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