Thursday, July 23, 2015

Crew Change on ISS

Liftoff of Soyuz TMA-17M from Baikonur launch site. NASA TV.

 Since the landing of Expedition 43, the International Space Station crew has been reduced to only three occupants: Commander Genady Padalka (Roscosmos), and year-long residents Mikhail Konienko (Roscosmos) and Scott Kelly (NASA), who make up the core of Expedition 44. Blasting off from the Russian space center at Baikonur, the Soyuz FG booster sent the Soyuz spacecraft into a short-duration orbital path to the ISS. After deployment, it was learned that the Soyuz spacecraft could only deploy one of the craft's twin solar panels.

Previous non-deployment of solar panel, this one was TMA-14M.
The Soyuz docked with the ISS, and the action must have jarred something loose as the ISS crew noted that the panel had then deployed. The same event conclusion happened to a previous mission, on Soyuz TMA-14m.
On his way: Astronaut Kjell Lindgren rides the cramped cockpit of a Soyuz spacecraft. The little R2D2 toy at the top of the picture hangs from the control panel during ascent, indicating the acceleration force.
The Russian mission control at the Korolev Space Center in Moscow monitors the second stage separation.

Russian cosmonauts in the center and left side of the capsule. Having reached zero-G, the R2D2 toy floats aimlessly near the control panel.
Transfer complete. The crew of TMA-17M (in front, L-R: Kimiya Yui (Japan), Oleg Kononenko (Russia), and Kjell Lindgren (NASA), join Expedition 44.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New Horizon Probe Flies by Pluto

What we've been waiting for: the first detailed image of the dwarf planet Pluto.

What magnificent timing! Fifty years from the flyby of Mariner 4 past Mars, NASA's patient deep space probe New Horizons has finally reached its destination and began its studies of Pluto and its moons. Discovered in 1930 by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto has orbited an eccentric path around the Sun, sometimes moving inside the orbital path of Neptune! Recently downgraded by the Astronomical Society from a full planet to a dwarf planet (being one of the Kuiper-Belt object series), the surface of Pluto has remained hidden even from the great eyes of the Hubble Telescope. 

Liftoff from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral.

The New Horizons spacecraft left Earth on January 19, 2006. During its long voyage, patient mission controllers have monitored the systems and equipment until early this morning when the probe made a flyby at 7,100 miles from the surface. Totally focusing on the imaging mission during the short flyby time, flight controllers earlier had downloaded the best image yet taken in order to provide it to a news-hungry mob of spacecraft supporters and scientists at the John Hopkins Applied Research Lab. Then during the flyby, the spacecraft diligently focused entirely on imaging the planet, expecting to return images to Earth later when the spacecraft was far from the planet. 

NASA graphic showing the path of New Horizons through the Pluto system of planet and moons.

The images will be slowly downloaded over the next 16 months. I'll plan to put these on this blog site as we get them, as this is the end of Earth's first reconnaissance of the Solar System. Our next goals will be detailed explorations of the planets and Moons as we search for possible life and valuable mineral deposits.

50 Years Ago: Mariner 4 at Mars

Life-size model of Mariner 4.

Until July 1965, no pictures of the surface of Mars had been sent back by the previous failed missions. Mariner 4 successfully flew by Mars on July 14 and 15, 1965. The spacecraft zoomed by at 9846 km from the surface. Pictures returned to Earth showed a heavily cratered surface reminiscent of the Moon, dashing the hopes of many Sci-Fi fans hoping for the chance of life on the red planet.

First images of the Martian surface.

The spacecraft being prepared for its long journey.

Blast-off of Mariner 4 on an Atlas-Agena rocket. The liftoff took place on November 28, 1964 from launch complex 12 at Cape Canaveral.

Mission briefing from Jet Propulsion Laboratory.