Sunday, August 30, 2015

50 Years Ago: Gemini 5 Sets Record Time in Space

Official Gemini 5 mission patch.
Fifty years ago, astronauts Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad orbited Earth in their Gemini 5 capsule. Part of the mission had been completed (precision orbit maneuvering test) and other tests were then taken care of. There were several tests of human observation of the ground and weather. They determined that you could measure cloud tops from orbit, and were successful at watching missile test launches from space. Of course, with a mission lasting longer than a week, there were medical tests to explore and review once they returned. Before the mission, NASA had decided not to name the spacecraft on missions, but the astronauts felt that a mission patch was needed and NASA granted them to design the first official mission patch. To reflect the pioneering spirit of their flight, the astronauts chose a covered wagon and placed the slogan "8 Days or Bust" on it. NASA didn't like the slogan (what if the length was not achieved?) so a piece of white cloth was sewn over the slogan for the flight. The patch became popular, and then patches were designed for the Mercury and Gemini missions which had already flown.

Navy divers assist the astronauts after splashdown.
Gemini 5 re-entered the atmosphere on August 29, 1965 and landed 80 miles off course in the Atlantic Ocean. The error was later determined to be a wrong calculation entered into the craft's tiny computer (primitive by today's standards) by an engineer before the mission. The mission length goal had been achieved, and the crew broke the Russian record of orbital duration. For the first time the American press celebrated being ahead of the Russian program for a change. 
Astronaut being lifted onto the rescue helicopter.
Capsule being hoisted onto the deck of the recovery carrier USS Lake Champlain.
The Gemini 5 capsule is today on display at Space Center Houston, in Texas.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Cosmonauts Make Ready for a Crowded ISS

TMA-16M maneuvers near the ISS.

 The crew of Expedition 44 continued their efforts to rearrange the spacecraft docked to the ISS on Friday. Soyuz commander Gennady Padalkin, along with year-long ISS residents Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly, boarded the TMA-16M ship and undocked form the station late last night. In case something were to go wrong and prevent docking again, the three wore their flight spacesuits. They quickly thrusted over to the end of the Zvesda module, where they docked the spacecraft early in the morning hours. The movement of the spacecraft allows an open docking port on the Poisk module, where another crew will dock next week. When that craft arrives, there will temporarily be 9 crew members on the station.

Current arrangment of spacecraft docked at the ISS.
While the spacecraft shuffle continued, other crewmembers continued working on the HTV cargo module which recently arrived at the station after blasting off from Japan. 
Moving waste and trash into the emptied HTV-5 is much simpler with zero-G.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

HTV-5 Arrives at ISS

Cargo ship in orbit just below the ISS.

Monday morning at about 6:58 am EDT, the Japanese robotic cargo spaceship HTV-5 arrived at the International Space Station and was grappled by the robotic arm. The craft had blasted off from the Tanegashima launch center in Japan last week on Wednesday.
Grapple complete. Astronauts will use the robotic arm to safely move the craft to its docking port, in order to avoid thruster gases from contaminating the surfaces of station modules and experiments.

HTV-5 (H-II Transfer Vehicle 5) carries 4.5 tons of supplies for the station. These items are critical for the station's operations, as the last year has seen the loss of three important resupply missions to ISS. In October 2014 the Cygnus vessel exploded on the pad, and this year saw the loss of a Russian Progress cargo ship and the destruction of a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship. 
Japanese Mission Control.

The HTV-5 is docked at the Node 2 docking port, where the SpaceX Dragon is normally berthed.

Friday, August 21, 2015

50 Years Ago: Gemini V launches for Long-Duration Mission

Liftoff of Gemini V on the Titan II rocket from Pad LC-19.
Fifty years ago on August 21, 1965, astronauts Gordon Cooper, Jr. and Charles (Pete) Conrad, Jr., blasted off from Cape Canaveral for a long-duration mission around the Earth. The main mission was to study the effects of a mission lasting the time it would take to reach the Moon and return to the Earth. They would also practice orbiting rendezvous, by launching a targeting device and practicing maneuvering with it.
The entire crew of the Gemini V mission. From left to right, Backup crew Elliot See and Neil Armstrong, and Prime crew Pete Conrad and Gordon cooper.

"Gordo" Cooper would be the first astronaut to orbit the Earth for a second time. He had previously flown a 34-hour mission in the last Mercury flight, "Faith 7" and had been the last astronaut to fly alone. During that mission he was the first American to sleep in space, and relied on his superb piloting skills as several life support and flight controls broke down or gave him difficulty during the mission. He was in command of the Gemini V mission, which would turn out to be his last flight for NASA.

Astronauts move from the transport van to the gantry elevator.
"Pete" Conrad was making his first flight. He was a member of the "New Nine" batch of astronauts which would go on to be the prime crews for the later Apollo missions. He had been an excellent test pilot with the US Navy, and had a sarcastic sense of humor. He often referred to this mission as "Eight days in a garbage can" due to the cramped cockpit of the Gemini capsule.
Gemini V on the pad.
 Service crew making final checks before closing the hatches on the Gemini capsule. This view gives a good view of the cramped quarters the astronauts would endure during the mission.
Panoramic view of the blastoff from Launch Complex 19. The launch control blockhouse is in the reinforced mound to the left. Today, that blockhouse is all that remains at the site.
NASA diagram of the new Fuel Cells in the Gemini service module behind the capsule. The new fuel cells were a vast improvement over the chemical-reaction batteries used in previous spacecraft, and made the long-duration flight possible. 

The Radar Evaluation Pod. It was to be ejected in orbit, and used as a target for rendezvous practice.

After two hours in orbit, the crew ejected the REP (Radar Evaluation Pod). They would use the device to rendezvous with and maneuver, but Cooper detected a pressure loss in the Fuel cell. He shut it down while the craft was out of radio contact with mission control. It would mean that the rendezvous with the REP would have to be abandoned. After re-establishing contact, ground engineers calculated that the fuel cell could be turned back on and would not mean a cancellation of the rest of the mission objectives. On the ground, astronaut Buzz Aldrin calculated a new method for the orbiting crew to practice rendezvous by piloting to a fixed point in space.

Upper stage of the Titan II rocket, under recovery.
Down in the Atlantic, recovery crews located the upper stage of the Titan II rocket, which had kept floating due to the remaining gas in a nitrogen tank. It was recovered by the crew of the USS Dupont, and is on display today at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Meanwhile the crew continued on their mission to endure eight days in orbit.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Comet fires Thruster

Photo sequence showing the dust jet activating and then shutting down. ESA credit.

Comet 67P - Churyumov-Gerasimenko is acting like a spaceship that fires thrusters. The European Space Agency's Rosetta comet probe, currently orbiting the comet, caught a great view of a pocket of dust erupting from the surface of the comet. Since the comet itself is large, the relative movement effect of the short burst will not be very noticeable, but the spray will add to the comet's tail. Last week on the 13th, the comet reached its closest approach to the Sun (its perihelion) and will now be slowly heading towards the edge of the solar system.

Spacecraft Shuffle at ISS

Progress 58 as it looked when docking on February 17.
On August 14, the crew of Expedition 44 began the process of rearranging the location of several Russian spacecraft docked to the station. The first step was to undock the Progress 58 cargo spacecraft from the Zvesda service module. The robotic craft had been emptied of its supplies and refilled with garbage and disposable materials. Three hours after backing away from the station, ground controllers in Moscow gave commands to start the de-orbit burn, aiming the spaceship for an atmospheric re-entry destruction over the Pacific Ocean.

Russian Progress 58 camera view while still docked at the end of the Zvesda module. In the lower left corner you can see another cargo ship, Progress 60, and though hidden you can make out the solar panels of the Soyuz TMA-16M crew spacecraft. Russian TV signals usually are overlayed with data as you see in this view.
With the departure of Progress 58 (Russian designation M-26M), the crew will next prepare for relocating the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft to the now open docking port at the end of Zvesda. The plan is to use that new open docking port for receiving the upcoming flight of a Soyuz with a crew transfer on September 2nd. In October, another Progress supply ship is scheduled, and will replace the Progress 60 craft docked to the station currently.
Greetings from the cosmonauts outside the ISS. I just wanted to include this excellent staged greeting by cosmonauts Genady Padalkin and Mikhail Kornienko taken during their EVA last Monday, August 10th. The spacewalk was the only Russian-planned trip outside the station for the year.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Cosmonauts Complete EVA on ISS

View from the helmet camera. From the Pirs module, you can see Soyuz and Progress ships docked to the station.
While most of us were struggling to start our dreary Mondays, up at the International Space Station cosmonauts Gannady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko emerged from the Russian-built Pirs module hatch at about 8:20 am MST. The spacewalk was officially number RS-41, purposed to do some standard maintenance on the station for about a six-hour adventure above the Earth. 
Padalka-Cam. No moves are made without first attaching clips and tethers to station handles. The tool bag kept floating into the way.
Although a part of the EVA dealt with some scientific work, most of it dealt with install gap spanners, which are soft handrails to ease movement on the outside of the station, and cleaning a window and maintaining antennae. 
Clean Windows make for easier viewing.
During the attempt to clean the Pirs module window, it became apparent that the gap spanners were needed. The window had gotten particles covering it from previous thruster firings over time, and need simple wiping. Of course nothing is simple in space. The grab handles didn't quite reach far enough over to the window, so one cosmonaut had to help hold the other's legs so that he could steady himself enough to reach the cloudy window. Then similar to how you would buff the wax on your car finish, the window was buffed clear and the cosmonauts moved on to other tasks.
Padalka-cam catches a view of Kornienko moving about the module.

The science experiment involved removing some samples from an experiment that exposes materials to the vacuum and environment of space. After 5 hours and 31 minutes, the cosmonauts were safely inside the airlock. Evidently the EVA (188th  EVA on the station) was routine enough that it was not yet been reported in some of the space on-line journals and news formats. But there is never, ever, anything routine in space when you are in one of the most hostile environments in the universe.