Check out the latest edition of “This Week In Space.”
Hello and welcome – they call them quick disconnect valves – but apparently on the International Space Station – they don’t always live up to their name. One of them – that connected a faulty ammonia pump to the station’s cooling system sent NASA into a tiger team frenzy of troubleshooting and head scratching this week. first time they tried to disconnect it – it spring a huge leak of ammonia – nasty stuff…so they reattached it and then tried again on the next walk – at first it wouldn’t budge. But in the end, the solution was precisely what you or I would have done if it was a pipe under the sink at home – they shook the darn thing like crazy until it came free. Spacewalker Doug “Wheels” Wheelock employed the elbow grease – spacewalking sidekick Tracy Caldwell Dyson was at his side. It was the second spacewalk to replace the pump and get that cooling system back on-line. When it failed – the station still had one other set of operative radiators – but the reduced capability created a significant brown out for the 6 person crew.
Veteran astronaut and spacewalker Dave Wolf was helping lead the effort on the ground to figure out how to solve case of the stubborn valve. I spoke with him via Skype.
Former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe and his teenage son Kevin survived a horrific plane crash in Alaska this week that killed five people, including former senator Ted Stevens. They were on a fishing trip when the amphibious twin otter they were in plowed into the side of a mountain in bad weather. Both O’Keefes are banged up pretty badly but are expected to survive. Sean served as NASA Administrator from 2002 to 2005 – he was sent there by the Bush White House to tighten the reins on the space station budget. He ended up leading the agency through the Columbia accident – and offered up a text book example of expert crisis management. Sean was the man who signed on to the idea of sending yours truly to space – an idea that ended with the loss of Columbia. He is a good friend – and I wish him and Kevin a speedy recovery.
A dawn rocket launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station lit up the sky over central Florida Saturday. That’s an Atlas V rocket, and the payload is the AEHF-1 satellite. Its one of what will be a network of four military satellites designed to provide global, secure, protected and jam-resistant communications for our armed forces. Hopefully our troops will have better communication than i get with AT&T on my iPhone.
Good news Space Tweeps. – it’s official NASA will hold another tweet-up at KSC for the next shuttle launch – that’s STS-133, currently scheduled for November 1 (but you knew that). They are fantastic events – and if you are prone to tweet – you really should put your 140 characters in the ring. This is a good way to satisfy your assignment to see a shuttle launch before it is too late. Registration opens at noon on Tuesday, August 24, and closes at noon on Wednesday, August 25. If you want to know more, go to www.nasa.gov/tweetup.
Hard to believe it’s now been six years since the Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn. And it is still a very busy space probe. So busy it just got another extension – through 2017 – giving it a chance to observe the summer solstice in Saturn’s northern hemisphere. Here’s a cool new movie from Cassini. The spacecraft was getting some close-up images of Saturn’s F-ring, and purely by chance captured these images of a globular star cluster passing though the field of view. That’s NGC 5139, or Omega Centauri – nearly 16 thousand light years away.
As long as we are talking clusters – here’s a long exposure Hubble Space Telescope image of a galaxy in the Coma Cluster, 320 million light years away. this is a spiral galaxy called NGC 9411 captured face-on. And the Hubble folks have all kinds of questions about this picture of NGC 4696. This galaxy is not a perfect spiral – in fact it curls around on itself, kind of like a question mark. Astronomers are scratching their heads about it – they have all kinds of questions about why it is shaped so strangely, and what those filaments that stretch out from it might be. We’ll let you know if they find some answers…
Hubble is a third of the triumvirate of telescopes NASA called the Great Observatories – the other two are Chandra, and Spitzer – together these space scopes see the universe in the optical, x-ray and infrared wave lengths. Now imagine if they could work together – like the Justice League – This is a composite image – a super-space-scopes mash-up – of two colliding galaxies located about 62 million light years away. The Chandra data is in blue, the Hubble data in gold and brown, and Spitzer data in red. These so-called Antennae galaxies started colliding about 100 million years ago…and they are home to highly active star-forming regions. to infinity and beyond indeed!
Two anniversaries worth noting this week. Fifty years ago, NASA launched Echo-1, it’s first communications satellite. It was basically a big mylar balloon – able to bounce television, radio and TV signals cross-country and even across continents. And five years ago, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launched from Cape Canaveral. MRO has become a workhorse for NASA – imaging the surface of Mars with unprecedented clarity, scanning for minerals and water, monitoring Martian weather, and serving as a communications relay for robotic missions on the surface.
Which brings us to our favorite simulated Mars mission – well I guess it’s the only simulated Mars mission – you know it by now – 6 men entered a human sized hamster habitat in Moscow – and will spend 520 days there pretending to go to Mars, explore the surface and then come back. We have now gone past the seventy day mark – which means they are about 15 percent done! and the video diaries they are posting on YouTube show no signs of reality show style discontent. Here is Romain Charles showing one of the…er…highlights – air sampling:
So Romain what’s up with the white socks and sandals and the wife beater t-shirt? I think that is a fashion don’t on Mars as well…just saying.
And on that note – I am outta here – you can email us a firstname.lastname@example.org – or tweet us @thisweekinspace – the blog version of this podcast is at milesobrien.com. But here is the most important thing – please go to spaceflightnow.com/twis – and send us a few bucks – we really need you help – and if you don”t i’ll start wearing a wife beater – and white socks and sandals. Is that extortion? Sorta, I suppose. thanks to our most loyal sponsor ever – Binary Space – we really appreciate your support. We’ll see ya next time.