Posts Tagged ‘Earth’

'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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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'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!

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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.

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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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The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!

January 30, 2010
WISE Spacecraft.  Source:  NASA/JPL

WISE Spacecraft. Source: NASA/JPL

The WISE guy has hit some pay celestial pay dirt.

NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, launched in December – took this shot of a near earth asteroid on January 12th. Designated 2010 AB78 – (comets have much more fun names…) this asteroid is 158 million kilometers (98 million miles) from Earth. Diameter is one kilometer or 6 tenths of a mile. Scientists say this space rock is not on a path to collide with earth in the foreseeable future.

But an expert panel has just concluded we are not being so wise about conducting a survey of big near earth asteroids that could clonk us and wreak havoc. The National Research Council says the goal to find 90% of the earth threatening asteroids 460 feet/ 140 meters or larger 2020 will not be met – for lack of funding. Scientists say an asteroid as small as a hundred feet – or 30 meters across – could take out a city. If you don’t think this is money well spent – go ask a dinosaur what he or she thinks.

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"Stationary" Spirit

January 30, 2010
Mars Exploration Rover.  Source:  NASA/JPL

Mars Exploration Rover. Source: NASA/JPL

This past week, the Spirit team threw in the towel on trying to get the rover out of that sand trap she has been mired in for 10 months now.

With winter looming in March, the focus is on trying to back Spirit up a hill ever so slightly so she can better catch the sun’s rays when they gets low and less plentiful. Basically Spirit is designed to go into hibernation like a Polar Bear – she will shut down – and then every day turn on briefly to see if she has enough juice to call home. if the power is low – no call. So the team will soon have to kiss her good night – and hope in spring – August or September here on Earth – she awakens and drops a dime. If all that happens – they have a lot of science planned for a stationary spirit.

Just after the announcement, I checked in via Skype with Spirit’s Project Scientist – Steve Squyres in his office at Cornell University.

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McMoon and the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project

January 15, 2010

Source:  Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project/NASA Ames

Source: Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project/NASA Ames

Whether they carry a badge signed by Charlie Bolden or Elon Musk, rocket scientists are genetically hardwired to obsess about the future.  In the course of turning their visions into reality, they sometimes forget the importance of history.

Such was the case when they lost those high quality tapes of the Apollo 11 moonwalk – how the heck did that happen?

There was another near historical tragedy involving yet another moon mission – but the day was saved by and unlikely team, working in an unlikely place.


Kepler Exoplanets

January 15, 2010

Kepler Space Telescope

Kepler Space Telescope

If Hubble is Benjamin Button, the Kepler Space Telescope might be called Goldilocks –  as it is designed to find the planets that are just right for harboring life as we know it.  And the Kepler team has rolled out its first batch of discoveries.

Five planets in all – none like Earth – but, hey, it’s a start.  The team says they are “hot Jupiters,” gas giants orbiting very close to their suns.  So how hot is it on these planets?  Hotter than molten lava – or even a New York subway platform in August.

Check out this story and more on what’s going on off the planet on “This Week In Space.”

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Limping Home

January 15, 2010

Source:  JAXA

Source: JAXA

On the theme of the “Little Spacecraft that Could,” we bring you the amazing seven year odyssey of Japan’s Hayabusa – which is Japanese for Peregrin Falcon.

Three years, late, after a fuel leak and a cascade of failures that should have made it a piece of space junk, Hayabusa is on the home stretch — hopefully bring back some dust from an asteroid.

The spacecraft has a novel propulsion system, which failed, but the ground team was able to rig up a makeshift way to generate thrust by using operative components of different engines.  If all goes well, the Falcon should feel the gravitational pull of Earth this June.

Follow Hayabusa and lots of other space stuff on “This Week In Space.”

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Contact us:
Email: twis@spaceflightnow.com
Twitter: @ThisWeekInSpace

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Everything Old Is New Again

December 21, 2009
First view of Earth from the Moon.  Source: Lunar Orbiter Images Recovery Project/NASA Ames

Earliest view of Earth from the Moon. Source: Lunar Orbiter Images Recovery Project/NASA Ames

Next time on “This Week In Space” – we will take you to McMoons – believe it or not the old McDonald’s at NASA Ames Research Center has become the scene of a remarkable project to preserve and enhance some 50 year old pictures of the moon…

We’ll tell you the amazing tale of the lost tapes – jury rigged antique machines – and some guys with a lot of drive and passion…the only question is: would you like a hot apple pie with that?