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.