Posts Tagged ‘Space Shuttle’

'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…

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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?

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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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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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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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Remember the Columbia 7

February 1, 2010
The crew of STS-107.  Source:  NASA

The crew of STS-107. Source: NASA

On the morning we lost Columbia seven years ago today, I was up early and in good spirits. The orbiter was headed home after two and a half week stint in space. I was was doing double duty at CNN that morning – as Columbia happened to be coming home during my shift as the co-anchor of the weekend morning program.

I was on top of the world because I had every reason to believe I would soon be orbiting above it. After years of negotiating with NASA (and the Russians), we were poised to announce that I would become the first journalist to fly on the space shuttle to the International Space Station.

My family and I were Houston bound. And I was about to embark on unprecedented journalistic adventure. It was the ultimate embed assignment.

It was a crystal clear cloudless morning across the entire continental US – and Columbia was going to streak across the country – coast to coast in a matter of minutes.

I mentioned this to the assignment and affiliate desks and told them to notify TV stations beneath the flight path to see if they might get some pictures of this man-made meteor. Fortunately, WFAA in Dallas thought it would be worth the effort to field a crew.

Columbia was due to land in the 9 a.m. hour. My anchor shift began at 7, so I got busy telling people the news of the day. Bush had delivered his State of the Union speech the previous Tuesday where he laid out his (specious) rationale for an invasion of Iraq. We were gearing up for war and our rundown that morning reflected that fact. I did an interview with Janeane Garofalo – who was railing against the impending war. Too bad we didn’t listen.

All the while, I was watching NASA’s TV feed out of the corner of my eye on a separate monitor. Co-anchor Heidi Collins and I were breaking in a new “living room” style set that morning, so I did not have the ability to listen in on radio communications as I could at the traditional anchor desk

So in order to stay abreast of the re-entry, I picked up my cell phone and dialed into the NASA’s dedicated line that carries mission audio and commentary. All seemed “nominal” (as they say in Mission Control) until Columbia was above them over Texas. Suddenly there was no communication with the orbiter. Not a good thing – but not on the face of it the proverbial Bad Day I always dreaded.

But of course it was. And when the time came for landing and there were no sonic booms – and  Columbia did not appear – there was no doubt it was a very Bad Day indeed. A space shuttle orbiter is nothing more than a sophisticated glider as it comes home. The landing time is about as accurate as an atomic clock. No holding patterns  or go-arounds in this racket. So when a shuttle does not arrive on time, there really is not a benign (much less survivable) alternative outcome.

I knew this instantly, and it simply took my breath away. I told our audience only that there was a problem with the shuttle and we were watching it ever so closely. We tossed to a break and I was told to leave the living room set – and make my way to the place we called the “Big Board” which was rigged with a giant plasma screen and and telestrator. It was a standing set – and I would be there for the next 16 hours leading viewers through a national tragedy.

While I was making that move, I started heaving with emotion. The loss was overwhelming. I thought of my lost friends on the shuttle, the terror that they must be feeling in mission control and the horror and sadness that must have been gripping the space program. It is journalistically impolitic to say this, but after all those years, I was a part of the family.

And indeed, I was just about to take a step even further into the fold. And I knew my dream was over as well. But I realized this was no time for emotion. I had the job ahead that I had been in training for my entire career. I consciously told myself to put the emotion on the shelf. That night, when I finally got off the air – got in the air – and found myself in a Houston hotel, I cried myself to sleep. It was a devastating loss on so many levels.

Today I got up early as well. But no high spirits this morning. My thoughts are with the families of those who were lost on Columbia – especially the children who no doubt have fading memories of their fathers or mother. I still grieve for them and for my NASA family.

And as it happens on this day, NASA will tell us what is ahead for the US space program. You can watch more about this on our most recent edition of our webcast “This Week In Space.” The shuttle program will not get a reprieve from the President. The end game set in motion by Bush one year after the loss of Columbia will march on. The shuttle days are numbered. Only 5 missions remain and it will likely all be over this time next year.

NASA will get more money – good news in a tough fiscal environment. But not nearly enough to fund the audacious – yet nostalgic – Moon program Bush envisioned. So today, we will hear it is all being scrapped. NASA will spend the money that is freed up to bolster efforts to study our own planet and its climate, for aeronautics and to keep the International Space Station in business until at least 2020.

There will be money spent to seed a more robust private, commercial space industry and to devise new propulsion systems that will make a trip to Mars faster – and thus more plausible. The idea of developing a plasma propulsion system to take humans exploring deeper into the solar system is enough to get most space cadets pretty jazzed. So it is good news that there will be more money spent here. Bring it on.

That there will be no trips back to the Moon does not bother me that much. JFK famously said “We choose to go to the Moon because it is hard…” Well, frankly, for us, the Moon is not so hard. We know how to do it. I have never heard a really compelling reason to return (including the prospect of mining Helium-3). What is hard is devising a piloted trip to Mars, one of its moons or an asteroid. No one has done that. And that’s what leaders are supposed to do.

But today we will hear no real specifics on where we are headed or how we are going to get there. It makes me nervous. Are we on the brink of something exciting in space? Or is this the end of the beginning? If history is our guide, I fear the answer is “yes” to the latter.

In hindsight, it is safe to say we have missed many opportunities make a real plan for what should happen in the post-shuttle years. And yet politics always got in the way. If only we had the courage and conviction to dream big and then execute the plan…

Space cannot be planned in two or four-year cycles. Let’s hope this time, we take the long view – aim for the stars – and follow through.

We owe the crew of Columbia nothing less than that.

Countdown to the Countdown

January 30, 2010
Source:  NASA

Source: NASA

The space shuttle Endeavour is still on track for a wee hours launch on February 7th. NASA held its flight readiness review – and cleared the orbiter for flight on Wednesday.

The leaky ammonia lines on the Tranquility node sitting in the cargo bay have been swapped out – replaced by several smaller hoses joined together. Frankenhose it is called. The six member crew of Endeavour is slated to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center on Superbowl Sunday at 4:39am Eastern ( 0939 GMT). Think of it as a pre-pre-pre-game show…which of course we hope you will watch on Spaceflight Now.   I will be joined by David Waters and astronaut Leroy Chiao – and in honor of the super bowl we will have plenty of chips dip and beer on hand. You should too.
By the way – the coin that will be tossed before the big game – comes from NASA – it flew on the Atlantis mission in November. Our coverage – of the launch – not the colts and the saints – begins at Midnight Eastern (0500 GMT) – see ya then.

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Space Tweeps: Assemble!

January 30, 2010
The shuttle Endeavour in the Vehicle Assembly Building.  Source:  NASA

The shuttle Endeavour in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Source: NASA

On the heels of that wildly popular tweet-up at the last shuttle launch, NASA is cooking up another one for the upcoming STS-130 mission.

This time it will be at the Johnson Space Center in Houston – a hundred tweeps (and fifty backups) signed up this past week – and will get a chance to see and tweet about mission control on February 17th. Hopefully they will be there while Endeavour is still docked to the station – but this is a scrub or shine event – so if there is a launch delay – the event will press to “Tweetgo”.

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Endeavour Prepares for Launch

January 24, 2010

Source:  NASA

Source: NASA

It was Launch Day – without the fire and rumble – this week at the Kennedy Space Center.

The crew of STS-130 streaked in from Houston on their supersonic T-38’s – donned  their Launch and re-entry – or pumpkin suits – and then when through the motions of launch day. The dress rehearsal is called the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT.  The exercise ends with a simulated launch pad abort – and later a spin in an armored personnel carrier.

As for the vehicle that will take them to space – Endeavour is doing fine – although the piece of the space station that sits in her trunk – the Tranquility node – is still giving the shuttle team a mental workout. Cooling lines that carry ammonia failed a leak test a few weeks ago. The team is working to improve the hose design – while also beefing up and piecing together some smaller sections. They are calling the result “Frankenhose.”  The shuttlers are still hoping for a February 7th launch.

Alan Bean – Moonwalker and Artist

January 24, 2010

Alan Bean.   Source:  NASA

Alan Bean. Source: NASA

You best not have a frozen budget if you want to buy a painting from the only artist who has walked on the moon. His name is Alan Bean – and this past summer I was lucky enough to get a tour of his tour de force exhibit at the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C..

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