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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

An artist's concept of the Dragon spacecraft in Earth orbit.
SpaceX

ENTER THE DRAGON... Yesterday, NASA offered two private aerospace companies—Orbital Sciences Corp. and SpaceX—a contract worth $3.5 billion to haul cargo and/or crew to the International Space Station (ISS) after the space shuttle retires in 2010. The reason why this interests me is pretty much implied above: the United States has the potential to have two types of manned vehicles that will take astronauts into space by 2015. Besides the Dragon capsule that's shown in the pic above, the other manned vehicle—of course—is NASA’s Orion spacecraft.

An artist's concept of the Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
SpaceX

2009 should be an intriguing year for U.S. human spaceflight. The Dragon spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket (which is also constructed by SpaceX) that will carry Dragon into space will undergo a series of test launches next year. This July will see the launch of Ares I-X, a prototype of the Ares I rocket that will ferry the Orion spacecraft to the ISS, and hopefully to more distant destinations (ahem, the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids and of course, Mars?) starting in the later half of next decade. The launch of Ares I-X, however, depends on whether or not the shuttle Atlantis will be able to get off the ground next May on a mission to service and repair the Hubble Space Telescope one last time.

Various segments making up the upper stage simulator on the Ares I-X rocket are being mated together at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Troy Cryder

One more thing: Our nation’s potential to have two manned space vehicles by 2015 also hinges on what Barack Obama does when he officially becomes the U.S. President on January 20. *Crosses fingers.*

An arrtist's concept showing the Ares I-X rocket on its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The full moon shines bright high above space shuttle Endeavour as it prepares to launch towards the International Space Station on November 14, 2008.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

ENDEAVOUR LAUNCHES... Just thought I’d share these two cool photos of the full moon shining high above the space shuttle as it launched on flight STS-126 yesterday evening. Endeavour’s mission involves the installation of several important furnishings (including new sleeping quarters and a high-tech recycling system that converts astronauts’ sweat and urine—you heard right—into clean drinking water) onto the International Space Station to enhance its capability to hold a 6-person crew starting next May or June. Only 3 astronauts/cosmonauts have lived onboard the orbiting outpost since it permanently became habitable 8 years ago this month.

Endeavour is scheduled to return to Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 29.

The full moon provides a backdrop as space shuttle Endeavour soars into the night sky on flight STS-126 on November 14, 2008.
NASA / Troy Cryder

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

50 YEARS AGO TODAY, America's space program officially began operations. Awesome.

NASA's 50th Anniversary Logo.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Space shuttle Atlantis stands ready for launch at Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A in the foreground, while in the background, at Pad 39B 1.6 miles away, Endeavour begins preps for a potential rescue mission to Atlantis if she is found damaged during next month's flight to the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA / Troy Cryder

TWO BIRDS, READY FOR FLIGHT... At 3:59 AM, Pacific Time yesterday, space shuttle Endeavour arrived at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39B to begin preps for a potential rescue mission (STS-400) if Atlantis is found damaged during her flight to the Hubble Space Telescope. Atlantis herself has been at Pad 39A since September 4, and is still on track for an October 9 launch to HST.

Space shuttle Atlantis stands ready for launch at Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A in the foreground, while in the background, at Pad 39B 1.6 miles away, Endeavour begins preps for a potential rescue mission to Atlantis if she is found damaged during next month's flight to the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA / Troy Cryder

If Atlantis is found to be unscathed during STS-125, Endeavour will be rolled over to Pad 39A, and begin preparations for her next official flight, STS-126. 39B will then officially be handed over to NASA’s Constellation program, and will be the site of next year’s launch of the Ares I-X rocket. Ares, in case you didn’t know, is the vehicle that will hopefully launch American astronauts back to the Moon by 2020. Hopefully.

Space shuttle Atlantis stands ready for launch at Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A in the foreground, while in the background, at Pad 39B 1.6 miles away, Endeavour begins preps for a potential rescue mission to Atlantis if she is found damaged during next month's flight to the Hubble Space Telescope.
FLORIDA TODAY / Michael R. Brown

Sunday, September 7, 2008

BACK AT THE PAD... After several days of delays due to the approaching risk of Tropical Storm Hanna, space shuttle Atlantis finally rolled out to its Florida launch pad last Thursday. At first, I thought that NASA was being overly optimistic making this move...seeing as how there were two storms, Hurricane Ike and Tropical Depression Josephine, still brewing out there in the Atlantic. Judging from this page as of today, Josephine is gone, and Ike was only (but perilously) going to pass near the tip of southern Florida on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Atlantis is scheduled to launch from Kennedy Space Center at 9:33 PM on October 9 (California time), on a mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope one last time. Hubble should last for 5 more years beyond 2008 if the repairs go smoothly on STS-125.

Space shuttle Atlantis arrives at Launch Complex 39A in Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on September 4, 2008.  Preparations will continue to get it ready for its October 9 launch to the Hubble Space Telescope, on flight STS-125.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

COMING SOON TO A SPACEPORT NEAR YOU... NASA released this interesting poster today, commemorating the first test flight of the Ares I-X rocket. The flight is scheduled to take place on April 15, 2009...assuming, of course, nothing delays launch processing at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center over the coming months. That means space shuttle Atlantis hopefully lifts off on-time in October to repair the Hubble Space Telescope (on mission STS-125), and Endeavour isn’t needed to conduct a rescue attempt if something goes awry during STS-125. Also... The next administration doesn’t do anything stupid and f*ck up our nation’s human spaceflight program immediately after it moves into the White House this January. I’m talking to you, Obama.

ARES I-X 'promotional' poster.
NASA

Friday, June 13, 2008

AS PER TRADITION on this Blog page (in case you’re a regular visitor and haven’t noticed, which you most likely didn’t), here are two images of the International Space Station in its most recent configuration. Added on this current shuttle flight (which should end tomorrow morning with Discovery landing at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center) is Japan's Kibo science lab. The station’s appearance won’t change again till early next year, when the last set of solar panels are launched with Discovery on next February’s STS-119 mission. That’s all.

Images of the International Space Station in its most recent configuration, as of June 13, 2008.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Europe's JULES VERNE Automated Transfer Vehicle comes within 36 feet of the International Space Station on March 31, 2008.
NASA TV

THAT'S NO X-WING... The European Space Agency’s newest spacecraft, Jules Verne, successfully came within 36 feet of the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday...paving the way for its inaugural docking with the orbiting complex on Thursday. Jules Verne (officially called the Automated Transfer Vehicle, or ATV) joins the space shuttle and Russia’s Soyuz and Progress capsules as the newest member of the fleet that is the lifeline for the ISS. Europe plans to launch at least 4 more ATV’s over the coming years, with Japan next in line to send its own supply ship, the H-II Transfer Vehicle, to the station by 2009.

An art concept showing Japan's H-II Transfer Vehicle about to be attached to the International Space Station, via Canadarm 2.
JAXA

By the way, I was trying to come up with a good quote from the original Star Wars movie to use as the yellow tagline above. "We’re caught in its tractor beam" was considered, and so was "Ship approaching, ATV-class." Though technically, that second line was adapted from The Empire Strikes Back. Haha.

Europe's JULES VERNE Automated Transfer Vehicle comes within 36 feet of the International Space Station on March 31, 2008.
The JULES VERNE ATV prepares to back away from the International Space Station after coming within 36 feet of the orbiting complex on March 31, 2008.
JULES VERNE orbits more than a thousand feet away from the International Space Station after coming within 36 feet of the orbiting complex on March 31, 2008.
NASA TV

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The DEXTRE robot...which was built by the Canadian Space Agency for the ISS project.

TRULY INTERNATIONAL... Space shuttle Endeavour undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, and is now scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in about 4 hours. During its 16-day flight, Endeavour’s astronauts assembled and installed a giant robot (shown above) that will help the ISS’ crew conduct maintenance activities on the exterior of the outpost without resorting to dangerous spacewalks. The crew also attached the first of two pressurized modules that will make up Japan’s Kibo science laboratory (the main Kibo module is set to launch in May, and a science platform that will be attached to the outside of the lab will hopefully launch early next year). The robot, nicknamed Dextre and built by the Canadian Space Agency, and the Japanese module brings every international partner involved in the $100 billion project onboard. The United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada now have joint real estate orbiting more than 200 miles up in space.

Astronauts onboard the space shuttle Endeavour photograph the International Space Station shortly after undocking on Monday, March 24.

UPDATE: Endeavour touched down at Kennedy Space Center today at 5:39 PM, Pacific Daylight Time.

Endeavour touched down at Kennedy Space Center today at 5:39 PM, Pacific Daylight Time.
Images courtesy of NASA / Gary Rothstein

Monday, February 18, 2008

The International Space Station as seen from the shuttle Atlantis after it undocks from the orbiting outpost on February 18, 2008.

THE 'SHUTTLE SURGE' CONTINUES... About a quarter before 2 AM, Pacific Standard Time today, space shuttle Endeavour arrived at its Kennedy Space Center launch pad, in preparation for its March 10 launch to the International Space Station (ISS). Endeavour will embark on flight STS-123, which involves her crew installing the first section of Japan’s Kibo science laboratory to the orbiting outpost. The main component of Kibo will be launched onboard Discovery on STS-124, now targeted for liftoff in late May. In regards to other science labs at the ISS, Atlantis undocked from the outpost earlier this morning, after her astronauts spent last week installing Europe’s Columbus module to the station. Atlantis will land on Wednesday—either in Florida or at California’s Edwards Air Force Base—to give the U.S. military more time to attempt shooting down an errant spy satellite (which failed shortly after launch in December of 2006, and is expected to enter Earth’s atmosphere sometime next month).

The U.S. Air Force's Thunderbirds fly over Endeavour at its launch pad to commemorate NASA's 50th anniversary.  The flyby took place around 7:15 AM, PST, today.
USAF / TSgt. Justin D. Pyle

In commemoration of NASA’s 50th anniversary this year, the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds flew over Endeavour after it arrived at the launch pad. The flyby took place around 7:15 AM, PST today.

TOP PHOTO: Space shuttle Endeavour arrives at Launch Pad 39-A around 1:45 AM, PST, today.  SECOND PHOTO: The U.S. Air Force's Thunderbirds fly over Endeavour at its launch pad to commemorate NASA's 50th anniversary.  The flyby took place around 7:15 AM, PST, today.
NASA - Amanda Diller & Jack Pfaller

Thursday, February 7, 2008

ATLANTIS HEADS FOR SPACE... At 11:45 AM, Pacific Standard Time today, the space shuttle Atlantis rocketed away from Florida’s east coast on a journey towards the International Space Station (ISS). Atlantis will dock with the orbital outpost this Saturday, February 9. A day later, astronauts will install the European Space Agency’s Columbus science module to the ISS, where it will stay for the remainder of the station’s life. Columbus is expected to stay in operation for at least 10 years.

Moments before liftoff, CNN reporter Miles O’Brien made an interesting analogy about Atlantis’ launch in his SciTechBlog. He compares the shuttle’s launch to throwing a football:

"If only they could launch now, they (Atlantis’ astronauts) would be on their way. Problem is – the shuttle does not have enough gas to make it to the space station unless it leaves the pad when the station is overhead.

It is kind of like a quarterback throwing a pass to his receiver. If he doesn’t toss the football at just the right moment – the pass will be incomplete – or intercepted.

Think of the shuttle as the football, the station is the receiver, and the launch control team as the quarterback."


Interesting stuff. Atlantis will return to Earth on February 18.

Space shuttle Atlantis lifts off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center on flight STS-122 on February 7, 2008.  Astronauts onboard the shuttle will attached the European Space Agency's Columbus science lab to the International Space Station.
NASA / Sandra Joseph, Tony Gray, Robert Murray

Thursday, January 31, 2008

50 YEARS AGO TODAY, the United States launched its very first satellite, Explorer 1, into Earth orbit. It was in response to the Soviet Union launching its Sputnik 1 satellite three months earlier, thus touching off the Space Race. Just thought I’d give you a bit of history as we are now living in the fifth decade of the Space Age. Awesome.

A model of Explorer 1, held by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director William Pickering, scientist James Van Allen and rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun in 1958.
NASA JPL

Monday, January 28, 2008

The crew of mission STS-51L.

22 YEARS AGO TODAY... This week marks the anniversaries of three of the lowest points in our nation's manned space program. Rest in peace to the Challenger crew...as well as the Columbia and Apollo 1 astronauts. This Friday marks the 5-year anniversary since the second space shuttle disaster took place. When the shuttle Atlantis launches again on February 7 (hopefully), let's hope it begins a safe and successful round of missions (six in all) to the Hubble Space Telescope and International Space Station this year, so space station 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.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

SpaceShipTwo unveiled... Do you think traveling 60 miles into space will one day cost as much as doing a tandem skydive (usually around $300), or at least a HALO tandem dive (around $3,000)? $200,000—the current asking price by Virgin Galactic, which owns SpaceShipTwo—is a bit out of my price range...for now.


Artist concepts showing SpaceShipTwo and White Knight II in action.

SpaceShipTwo and White Knight II undergoing construction at the Scaled Composites facility:

SpaceShipTwo and White Knight II undergoing construction at the Scaled Composites facility.

All images courtesy of Virgin Galactic / Scaled Composites