 1 launch vehicle, with Lockheed Martin's version of the ORION spacecraft on top of it.
An artist's concept of the ORION spacecraft approaching the International Space Station.
An artist's concept of the ORION spacecraft in lunar orbit.
An artist's concept of the ORION spacecraft and Lunar Surface Access Module (lunar lander) in Moon orbit.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The mission logo for STS-115.

STS-115 Update... The launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis has been delayed to Monday so Kennedy Space Center workers can check for damage after lightning struck at the pad yesterday. The countdown at the top of this page mentions the new liftoff time.

UPDATE (August 27): The launch may be pushed back to this Tuesday because the damage assessment after Friday's lightning strike wasn't completed yesterday, and Hurricane Ernesto may pose a concern for Kennedy Space Center.

UPDATE #2 (August 27): There are unofficial reports that Atlantis may be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for protection from the looming hurricane threat...thus jeopardizing the entire launch window from August 28 through September 7...forcing NASA to wait till either October (where only 2 days are available for launch), or mid-December...which was the time slot reserved for Discovery as it is currently being prepared for mission STS-116.

UPDATE #3 (August 28): Around noon tomorrow, NASA management will make the final call on whether or not to roll Atlantis back to the VAB in preparation of Ernesto's arrival at Florida on Wednesday. If NASA decides to have Atlantis stay at the pad, the shuttle will not be able to launch no sooner than this Sunday. If it's rolled back, Atlantis' next launch opportunity will be on October 26...assuming the Russians don't budge on moving the date of their Soyuz rocket launch to the space station beyond September 14.

NASA returns Atlantis to the launch pad on August 29 after it is determined that Tropical Storm Ernesto will not pose a danger to the space shuttle.

UPDATE #4 (August 30): In a first for the space shuttle program, Atlantis was brought back to the launch pad yesterday after NASA management decided that Tropical Storm Ernesto wouldn't be strong enough to cause major damage when it arrived over Cape Canaveral today. Atlantis was halfway through its journey back to the VAB when the order to cancel rollback was made. Now, the shuttle has from September 6 through September 8 to launch on flight STS-115.

Security camera footage from yesterday shows a bolt striking the lightning mast atop the tower at Launch Pad 39B, where Space Shuttle Atlantis is currently situated.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The ORION logo that will be used by NASA on future Crew Exploration Vehicle missions.

CREW EXPLORATION VEHICLE Update... The logo above wasn't suppose to be revealed till next week, when NASA announces the winning company (Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman/Boeing) that will build the spacecraft. But because current International Space Station astronaut Jeff Williams spilled the beans, NASA confirmed today that Orion will be the new name for the CEV. So much like how the moon missions in the 1960's were labeled Apollo 1, Apollo 11, Apollo 13 and so forth, the next lunar missions will be labeled Orion 1, Orion 11 and Orion 14 (one wonders if NASA will be superstitious enough not to label a CEV mission Orion 13). Of course, that's assuming things stay on track for a 2018-2020 launch of the next moon flight. That, and NASA finds the right launch vehicle to lift the Crew Exploration Vehicle into space. Click here for more details on that.

The Crew Exploration Vehicle...now known as ORION.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The mission logo for STS-115.

Atlantis a "Go" for liftoff... As expected, a green light was given today to launch NASA’s third space shuttle flight since the 2003 Columbia disaster, and the first space station assembly mission since 2002. As shown on the countdown at the top of this page (which has been posted there for about a month), liftoff is targeted for 1:30 PM (PDT) on Sunday, August 27. One major issue remains, and that's whether or not engineers should open Atlantis' cargo bay and replace two screws that were inadequately fastened on the vehicle's main communications antenna. If the replacement does need to be done, hopefully it could take place at the launch pad this weekend, and the August 27 liftoff date won't be jeopardized. *Crosses fingers.*

UPDATE (August 20): The bolt replacement job was successfully completed today.

The crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis poses at Launch Pad 39B with the external fuel tank and a solid rocket booster visible in the background.
The crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-115.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

I found the picture below on Google... Overlooking the two dudes strapped together in this pic (like I could throw stones about tandem skydives), I think it's friggin' awesome that a space shuttle launch is visible in the background (the smoke trail to the right if I need to point it out to you. No offense). Don't know what's cooler; skydiving in Florida at the same moment one of the most complex machines ever built by humans is soaring into orbit, or skydiving 30,000 feet above the ground. Hmm... What a dilemma.

Two tandem skydivers pose for the camera just as a space shuttle lifts off into orbit behind them.

UPDATE: Here's another cool picture... This one being of an F-15 fighter jet patrolling the skies above Kennedy Space Center just as a shuttle is lifting off.

An F-15 fighter jet patrols the skies above Kennedy Space Center just as a space shuttle is lifting off.

UPDATE #2: A year ago today, I went skydiving in San Diego. Click here for more details.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

The Ares 1 'Stick' concept may be abandoned for another launch vehicle design.

CREW EXPLORATION VEHICLE Update... The Ares 1 launch vehicle... NO MORE? I’m not gonna elaborate right now, since this unconfirmed info comes from a non-public source, but it is rumored that NASA engineers have found a "showstopper" problem with the Crew Launch Vehicle (the orange-tinted upper stage seen in the pic above being severely overweight)...meaning the rocket needs to be re-designed, and thus the "Stick" concept that you see in the image above most likely being discarded. So what do the enginners have in mind now for the CLV? Again, can’t say. But if the rumors are any indication, the photo below should give you a hint as to what’s being considered... More to come later.

The Saturn 5 moon rocket.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Why does the world need space programs? It is time for everyone to know and understand the ways that space programs are absolutely critical for solving the largest problems that all people living on our planet now face. NASA Administrator Mike Griffin and President George W. Bush are welcome to share this list with the American people and members of the U.S. Congress who ask, "why do we need a space program?"

Prevention of environmental disasters: Remote sensing satellites allow us to monitor the ozone hole, global warming, air, water and ocean pollution, the effect of oil spills on the melting of the ice caps, the loss of rain forests and other environmental threats to human survival. These systems can help us trace our recovery from the worst environmental threats and improve our quality of life.

Creating a global network for modern communications, entertainment and networking: Advanced satellites provide global connectivity by means of the telephone, fax, the Internet, radio and television. Such connectivity extend far beyond the reach of fiber optic cables. Eleven thousand television channels are now available via satellite and well over 200 countries and territories are linked via satellite.

Global education and health services: Over 2 billion of the 6 billion people in our world today lack formal educational systems, health care services, potable water or power. The only way to provide global education and health care services in coming decades at reasonable cost and broad coverage is via space-based communication systems. Socrates once said, "there is only one good: knowledge, and only one evil: ignorance." In an age of terrorism and great intolerance, the need for global education is ever more important.

Cheap and environmentally friendly energy: NASA scientists and engineers already have gone a long way to developing space technology that can provide unlimited low cost energy from space. The operational systems, however, still need to be developed and proven in practice.

Transportation safety: The 6,000 commercial airplanes that are aloft at one time during peak periods in the U.S. depend on satellite navigation for safe operation. New systems can provide better fuel efficiency, earlier warnings of safety hazards and alert of terrorist attack. This is but one of the ways that future space systems can provide greater transportation safety in decades to come.

Emergency warning and recovery systems: The ability to warn populations of pending dangers from hurricanes, monsoons, tidal waves, fires and earthquakes are increasingly dependent on space-based systems. Further rescue operations, from emergency communications to disaster assessment to recovery operations, are dependent on satellite networks as well. Protection of our information networks from cyberterrorists: Many of our current electronic information networks that control transportation systems, energy grids, banking systems and governmental databases are vulnerable. Public key infrastructure systems are in need of upgrade. New types of security systems based on GPS location and encryption systems are dependent on space-based systems.

National defense and strategic security: Space has been called the high frontier. National security systems are increasingly based on smart technologies and instruments that operate in outer space. Ever since Operation Desert Storm, military operations are based heavily on space systems and future systems will be even more so.

Protection against catastrophic planetary accidents: It is easy to assume that an erratic meteor or comet will not bring destruction to the Earth because the probabilities are low. The truth is we are bombarded from space daily. The dangers are greatest not from a cataclysmic collision, but from not knowing enough about solar storms, cosmic radiation and the ozone layer. An enhanced Spaceguard Program is actually a prudent course that could save our species in time.

Creation of new jobs and Industries -- a new vision for the 21st century and a mandate to explore truly new frontiers: Most of the economically advanced countries such as Japan, Canada, Australia and Europe, not to mention China, India and Russia, use their space programs to stimulate their economy, expand their educational and health care networks, improve their agriculture, upgrade their information networks, enhance their entertainment networks and create new jobs. In this respect the U.S. space program now spends precious little of its resources in these areas, but it once did and it could again. These are only some of the ways that space programs could help create a better future for generations yet to come, but it is an impressive list that impacts every American. Space is actually our future. Some would argue that space is the next great step forward for a pioneering nation that sees the need for advancement and discovery. In Nebraska a historical display dedicated to the pioneers that went out West notes that the cowards stayed home but the brave died seeking a better tomorrow. Now is the time to assess our values and our aspirations. It is time to truly ask some key questions:

Why explore space and why send humans into space?

Why does the U.S. space program spend the money it does?

Why does the U.S. space program use the resources it has the way it does?

What is the U.S. space program’s role in terms of education, health care, energy and job creation?

Why is there not more international cooperation in space activities?

Should the U.S. government, at all levels, not realize it needs to do a better job telling us why space and space research, exploration and applications are key?

Courtesy of Space.com

In today's morning fog, Space Shuttle Atlantis rolled out to Launch Pad 39B in preparation for the next space station assembly flight, STS-115.