Thursday, July 30, 2009

Shuttle Leaves Station

With the last of the spacewalks completed successfully, the shuttle undocked from the station yesterday and the crew is preparing for the end of their 16-day flight. If all goes well, the shuttle will land at the Kennedy Space Center landing strip on Friday.

There are now just 7 shuttle missions remaining before scheduled retirement. Whether the shuttle missions are extended to cover the "space gap" where the US will have no way to get astronauts into space other than to buy space on a Russian Soyuz, remains to be seen.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Jupiter's Wound spied by Hubble

The Hubble Space Telescope, newly repaired and upgraded during shuttle mission STS-125, has begun more of its amazing work. With the discovery of a major impact on Jupiter just a few days ago, astronomers are using the Hubble to view the damage caused by the strike. The left view of Jupiter shows the location of the debris cloud on the visible disk of Jupiter, while the right view is a close-up.

Astronomers will soon be able to estimate the correct size of the impactor and the energy created during the explosion. The Hubble telescope was in the middle of calibration tests for the newly installed equipment. With he urgency of this discovery, astronomers decided to interrupt their schedule and test the new equipment on the Jupiter event. This test proved that the equipment was successfully installed and will provide Hubble with great tools for its important work.

STS-127: Next spacewalk Monday

The 3rd and 4th spacewalks became interesting to the general public when the 3rd spacewalk had to end early due to a malfunctioning spacesuit! A malfunctioning life support system was causing higher levels of carbon dioxide in one of the suits, and the safety parameters called for an end to the spacewalk. It was close enough to the end of the planned walk that NASA decided to bring in both astronauts and continue their tasks on the next one.

During the 4th walk, the astronauts completed the battery work successfully and got back on schedule.

I find this particular problem very interesting, because of my work as a flight director at the CMSEC Space  Center. During our mission simulations, the most common damage control item I present in the simulators is the CO-2 Scrubber damaged system.  So for any of you readers who frequent the simulations at the Space Center, the next time you have to work on the CO-2 scrubbers, just think of the poor astronaut who has to deal with that in zero-gravity!

The astronauts are having a day off today, halfway through their mission. The 5th spacewalk is expected to take place on Monday.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jupiter Takes A Big Hit!

Congradulations, those of you who missed the big show with comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 back in 1994 have a second chance to witness in your lifetime a major impact event in our solar system! JPL/NASA has confirmed that either an asteroid or comet has slammed into the atmosphere of Jupiter, causing a tremendous detonation and creating a black destructive area the size of our Earth.

Amateur astronomers take heart: this discovery was not made by Hubble, professional observatories nor robotic sentinels of the skies. This discovery was made by Anthony Wesley, of Australia, who was merely observing Jupiter with his own scope. With the sharp-thinking alert from Wesley, scientists on Earth facing Jupiter immediately turned our Hawaiian telescopes toward Jupiter to confirm and study the event.

We'll be watching this event closely as further information comes our way. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

2nd Spacewalk completed

Although only the second of five spacewalks planned for mission STS-127, today's adventure was actually the 215th American spacewalk. Astronauts Dave Wolf and Tom Marshburn spent 6.5 hours on today's spacewalk.

While most of the public focused on the glorious past mission of Apollo 11 40 years ago, our brave astronauts continued their dangerous work on the world's outpost in space. The technology used in the robotic arms, the advanced spacesuits, the incredible television coverage, all adds up to the continuing saga of man's conquest of space. 

Alert! Space Toilet in Trouble!

I just read reports that the ISS crew had to change priorities for a couple of astronauts this morning when the space toilet broke down in the Destiny Module of the ISS. Two crew members will spend about 2.5 hours replacing parts and chemicals in the automated waste converter toilet that recycles waste into useable consumables.

Thankfully, the astronauts can rely on another toilet system on the Zvesda Module and one aboard the shuttle. 

In the meantime, astronauts are preparing for today's spacewalk, and here on the ground we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 crew walk on the Moon.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ares I-X Stacking continues, New Launch Date

NASA engineers continue to place the elements of the first Ares I rocket into the stack in the Vehicle Assembly Building. The rocket is being built in one of the same bays that has been used for decades to build the Saturn I's, Saturn V's, and Space Shuttles. I am definitely starting to feel like this is coming together and the new rocket is almost ready to test.

That is, until I saw today that the test launch date is being set back to October 17th. Darn! I was so looking forward to an August launch. Having read the memo about the change, however, I'm convinced that NASA managers are taking the right decision to carefully approach this test launch. It's still on an aggressive schedule and they need this test to work right.

Alternate Escape System Tested

Somehow I missed the launch of the Max Launch Abort System, which is designed to test an alternative system of escape from a destructive rocket. Alternative, that is, to the current design being used in the Constellation program. It appears the launch was a success. You can find out more about the MLAS at the NASA Website.

I think tests like this are vital to NASA's space exploration mission.  We can't always just rely on one system of operation, it's good to have alternatives that advance the technology and may offer wiser choices in future engineering projects.

STS-127: JEF installed

During a 5 hour 30 minute spacewalk, astronauts Wolf and Kopra installed the Japanese Exposed Facility to the KIBO science module. Great use was made of several robotic arms on the shuttle Endeavor and the ISS. The JEF will allow experiments to be placed outside the station, tended by the robotic arms, to expose materials to the effects of space vacuum and environmental conditions.

NASA engineers have also reached the conclusion that no significant damage was done to the shuttle tiles and no further inspection will be necessary. The next spacewalk will be Monday.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

New NASA Administrator: Charles Bolden

On July 15th the Senate voted to confirm Charles Bolden, Jr. as the new Administrator of NASA. He is the first African American to hold that position.

He is a graduate of the US Naval Academy, and flew combat in the A-6 Intruder during the Vietnam War as a Marine pilot. He served as a test pilot, and has more than 6,000 hours of flight time. After leaving NASA, He rose in rank in the Marine Corps, commanding various Marine forces and posts including Deputy Commander, United States Forces Japan. He retired from the Corps as a Major General in 2004.

He served in NASA from 1980 to 1994. His shuttle missions include STS 61-C (Columbia) as pilot, STS 31 (Discovery) as pilot, STS 45 (Atlantis) as commander, and STS 60 (Discovery) as commander.

Personally I'm happy to see an astronaut at the head of NASA. I'm a big fan of human spaceflight over robotic-only exploration, and I hope he is, too. Managing the Constellation project is going to require a great effort on his part. 

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter has gone...

Tonight I worked a simulation mission at the Christa MacAuliffe Space Education Center for a group of adults celebrating one their member's birthday (turns out it was the production crew for the movie "Napoleon Dynamite"!). After all that fun, I returned home to catch up on STS-127 news only to hear some sad news.

Walter Cronkite has passed away.

For those of you too young to know him, Walter was the premier news anchor of CBS during the early years of the space program. Yes, there were other news reporters and anchors who covered the program just as well (and some might say Jules Bergman might have been the best), but Walter was the guy to watch during the important events. Cronkite was the voice of commentary during the tense moments of the landing on the Moon, and the subsequent moonwalks. His was the voice and face keeping America glued to their seats in front of the tube during the dangerous return of Apollo 13. Covering all the Apollo era, his is the face and voice I remember most during those exciting times. 

Also, he was the anchor we often remember during the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, I found out he was considered to be the ultimate anchorman, so much so that Swedish news anchors are called "Kronkiters."

It was an editorial series by Cronkite during the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, that helped swing public and congressional opinion toward abandoning the war effort and ending support for South Vietnam. 

Most people did not know this, but Walter was one of those brave men reporting on WW2, who even reported from the front. He reported from London during the Battle of Britain, flew on a bombing mission over Germany, and landed in a glider with the 101st Airborne division during Operation Market-Garden. He also covered the Nuremburg war crimes trials.

As Cronkite became more and more political, I did not always agree with his point of view or style but he was always the "voice of authority" to the American public. I will always look back on his time with the space program with fondness and nostalgia.

Walter was 92. 

"...and that's the way it is..."

STS-127: RPM and Docking

Shuttle Endeavor began the Roll Pitch Maneuver when it was about 600 meters from the ISS. The pilot and commander guided the shuttle in a flip-over maneuver to expose the protective tiles of the underbelly and let the ISS crew take high-resolution pictures of any potential damage from the FOam strikes during takeoff. I'm sure we'll soon hear the results of the analysis during the weekend.

Having completed the RPM, the shuttle was flown carefully and slowly to the docking hatch. I love this view of Endeavor sneaking up on the ISS. The view includes the side of the KIBO space module, which is at the center of attention this mission. Astronauts will perform 5 spacewalks on this visit to fully outfit the Japanese module for scientific work in space. You can see the Japanese flag on the near side of the module.

The last few meters of approach are the slowest, as the pilot carefully aligns the two docking components. When they meet, a final nudge of the thrusters fits the docking rings together and the hatch is secured.

Now securely docked, it takes a little time to equalize the pressures between the spacecraft before the shuttle crew can disembark and enter the ISS. When they enter, the traditional naval bell is rung to welcome the visitors aboard and the shuttle crew is given a quick safety briefing before getting down to work. Preparations were begun almost immediately for the first scheduled spacewalk tomorrow.

50 YA: Juno II Failure

While the rest of the world takes note of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission (and a good remembrance it is), here at SpaceRubble we continue our dutiful coverage of events from 50 Years Ago. Sorry, I'm a day late on this one, which covers an event from July 16th, 1959.

NASA teamed with the Army/JPL to attempt to place another Explorer series satellite into orbit using a Juno II rocket as pictured above. However, the rocket began tipping over 5 seconds after lift-off and so it was detonated a half second later by the range safety officer. I'm sure that was a heart-breaking incident, one of many at this stage of NASA endeavors.

Endeavor Up & Got Smacked

Most of you know by now that Endeavor managed to blast off the shuttle pad on it's 6th attempt. Just before blast-off there was some weather difficulty but it cleared up just fine for a beautiful launch. While I was watching the on-board ET camera, however, I and countless others were dismayed to see several several chunks of ET foam or other debris fall off the ET and possibly strike the underside of the shuttle.

I'm sure that elicited a quiet groan from many at NASA who had hoped that the problem had been fixed by now. Sorry folks, but the adhesive you're using still doesn't do the trick.  So now the shuttle team was understandably busy on the first day completing a check of the underside using the camera on the robotic arm. So far, NASA teams have said it doesn't appear to have caused a major problem. The best chance for a good look comes this morning on Friday when the shuttle approaches the ISS and performs a somersault maneuver, giving the high-res cameras on ISS the chance to spot something that may have been missed. Of course, if any damage is deemed to be dangerous, it will call for a dangerous EVA to make repairs to the re-entry tiles.

For me, the safety maneuver is one of my favorite parts of the ride to the ISS. It's a beautiful exercise of piloting skill rarely seen in space missions. Since the days of the shuttle are counting down, don't miss this morning's approach to ISS on NASA TV.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

And... Still...

Weather problems just barely crept in and fouled up the latest launch attempt for the STS-127 mission. The next attempt will be Wednesday the 15th at 6:03 p.m. Eastern.  If that attempt also scrubs, then NASA will have to wait until the end of the month for the proper orbital line-up with the ISS. 

You know, if they didn't have live microphones in that shuttle I'll bet we would have heard some very interesting vocabulary...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Still... Counting...

This NASA picture perfectly shows the reason why shuttle Endeavor is still on the launch pad... Florida is, of course, notorious for its weather. After all, it is currently Hurricane season, but fortunately NASA has not had to deal with one of those during this launch countdown. No, these things just happen, and NASA is very cautious with the shuttles as they should be. Good luck to the STS-127 crew today, who hope to take off at 4:51 p.m. Mountain time.

SpaceRef reported Saturday that the launch tower was repeatedly struck by lightning during an intense thunderstorm before the launch time; just take a look at the picture and consider whether you, too, would put the launch on hold to investigate all systems and look for possible damage. Of course, the launch tower lightning capture system is perfectly designed for this sort of thing and it appears all is well for Endeavor and I'm looking forward to the launch.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Countdown Started

NASA prepares to launch the STS-127 mission to the ISS. The crew, pictured above, is at the Cape and preparing themselves for the launch which is scheduled for Saturday night at 7:39 pm Eastern. The purpose of the assembly mission is to finish construction of the Japanese Kibo module over a series of five spacewalks. EVA fans will love this mission!

With the hydrogen leak problem resolved, the current worry is on the weather, which can delay the liftoff. On a personal note, I lived in Florida for 9 years and every attempt at being at the cape for a launch was botched because of those darned delays and scrubbed launches. Thankfully, some launches were performed in weather so clear that I was able to actually see the ascents from the other side of the state! Specifically, I remember seeing the last of the Saturn IB launches, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, and the launch of Shuttle Discovery on STS-103 in 1999.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

50 YA: Javelin Launch

In a joint NASA-USAF investigation, a Javelin rocket lifted a payload up to 750 miles into space in a successful attempt to begin studies measuring the radiation that surrounds the Earth. Remember, the Van Allen radiation belt was discovered by our first satellite in space, Explorer I, launched on board the Jupiter-C rocket in 1958.