Tag Archives: Space Shuttle

This material can heat to 2200 F, but it’s safe to hold in your bare hands

 

Designing an orbiter that is able to endure the brutal -250 F in the outer stretches of space, as well as the bewildering 3000 F during the reentry is a ridiculously challenging task.

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Space shuttle is the name for the entire setup, whereas the orbiter is the ‘planeattached

The Thermal Armor

Ergo, after churning the minds of the elite scientists and engineers, we now have the TPS (thermal protection system) that protects the orbiter from this harsh temperature difference.

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The thermal protection system is like an armor that maintains the outer skin of the orbiter within acceptable temperatures. This is achieved by employing various materials on the outer structural skin.

Wait, what kind of materials?

The tile’s material is an insulator. These materials do not exchange heat easily.

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Cardboard, being an insulator protects your hand from the hot coffee. (PC: Nirzar)

Conductors on the other hand are the exact opposite. They love to give away their heat.

This is the reason why touching a hot aluminum / stainless steel ( Conductors ) pan at a moderate 100 C would cause burns, but touching the Space shuttle tile (An amazing insulator) at 2200 C is probably not a bad idea!

 

Let’s cut to the chase: What are they?

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A used tile from Atlantis

Those small white cubes are LI-900. It is a type of low-density insulating material which is composed almost entirely of silica glass fibers.

Purest quartz sand with 94% air by volume constitutes the LI-900.

 

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It’s sort of like foam/ a sponge, if you think about the huge amount of air that it contains.

And also, Air and silica are both extremely poor conductors of heat and thus great insulators.

As is evident from the animation provided above, they can be heated to 2200°F, and even after being subjected to that temperature can be picked up almost immediately.

Surprisingly, these tiles are not mechanically attached to the aircraft, but instead glued. And many of them are replaced after each flight.ShuttleTPS2-colored

White tiles (known as LRSI) were used mainly on the upper surface and have higher thermal reflectivity. These are therefore pointed towards the sun in order to minimize solar gain.

Black tiles (known as HRSI) are optimized for maximum emissivity, which means they lose heat faster than white tiles. This property is required in order to maximise heat rejection during re-entry.

Screwing up the TPS is a recipe for disaster

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Due to a damaged heat shield, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry in 2003, killing all crew members. Designing such an integral component of the space shuttle requires utmost meticulousness.

Perceiving Temperature

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When something feels hot to you, it’s really because there is a large amount of heat transferred between the object and your skin.

And when there is very less heat transfer, we perceive it as cold!

In the case of the space tile, since it’s a good insulator it is conducting (transferring) energy at a remarkably low rate.

Ergo, if we were to touch it, it will fell the same as a quotidian household object.

Cool eh ?

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Taming the sound from a shuttle using water


What purpose would a water tank have in the proximity of a space shuttle launch?

Well, believe it or not, it is used to suppress the acoustical energy (sound and rocket exhaust reflected from the flame trench and Mobile Launcher Platform ) during launch.

Underlying Principle.

NASA came up with an ingenious way to suppress the sound – bubbles!

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Bubbles are excellent at absorbing the sound. They absorb the acoustic energy and as a consequence of which get heated up. NASA exploited this and sprayed water molecules in the air surrounding the Mobile Launcher Platform. This reduced the sound from the firing of the rockets by almost a half!

The Sound Suppression System

The Sound Suppression System includes an elevated water tank with a capacity of 300,000 gallons (1,135,620 liters). The tank is 290 feet (88 meters) high and is located adjacent to each pad.

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The water releases just prior to the ignition of the Shuttle engines, and flows through 7-foot-diameter (2.1-meter) pipes for about 20 seconds. Water pours from 16 nozzles atop the flame deflectors and from outlets in the main engines exhaust hole in the Mobile Launcher Platform, starting at T minus 6.6 seconds.

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A rainbird nozzle in action

By the time the solid rocket boosters ignite, a torrent of water will be flowing onto the Mobile Launcher Platform from six large quench nozzles, or “rainbirds,” mounted on its surface.

The peak rate of flow from all sources is 900,000 gallons (3,406,860 liters) of water per minute at 9 seconds after liftoff.

Exquisite, isn’t it? 

PC: NASA.

Space Shuttle Endeavor’s tanks to be reused on the ISS

The space shuttle Endeavor is currently retired, being displayed for everyone to see at the California Science Center. But that doesn’t mean that its contributions to NASA’s space program are over. NASA engineers will remove four tanks from the shuttle and use them for water storage aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Image credits: NASA

Endeavor is the fifth and final operational shuttle built. It embarked on its first mission in May 1992 and retired in May 2011, after 25 successful flights to the International Space Station.

After its decommissioning, Endeavour’s Canadarm (formally the ‘Shuttle Remote Manipulator System’) was removed in order to be sent to the Canadian Space Agency’s John H. Chapman Space Centre in Longueuil, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal, where it was to be placed on display. Now, Endeavor was called to serve again.

The tanks weigh 40 pounds (18 kilograms) empty, and they were placed deep inside the orbiter, so the museum visitors won’t even notice a difference.

Nobody was really expecting something else to be needed from the shuttle. Science Center president Jeff Rudolph said:

“It wasn’t part of the deal, but we’re always happy to work with NASA,” he said. “The concept of taking something from an old shuttle and making it available for use in space is something that we think is great.”

 

Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin (left), Soyuz Commander Pavel Vinogradov (center) and Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy of NASA pose for pictures in front of the ISS Progress 51 cargo ship being prepared for launch to the International Space Station on Friday. (Photo: Victor Zelentsov/NASA)

Historic ISS rendzvous with manned spacecraft set for today [UPDATE]

Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin (left), Soyuz Commander Pavel Vinogradov (center) and Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy of NASA pose for pictures in front of the ISS Progress 51 cargo ship being prepared for launch to the International Space Station on Friday. (Photo: Victor Zelentsov/NASA)

Flight Engineer Alexander Misurkin (left), Soyuz Commander Pavel Vinogradov (center) and Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy of NASA pose for pictures in front of the ISS Progress 51 cargo ship being prepared for launch to the International Space Station on Friday. (Photo: Victor Zelentsov/NASA)

This afternoon a Soyuz spacecraft carrying three astronauts (two Russian and one American) is set for launch out of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, destined for the International Space Station, at 4:43 p.m. The flight is set to be a historical one, as it will set a new milestone in space launches. Typically, all manned flights up until now, be them through the now retired space shuttle or the presently tasked Soyuz, had taken at least two days to dock with the ISS. Today’s flight is set to dock with the space station in a mere six hours after launch.

Following three test flights with unpiloted Russian cargo spacecrafts, the astronaut team, comprised of NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, along with Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin of the Russian Federal Space Agency, will use the new ultra-fast docking technique riding in the Soyuz orbiter. For the past 13 years since manned crews have been ferried in and out of the ISS, such procedures took at least two days to perform. The accelerated schedule, however, means that today the astronauts will reach the space station in only four orbits of Earth.

“The four-orbit rendezvous has the advantage of a very short period of time from launch to docking,” Mike Suffredini, NASA’s International Space Station program manager, said of the mission. “It reduces the amount of time the crew has to spend in a small environment before they get to ISS.”

The astronauts will be joining commander Chris Hadfield and Flight Engineers Tom Marshburn and Roman Romanenko, who already are living on the station, and will be on space station for the duration of six months. During this time, they’ll be performing scientific experiments, space station upkeep, oversee robotic and unmanned courier and delivery services, and possibly the American crew, will conduct six spacewalks during their mission for space station maintenance.

“It’s a very fun and very interesting activity for us,” Misurkin said of spacewalking. “During these tasks we are doing to install some scientific equipment outside of the station, and also we are going to prepare some special stuff for the Russian module which will come a little bit later.”

You can check out the launch live via the NASA’s stream embedded right below.

UPDATE: The six-hour trip lasted roughly as long as an airplane flight from Seattle to Miami. It wasn’t without its nail-biting moments though (when is a space launch ever without any issues?), since at one point while approaching docking with the ISS, the Soyuz’s flight commander was a bit tenser than usual. “Hey, is anyone home?” Vinogradov joked. The new arrivals received a round of hugs and congratulations, exchanged warm words with loved ones back on Earth via the station’s communication link, and finally settled down for rest at the end of a long, long day. 

 


Live stream videos at Ustream

X-37 B secret US Air Force space plane

Highly secretive unmanned Air Force spacecraft launches into orbit

X-37 B secret US Air Force space plane

Yesterday morning, the U.S. Air Force launched its X-37B robotic space plane into orbit via an Atlas 5 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This is the spacecraft’s third launch since 2010, however very little is known about X-37B itself and more importantly about its mission. Officials claim that its goal is scientific, however it’s rather clear than the Air Force has a secret agenda of its own.

First launched in 2010, the solar- and battery-powered X-37B orbited Earth for 224 days. On its second launch, it stayed aloft for 469 days, before it touched down on autopilot at a specially prepared runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Both for previous missions and its current one, the X-37B carried a secret payload in its pickup truck-sized cargo bay. The whole operation has been totally classified to the public, which has garnered a lot of international criticism, especially from China which on numerous occasions accused the US of carrying spy sensors or equipment for hacking satellites. Actually, the Chinese government announced they’ll be building a space plane of its own.

X-37 B secret US Air Force space plane

Some 18 months ago, NASA retired its manned shuttle program indefinitely. The shuttle weighed 120 tonnes, while the  Boeing Government Space Systems built space plane only weighs six tones. A reusable spacecraft that isn’t meant for carrying people, cargo for the International Space Station or deploying satellites in space is obviously very suspicious. Still, the Air Force maintains that the space plane is exclusively meant for deploying science experiments in space.

“Take a payload up, spend up to 270 days on orbit,” is how Gary Payton, Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space Programs, explained the X-37′s mission. “They’ll run experiments to see if the new technology works, then bring it all back home and inspect it to see what was really going on in space.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a Massachusetts-based think tank, recently issued a statement in which it voiced its … concern.

“Because it is an Air Force project and details about it are classified, and because it does not have a clear mission compared to simpler systems, this project has generated confusion, speculation and in some cases concern about its purpose.”

“The ability to return to Earth carries a high cost,” according to the think tank’s fact sheet. “Many missions in space do not require bringing a spacecraft back to Earth, and the space plane makes no sense for those. And even in cases when return does make sense, a spacecraft can land using a parachute rather than wings and landing gear.”

The  29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 15 feet (4.5 m) wide space plane is currently under the jurisdiction of the  U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, tasked with expediting the development and fielding of select Department of Defense combat support and weapon systems by leveraging defense-wide technology development efforts and existing operational capabilities.

via Wired

NASA logo

NASA Today and its Uncertain Future

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has had a long and storied history in the course of American scientific exploration. Since its founding in 1958 during the U.S/Soviet Space Race to the disasters of the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttles and their 14 dead astronauts, the agency has also had its fair share of ups and downs.

 NASA’S Past Successes and Declining Prestige

NASA logoSince the height of its popularity and funding during the Apollo program in the late 1960’s, NASA’s budget has dropped to less than 30% of what it was at the time. Concurrently, public opinion of NASA and support for a federally funded space program have both also undergone a steady decline over the ensuing decades to reach new lows as of the late 2000’s. Support of a multi-billion dollar space program is particularly unpopular during these recessionary times in which government spending gets criticized on many fronts.

During the several decades of its existence, NASA has deployed many wildly successful missions and advanced knowledge of physics, astronomy, aeronautical engineering and space flight considerably through these expeditions. Programs like the Gemini missions, the famous Apollo flights and the Skylab space station have all benefited human knowledge of the above-mentioned fields in many ways.

However there have also been numerous failures and cases of mismanagement. The space shuttle program, despite its fame, was a financial disaster from the start; in terms of the real cost of getting each shuttle up into orbit vs. the originally proposed idea of a cheap, easy to refit space cargo transporter for potentially commercial use. During the original planning stage, NASA engineers had estimated that per-flight costs would amount to slightly less than $10 million dollars. The actual cost was over 120 times higher at between $1.2 and $1.5 billion per flight.

Furthermore, partly due to sheer accident and partly due to what are labeled by many as cases of administrative incompetence, the shuttle program suffered two famous accidents that resulted in the deaths of 14 astronauts and billions in financial losses. Following the Columbia disaster, the problem that caused the disaster were not even addressed on successive flights, putting more astronauts at risk, a terrible oversight for flights that cost over a billion each. The shuttle program is now officially shut down, one less program under NASA’s shrinking list of duties.

Currently NASA’s budget is at its lowest point in history. Meanwhile private space ventures are slowly budding forward to overtake publically funded space exploration. Additionally, several foreign countries are also going ahead with their own space exploration efforts that may one day overtake even NASA’s future efforts if it continues at the current pace.

NASA’s Future

Not everything is doom and gloom, at least according to what NASA has planned on paper. Future projects include manned missions to several large asteroids, Mars and a return mission to the moon. An earlier idea of putting together a manned, permanent moon base was tabled by President Obama in favor of Asteroid missions.

NASA is also moving in the direction of commercial partnerships with foreign public space programs and private ventures. One of its recent commercial initiatives consisted of offering more than $270 million to four different companies as on offer to create cheaper methods of transporting cargo to the International Space Station.

Despite the ongoing publically funded Mars and Asteroid explorations, given NASA’s history of ballooning budgets and tabled grand plans, it may indeed be the case that its most practically useful way of ensuring its own future lies with lending it’s decades of hands on expertise in space exploration to commercial developers and other private ventures.

Another option would be to focus on unmanned robot missions, which are much cheaper and have shown a far better track record amongst NASA’s efforts.

About the author: Jeffery Fields has spent much of his life writing about important events and organizations. When he’s not writing he can be found reviewing hard laptop cases.

Liberty rocket into space

The new Liberty rocket aims to bring manned space launches back on US soil by 2015

Since the space shuttle program was cancelled last year, NASA has been looking for various alternatives to sending manned crews in space, particularly the International Space Station. A number of private space companies have jumped on the bandwagon since then, spearheaded by SpaceX, which is slated to make its first flight to the International Space Station next week, once with the launch of its unmanned Dragon capsule. Still, an alternative for launching astronaut crews in space to the now defunct shuttle and the currently in use Soyuz rental-spacecraft has yet to have been materialized. It’s pretty clear by now that NASA maybe would’ve been better off postponing the shuttle retirement by a few years – then again, it’s not like anyone from congress cares about the space agency anymore; see the ever dwindling budget cuts.

Liberty rocket into space

Alliant Techsystems (ATK), however, an Utah based company, is very confident that it can supply the next spacecraft capable of manning space missions in the form of its soon to be completed Liberty rocket. A Frankenstein-like contraption, the rocket is half space shuttle side boosters, half  European Ariane 5 – the rocket which has sent the most telecommunication satellites into space ever.  The company boosts that both are proven, reliable systems, which already exist and encompass billions of dollars worth of research. By combining the two, ATK hopes to have its first manned launch by 2015.

Besides, the two shuttle/Ariane modules, ATK has also added a capsule to go on top of the rocket to carry astronauts, which comes with an abort system to pull the capsule clear of Liberty if there is a malfunction. The capsule is also fitted with a propulsion module to carry it through space

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Lego Space Shuttle

The shuttle is back in space, it’s made out of LEGO though [VIDEO]

Lego Space Shuttle

A lot of people were left disheartened when the iconic space shuttle program was canceled last year. Though it’s now been turned into a museum exhibit, the shuttle has remained in the minds and hearts of millions as a symbol of man’s journey towards the stars. Romanian Raul Oaida made his own tribute, and put a LEGO model shuttle into space via a weather balloon, to an altitude of 35,000 m. The whole event was documented in a youtube video, posted right below.

The Lego shuttle was strapped to a 1,600g meteo balloon filled with helium, along with a  GoPro Hero camera, which recorded its ascent, and a Spot GPS  to track its movement. The whole rig was only $1000, a trifle of the price tag such an event would’ve cost ten years ago, showing just how technology has evolved and allowed anyone passionate enough to accomplish amazing things. The LEGO shuttle eventually landed about 240 kilometers away from the original launch site, as detailed by Raul on his blog.

A similar feat was accomplished by a Canadian teen duo at the beginning of the year when they put the LEGO man, holding Canada’s flag,  24km into the upper atmosphere from where the Earth’s curvature can be seen. A similar helium balloon was used then as well.

The launch took place in Germany, since Romania’s flight clearance procedure was way too bureaucratic.

NASA Buys Flights on Virgin Galactic’s Private Spaceship

NASA’s troubles are other companies good luck charm: Virgin has just struck a deal with NASA worth up to $4.5 million for research flights using the company’s new spaceship.

NASA, who is just out of space orbiters, has to sign up several of these deals in order to continue their regular activity, and SpaceShipTwo, a shuttle designed specifically for carrying eight people into suborbital space will fit in just nicely.

“We are excited to be working with NASA to provide the research community with this opportunity to carry out experiments in space, said George Whitesides, president and CEO of Virgin Galactic, in a statement.

The company will also provide a space engineer to assist in every mission; at a first glance, this seems like a win-win situation for everybody.

“An enormous range of disciplines can benefit from access to space, but historically, such research opportunities have been rare and expensive,” Whitesides added. “At Virgin Galactic, we are fully dedicated to revolutionizing access to space, both for tourist astronauts and, through programs like this, for researchers.”

However, many claim this is a major step backwards for NASA, which now has to go through a middle man to leaver the atmosphere. Still, they are receiving a lot of support from many people, including Mike Moses, NASA’s former space shuttle launch integration manager, who will become vice president manager of operations.

“I am extremely excited to be joining Virgin Galactic at this time, helping to forge the foundations that will enable routine commercial suborbital spaceflights,” he said in a statement. “Virgin Galactic will expand the legacy of human spaceflight beyond traditional government programs into the world’s first privately funded commercial spaceline.”.

British plan to revive unique UK satellite

A group of scientists and engineers from the United Kingdom are working on an ambitious program to revive their only satellite – still in orbit after 40 years.

When the Prospero spacecraft was launched atop a Black Arrow rocket on 28 October 1971, it was pretty much the end of an era; the end of a really short era that is. Prospero was the first, and until now, the last satellite launched into outer space by the British. The program was already canceled, but since everything was ready and set up, they decided to launch it anyway.

However, it operated successfully only until 1973, but was contacted anually until 1996. Nothing was ever done until now, when a team led by PhD student Roger Duthie from University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Surrey started reestablishing communications in time for the satellite’s 40th anniversary.

“First, we have to re-engineer the ground segment from knowledge lost, then test the communications to see if it’s still alive,” Duthie told the Space Boffins podcast. “Then we can have drinks and champagne!”

But this is no easy task (except for the drinks); so much time has passed since the satellite was up and running that the codes to contact Prospero were missing – which makes the entire affair much more difficult and complicated.

“The technical reports made in the 1970s were thought to have been lost,” explained Duthie. “We talked to the people involved in Prospero, searched through dusty boxes in attics and tried the library at Farnborough.”

But they finally discovered the codes in the National Archives at Kew, London. However, even with these codes, the engineers will have a hard time building a device that can ‘talk’ to the satellite and win approval from the broadcast regulator Ofcom to use Prospero’s radio frequencies – these days being employed by other satellite operators. But they seem adamant to doing it.

“It’s an artefact of British engineering; we should find out how it’s performing,” said Duthie.

If it works, Duthie’s team can call themselves the world’s first astro-archaeologists.

Via BBC

The STS 135 crew met with a standing ovation from the crowd. From left to right: Mission Specialists Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus, Pilot Doug Hurley Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson. (c) Ken Kreme

NASA’s last ever shuttle mission in photos

Despite unfriendly whether filled with low lying clouds and a last moment countdown glitch, which gave of all the 750,000 spectators gathered at Kennedy Space Center venue to witness the launch a pretty big scare, Atlantis was catapulted into low-orbit with dazzling success yesterday, July 8th.

Photo by NASA.

STS 135 was, as the name implies, the 135th and final shuttle mission, marking an end to more than 30 years of breath taking flights, and hopefully clearing the way for a new era of more advanced, safe and economic means of space transportation.

Take it as a weekend treat or simply as a tribute to the iconic shuttle missions, in this post I’ve taken the liberty to scour the internet for illustrated moments of the shuttle’s grand finale.

 

 

 

NASA fuels Endeavour for one last round

As I was telling you a few days ago, after Discovery, Endeavour is also preparing for its last trip, led by space veteran Mark Kelly. The weird thing is that Endeavour, which will be retired after today’s last mission, is at the moment also NASA‘s youngest orbiter, which kind of speaks a lot about NASA’s capacity to modernize its fleet. The thunderstorm that took place last night provided some spectacular photos, but it probably won’t affect the launch in any way.

space shuttle Endeavour

Endeavour is set for launch today, April 29, at 3:47 p.m. EDT (1947 GMT) from the Kennedy space center, in what seems to be like good weather. However, if clouds or some other meteorological problem is present, the launch will be delayed, but not too much.


Endeavour space shuttle

The orbiter will travel to the International Space Station (ISS) for a two week visit. Its goal is to deliver a $2 billion astrophysics experiment designed to hunt for exotic subatomic particles.

The shuttle’s whole crew consists of six veterans, including pilot Gregory H. Johnson and mission specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel, and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori, will be led by commander Mark Kelly.

Endeavour’s launch has drawn an impressive amount of public to the site, and all in all 700.000 people are expected to watch the launch – even though it’s scheduled on the same day as the big royal wedding between between Prince William and Kate Middleton in England. President Barack Obama, his wife Michele, and his two daughters will also be present at the launch; it is only the second time in history that a president will be present at a shuttle launch, after Bill Clinton’s visit in 1998.

Another high profile visitor will be Kelly’s wife, wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was tragically wounded after a failed assasination attempt when a gunman opened fire on her and others outside a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store. This was tragic not only for Kelly, but for the whole crew, who always sticks together:

“The crew has just done a tremendous job of staying on focus and being trained and ready to go fly,” NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, said during a press conference last week. “It’s a testimony to the entire crew’s ability to stay focused, to compartmentalize and to do what they need to do.”

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (the astrophysics experiment I was telling you about) will be installed on the space station with the goal of keeping an eye out for cosmic ray particles that might shed light on cosmic mysteries such as the invisible dark matter which has puzzled researchers for so long.

“It’s the premier physics experiment; it’s probably the most expensive thing ever flown by the space shuttle,” Kelly said in a NASA interview.

In addition to the spectrometer, Endeavour will also be carrying 14,000 pounds (6,350 kg) of spare supplies to outfit the space station for the era after the shuttles stop flying. To help install some of the equipment, an ambitious four space walks are scheduled, which will be finished in 14 days, but NASA says they are fine with a few extra days as well. Even if everything goes according to plan, the victory will be bittersweet at best, because this doesn’t only mark the end of Endeavour, but it marks the end of an era.

“We know the end is coming and we’re dealing with it,” shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach said. “The emotional aspect is very, very real and it’s very difficult to put into words, but I think all of Kennedy Space Center got a big boost when we got the word that were going to be able to keep Atlantis.”

After Endeavour’s last flight, NASA plans one more shuttle flight, the June launch of Atlantis, and after that, the space shuttle program will come to an end. That’s it, no more Discovery, no more Endeavour, no more Atlantis; no more space orbiters for NASA. I don’t know about you, but it’s pretty emotional where I’m standing.

Endeavour’s last flight will also be Mark Kelly’s last

Endeavour will pretty soon begin its retirement, just like fellow space orbiter Discovery did just a while ago. However, Endeavour’s last flight will almost certainly be captain Mark Kelly’s last one too.

Kelly, 47, showed his flying skills with twin brother Scott, and signed up for the Navy, then became pilots, and finally, became astronauts; they are the world’s first and as up today, only ‘space siblings’. Unfortunately, his wife, who is a U.S. Congresswoman, was the target of an attempted assasination in January, which she barely survived, so it’s understandable that he wants to be as much as possible by her side. However, her recuperation was so swift, that he decided to do one last flight before retiring from his life as an active astronaut.

Captain Kelly has already been in space three times, just like his bother, and spent more than 38 days outside Earth’s atmosphere, traveling more than 38 million miles and going around the Earth 186 times. We would like to pay homage to the astronauts, as well as to the space ships, which have done so much during the years; it’s the change of a generation, for orbiters as well as for humans, and what a generation it was ! The past 50 years were NASA’s finest, transforming space travel from a child’s fantasy into a real possibility. For Endeavour, as well as Mark Kelly, there is only one thing we can still say: once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more !

NASA to announce permanent homes for retired shuttles

Exactly 30 years ago, the first orbital space shuttle launch took place, marking the start of a slew of successful missions, with 135 successful launches, which provided important insights in space exploration, offered satellite deployment, space lab work and indispensable International Space Station service.

The shuttle program however will be permanently retired soon, with only two more flights left – shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis. Discovery, which completed its final journey to the International Space Station last month, and Enterprise, the first shuttle, which took its maiden voyage in 1977 but was a test orbiter and not capable of spaceflight, have been already retired.

All four shuttles will be symbolically donated to four worthy institutions for displaying purposes, with the official announcement settling the resting place for each shuttle going live this Tuesday. Currently there 27 institutions across the US competing to have one of the shuttles on permanent display, among which Houston’s NASA Mission Control or Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. I’m pretty sure one of the two will have a shuttle on display somewhere, it would be most fitting, really. Other institutions  that would love to host a space shuttle are the  Johnson Space Center, the Air Force Museum in Ohio and museums in New York City, Seattle and Chicago.

Apparently, Shuttle Discovery, which ended its flying career last month, is going to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

This Tuesday, April 12th, also marks the 50th anniversary of the first human journey into outer space. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became an international celebrity after his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit around Earth April 12, 1961.

We’ll keep this post updated as soon as the remaining three institutions each hosting a shuttle for permanent display are officially announced. Be sure to return to this page, if you’re still curious.

NASA to announce home of retiring space ships

Tuesday will mark the 50th year since human space flight, since the day Yuri Gagarin left Russia and became the first man to go in outer space, as well as the 30th anniversary of the launch of the shuttle Discovery, the legendary but already retired space shuttle. This is the day when NASA will announce who will get to house the three other retiring space ships.

Moving, cleaning, and preparing the space ships is a thorough and costly operation, and it will rise up to $28 million apiece; the costs will be assured by whoever gets to keep them in exchange for… keeping them. The first criteria of selection is to be somehow related to NASA‘s space program, which is not unreasonable at all, giving the numerous appliants and the few shuttles. However, even so, there are only 3 shuttles and 21 elligibile locations.

So far, the decision process has been covered in mystery, and there’s no indication we will get a clue before tomorrow, when NASA will announce the retiring place of the shuttles. It is a difficult process, and it’s hard to keep the political out of it, but hopefully, wherever they go, they will be a standing testament to the efforts of so many brave men and women, and to the intelligence of humans, who can defeat so many things, including the gravitational pull.

Endeavour launch delayed due to Russian schedule

Endeavour was set to take of in a really short time, and everybody was ready for this, but in an attempt to avoid a scheduling conflict with a Russian supply ship headed for the International Space Station (ISS), the launch of Endeavour has been delayed until April 29. The Russian spaceship will be launched on April 27 and will reach the ISS two days later, on April 29.

Endeavour was set to go less than three weeks from now, on April 19, but NASA was forced to delay the launch due to these events. There have also been some fears expressed regarding the recent violent storms that hit Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday and Thursday. Officials found “only minor damage” and “evaluations indicate there was no damage to the spacecraft,” NASA said.

The mission will be the last one for Endeavour, which will be retired, just as fellow orbiter Discovery, which went on its last mission this year. It will be led by Commander Mark Kelly, whos brother is also an astronaut and returned only recently from the ISS – imagine the dinner conversations around that table.

Crew practices for Endeavour last mission

After Discovery, another legendary orbited is heading towards retirement – Endeavour is only one mission away from a lifetime of well deserved rest. But until that, the astronauts which will ride Endeavour on its last trip are preparing intensely for it; after all, they have to prepare a major astrophysics experiment, as well as deliver some supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

“My crew and I will get to strap in,” Endeavour commander Mark Kelly told reporters after arriving in Florida Monday. “We practice the launch countdown that day and I know these guys are excited to do this. TCDT, or the terminal countdown demonstration test, is when the processing and the training kind of comes together.”

“We like coming in to see the space shuttle,” Kelly said. “It’s always exciting, especially when you’re three weeks away from launch.”

I bet it is ! I can only imagine the thrill and the excitement that come with a mission such as this one, but for Endeavour, this is not really such a big deal. After all, after 24 missions, you kind of get used to it; after this mission, Endeavour will enter its retirement – hopefully, to be replaced by a more performant shuttle.

Cocaine found at Kennedy Space Center… again

NASA’s Inspector General’s Office says an investigation is under way after a white powdery substance found at the Kennedy Space Center tested positive for cocaine.

I wanted to insert some puns somewhere in this post about astronauts, cocaine, high and outer space, but by the time I finished researching for this post I remembered that N.A.S.A. is through some though times at it is.

“Law enforcement personnel field tested the substance, which indicated a positive test for cocaine,” said Renee Juhans, an executive officer with the office.

“The substance is now at an accredited crime lab for further testing,” she said.

The find was made last week when a small bag containing 4.2 grams of white powdery substance, which wouldn’t you know it turned out to be cocaine, was stumbled upon. Embarrassing enough, this wasn’t a premiere for N.A.S.A. either, as last year a small quantity of cocaine was found as well, this time in a secure part of a hangar that housed space shuttle Discovery. That time almost 200 space shuttle workers were tested for drug use, but no one was found positive. The investigation was eventually closed without any disciplinary or legal actions.

NASA has a zero-tolerance drug policy. All employees may be randomly tested. It is not known whether any employees have been asked to submit to drug testing in this investigation.

Boeing enters the space tourism market

Commercial space flight is starting to promise to become a very lucrative market since an ever growing interested is harnessed by the big corporations of the world. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic in cooperation with Scaled Composites (Mojave, CA), announced their sincere intentions of entering the commercial space travel market, after recently the giant Boeing also announced its plans to carry civilians in space.

Apparently, the aerospace manufacturer has reached an agreement with Space Adventures for the marketing and manufacturing of low-orbit space travel, which could see wealthy, yet ordinary civilians travel into space, as well as guarantee regular transportation for the International Space Station or other sub orbital projects, aboard the Boeing Crew Space Transportation-100 (CST-100).

The CST-100 could carry seven people and fly in low-Earth orbit as soon as 2015, Boeing said. The potential customers for excess seating capacity include private individuals, companies, non-governmental organizations, and U.S. federal agencies other than NASA.

“By combining our talents, we can better offer safe, affordable transportation to commercial spaceflight customers,” explained Brewster Shaw, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Space Exploration division. “To date, all commercial flights for private spaceflight participants to the ISS have been contracted by Space Adventures. If NASA and the international partners continue to accommodate commercial spaceflight participants on ISS, this agreement will be in concert with the NASA administrator’s stated intent to promote space commerce in low Earth orbit.”

This could prove to be the first real step in providing the possibility for commercial space travel, even though in the beginning (first 10-20 years) this will solely be a player’s market, with fare tickets ranging in the the tens of millions. The first space tourist was Dennis A. Tito, a California multimillionaire, who shelved $20 million for a ride and spent eight days in the International Space Station with two cosmonauts in 2001. Guy Laliberte, founder of Canada’s Cirque du Soleil, paid more than $35 million to travel into space last year on a Russian spaceship from Kazakhstan.

“We are excited about the potential to offer flights on Boeing’s spacecraft,” emphasized Eric Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures. “With our customer experience and Boeing’s heritage in human spaceflight, our goal is not only to benefit the individuals who fly to space, but also to help make the resources of space available to the commercial sector by bringing the value from space back to Earth.”

What’s interesting is that Boeing’s new jump into the commercial space flight market comes a few months after President Obama‘s decision to retire the Space Shuttle program and shelve lunar missions for the next couple of years, until N.A.S.A. will get completely restructured. Until then N.A.S.A. will be completely dependent on commercial space taxis for ISS cargo transpiration and on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for astronaut missions. The Russian space agency charges the US $51 million per seat for a ride on a Soyuz, a price tag that is said to reach $56 million by 2013.

UPDATE: Three years since this post was published, a lot has changed in the private space sector. For one, SpaceX, currently the most successful private aerospace enterprise has successfully deployed its own spacecraft to the International Space Station, and the aforementioned Dennis Tito is actually planning one of the most dashing plans yet – a manned mission to mars by 2018.  The space shuttle is long dead and gone, alas.