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!