“This Week In Space” – August 7, 2010

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The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is out!  David Waters is in for Miles O’Brien this week.

International Space Station. Source: NASA

One spacewalk down, at least one more to go in NASA’s efforts to remove and replace a failed ammonia pump that’s crippled part of the International Space Station’s radiator system.  Astronauts Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson conducted the longest spacewalk in station history – 8 hours, 3 minutes – attempting to switch out the pump with a spare.  Unfortunately, removing the ammonia umbilicals from the old pump turned out to be a lot more difficult that anticipated, and there was significant  ammonia leakage from one of the lines as well.  The spacewalkers quickly fell behind on the timeline.   In the end, they had to wrap up the EVA with the broken pump still in place.  Ground controllers are now regrouping, and will need to re-plan the second spacewalk to try to make up for lost time.   And ISS Program Manager Mike Suffredini says a third spacewalk may be in the offing.

I will tell you we’ve lengthened the amount of time from now until we get this pump running.   I would tell you that it would take a lot of good luck, and somebody coming up with a really short tweak to the EVA for us to get to the point that we could start that ammonia pump after the next EVA.  I really do think we are going to end up with three EVA’s.  So I think we are going to end up being in this condition, this risk posture, a few more days than we had originally planned.

There will be no doubt be developments in this story daily.  Please check in with us at Spaceflight Now for all the latest news.

The full Senate approved its compromise version of the NASA authorization bill for the 2011 budget late on Thursday – by voice vote with no discussion – and then they skedaddled out of town for the August recess.  The Senate legislation would add a final shuttle flight to the manifest, extend the life of the space station through 2020, fund commercial space activities, and start work on a new heavy lift rocket that’s supposed to be ready for orbital missions by the end of 2016.  But, the forward plan for the space agency remains in limbo for the foreseeable future.  The House of Representatives, is working on its own, very different, version of a plan…that preserves key parts of the Constellation program, slashes funding for commercial space, and puts that heavy-lift rocket championed by the Senate on the back burner.  The soonest the full House will vote on their version is September – and then compromise legislation will have to be hammered out in a conference committee.  So…if you are holding you breath for this all to be wrapped up soon…it’s gonna be a while.

While the wheels of government turn slowly, workers at the Kennedy Space Center are getting pink slips as the shuttle program winds down.  Commerce Secretary Gary Locke toured KSC this week along with NASA brass and Representative Suzanne Kosmas of Florida.  Locke sits on a White House task force aimed at improving the economy on the Space Coast as the clock ticks down for shuttle.  He met with about a dozen workers who will soon be hitting the unemployment lines.  The task force will be submitting a report to Obama this month on the prospects for helping the workforce through the tough transition ahead. Let’s hope they can come up with some good ideas.

And speaking of shuttles, it seems we are all going to have to wait a little longer to hear from NASA where the orbiters are headed after the program ends next year.  The agency had said it would announce in July which museums would get shuttles – but that deadline has come and gone with no word.  NASA spokesman Mike Curie told our friend Robert Pearlman over at collectSPACE that a final decision has been postponed because  the dates for the final two shuttle missions have slipped…and while the powers-that-be ponder whether or not to add an additional flight for Atlantis next summer.  Here’s what we know:  the shuttle Discovery will be going to the Air & Space Museum, which means NASA shuttle test article, Enterprise, currently housed there but never actually flew in space, also becomes available.  We’re in standby mode to find out where Atlantis and Endeavour will, er, land.

Ariane 5 launch. Source: Arianespace

An Ariane 5 lifted off from Europe’s spaceport in French Guyana Wednesday, delivering two satellites to orbit. The Rascom-QAF 1R is a African communications satellite, and Egypt’s Nilesat 1 will  provide direct tv, radio, and broadband Internet services to Africa and the Middle East.

Also courtesy of our European friends, we have two satellite images from ESA to share with you this week.  The first Envisat images shows a massive algae bloom in the Baltic Sea.   What a picture!  it almost looks like someone swirled the algae in with a paint brush.  Blooms like this are apparently typical for the Baltic this time of year – there’s lots of sunlight, winds are calm, and the water is full of nutrients from runoff following the ice season.  And this is smoke around Moscow and Central Russia – also from Envisat.  That area had the hottest July on record this year.  These smoke plumes are from burning peat fields and forest fires.

Check out this Class 3 solar flare that shot off the sun on August 1.   Typically, a flare like this is considered fairly small potatoes, but this one was accompanied by a fast-moving  Coronal Mass Ejection, or solar storm, that hit Earth dead-on around mid-week. CME’s are clouds of charged particles that erupt of the sun and wash out over the solar system.   When they hit Earth, they can disrupt power grids, satellites in orbit and light up the auroras.  No word of any major damage caused by this solar storm, but in the U.S. the Northern Lights were visible as far south as Iowa.

NASA has seen the future of Mars exploration, and it is International.  NASA and the European Space Agency have agreed to cooperate on three Mars missions in the coming decades, and this week they jointly selected five science instruments that will be part of the first one – scheduled to launch in 2016.  The Exomars Trace Gas Orbiter will come first – it’s designed to sniff for methane and other gases in the Martian atmosphere, looking for signs of possible microbial life below.  The Orbiter will be  followed by a rover mission in 2018 and a sample return mission in the 2020’s.  And as you might guess, the driving force behind all this transatlantic “kumbaya” boils down to dollars, and euros.    Ed Weiler, NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, explained:

The trouble is we also have an economic situation in the world that’s not exactly conducive to a lot of extra money for science. Recognizing missions cost a lot more to do the best science, and, two, the economic situation isn’t the best it could be, it’s time for us to stop competing with our major partners like the Europeans, and start working together.

NASA’s gearing up for Desert RATS 2010 –  an annual field trip to the Arizona desert for scientists, engineers and astronauts to test technology designed for off-world exploration. At KSC, teams are putting the finishing touches on a backpack rigged up with GPS, communications equipment and cameras.  This year, the tests will run from August 31 to September 15, and we should see a wide range of technologies put through their paces…from the backpack to space suits, rovers and more.   Check back with us for the latest.

And finally this week, a few slick dance moves to close out our show.  NO – DON’T LOOK AT ME.  NOT ME.  It’s actually the ATHLETE rover, under development at the Jet Propulsion Lab – designed to either roll or walk as needed on rugged extra-terrestrial landscapes.  ATHLETE will also be putting in an appearance at Desert RATS.  What you see here is a 1/2 scale working prototype.  Take a look.

Time to boogie on out of here.  Thanks for watching…please check us out every week.  Also, please think about tossing us a few bucks at spaceflightnow.com/twis…send us an email twis@spacelfightnow.com,  tweet us @thisweekinspace. Check out the blog at milesobrien.com.  Thanks so much to our sponsor, Binary Space.  We really appreciate your ongoing support.

Next time, we’ll bring you part two of NASA’s marathon effort to get the space station’s cooling system back in working order.  Switching out that failed ammonia pump has turned out to be a bigger deal than NASA anticipated.  What sort of fix will they pull out of their bag of tricks?  We’ll have that, and more, next time.  See you then.

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