Archive for the ‘SpaceX’ Category

This Week in Space – May 8, 2010

May 9, 2010

Atlantis at the launchpad. Source: NASA

Hello and Welcome from the Kennedy Space Center. The Space Shuttle Atlantis is on the pad – pointed in the right direction – marching toward what will likely be her last mission. The crew of 6 – led by commander Ken Ham is headed to the international space station to deliver some supplies, replace some solar array batteries and install a new satellite dish. The shuttle was cleared to fly after a smooth flight readiness review – the team focused a fair amount of time on some ceramic inserts that hold window frames – one of them fell off during the last descent – of Discovery in April. The fix: a thicker braided chord designed to keep the insert from unscrewing. Interestingly, Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon said there was no talk about it being the last flight for Atlantis:

The tone of the meeting was extremely positive.  Nobody mentioned, we weren’t purposely avoiding it, but nobody mentioned this was Atlantis’ last planned flight.  It’s just folks are so focused on doing thier jobs, and they are performing with such pride all the way to the end, that it’s just normal business.  The team is very mature, looking a the data, looking and things they can do, you know might ask did you really have to go and replace all of the braided cord on all of these plugs which have performed pretty well in the past, and the answer is we thing we can make it better, and because we can make it better we’re going to go do it.  That’s the kind of attitude this team has.  They are such an asset to human spaceflight, and I just couldn’t be more proud of them.

In fact here in Florida – Launch Director Mike Leinbach says the shuttle team is moving through the stages of grief:

Let’s take ourselves back in time, maybe a year or 18 months or so, when we were talking about the end of the program, and a lot of people didn’t believe it, and were in denial.  Thought, heck, the program can’t end, we are going to fly forever.  Well now we know that’s not the case.  The program will end.  People have absolutely come to grips with that, when I talk to folks on the floor of the processing facilities, and I’m sure it was the same in Utah, they know the end is coming and they are making their plans.  And so we’ve gotten past the denial stage of change, and we are into the exploration and acceptance of change.  And that’s good…that’s very healthy for people to go through that process.  And we are there.  Again, it does not change the way they work on the vehicle, it’s just their mental capacity have accepted the fact that the program is going to end, and they need to make plans for the future.

Atlantis is slated to launch Friday at at 2:20pm here – 1620 GMT. Our live webcast on Spaceflight Now begins at 9:30- 1330 GMT.

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'This Week In Space' – April 10, 2010

April 11, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is hot off the presses.  Check us out!

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Discovery launch. Source: NASA

Hello and welcome – and happy Yuri’s night – hard to believe it has now been 49 years since the first human being left the planet – and 29 years since the first shuttle flew – we’ll check in with one of the founders of the global Yuri’s night celebration – in a little while – see what is in store this year –

But first – let’s talk about the 131st space shuttle mission – currently “in work” as they say in the space business. I must admit – I am pretty lucky to have witnessed a lot of shuttle launches – and each of them is beautiful in their own special way – like a snowflake I suppose…but this one stands out – for one thing – we got a great view of Discovery’s destination – the international space station – as it flew overhead in the predawn darkness shortly before launch…then came the launch itself,

Those of us at the cape were able to see Discovery with eyes only – for a full seven and a half minutes – no one can remember anything like that – and then after Discovery was out of view and safely in space – were were left with this spectacular scene as the sun rose…remnants of the shuttle plume lit up like a pastel painting…

Discovery commander Alan Poindexter had to dock his craft at the station without the benefit of a radar system that failed. It is the same device that allows the orbiter to send out streaming video (or what we used to call TV)…and so that meant they had to record the heat shield inspection – and then send it down to earth using the station’s system.

The joint crews successfully attached the space equivalent of a PODS moving crate to the station – the Leonardo Multipurpose Logistics Module – in it – about 17 thousand pounds of gear and supplies – including some new crew sleep quarters…a fancy exercise machine that will give researchers a better idea about how physically fit the station-keepers are…and a device that ads cameras, spectrometers and other sensors to better observe the earth as it passes below the station.

They do see some cool things up there – look at this shot from crew member Soichi Noguchi of the Aurora Boraealis – or Northern Lights – he tweeted that one down.

Three spacewalks are planned for the 13 day mission.

Late as this is in the shuttle program – there is still room for some firsts as well as lasts – there are four women on the  combined shuttle station crews – a space record. And no – none of them stopped and asked for directions.

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This Week In Space – March 26, 2010

March 28, 2010

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

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Source: Virgin Galactic

Space for the rest of us is got just a little closer this past week. Over the high desert of California – in the rarefied air where the X-1, X-15 and the space shuttle first tested their wings – a new spaceship took flight for the first time. I am talking about the Virgin VSS Enterprise – bolted beneath its carrying aircraft – the VMS Eve – formerly known as White Knight 2. The test flight lasted just less than 3 hours – they reached 45 thousand feet – and we are told it went well. Eve/Enterprise designer Burt Rutan called it “a momentous day for the Scaled and Virgin Teams.” Ahead – independent glide tests and then powered flight this year and next. Once the team is happy – revenue service to space will begin… Eve will take Enterprise to 50 thousand feet – where they will part company – the rocket motor will fire –  Enterprise will make a beeline for the dark sky – carrying a half dozen paying passengers into a new era.

Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of ArizonaIt is springtime in the northern hemisphere of Mars – and while NASA’s lander called Phoenix has not survived the long dry ice encrusted winter – there are signs of – activity, though not life – elsewhere on the Red Planet.  Check out this image captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The dark spots are patches of basaltic sand that is carried to the surface as the temperature warms and the dry ice sublimates – meaning goes straight from a solid to a gas – skipping the liquid stage (it’s just a phase). Notice how they all fan out in the same direction – proof they formed at the same time – when the wind speed and direction were identical. Basalt fans – a sublime sign of warmer days ahead on Mars – sorta like our Washington cherry blossoms here in the U.S.

It will be the fall of 2011 before the Mars Science Laboratory makes its way to the Red Planet. The ambitious rover mission was supposed to be there by now, but the launch was delayed after a host of technical and money woes (the two tend to go hand in hand – see: Constellation). In any case, the folks at The Jet Propulsion Lab in California – are glad they got an extra 26 months – because this mission is the most complex ever.

Source:  Hubble Space TelescopeAnd while it may be a long time before humans ever get to Mars – you can simulate the long journey now – if you are so inclined.  The Russian and European space programs have teamed up for an endurance experiment that seems like the premise for a bad reality TV show – survivor meets big brother I suppose…these are some of the applicants for Mars 500 – a 520 day trip to nowhere that will try to create the rigors and challenges of a piloted mission to the Red Planet. The ersatz spacecraft sits at the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems. Three Russians, two Europeans and One Chinese will be hermetically sealed inside the steel container in May. They will live in 550 cubic meters – will only eat from food stored inside – and will communicate with the outside world either by deliberately ratty internet – or with a 20 minute one way delay once they reach simulated Mars. The goal: to better understand the psychological and physiological rigors of such a, long, isolated mission.   The big question: whether to select a rainbow coalition Star Trek like crew – or a bunch of GI-Joe’s – who think act and look alike. So should we take a pool to on whether they will make it the full 520 days? I sure hope there is a webcam…appointment TV for space cadets for sure.  Though the team final team has not been selected yet, candidate Arch’hanmael Galliard, of France, is feeling strong about his chances.

“I think that I will be accustomed rapidly to this environment.  I thought at the beginning this environment could be smaller.   No, I think everything could be done here  – experiments, living, doing sports,  there is many things that we can do, I think, during this period, we will see with time, if it is really possible or not, but I think that we can do it.”

The Mars 500 crew will sure have plenty of time to refine their video game playing prowess. And a now ESA is out with a new study that suggests gaming can enhance collaboration among scientists and engineers – and can be a good education and public outreach tool. The study suggests ESA strike deals with some game developers to create titles that teach – how about Grand Theft Spacecraft? I suppose not…

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This Week in Space – March 19, 2010

March 21, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week in Space” is now available!  Check us out!!  And many thanks to our sponsors, Binary Space and Space Careers!

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Discovery at launchpad 39A. Source: NASA

Two million parts – all of them form the low bidder – as Wally Schirra  once famously quipped – if you put those parts together just right – you’ve got yourself a space shuttle – the problem is – just about every single one of them has to be working perfectly before a shuttle ever clears the tower.  But exceptions can be made….and that is what the shuttle launch team is doing for this next launch. With Discovery sitting on the launch pad for its penultimate flight – a helium valve  failed. The helium is used to make sure there is pressure in the fuel lines that feed the Orbital Maneuvering System engines – which handle the big course changes in orbit. Fixing the valve means a roll back to the the hangar – and a big delay. So the shuttle team will try to verify that some regulators downstream of the valve are working just fine. If so, it means they will have confidence they have only lost one layer of redundancy – and thus give Discovery its launching papers.

Source:  WISENASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer – or WISE has captured an image – Charles Foster Kane would have liked to see – rosebud….
this one is no sled though – it is a cosmic blossom in a cluster of stars in the Berkeley 59 – which sounds a little like a group of sixties anti war radicals…anyway…the blue dots are the stars…and they are formed by the orange dust cloud in the middle – and the green – those are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – of course…you can find those on earth in barbecue pits…for some reason I am hungry…WISE is also hunting for asteroids – and it has found more than a dozen that are near to earth – and we didn’t even know we were there. You’d be WISE to listen to this story – Chicken Littles.

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New 'This Week in Space' – March 12, 2010

March 14, 2010

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

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Hubble2Hello and welcome – President Obama will finally say something about his plan for NASA – but there are still mixed messages coming out of the space agency – as the space shuttle program winds down – and new commercial players try to spin up. And while SpaceX tried to figure out why a launch pad test ended before it really got started – We are told by the man in charge of the shuttle program that the fleet doesn’t have to stop flying after 4 more flights – it is just a matter of money…more on all of this in a bit – but first I have to tell you about tje Warner Brothers “IMAX: Hubble 3D” movie that captures some of the space shuttle’s greatest moments – and gives those of us who have never been to space – an idea of what it is really like to be there. I am talking about the IMAX Hubble 3-D movie – which premiered this week at the Air and Space Museum in Washington…The movie focuses on the last Hubble repair mission in May. NASA  bolted a 3-D IMAX camera into the payload bay of Atlantis – it captured the astronauts at work in a vivid big screen – in your face – kinda way.

Hubble1Leonardo DiCaprio narrates the film. Hubble 3D also includes scenes from the first Hubble repair mission – and the deployment of the telescope as well. But this time there is something different – IMAX took some of the most iconic images captured by Hubble – to the National Center for Super Computing Applications at the University of Illinois Ubrana-Champaign – there the filmmakers and the computer whizzes made those images 3-D – so in this movie not only do you feel as if you are flying on board the shuttle – you also are treated to an amazing 3-D odyssey through distant galaxies and nebulas. It’s an amazing ride…

Hubble3They rolled out the red carpet at the Air and Space museum for the premiere – the space glitterati – such as it is – was there in large numbers – to see the Hubble 3-D. Now Leonardo sent his regrets from a movie set in Japan – and the real star of the show – Hubble was unable to be there was well – so that meant the big stars of the evening were the crew members of STS-125 – decked out in their blue flight suits – ready for their closeups. The crew of course felt a ton of pressure to fix and improve Hubble for the last time – so you would think shooting the movie would be no problem at all. But get this – they only had 8 minutes worth of film in that 3-D camera in the payload bay. And the camera only shoots 30 seconds at a time. So they had to be extremely careful about when to say “action” – but they had trained for it long and hard – and it all paid off. I spoke to these John Glenn Steven Spielberg hybrids as they walked down the carpet.

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The Politics of NASA's New Path

February 28, 2010

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Mr. Bolden goes to Capitol Hill this week…

The NASA boss Charlie Bolden is a former Marine fighter and test pilot and astronaut and he is used to taking flak – after all he flew a hundred combat missions over southeast Asia during the Vietnam war. So facing off with some lawmakers on Capitol Hill over the controversial Obama NASA budget proposal – piece of cake- right?  Well, it started out that way – he began with the Senate Subcommittee on Science & Space.  The chairman – his former shuttle crew member – then Congressman – now Senator Bill Nelson.  Watch their exchange here.

And a somewhat chillier one with Senator David Vitter – a Republican from Louisiana – home of the Michoud Assembly facility – where they make the external fuel tanks for the shuttle- here.

And I got in on the action too…Here is some of what I had to say. And you can read my full remarks here.

The next day – Charlie Bolden found himself in a different orbit – namely the House of Representatives – where they don’t know comity – from comedy…and when he appeared before the House Science Committee, it was so silly you almost had to laugh as members from Texas Alabama and Florida tried to out Bolden-bash one another.

Cygnus Spacecraft.  Source:  Orbital Sciences

Cygnus Spacecraft. Source: Orbital Sciences

The Obama budget for the space agency puts some big bets on some commercial players to work more independently to get cargo – and ultimately humans to and from low earth orbit. But there are a host of concerns about transferring so much risk outside the space agency. One of the main players in this game is Orbital Sciences – Like its competitor SpaceX, the company is building a vehicle to deliver cargo to the ISS under contract to NASA. Veteran astronaut and NASA manager Frank Culbertson is now a senior VP with orbital – and he was listening intently – as I was  – when his former fellow astronaut Hoot Gibson said this in that Senate Hearing.  Watch and listen to our conversation here.

To the Moon? I think not, Alice….

February 24, 2010

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The NASA insignia.

Image via Wikipedia

(ed. note: these remarks are part of my testimony to the Senate Committee on Science and Transportation hearing “Challenges and Opportunities in the NASA FY 2011 Budget Proposal” on February 24, 2010)

Washington – we have a problem – there is an uproar across the land over NASA’s course change – and it says a lot about how the public is no longer in the loop with the space agency.

The headlines read “NASA cancels its Moon mission”. Now I would submit to you most people reading those stories had no idea were were heading back to the moon in the first place. And guess what? We really weren’t! The program – packaged as the “Vision for Space Exploration” – never got the promised funding – and its “vision” was clearly focused on the rear view mirror.

Constellation was touted as “Apollo on Steroids” but really it was a ninety-pound weakling – an uninspired attempt to bring back the magic. NASA was acting like the middle aged high school football hero who spends too much time in the local saloon telling tales of the glory days when he led his team to the state championships.

But the country has grown up and moved on – and it is time for NASA to get off the bar stool and do the same.

And that is exactly what I see in this budget. This is a grown up approach to space exploration – one that synchs the goals with national needs and budgetary realities. The space agency is getting a slap in the face. “Thanks, I needed that!” is what it should be saying. But that is not what we are hearing. Change is never easy.

But wait a minute – isn’t NASA supposed to be all about change? In fact, if it can’t embrace – no actually invent – change – we should close the whole place down.

But wait there is more – because as much as anything else – what we have here is a failure to communicate.

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Worse than Nixon – or a Masterstroke?

February 21, 2010

So who will have the last word on what NASA does next in space? Maybe some powerful members of Congress…at least that is what Constellation supporters are hoping this week – as they move from the shock and denial – to the anger and bargaining stage of grief. I checked in with the exiled President of the Constellation Nation, Mike Griffin – and the king of space tourism – Eric Anderson, the CEO of Space Adventures. He  has been right in the middle of every multimillion dollar deal to send civilians on Russian rockets to the International Space Station. He has always been bullish on the space business – but never more than now.

Watch my interview with Mike Griffin here.

And the counterpoints from Eric Anderson here.

Mike Griffin

Mike Griffin

Eric Anderson (lower right)

Eric Anderson (lower right)

Unease Among the Troops

February 13, 2010
Charlie Bolden.  Source:  NASA/Bill Ingalls

Charlie Bolden. Source: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Things are anything but tranquil and clear among the NASA rank and file this week…as they try to digest the news that the space program is taking the most dramatic turn since JFK challenged it to go to the moon. The space world knew there were big changes coming – but when the Obama Administration announced the complete cancellation of Constellation (say that 6 times fast)…it caught many by surprise – including NASA brass – who got the word only a few days before. But NASA administrator Charlie Bolden took the heat and accepted blame when he finally met with reporters at the Cape before the shuttle launch:

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Orion Agonistes

February 13, 2010
Orion.  Source:  NASA

Orion. Source: NASA

NASA’s budget rollout was confused – but so is the message – we do know this: the Obama White House would like NASA to get out of the low earth orbit taxi business – and instead get the private sector to get some skin in the game – and build what amounts to private spaceliners that NASA – and those who have the cash – can fly to space. Arthur C. Clarke would be proud…but beyond low earth orbit things get murky and vague – NASA will spend money on cool new technologies that might one day get us farther into the solar system a lot faster – but there is no destination or date. Later in the week, Bolden told the Houston Chronicle his personal vision is a piloted mission to Mars. You have to wonder if the White House is on board with that. Meanwhile the big contractors who are a part of Constellation are scheduling therapy for Post Traumatic Stress – at Lockheed Martin, they were hoping their piece of the program – the Orion capsule survive – no such luck.  the man in charge there – John Karas – joined me at the cape during the shuttle countdown.

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