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August 30, 2007

Space Shuttle Endeavour Lands Safely

The Space Shuttle Endeavour has landed safely at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Commander Scott Kelly and Pilot Charles Hobaugh fired Space Shuttle Endeavour's jets at 11:25 am EDT to begin the descent, and touched down on schedule at 12:32 pm EDT on Tuesday, August 21.

Endeavour's successful mission to the International Space Station was marked with concern about an impact to the protective tile on the bottom of the orbiter. After extensive review at NASA centers across the country, mission managers decided that the shuttle could land safely without repairs.
The National Space Society congratulates the crew, mission control, and the entire NASA team on a successful mission. Most importantly, we extend a warm welcome home to Barbara Morgan, the educator-astronaut who waited 22 years to fly to space from her initial selection by NASA.

NSS Executive Director George Whitesides remarked, "NASA and its astronauts made the right calls, in space and on the ground. Welcome back, Barbara!"

Morgan inspired schoolchildren across the country and the world with her orbital lessons, demonstrating the value of her commitment to education and space.

Posted by bsilcox at 11:30 AM

August 20, 2007

Endeavour to Try for Tuesday Landing

Wary of the effect of Hurricane Dean currently barreling through the Caribbean, NASA mission managers have ordered the Shuttle Endeavour to try to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday midday.

The concern was not for Kennedy, which is well out of the way, but rather Mission Control in Houston, which had been on some early storm tracks. While Dean now seems headed for Mexico, NASA's prudence seems appropriate.

Safe travels to the crew and to NASA's Educator-Astronaut Barbara Morgan in particular. The extensive analysis conducted on the tile damage leaves us feeling comfortable with NASA's decision to forgo repairs. That said, the knowledge that there is a small crack in the protective underbelly of the shuttle can only make our astronauts' journey home somewhat more anxious.

Posted by george_whitesides at 04:19 PM

August 13, 2007

Summer Lessons in Space

So what did you do on your summer vacation? Mission Specialist and Teacher Barbara Morgan will surely have some stories to tell when school starts this fall. She launched into space with her six crewmates onboard the Shuttle Endeavour on Wednesday, August 8. Though the launch looked perfect, at least one wayward piece of foam managed to impact the fragile thermal tiles and gouge out a hole.

Perhaps one of the lessons that Barbara will share with students is how important it is to treat small problems seriously. The Space Shuttle Columbia was lost because foam falling off during launch was not considered a serious problem. Now there are cameras watching the launch from multiple angles. There’s a camera on the tank. The rendezvous with the space station includes a pitch maneuver so the belly can be carefully photographed. The shuttle arm is used to check any suspicious areas. Programs and history data and sample materials are ready for analysis and testing on the ground. Repair kits and procedures and astronauts trained for spacewalks are ready if the need arises.

On this mission, STS-118, photos revealed five damaged areas.

So Sunday, August 12, Barbara and fellow astronaut Tracy Caldwell, swung the shuttle arm around for a closer look at the damage. They used a camera and also a laser that precisely mapped the hills and valleys of the biggest gouge. Engineers will use this data to carve out the same shape in tiles on the ground. Then they will blast them with a torch to simulate entry heating, watching for burn-through to the shuttle’s aluminum skin underneath. The crater is about 1.5 inches deep, the thickness of the tile, so there is cause for concern. Depending what they find, they may recommend various repair options or decide to just leave the damaged tile as is.

On the last shuttle flight, the astronauts repaired a thermal blanket that had come loose during launch. That particular kind of damage was not anticipated, and still the crew was able to fix it after only one day of preparation. The STS-118 crew is already trained to repair the kind of damage shown in today’s inspection. The question is whether or not a spacewalk is really necessary. It may be that the hole, though deep, is not large enough or in such a critical location to be worth fixing. It was noted in the press conference Sunday that shuttles have survived entry with larger holes—on STS-1, they landed with whole tiles missing!

But lessons have been learned. Hard lessons. So, NASA is not going to assume that this gouge is not serious until the data proves it is not serious.

Also, the location on the external tank that produced the foam was not considered to be an area that would cause risk to the shuttle. Apparently, this piece of foam ricocheted off a strut before impacting the belly. Managers are now considering whether or not they have to redo the existing tanks, replacing some aluminum with titanium that will not form ice and cause foam to separate. Analyses must be done to determine if this is necessary and what impact it may have on the launch schedule.

Meanwhile the other business of STS-118 continues. The first spacewalk, completed on Saturday by Rick Mastracchio and Dave Williams, smoothly attached the new piece to the end of the starboard truss. Nicknamed “Stubby” by the crew, it will separate the two sets of solar arrays on that side. More work is planned “outside” for Monday.

Thanks to the work of the previous shuttle crew hooking up the new power system, this shuttle was given the go to extend their flight to 14 days. The shuttle uses fuel cells, combining hydrogen and oxygen to make electrical power and water. The shuttle can only carry so many tanks of hydrogen and oxygen, limiting its stay time in orbit. The new space station system allows the shuttle to draw electrical power from the station’s solar arrays. This is an exciting new capability. Not only does it allow shuttle missions to stay longer, it means that future space vehicles may not have to carry as much hydrogen and oxygen to orbit.

The undocking from the station is now scheduled for August 20 with a landing on Wednesday, August 22. I’m leaving soon on my own summer travels, but hope to catch some of the spacewalks and the landing on television or the Internet. I look forward to hearing all about Barbara’s summer adventure in space when she gets back. I’ll bet she has some exciting new lessons to teach us all.

Marianne Dyson
http://www.mdyson.com

Posted by m_dyson at 01:55 AM

August 09, 2007

Endeavour in Orbit!

Space Shuttle Endeavour rocketed to a smooth launch from the Kennedy Space Center tonight, in what NASA Administrator Michael Griffin described as "one of the cleanest we've seen." While there were a few pieces of foam recorded falling off the External Tank, initial reports indicate that they occurred at a high altitude where damage to the orbiter is unlikely. As is the normal protocol post-Columbia, the crew of the shuttle and the space station will document the condition of the orbiter's tiled base and leading edges for download to Mission Control in Houston. For now, it appears that this mission is off to a great start. Ad Astra!

Posted by george_whitesides at 12:16 AM

August 08, 2007

Barbara Morgan Go For Launch

Countdown continues for tonight's scheduled launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The close out crew is dealing with a few last issues, but so far things are on track for a scheduled launch at 6:36 pm Eastern time.

Barbara Morgan, the long-delayed Teacher Astronaut, is on board and will be performing critical mission specialist responsibilities. The entire membership of the National Space Society wishes Barbara and her crewmates a great and safe flight.

Ad Astra!

Posted by george_whitesides at 05:05 PM

August 06, 2007

Aerospace Scholarship in Memory of Glen May

A Scholarship in Aerospace Engineering is being established at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in Glen May's name. Glen was the NSS member who was killed in the Scaled Composites test accident.

To contribute to the fund, make your check payable to:
The UAH Foundation
In the Memo of your check:
In Memory of Glen May

Mail to:
UAH
University Development Office
Shelbie King Hall, Room 311
Huntsville, AL 35899

www.uah.edu/giving - Online Gift - for credit card gift, Note: In memory of Glen May

Please contact the individual below if you have further questions about this worthy cause.

Jessica Bumbalough
Executive Secretary- University Development
Shelbie King Hall 311
phone: (256) 824-4438
fax: (256) 824-6462
bumbalj@uah.edu

Posted by george_whitesides at 02:57 PM

Phoenix Mars Lander Launches Successfully from Kennedy Space Center

August 6, 2007, Kennedy Space Center, FL – The Phoenix Mars Lander, the next of NASA’s Mars exploration missions, successfully launched Saturday morning on a nine month journey to the Red Planet. The Phoenix Mars Lander's assignment is to dig through the Martian soil and ice in the arctic region and use its onboard scientific instruments to analyze the samples it retrieves. Phoenix is expected to land on Mars on May 25, 2008.

Using the Phoenix’s robotic arm, the Lander will dig up to three feet into Mars’s icy surface. According to information gathered by prior Mars missions, the Phoenix should land in an area that has the possibility of up to 80 percent water or ice by volume within one foot of the surface. Scientists will use the instruments to research the history of water at its target destination and to search for environments suitable for microbial life on Mars.

Following the thrilling success of the Mars Rovers, hopes are high for the Phoenix. However, where the Rovers look into Mars’s past, Phoenix’s results will expand debate on the present and future of Mars. The mission may open new possibilities for future settlements on the fourth planet in our solar system and the closest to Earth.

Phoenix is the first of NASA’s smaller, low-cost “Scout” missions. It launched aboard a Delta II rocket, marking the 326th launch of a Delta rocket. Delta rockets were used for Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Pathfinder in 1996, Mars Climate Orbiter in 1998 (which missed Mars), Mars Polar Lander in 1999 (which failed during landing), and Mars Odyssey in 2001. The two Mars Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which launched in 2003 and continue to explore the Martian surface, were also launched by Delta rockets.

Once the spacecraft reaches its destination, the Lander will use both a parachute to slow the vehicle and hydrazine-powered engines to control the speed of the final descent. Once on the surface, the Lander will wait about 30 minutes to allow the dust kicked up by the landing to settle. Finally, the Phoenix will release its two circular solar arrays, robotic arm, weather mast and camera to begin its work exploring Mars. Phoenix's scientific work will be directed by a group from the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, led by Principal Investigator Peter Smith, who spoke at NSS’s 2007 International Space Development Conference.

Posted by bsilcox at 10:24 AM

 

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