Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, Christmas Island!

Christmas Island as viewed from space. Can you tell which way the wind is blowing?

A place where it's Christmas all year... heh heh. This tiny island is a territory of Australia and has about 1400 people living on its jungle-covered land, which is about 12 miles at longest dimension. Weird little items:

Principle export is Phosphate from guano. Ew.

Japanese troops briefly occupied the island during WW2.

The island was named by Captain William Mynors of the Royal Mary when he sailed past it on Christmas Day, 1643.

When the island was finally visited in 1688, it was found to be uninhabited.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

50 YA - Events of the last week

Dec. 11, 1959: Lost contact with Vanguard III after receiving signals for 85 days.

Dec. 14, 1959: Capt. J.B. Jordan flew an F104C to 103,389 feet- wow!

Dec. 18, 1959: An Atlas ICBM made a successful flight.

Dec. 22, 1959: NASA and Canada make a successful joint mission, launching a 4-stage Javelin sounding rocket from Wallops station to measure galactic radio noise. The payload reaches above 500 miles before returning to Earth.

Expedition 22 Heads to ISS

Soyuz rocket lifts off from Baikonur Cosmodrome on Sunday, Dec. 20
Photo: NASA TV

The 22nd expedition to the International Space Station is due to dock at the station today. Currently the Exp.22 commander, Jeff Williams, and Russian Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev have been waiting by themselves since the departure of the shuttle last month. On board the Soyuz capsule are 3 Flight Engineers: NASA astronaut TJ Creamer, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

The Soyuz 17 ship is planned to dock at 3: 54 pm MST today. Watch all the fun on NASA TV!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Shields Up! Geminid Meteor Shower!

The Geminid meteor shower takes place over the weekend and is expected to be quite prolific. Each year the shower has gotten stronger and stronger as the Earth passes through the debris path of burned-out comet 3200 Phaeton, which is now classed as a Near-Earth Object. Expectations are to witness about 100-150 meteors per hour. Look for the shower to peak Sunday night as the head of the Gemini constellation, the star Castor moves higher in the sky before midnight.

Wouldn't you know it, here in Utah we have a major snowstorm in progress this weekend and I doubt there will be a break in the cloud cover. So I'll hunker down in the bunker and stay warm.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

White Knight 2 carries the new spacecraft in the middle.

Monday saw the debut of the successor to Spaceship One, which was the first civilian spacecraft to reach suborbital space and return the astronaut safely to Earth, repeating the event within 2 days. SpaceShip 2 was presented to the public at SpacePort America, under construction in Las Cruces, New Mexico. This tourism space project is the brainchild of Burt Rutan, the genius aircraft designer who invented many advanced concepts for private and commercial aviation. The project is funded by Sir Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Atlantic airlines and Virgin music stores. The company created to run this project is called Virgin Galactic.

SS2 secured in the middle launch position.

SpaceShip 2 has been named VSS Enterprise (I wonder why that name?...). It will carry six paying passengers on a sub-orbital ride into space to experience weightlessness and a superior view of our planet Earth, before returning through the Earth's atmosphere. Passengers supposedly are paying up to $200,000 per ticket and there is already quite a list. Test flights could begin any day now, and paying public flights are scheduled to start no earlier than 2011.

This is the real deal. For the price of the ticket, anyone will be able to go into space. Once this project is running well and additional spacecraft are added to the fleet, it's expected that Virgin Galactic will work on developing Orbital flight operations.

The pictures I've included are by Jeff Foust, who runs the websites NewSpace Journal ( and Space Politics (

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

50 YA-Sam rides a Little Joe!

Sam in his restraining harness.

Fifty years ago on Dec. 4th, A cute little Rhesus monkey named Sam became the first passenger in a Little Joe (II) capsule test vehicle. The Little Joe was designed to simulate the forces placed on the Mercury single-astronaut space capsule. It would be launched from Wallops Station out over the Atlantic, and recovered by a Navy rescue ship. Sam was placed in a special harness, and had medical instruments attached to monitor his vital life signs.

Sam boards the capsule.

Once secured, Sam's restraining couch was placed into the safety cage which was itself slid into the capsule. The loading hatch was secured, and the rocket prepped for launch.

To Infinity... and Beyond! (well, not very far actually)

The rocket successfully launched the capsule to an altitude of 55 miles before returning to the Earth and splashing into the ocean. Today, we consider space to actually be about 63-65 miles up.

Splashdown and Recovery!

The Navy found the capsule and hauled it aboard. Sam was safe and alive, although I could find no famous quotes from the little voyager. Supposedly he received a reward of a favorite food.

"Where's the Press? Now give me a bannana..."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

50 YA - November events

I apologize to anyone who wondered what was going on fifty years ago... with my busy schedule and the excitement of STS-129 I fell behind in my 50 YA blogging. So here's a recap of events that would have been put up last month...

Little Joe Test vehicle on 8/21/59. A launch on November 4th was similar to this. However, the escape rocket failed to eject the capsule on time.

On November 7, the DISCOVERER VII mission launched ok but the camera payload was not recovered.

On November 9th, an amazing event occurred- data from the EXPLORER VII space probe indicated that the entire Van Allen radiation belt surrounding the Earth, and only recently discovered, broke up and disappeared for several days!

On November 16th, Capt. Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr. made an extraordinary parachute jump from an open balloon gondola from an altitude of 76,400 feet!

On November 20, DISCOVERER VII again successfully launched its spy satellite into a polar orbit, but the capsule was not recovered.

On November 26, Pioneer P-3 blasted off from the Cape on an Atlas-Thor-Able combo rocket. Suddenly, at 45 seconds into the launch, the payload shroud tore away and exposed the lunar probe. At 104 seconds, the satellite and the third stage broke away from the rocket and were lost over the ocean.

On November 28/29, two balloon explorers (M. Ross and C.B. Moore) flew onboard the ONR STRATO-LAB HIGH IV balloon and operated a telescope to take measurements of water vapor in the atmosphere of venus. The observations were done at an altitude of 81,000 feet. The principle being used here was that the thin air of the upper atmosphere provided very good seeing for the telescope. Of course, this would eventually lead to placing telescopes in space itself.

Finally, on today's date, December 1, a dozen nations including the USA and the USSR formalized and signed the Antarctic Treaty promoting advanced scientific research while banning all military work on the Antarctic continent.

Expedition 21 lands on Earth

Soyuz capsule at rest.

Expedition 21 has come to an end after three European space explorers landed on the wind-swept steppes of Kazakhstan. Evidently the frozen conditions there cancelled out the use of helicopters for recovery of the crew. Instead, all-terrain vehicles travelled from a distant base to retrieve the crew and capsule. The three crewmembers (Frank deWinne:ESA, Roman Romanenko: Roscosmos, and Robert Thirsk:Canadian Space Agency) had spent 186 days aboard the ISS as part of Expedition 21. E21 was the first expedition to include all five partner space agencies on a single mission.

Now we witness a small Expedition 22 continue on the station with only two crewmembers, astronaut Jeff Williams and cosmonaut Maxim Suraev as members. This will last for three weeks until Dec. 23rd, when they will be joined by cosmonaut Oleg Kotov and astronaut Soichi Noguchi from Japan. They will arrive via the Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft. No further crew exchanges will be made using the shuttles.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Atlantis lands on Friday

Deploying the drag chute

Shuttle Atlantis rolled to a stop early Friday morning while millions of shoppers began Black Friday madness. With the end of STS-129, there are five scheduled shuttle flights remaining to be completed in 2010 before the shuttle series ends.

Notable for this mission was the sheer volume of supplies and spare parts delivered to ISS and stored for future use. Also, during the mission astronaut Randy Bresnik became father to a baby girl born just after his spacewalk. Astronaut Nicolle Stott returned from a three month stay on the ISS. She will be the last ISS astronaut to be transported to/from the ISS on the shuttle, from now on ISS crew will exclusively use the Russian Soyuz spacecraft until someone invents a new American system.

Whether NASA or a private company gets there first is anyone's guess at this point.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Day in SPace

The Atlantis crew explains dinner in space. From NASA.

The shuttle crew will spend the day performing routine vehicle checks and making sure all is ready for landing at the Kennedy Space Center tomorrow at 7:44 am MST. They will take time to celebrate Thanksgiving with some special meal packets loaded before launch.

BTW, here's the first official Thanksgiving proclamation in our new country given by our first Commander-in-chief:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor – and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be – That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks – for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation – for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war –for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed – for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions – to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually – to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed – to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord – To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us – and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Atlantis undocks from ISS

Atlantis reveals its now-empty cargo bay.

It was a very busy day before Thanksgiving, and many errands needed to be completed before the feasts of the big day. It was finally growing dark before 6 pm MST as I drove up the final few blocks to home, when I barely noticed two new bright stars in the northern sky. That triggered my subconscious red flag alarms, as I knew there were no stars THAT bright in that part of the sky... and... they were moving. I quickly parked into my driveway and jumped out in time to watch the two objects move silently and steadily across the darkening sky. Atlantis was the slightly dimmer object and trailed the ISS, the enormously bright object. Eventually the pair of bright objects disappeared behind the peaks of Mt. Timpanogos.

Atlantis is due to land on Friday, completing mission STS-129. It is scheduled for only one more flight to the ISS.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Spacewalks Successful; Atlantis prepares to Depart

STS-129 and Expedition 21 in group photo.

All the supplies have been transfered, and all spacewalking objectives were met. In addition, astronaut Bresnik announced Sunday that a new baby daughter was born into his family in Houston! The crew of Atlantis entered the shuttle and closed the hatches in preparation for undocking which takes place Wednesday. Along for the ride is ISS astronaut Nicole Stott, who is returning home after a lengthy stay on the station.

ISS Commander Frank DeWinne handed over command of the station to astronaut Jeff Williams. Dewinne and two flight engineers are due to depart the ISS on November 30, returning home in a Soyuz currently docked to the station.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Atlantis Docks with ISS; First Spacewalk Complete

Atlantis on initial approach.

Shuttle Atlantis docked with the International Space Station on Wednesday, right on time at 11:53 am MST. the screen capture above, you can make out some of the equipment in the shuttle's open cargo bay that will be transfered to the ISS.

Atlantis does a backflip.

Prior to docking, Shuttle Atlantis performed the Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, exposing the heat shield tiles on the bottom of the orbiter. This permitted the ISS crew to photographically inspect the tiles for any potential danger during the re-entry phase of the mission. NASA engineers will review the inspection carefully, but so far no problems have been noted.

NASA Computer graphic of Atlantis docked with ISS.

With docking complete, preparations were made for unloading some of the equipment in the cargo bay. Using the robotic arm, astronauts began moving some of the equipment to storage locations on various places on the ISS. Preparations also began for Thursday's spacewalk.

Spacewalk in progress.

Astronauts Mike Foreman and Robert Satcher completed a 6-hour-37 minute spacewalk to move and secure items from the cargo bay to the station truss and other locations. They actually got ahead of schedule and completed the installation of the Payload Attach System which would have first on the next walk.

Of course, what they were completely unaware of is that down here in Utah we poor space enthusiasts would find huge crowds assembling at the two new In-and-Out-Burger franchises which opened today. No way to get past that crowd. Burgers later.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Space Shuttle on the way to ISS

View from Atlantis: SRB separation

Mission STS-129 started with a beautiful launch of Shuttle Atlantis in very good weather. This is an important supply mission, as there are only several shuttle flights left and NASA has to make sure certain spare parts are brought to the station. The crew will perform three spacewalks during the mission, moving the spare parts (such as a station gyroscope) onto strategic locations on the ISS.

Atlantis only carries six astronauts on the way up. They will be bringing home astronaut Nicole Stott, who has been on ISS since August. Interestingly, this is the 31st shuttle flight to the ISS AND it also happens to be Atlantis' 31st flight to space!

NASA managed to make 5 shuttle flights this year, which is a very aggressive schedule. The Space Shuttle program has been scheduled to end in 2010, although there is a chance it will extend to 2011. Atlantis is scheduled to only fly one more mission, STS-132, and then it will be retired. Enjoy its performance while you can! The shuttle is scheduled to dock with ISS today at 9:53 am MST.

Monday, October 26, 2009

50 YA- Luna 3 Pics released

Luna 3 probe

On October 26, 1959, the Soviet Union released a series of pictures taken by the Lunik 3 (Luna 3) probe. The significance of these pictures is that they were the first to show the far side of the moon, previously unseen by man. Launched on October 4, the picture sequence of 29 frames was taken on the 6th and 7th. Once the probe left the moon, on a return towards the Earth, the Russian scientists attempted to transmit the pictures on the 8th but encountered difficulties. Only about 17 poor pictures were able to be transmitted by the 18th of October. These pictures were publicly released on the 26th.

The Undiscovered Country... the Far Side...

Communications with the probe were ended on the 22nd. It is estimated that the probe made several orbital passes of the Earth, but never really achieved a stable orbit and probably burned up in Earth's atmosphere sometime between 1960-1962.

Soviet Commemorative Stamp

One thing I love about the Russians is that they loved their space achievements. The Russians loved to commemorate everything with stamps, and this was a great one.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Orionid Meteor Shower Under Way

Meteor crosses star trails in a time-lapse photo

As Earth crosses the path that Halley's comet makes around the sun, we encounter the dust and ice grains left behind. These particles hit the Earth's upper atmosphere and quickly heat up from the friction with air molecules. Since the particles are usually small, these reactions appear as swift flashes of light leaving a trail of hot ionized gas.

The best time to see these meteors is at about 3 am as the Earth positions your viewing point directly into the dust trail. Reports indicate about 25 meteors per hour on the average. You never know when a brighter fireball may appear (a larger bit of dust!) Look in the direction of the constellation of Orion, which gives this shower its name.

The shower will peak on Wednesday night. Previous years have seen an average of 60 meteors per hour. Check for all sorts of good stuff on this shower, including pictures, sounds and more!

---------- Bunker Alert -------

Here at the Bunker we expect to be safe from the bombardment released by the Halley mothership. According to the evil plans of the Comet Realm, comets which miss the Earth completely (and there are many) turn into orbital bombers and release their matter, hoping to get us through whatever means necessary. The poor planning of the Realm engineers means that most of the bombardment particles are too small to last even to the ground. However, take proper precautions and avoid annihilation by specks of outer space rocks!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ares-1X Rollout

Ares-1X on the way; Launch control center in foreground

At about 11:39 pm MDT Monday, NASA began the rollout of the Ares-1X test rocket from the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building). Securely mounted on the giant crawler, the system will slowly roll over to Pad 39B which has been undergoing modifications for use with the new launch system.

View from High Bay 3 inside the VAB; catwalk is 16th floor

While listening to the NASA TV announcer, I believe I heard him say the rocket weighs in at about 16,000,000 pounds. Not sure if he meant rocket and crawler together. The crawler and base carefully adjust enormous hydraulic systems to keep the base level and cause minimum vibration to the rocket assembly. It's expected that even as tightly clamped as possible, the top of the rocket may move as much as a foot, while the base may adjust up to 6 inches.

SRM first stage has 4 segments; Actual Ares will have 5

For comparison, keep in mind that the VAB was built tall enough so that the giant of them all, the Saturn V, could just barely make it through the doorway with the launch tower attached to the base. Looking at the picture above, you can tell that the Ares=1X is almost as tall as the old Saturn V!

Rear view of Crawler from VAB High Bay

The crawler is moving along slowly, working up to its expected speed of 8/10 of a mile per hour. In the photo above, look carefully for the man walking beside one of the crawler tracks for a size comparison. Ahead of the crawler, a huge water truck is wetting down the gravel roadbed with great sprays of water to keep dust down and settle the gravel.

The capsule at top is a "boilerplate" model, which means it has the same dimensions as the eventual capsule but has no equipment inside other than telemetry sensors. This test rocket has 4 segments in its solid rocket motor first stage, which have participated in various shuttle missions going back to the late 80's.

I just heard that the actual weight of the rocket stack is 11,067,000 pounds. The order has been given to begin closure of the VAB door segments. Next stop: Pad 39B, which at one time saw the launch of Apollo 10. Pad39B is usually kept as a backup readiness pad for human spaceflight. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

50 YA: Explorer VII Launch

Explorer VII Satellite

On October 13, 1959 NASA successfully launched the Explorer VII satellite on a modified Juno II rocket. It was the last in a series of space probes planned during the International Geophysical Year. It would seek to understand the radiation and cosmic rays found in Earth orbit. The information gathered by the probe would lead toward the connection between solar eruptions and geomagnetic storms.

Expedition 20 Returns

Michael Barratt is feeling the G's now.

Officially, Expedition 20 has ended and Expedition 21 is now in charge of the ISS. Commander Gennady Padalka, Flight Engineer Barratt, and tourist Guy Laliberte have landed in Kazakhstan in their Soyuz re-entry capsule. Having spent a half of one year off of the planet, the cosmonaut and astronaut have adjustments to make to gravity. Laliberte performed a special multimedia presentation while on board the ISS, beamed to nations around the world. He had been one of the recent visitors to the ISS, having arrived with the latest of the Expedition 21 crew on Soyuz TMA-16.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Comet War: NASA tests new weapon

Artist view of LCROSS stage separation

At 5:30 am MDT, Terran Space Forces tested a new weapon in the Interplanetary War against the evil Comet Realm. The spent Centaur stage of the LCROSS system impacted into a crater near the Moon's south pole, followed a few minutes later by the crash of the observation probe that accompanied it. NASA telescopes and observers around the world are scanning the area to analyze the debris cloud. Of course, most of us slept through it, unaware of the bold stroke mankind prepares in its effort to thwart the enemy's plans.

Speculation abounds over the mission of the LCROSS system.

A leading critic of the administration has panned the effort as a mega-dollar boondoggle. "We already know how to smash things. Our military should at least have tried this years before against one of the enemy's impactors. All we've proven is we know we can hit the side of a barn."

Target: Cabeus Crater

Some speculate, however, that this was more than a test. NASA has speculated for some time that there could be deposits of water ice located at the moon's poles were there are permanent crater shadows. So far, only Dr. Bernhard of the Asteroid War Institute has ever put forth the idea that the enemy had actually established a hidden outpost on the Moon. If true, this mission would be Earth's fist counterattack against an enemy that has been at war with Earth since before recorded history.

Apollo 14 third stage impact site

The development of this mission stems from the accidental bounty of information gathered from the Apollo program. After seismic sensors were placed by the astronauts of Apollo 12, the third stage of Apollo 14 crashed into a desolate empty plain on the Moon's surface. Sensor data led NASA engineers to believe that a fast moving empty stage could cause sever devastation to a region around the impact site, even without an explosive warhead.

Of course, there are still doubters out there. This reporter has even heard a relatively unknown theory that this was a mere science experiment designed to look for traces of water in the resultant debris cloud. Here at the Space Rubble Command Bunker, we'll place that one right with the Flat Moon believers.

; )

Sunday, October 4, 2009

50 YA- Little Joe Launch

Preparing Little Joe for its Little Launch

Fifty years ago today NASA launched another successful flight of the Little Joe system. This launch was from Wallops Island, Virginia. The system was designed to test flight characteristics of the Mercury program capsule and escape system. With onboard systems, engineers were able to measure the stresses of high acceleration on the structures. Although we often think of only the advances in the spacecraft engineering, there were also tremendous improvements in NASA's telemetry programs.

Blast Off! NASA plays with model rockets ; )

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Soviet Cosmonaut passes away

Hero of the Soviet Union experiments with microgravity

Pavel Popovich passed away today at age 78. He came very close to being selected to be the first man in space, but Yuri Gagarin was selected instead.

Instead, Popovich went up alone in Vostok 4 in August 1962. At the same time, the USSR launched Vostok 3 and Andrian Nikolayev. Their capsules passed within 3 miles, and they spotted each other. Popovich thus became the 6th person to orbit the Earth. His mission ended after three days when the capsule interior temperature failed. After de-orbit burn, he parachuted from the capsule as was custom for that model.

Popovich flew his second mission in Soyuz 14 on July 3, 1974. After docking with the Salyut 3 military space station, he and fellow cosmonaut Yuri Artyukhin spent 16 days performing classified military objectives. For his space adventures and service in the Soviet Air Force as a decorated Major General, he was twice awarded the Order of Hero of the Soviet Union, the USSR's highest honor.

But why focus on this cosmonaut? Well, for one, I've met him.

In October 2005, Salt Lake City was host to the XIX Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers. Our staff and volunteers of the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center not only attended, but were privileged to perform the International Flag parade during the opening ceremonies. Before and after the event, we were able to meet with many astronauts and cosmonauts from around the world. Did I get a slew of autographs? You betcha! After the morning ceremonies, the space explorers split up to visit Utah schools around the state. We were privileged to be visited by Pavel Popovich and Viktor Savinykh (more on him in another post perhaps).

Cosmonaut Popovich inspects the USS Phoenix simulator. Behind him
is Cosmonaut Viktor Savinykh.

Besides being able to visit our school's students, the cosmonauts also toured the Space Center and were very impressed. In one of the photos I took, you can see Pavel Popovich sitting iin the command chair of the USS Phoenix simulator soon after it had opened. SOOOO, for those of you who manage to rise to the rare command of the Phoenix, you, too, can sit in the same chair as occupied by a great space explorer and Hero of the Soviet Union.

Messenger Speeds Past Mercury

The view as Messenger approaches.

The robot spacecraft Messenger flew past the planet Mercury yesterday, making it 3 times it has flown past the planet and used its gravity to help it slow down and adjust its orbit. At one point the spacecraft was only 142 miles above the cratered surface. The next time Messenger approaches, it will be able to enter a normal orbit and begin its main mission of observation.

ISS Expedition 21 crew Blasts off!

Soyuz TMA-16

Two more member of the ISS crew for Expedition 21 took off from their launch site in Kazakhstan today. Jeff Williams and Maxim Suraev will join up with Nicole Stott, Roman Romanenko, Robert Thirsk, and Frank De Winne. Leaving the station will be Gennady Padalka and Michael Barratt in Soyuz TMA-14, which is already docked at the station. When they leave on October 10th, Expedition 21 becomes activated and European astronaut De Winne will become the commander.

Also along the ride today is Guy Laliberté, a Canadian who created the famous Cirque du Soleil entertainment franchise (you know, the famous acrobats). As a "space participant" (a Russian code phrase for "tourist"), Laliberté paid $35 million for this short trip. He will return with Padalka and Barratt on Oct. 10th.

It can get quite confusing trying to figure out who is up on the station at any time. Whereas we used to just have two astronauts up there at a time, there are now as many as six living on the station. You can always find out who's up there when you go to, click on the Missions link, click on the Current Missions link, scroll down to click the International Space Station link, and look for the box that says, "Who's on the station now?"

Or just click:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

50 YA- Pioneer I Disaster

Atlas-Able 4 launcher

Pioneer P-1 was a space probe intended to be launched into Lunar orbit. There it would study the space environment between the Earth and the Moon, as well as advanced spacecraft control from Earth and also included a newer television camera system.

Unfortunately, during a launcher test at the cape, the Atlas rocket exploded on the pad and caused tremendous damage, but luckily no one was killed or injured. Fortunately, the probe had not yet been placed onto the rocket at the time of the explosion! P-1 was later used for the P-3 mission.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Spotting ISS

Two Russian spacecraft docked at ISS.

While we all go about our business here on the big ol' Earth, the ISS continues its orbital sweeps around the planet. About every 90 minutes is another sunrise followed 45 minutes later by a sunset. Although they may not be making headlines, the station crew continues to perform the daily maintenance of the station equipment, and perform experiments using the station's scientific instruments.

At 8:36 pm MDT tonight I'll be going outside to watch ISS float serenely across the sky in a matter of minutes, reflecting evening sunlight off its modules and solar panels. This time I'm taking my astronomy binoculars with me.

It's 8:47 pm now, and the excitement is all over... except for me, the space nerd! I went outside about 15 minutes early (after calling a couple of friends who would be interested in spotting it). I hung my 10 x 50 binoculars from my neck and went out to the driveway for a relatively unobstructed view of the northern sky. There are several distracting streetlights nearby, but they don't bother me as much as a very bright house light across the street. Still, it's dark enough to do some binocular astronomy. In a 5-minute period I spotted 3 polar-orbiting satellites moving south-north, several nebulas near Sagittarius, and of course, the galaxy Andromeda as it rose above the top of Mt. Timpanogos.

And I spotted Jupiter... Wow. Wow. Very nice and bright in my binocs, with the bonus of spotting three of its moons very easily. The Jupiter system is fascinating to watch, and the disk of Jupiter is just big enough in the binocs that on a very good viewing night with still air I can barely make out some different colored cloud bands. And the Moon - well I can always enjoy looking at the Moon. It's in a waxing crescent phase right now, which makes it fun to watch the terminator (sun-lit edge) as it slowly picks out craters and mountains.

Then, at 8:36, right on the button, a small light started moving from the horizon. As it rose higher in the sky, it quickly grew very bright from the reflected evening sunlight. it cruised steadfastly across the sky, about 50 degrees from the horizon, and then toward the ESE sky- which is of course crowded out by Mt. Timpanogos. But before it reached that point, it reached the Earth's shadow, and... swoosh. It faded out very fast. With the binocs I could follow it until it was just above the mountain shadow. During the flight, I still could only make out a blocky shape, no details, because of the extreme brightness in my view, and the sad fact that the weight of these binoculars causes a bit of shaking. I need to invest in a binocs monopod.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

50 YA- Updates from 1959

Jupiter IRBM rocket with payload modification for science mission.

I have to do a catch-up here to cover some items for the 50 Years Ago category. It's been a busy week for me, and it was a busy week 50 years ago. On September 16, 1959, NASA launched a Jupiter rocket with biological test satellite in the payload. Evidently, after liftoff, the rocket began "fishtailing" which could have ended up with the rocket heading toward a population center. The safety range officer then was instructed to have the rocket self-destruct. If you've ever seen the film footage of one of these test failures, you can understand how many of us are wowed by the explosive potential of all that rocket fuel; but on that day, it had to be quite a let-down for all involved.

Preparing for Above-Ground Minuteman test.

On the same day as the Jupiter launch, there was a successful test launch of a Minuteman ICBM from a silo. The "silo" is the hardened underground launch tube where an ICBM is expected to survive a blast if necessary and then be launched at our enemies. The Minuteman was quite an advance over the Jupiters (short range IRBM) and the Atlas (ICBM long range). If you're interested, make a trip up to the Hill Air Force Base Museum up in Roy, Utah to see an actual Minuteman missile (although a later model).

Assembling the Transit-1A satellite.

A Navy satellite, Transit 1A, was launched from Earth on September 17 on a Thor-Able rocket. The Transit series of satellites were the fore-runners of our modern GPS satellites. The job of the Transit was to send signals to US submarines which had nuclear missiles onboard. The signals would help the submarine accurately plot its position and the course of the nuclear missile in case of nuclear war. This was a vital priority for our defense against nuclear attack from the Soviet Union.

Unfortunately, the payload failed to separate from the third stage, and of course then failed to go into orbit. This seems like a bad week for launches in 1959...

X-15 (No. 2) safe on the runway.

Although the 17th had one failure, it also had a success. The X-15 program was performing well. The second craft for the program had previously successfully dropped from its B-52 mothership and landed on the long runways at Edwards AFB. Now it was time to test the rocket engine in a powered flight.

Scott Crossfield in pressure suit.

The pilot was Scott Crossfield, one of the best test pilots. The No. 2 was released and the rocket engine ignited, and we now had two successful X-15 rocketplanes. Scott was the first man to fly at twice the speed of sound in the Douglas Skyrocket, a successor to the X-1 series of rocketplanes. He had flown 99 missions in the X-1 and the Skyrocket, and helped design the X-15. Interestingly, he did not become a NASA astronaut. Keep in mind though, that X-15 pilots flew so high in their craft that they were awarded special astronaut wings.

The week ended on a very good note, despite the rocket failures.

Vanguard III replica in a museum.

On September 18, Vanguard III lifted off and reached orbit. The last in its series, this satellite had a main mission to study Earth's magnetic field, but it also completed experiments in X-ray radiation. It had sensitive micro-meteorite detectors so it could discover more about potential hazards of Earth-orbiting craft. Vanguard III is still up there, along with its siblings, and although it has long ago quit functioning, it should remain in orbit for about 241 more years - along with Vanguards I and II!
Because they can be detected from Earth, we can still study the effects of atmospheric drag on their cone-and-sphere-shaped bodies, which means we are still actually getting data with their help. Go Vanguards!

Friday, September 18, 2009

HTV captured by ISS

HTV in position for capture.

Yesterday the Japanese HTV supply module finally caught up to the ISS orbit for docking. Using the Canadarm 2 to grapple the module went well. The module can carry up to 6 tons of supplies and equipment. It will eventually be loaded with waste and other disposable stuff, and sent into a decaying orbit to burn up in the atmosphere when it re-enters. This definitely brings Japan closer to making a man-rated capsule, which is one of their space goals.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

50 YA- Luna 2

Soviet Luna 2 spacecraft

On September 12, 1959, The Soviet Union launched the second of its Luna series probes toward the Moon. The rocket used was the R-7, which was basically the same type rocket used to launch Sputnik. On the 13th, the Luna 2 probe separated from the third stage of the rocket, which travelled alongside it on the way to the Moon.

Its predecessor, Luna 1, had discovered evidence for the Solar Wind; Luna 2 confirmed the evidence of this discovery. It also provided information about the Van Allen Radiation belt discovered by the American space Probe Explorer 1. On its way to the Moon, the capsule expelled a cloud of orange sodium particles, which could be seen from Earth and helped scientists track its voyage.

Incidentally, during this time Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was making his historic visit to the United States. Disney fans such as myself might remember that Walt Disney was looking forward to a potential visit of the Premier to Disneyland, when he would be able to proudly boast of his own "submarine fleet" ( the Submarine Ride at Disneyland). That visit did not occur due to security concerns.

On the 13th, Luna-2 became the first object to impact the Moon. Crunch.

Friday, September 11, 2009

STS-128: Touchdown!

Dust from the runway swirls into the wingtip vortices.

STS-128 comes to an end as the shuttle Discovery was directed to land at Edwards AFB in California. There were two additional opportunities to land at Cape Kennedy in Florida, but weather restrictions put an end to that. Next up for the shuttle is a ride atop the ferry 747.