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August 31, 2005

Enceladus - News from Cassini

The Cassini-Huygens mission continues to bring surprising and fascinating images from Saturn, its rings, and moons. A gallery of small moon and large moon images shows the range of things out there. Most recently in the news, Enceladus has signs of very recent water flow - stripes of recently formed crystalline ice near the southern pole.

Cassini also found a trace atmosphere of water vapor - but strangely enough, not uniform across the planet, rather more water vapor concentrated in the south pole region again. Small areas in the region have temperatures up to 30 degrees (Kelvin) higher than at the equator. Cassini also found traces of carbon-based organic molecules in the atmosphere.

How could such a small moon (500 km across) manage an internal heat source? Could it be warm enough to have liquid water below the ice? Are ice particles sprayed out from Enceladus the source of ice for Saturn's outer rings? Fascinating questions from the Cassini mission.

Posted by apsmith at 11:54 AM

August 12, 2005

Next Launch - Probably Not September

Atlantis is scheduled for the next flight - STS 121 - but it looks like that will be in November at the earliest, and not September as originally scheduled. A commitment to resolve the foam problem is the main reason: at the least it looks like the main tank will be given some minor engineering modifications.

STS 121 is scheduled to have a crew of six, led by mission commander Steven Lindsey. This is another Return to Flight test mission, docking with the ISS and providing supplies, including additional ISS crew member Thomas Reiter (of Germany) who will be joining Krikalev and Phillips on the station. A useful summary is provided by wikipedia.

Meanwhile, some recent humor on shuttle launch delays from the Onion (hey, do Onion staff realize the mission commander was a "girl"?)

Posted by apsmith at 04:07 PM

MRO on its way!

NASA's Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter was successfully launched today, via its Atlas V launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral, Florida. See this photo of the launch from Just in time for the 8th Mars Society Conference! Best wishes to the MRO mission and team.

Posted by apsmith at 03:56 PM

August 11, 2005

Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter - Friday launch now?

Just minutes away from launch, the MRO was delayed again this morning - this time a fuel sensor problem in the Atlas V's Centaur upper stage, reminiscent of the fuel sensor problem that delayed Discovery's launch three weeks ago. The next launch window is 7:45 am (EDT) Friday morning.

This Mars Orbiter mission will give an exciting leap in our capabilities for studying Mars - see the mission center at JPL. Scheduled to arrive next March, the orbiter will allow ten times as much data to be returned to earth as any previous Mars spacecraft, studying the surface, subsurface, and atmosphere.

This is the first launch of an interplanetary spacecraft on Lockheed-Martin's new Atlas V rocket.

Posted by apsmith at 10:57 AM

August 09, 2005

Touchdown! Discovery lands safely

National Space Society Members Congratulate Discovery Crew on Smooth Landing

NASA's Successful Test Flight Paves the Way for Future Flights

Members of the National Space Society watched from across the country and around the world as Commander Eileen Collins and Pilot James Kelly successfully landed the space shuttle Discovery at Edwards Air Force Base in California early this morning.

“This is a new start for America’s space program,” said NSS Executive Director George Whitesides. “It marks the first major step toward fulfilling the Vision for Space Exploration, and again spotlights the great skill and professionalism of our astronaut corps.”


The landing capped off an eventful mission which demonstrated new on-orbit monitoring, analysis and repair technologies.

“NASA must now use the data from this test flight to bring the shuttle fleet to a full state of readiness,” continued Whitesides. “The astronauts and ground crew of STS-114 did a tremendous job of bringing this mission to a successful conclusion. We thank them for their courage and determination.”

The shuttle is slated to fly until 2010 as it completes construction of the International Space Station. After that point, the country’s launch requirements will be met by a new craft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), as well as a mix of launch vehicles from both NASA and the private sector. It is this fleet that will send the nation on its next great journey back to the Moon and on to Mars.

Posted by george_whitesides at 09:31 AM

August 08, 2005

Landing postponed until Tuesday morning

Discovery's landing has been pushed back a day, due to weather issues at the Kennedy Space Center.

Tuesday's landing opportunities include 5:07 a.m. EDT and 6:43 a.m. EDT at Kennedy, and two times each for Edwards air force base and Northrup landing strip at White Sands.

There is a strong desire to land Discovery at Kennedy in Florida, as other landing sites will create schedule delays that will make a September launch of Atlantis difficult to achieve. So keep your fingers crossed for good weather over Florida tomorrow morning!

Posted by apsmith at 08:25 AM

NSS Members Comment on the Mission

NSS Board member and Chicago lawyer Jeffrey Liss is quoted on the front page of Sunday's New York Times article on the landing:

"All last week people were asking me virtually the identical questions: 'What do you think about the shuttle?' 'Are you worried about re-entry?' " Mr. Liss said with a sigh.

Well, we're all a little worried - best wishes from NSS members to the returning crew, that all will go well tonight!

Meanwhile, NSS Executive Director George Whitesides was on Fox News in Washington, DC and San Francisco Monday morning.

Posted by apsmith at 12:02 AM

August 07, 2005

Shuttle landing ground track posted!

UPDATE: Revised ground tracks for Tuesday's potential landings are available here.

Images below are for Monday's landing track.

Okay, we've all been waiting for this for days. The ground track of the shuttle deorbit and landing has now been posted. All images from this NASA webpage.

It appears that the Shuttle will first clear land over Costa Rica and Nicaragua, then cross the western side of Cuba before entering US airspace near Naples, Florida. The orbiter will then execute a bank to take it over Lake Okeechobee (what a sight for any prowling alligators!) before performing its descent to final approach at Cape Kennedy.

Long range ground track of shuttle deorbit

Mid range ground track of shuttle descent

Close range ground track of shuttle landing

Posted by george_whitesides at 07:37 PM

Deorbit and landing timeline posted

The expected timeline for the Shuttle landing is below, courtesy of the NASA website. All times Eastern.

Sunday, August 7, 2005

8:39 p.m.
Discovery Crew wake up

11:34 p.m.
Deorbit preparations begin

Monday, August 8 (Flight Day 14):

2:03 a.m.
Payload bay door closing

3:43 a.m.
Deorbit burn

4:46 a.m.
KSC Landing

Detailed landing timeline, from William Harwood's CBS News Space Update.


11:39 PM......Begin deorbit timeline
11:54 PM......Payload bay radiator stow
12:04 AM......Mission specialists seat installation
12:10 AM......Computers set for deorbit prep
12:14 AM......Hydraulic system configuration
12:39 AM......Flash evaporator cooling system checkout
12:45 AM......Final payload deactivation
12:59 AM......Payload bay doors closed
01:09 AM......Mission control 'go' for OPS-3 software transition
01:19 AM......OPS-3 entry software loaded
01:44 AM......Entry switchlist verification
01:54 AM......Deorbit maneuver update
01:59 AM......Crew entry review
02:14 AM......Collins and Kelly don pressure suits
02:31 AM......Inertial measurement unit alignment
02:39 AM......Collins and Kelly strap in; crewmates don pressure suits
02:56 AM......Shuttle steering check
02:59 AM......APU hydraulic power unit prestart
03:06 AM......Toilet deactivation
03:14 AM......Vent doors closed for entry
03:19 AM......Mission control 'go' for deorbit burn
03:25 AM......All other crew members strap in
03:35 AM......TDRS-West comsat acquisition of signal
03:34 AM......Single APU start

03:39:43 AM...Deorbit ignition (burn duration: 3:12; velocity change: 220 mph)
03:42:55 AM...Deorbit burn complete

04:15:07 AM...Entry interface (shuttle in discernible atmosphere)

04:20:07 AM...1st roll command to left

04:33:26 AM...1st left-to-right roll reversal
04:40:22 AM...Velocity less than Mach 2.5
04:42:32 AM...Velocity less than Mach 1
04:43:26 AM...Shuttle banks and turns to line up on runway
04:46:44 AM...Landing

Posted by george_whitesides at 07:32 PM

August 04, 2005

NASA TV Blockbuster

NASA's Internet services manager, Brian Dunbar, reported that 433,000 people clicked their computers to NASA TV online to watch the launch of Discovery on July 26. This is four times more than the record set by Deep Impact. "We were pretty blown away," Dunbar told the Houston Chronicle in a story by Eric Berger today. About 20 percent of the traffic was from international viewers, no doubt many of them proudly watching Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

No one can criticize NASA's performance on this task: their website pumped out 50 gigabits per second and did not crash. Gray Hall, CEO of VeriCenter responsible for the streaming video said, "Their Web site has not been down on our watch."

The public interest was well served by this government-commercial venture, and bodes well for NASA's future outreach to industry to support the Vision for Space Exploration. The members of National Space Society applaud NASA and VeriCenter for their fine work in providing a blockbuster of a show.

Marianne Dyson
NSS director

Posted by m_dyson at 02:15 PM | Comments (1)

August 03, 2005

Steve Robinson: Space Cadet

Author Robert Heinlein must be smiling up there in heaven. His book, Space Cadet, (Ace Books, 1948) inspired the popular television and comic-strip series, Tom Corbett: Space Cadet. Those in turn generated a book series and toys, including one Space Cadet lunch box taken to orbit on STS-114 by Steve Robinson (shown in a photo published in the Houston Chronicle yesterday). Today, a space-suited Steve deftly removed pieces of wayward tile gap filler from the belly of the Space Shuttle Discovery. In Heinlein’s book, the crew, sent on a rescue mission to Venus, have to refurbish an old ship for their return to Earth. There is danger and risk, but our heroes are up to the challenge.

President Bush told the crew yesterday, “I just wanted to tell you all how proud the American people are of our astronauts. I want to thank you for being risk-takers for the sake of exploration.”

We all are indeed proud, especially those of us with faded yellow copies of Heinlein’s book who also shared the Tom Corbett series with our children. We anxiously wait to see the next episode of this exciting adventure called the Vision for Space Exploration. I’m sure I’m not the only National Space Society member who will have her lunch box packed.

Marianne Dyson
NSS director
Children's author

Posted by m_dyson at 01:09 PM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2005

The Repair is On!

As widely reported, the space shuttle Discovery will be repaired in orbit, probably on Wednesday. Steve Robinson will be making the repair, expected to take about 90 minutes, by riding on the robot arm down underneath the belly, and either pulling out or cutting away at the protruding pieces of "gap filler" material. This unprecedented repair is to provide an extra measure of safety for the return flight, as the small protrusions might have caused excessive heating on the way back. Space Shuttle Atlantis has been standing by, ready for a rescue mission if one should be needed. If the repair goes well then Discovery should be cleared for return.

Posted by apsmith at 12:31 PM

August 01, 2005

Gyroscope Repairs, Protruding Cloth

The spacewalks to repair the station gyroscopes seem to be going well. Stephen Robinson and Soichi Noguchi have been enjoying the view while re-powering one gyroscope and replacing another. However, there is some concern now about the insulating gap filler material that is, in a couple of places, protruding out by about an inch from the surrounding tiles, on Discovery's underbelly near the front. Will the astronauts be asked to go down below and repair it, or is it safe as it is? NASA analysts are looking into the options, possibly scheduling a repair spacewalk for this Wednesday.

Posted by apsmith at 11:47 AM

Dyson on NPR Today

NSS Board member (and Mission Blog poster) Marianne Dyson will be on NPR's "More To the Point" (previously called "To the Point") -, hosted by Warren Olney, later today. Check your local station schedule for the exact time - for instance my local station runs these shows at 8:00 pm (see below for known station schedules).

The subject is the future of the space shuttle. The other invited guests are Albert Wheelon, who was involved with the CIA satellite program that flew on the shuttle prior to Challenger, Joseph Alexander who is on the Space Policy Board in DC, and Marcia Smith who is an international space policy expert. An audio feed of the discussion is available here.

Current station schedules for the program are as follows:

El Dorado, AR KBSA-FM 90.9 M-F 3-4 PM

Los Angeles, CA KCRW-FM 89.9 M-F 1-2 PM
Mojave/Antelope, CA KCRY-FM 88.1 M-F 1-2 PM
Oxnard, CA KCRU-FM 89.1 M-F 1-2 PM
Pacific Grove, CA KAZU-FM 90.3 M-F 12-1 PM
Palm Springs/Indio, CA KCRI-FM 89.3 M-F 1-2 PM
Mendocino, CA KPMO-AM 1300 M-F 1-2 PM
Mt. Shasta, CA KMJC-AM 620 M-F 1-2 PM
Yreka, CA KSYC-AM 1490 M-F 1-2 PM

Westport, CT WSHU-AM 1260 M-F 8-9 PM

Marengo, IN WBRO-FM 89.9 M-TH 2-3 PM

Alexandria, LA KLSA-FM 90.7 M-F 3-4 PM
Shreveport, LA KDAQ-FM 89.9 M-F 3:00 PM

Billings, MT KEMC-FM 91.7 M-F 1-2 PM
Bozeman, MT KBMC-FM 102.1 M-F 1-2 PM
Havre, MT KNMC-FM 90.1 M-F 1-2 PM
Miles City, MT KECC-FM 90.7 M-F 1-2 PM

Buffalo, NY WNED-AM 970 M-F 2-3 PM
Greenport, NY WSUF-FM 89.9 M-F 8-9 PM
New York, NY WNYC-AM 820 M-F 2-3 PM

Talent, OR KSJK-AM 1230 M-F 1-2 PM
Eugene, OR KRVM-AM 1280 M-F 1-2 PM
Grants Pass, OR KAGI-AM 930 M-F 1-2 PM
Roseberg, OR KTBR-AM 950 M-F 1-2 PM

Nashville, TN WPLN-AM 1430 M-F 5-6 PM

Lufkin, TX KLDN-FM 88.9 M-F 3-4 PM
San Angelo, TX KUTX-FM 88.9 M-F 3-4 PM

Radford, VA WVRU-FM 89.9 M-F 2-3 PM
Charlottesville, VA RadioIQ-FM 89.7 M-F 7-8 PM
Roanoke, VA RadioIQ-FM 89.7 M-F 7-8 PM
Ferrum, VA RadioIQ-FM 89.9 M-F 7-8 PM
New River Valley, VA RadioIQ-AM 1260 M-F 7-8 PM

Seattle, WA KUOW-FM 94.9 M-TH 7-8 PM
Seattle, WA KUOW-FM 94.9 M-F 11AM-Noon

Washington, DC WAMU-FM 88.5 M-F 10-11 PM

Gillette, WY KYPR-FM 88.9 M-F 1-2 PM

Posted by apsmith at 10:25 AM


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