Sunday, November 28, 2010

50 YA - Tiros 2: Second Weather Satellite

Tiros prototype being installed at Smithsonian.

With the success of Tiros-1 earlier in the year, Tiros-2 was launched on a Thor-Delta rocket into orbit on November 23rd, 1960. Like the first version, Tiros-2 was powered by 9,200 solar cells covering the outside of the craft.

Thor-Delta rocket.

Once in orbit, mission controllers determined that the craft had not stabilized correctly. Tiros-2 was equipped with ten small rockets designed to spin the craft precisely to ensure a stable positioning of the camera system. Because the spin was not correct, the camera system was not taking pictures correctly. There were problems with the contrast between light and dark areas on the images.

By the 25th, engineers had managed to increase the spin stabilization which made for a better controlled orientation. Additionally, they had increased the power generation of the solar cells. By the 28th, the system was operating as designed.

Tiros-1 image of hurricane.

The Tiros program was essential in developing weather forecasting procedures. It was so successful, that evidently some people wondered why we needed to develop more complicated spy satellites. As you can see from the image above though, the two really could not compare. It's like comparing apples to oranges.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Astronauts return for Thanksgiving

Doug Wheelock knows what's important.

The last three astronauts of Expedition 25 have landed in Kazakhstan at about 9:46 p.m. MST Thursday night. These brave explorers have finished a 5-month stay on the ISS. So naturally they would be really feeling the effects of Earth's gravity when they arrived. The Russians take good care of the crew, helping them out of the capsule and moving them about on specially designed couches which can be carried around from the capsule to the medical tents to the helicopters.

Please place your trays in the upright position...

The Soyuz capsule is designed to land on solid ground, unlike previous pre-shuttle American craft which were designed for water landings. It is very likely that the next capsules designed for NASA will also be designed for landing on solid ground. Can't be sure yet though, there are several designs under development and nothing is certain yet.

On a good note for commercial development, Space X (builder of the Falcon 9 rocket) has received a permit for de-orbit operations. This is a first for commercial space activities. Space X will be preparing to launch their Dragon cargo capsule in about a month, after the shuttle Discovery makes its last voyage to the ISS. Dragon hopes to build a human-rated spacecraft based on the Dragon design. Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace are also building a competitive design, as is Lockheed. I hope all three have success.

Meanwhile, back in space, the ISS Expedition 26 officially started at the moment that the Expedition 25 crew left the station in the Soyuz capsule. Expedition 26 is commanded by American astronaut Scott Kelly with Russian flight engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka.

L-R: Shannon Walker, Doug Wheelock, Fyodor Yurchikhin

The Americans of the recently returned crew described their landing as pretty exciting "... an E-ticket ride" and "...a series of explosions followed by a crash." Nothing to worry about though, that's exactly how the Soyuz lands. They return having completed the first decade of permanent manned operations on the ISS. Whether we continue another 10 years of continual operations is a question to which Americans and Russians will have to seriously dedicate themselves.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Progress in War Against Comets

Comet Jets in action.

Congratulations to our scientists who study comets and asteroids. JPL EPOXI mission controllers managed to fly the spacecraft to within 800 miles of Comet Hartley 2 to get some of the best pictures yet of a comet in action, The picture above shows streaming jets of dust and gas coming off of the surface. This time scientists were able to pinpoint jets to particular surface features, something we haven't been able to do before. All I could think of as I saw the pictures come in was, "SO that's what a comet does!" The comet tumbles as it orbits around the sun, the surface warms up and begins spewing jets of stuff out into space, forming a cloud of tiny debris which is blown away from the comet itself by the action of the solar wind. Much later, as Earth moves in its own orbit around the Sun, it encounters remnants of this debris release, and the particles end up entering our atmosphere at extreme speeds, creating our meteor showers.

Japanese scientists made a breakthrough with the Hayabusa satellite, which captured some of the debris left behind either by comets or shattered asteroids floating in the inner solar system.

Asteroid bits captured in gel.

The Hayabusa spacecraft spent two and a half months flying around the astroid Itokawa in 2005. It captured buts of the asteroid floating around it, and made a return course back to Earth. The sample capsule plunged into the Earth's atmosphere and was retrieved. Scientists are now studying the particles to learn the composition of the asteroid.

Celebrations here in the Bunker. Our close reconnaissance of Comet Hartley 2 gives us unprecedented views of the enemy in action. We can actually see in the photos how the rock bomber releases its micro weapons into an orbit which the enemy hopes intercepts the Earth. Such tactical information may be of great use to us as we plan counter-operations.

Kudos to the Japanese who have actually obtained unexploded asteroid ordinance for us to examine. Scientists will use these pieces to begin unravelling the mystery of these enemy weapons which could cause untold devastation if they should happen to smack into our planet.

It's advances like these that keep our hope alive that we may yet find a way to protect ourselves from deadly attacks from the Comet Empire.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Leonids Space Attack!

Duck and Cover Thanksgiving version!

It's time once again for the Leonids Meteor Shower, when the Earth enters the left-over debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Tonight, November 17th is our closest approach to the comet trail orbiting the sun in our path. Experts predict that this year there doesn't seem to be much chance of an impressive show, as our planet's orbit is missing the densest part of the debris trail. According to, patient observers in a dark-sky location might average seeing less than a couple of dozen Leonid meteor trails per hour. The best view will come after midnight and before dawn, and the meteors will seem to come from the constellation of Leo the Lion.

Aha! The Comet Empire has botched this latest assault on our world. With such a slow rate of fire the world may not even take notice. We'll be shutting the bunker down early, instead preferring to listen to the radio and smile when the BYU Cougars wup on USU in a great basketball confrontation.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mystery Object still a mystery?

Seen off California Monday (credit: KCBS/CNN).

So, what was it? Some people claim it was a missile launch off the coast of California and Catalina island. Some people claim it is a contrail from a jet crossing the sea coming toward the land.

It is DEFINITELY a contrail... but jet or missile? I have now read and heard claims from both sides. And both sides have interesting points to make to lead them to their conclusion. What's really interesting though, is that the military can not yet declare what it is.

My favorite of the claims is that it's a missile launch from a Chinese submarine off our coast, fired as a warning to us that we better get our economy back on track or that they didn't like Obama's promotion of India for the UN Security Council. I don't agree with this assessment, but it is absolutely a fascinating claim!

This is SO like UFO reports it's kind of funny. In the end, it doesn't matter what the government ends up proclaiming, the conspiracy theorists will only believe what they want to believe.

I can't wait to see how this turns out.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

STS-133 Delayed till End of November

A very quiet Pad 39A.

NASA controllers called off the launch attempt Friday due to continuing problems with a hydrogen leak in the system that carries off excess hydrogen gas. The gas must be vented safely to avoid ignition and a catastrophic fire. Unfortunately, after the launch attempt had been scrubbed, a further problem was detected- a crack is forming in the outer coating of the External Tank which houses the liquified hydrogen.

The next attempt will be no earlier than November 30th. NASA reports that the astronauts have been sent back to Houston for additional training and preparation while they wait for repairs.

Bummer day for NASA, eh?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Will Discovery launch today?

Ready... any time now... ready... wait... errrrr!

Yesterday's launch schedule was delayed because of weather. Well, that's to be expected occasionally at the Florida space center. Florida gets a tremendous amount of rain, and it's important for the visual trackers and telescopes to be able to see the shuttle during the ascent phase. So if there are too many clouds, you have to wait a bit.

Word just came through... moments ago the decision was made to CANCEL today's launch attempt. Not a weather problem this time. Today's problem seems to be a malfunction in the tanking progress, as hydrogen fuel was pumped into the External Tank (ET). The leak appears to be at the joining plate between the ET and the pipe that carries away excess hydrogen gas. The danger is that a spark could ignite the gaseous hydrogen too close to the ET. Excess gas vapor is carried away by pipe to a safe zone where the excess is burned off.

Well... can't have any gas explosions there now, can we? Still, we're waiting for the momentous blast off for what will be Discovery's last trip to space.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fly-by Success!

The nucleus of Hartley 2.

Say hi to the peanut. JPL mission control had chosen Hartley 2 for a rendezvous precisely because of some of the more unusual nature of this comet. Discoveries made by today's close pass by the EPOXI spacecraft did not disappoint. Scientists have huge amounts of data to analyze in trying to understand what makes this beastie tick.

The EPOXI spacecraft flew by the comet at about a distance of 435 miles. The data they have looked at so far hints that they will be able to relate future dust outbursts to exact physical features on the comet surface.

Comet Fly-by: EPOXI and Hartley 2

EPOXI, also known as Deep Impact. NASA art.

As I write this we are twenty-two minutes away from the closest approach that the EPOXI space explorer will make to comet Hartley 2. Expecting to approach to 435 miles from the comet nucleus, EPOXI will give us some great photos and data about this comet, which seems to have a "peanut-like" shape. Hartley 2 is a very prolific comet,pumping out tons of ice dust and debris as it orbits around the Sun.

The last instructions have been uploaded to the spacecraft and it is now on autopilot. Good luck to EPOXI and its team of explorers breathlessly waiting at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

We are anxiously watching NASA-TV from the bunker. At last, we are striking back against the comet war overlords, making this reconnaissance of one of their evil bombers. Debris from this Hartley-2 bomber will remain as a minefield in space, just waiting for our planet or some luckless spacecraft to approach near enough to suffer a meteor strike. Hopefully this information will aid us in preparing defenses against the continual meteoric assault on our planet from the evil Comet Empire. ; )

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Shuttle Launch Delayed

Discovery waits on Pad 39A.

Darn little stupid rotten piece of electrical... stuff! Looks like a main engine control electrical problem has delayed the launch of shuttle Discovery for another day as NASA technicians check for the culprit. It may turn out to be a little old circuit breaker in the shuttle's cockpit. Earliest possible launch on Thursday will be about 1:29 p.m. Mountain time.

Interesting news for LEGO fans: This mission will carry a mini shuttle made of LEGO bricks. As part of a special educational outreach program between NASA and LEGO, additional LEGO space sets will launch up to the ISS in February 2011, where they will be assembled in orbit while students on Earth assemble the same kits.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Supply Run to ISS

Progress spacecraft on Soyuz rocket (photo credit RIA Novosti Oleg Urusov).

A Progress supply capsule was launched on Wednesday, carrying cargo to the International Space Station. NASA calls this mission Progress 40. The Russians have been running a very successful resupply system to the ISS for some time now, and it's actually pleasing to see something run this well. The "cargo ship" will make its automated robotic docking ahead of the DIscovery Shuttle flight expected to take off on November 1st. The older Progress cargo pod, now filled with garbage and waste has already undocked from the ISS in anticipation of this new cargo pod on its way up. The older capsule will burn up in a controlled re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. THe picture above was taken by Oleg Urusov, and I thought it was a beautiful view of the rocket on the pad in Baikonur Cosmodrome. It was published on by Jeff Foust. I highly recommend that space news site.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Spaceport Runway Dedicated

Sir Richard Branson and New Mexico Governor Richards in front of Virign Galactic's White Knight carrier and Spaceship 2 spacecraft (photo credit Jeff Foust)

Last Friday saw the official dedication of America's new spaceport runway. Located down in New Mexico, the SpacePort America sit will host the headquarters of Virgin Galactic, a company set to bring the first tourists into sub-orbital flights that won't be on the Russian Soyuz capsules. There are hundreds of rich tourists already signed up for flights. Lat month the White Knight 2 Carrier successfully drop-tested the SpaceShip 2 vehicle which made a perfect glide in to its landing. Rocket motor tests are continuing, and we should soon see the first space flight for SS2 shortly. Mega-Bazillionaire Sir Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Airlines, partnered with spaceship designer Burt Rutan to develop this new space company. They have announced that once sub orbital flights begin the company will work to establish orbital flights.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Use the Company Car

Did you check the oil when you filled up?

If you've ever experienced delays at the airport, long flights, and long drives across country, you might get jealous of these guys. WHen NASA needs its astronauts to be somewhere, they don't want to waste any time. NASA assigns T-38 jet trainers to astronauts so they can zoom around the country for training, promotional, or instructional meetings. Here we see Commander Steve Lindsey and Mission Specialist Tim Kopra preparing for a special training flight. The Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test helps astronauts learn the safety checks and countdown lists that go along with the safety rules for shuttle launches. And of course they get to fly. Steve and Tim are scheduled to fly into space as part of mission STS-133, due to launch on November 1st.

Monday, October 25, 2010

STS-133 Go for Nov. 1st

The Crew poses in front of Discovery on pad.

The shuttle Discovery and its crew of mission STS-133 have been given clearance to attempt their launch on November 1st in the afternoon. The leaky fuel seals have been replaced and repairs deemed successful. The shuttle is ready for blastoff from Launch Pad 39A.

This mission will take important supplies and spare parts up to the ISS. It will also make the last trip for the Express Logistics Carrier-4, a large pod which docks to a port for transfer of supplies. This time the pod will remain attached to the station, providing important storage space for the future.

This will be Discovery's last flight to space. The shuttle program is winding down, and there will only be one or two more flights next year. After that, we start hitch-hiking.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Now Arriving: TMA-01M

Soyuz capsule 40 meters from ISS.

After a two day journey, the second half of the Expedition 25 crew has docked to the ISS. Blasting off from Baikonur on Thursday night, the Soyuz capsule docked to the Polsk module hatch, and once pressures were equalized and all systems checked, the crew boarded the station. Expedition 25 ends when the first half of the crew leaves ISS in November.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Blast-off to ISS; Expedition 25 part 2.

Russian TMA-01M blasts off from Baikonur.

Scott Kelly and his crew left Earth at about 5 p.m. MDT yesterday for a 10 minute ride into orbit. It will take two days to reach the ISS for docking and the beginning of their part of the Expedition 25 mission.

The crew presents itself ready for launch. And for pictures.

NASA TV is repeatedly broadcasting the launch of the mission and the crew preparations at various times today. See the NASA TV website for schedule information.

Last waves to the crowd before entering the elevator.

As usual I'm less than impressed with the Russian video quality. At least it is available, and I can get some snapshots for the blog. Thanks to everyone who makes sure we get to see this part of the mission. ANd thanks to the still image photographers who send in the better quality images.

Top of the Russian gantry. Escape tower is visible above the gantry.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reinforcements prepare for trip to ISS

The new Soyuz TMA-01 on the pad.

Currently the first three members of Expedition 25 have the ISS all to themselves. The next three are preparing for a launch tomorrow at about 7:10 p.m. EDT. Their Soyuz rocket moved out to the pad this week and is going through checklists and preparations for takeoff. Aboard the Russian-made capsule will be astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka. They are expected to dock with ISS on Saturday night.

At this time the only other spacecraft docked to ISS (not counting the Soyuz capsule acting as escape pod) is a Progress 39 cargo capsule which arrived last month. Once all the cargo has been unloaded and unwanted trash stored aboard, it will be jettisoned and will end up burning up in the atmosphere.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Constellation cancelled

Congress becomes rocket scientists.

One of the major faults of the Obama plan for space was that there was no plan. There were directives to spend money. The directives included spending money on commercial space companies to develop new technologies. There were directives for NASA to spend money on developing new rocket technologies. There were directives to spend money hitching rides to our own space station on Russian rockets at increasingly higher fees. There were directives to spend money on Global Warming policies. And there was a directive to spend money trying to make friends with Arab countries. The only solid goal-oriented directive was to extend the mission life of the ISS to 2020.

Well, the Obama administration knows how to spend money but they don't know how to develop a goal-specific program with deadlines. Now I'm all in favor of spending money on NASA. If you're a space nut you know all about spin-offs and how greatly our nation has been enriched through the use of technologies developed through the Moon programs. In fact, why can't more of that pork-filled wasted TARP money be sent NASA's way? It sure would be a better return for the dollar.

Sure, there was a vague goal for NASA to develop a new rocket to take people into low-orbit. But the "plan" was for NASA to "explore" and create technologies so we'd have a rocket plan by 2015. SO basically, the plan was to spend a lot of money to have a plan in 5 years. What a waste of resources. What was needed was some leadership.

We kind of got some. There are many Americans very upset that there will be a lack of US spaceflight capability once the shuttles retire. Well, folks, blame that one on Bush, not Obama, since the Constellation program came from the recovery from the Columbia disaster early during the first Bush term of office. Unfortunately, by not funding Constellation correctly, the delays meant nothing would be ready to fly by the time the shuttles retired.

With the gap appearing ominously, our Congress has decided at least to act. The new NASA funding plan calls for NASA to create a Heavy Lift Vehicle, using shuttle-derived technology, by the years 2015-2016. This at least gives our NASA heroes a basic deadline to build onto to create a program.

This at least gave our local space company ATK the opportunity to be involved in using it's shuttle booster technology in the design of the new HLV. Unfortunately, they must be seeing it more of a definite end to Constellation, as they've laid off another 450 people. This has got to be a disappointment as well to our government leaders, who were recently praising the new bill as a job-saver. Looks like instead it's merely the promise of jobs to come.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Congress Finally Decides!

No Bucks, No Buck Rogers. Until now.

It has taken over a year. When President Obama unveiled his plans for NASA's new direction, it set off a firestorm of complaints, praise, arguments and confusion. For many space enthusiasts, it seemed he was deliberately shutting down our only actual plans for continuing human spaceflight and surrendering our lead in space exploration to other countries. To other advocates, his plan seemed to put NASA on a flexible path to developing the new technologies we would use in the future. To be honest, it was a bit of both. The problem was, his plan definitely would have resulted in a longer "space gap" where the US did not have it's own ability to launch humans in space, and worse, there would have been a greater number of layoffs for specialists and engineers from the program.

Late last night, just as Congress prepared to adjourn so they could return home to campaign before the November election, they finally voted on and passed Senate Bill S.3729. This last vote now sends the bill to the President's desk for his signature. Once that is done, the Bill passes into law and the provisions therein become enacted. The money will begin to flow. The actions will be taken, the direction assured.

Many members of congress were not satisfied with the Bill. Many felt it was a poor compromise of the many, many ideas that had been bantered around, argued over and revised time after time. But most felt the time was right to do SOMETHING, and get NASA moving in a direction that felt better than what the White House was choosing. The final vote was 304 for passage, 118 against, with 10 not voting.

There are many details in this bill which require explanation and reporting, which I'll cover during the days ahead. But one thing very important to Utahns is assured: local space manufacturer ATK will continue to have the opportunity to provide motors for the space program, thus possibly saving hundreds, if not thousands of jobs.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Space Traffic Control gets stronger

Minotaur rocket blasts off.

The Saturday night sky above Vandenberg Air Force Base in California lit up as the Minotaur rocket successfully delivered the Space Based Space Surveillance Pathfinder satellite into orbit. This was a successful flight for two reasons.

First is that the Minotaur 4 rocket has made its first successful launch of a satellite into orbit. Made by Orbital Sciences Corporation, the Minotaur 4 is uses SRMs (solid rocket motors) from Peacekeeper ICBMs which have been retired. There is your literal "beat swords into plowshares" example.

Second is that the SBSS Pathfinder satellite is designed to help track the thousands of pieces of debris and satellites that orbit the Earth. This helps the US Space Surveillance Network analyze potential object collisions during missions in space.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Expedition 24 safely lands on Earth

Gravity's a bummer, ain't it?

End of 24, start of 25. Cosmonauts Skvortsov (commander of the expedition) and Kornienko, and astronaut Caldwell-Dyson returned to Earth in their Soyuz capsule yesterday. After landing on Kazakhstan, they were found by Russian space agency and military personnel and helped from their spacecraft. After a 176-day stay in orbit, even with exercising up to 2 hours per day, their muscles had lost strength and mass to make it difficult for the space voyagers to stand again in the strong gravity of Earth. At least the season was milder than winter, when wolves can be a problem for the weakened crews.

Expedition 25 starts now with astronaut Douglas Wheelock as commander, and Flight Engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Shannon Walker as crew. Three more crewmembers will arrive at ISS aboard another Soyuz, expected to launch October 7th.

There is a Time in Orbit clock window on NASA's Expedition page:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Glitch in Space

Docked Russian capsules on ISS.

Wooops... that's not supposed to happen.

Expedition 24 crewmembers Skvorstov, Caldwell-Dyson, and Kornienko must have been surprised when their attempt to undock from ISS failed. Apparently the TMA-18 capsule failed to disengage the hooks and latches at the docking port. The crew will therefore spend another day at the station while the glitches are worked out. The next attempt will be around 8 p.m. MDT tonight.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Discovery on the Pad

The Discovery stack on Pad 39A.

Engineers and technicians at the Kennedy Space Center are testing and monitoring all the systems of the space shuttle Discovery, as it sits on launch pad 39A. Discovery is scheduled to blast off on November 1st, on mission STS-133. This is Discovery's last scheduled mission, and it will be a sad day indeed when this shuttle is retired.

STS-133 will bring supplies and backup equipment to the International Space Station. Commander Steve Lindsey and shuttle pilot Eric Boe will lead mission specialists Alvin Drew, Tim Kopra, Michael Barratt, and Nicole Stott to the ISS on it's last mission.

STS-133 Patch Logo.

Along for the ride on Discovery is an unusual contraption. Called Robonaut-2 (R-2), this is the first humanoid robot to go into space and visit the station. R2 will stay on the ISS to perform experiments and pave the way for space droids.

R2 joins a crew meeting.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Progress 39 docks with ISS

Progress 39 liftoff from Baikonur.

The crew of the ISS always needs resupply. The Russian Progress supply spacecraft are tailor-made for this mission, lifting such necessities as oxygen, food, spare parts, experiments and propellant for the station's thrusters.

Progress 39 blasted off from its base in Kazakhstan on Friday after a 2-day weather delay. After another 2-day journey, it arrived at the ISS this morning at close to 6 a.m. MDT. Using the Kurs automated rendezvous system, it was safely docked and the crew of ISS will begin unloading supplies.

On approach for docking, picture from ISS.

After the spacecraft has been unloaded, it serves as a container for waste and trash from the ISS. When full, or when the docking port is needed, the Progress craft is undocked and de-orbited to burn up in the atmosphere over the ocean.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Discovery on the move.

Nearing the end of an era, shuttle Discovery was moved Thursday September 9 to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center. There, it will be assembled together with the orange external fuel tank (ET) and the two Utah-built solid rocket boosters (SRBs).

Discovery is scheduled to launch on November 1st on its last space mission.

Discovery enters the VAB.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hurricane Monitoring from Space

Hurricane Earl Scoots along the U.S. coast.

In the picture above, hurricane Earl has left the coast of North Carolina and is about to graze past Cape Cod and New England. The photo was taken by the GOES-13 weather satellite, operated by NOAA with help from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. To the southeast of Earl, you can make out tropical storm Fiona which is disorganized and having trouble reaching hurricane strength.

Looking at the picture I'm amazed at the progress we have made in just 50 years of satellite and computer technology. Just 50 years ago we were barely able to take pictures of weather systems, which was revolutionizing the art of weather forecasting and storm prediction. Before then, we had to rely on eye-witness reports from planes and ships at sea. Now, we get up-to-the-minute alerts of storms forming off the coast of Africa before they even form a tropical depression!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

50 YA: Spy Satellite Success

C-119 "Flying Boxcar" captures the spy film canister's parachute.

Never can trust those spies, can you? On the 19th I reported on the successful launch of Discoverer 14 from Cape Canaveral. Well, wouldn't you know it but that was the cover name for a secret spy satellite in the Corona program. Discoverer 14 became famous (at a top-secret level, of course) for being the first successful mid-air-capture of its film canister, ejected from the orbiting satellite, braking through the Earth's atmosphere, and descending to the ground by parachute. Only it was never destined to reach the ground. Instead, a military C-119 transport aircraft was equipped with a snagging-device which grabbed the parachute lines and reeled the canister into the cargo bay. The plane then continued on to a safe Air Force location. On the film? Pictures of the Soviet Union and other sensitive countries, of course!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Neptune at Opposition

Voyager's 1989 view of the storms and clouds on Neptune.

In 1989 I joined with hundreds of other space enthusiasts and astronomers, both amateur and professional, in one of the lecture halls in the Eyring Science Building at BYU. The occasion was the Voyager 2 flyby of the planet Neptune. As the spacecraft's images came in to JPL a duplicate feed was projected onto the large screen in the auditorium. If I remember right, it was late at night, but at that moment hundreds of cheers, "oooohs!" and "ahhhh!'s" erupted each time an image was refreshed.

The Voyager 2 encounter with Uranus in 1986 and with Neptune in 1989 really started my slide into the obsession with astronomy and space education. I moved from enthusiast into downright education, joining the BYU Astronomical Society and learning how to prepare and present planetarium shows in the Sarah B. Summerhays planetarium. By 1991 I was helping with spaceflight simulator missions and classes at the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Sometimes I get so busy with life, though, that the little things can slip by almost unnoticed.

It just so happens that on or about August 20, last Friday, Neptune reached opposition. That means that the Sun, Earth, and Neptune lined up in a straight line. On August 20th, Neptune was in the midnight sky exactly opposite from where the Sun would be at that time. Neptune is also almost at a point in its orbit when it shall reach its first complete orbital revolution since it was discovered way back in 1846. THAT important date should be reserved for a party or something. Because Neptune takes about 164+ years to go once around the Sun, we shall only see this once in our lifetime.

So make your plans now... next year we need to have a Neptune anniversary party.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

50 YA - A Volley of Rocket launches

Soviet stamp commemorating the launch of Korabl-Sputnik 2.

On August 18, 1960, there were several launches from the U.S. From Vandenberg Air Force Base, Discovery XIV lifted off on a Thor-Agena rocket into orbit. The 300-pound satellite orbited the Earth for over 94 minutes. Besides testing equipment, it also included external lights for visual tracking.

From Cape Canaveral, the Army tried to launch a Courier I-A communications satellite on a Thor-Able rocket. When it reached 15 miles in altitude, it became unstable and so the ranger safety officer was given the order to destroy the rocket. On the same day, also from the Cape, the Navy successfully launched a Polaris test missile on a 1,100-mile flight into the Atlantic.

The Tiros I communication satellite came back into operation after a 7-week lapse of silence. It was not expected that a picture could be obtained at this point.

Then on August 19, 1960, the Soviet Unit scored another successful launch: Sputnk V. Called Korabl-Sputnik by the Soviets, this spaceship satellite carried two dogs, Strelka and Belka, and a host of smaller animals. A TV camera sent back pictures of the animals in their restraints. The orbit period was 90 minutes long and stayed in space for a day. The animals were safely recovered by capsule parachute. One of Strelka's puppies later on was given to President Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline, as a present!

Monday, August 16, 2010

3rd Spacewalk to fix pump underway

Mission Control up before dawn.

Early this morning the ISS was buzzing with activity as the 3rd spacewalk to repair the cooling system was underway. The goal today is to install the replacement ammonia pump module into the S1 Truss. Successful installation will allow the station to resume full cooling. Performing the spacewalk this morning are Flight Engineers Doug Wheelock and Tracy Dyson.

Watching the activities this morning on NASA TV, brought something to mind. Remember not too long ago, politician Sarah Palin was giving a speech and the camera caught some notes written on her hand:

Inset picture shows hand note. Pic copyright

The liberal press made loads of criticism about the discovery, and many people made fun of her. But look at what we saw floating in space this morning while on the S1 Truss:

Hand notes on suit sleeve at bottom of pic. NASA TV.

It appears that even astronauts with PhD's and tons of training, backup from a mission control center and supporting astronauts inside the station still need to have quick reminders for various reasons. In this case the notes were helping Tracy Dyson as she reconnected fluid lines to the ammonia pump. SO, it seems that Sarah Palin was merely using advanced NASA EVA techniques. Instead of criticizing her, news commentators should have applauded her savvy know-how and advanced training. Snicker.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hi-Tech Toilet Woes

Astronaut Shannon Walker repairing ISS equipment. No, that's not the toilet.

While meteors streak across our sky and congressmen endlessly debate the future of the space program, life goes on aboard the ISS. Expedition 24 Flight Engineer Shannon Walker writes occasional blog entries about her current experience of living in orbit aboard the space station: .

Her latest blog is quite illuminating about the daily routines of keeping the station working so that the experiments and explorations can continue. Her blog focuses on a very important piece of equipment: the space toilet. There are actually more than one toilets aboard the station, but it's the newest more convenient one that has broken down, and she draws the duty to repair it. Evidently no one is pleased to have to rely on the Russian-built toilet in the Russian module.

What's worse than trying to fix the toilet? How about having to document and write reports about every step you take? Or finding a mysterious (?) sludge in a tube connector that isn't supposed to have sludge in it?

Read her blog and find out how she deals with the situation, and more importantly, does she repair the toilet or are the crewmembers forced to float clear over to the Russian segment every time they have to experiment with life support systems?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Perseid Bombardment under way

Meteor streaks among the stars.

Recently the Earth has moved along in its orbit around the sun to encounter the orbital trail of debris left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle. As the small bits of rock and dust encounter the Earth's atmosphere, they heat up to an incandescent glow in a mere instant, leaving behind a trail of fading light for us to enjoy. Some particles are large enough to become "fireballs," a meteor that ends in a flash of explosion that is quite noticeable. These meteors in last night's showers are called the Perseids because they seem to come from the same point in the sky (the radiant), located in the constellation of Perseus.

We've actually been entering the area of the comet trail since about late July. The peak of the encounter would have been last night, so I managed to wake up at about 12:30 am and go outside for a gander. For the best view, you really need to get away from the city lights which cause the sky to brighten enough so that the faintest meteors will not be seen. I was a bit lazy, so I just set up a lawn chair on the driveway, adjusted it's position so I could face the constellations of Cassiopeia and Perseus, and moved it enough so a nearby tree would block the very annoying bright streetlight half a block away. To the east, Mt. Timpanogos blocked the horizon up to about 30 degrees. I could see a couple of cars or atv's working their way up the hillsides to reach a better viewing position, I supposed. It wouldn't help them, that position was still way too close to the city lights.

I could hear people's muffled voices eminating from several nearby backyards as my neighbors stayed out for the show as well. Every now and then cars would zoom up the streets. Evidently a lot of my neighbors don't come home till after midnight! It also got a bit chilly during my stay outdoors, as the drop from our daytime high to a nighttime low made it feel colder than it was. Fortunately, there were no annoying clouds of mosquitos or other disturbing bugs.

As time passed, I could easily notice the rotation of the Earth as the constellations slowly rose from the horizon into the eastern sky. Perseus was hidden at first by the top of Timpanogos, but gradually the top half rose above the mountain into a prominent position.

I didn't have to wait long. Within a couple minutes the first meteor flashed overhead as if on it's way to California. Because I couldn't see the dimmer meteors, it meant the ones I would see would be fairly bright (although some were dimmer to me, about half I think). After five minutes a very bright meteor streaked overhead and I knew the show had already started! While I kept count and checked my watch, I calculated my personal observation rate was about 20-30 per hour. Not bad for a city-light-polluted location. I noticed streaks in many different areas: to the north, to the southeast, from the north east, and overhead. Almost all seemed to have come from the same point in the sky. From my view it looked more as if they were radiating from the eastward edge of Cassiopeia, rather than Perseus.

I was very tired however, and knew I wouldn't stay up long. I called it quits after a medium-bright flash sighting about 1:30 am. I would have seen more meteors if I hadn't been distracted. You see, I also had my astronomy binoculars with me, and I couldn't help but also take the opportunity to view Jupiter with a couple of Moons showing, the Andromeda galaxy, the Double Cluster in Perseus, and various other star clusters and stars. What I found surprising was the lack of satellites. Normally I can spot traveling satellites about once every twenty minutes. Then I realized that at that time, we were well into the shadow of the Earth, and there would be no reflecting sunlight to reveal their locations!

Overall a very enjoyable experience and I'll plan better for the next one.

The bombardment of projectiles was spectacular but the Bunker remained safe. The enemy bomber Swift-Tuttle has laid these particulate mines for us to run into, but they are so small they can't penetrate our atmospheric shields. Oh, the occasional large one may smite the Earth, but no reports of damage or casualties have been heard. The danger is not over yet, though- we won't pass the minefield until about August 24th.

ISS 2nd Spacewalk Success

Spacewalkers on truss in center of picture. Credit: NASA TV

No ammonia shower this time! Spacewalkers Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell were the astronauts making the second attempt to repair the faulty ammonia cooling pump located on the S1 Truss. This is no easy task. They completed the disassembly of the coolant lines, and safely removed the faulty pump which was then stored on the Mobile Base System payload bracket. The rest of the spacewalk was used to prepare the replacement pump for its installation. That bit of business will take place on a third spacewalk, currently scheduled for Monday August 16. This spacewalk lasted over seven hours.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Spacewalk Troubles

Diagram by NASA indicating location of pump on the S1 Truss.

Saturday's eight-hour spacewalk ended in difficulties. While working on disconnecting the fourth of four coolant cables in the broken ammonia pump, a leak developed which sprayed ammonia over the astronaut's suit. Extra time was required to clean off the toxic ammonia as the astronauts retreated to the station airlock.

With this setback, a second and third spacewalk are planned to work on the problem. The next EVA will take place Wednesday beginning at 4 am MDT. The objective is to complete the removal of the failed pump and prepare the replacement for its transfer. The installation of the new pump is scheduled for Sunday.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

ISS Spacewalk in progress

Maintenance on the S1 Truss.

Expedition 24 astronauts are floating above the Earth on a planned 7-hour spacewalk this morning. The EVA started at around 4 a.m. MDT. Spacewalkers are Flight Engineers Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell. They are attempting to replace the ammonia pump located on the S1 Truss, part of the central "backbone" of the ISS. A second spacewalk is planned for Wednesday. The repair is part of the procedure for fixing the current cooling and power problem on the station.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Space simulator at work

There are only two REAL space simulations on Earth: the Vomit Comet, and the NBL. The vomit comet is a NASA jetliner with a large open cargo area, that flies a parabolic flight path so that there are occasional 30-second moments of actual weightlessness. The NBL is Johnson Space Center's Neutral Bouyancy Laboratory, which is basically a GIANT swimming pool that includes a replica of the station exterior. There, the astronauts in spacesuits are specially weighted and guided by divers to simulate the effects and difficulties of performing maintenance outside the ISS.

Astronauts Robert Satcher, Jr. and Rick Sturkow practiced techniques that will be used by the Expedition 24 astronauts Friday. This effort gives NASA a heads-up to potential problems and responses that might be encountered.

Trivia Question for viewers: Which Gemini astronaut championed the development and use of a swimming pool for space training?