Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Comings and Goings on the ISS

Current crew of Expedition 34.

While Russia gets walloped by an asteroid, and Congress fights over budgetary woes (which of course will affect NASA as well), the ISS floats serenely over our Earth at a standard orbitally speed of about 17,500 mph. Currently, the ISS is crewed by Expedition 34, which includes Commander Kevin Ford, and Flight Engineers Oleg Novistkiy, Evgeny Tarelkin, Thomas Marshburn, Chris Hadfield, and Roman Romanenko. Wikipedia has a nice page of the crew assignments and links to their biographies here:

Chris Hadfield working on some of the EVA suits.

The first part of the expedition began last November. Expedition 35 will begin in March when Canadian Chris Hadfield takes command of the ISS and the current team of Ford, Novitskiy, and Tarelkin depart the station. 

View from Progress 48 as it undocks from Russian Module.

There has been a change of robotic cargo spacecraft. Progress 48 undocked from the station on Saturday, Feb. 9 and was deorbited, burning up in the atmosphere. This left room for a new cargo spacecraft, designated Progress 50, to arrive on Monday the 11th. Its flight from Baikonur had only taken 6 hours, using the new "short" trajectory being adopted by Russia for quick transfers to the ISS. You can learn about its cargo and see a great picture of cosmonauts inside the ISS remotely docking the Progress 50 at

View from ISS of Progress 50 docking at the Pirs module.

Dragon in final preparations room at Cape Canaveral.

NASA has chosen March 1 as its next launch opening for the Dragon resupply spacecraft. SpaceX and NASA will launch from the Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, technically separate from the Kennedy Space Center just to its north. Currently the cargo craft has had its solar panels installed and final preparations are being made for rollout and launch.

Astronaut Tom Marshburn and HAM radio equipment. There was a communications glitch with the ISS main computer on Tuesday.

Inside the ISS, expedition crewmembers maintain equipment, perform science experiments, and go about their daily chores living in space. You can read about their daily routines and adventures at NASA's mission highlights page:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Russia gets Smacked with Meteor Debris!

Remaining trail of meteor re-entering Earth's atmosphere (From RIA Novosti)

While most of us slept in America, on the other side of the world Russia came close to a tragedy. Unexpectedly hurtling out of the sky, a piece of the solar system weighing perhaps 10 tons came burning through the air and then exploded above the ground. Traffic cameras recorded the brighter-than-day flashes of the meteor as pieces came off and then a blinding burst of light as the meteor exploded and showered the area with fragments.

Closer view of smokey trail over Chelyabinsk. (from RIA Novosti)

RIA Novosti reports that children skating in the covered ice rinks grabbed their skates and ran from the building when the ceiling girders were shaking. Shockwaves from the supersonic booms and final explosion shook the ground, buildings, and burst windows. Russia is reporting that about 500 people were injured, many from shattering glass, and that about three dozen people were hospitalized. Initial reports said that the object exploded as close as 18 miles up, but when you see the video on TV it's obvious it came much closer to the surface before exploding.

Window shattered by sonic booms. (RIA Novosti)

It's also reported that fragments have been seen about 20 centimeters across. No doubt meteorite experts and hunters will be swarming the area with scientists and reporters as this remarkable event is investigated and documented. It will be very interesting to see what information we gain from this close call.

It was obvious to me right from the start of reporting that this was in NOW WAY related to the close pass of asteroid 2012 DA14 coming around noon Mountain Standard Time today. THAT asteroid is coming from a completely different direction, and neither it  nor pieces of it could possibly hit Russia. Yet we've already had some reporters and commenters asking if this is the same event.

And now a word from the Bunker...

Just What Does IT Take to wake up our civilization to the idea that we could actual experience an asteroid collision in our lifetime? Not long ago we have TWICE seen comets smack into Jupiter with incredible destructive effects that disrupted regions the SIZE OF THE EARTH! We know from geologic records that asteroids occasionally hit the Earth, and sometimes they have been BIG ones that destroyed some species and caused terrible climate change on the Earth. Forget the "Anthropogenic Global Warming" schtick. This kind of change will happen without warning, unless we spend the resources necessary to develop better space radar, targeting systems, and defenses to protect from small (and enormous) strikes. What if this rock had been a bit bigger? What if it had survived re-entry to actually smack into the ground, or more likely burst above a city close enough to kill people and cause city-wide damage? Not long ago a near-hit exploding in the atmosphere triggered nuclear attack alarms in Russia, and could have led to an accidental nuclear retaliation! (Of course, it wouldn't hurt that building a defensive system would be cool, put more humans in space, sorry, my humans-in-space bias coming through now) In this war against the real Comet Empire, score one for the enemy which hurtles giant rocks at us...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

This will be Close!

Looking over the shoulder of asteroid 2012 DA14. In the center of the view is our home. This would be the view from the asteroid today, February 14. It will be a much closer view tomorrow!

Asteroid 2012 DA14 is in the news this week, because of its extremely close approach to the Earth. At its closest approach, it will be just about 17,000 miles above the country of Indonesia at 12:25 pm MST. So while you're having your lunch break tomorrow, spare a few minutes to think about how blessed we are that this is just a near-miss. Perhaps ponder on the prehistoric hits that cause the extinctions of dinosaurs or other species. And consider that it is still entirely possible that yet some future asteroid, unknown to us at present could smack us a good one with dire consequences.

But not this one! DA14 is going to pass so close that it will fly inside the ring of geosynchronous satellites, prompting some alarmists to fear disruption to our communications satellites. However, the Space Data Association and NASA have calculated the trajectory of the rock and determined that it will not come any closer than 1,000 km to any space satellite. You can read more of their calculations here:

Calculated path of the asteroid. Times are Greenwhich Mean Time. Looking down over the North Pole. Notice the effect of gravity upon the asteroid's path. 

DA14 is approaching Earth from the Southern Hemisphere, so observers in the northern countries won't be able to observe it until it is right on us and passing by. You can learn more about DA14, and see more trajectory calculations and videos at NASA's website:

Monday, February 11, 2013

Recent Rocket launches

Atlas V LANDSAT lifts off from Vandenberg AFB, CA.

Well my rocketing into 2013 hit a bit of a speed bump as things got very busy at work, and it's sometimes hard to have the drive for blogging when you've been at the computer all day anyway. HOwever, lots of interesting things happening so let's start with today's great visuals from the launch of the LandSat Earth Observation Satellite from Vendenberg AFB. Once again the Atlas V does a fantastic job lifting the payload into orbit. SpaceRef did a good deed by linking to UStream and NASA on their site.

Atlas V on the pad just about an hour before launch. Beautiful day for rocketeering.

Payload section carrying the LandSat Earth Observation Satellite. almost 3 minutes to lift off.

More distant view of the Gantry rolled away from the pad. Venting of fuel fumes continues. The hills prove this is not Florida!


As the flight continued, NASA provided computer graphics of the rocket's status and orientation. Small inset picture shows its location over the Pacific ocean heading away from Southern California. The fairings of the payload have jettisoned, exposing the satellite to the vacuum of space.

After MECO (main engine cut-off) the thrusters were used to re-orient the craft prior to a secondary burn which would place the satellite into its designated orbit. Good Job, ULA (United Launch Alliance) and NASA!

Different launch, different site. For comparison, this is the Atlas V launch site in Florida. On the Atlas V is the TDRS communication satellite launched January 31. Notice the lightning rods...

Baikonur. Soviet 2.1a rocket with a payload of 6 Globalstar Communications satellites ready for launch. It blasted off on February 6. There are now 24 Globalstar sats in orbit providing world-wide communications coverage for its customers. RIA Novosti image. has some great images of the recent Arianne space mission, which launched two satellites for international interests. You can see the liftoff images and satellite pics here:

The SEALAUNCH company had a setback this month with a failed launch of their Zenit-3SL rocket. You can read the information at:

There were two Progress cargo mission events this last weekend, and I'll post a separate blogpost on that situation shortly.