Archive for the ‘ NASA ’ Category

Kennedy Space Center Space Shuttle Launch 2nd to Last

Space Shuttle Discovery

NASA image: Space Shuttle Discovery transport to launch pad

The November 1st Space Shuttle Discovery launch is expected to be the second to last shuttle launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Slated for a launch time of 4:40 pm EDT, shuttle mission STS-133 will supply the International Space Station (ISS) with a MultiPurpose Logistics Module (MPLM), the Express Logistics Carrier 4 (ELC4), and spare components.

This is the last mission for Discovery before being retired. Workers at the space center and their family members watched the shuttle’s last rollout. Discovery was moved from the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy late last night and arrived at the launch pad early this morning. The 3.4 mile journey was made, on top of a crawler-transporter, at a speed of less than 1 mph.

Six astronauts will be aboard Discovery on its 39th, and final flight. Unless an extra Atlantis Space Shuttle flight is approved by congress, mission STS-134, scheduled for February 26, 2011, utilizing Space Shuttle Endeavour will be the last mission before the entire shuttle fleet is retired.

NASA will purchase seats aboard Russian space vehicles until commercial enterprises such as Boeing create space transportation that can safely send astronauts to the ISS. NASA has been given direction by President Obama to focus on engineering spacecrafts that can reach a near Earth object (neo) such as an asteroid and a distant destination, possibly Mars.

Boeing Space Taxi for Astronauts and Space Tourists

Crew Space Transportation (CST-100)

Artist rendering of Boeing's proposed Crew Space Transportation (CST-100) spacecraft. (Boeing image)

On Wednesday, Boeing announced that it will become a competitor in the fledgling space tourism market.

The company is vying for a government contract that will allow it to ferry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). To do so, Boeing is building the Crew Space Transportation capsule (CST-100), which will contain more seats than needed by NASA. The space agency expects to send astronauts to the ISS in groups of four. The CST-100 will contain seven seats leaving the three remaining seats to be occupied possibly by commercial entities, education-based organizations, governments with no current access to space or private citizens with the desire to be space tourists. Boeing has teamed up with the company Space Adventures, which will coordinate the sale of the available seats.

In an interview with Discovery News, Eric Anderson, the Chairman of Space Adventures stated that “The marketplace has not been constrained by the number of people who wanted to go [to space]. It’s been constrained by access to orbit.

Of course fare on board the capsule is not for those on a tight budget. Unlike the relatively inexpensive $200,000 price tag of a suborbital flight on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, orbital flights on the CST-100 are expected to be priced at something near $40 million dollars. This puts Boeing’s price structure inline with space flights on board a Russian Soyuz rocket. Both Boeing and Space Adventures believe that flights on board the capsule could begin as early as the end of 2015.

Kepler Telescope Finds a Cash of Exoplanets

Planets Orbiting 55 Cancri

Planets Orbiting 55 Cancri - Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On June 15th, The Kepler team at NASA announced that the space based telescope found a veritable cash of potential exoplanets. The team released information on more than 300 of the objects, many of which could turnout to be false-positives. The expectation is that some of these would be planets will actually be, for example, twin stars orbiting each other in close proximity.

The Kepler telescope was designed to search for Earth-like planets in other solar systems. Kepler’s findings total more than 700 possible exoplanets, but NASA will not make public information about the remaining 400 objects until February of next year. The Kepler team will be researching those objects through the summer in hopes that at least one turns out to be an alien Earth.

Approximately 156,000 stars were surveyed for evidence of orbiting planetary bodies in the constellations of Lyra and Cygnus.

NASA Blasting-off Toward Hiatus

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Image Credit: NASA

Yesterday, Space Shuttle Atlantis blasted-off, heading toward the International Space Station (ISS) for what is scheduled to be the shuttle’s last flight into space. With two more shuttle launches remaining, one each by Discovery and Endeavor, I really am wondering what’s next?

Of course the Obama administration has outlined NASA’s budget and direction for the next few years, which includes preparation for eventual manned exploration of Mars, and private companies such Virgin Galactic are on the brink of making commercial space travel a reality. But, Amercian space exploration will essentially be on hiatus. For an indefinite number of years, American astronauts will hitch rides into space with Russian cosmenauts and then do the same with commercial space companies. But the images of American spaceship launches into low earth orbit will become a memory; a distant one at that.

I understand that priorities and times change for people and governments alike. But, my perspective is one stemming from memories of televisions being rolled into classrooms in the 80s, when I was in elementary school, so that children could stare in amazement as people actually rocketed into space. Before the complete proliferation of GPS units, cell phones, mp3 players, personal computers and the internet in modern day society, space shuttles were the very definition of advanced technology.

I expect that for many in my generation and the generations of my parents and grandparents, It will seem odd not see the United States at the forefront of space exploration. Regardless to the advancements that may be made by NASA in the near future, videos and photographs of rockets launched by other governments and comercial entities will have much more impact than written articles about NASA’s continued progress.

I wonder if the United States will land a manned space vehicle on a near earth object, as proposed by President Obama, or make great and notable strides toward a manned mission to Mars before the next (second) country reaches the Moon. I wonder how I will feel if the next country reaches the Moon while the United States is still…well, still trying to make great strides in space exploration. I really do wonder.

President Obama Proposes 2011 NASA Budget

President Obama proposed a budget increase of 6 billion dollars for NASA over 5 years starting in 2011. At the same time, he officially ended the Constellation program, which would have produced the Ares I and Ares V rockets for manned Moon missions. “We’ve already been to the Moon” the President stated in his 28 minute speech from the Kennedy Space Center.

After the expected retirement of the space shuttle fleet later this year, U.S. astronauts will hitch rides into space on Russian Soyuz rockets for an unspecified period of time. The administration’s plan is to invest in private sector space tourism companies that are currently researching and developing rockets. Currently none of the companies have a rocket that is designed, or in the works, that is capable of sending a crew of astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The cost of shuttling astronauts to and from the ISS on Soyuz rockets is expected to have a cost that is somewhere in the range of 55 million dollars per astronaut.

The idea of scrapping a manned Moon landing has drawn the ire of those such as the second man to set foot on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin, who think that future Moon landings and manned outposts are necessary steps toward reaching Mars.

President Obama’s space exploration plans include traveling to a near earth object such as an astroid and development of rockets that will eventually propel astronauts to Mars.

Russia Leaves Space Tourists Behind For Now

Soyuz Rocket

Soyuz Rocket: Image Credit - NASA/Bill Ingalls

Russian officials announced that they will suspend ferrying space tourists to and from the International Space Station (ISS). This is due in part to the retirement of the United States space shuttle fleet that is expected to occur toward the end of this year. Russia will be the sole country transporting personnel and supplies to the ISS. The crew of the ISS will increase to 6, which means that Russia will need to commit all of the seating available on its Soyuz rockets to professional astronauts.

It may take a few years, at the earliest, for the United States to produce a spacecraft that is launch ready. The Constellation program, which includes building the Orion rocket, has been slated for termination in President Obama’s 2011 fiscal year NASA budget. If there is no change in the cancellation of the program, the next group of American spacecrafts capable of reaching the space station may come from burgeoning commercial space tourism enterprises.

NASA Astronaut Makes First Tweet From Space

TJ Creamer NASA Astronaut

Astronaut T.J. Creamer, Expedition 22 flight engineer in the Kibo laboratory of the International Space Station, January 4, 2010.

While Captain James T. Kirk seemed to be very comfortable sending messages by way of his hand held Communicator, NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer is just as comfortable tweeting…from outer space. In a move that was literally out of this world, Creamer became the first person to tweet from a location other than the planet Earth.

Through his Twitter account (Astro_TJ), he sent the following tweet from the International Space Station (ISS) on January 22, 2010:

“Hello Twitterverse! We r now LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station — the 1st live tweet from Space! :) More soon, send your ?s”

Until now, NASA astronauts had no internet (world wide web) access. They would have to email Twitter messages to Mission Control, in Houston, and someone would transfer the messages to their Twitter accounts. The ISS crew can now utilize a laptop that has a remote desktop connection to a computer on the ground for private internet access. The astronauts are subject to the same internet usage guidelines that government employees must abide by here on Earth.