Posts Tagged ‘Mars’

“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.

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'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…

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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.

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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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"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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Fourth Rock from the Sun

January 24, 2010
Source:  Hubble Space Telescope

Source: Hubble Space Telescope

Now to our planetary neighbor – where one of NASA’s orbiters has its ears cupped listening for an unlikely call from the Mars Phoenix lander.Phoenix, you’ll recall,  landed near the North pole in May 2008 sampled the soil until until winter in November.  Now that it is spring – the Phoenix team cannot resist seeing if their baby survived. No one’s betting on it…but if they get lucky they might have to rename it Timex – you know, takes a licking…keeps on ticking.  Sorry about the dated reference kids.

In warmer Martian climes – the Spirit Rover moved a tad – or maybe a scosh this week. Good – but not enough to make its way out of that sand trap its mired in. The Spirt team has not given up yet – but soon they may have top  focus on tilting the rovers – so its solar panels can better catch the low winter sun.

And here’s a cool postcard from Mars…showing the forest…or so it seems.  This unusual image comes from the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter.  Apparently it is a dune field – and those tree like thingies – dust kicked up by dry ice.

And check out this one.  Looks like a bull dozer has been busy up there – the wind makes this pattern in the dunes.  Those are boulders littering the valleys between.  Desktop wallpaper anyone?

And listen up shutterbugs – you wanna try your hand at interplanetary photography?  The team at the University of Arizona has started a new program called “Pick Pixels on Mars.”  just point your browser here – and suggest a site – you might end up with an enviable photo credit.


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The Spirit is willing, but the wheels are weak

January 13, 2010
The Mars rover "Spirit."  Source:  NASA/JPL

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

Six years after it first bounced onto the rusty regolith of Mars, the rover Spirit is alive and still…well…spinning.

The rover is stuck in a sand trap and two wheels on it’s right side remain “muerte.”  The team is still trying to make the robot a free Spirit.  But they may soon have to settle for digging in deeper on one side, so the solar arrays will generate enough juice to keep it alive through the Martian winter –  which starts in May.

Want to know more about all the news on the space beat?  Join me for the new show “This Week In Space,” powered by Spaceflight Now!

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Rise from the ashes?

January 13, 2010
Phoenix Mars Lander.  Source:  NASA JPL/Univeristy of Arizona

Phoenix Mars Lander. Source: NASA JPL/Univeristy of Arizona

Remember the Mars Phoenix? Could it rise from the ashes — or more accurately from a Dr. Zhivago like glaze of dry ice? NASA last heard from Phoenix in November 2008. The craft landed near the Martian North Pole about five months prior, logged a successful mission, and then died at the onset of winter. Or did it?

Now that it is Spring (on Mars anyway), one of NASA’s Martian orbiters will listen to see if Phoenix is still transmitting. Who knows? We may hear more from the first spacecraft to tweet.

Want to know more about ALL the news going on OFF the planet?  Join me for our new show “This Week In Space,” powered by Spaceflight Now!

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"This Week In Space" – Part 1

December 21, 2009

twis300Welcome to the premier of “This Week In Space With Miles O’Brien,” a new show dedicated to keeping space lovers up to speed on the stories and issues making news off the planet.

This is Part 1 of 3, and features interviews with Augustine Commission member and former astronaut Leroy Chiao and SpaceX VP and former astronaut Ken Bowersox on the future of the U.S. manned spaceflight program.

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MRO – Safe Mode No More

December 21, 2009
MRO.  Source:  NASA/JPL

MRO. Source: NASA/JPL

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is on the mend after a long stint in intensive care – what the wizards at the Jet Propulsion Lab call “safe mode.”

Engineers there were able to upload some new software – which they hope will stop MRO’s computers from spontaneously rebooting.  Are they using Vista or something??  Anyway they believe the new software patch has solved the problem and the science should resume in earnest soon. One thing good for Mars lovers – when MRO calls the help desk – it doesn’t end up in voice mail hell.

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Spirit – Wheel Woes

December 21, 2009
Mars Exploration Rover.  Source:  NASA/JPL

Mars Exploration Rover. Source: NASA/JPL

Meanwhile – down on rust colored surface – Spirit is looking a lot like me when I take to the links – that is to say stuck in a sand trap.

The problem is the plucky rover Spirit has a right rear wheel that has gone Tango Uniform (as in Toes Up). Three years ago Spirit’s right front wheel failed – so now the Rover has only one working drive wheel on the right side – making an extrication from the sand unlikely.

But the never say die team at JPL is still working on it – and during a recent troubleshooting session that long-broken front wheel actually moved a bit!

Prospects for any sort of full recovery remain bleak, however.  The best they may be able to do tilt Spirit so its solar arrays will still generate enough juice to stay alive during winter – which comes in May.

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