Friday, November 30, 2007

John Glenn on the NASA Budget

I had the pleasure to be able to listen to great American hero and former Senator John Glenn at World Space Expo 2007. The event was held in November this year in Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Both John Glenn and Scott Carpenter were honored guest on the evening event. Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden discussed with them over their experiences as well as their visions for the future. I take some videos of that event. Thankfully, I also captures John Glenn's speech on the future NASA budget. He very rightfully stressed that fact that Constellation, NASA's new moon program, has taken a lot of money from science missions. He explains that there is no special funding for the whole constellation program. But listen yourself:







This speech couldn't be more on-time
: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is thinking about taking that Constellation money from NASA to fund education. So I think it is good to know the fact that NASA has not received any special funding and is already starving in its science activities.

If you listen closely, however, you will notice that John Glenn assigns science priority over the moon program. But that doesn't mean that money taken away from science should now be removed from the budget at all...

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Astronauts will wear overgloves...

Layers of a space gloveOn the picture to the right, you see the actual layers of a current space glove. I shot this picture when I attended World Space Expo 2007 at Kennedy Space Center. The green part on the left is the inner pressure bladder, the one in the middle is worn above it and can be configured to the astronauts hand. The white glove to the right is the outer layer. NASA always speaks of five glove layers, but I think this refers to layers of material brought up onto the three different glove parts you see in the picture. At least, I could not find anything else (if you happen to know, I'd appreciate to learn about it).

On the recent international space station spacewalks (aka "EVA"), there were very often problems with cut or punctured gloves. Thankfully, these cuts were always only in the outer layers, posing no risk to the spacewalkers. It is believed that there are some unknown sharp edges at the space station, but nobody knows for sure where (thus they are unknown ;)).

Below, find a picture of a damaged space glove. This was taken after a spacewalk on the STS-118 mission:

punctured space glove after STS-118 spacewalk

To protect the astronauts, frequent checking of the gloves is now a requirement during spacewalks. However, the detection of a glove issue can cut a spacewalk short and thus seriously compromise the mission. To prevent that problem, STS-122 spacewalkers will wear overgloves. They made their first live test on the STS-120 spacewalk devoted to repairing the torn solar array.

I have not yet seen an actual picture of these overgloves. But obviously, they cause some loss of feeling and flexibility. As such, tasks carried out by the astronauts may take a bit longer than usual. NASA has put only a conditional order to wear the overgloves. For delicate work, spacewalkers may remove them. This is also possible if time is running out on spacewalk. This poses no extra risk, as the rigid glove-checking guidelines then apply. So the overgloves are actually more to save the mission than the astronaut.

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STS-122 Press Kit Available

For everybody interested, the STS-122 press kit can now be downloaded from NASA. The press kit is an excellent resource for insight information on the flight AND for great pictures. I recommend to have a look at it to anyone really interested in this flight!

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

STS-122 Flight Readiness Review on Friday...

space shuttle atlantis at the launch padEverything is going very smooth with Atlantis' STS-122 launch. No matter where I looked, I do not find any information on problems. So no news again means excellent news!

The flight readiness review, the final approval of the launch date, is scheduled for this Friday. As it looks, this is more a formal act than something that will bring up surprises (but of course, you never know...). To quote the NASA space shuttle home page:

NASA managers will hold a flight readiness review on Friday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center marking the next major milestone for mission STS-122.

NASA officials, space shuttle program managers, engineers and contractors will discuss the readiness of space shuttle Atlantis, the flight crew and payloads to determine if everything is set to proceed for launch. Managers will also select an official launch date at the end of the session. Launch is targeted for Dec. 6 on a mission to install the Columbus laboratory on the International Space Station.

A briefing following the meeting will include Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier, Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale, International Space Station Program Manager Mike Suffredini and STS-122 Launch Director Doug Lyons.

The briefing will be broadcast live on NASA Television no earlier than 4 p.m. EST.


ISS solar array rotary joint (SRJ)The real question is probably not if and when Atlantis will launch. The most discussed question currently is if the STS-122 mission is extended to allow a focussed inspection of the SARJ ISS solar array rotary joint. Anomalies were detected prior to STS-120 and inspection during recent spacewalks staged from the international space station showed signs of abrasion. This is an unexpected, not yet understood and potentially serious problem - so it is receiving priority for obvious reasons.

The additional inspection spacewalk requires a two-day mission extension. Other than its sister ships Discovery and Endeavour, Atlantis is not equipped with the station to shuttle power transfer system (SSPT). Thus, Atlantis can not support missions as long as its sister ships. So a two-day mission extension requires fully stocked consumables and is something that probably is not very easily done.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Space Shuttle

space shuttleI thought its time to write a bit about the space shuttle itself. As many say, it is the world's most complex machine ever built.

The space shuttle made its maiden flight on April, 12th 1981 and will, based on current plans, be retired in 2010 after completing the construction of the international space station, its current primary target.

The space shuttle was developed as a replacement for the Apollo spacecrafts. Contrary to Apollo, it can reach low earth orbit, only. It is not capable to go to the moon.

The space shuttle's major components are the boosters, external tank and the orbiter. The orbiter is the airplane-shaped white "ship" that is commonly called "the shuttle", though it is only part of it. The reddish external tank contains ascent fuel. And the white booster rockets on the sides of the external tank provide the main propulsion for the initial flight phase after launch.

Its main feature was reusability of most parts
. Only the external tank is lost on launch, the boosters glide back to earth on parachutes after separation from the craft. The initial design called for huge savings from that fact - something the space shuttle could not life up to. Some sources quote that NASA expected to have as much as one flight per week and the shuttle to replace all other launch vehicles. In practice, only a few launches per year were achievable and each of them being much more expensive than initially thought.

The space shuttle program was compromised by budget cuts in its early design phase. Initially, it was planned to have the actual orbiter sitting on top of the external tank and boosters. There would obviously be a different design for the main engines in this concept, too. The then-chosen configuration with the orbiter being mounted to the side of these components is a trouble source until today. It exposes the shuttle to launch debris, for example parts of the external tanks foam isolation that fall off during launch.

Launch debris is very hard to avoid. On launch, each spacecraft is shaken quite well. So chances are great something will go off. With all designs but the space shuttle, this poses no problem, because no vital system can be hit by such debris. If you look at Apollo-days Saturn V launches, you will see lots of ice falling off, but the crew capsule and their support system sat well protected above the debris source. Consequently, NASA's new constellation moon program designs an Apollo-like craft with the vital systems again sitting on top of the launch propulsion system.

In my personal opinion, the space shuttle is a good example why budget constrains should not overrule engineering decisions. NASA paid badly for the initial savings...

Besides that problem, the space shuttle is an incredible and fascinating machine. Among its many great achievements is the delivery and continued servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. Also, construction of the international space station ISS depends on space shuttles doing the heavy hauling. The space shuttle is also the only spacecraft ever capable to capture massive satellites in orbit and deliver them back to earth.

The space shuttle is also very inspiring. Viewing a space shuttle launch is a special experience.


space shuttle launch

Astronauts also praise the space shuttle for its roominess and the smooth ascent and descent, which puts very low G-forces on the crew.

NASA's future constellation space program borrows heavily both at the space shuttle and Apollo programs. It is expected to get the best of two worlds. For example, Ares rockets will fly modified space shuttle boosters.

So while the space shuttle has some weaknesses, it is a very successful craft that not only contributed significantly to science, but will also help pave the way to the Moon, Mars and beyond. In my personal opinion, even the weaknesses were kind of success: they proved which things needed to be done differently. And, of course, a lot of issues were already fixed during the lifetime of the space shuttle program.

Currently, the shuttle fleet is set to retire in 2010. This is a political decision not backed by hard technical fact. In my personal opinion, I would like to see the space shuttle flying at least once a year until the Ares I and Orion vehicles are ready to launch. Of course, I do not know exactly what this requires, but I am a bit hesitant to leave access to the international space station just to the Russians. I also doubt that there will really be a "just" six-year inability of carrying humans into space - the Constellation program already has some of its schedule's slipping. And with an endeavor as complex Constellation, it would be wise to count on some more schedule slips. I wouldn't be surprised if the first Ares manned flight will not happen before 2018...

The space shuttle has received numerous fixes both in procedures and technology. It is more capable than ever before. It is safer than ever before. Wouldn't it be wise to count on it as long as its successor is not ready?

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November, 24th ISS spacewalk a success

Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Dan Tani conducted a successful spacewalk yesterday. It was the last in a series of important construction space walks which readied the international space station ISS to receive the European Columbus module.

Columbus will be delivered by space shuttle Atlantis' STS-122 mission, set to launch from Kennedy Space Center on December, 6th 2007. As such, success of the spacewalk was also important for STS-122. Without it, a launch would not have been possible.

Now, with the successful spacewalk and everything going very smooth in the processing of Atlantis, it looks like weather is becoming the only constraint for the launch attempt. This is good news, because STS-122 has a very short launch window. It extends for just one week. So there is not much room for delays.

Here is also some more detail information from the NASA homepage:

Spacewalkers Peggy Whitson and Dan Tani completed Saturday’s spacewalk at 11:54 a.m. EST. The 7 hour and 4 minute excursion started an hour and 10 minutes early. They completed their main tasks well ahead of the timeline then moved on to perform some get-ahead work.

The two spacewalkers moved the 300-pound, 18.5 foot Loop B fluid tray from the station’s main truss to the port side of Destiny and completed fluid and electrical connections.

Tani did an inspection of a Solar Alpha Rotary Joint that had previously shown increased power consumption and vibration while rotating as it followed the Sun. Whitson deployed and mated cables to be used as part of the Station to Shuttle Power Transfer System, or SSPTS. A portable foot restraint was also installed on Node 2 for upcoming spacewalks when the European Columbus laboratory is installed on the STS-122 mission.
If you like even more details, you can find them on an additional NASA page devoted to Saturday's spacewalk.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Spaceports: Obama Would Delay Moon Return

I have some time to review other space blogs right now (an advantage of doing business with the US - if it is a holiday over there, I've some spare time, too ;)). I read this interesting report on potential cuts into NASA's budget:

Spaceports: Obama Would Delay Moon Return

I do not like the idea at all. What needs to be known is that the money that fuels NASA's Constellation moon program already is taken from the regular budget. There was no budget increase that came together with the plan to go to the moon again. NASA's science program is already suffering very badly.

If now additional funds are taken from NASA's budget, that would IMHO severely compromise NASA's ability to do useful missions. Not to mention that fact that it would be depending on Russia for all its manned space flight activities for at least a decade.

Even though I am German, I do not at all like this idea. But, granted, it's the same problem everywhere: Germany cut the space budget that much that even though we have a number of slot in current ESA and NASA missions, we do not have any funding left to use them :( ...

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Apollo Mission in Pictures...

I just found a nice link I'd like to share - it is a nice, quick look at NASA's Apollo mission in pictures. I personally think that the new "moon race" carried out now is at least as interesting as the Apollo missions. And I find it very interesting that the NASA's Constellation program is building on so many Apollo concepts.

Give the link a try, the pictures are really inspiring. BTW: does anybody have a recording of the old moon TV coverage? Having a few samples online would be really great...

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Unlinke Apollo, Orion will touchdown on land

Early tests of the Orion landing phase...I just read an interesting article. With the Constellation program re-using so many of the clever Apollo-day concepts, I was under the impression that Orion capsules would splash down into the pacific, too. But I was (probably) wrong.

NASA engineers plan to do Orion touchdowns on land - just like the Russian Soyuz capsules. While it is challenging to do a land touchdown, it has a number of advantages. The Orion capsule is reusable (planned to be usable for up to ten missions). A splashdown in salt water means a lot of corrosion potential and thus a number of problems. It also requires an expensive fleet of recovery ships. So NASA has its preferences. On the picture, you can see testing of airbags that should absorb some of the remaining energy after the descent (though it is not expected to be much, Orion glides down on parachutes).

The landing area is supposed to be in the western Unites States. That comes at no surprise, a lightly populated area is definitely a plus for such an endeavor.

An ocean splashdown, however, is yet not fully ruled out. NASA keeps this option in case it is needed.

If you'd like to dig down into all the details, I recommend this Scientific American Article.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

I wish a happy Thanksgiving to all my US readers! As it looks, most NASA folks will also enjoy a nice four-day weekend. Processing flow on space shuttle Atlantis STS-122 mission seems to be so smooth that only very limited work is scheduled for now until Sunday evening. It is really nice to see that the engineers worked so well that this is possible.

As far as me is concerned, I do not have a holiday over here but obviously there will not be much to report. So do not expect too many STS-122 related news. Except, of course, on the upcoming ISS spacewalk (November, 24th), which is critical for an on-time launch of Atlantis.

Enjoy the holiday!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

ISS Crew successfully completed Spacewalk

The ISS Expedition 16 crew wires the Harmony module in Space
The international space station's expedition 16 crew successfully completed an important spacewalk yesterday. It was needed to get the ISS ready for the arrival of space shuttle Atlantis, which delivers the Columbus space lab. This spacewalk, as well as another one scheduled for November, 24th, is needed to be able to attach Columbus. So successful completion of these tasks is a critical perquisite to launch STS-122.

The spacewalk was threatened by a problem with the spacesuits, which thankfully got cleared a few days ago. The ISS spacewalking schedule was not affected by the problem investigation.

This series of spacewalks is needed to attach the Harmony module to its permanent location. Harmony was delivered during Discovery's STS-120 mission. It could not be attached to its permanent location because that was used as the docking port for Discovery. So it was stowed at a temporary place and has been removed after Discovery departed. Yesterday's spacewalk, as well as the upcoming one, is dedicated to rewire Harmony to the station, so that the module is fully functional. In December, Atlantis will delivery the Columbus module, which will be attached to the Harmony module.

Visit NASA's space station page for a detailed report on the spacewalk.

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Countdown demonstation test for STS-122

Astronauts get suited during the terminal countdown test demonstration (TCDT). Here: Astronaut Rex WalheimThe terminal countdown demonstration test for Atlantis' STS-122 is being carried out at Kennedy Space Center. During the test, astronauts and ground crews practice count down procedures including emergency procedures that will protect the astronauts during a mishap immediately before launch. This includes a ride in the basket evacuation system as well as driving the emergency escape tank (which, in popular rumor, is always an astronaut's favorite). The astronauts also try on the launch and entry suites, as can be seen on the picture above.

In NASA's latest information on the shuttle home page I noticed a slight slip in launch time. I now says 4:31pm and I think it previously was 4:38pm. But I guess these seven minutes don't really make a difference. So, everything looks still quite well. If this is another as-schedule shuttle launch in a very successful 2007? Let's hope for the best...

And here is the relevant quote from the NASA shuttle home page (they don't archive it, its a shame):

It looks a lot like launch day at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida as the crew of mission STS-122 put on their pressure suits and get ready to climb aboard space shuttle Atlantis. However, the work is all part of the countdown dress rehearsal designed to get the launch team and astronauts set for the real thing on Dec. 6.

The crew of seven men, including two from the European Space Agency, will follow their normal launch day routine including riding in the astrovan to Launch Pad 39A and taking their places inside Atlantis.

They will sit inside Atlantis as the pretend countdown winds down. The engines will not ignite, of course, and the astronauts will practice emergency escape procedures on their launch pad to conclude the drill.

Atlantis is targeted to launch December 6 at 4:31 p.m. EST on its 11-day mission to the International Space Station.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Test of Orion Escape System

model of Orion crew capsule with escape system at the topNASA's Orion crew capsule is getting more and more a reality. I just received an interesting HSFNEWS news release telling that test of the escape system will happen soon.

Report #H07-252

GROUNDBREAKING SIGNALS START OF NASA'S CONSTELLATION FLIGHT TESTS

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - With less than a year until flight tests of NASA's Constellation Program, work is under way on a launch pad that will host the first of those tests. Workers broke ground on a pad where the agency will test a launch abort system for the new Orion spacecraft at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, N.M.

Orion's launch abort system will carry astronauts to safety in the event of a problem on the launch pad or during the spacecraft's climb to orbit. The first of five tests of the system, known as Pad Abort 1 or PA-1, is scheduled for fall 2008. Data from the series will help engineers refine the design of the launch abort system.

"Flight tests are where the rubber meets the road. These tests will help validate our designs or correct any flaws," said Skip Hatfield, Orion Project Manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston. "The goal here is simple: to provide our astronauts a route to safety should anything go wrong at a launch."

The first launch abort test will include a mock-up of the Orion capsule on the pad. An abort motor will fire for two seconds, sending the boilerplate crew module to an altitude of one mile. Three 116-foot diameter parachutes will deploy to slow the mock crew capsule for landing.

Constellation is developing the Orion spacecraft to send astronauts to the International Space Station and to the moon. Orion will be launched atop an Ares I rocket. The program is also developing a heavy-lift rocket, Ares V, to enable cargo missions to the moon. NASA plans to set up a lunar outpost by 2020, where astronauts will prepare for possible future missions to Mars and other destinations in the solar system.

Video of the groundbreaking ceremony will be available Thursday on NASA Television Video File. For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv


To learn more about NASA's space exploration plans, visit:

www.nasa.gov/exploration

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Why is the external tank not painted?

I found a student web site with a lot of interesting data of the space shuttle's external tank. While the site was set up as a think-tank for the student project, it provides generally useful information.

I'd like to quote one section that I found especially interesting:

Why doesn't NASA apply paint, a cover, or net over the tank? One might remember that we painted the first couple of External Tanks with white paint in the early 1980's. In both cases, we had a significant amount of foam loss during ascent. Although at face value applying a net or some other foam entrapping method to the External Tank sounds easy, it is not without concern. After careful examination of this approach, NASA's conclusion is that portions of the net could become in itself an undesirable debris source. Depending on the material used (Kevlar, aluminum, etc.), the density of the netting material would present a more critical debris source than foam to the Orbiter Thermal Protection System. Through a rigid certification process, we would also have to understand if and when the netting material could come off and in what quantities or mass that the netting material could present. Our assessment is that the process of certifying a netting material for flight would take several years and would not be available until late in the Space Shuttle Program life. NASA's goal remains to eliminate the potential for critical debris from all sources, including the External Tank foam.
At Kennedy Space Center, I was always told to the weight of the paint was the reason that the tank is no longer painted. That sounded logical to me (and for sure is part of the reason). It was so logical that I never thought about it any further. It now makes perfectly sense to me that paint can also be a major source of debris - it may hold loose parts together, forming an even greater lump that could come off.

Thanks to Nicole Sharp for putting this all together.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Spacesuit problem solved...

Astronaut during spacewalk (called an EVA)The spacesuit problem that threatened the next ISS EVA (spacewalk) has been resolved. As nasaspaceflight.com reports, the investigation into the issue showed no actual malfunction. As such, the spacesuits are cleared again for EVAs.

This is an important step as the international space station's crew must do another important spacewalk to permit on-time launch of Atlantis' STS-122 mission. This can now be carried out as scheduled. As such, Atlantis is still on a good path to a December, 6th launch!

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

NASA goes to the Moon again ...

Cresent Earth rises above lunar horizon (taken by Apollo 17)
On December, 19th 1972 Apollo 17 splashed down into the Pacific. This ended the last and very successful Apollo program. Since then, mankind has reached no farther out than to low earth orbit. Think about it: the international space station ISS is roughly a thousand times closer to earth then the moon is!

Reaching the moon is complicated and it also is very risky compared to the ISS. The ISS is inside earth geomagnetic field, relieving NASA of most worries about cosmic radiation. It can quickly be evacuated in case of emergency. And, and, and ...

But NASA is now up to this challenge. As announced by president Bush on January, 14th, 2004, the "Vision for Space Exploration" calls for returning humans to the moon by 2020. Unfortunately, the president's announcement was not coupled with a major NASA budget increase, so the effort is even more challenging (and unfortunately eating up on the scientific budget, which is under much criticism).

While the 2020 deadline will probably not be met, NASA is very serious about going to the moon. Under the so-called "Constellation" program, new rocket boosters (Ares I and Ares V) as well as a new crew vehicle (Orion) will be developed. Initially, they will be used to ferry humans to the international space station (read my article "Orion as a Space Shuttle Successor"). For that, the Orion capsule as well as the Ares I rocket needs to be ready. Work on both of them is under way with an Ares I test flight being planned for 2009 (the 2009 date is already a departure from the schedule).

Early NASA concept of a moon base.The ultimate goal of the moon flights is to set up a permanent moon base - an undertaking that sound complicated, but doable with current and upcoming technology.

After that, NASA shall go and send humans to Mars. This is extra-challenging and requires a number of very good solutions to extremely hard to solve problems. In the very long term, mankind will probably be smart enough to overcome them, but I personally do not expect any immediate results.

I think it is also safe to assume that the new challenges NASA faces will bring up great technology that in the long term also serves all of us down on Earth very well. That new technology will make our everyday life easier and medicine will definitely benefit from research on space radiation. Maybe this technology is the biggest plus of the Constellation program (except, of course, for the inspiration it offers).

So whatever it is - the next years are extremely interesting in astronautics. And, if at all possible, I'll try to stay on top of the news with my blog!

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Atlantis still set for December, 6th launch...

The ISS' Columbus module is moved into space shuttle AtlantisI just found this nice picture of the Columbus module being moved into Atlantis' cargo bay on the NASA shuttle home page. It was taken some days ago. I thought it is worth sharing.
Processing flow on Atlantis is still going smooth, the launch is so far on-schedule for December, 6th. This is confirmed by NASA's latest statement on the home page:


Space shuttle Atlantis will be the stage for the countdown dress rehearsal next week as preparations for mission STS-122 continue toward a targeted Dec. 6 launch. The rehearsal is known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test or TCDT.

The seven astronauts who will fly the mission are due to arrive at NASA's Kennedy Space Center over the weekend for several days of in-depth training.

A practice countdown that includes all the normal launch day activities except the liftoff itself will be conducted on the last day of the crew's visit. Afterward, the crew will return to Houston.

A program-level review of Atlantis and the European-built Columbus module it will carry was conducted Tuesday. A poll taken at the end of the session called for processing to continue. A second review will be held Nov. 30, and NASA will formally select a launch date.

Please note that "formal selection of the launch date" is NASA speak and in this case most probably means sticking with the originally scheduled December 6th date.

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NASA Tests Lunar Habitat in Extreme Aantartic Environment

After I had started to pull over NASA's HSFNEWS mission status reports to my blog, I thought it is a good idea to do this in the future, too. After all, NASA doesn't even archive HSFNEWS, even though it is highly interesting. So here we go with the first non-shuttle issue ;) I hope you enjoy reading them.




Report #H07-251

NASA TESTS LUNAR HABITAT IN EXTREME ANTARCTIC ENVIRONMENT

WASHINGTON - NASA will use the cold, harsh, isolated landscape of Antarctica to test one of its concepts for astronaut housing on the moon. The agency is sending a prototype inflatable habitat to Antarctica to see how it stands up during a year of use.

Agency officials viewed the habitat Wednesday at ILC Dover in Frederica, Del., as it was inflated one last time before being packed and shipped to Antarctica's McMurdo Station. NASA is partnering on the project with the National Science Foundation, Arlington, Va., which manages McMurdo Station, and ILC Dover, the company that manufactured the prototype structure. All three organizations will share data from the 13-month test, which runs from January 2008 to February 2009. An inflatable habitat is one of several concepts being considered for astronaut housing on the moon.

"Testing the inflatable habitat in one of the harshest, most remote sites on Earth gives us the opportunity to see what it would be like to use for lunar exploration," said Paul Lockhart, director of Constellation Systems for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Headquarters, Washington.

NASA's Constellation Program is working to send humans back to the moon by 2020. After initial sorties, the astronauts will set up a lunar outpost for long-duration stays, and they will need a place to live. The agency is developing concepts for habitation modules that provide protection for the astronauts and are easy to transport to the lunar surface.

"To land one pound of supplies on the lunar surface, it'll require us to launch 125 pounds of hardware and fuel to get it there," Lockhart said. "So our habitation concepts have to be lightweight as well as durable. This prototype inflatable habitat can be taken down and redeployed multiple times, and it only takes four crew members a few hours to set up, permitting exploration beyond the initial landing area."

The structure looks something like an inflatable backyard bounce house for children, but it is far more sophisticated. It is insulated and heated, has power and is pressurized. It offers 384 square feet of living space and has, at its highest point, an 8-foot ceiling. During the test period, sensors will allow engineers to monitor the habitat's performance.

The National Science Foundation also is interested in lighter, easier-to-assemble habitats. It currently uses a 50-year-old design known as a Jamesway hut, which is bulky and complex in comparison to the habitat being tested. Modern variations on the Jamesway, although lighter, are still rigid and difficult to ship, with limited insulation. During the test of the new inflatable habitat, the foundation will study improvements in packing, transportation and set up, as well as power consumption and damage tolerance for this newest variation of the concept.

To enable lunar exploration, the Constellation Program is developing a new fleet of spacecraft and rockets, as well as transportation and power systems for use on the surface of the moon. More information about NASA's space exploration plans is available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/constellation


The inflatable habitat is being developed under NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program. For more information, visit:

http://www.ipp.nasa.gov


Video of the send-off event is expected to be available Thursday on the NASA Television Video File. For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

STS-122 group on flickr...

Armando Perdomo, a friend of mine, has created a new STS-122 picture group on flickr. so if you go view the launch or have interesting STS-122 pictures from some other source, you are invited to post them there. And, of course, everyone is invited to view the pictures. Typically, content comes in shortly after launch.

Armando did a similar effort for STS-120, I recommend viewing that picture pool to everyone.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

STS-120 launch animation

STS-120 launch as seen from NASA causeway (animation from still pictures)Finally I have a little time to play with my pictures. As a starter, I did an animation of Discovery's STS-120 launch. You can also view a hi-res version. The animation was created from still images I took with my Canon EOS 400D (called "Digital Rebel" in the USA, if I recall correctly). I was at the NASA Causeway viewing site.

The camera was on a tripod, with pre-set exposure and focus and connected to a wire shutter. I kept the shutter pressed until the space shuttle went out of its view. I did not make any attempt to track the shuttle as I was primarily concentrated with viewing, not photography. This setting brought me about three pictures per second. I then used the computer to size them down and a gif animator to do a real animation out of it.

Of course, I could also have taken a video camera, but then I had to concentrate much more on creating the movie. Also, I did not have a sufficiently well video camera, so this was not option at all ;) I also like the shots very much - plus I plan to do a real high res version some time later, which the 8MP pictures clearly enable me to do.

For now, I hope you enjoy this magnificent space launch!

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Spacesuit problem is a problem for STS-122 launch, too ...

A 2007 spacesuit as worn by astronauts on the iss and space shuttleAs nasaspaceflight.com reports, NASA is evaluating spacesuit problems:

Cut gloves during STS-120 and a failed EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) test are undergoing large scale evaluations by NASA engineers, with a resolution to the latter required before any further spacewalks will be allowed.

(read full article)

The problems must be resolved by November, 20th, otherwise it will affect the international space stations spacewalk schedule. There is an awful lot of preparation work to do at the ISS. If that can not be completed in time, Atlantis' STS-122 can not be launched, because the station is not ready for the addition of the Columbus module. So we need to watch this issue closely.

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launch transportation tickets for STS-123 ...

The STS-123 CrewEndeavour's STS-123 mission to the international space station is currently scheduled to launch on February, 14th 2008. Of course, there are many things that can make that launch date slip (though I guess we all hope that won't happen).

Even though it is quite early, I received a few comments asking if launch transportation tickets could already be purchased for it. Unfortunately, this is not possible.

Tickets typically go on sale four to six weeks before launch. And they sell out very quickly. So you should watch the Kennedy Space Center site closely and subscribe to its "Armchair Astronaut Newsletter". Thus you know when they go on sale and can act quickly.

I will also post in this blog when the tickets become available. So keep reading ;)

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back in Germany - part II

OK, I have to admit this is off-topic. But I have to admit I could not resist to post it ;) I am now back from Florida just a few days. And yesterday evening, some light snow appeared. I thought "OK, this will clear over the night". But look at the end result this morning:

palmtree in the snow

Here you see staring my poor palm tree. I like sun and sunny beaches, so I wanted to have a least a palm at home ;) Thankfully, I was smart enough to buy the right type of palm tree, so no harm yet (when it gets really cold, however, it needs to make a trip to the garage...).

But again: think that I just returned from sunny Florida. And then think that we often have much nicer weather (at least in the 60s) at this time over here. So why not this time? ;) brrrr...

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Armando's STS-120 launch experience report

Armando Perdomo and Rainer Gerhards at Kennedy Space CenterDo you remember Armando Perdomo? He is a frequent reader and commenter on this blog. I also had the joy of meeting him in Kennedy Space Center the day before launch. Armando is a great guy and I enjoy to be able to call him now a friend!

Armando is also a great photographer and, as it seems, story teller. He was even quicker than me in getting his STS-120 launch experience online. I highly recommend his blog to everyone. You can read it here:

http://armandoperdomo.blogspot.com/

I am sure you will enjoy his report.

I would also like to start a "blog parade" (or how is this called in English?;)) with blogs (and other sites) that publish STS-120 launch viewing experiences.
If you have one, please drop me a line, so that I can add a link on this blog. I'll also see if I can set up a somewhat better system and, if so, will let all of you know.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Columbus stowed in Atlantis!

As of NASA's shuttle home page, the Columbus ISS module has been stowed inside Atlantis:


The European-built Columbus module has been loaded into the cargo bay of space shuttle Atlantis in preparation for the launch of STS-122 on Dec. 6. Columbus will be attached to the International Space Station and will serve as a laboratory and research center for station astronauts.

The Columbus segment was waiting at the launch pad Saturday when space shuttle Atlantis was rolled into place Saturday at Launch Pad 39A. Once Atlantis' payload section was covered by the Rotating Service Structure, technicians and workers opened the cargo bay doors and carefully moved the cylindrical Columbus into the shuttle. The module has already been packed with four specialized racks outfitted for experiments. Each rack is about the size of a refrigerator. The segment can hold 10 racks.

Atlantis' crew of seven includes two European Space Agency astronauts who will help install Columbus on the International Space Station and activate its intricate systems. One of the ESA crew members will remain on the station for a long-duration mission.

The launch milestones came less than a week after space shuttle Discovery returned to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to complete mission STS-120. That mission delivered the Harmony module to the station and will be the connecting point at the station for Columbus.


This is good news, STS-122 is obviously still on track for its December, 6th launch.


A note on the picture above: I took that photo when I visited Kennedy Space Center (KSC) the day before Discovery's STS-120 launch (October, 22nd 2007). In KSC, you get a bus tour with your "Max Access" admission (and also your launch viewing tickets, which I had). I can highly recommend that tour. It brings you close to real space hardware. Just imagine that I took the above picture of the actual Columbus module that will soon be attached to the ISS - cool ... And if you watch closely, you'll also notice part of the Kibo module (set to launch with STS-123 in February 2008) in the back (right to the middle).

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Monday, November 12, 2007

STS-122 Launch Window

Here is some information on the Atlantis' STS-122 launch window:

The target launch date is December, 6th. The launch Window extends just one week, so everything must go smooth in order to have a launch. The launch time for December 6th is 4:31PM EST. On successive launch attempts, the launch will be roughly 20 minutes earlier (each time).

The daily launch window extends, as usual for international space station missions, for 10 minutes. Typically, the launch is scheduled for the middle of the launch window. A 10 minute window means little contingency for bad weather, so you should expect a launch slip by a day or two in most cases. If possible, plan to have some spare days left.

Updates:

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Launch viewing Tickets sold out for STS-122 ...

Out of curiosity, I checked ticket availability for Atlantis' STS-122 Decembe, 6th launch this morning. As usual, the launch transportation tickets are already sold out (I bet that happened again within a few minutes). However, there are still tickets available for viewing from the Kennedy Space Center main visitor complex. Depending on what is your main intension, this option may also be useful for you. You can read my previous post on launch viewing from the KSC main visitor complex to get an idea what awaits you.

I would also like to mention that there are still options to get launch viewing tickets for the NASA Causeway via third-party operators. Just be sure to use only NASA-appointed ones or you may run into trouble. I have written details in my post on "How to view the launch from closeby when no tickets are available?".

Of course, you can also go to Titusville beaches. They are farther away from the launch site, but still offer a very unique view. If you would absolutely like to view the launch from the beginning, it is better to go to Titusville than to go to the main visitor complex (which, on the other hand, is better if you come with kids).

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Atlantis at the Pad; all good for December 6th launch

The Atlantic ocean is the backdrop for Space Shuttle Atlantis' seaside launch pad.Quicker than I thought here comes the first real post:

Space Shuttle Atlantis was moved successfully to the launch pad. As with all future shuttle missions, pad 39A will be used for all launches. Next summer, after the Hubble service mission, pad 39B will be reconstructed to be used for the Ares launches.

With Atlantis being at the pad, everything is doing well. So the STS-122 mission is likely to be scheduled on time on December, 6th. But be careful, we need to watch work carried out at the international space station ISS closely -- it will be required to support Atlantis' launch.

Some more details on the current status can also be found in this NASA quote:

Space shuttle Atlantis made an important step toward space on Saturday morning when engineers and technicians rolled the launch-ready stack to Launch Pad 39A. Atlantis is scheduled to stay at the pad for about three weeks undergoing final preparations for its mission STS-122 targeted to begin Dec. 6.

The mammoth crawler-transporter began moving the stack to the pad at 4:43 a.m. EST. The 3-mile trip took approximately six hours and was hard down at 11:51 a.m.

The Columbus laboratory was waiting at the launch pad when Atlantis arrived and the module will soon be placed inside the shuttle's cargo bay where it will undergo its own series of tests and preparations for launch.

Atlantis' crew of seven includes two European Space Agency astronauts who will help install Columbus on the International Space Station and activate its intricate systems. One of the ESA crew members will remain on the station for a long-duration mission.

This launch milestone comes less than a week after space shuttle Discovery returned to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to complete mission STS-120. That mission delivered the Harmony module to the station and will be the connecting point at the station for Columbus.

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being back in Germany

I arrived yesterday afternoon back in Germany. I gradually begin to adopt to the cold unpleasant weather over here. Also, it takes some time to do all the things that need attention after being away three weeks (plus the jetlag...). Please bear with me, real posts follow ;)

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Friday, November 9, 2007

STS-120 was a success - so what now ...

Discovery's STS-120 mission was a huge success. But remember, I started this blog because I wanted to record my launch viewing trip. Obviously, we are way past launch. Discovery even landed and the remotest reasoning for keeping up a STS-120 blog is now been blown away.

But, hey, this is about space faring: did you never hear about extending successful missions? With new mission objectives? It already happened to this blog, somewhat silently. The original objective was to track everything until launch. But then I said "hey, why not document the mission while it is flown". And so I did ...

All of this was great fun and I am honored to have found some loyal readers. In fact, it is so much fun, I'd like to continue.

I need to shift the focus a bit: From now on, I'll not just concentrate on shuttle launches (have you seen an Ares article already sneaked in?). Also, I can probably not report as much in-depth as I did for STS-120. That was quite time consuming and I guess I can't stand that in the long term. But I'll keep every bit of useful information up, so that future launch viewers can find what they need. Along the same lines, I'll also do a wrap-up of generally useful launch viewing information which I could not yet convey.

It would also be very pleasing if those of you intending to watch a launch could drop me a few lines after they have done so. Or, of course, anything pre-launch that may be of interest to the rest of us. I'll gladly appoint you as contributing author for that.

I now hope that you, my valuable readers, like this "mission extension" and keep reading the blog. Feedback is also appreciated, so please don't be shy ;)

Thanks again for all your support!

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

NASA TV Schedule for ISS Work

There are a number of tasks left to do for the ISS crew, among them even some "first evers". The schedule is pretty busy and all needs to be done in order to support Atlantis' STS-122 flight.

Today I received the NASA TV schedule, just in case you'd like to watch the work:

HOUSTON - In the wake of space shuttle Discovery's delivery of the Harmony connecting module to the International Space Station, the station crew will conduct three spacewalks and robotically move two components this month to prepare for delivery of a European laboratory. All of the spacewalks and major robotics work will be broadcast live on NASA Television.

The shuttle Atlantis is targeted to launch Dec. 6 to deliver the European Space Agency's Columbus science module. Before Columbus can be added to the station, Harmony must be relocated to its permanent location at the front of the complex. The station crew's spacewalks and robotics work this month will complete that task, allowing Atlantis to dock and Columbus to attach to Harmony.

The NASA Television schedule includes:

4 a.m. CST Friday, Nov. 9 - NASA TV live coverage will begin as Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko don U.S. spacesuits to conduct a 6.5-hour spacewalk to prepare a docking port on the forward end of the Destiny Laboratory to be detached. A press conference will follow the spacewalk on NASA TV, originating from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston with questions from reporters at participating NASA sites.

4 a.m. CST Monday, Nov. 12 - NASA TV will broadcast live coverage as Whitson and Flight Engineer Dan Tani use the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm to detach the docking port, known as pressurized mating adapter-2, and relocate it to the forward end of the Harmony. No news conference is planned following the mating adapter relocation.

3:30 a.m. CST Wednesday, Nov. 14 - NASA TV will broadcast live coverage as Whitson and Tani use the Canadarm2 to detach Harmony and its new docking adapter from their current location attached to the Unity module. They will reposition Harmony to be attached to the forward end of the Destiny Lab, its permanent location. This will be the first time a major component of the station has been relocated without a shuttle present. No news conference is planned following Harmony's relocation.

4 a.m. CST Tuesday, Nov. 20 - NASA TV will broadcast live coverage as Whitson and Tani conduct a 6.5-hour spacewalk to hook up fluid, electrical and data lines for the relocated mating adapter and Harmony module. A press conference will follow the spacewalk on NASA TV, originating from Johnson with questions from participating NASA sites.

4 a.m. CST Saturday, Nov. 24 - NASA TV will broadcast live coverage as Whitson and Tani conduct a final 6.5-hour spacewalk to complete the hook up of the mating adapter and Harmony module to the station and leave them ready for the docking of Atlantis and delivery of Columbus. No news conference is planned following the spacewalk.

For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information on the Web, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

STS-120 MCC Status Report #32

Space shuttle Discovery lands at Kennedy Space Center, FloridaSTS-120
Report #32
Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007 - 2 p.m. CST
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

After 6.25 million miles and 15 days, space shuttle Discovery landed safely in Florida completing its 34th mission and circling the Earth 238 times.

Under command of astronaut Pam Melroy, the shuttle touched down on runway 33 at 12:01 p.m., after the 23rd mission to the International Space Station.

Discovery’s crew – Melroy, Pilot George Zamka and mission specialists Scott Parazynski, Stephanie Wilson, Doug Wheelock, Paolo Nespoli and Clay Anderson – will return to Houston Thursday. A welcoming ceremony for the crew is planned for 4 p.m. at NASA’s Hangar 276 on the south end of Ellington Field.

During the record stay at the station, Discovery delivered the Harmony Node with its 2,600 cubic feet of pressurized volume. Left in a temporary location while the shuttle occupied its permanent home on the Destiny laboratory, Harmony will be prepared for relocation by the Expedition 16 crew over the next three weeks before the next shuttle mission arrives.

“We could not have done this mission without Discovery being as clean and wonderful as it was. The whole agency had to pull together for this mission,” Melroy said on the runway flanked by Discovery.

Station commander Peggy Whitson along with Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Dan Tani will oversee the work to configure station systems for the arrival of a new science laboratory supplied by the European Space Agency next month. Tani exchanged places with Anderson, who spent 152 days in space – 148 of which were onboard the station.

The STS-120 Discovery crew also moved the port 6 truss – or P6 –segment and its accompanying solar arrays to its permanent home at the end of the stations truss, and repaired damage done to the solar array as it was being redeployed.

Next up is Atlantis, which is scheduled to roll to the launch pad Saturday. It will carry ESA’s Columbus laboratory to the station in early December on the STS-122 mission. Discovery will be towed by to its processing hangar this afternoon to begin preparations for its STS-124 mission in April 2008.

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Discovery home again!

After a very successful flight, Discovery made a safe landing at Kennedy Space Center just a few minutes ago. The astronauts are exiting the space shuttle for the landing press conference.

The landing was successful on its first attempt, right at the home base at Kennedy Space Center.
This was probably the most on time flight for years now - launch on first attempt, perfect orbit operations and now even a landing that could not be more perfect. Congrats to the whole NASA team for this fantastic effort.

Among the many achievements was a historic space walk to restore the international space station ISS to fully operational state after rips where detected in a solar array. This spacewalk was made possible not only by the professional work of the space walkers but also hundereds, if not thousands, of people on the ground that got a plan ready within a very short time frame.

As it looks now, Atlantis STS-122 December, 6th launch will probably be also right on time. But today let's celebrate the successful STS-120 mission.

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Landing ground track for Discovery (STS-120)

landing ground track for DiscoveryIf you are some place along the landing ground track, you may be able to spot Discovery on her return home. Click the image for a higher resolution version.

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Deorbit burn successful ...

NASA just announced that the deorbit burn was successful. Discovery has slowed down by just 148 mph, but that is enough to descent within one hour. The landing is expected at 1:01pm ET at Kennedy Space Center.

All in all, it looks like an excellent mission, with an on-time launch on the first attempt as well as a landing on its first attempt, too.

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Discovery on her way home...

The astronauts on board space shuttle Discovery have just initiated the deorbit burn. TThe burn is 1 minute, 85 second to slow down the shuttle for its decent back to earth. Each orbital maneuvering engine provides 6,0000 pounds of thrust for this maneuver.

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Ares Launch Viewing ...

Ares launched in to orbit (artist's conception)
While I was at Kennedy Space Center last week, some folks mentioned that the first Ares test flights are planned for 2009. That surprised me and, to be honest, I did not yet verify the information. On the other hand, Constellation (and thus Ares) has a very challenging schedule, so I would not wonder if it is try. After all, tests take time and so it makes only sense to start as early as possible.

I wonder if the public will be able to witness the first Ares flight. I guess the situation is quite different from a shuttle launch. Ares will be totally new, never before launched and as such there inherently is a much greater risk of a mishap during the first launch attempt. That risk may be too high to allow general attendance. On the other hand, NASA Causeway is over eleven miles away from launch pad 39B, where Ares will launch.

So it comes down to keep a keen eye on the potential Ares launch date. Of course, it would be very cool to view the first launch ever of a totally new vehicle. Keep reading my blog, I'll keep you informed on any news updates. And if you happen to know something, please drop me a line ;)

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #31

STS-120
Report #31
4 a.m. CST Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – The astronauts on space shuttle Discovery are only hours away from a landing in Florida that will conclude a successful 15-day mission that delivered a new module and repaired a damaged solar array on the International Space Station.

This morning’s wakeup song, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” by Sherman and Sherman, was played at 1:38 a.m. CST for Commander Pam Melroy.

Deorbit preparations begin at 7:03 a.m. and the crew should get the okay to close the payload bay doors at 8:19 a.m. If systems are good and the weather cooperates, Melroy will conduct the deorbit burn at 10:59 a.m. That will slow Discovery enough to fall out of orbit to begin its descent toward a landing at the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility at 12:01 p.m. CST.

A landing on that opportunity will wrap up Mission Specialist Clay Anderson’s flight to the International Space Station after 152 days in space.

There is another landing opportunity on the following orbit, which would put touchdown at 1:36 p.m. CST.

Aboard the International Space Station today, Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Dan Tani will review the plan for Friday’s spacewalk. Whitson and Malenchenko will undo connections between the Destiny laboratory and Pressurized Mating Adapter 2, in advance of robotics operations next week. That work will relocate PMA-2 to the new Harmony module, then move both of them into place on the front of the lab.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Wednesday afternoon or earlier if events warrant.

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #30

STS-120
Report #30
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007 - 3 p.m. CST
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – The seven astronauts on board space shuttle Discovery completed final preparations today for their return home with landing planned for the first of two opportunities to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, at 12:02 p.m. Wednesday.

In preparation for the return home, the crew tested flight control systems and thruster jets, stowed equipment and installed a special reclining seat for Clay Anderson, who is returning after more than five months on board the International Space Station. Later, the crew oversaw an orbit adjust maneuver to optimize landing opportunities with weather forecasts indicating favorable conditions for Wednesday’s landing.

Early Wednesday morning, Entry Team Flight Director Bryan Lunney and his team will oversee Discovery’s reentry and landing with the deorbit burn set for 10:59 a.m. The 1 minute, 58 second burn will slow Discovery by 148 miles per hour (217 feet per second) for the reentry across the heartland of the United States traveling from the northwest to southeast.

A second landing opportunity also is available about 90 minutes later. Lunney will consider Florida only for Wednesday’s landing attempts with plenty of consumables on board to stay in space through Saturday, if necessary.

After its final on-orbit wakeup call from Mission Control at 1:38 a.m. Wednesday, the crew will begin landing preparations at 7:03 a.m. and close Discovery’s payload bay doors at 11:42 a.m. for reentry.

Aboard the space station, Commander Peggy Whitson, and Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Dan Tani had some off duty time before their full-court press toward Friday’s spacewalk by Whitson and Malenchenko to prepare Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 for its relocation Nov. 12.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Wednesday morning or earlier if events warrant.

Important Reminder: All Times are CST! Add 1 hour for EST!

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

STS-120 MCC Status Report #29

STS-120
Report #29
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007 - 4 a.m. CST
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – Landing preparations are the order of the day for the seven astronauts on space shuttle Discovery, who are planning to conclude a two-week mission with a Wednesday landing at the Kennedy Space Center.

The crew’s 1:38 a.m. CST wakeup call was “Space Truckin’” by Deep Purple, played for Mission Specialist Clay Anderson, who will wrap up a five-month mission to the International Space Station when Discovery lands. The crew will start routine deorbit preparations and cabin stowage three hours later.

At 4:23 a.m. Commander Pam Melroy, Pilot George Zamka and Mission Specialist and Flight Engineer Stephanie Wilson will power up an auxiliary power unit to conduct a checkout of the orbiter’s flight control surfaces. At 5:33 a.m. they start a test firing of each of the shuttle’s reaction control system jets.

The shuttle astronauts take a break from packing at 8:43 a.m. to talk about the flight with the Associated Press, Space.com, and the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, before they return to packing. At 1:18 p.m. mission specialists Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock will set up a recumbent seat on the middeck for Anderson to use during entry and landing. Zamka is scheduled to stow the Ku-band communications antenna at 3:03 p.m.

The International Space Station’s crew is enjoying a day off duty before starting a heavy schedule of spacewalks and robotics activities which kick off with a spacewalk by Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko Friday morning. NASA-TV will host an Expedition 16 Mission Status Briefing at 11 a.m. today featuring the lead flight director, increment manager and lead spacewalk officer to preview the activities. The goal of the work is the relocation of the Harmony module so the station will be ready to receive the European laboratory module on the next shuttle flight, targeted to launch in early December.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Tuesday afternoon or earlier if events warrant.

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #28


STS-120
Report #28
Monday, Nov. 5, 2007 - 5 p.m. CST
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – Space shuttle Discovery’s crew left the International Space Station this morning after almost 11 days of joint operations with the Expedition 16 crew. After inspecting the orbiter’s heat shield for any micrometeoroid damage, the astronauts turned their attention to returning home on Wednesday.

Tuesday the shuttle crew will spend its last full day on orbit testing Discovery’s flight control systems and maneuvering thrusters while final packing winds up a memorable assembly flight to the station.

With all systems checked out, the STS-120 crew will bring Clay Anderson home after 152 days in space on Wednesday to one of two landing opportunities available at the Kennedy Space Center at 12:02 p.m. and 1:36 p.m. CST. Weather forecasters predict favorable landing conditions once a cold front passes through late Tuesday night. The backup landing sites at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and White Sands Space Harbor, N.M., will not be considered Wednesday.

Under the control of Pilot George Zamka, Discovery backed away from the station at 4:32 a.m., completing 10 days, 21 hours and 52 minutes of docked operations. The historic flight saw Discovery’s crew deliver the Harmony Node and relocate a solar array to increase power generation. Unforeseen damage to the array was repaired during a dramatic spacewalk following three days of engineering analysis, testing and plan preparation on the ground.

The mission sets the stage for the next component of the station to be delivered. Space shuttle Atlantis is prepared to roll to the launch pad this weekend for final processing toward launch of the European Space Agency science laboratory “Columbus.” The STS-122 launch remains targeted for early December.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Tuesday morning or earlier if events warrant.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Air Show at World Space Expo 2007

This is a placeholder, real content to follow in a few hours. Sorry for the confusion...

Some pictures are already available at my world space expo picture gallery.

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #27

STS-120
Report #27
2:45 a.m. CST Monday, Nov. 5, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – All systems are go for this morning’s undocking of Space Shuttle Discovery from the International Space Station, completing 11 days of joint docked operations that saw the successful delivery of a new pressurized module and the repair of a damaged solar array wing.

The shuttle crewmembers got their wakeup call at 1:08 a.m. CST with “Roll Me Away” by Bob Seger, played for Pilot George Zamka, who will be at the controls of Discovery when it undocks from the station at 4:32 a.m.

Discovery will move in front of the station to a range of 400 feet, and then Zamka will begin a full one lap flyaround so his crewmates can get video and digital still imagery of the newly-configured station. The new features include the Harmony module docked to the Unity node, and the P6 Truss element, with both solar array wings fully deployed, at its permanent location on the port end of the truss.

When the shuttle again crosses directly in front of the station, Zamka will fire the reaction control system jets to begin Discovery’s separation. He’ll make the final separation jet firing at 6:15 a.m. to start Discovery’s trip home.

Late this morning Zamka will join Mission Specialists Scott Parazynski, Stephanie Wilson and Paolo Nespoli and Commander Pam Melroy at the controls of the shuttle robot arm to conduct a late inspection of the shuttle’s thermal protection system using the Orbiter Boom Sensor System. The crew will re-examine the reinforced carbon-carbon panels on both wings and the nose cap for any evidence of damage from orbital debris.

Mission Specialist Clay Anderson, who has been in space since his launch to the International Space Station in June, is scheduled for exercise today and tomorrow to help prepare his body to feel the pull of gravity again. Discovery is targeted to land at the Kennedy Space Center Wednesday at 12:02 p.m. CST.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Monday afternoon or earlier if events warrant.

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Orion as a Space Shuttle Successor

NASA Orion Capsule, Artist's viewOn the official NASA Orion home page, it is still stated that Ares I will deliver the first Orion to the International Space Station by 2014.

However, in all talks I attended at the Kennedy Space Center, the most optimistic date was 2015. And it may take well a bit longer... It is interesting to note that between Apollo and the Space Shuttle program, there also was a six year gap in the human space flight. During that period, NASA had no capability of putting humans in space. It looks like we are up now for at least the same. I just hope they will get Orion off the ground early enough to actually use it for ISS crew ferrying. If the schedule goes beyond 2016, which does not seem unrealistic, ISS crew swaps may possibly only be done by Russian spacecraft. I hope that America will not rely only on these...

Of course, all comes down to budget. I am sure the engineers can do much quicker, but they need to have funds. When the constellation program was announced, it was a lot of vaporware. Most importantly, there was no NASA budget increase. So NASA has already taken money from scientific missions. To go quickly with Orion, additional funds are desperately needed.

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Next Delta IV launch at KSC

In case you are around, you may want to view the upcoming Delta IV Heavy launch at Kennedy Space Center. It is especially well visible from along Cape Canaveral beaches. The Delta IV is the most capable expendable launcher and for sure a great view (unfortunately I never witnessed a launch myself). Originally scheduled for last Friday, it is now set for launch on November, 10th, after 8pm ET. It carries a military payload, so there is view information about it available. When I last checked, it was not even in Kennedy Space Centers' web launch calendar. Call them for updates -- the date was announced in the center and I am sure they will tell you on phone.

If you go visit this launch, I would also very much appreciate if you could drop me a few lines with your experience.

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #26

The STS-120 and Expedition 16 crew members bid farewell to each other.STS-120
Report #26
2:15 p.m. CST Sunday, Nov. 4, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON –Spacefarers aboard Discovery and the International Space Station congratulated one another on a successful docked mission, shared hugs and farewells and closed the hatches 210 miles above the Pacific Northwest at 2:03 p.m. CST.

With Dan Tani now a member of the station’s Expedition 16 crew and Clay Anderson now a member of the STS-120 crew, the two teams then began getting ready for Monday’s 4:32 a.m. CST undocking.

Before closing the hatches, Commander Pam Melroy and her STS-120 crew – Pilot George Zamka, Mission Specialists Paolo Nespoli, Scott Parazynski, Doug Wheelock, Stephanie Wilson and Anderson – transferred final items to the shuttle. A total of 2,020 pounds of equipment and scientific samples is being returned to Earth. Included among the cargo are metal filings that may help engineers narrow down the cause of resistance in the starboard solar arrays rotary joint.

Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson, and Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Tani made sure that all 33,834 pounds of items delivered by Discovery – including the 31,648-pound Harmony module and 2,186 pounds of supplies and equipment – were accounted for on the station.

The port solar array repaired by Parazynski and Wheelock during a Saturday spacewalk is generating electricity but flight controllers are continuing tests before they begin using power from the relocated, repaired and redeployed 4B array to the station’s systems. The station already is using power from the other relocated and redeployed array, 2B.

Whitson and Malenchenko will have a day-and-a-half of rest wrapped around a day of preparations for their first of three spacewalks on Friday. That spacewalk will be devoted to preparing Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 for its move from the end of the Destiny module to the Harmony module. Whitson and Malenchenko were scheduled to do the work while Discovery was docked, but schedule adjustments due to the solar array repair spacewalk moved it later.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Monday morning or earlier if events warrant.

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

STS-120 MCC Status Report #25

STS-120
Report #25
2 a.m. CST Sunday, Nov. 4, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – The astronauts on space shuttle Discovery got up this morning prepared to complete the final cargo transfers between the two vehicles and bid farewell to the Expedition 16 crew.

Farewells are scheduled to begin at 12:28 p.m. CST, followed by hatch closing at 12:43 p.m. CST.

The crews of Discovery and the International Space Station were awakened before the change from daylight to standard time. The crew was roused at 1:08 a.m. CDT with the song “The Presence of the Lord,” written by gospel musician Kurt Carr, originally recorded by Byron Cage. Cage’s rendition was played for Mission Specialist Stephanie Wilson.

After the transfers are complete the two crews will enjoy some well-deserved time off before they bid farewell. The most important transfer from station to shuttle is the return of astronaut Clay Anderson. Anderson, who joined the station’s Expedition 15 crew in June, is being replaced by Dan Tani, who arrived at the station with the STS-120 crew.

Yesterday, Mission Specialist Scott Parazynski repaired a damaged solar array during a spacewalk that lasted 7 hours, 19 minutes. Fellow spacewalker Doug Wheelock helped from the truss by keeping an eye on the distance between Parazynski and the array.

The repair was completed at just after 10 a.m. Friday and then the crew deployed the P6 array to its full extension. The array repair became the priority of space shuttle Discovery’s mission on Tuesday after two tears were noticed during the array’s unfurling.

The spacewalk was the 4th of the STS-120 mission and the 96th in support of station assembly and maintenance.

Monday will be another busy day with undocking scheduled for 4:32 a.m. CST followed by a fly around of the station and an inspection of the shuttle’s heat shield. Landing is set for just after noon on Wednesday.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Sunday evening or earlier if events warrant.

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #24

STS-120
Report #24
Saturday, Nov. 3, 2007 - 4 p.m. CDT
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – With a few pieces of aluminum and a little bit of wire, Mission Specialist Scott Parazynski today repaired a damaged solar array during a spacewalk that lasted 7 hours, 19 minutes.

Parazynski and fellow spacewalker Doug Wheelock left the International Space Station at 5:03 a.m., and spent about an hour and a half riding the station’s robotic arm out to the torn array – about 165 feet down the station’s truss and 90 feet up to the damage.

Once there, Parazynski cut a snagged wire and installed homemade stabilizers designed to strengthen the array’s structure and stability in the vicinity of the damage. Wheelock helped from the truss by keeping an eye on the distance between Parazynski and the array.

They completed the repair just after 10 a.m., and then stood back to watch for complications as flight controllers on the ground finished the deploy, which began on Tuesday. The delicate deploy sequence called for the array mast to be deployed one half bay at a time. Fifteen minutes and 13 computer commands later, the array was fully extended.

“One of the most satisfying days that I’ve ever had in Mission Control,” Derek Hassman, lead station flight director, said of the operation.

Parazynski and Wheelock then made their way back to the station’s airlock, to end the spacewalk at 12:22 p.m.

The array repair became the priority of space shuttle Discovery’s mission on Tuesday, after two tears were noticed during the array’s unfurling. Teams on the ground worked around the clock to develop a plan for the repair, and the crew spent much of the past two days studying and making tools.
complete final transfer work, say their farewells, and close the hatch between the shuttle and the station at 12:43 p.m. CST Sunday.

Monday will be another busy day with undocking scheduled for 4:32 a.m. followed by a fly around of the station and an inspection of the shuttle’s heat shield.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Sunday morning or earlier if events warrant.

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

STS-120 MCC Status Report #23

STS-120
Report #23
2 a.m. CDT Saturday, Nov. 3, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – Mission Specialists Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock today will work to repair a torn solar array on the farthest end of the International Space Station’s port truss in the fourth spacewalk of the STS-120 mission.

That spacewalk is slated to begin about 5:30 a.m., but could begin as early as 5 a.m. if the crew’s final preparations move quickly as they have for the rest of the mission’s spacewalks.

The crews of Space Shuttle Discovery and the station were awakened this morning at 12:38 with composer John Williams’ theme song from the original “Star Wars“ movie trilogy. The song was played for Parazynski.

Parazynski and Wheelock spent the evening in the Quest airlock at a lower air pressure to get ready for the 6.5-hour spacewalk. Yesterday, the two reviewed the detailed plans for the spacewalk with flight controllers and engineers who have been working around the clock to prepare the plan.

The day will begin with a hand-off of the Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS) from the shuttle’s robotic arm to the station arm. The OBSS is an extension to the shuttle arm used for inspection of the orbiter’s thermal protection system. This will be the first time the OBSS will be used to reach a worksite, which was simulated on STS-121 in July 2006.

Parazynski will take a 45-minute ride on the mated OBSS to the damaged area of the array, estimated to be about 90 feet up from the P6 truss, to repair the tear in the 4B panel of the array. One of his first tasks will be to test the dynamics of the work platform to better understand how it will move as he moves. Once he arrives at the worksite, Parazynski will install homemade stabilizers and release the snag suspected of causing the tear in the array panel. Wheelock will assist from the base of the solar array.

If all goes as planned, the crew inside will then deploy the array half a bay at a time while Parazynski watches for any new complications. The spacewalk is scheduled to wrap up about Noon.

The astronauts should then be able to spend Sunday preparing to leave the station with Discovery’s undocking scheduled early Monday morning. Landing is set for just after Noon on Wednesday.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Saturday evening or earlier if events warrant.
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solar array repair kit ...

I have been to the World Space Expo (WSE) 2007 at Kennedy Space Center today. I just returned back from the evening BBQ event. It was a lot of fun. Among others, John Glenn and Scott Carpenter appeared. But the World Space Expo is a story in itself. What I am now focusing on is the "repair kit" for the ripped ISS solar array.

At WSE, there was a NASA pavilion. It contained a lot of actual space hardware. At some both covering extravehicular activity (EVA) tools, a sample of solar array repair kit could be seen. Of course, it is highly improvised, but it promises to do the job:

ISS Solar Array repair kit

Joe from Johnson Space Center (Houston, Texas) presented it. He said he'd just run into local hardware store to get the necessary parts. When I returned to the hotel, I found this picture on the NASA space shuttle home page:

ISS Solar Array repair kit assembled onboard the ISS

As you can see, there is large similarity between the two. So I guess I saw a live piece of really important space hardware.

BTW: does that look like duct tape? I think so ... On the space station, they use Kapton tape - and I have been told it is the space equivalent of duct tape ;)

So now let's please all cross fingers that the repair goes well on tomorrows spacewalk.

And if you stay in the Orlando and Cocoa area, I recommend you drop in over the weekend to Kennedy Space Center. There is not only the great expo, but an even more promising air show on Saturday and Sunday.

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STS-120 MCC Status Report #22

STS-120
Report #22
Friday, Nov. 2, 2007 - 5 p.m. CDT
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – Space shuttle Discovery and International Space Station crewmembers today finished preparations for Saturday’s spacewalk to repair a torn solar array. The mission’s fourth spacewalk is set to begin about 5:30 a.m.

The astronauts spent the day positioning the station’s mobile transporter and robotic arm at the end of the truss where it will serve as a base and “cherry picker” providing ample reach for the work to free a snag in a solar array panel.

As Mission Specialists Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock studied detailed plans for the spacewalk, other crew members assisted by insulating tools with Kapton tape to protect against any electrical currents.

Late in the crew day, the crew reviewed the procedures with Mission Control prior to going to bed. Parazynski and Wheelock will spend the night in the Quest airlock to prepare for the spacewalk focusing on the solar array repair.

As with other spacewalks during the mission, Saturday’s could begin early depending entirely on the crew’s final preparations that begin shortly after waking up at 12:38 a.m. Saturday.

The 6½ -hour spacewalk begins with Parazynski riding the robotic arm up to the damaged area of the array. He will be secured in a foot restraint on the end of the Orbiter Boom and Sensor System – the extension to the shuttle robot arm used for inspection of the orbiter’s thermal protection system.

Though this will be the first operational use of the OBSS to reach a worksite, the task was demonstrated during a spacewalk on the STS-121 mission in July 2006 to prove the boom could provide a stable environment for this type of work.

As Parazynski installs homemade stabilizers and releases the snag suspected of causing the tear in the array panel, Wheelock will assist from the base of the solar array. The distance from the station’s center is about 165 feet out on the truss and approximately 90 feet up to the damaged site.

If all goes as planned, the crew inside will then deploy the array half a bay at a time while Parazynski watches for any new complications. The spacewalk is scheduled to wrap up about Noon.

The astronauts should then be able to spend Sunday preparing to leave the station with Discovery’s undocking scheduled early Monday morning. Landing is set for just after Noon on Wednesday.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Saturday morning or earlier if events warrant.

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