Up in the sky…

 

Space Shuttle Discovery took its final flight today on its way to becoming an artifact at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space museum.     Kind of wish I had been in Washington DC to see its fly-over.

 

In other news, SpaceX has announced a launch date for April 30th for its next Dragon capsule.   If the mission is successful this will be the first visit to the International Space Station by a private space-craft.    This is a big deal for the future of America’s space program, as commercial operators will be responsible for getting supplies (and quite possibly crew) to and from things like the space station.

Happy Birthday Josh!

 

It’s my brother’s birthday today.   Everyone wish him a happy one.   Not really sure where he’s celebrating it, as I’m not up-to-speed on his deployment status.  Could be Guam, could be the Middle East, could be some other location.    The man gets around.

 

He now shares his birthday with China’s first space station.   They sent up the Tiangong 1 module  (Tiangong means ‘Heavenly Palace’)   Over the next year or two they’ll be conducting a number of tests of their hardware, around such things as in-orbit rendezvous and docking, as they develop their capabilities.   

It’s over…

 

America no longer has a space shuttle program.    Atlantis has completed the STS-135 mission, its 33rd flight (I believe) and when it wheels rolled to a stop, so ended the era of the Space Shuttle.   There has been no other operational vehicle like it.   Buran came the closest, having a single test-flight to space.  Unmanned.   Whereas our shuttles will be retired to museums  (Discovery goes to the Smithsonian, Endeavor to the California Science Museum,  Enterprise to the USS Intrepid, and Atlantis to remain at Kennedy Space Center on display), the Burans are rusting away.

With it goes our ability to put our own people into space.   We’ll be relying on Russia for the foreseeable future.   Indeed much of our space future relies on hope.   Hope that private industry will succeed and perhaps finally deliver on something the shuttle never managed to do:    routine and inexpensive access to low-earth orbit.    Hope.   That’s all we have at present.     I’m pretty confident in the private sector’s ability to do it, but perhaps not on the timetables we’re hoping for.   Hope.   I seem to recall that as a campaign promise, or sorts, that I don’t feel delivered.

Let’s hope that Russia doesn’t suffer some sort of catastrophe that defunds their program, thus grounding us as well.

 

On the horizon is Orion, an Apollo-esque capsule design that may one day take us beyond the gravity well of our home world.    While that’s maturing nicely in its development, the rocket that will launch it isn’t even on the drawing board yet.    Congress has laid out the minimum requirements, but NASA has hinted that it won’t be possible to achieve under the timeline mandated with the budgeting authorized for it.    

Sometimes I feel like we have lost our spirit.

If you didn’t see it, you should check this out:

And then its final landing:

 

So long shuttle program!    To all the men and women who have made it possible over the last thirty plus years…  I salute you.

Final Countdown

 

In a few minutes or so, the space shuttle Atlantis should be blasting off, with its four-person crew, on the very last mission of the US Space Shuttle program.

As it prepares to embark upon its final voyage, I thought I’d share a picture from its first voyage, as it was being delivered to NASA following construction.

Kinda neat, this pic.    Kinda sad, this day.   Its going to be awhile before the US puts its own people into space.     I remember as a kid, at my dad’s house I had a cut-away poster of the shuttle, depicting its innards, that hung over my bed.    I’ve never seen one up close, and it’ll be nice to get the chance once they’re in museums, but I think I have a pretty strong emotional attachment to the shuttles.    So its weird for me to be heading into a world where we aren’t flying these things.

Shame we don’t have a next-generation shuttle entering service to replace our retiring fleet.    I think it is something that the international community ought to consider pulling together to develop, construct, and deploy.    The Soviet Union built the Buran shuttle shortly before its collapse, and those now sit rusting away.    Soon ours will no longer be flight-capable but preserved.    We’re losing capability for space exploitation with the retirement of these vehicles.   While that capability will probably get restored through private industry at some point, it might be awhile.   Currently everything going on there is still in development.  

The rest of this blog will be getting added in real time.

 

 

Ugh.  31 seconds to launch and now the final countdown is on hold.

Here we go…   less than 30 seconds away.

main engines start

it lifted off a second early.   🙂

man, i’m tearing up now.

never seen one fly through a cloud before…. watching it via the cam attached to the fuel tank is neat.

except its having issues, that camera.

solid rocket booster separation, the curve of the earth clear in the background

now everything looks like its at stand still… ah space.   🙂    not quite there yet though.

7700 mph…   i can’t comprehend that.

rolling ‘upright’

sunrise on its belly.

image

more than 4 miles per second?   even more unfathomable for this earth-bound boy.

15000 mph!

main engine cut-off…. the last time they will go silent.   ;(

image

Tank separation

image

Well, that’s the last time I’ll get to observe that.     Perfect launch from what I can tell.

Enjoy your final cruise, Atlantis!

 

Learn more about the Shuttle Fleet:    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43578768/ns/technology_and_science-space/

From Soyouz with Love…

 

Well, I’m stealing space.com’s title here.   Nothing wittier coming out of my head.   

Just wish that I could actually save a copy of videos like this.    Its nothing entertaining, but it is a rare photo-op… that of a US space shuttle docked at the space station, from the vantage point of a Soyouz capsule (that would be Russia’s spacecraft… get used to them… one more shuttle flight and then we’ll be riding the Soyouz for the time being).

http://www.space.com/11909-soyuz-love-iss-shuttle.html

Farewell Spirit

 

NASA has officially given up on re-establishing contact with the Spirit rover on the surface of Mars.

I have some personal attachment to these little guys.    Well, I have some attachment to the Red Planet and these two have done an amazing amount of work, proving that Mars once harbored liquid water upon its surface.

The MER rovers also represent something else for me.    They were designed to work on the martian surface for only 90 earth days and Spirit’s twin, Opportunity, is still roving six years Earth years later.    Its the kind of design mentality I’d like to see replicated.    They’ve proven their designs and I scratch my head as to why we aren’t building more of these, outfitting them with better instrumentation (perhaps tools to let them do other things on Mars besides drilling rocks).     Had Spirit not gotten stuck in dirt, it would likely still be operational today.    Unfortunately it wasn’t stuck in a place that let it adapt to the declining sunlight during Martian winter, and so its power levels dropped too low, its components didn’t remain heated, and ultimately something critical broke.

So Spirit is now a monument, and one that I hope future Martian colonists will be able to recover and provide a proper tribute for.

I share with you a video highlighting the Mars Exploration Rover dubbed Spirit:

View article…

Enterprise’s Feather

 

In my continuing coverage of all things related to the not-quite-a-starship Enterprise…   Well, SpaceShipTwo cleared another milestone with its first flight test of the ‘feathering’ system it uses to remain stable during re-entry.    

Keep in mind, its a powered trip to the edge of space, but its all glide back down.

The video is probably more expressive than I can be:

http://www.space.com/11715-virgin-galactic-spaceshiptwo-passes-entry-system-test.html

 

Obviously a shake-down of the re-entry system is a necessity before we can proceed with attaching the rocket engine.    🙂

Within hours… Science!

 

The AMS, which I blogged about a few weeks ago, is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which was recently installed (earlier today) on the space station by the Shuttle Endeavor’s crew:

(Here it is being taken out of Endeavor’s cargo bay)

 

Within hours of it being installed it detected at least two high energy particles we’ve only observed within particle accelerators…  meaning we’ve never seen them in nature before now.

Its kind of neat when something can get launched, installed, and begin operations without any hiccups.

Its also kind of neat when a space shuttle makes an addition to the space station that is purely for science  (not life support or other constructing-a-platform-in-space efforts). Its the kind of stuff we built the space station for, and its great we’re already getting science out of it.

Here’s one of space.com’s infographics that explains what the AMS is and does:

See how the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer will hunt dark matter, cosmic rays and antimatter galaxies from the International Space Station in this SPACE.com infographic.
Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration

Now to find that ever-elusive ‘stuff’ mucking up our theories.    🙂