Posts Tagged ‘International Space Station’

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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New 'This Week In Space' – March 6, 2010

March 7, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” – hosted by Yours Truly, is out!  Watch here!

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Map of the North Pole of the Moon.  Source:  NASA

Map of the North Pole of the Moon. Source: NASA

I gotta admit,  I am getting a little tired of launching the program with the latest skirmish in the war over the Obama NASA space budget – it’s not that I don’t care – but frankly I am more interested in learning something new about the Cosmos – not Congress. How about you? So this week, I am starting in the orbit of the moon – where a high tech divining rod built by the U.S. – hitching a ride on an Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 – has found there is a whole lot of water ice down there. And here is the proof…NASA’s Mini-SAR radar is the instrument – and it found the ice in more than 40 small craters where the sun don’t shine. So how much ice is there? 1.3 trillion pounds (600 million metric tons).  Another reason to visit the moon – it will be easy to keep the beer cold.

Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin

Tempting as a toga party in 1/6th gravity might be – we are not heading back to the moon anytime soon – and the second man to leave footprints up there is just fine with that. Buzz Aldrin is pushing a plan called the Unified Space Vision – which earmarks money to build a heavy lift booster – and a craft that would only operate in space called the Exploration Module – or XM (he’s Sirius about XM).  The XM’s would be built from parts left over from space station construction – carried to orbit by shuttles – oh yeah – he wants to fly several more shuttle missions. I Skyped Buzz to hear more.   A lot of others are looking to get more funding for NASA – Kay Bailey Hutchison – the Senator from Shuttleland has ginned up a bill that would add 1.3 billion dollars more to the Obama NASA budget.  The money would be used to fly the shuttle fleet indefinitely.  All of this is grist for the so called “Plan B” team that is working on a compromise plan inside NASA that might bridge the gap between the White House and the Hill. Enough said – stay tuned.

Discovery at launchpad 39A.  Source:  NASA

Discovery at pad 39A. Source: NASA

Meanwhile the serious business of launching a shuttle safely moves on in earnest – and in slow motion at the Cape.  TWIS Correspondent David Waters was there the other day as Discovery and her entourage – made her way to the pad – like a herd of turtles.

Liftoff is currently targeted for April 5.  Please join David, me, and astronaut Leroy Chiao at Spaceflight Now for comprehensive coverage of the launch.

International Space Station.  Source:  NASA

International Space Station. Source: NASA

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Shuttles and Astronauts

February 28, 2010
Endeavour lands at the Kennedy Space Center.  Source:  NASA

Endeavour lands at the Kennedy Space Center. Source: NASA

The Space Shuttle Endeavour was fresh off its night time landing at the Kennedy Space Center. The 6 person crew – led by Marine Colonel George Zamka – the guy they call Zambo – logged a successful mission to the Space Station – installing the Tranquility Node – with its stunning Cupola. Matter of fact station keeper Soichi Noguchi watched Endeavour streak through re-entry  “He tweeted that “The view was definitely out-of-the-world.”

Not a haiku – no

But he uses left side brain

I cut him some slack

I’m a poet – bet ya didn’t know it…

Discovery in the Vehicle Assembly Building.  Source:  NASA

Discovery in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Source: NASA

From Haikus to minuets – TWIS is taking you upscale this week – with the precisely choreographed moved from horizontal to vertical – no I am not talking about getting out of bed with a hangover –

I am speaking of Discovery’s move from the orbital processing facility – or hangar – to the vertical assembly building for mating. Don’t worry teachers – shuttle mating is G rated. It’s all about connecting the orbiter to its big burnt orange external fuel tank – which has the solid rocket boosters attached to it. The finished product – the space shuttle stack – is slated to begin its slow roll to the launch pad on March 2nd. Launch to the space station is set for April 5th. Don’t forget the best place to watch the launch is on Spaceflight Now.

When the shuttle stops flying – the US government will no longer be in the business of building spacecraft for its astronauts to fly into space. We can only hope this is a temporary suspension in membership of a very elite club. Still the Obama space budget says the National Research Council will take a hard look at role and size of the astronaut corps. No Bucks – no need for Buck Rogers. But in India – they are ready to invest some rupees on future Ramu Ramjets. The nation’s space agency says it is ready to join the club –  they are vowing to send a pair of astronauts into space in the next six or seven years…not wise to curry…

atk-logo-bgAnd from our very busy “last-ever ” desk – an item this week from Big Love Country – northern Utah…Rocket builder ATK staged its last test firing of a shuttle solid rocket motor. Since 1988, ATK has conducted 34 ground tests during to verify performance and safety margins – and test new materials. ATK says it will march ahead with a static test of an Ares 1 style booster – even though that program is a goner – NASA has already paid for it – and the show will go on.

Watch these stories from “This Week in Space” Version 8 below:

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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)

A Room with a View

February 21, 2010
Endeavour astronaut Steve Robinson in front of the cupola.

Endeavour astronaut Steve Robinson in front of the cupola.

As the the joint station/shuttle team bolted on the Tranquility Node – with its 7 windowed cupola…would that the NASA nation could see the future as clearly as this…

The cupola is supposed to be there to make it easier for station-keepers to operate the robot arm – but you can bet they will have to keep the Windex handy – to clean the smudges from their noses flattened against the glass.

At the cupola ribbon cutting – station keeper Jeff Williams and Shuttle boss George Zamka paused to remember the late Lacy Veach an astronaut who died of cancer in 1995 – and who participated in the cupola’s initial design –  they also installed a plaque with some small moon rocks picked up by Neil Armstrong in 1969 – and carried to the summit of Mt. Everest by astronaut Scott Parazynski this past spring.

Charles Lacy Veach

Charles Lacy Veach

Before the Endeavour astronauts departed the station, they took a call from President Obama.  It was the first time the President has found himself in the space – space – world since he rolled out  his controversial new NASA budget that cancels the Constellation Project.  Surrounded by schoolkids and his science adviser John Holdren, Obama offered major props to the crew:

“Just wanted to let you know that the amazing work that is being done on the international space station,  not only by American astronauts but also by our colleagues in Japan and Russia, is just a testimony to human ingenuity, a testimony to extraordinary skill and courage that you guys bring to bear, and is also testimony as to why continued space exploration is so important, and is part of the reason why my commitment to NASA is unwavering,” said Obama.

You can watch a video version of this story on “This Week in Space”.

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But before STS-130 is history, we gotta show you a couple of pictures. Check out this one…that’s the predawn launch of Endeavour back on February 8, as seen from the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge, in Ponte Vedra, Florida, about 115 miles north of the launch site.  Thanks to James Vernacotola for that.

Endeavour launch on February 8 from Ponte Vedre, Florida

Endeavour launch on February 8 from Ponte Vedre, Florida

And here’s another…that’s Endeavour on final approach to the ISS, just before docking.  Check out the layers of the atmosphere…for the record, blue is the mesosphere, white is the stratosphere, and orange is the troposphere.  Looks like a parfait doesn’t it?  paraphrasing a famous donkey:  “Parfait’s gotta be the tastiest thing on – or off – the whole damn planet.”

Endeavour on approach to ISS.

Endeavour on approach to ISS.

It’s cold up there above the troposphere – and also on the ground at the Cape – so how cold was it? So cold they couldn’t move the shuttle Discovery…and that means a 2 and a half week launch delay..

For the first time anyone can remember – the shuttle team canceled a move out of Discovery’s hangar into the unheated Vehicle Assembly Building – on account of cold. Apparently when sub 45 degree weather can cause the the thrusters to spring leaks. The delay forced shuttle program managers to postpone the launch date until after a Russian Soyuz docking. The shuttle launch is now set for April 5th.

ISS Latest

February 13, 2010
International Space Station.  Source:  NASA

International Space Station. Source: NASA

The Space Station was a busy place this week – as Endevaour pulled into the driveway for a visit. There are a dozen spacefarers up there in all wokring on getting Tranquility bolted in and on line. And speaking of online –  now that the station is connected to the interweb – you can log on and peek over their shoulder up there – the new station webcam can be found here.  Matter of fact – let’s see what is going on up there now…

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Shuttle Extension?

February 13, 2010
Source:  NASA

Source: NASA

Once the shuttle are in the museums – NASA’s only ticket to ride to the space station will be on Russian built Soyuz rockets. NASA has already bought six seats at about 50 million a pop – no frequent flier discounts – But now it appears the head of the Russian Space Agency – Roskosmos – is spoiling to drive a hard bargain for any tickets beyond those flights. Anatoly Perminov told Interfax “Excuse me but the prices should be absolutely different then!”

Seems like they are better at turning space into a business than the U-S. Oh the irony there… All of this is more fodder for a persistent group of people who say it is not too late to save the shuttle – or at least fly it a lot longer than four more missions. One of them is one of the top people at the prime shuttle contractor the United Space Alliance. Howard DeCastro spoke with me at the Cape before he watched Endeavour take flight for her 24th voyage.

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Getting Ready to Light that Candle

February 13, 2010
Courtesy:  SpaceX

Courtesy: SpaceX

You might want to put March 8th in your blackberry calendar – because that is the day SpaceX has reserved the range at Cape Caneveral to launch its Falon 9 rocket for the first time. The company – founded by internet millionaire Elon Musk – now reports all the hardware is at the Cape – and they just need to bolt it all together stack it up and light the fuse – Easy peasy – right? Well not really. The first launch – whenever it finally goes – will test the rocket – by lofting a mock dragon spacecraft – the real thing is designed to haul cargo to the space station under contract to NASA. Musk says he has built it to be human being ready from the outset.

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