“This Week In Space” – July 30, 2010

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The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is out.  Give us a watch!

International Space Station. Source: NASA

Hello and welcome – Space is a big place to be sure – but we humans have done a pretty good job making a mess of low earth orbit. This past week the crew on board the Space Station nearly had to suit up and head for the Soyuz lifeboats when the guys at space command determined a chunk of that weather satellite the Chinese purposely smashed to smithereens in 2007 was on a collision course – after a few false alarms – the crew got the all clear…turns out the debris came no closer than about 5 miles – or 8 kilometers. Guess that is one Chinese export we’d rather not be .

And a pair of Russian Cosmonauts added to the litter problem during a spacewalk outside the station this week. Fyodor Yurchikhin and Mikhail Kornienko were replacing an old ratty TV camera and plugging in some cables on that new module called Rassvet. So what did they do with the old camera – they gave it the heave ho – who knows, maybe it will clonk a Chinese satellite…

Every spacefarer worth his or her salt is tweeting these days – and so it goes for an astronaut made of metal, plastic and silicon – Robonaut 2 –  The humanoid robot slated to fly to the station in November opened his twitter account this week. You can follow him @AstroRobonaut.

Following all the twists and turns in the NASA budget saga -is a task worthy of a rocket scientist – or a purveyor of pork barrel largess…The latest news comes from the House this week…there was talk of a vote right before the recess to gut the Obama plan to spur a commercial space industry.   Those who support the notion of creating fought hard to stop that vote. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk sent out an email plea saying in part:

The only hope for the average citizen to one day travel to space is in danger due to the actions of certain members of Congress…

Musk urged supporters of commercial space to call their Congressman. But oddly – did not mention the subject when he appeared on the Colbert Report the other night.  Apparently Colbert is a Musk booster…

Falcon 9 Source: SpaceX

Speaking of Musk Boosters – the first stage of the Falcon 9 version two arrived at the Cape this week. The upper stage and the dragon capsule are slated to arrive in a few weeks – launch is now set for the mid September time frame. It will be the first flight of a Dragon capsule. SpaceX hopes it will fly a few earth orbits and then splash down in the Pacific.

It’s summer – and in the O’Brien house that means it’s time to head to the lake.  apparently the same is true for the Cassini spacecraft.  This animation is based on real images and shows the shoreline of Ontario Lacus – not to be confused by the body of water near Toronto – even though this one is pretty darn great – it is the largest lake in the southern hemisphere of Saturn’s moon Titan.  The topography has been exaggerated here by about a factor of 10 – i guess to make it look cooler. No swimming allowed here  – its made of liquid methane, ethane, and propane – Titan is definitely a no smoking planet.
The engineers in the clean room at the Jet Propulsion Lab were like proud parents the other day – watching their toddler take a few baby steps…the Mars Science Lab – named Curiosity – rolled for the first time. The rover moved forward and backward about a meter.  Shortly before the “rollout,” the guys in the bunny suits installed the rover’s Remote Sensing Mast – think of it as the neck and head.  The mast is outfitted with a suite of cameras and other instruments, including the Mastcam – which contains two digital cameras that you might think of as the rover’s eyes.  Engineers will start taking test images soon.  You can watch all the clean room action now live  – the folks at JPL have turned on a live webcam. it’s on JPL’s ustream channel. Must See TV for Martians.

Mars Exploration Rover Source: NASA

They may not be 7 feet tall and nuclear powered like their cousin Curiosity, but the Spirit and Opportunity rovers sure are tenacious…and we hope that means we will hear from Spirit before too long. You’ll recall she has spent the winter stuck in a sand trap – and now her batteries are dead. But, the tide is turning…the winter solstice at Spirit’s location happened on May 13th, and the days are getting longer. Engineers say September or October is their best guess as to when Spirit might wake up.  A lot will have to do with how much dust has settled on Spirit’s solar arrays during the winter. Over on the other side of the planet at Opportunity is still trucking toward the massive Endeavour Crater.  The rover recently captured its first images of a dust devil – spirit has seen a bunch. Those tiny tornadoes are excellent solar array cleaners. Good news for Oppy – who odometer will soon hit 14 miles.

Elsewhere on Mars…oh, wait no…what I really meant to say was “Moscow.”  Anyway, elsewhere…the Mars 500 crew has filed another video diary, chronicling their adventures on their historic, ground-breaking and entirely simulated voyage to Mars and back.  In case you haven’t been following – three Russians, one Chinese, and two European “astronauts” were recently sealed inside a mock spacecraft in Moscow to simulate a roundtrip mission to Mars.  They’ll be in there until late 2011…with no access to the great outdoors, no outside food, simulated “ratty comm” with earth, etc., etc.  The topic of their latest video diary?  Tidying up.  Let’s take a look.

And now for more on “THE ZOMBIESAT!” The end is apparently near for Galaxy 15.  Its seems our favorite rogue satellite is set to lose power in late August or early September, bringing an end to its reign of terror across the geostationary arc.   Ground controllers lost command and control functions of “ZOMBIESAT!” back in April, probably after it was zapped by a solar storm, and it’s been drifting ever since.  It will not go quietly though – it will threaten 3 more satellites first.  The chance of an actually collision is actually pretty low, but since it’s still transmitting it can cause signal interference and interruption issues.  No doubt the end of “ZOMBIESAT!” is a good thing, – it means we wont get any more nasty grams from intelsat – where apparently they little bit sensitive…

Calling all Explorers!  The Coalition for Space Exploration is hosting an online contest called “Explore Our Space,” and if you enter you might just win tickets to one of the very last space shuttle launches.  Now there’s a hot ticket.   I caught up with the Coalition Head Honcho Glenn Mahone to get the low down.  While you’re at it, sign up for CSExtra – the Coalition’s daily collection of space news.  I reference it every day – you should, too.
And finally, a little glimmer of happy news to report out of the nightmare that is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  A hatchery at the Kennedy Space Center is now home-away-from-home to baby endangered sea turtles. A first group of 22 tiny Kemp’s ridley turtles were released into the Atlantic Ocean on July 11.  Their eggs were collected from the beach in Walton County, on Florida’s gulf coast, late last month, and fedexed in special boxes to the KSC facility – where they were incubated and hatched.  To give credit where it is due, this is a project of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  The plan is to move about 700 nests from oil-threatened Florida Panhandle and Alabama beaches to KSC in the coming months. Now if you are a true space fan I know you know the proper answer to this question “Are you a turtle?”

You can bet your sweet backside it is now time for us to call it a week – we sure are glad you downloaded us. Why don’t you make it a habit – and tell your friends how much fun TWIS is. Please think about tossing us a few buck at spaceflightnow.com/twis…send us an email twis@spacelfightnow.com – or tweet us @thisweekinspace.

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