Monday, December 24, 2007

The ALTAIR logo that will be used by NASA on future lunar expedition missions by astronauts...hopefully starting in 2020.

"Houston, the Altair has landed." Not as catchy as Neil Armstrong’s "Houston, the Eagle has landed" quote back in 1969, but oh well. I think any space aficionado will be grateful if U.S. astronauts are even in the position in 2020 (when Americans are suppose to return to the Moon via the Orion spacecraft) to do a newer take on Armstrong’s memorable line. Almost two weeks ago, NASA announced the new name for its next generation lunar lander: the Altair. Altair is the brightest star in Aquila, the constellation, and is the twelfth brightest celestial object in the night sky...according to NASA folks who work on the Altair project. The logo for Altair was also unveiled (shown above), and pays homage to the patch for the Apollo 11 mission (click here for more info on that). Below is an art concept for the lunar lander itself. The original title for Altair was the Lunar Surface Access Module (LSAM), but here’s hoping Altair becomes a household name faster than LSAM does. That is all.

An artist's concept for the ALTAIR lunar lander.

Images courtesy of NASA

Thursday, December 6, 2007

NASA Merges With NASCAR... This satirical article by The Onion is more than 10 years old, but it’s still funny anyway. And for the record, the shuttle’s name is spelled Endeavour, not Endeavor. Oh well. Blame the British (Endeavour was the name of a British ship, commanded by James Cook, more than 200 years ago. Hey, this Blog was nerdy already) for adding a ‘u’ after ‘o’ in words like that, as well as flavour and labour. And spelling theater ‘theatre’ and kilometer ‘kilometre’. Okay, I’m veering waaay off-topic here. Just check out that article.

Space shuttle Endeavour takes part in Tennessee's Purolator 500.
Courtesy of The Onion

UPDATE (December 9): The reason why the Onion article is relevant right now is because space shuttle Atlantis, which is now scheduled to launch on flight STS-122 in January, is carrying onboard three green starting flags from the Daytona 500. Both NASA and NASCAR's "Great American Race" are celebrating their 50th anniversary next year. Once Atlantis lands after STS-122, one of the green flags will be waved at the beginning of the race in Florida next year, the second flag will be given to the winning Daytona driver, and NASA will keep the third.

The three Daytona 500 racing flags that will ride into space onboard the shuttle Atlantis, on flight STS-122.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

According to, presidential candidate Barack Obama stated that his education plan—if he is elected—will involve diverting funds from the Vision for Space Exploration and delay NASA’s Constellation program (which involves developing and launching the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle) for five years. Let’s see... There’s already a projected five-year gap between the retirement of the space shuttle in 2010 and the first manned mission by Orion in 2015... That means the U.S. will be relying on Russia to send our astronauts into space till 2020 (which is when we would have returned humans to the Moon). Do the math, and that’s a 10-year absence where America isn’t gonna have its own manned spacecraft to send its own astronauts into orbit. As an advocate of the space program (in case you didn’t notice from most of the Blogs on this page), this is totally freakin’ unacceptable.

Overlooking Hilary Clinton's presumably positive stance on human spaceflight, I'm probably not gonna vote Democrat in 2008. Additional reasons would be that I wasted my vote on this losing side in 2000 (to the dull, but Nobel Prize-winning vice president) and 2004 (the bunny suit-wearing flip-flopper from Massachusetts). Obama's plan is hypocritical. And foolish. He wants to motivate kids to get more interested in math and science, and yet he wants to cut funding to the one government agency whose work is the epitome of math and science being used to the fullest. Good one, dude. I was thinking about voting for him until I read about this nonsense. Politics piss me off.

No to Obama as President in 2008.

UPDATE: Found this interesting tidbit on a message board:

"Just a note on survivability of a program beyond a President's term...ISS (the International Space Station) started under Reagan in 1984 and has survived—albeit not without change and compromise—through four presidencies, ten Congresses (a "congress" officially lasts two years) and 24 attempts to kill it in the Congress along the way. It's just not as simple as an initiative of a single presidential term...which is why the Congress "adopted" it as "national policy" in the 2005 NASA Authorization it wouldn't be tied to the president alone.

Obama, if elected, could propose diverting funds from Constellation to education, and the Congress could simply tell him "no." They are the ones that ultimately decide where the money goes; the president, whoever he or she is, only requests a budget."

Hm- That makes me feel a whole lot better. If you overlook the fact Congress is currently controlled by the Democrats.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

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

ORION Update: This past week has seen a number of milestones for the Constellation Program...which is responsible for developing NASA’s replacement for the space shuttle after it is retired in 2010: The Ares rocket and Orion space vehicle. On November 9, construction began at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B for a trio of lightning towers that will protect the Ares rocket when it is out on the pad during a severe thunderstorm. Ares will begin test flights from Florida in 2009. The launch tower at LC-39B itself will not undergo renovation until late 2008...since it will be used one last time for the space shuttle next year. LC-39B will host a second shuttle (Endeavour) in case it has to launch on a rescue mission if Atlantis (the orbiter assigned to the mission) is found damaged in orbit after launching on next summer’s final Hubble Space Telescope servicing flight. Additional photos of the construction can be found here.

TOP PIC: Construction begins on the first of three lightning towers at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39B.  BOTTOM PIC: An artist's concept of how LC-39B will look after being modified for the ARES rocket.
NASA / George Shelton

In other Ares-related news, NASA successfully tested the main parachute for the Ares’ first stage rocket booster during a drop test today at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. Click here for more details.

The main parachute for Constellation Program rockets is tested Nov. 15 over the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground near Yuma, Ariz. Measuring 150-feet in diameter and weighing 2,000 pounds, the parachute is the largest of its kind that's been tested.
NASA / Marshall Spaceflight Center

In New Mexico, workers broke ground on a pad where NASA will test a launch abort system for the Orion spacecraft at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range. You can read more about it here.

TOP PIC: A computer rendition of a launch abort system (LAS) test taking place in White Sands, New Mexico.  BOTTOM PIC: A computer rendition showing NASA's ORION Crew Exploration Vehicle separating from its LAS during flight.

Damaris Sarria, a NASA engineer widely known for a Blog that is chronicling her exploits to become an astronaut, posted a brief entry on Tuesday talking about a prototype heat shield for Orion being shipped to NASA by Boeing. The shield was constructed at the Boeing facility in Huntington Beach, California. Too bad the actual spacecraft itself won’t be constructed at Huntington Beach...which is only a half-hour drive from me. Oh wait— Orion is being built by Lockheed Martin. Nevermind.

TOP PIC: Boeing engineer Elizabeth Chu inspects a prototype heat shield for the ORION Crew Exploration Vehicle.  BOTTOM PIC: A computer rendition showing ORION re-entering Earth's atmosphere.
NASA / Damaris B. Sarria

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The crew of shuttle mission STS-120 gather inside the Harmony module a day after it was attached to the International Space Station.

7 MISSIONS DOWN, 11 MORE TO GO... Of course, this excludes two as-yet unconfirmed contingency shuttle flights around 2009 or 2010. The orbiter Discovery touched down at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center at 10:01 AM, PST today...paving the way for one more shuttle flight in 2007 as Atlantis prepares for launch next month. Atlantis is now mated to its external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters, and will be rolled out to the launch pad on Saturday. Its cargo, the European Space Agency’s Columbus science module, arrived at the pad last night. With each completed mission, the International Space Station (ISS) continues to grow in size [except during next year's Hubble Space Telescope (HST) servicing mission... I'll get to that soon]. And yet sadly, each mission accomplished means the shuttle is getting closer to retirement 3 years from now...after 29 years of being America’s primary way of sending astronauts into space. Atlantis herself is scheduled for deactivation after she flies the very last servicing mission to HST in 2008 (this is the only remaining flight in the program where the shuttle won’t be going to the ISS). The third image below contains artwork depicting the shuttle’s replacement, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, in its latest incarnation. Orion is scheduled to become operational no earlier than 2014, when it will initially be used to carry out logistical flights to the ISS. From 2016 on, however, the CEV will hopefully be utilized for what President Bush announced back in January of 2004: Returning humans to the Moon, and eventually setting the stage for a manned flight to Mars. Or at least a Near-Earth Asteroid. That last one seems a bit more doable right now. Somewhat.

Space shuttle DISCOVERY touches down at Cape Canaveral in Florida on November 7, 2007.
NASA / Tom Farrar & Kim Shiflett

Computer renditions of the ORION Crew Exploration Vehicle.
Courtesy of

UPDATE (November 8): President Bush greets the STS-120 crew outside Air Force One, on the tarmac at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas:

President Bush greets the STS-120 crew outside Air Force One, on the tarmac at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas.
White House / Eric Draper

UPDATE (November 10): Last flight of the year... Rolling out of the Vehicle Assembly Building around 1:43 AM PST this morning, space shuttle Atlantis was officially secured at the launch pad around 8:51 AM PST today. Its launch on mission STS-122 is still set for December 6.

Rolling out of the Vehicle Assembly Building around 1:43 AM PST this morning, space shuttle ATLANTIS was officially secured at the launch pad around 8:51 AM PST today.  Its launch on mission STS-122 is still set for December 6.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The mission logo for STS-120.

SEND A PERSONAL MESSAGE TO THE CREW OF SPACE SHUTTLE DISCOVERY! Courtesy of Space Center Houston and Lucasfilm, the film production company of Star Wars creator George Lucas, you can send a personal greeting to the 7 astronauts currently onboard space shuttle Discovery. Discovery launched from Florida on mission STS-120 a week ago...embarking on a 14-day flight that involved installing a new pressurized module (known as Harmony) to the International Space Station last Friday. Today, an old set of giant solar panel wings (known as the P6 truss...which was launched in November of 2000) will be relocated to the port-side of the orbital outpost. Here is where you can submit a greeting:

This opportunity comes at the same time a lightsaber film prop used by Mark Hamill (as Luke Skywalker) in 1983’s Return of the Jedi is riding onboard Discovery. The prop will be put on exhibit once the orbiter safely returns to Earth on November 7. In terms of the personal messages, they will be imprinted onto a compact disc and presented to the shuttle astronauts during a de-briefing at Houston’s Johnson Space Center after the flight. Hurry before it’s too late!

LEFT PIC: Space shuttle Discovery launches from Florida on flight STS-120 on October 23, 2007.  RIGHT PIC: Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in a production still from STAR WARS: EPISODE VI - RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983).
Reuters - Scott Audette / Lucasfilm Ltd.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

SPUTNIK: Half a century later... Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary since the Soviet Union launched the very first manmade object into space—prompting the United States to send a satellite of its own (Explorer 1) into orbit a year later, making a declaration in 1961 to send a man to the Moon before the Soviets did (wish fulfilled by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July of 1969), and thus launching the Space Age. Tomorrow is also my birthday... I turn 28! I’ve always wondered why I’m SO into space exploration (the last two dozen journal entries might give you a hint about this)... The fact I was born on the same day humans began the exploration of the final frontier is a nice little rationale for that. I actually got into spaceflight and astronomy in the 4th grade...while I got into filmmaking during the 5th grade [after watching The Hunt for Red October at the theater that year (1990), and wanting to draw storyboards and plot out my own Tom Clancy thriller-like film]. So as you can see, I’ve had a much longer interest in space exploration than I did cinema. Somewhat. Despite the fact I got a 'D' in astronomy during my first year in college, and spent more than 2 years in film school studying moviemaking, haha.

October 4, 2007 marks the 50th anniversary since the Sputnik satellite was launched into space.

Anyways, it’s gonna be interesting to see how the next 50 years in space exploration play out. Will the U.S. return people to the Moon by the year 2020? Will China land its own astronaut—or should I say, taikonaut--on the lunar surface before then? Will America send astronauts to Mars by the year 2037 like what NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said in a recent speech (I’m too lazy to link to an article mentioning that speech)? Will we eventually send unmanned spacecraft to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa, Saturn's moon Enceladus (which may both harbor life-supporting oceans underneath their icy crusts) and/or Saturn’s other moon Titan? We’ll just have to wait and see...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The crew of mission STS-51L.

21 YEARS AGO TODAY... This weekend marked the anniversaries of three of the lowest points in our nation's manned space program. Rest in peace to the Challenger well as the Columbia and Apollo 1 astronauts. This Thursday marks the 4-year anniversary since the second space shuttle disaster took place. When the shuttle Atlantis launches again in March, let's hope it begins a safe and successful round of missions (four in all) to the International Space Station this year, so assembly can be finished by 2010. After that, we can now focus on heading back to the Moon, and eventually onto Mars...

The crew of mission STS-107.

The crew of Apollo 1.