Friday, September 29, 2006

An artist's concept of SPACESHIPTWO.

YESTERDAY, British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, who owns Virgin Atlantic and the recently-created Virgin Galactic, unveiled in New York City the mock-up of SpaceShipTwo (SS2)...which will be a longer version of the SpaceShipOne vehicle that flew into space in October of 2004. SS2 will ferry eight people (two pilots and six passengers) into suborbital space. Of course, unlike the $300 to $400 plane ticket that you would have to spend going to, say, the Big Apple, you would have to dish out $200,000 to reserve a seat on SS2. Now let’s see— On one hand a person could probably spend that dough on a decent-size house somewhere here in Cali (or a 2006 Ferrari F430 or an ’06 Lamborghini Gallardo), and on the other hand, he or she could join the likes of Paris Hilton and soar nearly 70 miles above Earth. Overlooking the Hilton part (Note to Paris: Don’t try being the first person to have nookie in outer space), I’d choose the latter.

NASA officials take a tour of the Operations and Checkout Building at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.  The O&C will be the facility where the ORION spacecraft is assembled and tested before flight.

On the government side of space travel, NASA officials on Tuesday re-opened the high bay on the western side of the Operations and Checkout Building (O&C) at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC). What’s so significant about this, you ask? Well, the high bay was the site where the Apollo spacecraft were assembled and tested in the late 1960’s/early 70’s...and will now be the area where Lockheed Martin conducts final assembly on the Orion spacecraft before launch. And yesterday, the first component for the Ares I-1 flight test vehicle (the component being the aft skirt belonging to the first stage solid rocket booster), slated to lift off in April of 2009, was placed in the Assembly and Refurbishment Facility at KSC (shown in the picture below). Indeed, right now is a very exciting time to be a space enthusiast...and not a "cynical young adult". Pretty sad.

The aft skirt that will be part of the first stage solid rocket booster on ARES I-1 is placed inside the Assembly and Refurbishment Facility at Kennedy Space Center.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Space shuttle Atlantis lands at Kennedy Space Center in Florida...completing STS-115 on September 21, 2006.

ONE DOWN, FOURTEEN MORE TO GO... Around 3:21 AM (Pacific Daylight Time) today, space shuttle Atlantis returned safely to Earth after completing the first space station assembly flight in almost four years (the last assembly mission took place in November of 2002). There are officially fourteen more assembly flights left before all the shuttles are scheduled to be retired in 2010 (two additional missions to the space station could take place in October 2009 and July 2010...but only if needed). However, if NASA gives the go-ahead next month, astronauts will return to the Hubble Space Telescope in April of 2008 for one last servicing flight...thus bringing the number of remaining shuttle missions to fifteen. (Do you like how I state the obvious up the wazoo?) Below are before-and-after photos of the International Space Station in regards to Atlantis' just-completed flight. Hopefully, its appearance will change again in February of 2007...when another set of solar arrays will be attached to the starboard side of the orbiting outpost (starboard is to the left-hand side of the station in the second photo). The next shuttle mission will take place with Discovery this December 14...but it's bringing along a measly piece of truss segment...not the cool, giant solar arrays you see in the photos below. I'll shut up now.

Before-and-after photos of the International Space Station, in regards to the just-completed STS-115 flight.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Space shuttle Atlantis launches on mission to the International Space Station on September 9, 2006, at 8:14:55 AM (Pacific Daylight Time).

THE PENGUIN LIFTS OFF! After four delays since August 25th...when lightning struck near its launch pad two days before the original launch date on August 27, Tropical Storm Ernesto loomed the following week and the shuttle had to be rolled off its launch pad to be sent back to the protective confines of the Vehicle Assembly Building—only to be rolled back to the pad again after it was observed Ernesto wouldn’t pose a threat, a faulty fuel cell postponed launch on September 6, and a faulty fuel gauge on the orange external tank postponed launch yesterday, Atlantis finally got off the ground today at 8:15 AM, Pacific Daylight Time. Whew... About friggin’ time! I was getting tired of constantly updating the countdown at the top of this page with new launch dates! Now I can update the countdown with the day and time Atlantis will dock with the International Space Station (ISS)...which will be on Monday, September 11, around 3:46 AM (PDT). Godspeed Atlantis! Or should I say...the crew of STS-115. When Atlantis returns to Earth on September 20th, hopefully the ISS will look completely different from how it appeared since the last assembly flight, which took place with shuttle Endeavour in late 2002.

Media photographers watch as Space shuttle Atlantis launches on mission to the International Space Station on September 9, 2006, at 8:14:55 AM (Pacific Daylight Time).

Oh, and in case you’re wondering why I called Atlantis "the penguin"...that’s the nickname workers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida gave the orbiter. It’s black and white, but never gets off the ground. Until today.

Astronaut Daniel Burbank, center, adjusts his launch and entry suit while sitting in space shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on September 9, 2006.  Pilot Chris Ferguson, front left, Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean , left, an unidentified NASA worker, top right, and Commander Brent Jett, right , are visible on Atlantis' flightdeck.