Monday, February 22, 2010

Endeavor Lands at night

STS-130 began with a night launch and ended with a night landing. The mission saw a successful installation of the Tranquility module into the ISS structure, followed by the placement of the observation cupola onto the Earth-facing side of the module. Should the ISS project continue to 202 as recommended by the White House, the cupola will give space workers many wonderful views of the earth from their orbital perch.

With the ending of mission STS-130, there are now only four missions left in the life of the shuttle program. The next mission is STS-131 on shuttle Discovery. The launch is scheduled for April 5th. Discovery will carry science modules and equipment to the ISS.

I didn't get to see as much of this last mission as I would have liked. Work schedule plus my attendance at the BYU SF/F symposium kept me fairly busy.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Room with a View

The view through the Cupola.

Astronauts in the Tranquility module can now use the cupola as an Earth Observatory, with the best views from anywhere on the ISS. This will no doubt be the favorite "hang-out" on the station during off hours.

While the astronauts on the ISS have a great vision, NASA still does not. Arguments among congressmen, NASA employees, and space supporters continue 'round the clock debating the wisdom/lack of vision for the new directives from the White House.

During a call to the 11 astronauts in the ISS today from the White House, President Obama had the gall to say that "he is proud and excited about the work being done on the space station and told the crew that he is committed to continuing human space exploration." Some commitment. Cancellation of America's leading role in space, and directing NASA to make an effort to be more inclusive of Islamic countries and spend more research on Global Warming?

This is so sad.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

ISS Observation Cupola installed

Cupola at end of robot arm.

Astronauts on the International Space Station successfully moved the fancy new observation cupola from the end of the tranquility module to a position where the Earth is visible above its windows. Once secure, the astronauts have moved the Pressurized Mating Adapter #3 to the position where the cupola had previously been attached.

Canadarm-2 about to grasp the observation cupola at the end of Tranquility.

Split view. Cupola in place. Covers still on windows.

PMA-3 moving into position. Spacecraft will be able to dock here to Tranquility.

Bob the Builder ain't got nothin' on these guys...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

SDO on it's way!

Mission Control view of separation/

This morning at a little before 8:30 MST an Atlas V rocket boosted the Solar Dynamics Observatory into space from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center). The computer graphic above shows the Centaur upper stage in the center and the satellite in the lower right corner. Separation was successful and the SDO will begin its mission of detailed observations of the activities of our Sun.

Beautiful launch of the Atlas V from Launch Complex 41.

Spacewalk Preparing Tranquility Module

Split-view of the Tranquillity module being lifted out of the cargo bay.

Today I've been attending "Life, The Universe, & Everything," a science fiction/fantasy symposium at Brigham Young University. While I was listening to local authors and invited guests talk about writing and fiction and even web comics, the astronauts were preparing for tonight's spacewalk. The spacewalk started at a little over 7 pm MST. The two astronauts walking tonight (Behnken and Patrick) are removing protective covers off the module and activating certain electrical components. Currently I'm watching "astrocam" views from cameras mounted on the astronaut helmets.

When the astronauts go out on their extravehicular activities, they often wear different colors on their suits. Tonight, Bob Behnken ( a veteran of three previous walks) wears red stripes on his suit. Astronaut Nicholas Patrick (this is his first EVA) wears an all-white suit. Sometimes the colors aren't as helpful, such as when the shuttle flies into the night side and the low-light view does not show colors well. Astronauts and NASA mission controllers practice these EVAs extensively, though, and are well versed in how to recognize each spacewalker.

Tonight's spacewalk should continue another 4 hours or so at this point, so I've got a bit more to watch. Excellent stuff for us space fans.

About 9:05 the attached Canadarm 2 robot arm began lifting the module out of Endeavor's cargo bay.

The observer node is at the bottom of the module in this view.

Still flying through the Earth's shadow.

The module clears the shuttle cargo bay.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Endeavor Docks with ISS

STS-130 and Expedition 22.

Twelve astronauts and cosmonauts gathered together at the PMA-2 hatch once the shuttle had finished its 2-hour list of tasks securing the orbiter to the station. Now it's time to get to work. The crews will spend Wednesday preparing equipment and personnel for the installation of the Tranquility module to the station.

Expect to see some incredible photography of the spacewalks and the module transfer during this flight!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Endeavor blasts off!

Endeavor Takes Flight

STS-130 began in the wee morning hours on Monday. From the camera views inside the shuttle, the crew looked excited and ready for this mission. Some even looked a little bit like kids at Disneyland! At about 2:15 am, the shuttle Endeavor blasted off during the last scheduled night launch of a shuttle. Will it be the last night launch of American astronauts? Well, I suppose some of the Russian Soyuz flights to ISS might take place at night. But there won't be tens of thousands of Americans lining the roads around the launch pad to witness it.

The main goal of the STS 130 mission is to install the Tranquility module with its amazing observation node onto the ISS. Enjoy this two-week mission folks, there are only four more after this.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Say GoodBye to the Moon...

The Dream that was Constellation

It is now official. Yesterday's release of the 2011 budget has finally laid bare what the Obama administration has in mind for the future of American Manned Spaceflight.

It's over.

Despite his campaign promises, the President has directed the elimination of the Constellation program that aimed to replace the ending space shuttle program and return Americans to exploring the lunar surface. No more Ares-1, which was to be our country's transportation to low-Earth orbit once the shuttle is gone. No more Ares-5, the future heavy lift vehicle that would take astronauts and equipment to the Moon and launch heavy equipment to orbit. No more Altair lunar lander, which would take not two but four astronauts to the Moon's surface. No more Orion command capsule, designed to hold 4-6 astronauts depending on mission type.

Instead, Americans must beg for rides to the International Space Station on a Russian spacecraft. The cost of that ride jumped suddenly this week from 40 million per seat to 50+ million per seat. Don't ever think the Russians don't know how to profit from demand.

The White House, and the NASA administration, is spinning this disaster as a "Bold, Fresh Approach" when it is nothing of the sort. Although NASA's budget is being given a small increase, it is at the cost of America's space leadership. Claiming the necessity of needing to carefully trim budgets at a time of fiscal emergency, the administration continues to spend HUNDREDS of billions on pet political paybacks when NASA is being starved of the funds that it needed to meet the obligations placed on it. Claiming that the new NASA direction will bring in new jobs and technologies seems very hollow as NASA prepares to lay off 7,000 employees with the ending of the shuttle program. ATK here in Utah ponders the terrible news, having just laid off hundreds of people, it now looks at the cancellation of a major part of its production.

Currently there are members of Congress claiming outrage and indignation at this turn of events, but there is probably little that they can do. All that is left is for us to look at possibly the only ray of light in the new direction, which is the granting of several billions of dollars over the next four years to commercial space projects in the vague hope that they may be able to save American pride, jobs and space leadership.

Over the next month I'll be looking at each major part of the new directives and making my own decision on whether it bodes ill or good. While we wait to see how Congress and the Space COmmunity react, consider this as well: Obama is directing that a major directional shift for NASA will be to embrace the study of Global Warming.

Heaven help us.