Saturday, September 22, 2012

Close Call recently with ISS

HTV released by robotic arm from ISS.

The HTV-3, Japan's third remotely-operated cargo spacecraft, was undocked from the ISS on September 12. Shortly after release by the robotic arm, an unknown malfunction indicated the craft was in danger of possibly colliding with the station. Space History nuts like me may remember years ago when a robot Russian Progress craft accidentally crashed slowly into the Mir space station, causing damage and nearly forcing immediate evacuation of the station.

Fortunately, the automatic programming in the HTV activated and started emergency thrusting away from the station. The automatic abort maneuver did exactly as planned and placed the craft in a safe position away from the station and in place to make a planned de-orbit burn into the atmosphere on Friday.

Farewell, HTV-3.

Japan's mission control quickly re-routed commands through a backup computer system and established full control of the craft. The HTV, filled with station trash and waste, de-orbited Friday and burned up in the atmosphere. It had stayed 47 days connected to the station, after delivering food, supplies, an aquatic habitat for science experiments, and 5 small "Cubesats" which will be released from the station in the near future. It had been nicknamed "Kounotori-3." Four more HTV's are expected to be launched to the station through 2020.

50 Years Ago: Tiros 6 launched

Replica of Tiros 6. This model was placed on public display in the Parade of Progress Show.

On September 18, 1962 NASA launched the Tiros 6 weather satellite. It was launched on a Delta three-stage rocket and placed in orbit believed to be low enough not to suffer radiation from a recent US Air Force space atomic blast test. The launch was the 6th successful placement of Tiros satellites in orbit and the eleventh straight success in the launch of Delta three-stage rockets. The satellite performed very well and later that day had already sent images to Earth that could be used in weather forecasting.

50 Years Ago: The "New Nine"

Astronaut Group 2, "The New Nine"

Fifty years ago on September 17, 1962, the Director of NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center, Bob Gilruth, announced to the press the names of NASA's second group of soon-to-be astronauts. Like the original Mercury Seven astronauts, all were former test pilots and these were chosen from a field of 253  applicants. These astronauts would train for upcoming missions in the Gemini and Apollo space programs. Shown in the picture above were (back row L-R) Elliot See, Jim McDivitt, Jim Lovell, Ed White, (front row L-R) Pete Conrad, Frank Borman, Neil Armstrong, and John Young.

On the same day, NASA announced that Mercury Astronaut Deke Slayton (prohibited from flight due to heart condition) would be promoted to "Coordinator of Astronaut Activities" responsible for assignment of training and engineering duties of all astronauts. He would help play a role in the determining of space flight assignments, and therefore, who would walk on the Moon.

Sadly, Neil Armstrong passed away just weeks ago, short of this 50th anniversary of his being selected as an astronaut. By the time this picture was taken though, he had already had a fantastic career as a Navy test pilot and had worked for NASA as a pilot in the X-15 rocket plane program.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Armstrong's Life Commemorated

The Colors paraded at the Armstrong memorial gathering.

On September 13 the nation gathered together at the Washington National Cathedral to remember our first Moonwalker. Televised on NASA TV, and covered by Fox News (the other networks did not cover the event) the memorial brought together fellow astronauts, family and friends, and national leaders to remember and honor the life of one of America's greatest heroes. 

The U.S. Navy posting the colors. Armstrong was a naval aviator before joining NASA as a civilian astronaut.

The speakers at the meeting talked about Armstrong as a dedicated engineer who loved exploring through science and adventure. They also spoke of his love of flight, and his great ability to inspire others. Speakers included Eugene Cernan, the last astronaut to walk on the Moon, former Secretary of the Treasury John Snow (a close friend of Armstrong), Administrator of NASA (and shuttle astronaut) Charlie Bolden, and religious leaders at the Cathedral. Michael Collins, the command module pilot of the Apollo 11 mission, led the congregation in scripture and prayers. Jazz singer/composer DIana Krall gave a moving rendition of "Fly me to the Moon" made famous by singer Frank Sinatra. There was also music by the U.S. Navy band "Sea Chanters," the Metropolitan Opera Brass, and the Cathedral Choir. It ended with a moving eulogy by Rev. Mariann Budde.

If you have the time, it is well worth your while to watch the proceedings at the NASA website. But be prepared to shed some tears. You can watch it at:

After the memorial, the Armstrong family and other officials were hosted by the U.S. Navy on board the warship U.S.S. Phillipine Sea. Armstrong's ashes were buried at sea by Navy custom.

Farewell, Neil Armstrong.

50 Years Ago: Kennedy's Moon Speech Remembered

"We choose to go to the Moon..."

Last week NASA celebrated a another pivotal moment in history.

In May, 1961, President Kennedy had declared to Congress that Americans should have a goal to reach the Moon before the end of the decade. On September 12, 1962, the president spoke to a crowd of supporters at Rice University. HIs speech explained his guiding motives in creating a challenge for America to reach out and explore the Moon. "We choose to go to the Moon and do the other thing, not because it is easy but because it is hard.." he explained. While the original goal had its roots in the Cold War competing against the space efforts of the Soviet Union, his speech made it clear there were even greater opportunities for the growth of our nation, and that of the world.

To see and hear the speech, go to NASA's website at

Monday, September 17, 2012

Endeavor prepares for last trip to Museum

Shuttle Carrier 747 lands at Kennedy Space Center.

Shuttle Endeavor is preparing for its last trip.

Endeavor was built after the loss of the shuttle Challenger. The shuttle program came to an end when orbiter Atlantis landed at Kennedy Space Center in July of 2011. The shuttles are being dispersed to museums around the country. Endeavor will take off tomorrow on the back of the 747 and fly to Los Angeles for transfer to the California Science Center. Liftoff expected at sunrise, with a fly-over of the space center for all the fans.

Endeavor attached to the back of the shuttle carrier 747.

Catching Up on ISS Stuff

Expedition 32 Change of Command Ceremony.

Yesterday the Expedition 32 mission came to an end. In an official ceremony televised on NASA TV, Suni Williams of NASA became the new commander of the ISS. Cosmonauts Gennady Padalkin, Sergei Revin, and astronaut Joe Acaba boarded the Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft and undocked just after 7 pm. 

Joe Acaba on the ground.

The crew fired the retro rockets just before 10 pm EDT and the capsule came to a safe landing in Kazakhstan. The first section of the Expedition 32 crew had been in space 123 days. The current Expedition 33 crew is now astronaut Suni WIlliams (commanding the mission), Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko. They arrived in the station on July 17. 

Akihiko posing in front of the Japan module.

After the last spacewalk covered here in August, their had been trouble with some bolts which prevented completion of some tasks. Another spacewalk was made (making three for the Expedition) to repair the bolts and complete the spacewalk tasks. To help her out, Suni Williams made a special tool to help her remove debris from the bolts, using her toothbrush (don't worry, she had another).

NASA"s latest hi-tech tool.

Showing the creative mind that astronauts are known for, the tool worked perfectly, the bolts were replaced, and the remaining tasks completed. Can't do that sort of work with a robot.  The current three-person crew now awaits their reinforcements. Part two of Expedition 33 will arrive in October.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Into the Danger Zone

Launch of the Atlas V carrying the RBSP probes from 
pad SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral.

There are so many rocket launches these days from America, Russia, Japan, China and the European space agency that it's hard to keep up with everything that's going up! Most of the satellites launched into orbit are communication satellites or secret national defense satellites (read: SPY satellites). So it's a notable event when we get a launch that sends probes to explore a science project. In this case, NASA has launched a pair of satellites into one of the most dangerous areas of outer space: Earth's Van Allen Radiation Belts.

Computer graphic of the radiation belts around the Earth.

On August 30th, NASA launched the twin Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RRBSP) directly into an orbit intercepting the radiation belts. Named after Dr. James Van Allen, the scientist who discovered the belts (using Americans very first satellite, Explorer I), the donut-shaped belts are danger zones of highly-charged particles that can cause harm to satellites and astronauts placed into the wrong orbits. Even though we've known about these belts since their discovery at the beginning of the space age, we' don't understand a lot about how they work when they are hit by powerful blasts of solar wind and storms.

Graphic of the RBSP's flying into the danger zones.

Especially designed to be protected from the energetic particles, the RBSP's will orbit ( separate orbits) into the active zones of the Belts, and measure the interaction of particles when the belts encounter solar flares, solar storms, and the solar wind. They will detect and measure electric and magnetic fields, count energetic particles, and probe plasma waves in various frequencies. The mission is scheduled to last for two years. TO learn more, check out the report on the mission by SpaceFlight Now at .