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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Awaiting recovery, Dragon C2+ floats in the Pacific Ocean after successfully returning to Earth on May 31, 2012.
SpaceX / Michael Altenhofen

Dragon C2+ finishes making history... The spacecraft safely splashed down about 560 miles off the coast of Baja California at 8:42 AM, Pacific Daylight Time today, completing a 9-day mission that involved proving that SpaceX's privately-made capsule is capable of rendezvousing and berthing with the International Space Station (ISS) without any significant problems, and delivering 1,100 pounds worth of cargo to the ISS for its 6-member crew to use. Dragon C2+ is currently on a barge heading back to the Port of Los Angeles. It will then be transported to a SpaceX facility in Texas so that 1,400 pounds of items that the ISS astronauts placed inside the vehicle prior to its departure from the station can be offloaded.

Standing behind Mission Control, a thousand SpaceX employees watch as Dragon C2+ is about to re-enter Earth's atmosphere on May 31, 2012.
Photo courtesy of SpaceX - Twitter.com

Two of Dragon's main parachutes are visible on the horizon after the spacecraft safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on May 31, 2012.
Photo courtesy of SpaceX - Twitter.com

A dive team secures Dragon C2+ after it safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on May 31, 2012...following a successful return from space.
NASA / US Navy

Dragon C2+ is secured on a barge after being recovered from the Pacific Ocean on May 31, 2012...following a successful return from space.
Photo courtesy of SpaceX - Twitter.com

With Dragon C2+ now in the books, SpaceX is gearing up to officially deliver cargo to the ISS as part of its contract with NASA's Commercial Crew Program. The Falcon 9 first stage motor for Dragon's next flight is now at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida (see pic below). Dragon's next launch should take place before the end of this year. Let's hope it will be as smashing a success as the mission that concluded this morning.

The Falcon 9 first stage motor that will launch Dragon on its next flight is secured inside SpaceX's hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Photo courtesy of SpaceX - Twitter.com

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On May 22, 2012, Kennedy Space Center (KSC) engineers finish assembling the tail cone that will fly on Endeavour during her ferry trip to Southern California in late September.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Endeavour: Retirement Update... Last week, engineers inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida finished constructing the tail cone that will fly on Endeavour during her ferry trip to California in late September. The tail cone is designed to protect Endeavour's three Replica Shuttle Main Engines from air turbulence during her cross-country flight to SoCal. The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft designated as NASA 905, which brought Discovery to Virginia in mid-April and Enterprise to New York City later that month, is the jumbo jet that will fly Endeavour to Los Angeles four months from now.

In other Endeavour-related news, construction continues on the temporary hangar that will house the orbiter at the California Science Center—Endeavour's final home. The temporary hangar will be known as the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion, while the new museum wing where the vehicle will become a permanent exhibit is going to be called the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center...in honor of the late philanthropist whose foundation donated a generous amount of money to the California Science Center earlier this month. The Center's goal is to raise around $200 million to build the Air and Space Center, and hopefully have Endeavour displayed vertically (to simulate a launch position) inside of it.

On May 15, 2012, KSC engineers begin assembling the bottom half of the tail cone that will fly on Endeavour during her ferry trip to Southern California in late September.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

On May 15, 2012, KSC engineers finish assembling the bottom half of the tail cone that will fly on Endeavour during her ferry trip to Southern California in late September.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

On May 22, 2012, KSC engineers prepare to combine the top and bottom halves of the tail cone that will fly on Endeavour during her ferry trip to Southern California in late September.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

On May 22, 2012, KSC engineers are about to combine the top and bottom halves of the tail cone that will fly on Endeavour during her ferry trip to Southern California in late September.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Sunday, May 27, 2012

International Space Station (ISS) crew members Don Pettit, Joe Acaba and André Kuipers pose for a group photo inside the Dragon C2+ vehicle on May 26, 2012.
NASA TV

Photos of the Day... Posted below are high-resolution images, taken by European Space Agency astronaut André Kuipers, of the Dragon C2+ vehicle as it berthed with the International Space Station (ISS) for the very first time last Friday. Yesterday morning, ISS crew members entered the SpaceX capsule to begin unloading 1,000 pounds worth of cargo from inside the privately-made craft. The unloading operation should take around 25 hours (spread out over four days) to complete. Dragon C2+ will then depart from the ISS and head back to Earth on May 31. It will open its parachutes and splash down in the Pacific hundreds of miles off the coast of Southern California that day.

Dragon C2+ floats underneath the ISS prior to the SpaceX vehicle being berthed to the orbital outpost on May 25, 2012.
ESA / NASA

A close-up of Dragon C2+ prior to it being berthed to the ISS on May 25, 2012.
ESA / NASA

History is made as the ISS' robotic arm grapples Dragon C2+ prior to it berthing at the outpost on May 25, 2012.
ESA / NASA

History is made as the ISS' robotic arm grapples Dragon C2+ prior to it berthing at the outpost on May 25, 2012.
ESA / NASA

History is made as Dragon C2+ is finally berthed to the ISS, on May 25, 2012.
ESA / NASA

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dragon C2+ floats underneath the International Space Station (ISS) as its robotic arm, in the foreground, waits to grapple the SpaceX vehicle on May 25, 2012.
NASA TV

"Looks like we got us a Dragon by the tail." Those were the words of International Space Station (ISS) crew member Don Pettit as history was made when the Dragon C2+ vehicle berthed at the orbital outpost for the very first time earlier today. Dragon C2+ was grappled by the ISS' robotic arm at 6:56 AM, Pacific Daylight Time...prior to the privately-made spacecraft officially berthing with the station's Harmony module at 9:02 AM, PDT. The ISS crew will have a hatch-opening ceremony for Dragon C2+ tomorrow morning, and will then spend the next week unloading supplies from the capsule before it is detached from the ISS on May 31 and safely returns to Earth that same day. This is the first time that an American-made vehicle traveled to the space station since the orbiter Atlantis visited it on her last flight, STS-135, in July of 2011. SpaceX is planning to launch Dragon to the ISS again (to officially begin delivering cargo for NASA) before this year is up.

History is made as the ISS' robotic arm grapples Dragon C2+ prior to it berthing at the outpost on May 25, 2012.
NASA TV

Sunlight reflects off the ISS' robotic arm after it grappled Dragon C2+ for the very first time on May 25, 2012.
NASA TV

History is made as Dragon C2+ is finally berthed to the ISS, on May 25, 2012.
NASA TV

Thursday, May 24, 2012

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) took this photo of the Dragon C2+ vehicle as it flew under the orbital outpost during a test on May 24, 2012.
NASA

Snapshots of what's to come... The Dragon C2+ vehicle will arrive and berth at the International Space Station for the first time at 8:20 AM, Pacific Daylight Time, tomorrow.

An astronaut aboard the ISS took this photo of the Dragon C2+ vehicle as it flew under the orbital outpost during a test on May 24, 2012.
NASA

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon C2+ spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on May 22, 2012.
NASA / Rick Wetherington, Tim Powers and Tim Terry

Dragon C2+ Lifts Off...Finally! At 12:44 AM, Pacific Daylight Time today, a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon C2+ capsule successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida. After months of launch delays, Dragon C2+ is finally headed to the International Space Station (ISS)...where Dragon will arrive this Friday, May 25th. This morning's historic moment for human spaceflight was definitely (and obviously) heralded at the SpaceX headquarters based in Hawthorne, California—with more than a thousand SpaceX employees (who stood inside a viewing area right behind the Mission Control Center) cheering and clapping enthusiastically as a projection screen showed Falcon 9 slowly but steadily rising from its pad at CCAFS' Space Launch Complex-40. The applause was even stronger once footage was shown of Dragon C2+'s twin solar arrays flawlessly deploying after the spacecraft separated from its second stage motor in Earth orbit. More applause is expected this Friday, when Dragon will be berthed to the ISS via robotic arm.

A thousand employees at SpaceX Headquarters in California cheer as the Dragon C2+ mission finally launches on May 22, 2012.
SpaceX

Should Dragon successfully berth with the ISS on May 25, it will stay at the outpost till May 31...before departing the space station and re-entering Earth's atmosphere that same day. Like the previous Dragon flight in December, 2010, this capsule will also land and be recovered in the Pacific Ocean—hundreds of miles off the coast of Southern California.

The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon C2+ spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on May 22, 2012.
NASA / Alan Ault

The engine bell on Falcon 9's second stage motor glows in the dark after igniting several minutes after launch, on May 22, 2012.
SpaceX

The Dragon C2+ spacecraft separates from its second stage motor after successfully reaching Earth orbit, on May 22, 2012.
NASA TV

More than ten minutes after launch, one of Dragon C2+'s twin solar arrays flawlessly unfurls in Earth orbit, on May 22, 2012.
SpaceX

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Due to an engine issue, the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket was aborted 0.5 seconds before liftoff, on May 19, 2012.
NASA TV

Dragon C2+'s launch is scrubbed... The launch attempt for Dragon C2+ was aborted early this morning when slightly high combustion chamber pressure was detected in Engine 5 of the Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX will try to launch Dragon C2+ this Tuesday...pending data results that engineers receive following an inspection of Engine 5 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida today. Liftoff for May 22 is scheduled for 12:44 AM, Pacific Daylight Time.

Posted with this entry are photos of Falcon 9's rollout to its Space Launch Complex-40 pad at CCAFS on May 17.

The Falcon 9 rocket emerges from its SpaceX hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on May 17, 2012.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

The Falcon 9 rocket is rolled out to its pad at SLC-40 on May 17, 2012.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

The Falcon 9 rocket arrives on its pad at SLC-40 on May 17, 2012.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

The Falcon 9 rocket is poised for launch at SLC-40 on May 17, 2012.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

The Falcon 9 rocket sits on its pad at Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 on May 18, 2012.
NASA / Ken Thornsley

Thursday, May 17, 2012

One of Atlantis' liquid hydrogen fuel lines after it was removed from the orbiter on May 8, 2012.
NASA / Ben Smegelsky

Atlantis: Retirement Update... While her decommissioning process continues at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the orbiter Atlantis is also taking part in an effort to speed up the development of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) by having Main Propulsion System (MPS) components be removed from the shuttle. The MPS components will be placed in temporary storage for future use on the SLS...with items like the liquid hydrogen fuel lines being taken out of Atlantis' engine compartment (as shown in the pics posted with this entry). Atlantis' sister ship Endeavour is also being 'scavenged' for engine parts to be used on the SLS—though Endeavour will soon complete transition and retirement operations and will be just months away from being flown to Los Angeles and becoming a space artifact at the California Science Center.

Atlantis is scheduled to be towed down the road to her final home at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex between this November and February 2013.

A technician works inside Atlantis' engine compartment to remove a liquid hydrogen fuel line, on May 8, 2012.
NASA / Ben Smegelsky

Three technicians (with more assisting inside the engine compartment) work to remove a liquid hydrogen fuel line from Atlantis, on May 8, 2012.
NASA / Ben Smegelsky

As of May 8, 2012, the engine well for Atlantis' main engine No. 1 is empty after Main Propulsion System elements were removed.
NASA / Ben Smegelsky

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA Flight Engineer Joseph Acaba and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin prepare for their launch to the International Space Station on May 14, 2012 (Pacific Time).
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Another Successful Soyuz Launch... Yesterday evening, a Soyuz TMA-04M rocket carrying three new International Space Station (ISS) residents was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA Flight Engineer Joseph Acaba and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin will arrive at the ISS late tomorrow.

A Soyuz rocket carrying the Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on May 14, 2012 (Pacific Time).
NASA / Bill Ingalls

On a related note, the Soyuz recently made its way in American pop culture when the Russian vehicle was featured on last Thursday's season finale of the hit CBS TV show, The Big Bang Theory. For those of you who watch this (hilarious) sitcom, aerospace engineer Howard Wolowitz (played by Simon Helberg) was chosen by NASA to fly to the ISS after an experiment he designed was selected as a payload that would be sent to the orbital outpost. Real-life astronaut Mike Massimino, who took part in two Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions (STS-109 and STS-125, respectively), had a prominent role in this episode.

NASA astronaut Mike Massimino (right) takes a photo with THE BIG BANG THEORY actor Simon Helberg (center) and Executive Producer Bill Prady inside a Soyuz mock-up.
Mike Massimino

If you're a regular viewer of The Big Bang Theory, you'd appreciate how the show constantly makes references to space exploration and even features cameos of, along with actual astronauts, world-renowned figures such as Stephen Hawking in its episodes. Nice to see spaceflight and science be taken seriously in Hollywood!

NASA astronaut Mike Massimino (right) takes a photo with THE BIG BANG THEORY star Simon Helberg and Pasha Lychnikoff (center) during a break from filming the hit TV show's season finale.
Mike Massimino

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Endeavour Deactivated... NASA's youngest orbiter became the last of the three retired space shuttles to be permanently silenced. The final power-down of all of Endeavour's systems took place at 6:58 AM, Pacific Daylight Time, last Friday. This milestone comes 20 years after the orbiter flew on her inaugural mission, STS-49, and almost 1 year after Endeavour launched on her final flight, STS-134.

Endeavour remains on schedule to be delivered to the California Science Center, Endeavour's final home, in Los Angeles this September.

A shot of Endeavour's flight deck right after the orbiter was permanently powered down on May 11, 2012.
NASA

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Genesis 1 space station, which was launched in 2006, orbits the Earth.
Bigelow Aerospace

Commercial Spaceflight Update... Yesterday, SpaceX announced a partnership with Bigelow Aerospace that would involve SpaceX launching paying passengers aboard its Falcon 9/Dragon vehicles to private space stations sent into Earth orbit by Bigelow. The orbital habitats, known as BA-330, would be based on the designs of the Genesis 1 and 2 space stations...which Bigelow successfully flew into orbit in 2006 and 2007, respectively. With SpaceX providing an extra means of transportation, Bigelow now has two ways of getting tourists up to its floating outposts; the company also has an agreement with Boeing that involves its Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 vehicle sending astronauts to BA-330 as well.

The Dragon C2+ spacecraft prior to being re-mated with its Falcon 9 launch vehicle, on April 26, 2012.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Of course, the Dragon capsule still has more than a week to go (tentatively) to prove that it can successfully dock with a space station (the International Space Station, that is). And it will still be 2 to 3 more years before the CST-100 even launches on its first test flight. The first segment of the BA-330 habitat isn't scheduled to launch till that same time frame as well. Ordinary folks with lots of money who want to be the first ones to visit a 'space hotel' will have to remain patient.

The three main parachutes successfully deploy from the Boeing CST-100 model on May 2, 2012.
Boeing

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

An artist's concept of the Liberty Launch System and its crew capsule.
ATK

Images of the Day... Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, announced today that they are planning to develop a manned spacecraft that will soar into Earth orbit aboard ATK's Liberty Launch System, which was unveiled to the public late last year. ATK, which built the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) for the now-defunct space shuttle program and will provide the SRBs for NASA's Space Launch System (at least for the SLS' first couple of flights; NASA is planning to eventually replace the SRBs with more advanced solid or liquid-fueled motors for the rocket's side-mounted boosters), is aiming for 2014 to conduct the inaugural test flight of Liberty from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. ATK is targeting 2015 to conduct the first crewed flight of Liberty—while 2016 is a tentative date in which the vehicle could support manned missions for NASA and other prospective customers.

Two engineers work on the Composite Crew Module that will form the core of the Liberty spacecraft.
ATK

On display is the Composite Crew Module that will form the core of the Liberty spacecraft.
ATK