Archive for January, 2010

"The Week In Space" – January 29, 2010

January 30, 2010

Our latest show is now available!  Take a look –

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Good Night Moon

January 30, 2010
Ares I-X Launch.  Source:  NASA/Scott Andrews, Cannon

Ares I-X Launch. Source: NASA/Scott Andrews, Cannon

No bucks – no buck Rogers – Our sources tell us NASA is no longer headed back to the moon – or anywhere else for that matter.
After spending upwards of 9 billion dollars to design the Ares 1 rocket – the Orion space capsule – the altair lunar lander -all collectively known as the Constellation Project –  NASA is being told by the Obama white house to scrap the whole program. The Vision for Space Exploration rolled out by George Bush 6 years ago this month – was never funded properly – and never gelled with the public.

NASA will get a little more money in its budget – which is more than most federal agencies can say – for Earth Science the International space station and for Commercial Orbital Transportation Services – or COTS – which envisions privately operated rocket rides to the space station. But nowhere near the dollars needed to chart a course for manned exploration beyond low earth orbit.
Grim news for those of us who care about human exploration of space – even worse if your livliehood depends on it. For more, I talked to John Karas – VP and General Manager of Human Space flight for Lockheed Martin – prime contractor for the Orion capsule:

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Countdown to the Countdown

January 30, 2010
Source:  NASA

Source: NASA

The space shuttle Endeavour is still on track for a wee hours launch on February 7th. NASA held its flight readiness review – and cleared the orbiter for flight on Wednesday.

The leaky ammonia lines on the Tranquility node sitting in the cargo bay have been swapped out – replaced by several smaller hoses joined together. Frankenhose it is called. The six member crew of Endeavour is slated to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center on Superbowl Sunday at 4:39am Eastern ( 0939 GMT). Think of it as a pre-pre-pre-game show…which of course we hope you will watch on Spaceflight Now.   I will be joined by David Waters and astronaut Leroy Chiao – and in honor of the super bowl we will have plenty of chips dip and beer on hand. You should too.
By the way – the coin that will be tossed before the big game – comes from NASA – it flew on the Atlantis mission in November. Our coverage – of the launch – not the colts and the saints – begins at Midnight Eastern (0500 GMT) – see ya then.

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Space Tweeps: Assemble!

January 30, 2010
The shuttle Endeavour in the Vehicle Assembly Building.  Source:  NASA

The shuttle Endeavour in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Source: NASA

On the heels of that wildly popular tweet-up at the last shuttle launch, NASA is cooking up another one for the upcoming STS-130 mission.

This time it will be at the Johnson Space Center in Houston – a hundred tweeps (and fifty backups) signed up this past week – and will get a chance to see and tweet about mission control on February 17th. Hopefully they will be there while Endeavour is still docked to the station – but this is a scrub or shine event – so if there is a launch delay – the event will press to “Tweetgo”.

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In Space, No One Can Hear You Tweet

January 30, 2010
International Space Station.  Source:  NASA

International Space Station. Source: NASA

Well, actually that’s not true…

Among the tweeps who will likely be twittering during the next NASA Tweet-up:  Astro_Jeff, Astro_TJ and Astro_Soichi – as in station keepers Jeff Williams, TJ Creamer and Soichi Noguchi.
This past week NASA finally rigged up a way for them to surf the web live – the first 140 character or less bonafide tweet from space was from TJ: “Hello Twitterverse! We [are] now LIVE…” putting it somewhere between armstrong’s “one small step for man” – but better than Bell’s “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.”

And, the station is a little higher this week – courtesy of some some Russian rocket propellant converted into thrust the idea was to get the station in the sweet spot for Endeavour’s arrival. And Jeff Williams used that occasion to offer up a brief lesson in Newton’s laws of motion – using a Nikon with a big honking 800 millimeter lens. Watch what happens when controllers in Russia hit the gas to raise the station:

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Rich Cosmonauts

January 30, 2010
Expedition 22.  Source: NASA/Victor Zelentsov

Expedition 22. Source: NASA/Victor Zelentsov

Word this week that Russian cosmonauts have a sweet financial deal for spending some time on the space station.
A six month stint on ISS is enough to earn them a nice paycheck of 150 thousand dollars worth of rubles.

Not exactly a Wall Street bonus – but more than the average NASA astronaut makes in a year – whether he or she is in space or on the ground. I assume while in space – drinks and dinner are on them.

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The Right Stuff

January 30, 2010

Ever since SpaceShipOne grabbed the Ansari X-Prize in 2004 – and Richard Branson announced his plans to sell tickets to ride into space – there’s been a lot of excitement that space tourism will usher in a new era for non government access to space. But it is not just well heeled adventurers hoping for a gold plated bungy jump…turns out the prospect of frequent – albeit brief – trips to the edge of space have gotten some scientists’ wheels spinning.

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The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!

January 30, 2010
WISE Spacecraft.  Source:  NASA/JPL

WISE Spacecraft. Source: NASA/JPL

The WISE guy has hit some pay celestial pay dirt.

NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, launched in December – took this shot of a near earth asteroid on January 12th. Designated 2010 AB78 – (comets have much more fun names…) this asteroid is 158 million kilometers (98 million miles) from Earth. Diameter is one kilometer or 6 tenths of a mile. Scientists say this space rock is not on a path to collide with earth in the foreseeable future.

But an expert panel has just concluded we are not being so wise about conducting a survey of big near earth asteroids that could clonk us and wreak havoc. The National Research Council says the goal to find 90% of the earth threatening asteroids 460 feet/ 140 meters or larger 2020 will not be met – for lack of funding. Scientists say an asteroid as small as a hundred feet – or 30 meters across – could take out a city. If you don’t think this is money well spent – go ask a dinosaur what he or she thinks.

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Staring at the Sun

January 30, 2010
Source:  ESA

Source: ESA

You know how your mother always told you never to look directly at the sun – well the European Space Agency craft known as Proba 2 is ignoring that advice and yielding some cool science.

Researchers rolled out the first images this week since the launch of Proba-2 last November.  The spacecraft was designed to test some new technology – but also do some science – focused on the sun – like its predecessor – SOHO -still out there gazing at the sun.

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"Stationary" Spirit

January 30, 2010
Mars Exploration Rover.  Source:  NASA/JPL

Mars Exploration Rover. Source: NASA/JPL

This past week, the Spirit team threw in the towel on trying to get the rover out of that sand trap she has been mired in for 10 months now.

With winter looming in March, the focus is on trying to back Spirit up a hill ever so slightly so she can better catch the sun’s rays when they gets low and less plentiful. Basically Spirit is designed to go into hibernation like a Polar Bear – she will shut down – and then every day turn on briefly to see if she has enough juice to call home. if the power is low – no call. So the team will soon have to kiss her good night – and hope in spring – August or September here on Earth – she awakens and drops a dime. If all that happens – they have a lot of science planned for a stationary spirit.

Just after the announcement, I checked in via Skype with Spirit’s Project Scientist – Steve Squyres in his office at Cornell University.

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