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Friday, January 28, 2011

The crew of mission STS-51L.

25 YEARS AGO TODAY... The 7 astronauts of space shuttle Challenger lost their lives 73 seconds into flight on a cold January day. 44 years ago yesterday, the 3 astronauts of Apollo 1 perished in a horrific fire during a ground launch rehearsal at Cape Canaveral, Florida. This Tuesday, it will be 8 years since the crew of space shuttle Columbia was lost during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere over Texas. May all these folks rest in peace. Hopefully, space shuttle Discovery will be launched as scheduled on February 24—and commence what will (hopefully once more) be a safe and successful conclusion to the space shuttle program (the flights of Endeavour and Atlantis will follow that of Discovery...in April and June, respectively). This particular era of American human spaceflight, which will have lasted a little over 30 years, deserves an upbeat and memorable ending. It would obviously be a tribute to the 17 men and women who sacrificed their lives in the name of exploration. Not to sound clich├ęd or anything...it's the ultimate truth.

The crew of mission STS-107.

The crew of Apollo 1.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Delta IV-Heavy rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for the first time on January 20, 2011.
Pat Corkery / United Launch Alliance

PHOTOS OF THE DAY... Today’s entry is devoted to yesterday’s launch of the Delta IV-Heavy rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. If you read this recent post (high-five if you did), then you’ll know that the launch pad the Delta IV (whose payload was a top-secret spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office) lifted off from was originally intended for space shuttles being sent into polar orbit for military missions. As mentioned in the entry I linked to above, this plan was scrapped after the Challenger disaster in 1986. Too bad. As for yesterday’s launch (which took place at 1:10 PM, PST), this was the first time ever that the Delta IV—which is currently the largest unmanned rocket (or Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle in techno-jargon) in the U.S. inventory—took flight from the California coastline. Here is a video of the launch:



Living in Southern California, I would’ve driven 100+ miles north to view this historic moment for um, America’s military space program, but I had errands to do around the time of launch yesterday. That, and my car will be 13-years-old this year (yes—it’s Japanese-made, but still...) and I currently can’t afford to spend money on something like a rental car right now. I probably shouldn’t have broadcast that here. Oh well.

A Delta IV-Heavy rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for the first time on January 20, 2011.
Pat Corkery / United Launch Alliance

A Delta IV-Heavy rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for the first time on January 20, 2011.
Gene Blevins / LA Daily News

A Delta IV-Heavy rocket soars skyward after being launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on January 20, 2011.
TitanFan - NASASpaceflight.com

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A nighttime shot of space shuttle Enterprise sitting atop its SLC-6 launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
U.S. Air Force

WHAT COULD’VE BEEN... SpaceflightNow.com has posted up some neat photos of the prototype space shuttle Enterprise sitting atop a launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, back in 1985. Prior to the Challenger disaster, the Department of Defense planned to launch the shuttle from the U.S. West Coast on military flights...but that was scrapped after the 1986 tragedy. Unlike launches from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, where shuttles and other spacecraft are sent up into equatorial (or west-to-east) orbit, the ascent of the shuttle after a Vandenberg liftoff would bring it into a polar (or south-to-north) orbit...which is the orbit that all satellites launched from the California airbase are sent to. Today, the pad, technically known as Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6), serves as the launch site of the Delta IV-Heavy rocket—which will fly its very first mission from the West Coast on January 20. The Delta IV’s four previous launches were from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Space shuttle Enterprise arrives at SLC-6 in California's Vandenberg AFB.
U.S. Air Force

All I can say is...had the shuttle been launched from Vandenberg AFB as originally envisioned, I wouldn’t have to spend a thousand dollars to fly to Florida to see the orbiter at KSC instead. Then again, unlike at KSC—where I can take a tour (the 'Up-Close Tour' to be exact) to see the shuttle’s launch pad from as close as a mile away—there is no visitor complex at Vandenberg. Nor is there any hilly terrain (which would obscure the shuttle at liftoff) in Florida like there is in Ventura County (where Vandenberg is situated) in California. Oh well. I like traveling out-of-state anyway... When I have the money to do so, that is.

Space shuttle Enterprise is driven through rocky terrain at Vandenberg AFB in California.
William G. Hartenstein

Space shuttle Enterprise is being transported to SLC-6 at Vandenderg AFB in California.
William G. Hartenstein

Space shuttle Enterprise arrives at SLC-6 in California's Vandenberg AFB.
U.S. Air Force

Space shuttle Enterprise is about to be attached to its external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters at Vandenberg AFB in California.
U.S. Air Force

Space shuttle Enterprise sits atop its SLC-6 launch pad at Vandenberg AFB in California.
U.S. Air Force

Space shuttle Enterprise sits atop its SLC-6 launch pad at Vandenberg AFB in California.
U.S. Air Force

A nighttime shot of space shuttle Enterprise sitting atop its SLC-6 launch pad at Vandenberg AFB in California.
U.S. Air Force