Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Busy Times

Second launch for the X37B.

While the astronauts of STS133 were visiting the ISS, other events were happening as well. NASA launched the X37B, the Air Force's "Secret" mini-shuttle, on top of the Atlas V rocket.

X37B being serviced after last mission.

The X37B is unmanned but bears remarkable similarity to the space shuttle design. The Air Force is testing the shuttle's maneuverability in low Earth orbit. This craft has already proved it can change orbits and disappear from those who are tracking it from the Earth (amateurs, anyway). It can carry payloads like satellites and experiments, and can stay in space for months at a time.

Delta IV Heavy on the pad.

There was also a launch of the "other" launch vehicle NASA uses for lifting satellites into orbit. On the 12th of March, NASA lifted a "spy" satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. The blast-off occurred during the evening from launch Complex 37. The satellite is classified, so we don't know much about it.

Endeavor on the way to Pad 39A.

On the 11th, NASA began the rollout of the shuttle Endeavor to launch Pad 39A. STS134 is scheduled to launch April 19th on Endeavor's last flight to the ISS.

Expedition 26 in small Soyuz capsule.

Expedition 26 on the ISS prepared for its completion. On Monday the 14th Commander Kelly gave command of the ISS to cosmonaut Dimitry Kondratyev and the Soyua was boarded. In the NASA TV image above you see cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, Commander Mark Kelly, and cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri through the open hatch into the Soyuz. The spacecraft undocked and began preparations for a landing on Wednesday.

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