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.