Archive for the ‘NASA’ Category

“This Week In Space” – August 14, 2010

August 15, 2010

Check out the latest edition of “This Week In Space.”

International Space Station Source: NASA

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!

Mars. Source: Hubble Space Telescope

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 twis@spaceflightnow.com – 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.

“This Week In Space” – August 7, 2010

August 8, 2010

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.

(more…)

“This Week In Space” – July 30, 2010

August 1, 2010

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…

(more…)

'This Week In Space' – July 20, 2010

July 20, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is available for your viewing pleasure.  Please take a look!

[youtubevid id=”cxhdZjB48B0″]

Atlantis lands. Source: NASA

Hello, and welcome.  Our theme this week is detente – as in the easing of hostilities between rivals. It is what we saw in space 35 years ago this week when Apollo and Soyuz joined together in low earth orbit – and it is what we are seeing unfold over the past few days in Washington – as Congress and the White House try to compromise on what is next for NASA after the shuttles are retired.  The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously  approved an authorization bill that embraces much of the white house space vision – with some key differences:   Under the Senate plan, NASA will launch Atlantis one more time next year…meaning there are three shuttle missions remaining.  NASA will begin work on a heavy lift rocket immediately – not in 2015 as Obama had promised.  As for the similarities: Ferrying cargo and astronauts to low Earth orbit will still fall to commercial companies, the ISS gets a lease extension to 2020, and there is more money earmarked for space and earth science and aeronautics.  The man leading the charge on this  Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. He bristled when reporters suggested the new plan mandates NASA do exactly what the Augustine Commission warned against: throwing out Constellation to start work on an underfunded new rocket.

What this does is set up a new heavy lift vehicle, on a deadline of December 31, 2016, and this is achievable because of the policy that has been set by the committee.  The committee cannot tell NASA how to design a rocket, but we can give policy direction to the executive branch of government, and we’ve done that in the bill.  Using shuttle derived technology, building on that, making it evolvable, not building the largest rocket around but starting in the range of 75 to 100 metric tons, that is evolvable, and that would be built over the course of those six years within a budget of 11 and a half billion dollars.  Now that is doable.  And if anybody tells you that it is not, then if I were you I’d question their particular agenda.

In the interest of detente – the White House released a statement – saying in part – the Senate bill  “represents an important first step towards helping us achieve the key goals the President has laid out…“We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to help advance an ambitious and achievable space program, one that helps us blaze a new trail of innovation and discovery.”

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Source: NASA

Thirty five years ago this week, they were blazing a whole new trail in space – when two space capsules – a Soviet Soyuz and an American Apollo rendezvoused and docked in low earth orbit. The Apollo Soyuz Test Project captured the attention of the world – as the two nuclear superpowers put their differences aside – and found they had much in common. This past week the surviving crew members came to New York City – to the OMEGA Watch Boutique on Fifth Avenue to celebrate the anniversary – hey what better place to mark a moment in time??
What they accomplished on their mission planted the seed for the international space station. U.S. Commander Tom Stafford flew with two rookies – one of whom was his boss – the late Deke Slayton – one of the original Mercury Seven – was grounded for years because of a heart murmur – but finally got a clean bill of health. Also on board Apollo:  Vance Brand – who later commanded three shuttle missions.  The Soviets were led by Alexey Leonov – the first person to walk in space. He flew with Valery Kubasov.  The three of them gathered for a panel talk in the OMEGA Boutique – yours truly served as moderator. Unfortunately Alexey Leonov was not feeling well – and could not join us.

Thanks to OMEGA for hosting that great event – as you probably know, the company has a long, rich history with human spaceflight.

In fact, there would not be an international space station without Apollo Soyuz – and while the Senate bill we told you about envisions another mission for Atlantis – until that happens the Endeavour sts-134 mission is still the last in line – and the external fuel tank that will power that shuttle to orbit arrived at the Kennedy Space Center a few days ago – after a safe voyage across the BP tainted gulf. The mission is set to fly at the end of February.

(more…)

'This Week In Space' – July 11, 2010

July 11, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is now available for your viewing pleasure.  Please give us a look…

[youtubevid id=”ZSXeQY7KhuI”]

ET-138 rolls out at the Michoud Assemby Facility. Source: NASA

Hello and Welcome. We begin with a big orange caboose – if you will. The last space shuttle external fuel tank on the manifest made its way out of the barn at  Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The tank  is known affectionately as ET-138…but you can can call her “E” if you like. Tank builder Lockheed Martin pulled out all the stops for this one – hundreds of workers were on hand while a brass band played. The tank will ride on its custom barge to the Kennedy Space Center where it will be mated with Endeavour, now slated to fly the final shuttle mission N-E-T – or no earlier than – February 26th, 2011. Now there is one more tank that will be shipped from Michoud – it will be used by Atlantis should the Endeavour crew get in a jam – and need a lift home. And this is where I get to put in my plug for flying that tank – with Atlantis – one more time. Why not? And this is also where I get to nag you: if you have not seen a shuttle ride the fire to orbit – you are assigned to be at one of the last launches. No excuses. There will be a test later.

Tanks for the memories – I guess – prime shuttle contractor United Space Alliance announced its largest layoff to date –  15 percent of its workforce.  Most of those employees are in Florida – since that is where most of their employees live.  Somewhere between 800 to a thousand wrench turners and pad rats will be getting pink slips.   Another 400 or so will be sacked from other USA operations. More cuts, are expected of course as the program winds down.

And that would explain the turnout at recent job fairs at KSC – somewhere between 2 and three thousand shuttlers showed up to press the flesh and hand deliver some resumes. About 60 public and private sector employers showed up. Can you guess which company had the most popular booth? Why that would be a certain California based launch company called SpaceX.  Better SpaceX than ex-space I suppose.

If any of those jobless USAers are space history buffs – and I know there are more than a few you – you may want to consider this job: official NASA historian. apply at USAjobs.gov by the 13th. Also in the comings and goings department – NASA’s Wayne Hale is hanging up his headset but we hope not his keyboard – the veteran flight director, shuttle program manager – and eloquent blogger says its a personal decision. I sure hope he keeps sharing his pearls of wisdom with us. And the Hubble repairman just added another line to his long resume – John Grunsfeld is now a research professor at Johns Hopkins. he will keep his gig down the road as the number two man at the space telescope science institute – which is Hubble Science Central. Hey if he can’t multi task – who can?

(more…)

'This Week In Space' – June 27, 2010

June 27, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is now available – give us a watch.

[youtubevid id=”e8dh7ntcFNo”]

Discovery launch. Source: NASA

Hello and Welcome. we begin this week with shuttle manifest destiny…and the movable feast that the last days of STS launching has become.   It now appears the next shuttle flight – Discovery flying the STS-133 mission –  will launch on October 29, and the STS-134 flight of Endeavour moves to February 28 of next year.   An official announcement is expected on July 1st.  The reason for the delay: scientists need some time to put the finishing touches on the final shuttle payload to the station – the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer,  a particle physics experiment. But we use the word final with some caution – as NASA has not ruled out an encore mission for Atlantis.  Look for a decision on that in August.

Of course there are a lot of people out there who would like to see the shuttles fly on…a new and familiar name is now on the list – Senator John Glenn – the first American to orbit the earth, a bonafide hero and a shuttle veteran as well – released a statement on Obama’s plans for NASA this week. He repeated what he has often said – that the shuttle should stay just a little bit longer…he does support keeping the station going past 2015 – and he agrees a moon base is not  in the cards now – as for the “smaller, less experienced companies” vying to fly cargo – and eventually people – to the space station should be said they should only be phased in only “after they demonstrate a high degree of competency and reliability, particularly with regard to safety concerns.”

In Hawthorne California – at SpaceX headquarters they would beg to differ – with all due respect to the Senator. It’s been a few weeks now since their successful first launch of their Falcon 9 rocket – and they are poring through the data – trying to better understand why they had a late in the count scrub before the launch, why the second stage rolled in orbit – and why they were unable to recover the first stage. Details on all of that and much more are in the full interview I had via Skype with SpaceX’s Ken Bowersox the other day.

Some fire and smoke from an Ariane 5 rocket. It blasted off from Guyana on Saturday. The payload – two satellites.  Arabsat-5A will provide telecom and broadband services to Africa and the Middle East.  The South Korean COMS satellite includes weather observation, ocean surveillance, and telecom payloads.  All eyes will be on Arianespace later this year as they begin launch operations using the Soyuz and new Vega rockets.

(more…)

This Week In Space – June 20, 2010

June 20, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is now available!  Give us a watch…

[youtubevid id=”UsW1O95NNnc”]

Falcon 9 Launch. Source: Chris Thompson/SpaceX

Hello and Welcome – I had a long interesting talk with the president of the Constellation Nation – ex officio – Mike Griffin. I asked him what he things about the success of Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 test launch – you may be surprised at his response – I also asked him about the latest skirmish in the war between old and new space.  The full answer – and much more – coming up after we check the rest of the weeks space news.

Let’s get started with some fire and smoke – at the Baikonur Cosmodrome – that’s the site and sound of the 24th Space Station crew leaving earth behind for a long stint at the orbiting outpost. On board the Soyuz Capsule – Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronauts Shannon Walker and Doug Wheelock. Their arrival at the space station went well – the crew up there had an inkling they might be dropping by – so they dressed up in their fresh jumpsuits – and didn’t say they gave at the office their new station mates knocked on the door.  The arrival of Shannon Walker marks a minor milestone in space for those of you who keep track of the stats. For the first time ever – two women are a part of the long duration crew at the same time. Right now there is no room at the ISS inn – 6 station keepers are up there…working in the coolest science lab anywhere.

Among the experiments on the schedule — A new way to take a look at the world’s shipping traffic. The ESA-sponsored experiment is using the ISS to track ships from space.  All big ships are required to have on-board transponders, but the equipment really only works when the ship is close to shore.

The VHF radio signals that power the system have a horizontal range of just 40 nautical miles – so open ocean traffic is largely un-tracked.   But, as it turns out, the vertical range of those radio waves is much greater…all the way up the space station.  The experiment runs on remote control and will last for two years.

In the meantime, another NASA eye-in-the-sky is also keeping tabs on ships.  The MODIS instrument on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites captured these views of what you might think of as ship “contrails.”  It turns out the sulphur in a ship’s exhaust interacts with the water vapor over the ocean to form these bright streamers.  They wouldn’t be visible to the naked eye, but MODIS can sniff them out.

(more…)

'This Week in Space' – June 13, 2010

June 14, 2010

David Waters is your host for the latest edition of “This Week In Space.”  Check us out!

[youtubevid id=”T6sGcZRdj7U”]

Hayabusa. Source: JAXA

It was a nail biter – sample return missions always are – but in the end JAXA pulled it out and the troubled Japanese “Hayabusa” mission to land on an asteroid and collect a sample ended on a high note.  A small capsule containing dust from the asteroid Itokawa touched down Sunday under parachute at the Woomera test range in the Australian Outback.  Launched in May 2003, Hayabusa suffered a host of technical problems and malfunctions, but in the end came home.  For those of you keeping score, NASA is 1 for 1 on sample return missions in recent years.  The Genesis spacecraft, which returned a sample of the solar wind to Earth for analysis, cratered in the desert of Utah’s Dugway Proving Ground back in 2004 when its drogue parachute failed to deploy.  Some of the sample return payload survived the crash, though.  On a happier note, the Stardust spacecraft successfully returned a dust sample from the tail of the comet Wild 2 in 2006…also to the Dugway Proving Ground.   And to answer your final question – yes, I know what it is –  “Hayabusa” means “Peregrin Falcon.”

While the Japanese were celebrating, the South Koreans – well, no so much. They “had a bad day” on Thursday as they say in the rocket business.  A Russian-built Naro-1 rocket launched from the Naro Space Center and all appeared fine at first, but mission controllers lost contact with it 137 seconds into flight.  Korean news reports indicated it exploded and crashed.  This is the second failure in two tries for the Koreans, who are attempting to establish a toehold in the satellite launch club.  Currently, eight countries and Europe have established launch capability.

And, before we leave the Pacific Rim…What was that glowing spiral in the sky over Australia last Saturday morning?  Could it be ALIENS?  Well, as it turns out, no.  It was actually Falcon 9.  Despite the spate of UFO reports that were phoned in to TV stations around Australia, SpaceX founder Elon Musk told our friends at Space.com that folks were actually seeing Falcon 9 venting propellants after it rocketed to orbit.  The sun caught the event at just the right angle to put on a show for the Aussies.

Thousands of contractor employees who work on the Constellation program have known the pink slips were coming ever since the Obama Administration announced plans to cancel the moon-shot project in February –  but now it looks like they may be hitting the unemployment line earlier than they thought.  NASA has told big contractors Lockheed Martin and ATK to come up with the money  to cover the costs of bringing Constellation to an end, even though Congress has not signed off of the cancellation yet.  It seems Lockmart and ATK are contractually required to pay those termination costs…which will total about a billion dollars.  Now those companies will likely have to lay off workers to pull that money together.  Expect this latest development to further poison the already nasty debate going on between the Administration, NASA and Congress over the future of the manned spaceflight program.  We’ll have more on this for you in next week’s show.

(more…)

'This Week In Space' – May 29, 2010

May 29, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is now available.  Check us out!

[youtubevid id=”SKuwMNf8LLw”]

Atlantis lands. Source: NASA

We begin at the end this week – the end of an era in space. Well maybe. This was the scene at the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday – commander Ken Ham dead-sticking Atlantis down the steep glide slope to Runway 33.  The mission – STS-132 – was the final scheduled flight of Atlantis.  But she is not heading straight to the museums.  She’s now back in her Orbiter Processing Facility – NASA-speak for hanger – where she will be prepped for flight on short notice should there be trouble on the remaining pair of missions. BUT the museums might have to wait –  NASA is leaving the door open to schedule an encore mission for Atlantis. Since there would be no rescue vehicle at the ready – she would likely fly with a scaled down crew that would use the Russian Soyuz as a lifeboat.  NASA will make a decision on this by mid-June. Maybe the shuttle program will end as it began – with a two person crew.

For those of you keeping score at home – If it turns out this was the last ride to space for OV-104 – here are her final game stats:  32 flights – 11 of those to the International Space Station, over 120 million miles on the odometer, 294 days in orbit, 4,649 revolutions around Earth.  She was home-away-from-home to 189 astronauts.  She carried the Magellan and Galileo interplanetary probes to space, as well as the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. She was the first orbiter to dock with the Russian Space Station Mir, and the last one to visit the Hubble Space Telescope. Not bad at all. Way to go Atlantis. Way to go…

He’s the E.F. Hutton of astronauts –  “when he talks, people listen.”  Or would Greta Garbo be a better analogy.  Or maybe J.D. Salinger.  I digress.  You guessed it, I’m talking about Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, a bona fide National Hero, and a man who chooses his words very carefully. And he has been speaking out recently in opposition to the Obama Administration’s plan to kill the moonshot program known as Constellation. This week, he took center stage again – at a House Science and Technology committee hearing.  He reiterated his support for Constellation in particular and a return to the moon in general. The man has a lifetime supply  of dry powder – and he fired at will:

The issue facing this meeting has produced substantial turmoil among space advocates. So many normally knowledgeable people were completely astounded by the President’s proposal. Had the announcement been preceded by the typical review, analysis and discussion among the Executive branch, the agency, the congress, and all the other interested and knowledgeable parties, no member of this committee would have been surprised by the announcement of a new plan.  In this case, a normally collegial sector of society was split in many fragments, some focused on contracts and money, some on work force and jobs, some on technical choices.    All because a few planners, with little or no space operations experience, attempted an end run on the normal process.    It has been painful to watch.

Armstrong was joined by the last man to walk on the moon- Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan, who also took aim at Obama’s plan, which he views as long on talk and short on funds.  In other words, “show me the money.”

And, when one examines details of the FY2011 budget proposal, nowhere is there to be found one penny allocated to support space exploration. Yes, there has been much rhetoric on transformative technology, heavy lift propulsion research, robotic precursor missions, significant investment in commercial crew and cargo capabilities, pursuit of cross-cutting space technology capabilities, climate change research, aeronautics R&D, and education initiatives, all worthwhile endeavors in their own right. Yet nowhere do we find any mention of the Human Exploration of Space and nowhere do we find a commitment in dollars to support this all important national endeavor. We (Armstrong, Lovell and I) have come to the unanimous conclusion that this budget proposal presents no challenges, has no focus, and in fact is a blueprint for a mission to ‘nowhere.’

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden was also on hand, testifying earlier in the day.  He disclosed that it will cost and estimated four and half billion dollars over five years to implement Obama’s recently announced plan to turn the Orion capsule into an ISS lifeboat – money that NASA will have to take out of other programs.  And he assured the committee that NASA is continuing work on Constellation in good faith. Yes – the work goes on until Congress weighs in because that is the way the law is written. Bolden got an earful from Arizona’s Gabrielle Giffords over NASA’s just-announced decision to reassign the outspoken Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley.

Gabrielle Giffords:  Mr. Bolden, my concern is, particularly concerning the news we had last week, that the program manager was actually working hard to make the program work, given the constraints of the budget, but again from where we sit, his work to restructure and potentially save the parts of Constellation that need to be saved, by removing him from his position…I think again it demonstrates to us that the question that I asked you earlier, whether or not you would give this committee your assurance that you were doing everything that you can as NASA administrator to make progress with Constellation for the remainder of FY 2010, when the constellation manager is removed from his position, it frankly makes me personally very dubious that that is in fact happening .  So I’m wondering again, the assurance that you can give us in the united states congress that your actually carrying this out.  and whether or not the program will actually carry forward, and whether or not you are actually planning on replacing him with someone competent, and whether or not you are planning to replace him expeditiously.

Charlie Bolden:  We would replace him with someone who is incredibly competent, I don’t think I have anyone in the hierarchy of the constellation program or anywhere else that is not competent and has my confidence. Jeff Hanley is not leaving NASA.  Jeff Hanley is moving up to become the deputy director of the Johnson Space Center for Strategic Studies and Strategic plans.  He is an incredibly talented individual.  Jeff and I have spoken for quite sometime since I became the NASA administrator, about his future.

(more…)

'This Week In Space' May 22, 2010

May 23, 2010

The lastest edition of “This Week In Space” is now out!  Give us a watch…

[youtubevid id=”DLtU46K_3aM”]

Hello, and welcome…
We have a scoop for you this week – an exclusive interview with SpaceX founder Elon Musk – we’ll ask him how things are going as he and his team prep for that high stakes first flight of the Falcon 9 rocket…And we’ll also share with you David Letterman’s reaction to seeing his first shuttle launch…that’s coming up shortly…But first some other space news – and this week in honor of the Falcon 9 countdown and Dave’s first launch – we are doing it top ten list style…

Number 10

The Mars rover "Spirit." Source: NASA/JPL

Comes from the fourth rock from the sun.  (Miles mutters to himself and counts on his fingers).  Mars!  Yeah, Mars.  On March 20, the rover Opportunity overtook the Viking-1 Lander and is now holds the surface longevity record for NASA probes on Mars.  Opportunity is now six years, 116 days and counting into a 3 month mission.    But if you are listening Oppy – don’t rest on your laurels.  Your sibling  Spirit on the other side of the planet  is in winter hibernation mode, and if she manages to wake up come Spring, she will grab the record.  Spirit landed on Mars about three weeks before Opportunity back in 2004.  And as long as we are on Mars – the team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory commanded the the Mars Odyssey spacecraft to make  a final listen for life signs from the Phoenix Mars Lander this week.  Phoenix landed in the Northern polar region back in 2008, and operated successfully for about 6 months until the cold and dark of the Martian winter set in and craft went silent.  Mission managers were pretty sure that the lander would not survive the winter, but figured it wouldn’t hurt to see if they might be able to reestablish communication.  Looks like “no dice” though.  Rest in Peace, Phoenix.

Number 9

An update on a manned mission to Mars that is launching next month – had ya there for a minute didn’t I? Actually this is an ersatz trip to Mars that will never get off the ground.  I am talking about the Mars 500 SIMULATED mission to the red planet. Liftoff – well actually lock down – is set for early June.  Six crew members – two Europeans, one Chinese, and three Russians will spend 520 days locked inside a spacecraft mock-up at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow.  Mission controllers are doing their best to make this mission as close to the real thing as possible.  They’ll have to take all the food they’ll need with them from day one – no ordering in pizza a la Biosphere 2.  Communication is limited to email, – and it will be intermittent – just as it would on a really interplanetary voyage, and it will include a delay of as much as 40 minutes.   ESA has picked their two crew members.  Diego Urbina, who has Italian-Colombian nationality, and Frenchman Romain Charles.  The rest of the crew will be announced later this month.

Number 8

Oil’s not so well in the Gulf of Mexico – and NASA is pitching in to help. The space agency flew its King Air  research aircraft over the Gulf of Mexico this week in an effort to help monitor the size and thickness of the BP oil spill…Researchers wondering how the oil might impact sea life.   The Langley Based King Air 200 was outfitted with instruments normally used to study clouds and aerosols in the atmosphere – which researchers hope can help them learn more about spills. NASA satellites have also been trained on the oil slick since the drilling rig exploded in April. Crew members aboard the ISS have a unique vantage point to keep an eye on the growing environmental crisis.  Cosmonaut Oleg Kotov has been watching the oil spread.

(more…)