Saturday, April 18, 2009

2 Shuttles on Pads

Shuttle Atlantis will carry the crew of STS-125 to make the last repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. The picture shows one of NASA's three crawlers delivering Atlantis to Pad 39A. Atlantis is scheduled for a May 12th Launch.

Because Atlantis will be in Hubble's orbit, higher and farther than the ISS, NASA deems it necessary to have a backup mission capable of reaching the Hubble repair crew should anything prevent Atlantis from attempting a dangerous de-orbit. This is now standard procedure since the loss of the orbiter Columbia and her 7-astronaut crew in 2003. Unfortunately, mission planners realize that the shuttle doesn't have enough fuel to make the trip from Hubble's orbit to the ISS in case the crew needs to evacuate the shuttle. Chalk this one up to limiting a Shuttle's mission profile during design.

This week shuttle Endeavor was moved to Pad 39B. Endeavor and a small crew will remain on stand by during the STS125 mission in case they are needed to rescue the Atlantis crew. According to NASA, this will be the last time there are two shuttles on pads at the same time. The shuttle program is due for termination at the end of 2010. Endeavor is the orbiter built to replace the loss of shuttle Challenger in 1986.

After the completion of STS125, Endeavor will be moved again, to primary launch pad 39A in preparation for its own mission STS127 to the ISS on June 13. Pad 39B will continue to be redeveloped into the primary launch pad for the new Constellation program which replaces the shuttles.

STS125 becomes an important final milestone in the shuttle program and in NASA space history. Last mission to have 2 shuttles on the pads at the same time, and last repair mission to the venerable Hubble space telescope. Hubble is destined to be replaced by the Next Generation Telescope, named after James Webb (former NASA director). With 5 spacewalks scheduled, this will be a memorable one for those of us who love being space fans.

Monday, April 13, 2009

50 YA: Discoverer II Success and Failure

A Thor-Agena A booster lofted this test satellite into a Polar Orbit. Discoverer II was a test satellite in the early stages of the Corona program, designed to gather sensitive information about the Soviet Union. Yes, that means it was a spy satellite! Although it did not have the newest spy space camera on board (that would be on Discoverer IV), it did record electronic information and was designed to eject a records canister back to Earth. 

The satellite successfully reached polar orbit, but there was a malfunction in the test of the canister ejection. Instead of landing near Hawaii, it crashed to the surface near Spitzbergen in the Arctic Circle on April 14th. This was the first attempt to recover something from an orbiting satellite.

The picture at top is of a Thor-Agena of 1962, but this version would be very similar. Oh, by the way, this event was influential in the development of the plot for the novel and film, Ice Station Zebra which chronicles the accidental landing of a spy satellite in the Arctic circle and attempts by Soviet and NATO submarines and spies trying to recover the film.

In the picture, a US submarine has broken though the ice at the desolate arctic camp and the sailors search the camp for the missing canister.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

50 YA: Mercury 7 selected

It was on April 2nd that NASA selected its chosen 7 test pilots for the Mercury Space Program: Gordon Cooper, Gus Grissom, Deke Slayton, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, John Glenn, and Alan Shepard. They were displayed to the press in one of those iconic moments of history, on April 9th, 1959, which was recreated in the film The Right Stuff. From then on, pictures of the group of 7 were highly sought after and are still a prized possession of autograph collectors. These seven would become some of the world's most well-known celebrities of the time, although today it is difficult to find school kids who can name any of them. Be honest - could you?

Growing up in those times were different than today - these guys were presented to us almost as knights going up against the dark forces of the communist empire.  Now start testing your space knowledge - do you remember which astronauts went up on which flights? Can you remember which of the Mercury 7 did not get to go up during the Mercury program?

Wrapping it up

Last Saturday the shuttle Discovery and mission STS-119 had a slight delay for weather before landing and successfully completing their mission. Meanwhile on the ISS, Expedition 18 astronauts and cosmonauts are finishing their assignments and turning control over to the new Expedition 19 crew.  Expedition 18 will return to Earth in a Soyuz capsule this Wednesday April 8. The transitional member of 18 and 19, Koichi Wakata of Japan, seen in the center photo above,  remains as part of the new Expedition 19 crew.

Astronaut Wakata should be familiar with the Zvesda module in that picture (credit:NASA, as are almost all photos I use in this blog - good use of my tax dollars). He was on the shuttle flight that brought up and attached the US docking module to Zvesda for the birth of the ISS back in the early 1990's. I just saw him again in the IMAX movie Space Station which chronicles the event. Cheers to Koichi for his long-time support for the space program. It has paid off - he finally gets a 6-month stay on board the station.