Up in the sky…

 

Space Shuttle Discovery took its final flight today on its way to becoming an artifact at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space museum.     Kind of wish I had been in Washington DC to see its fly-over.

 

In other news, SpaceX has announced a launch date for April 30th for its next Dragon capsule.   If the mission is successful this will be the first visit to the International Space Station by a private space-craft.    This is a big deal for the future of America’s space program, as commercial operators will be responsible for getting supplies (and quite possibly crew) to and from things like the space station.

It’s over…

 

America no longer has a space shuttle program.    Atlantis has completed the STS-135 mission, its 33rd flight (I believe) and when it wheels rolled to a stop, so ended the era of the Space Shuttle.   There has been no other operational vehicle like it.   Buran came the closest, having a single test-flight to space.  Unmanned.   Whereas our shuttles will be retired to museums  (Discovery goes to the Smithsonian, Endeavor to the California Science Museum,  Enterprise to the USS Intrepid, and Atlantis to remain at Kennedy Space Center on display), the Burans are rusting away.

With it goes our ability to put our own people into space.   We’ll be relying on Russia for the foreseeable future.   Indeed much of our space future relies on hope.   Hope that private industry will succeed and perhaps finally deliver on something the shuttle never managed to do:    routine and inexpensive access to low-earth orbit.    Hope.   That’s all we have at present.     I’m pretty confident in the private sector’s ability to do it, but perhaps not on the timetables we’re hoping for.   Hope.   I seem to recall that as a campaign promise, or sorts, that I don’t feel delivered.

Let’s hope that Russia doesn’t suffer some sort of catastrophe that defunds their program, thus grounding us as well.

 

On the horizon is Orion, an Apollo-esque capsule design that may one day take us beyond the gravity well of our home world.    While that’s maturing nicely in its development, the rocket that will launch it isn’t even on the drawing board yet.    Congress has laid out the minimum requirements, but NASA has hinted that it won’t be possible to achieve under the timeline mandated with the budgeting authorized for it.    

Sometimes I feel like we have lost our spirit.

If you didn’t see it, you should check this out:

And then its final landing:

 

So long shuttle program!    To all the men and women who have made it possible over the last thirty plus years…  I salute you.

Final Countdown

 

In a few minutes or so, the space shuttle Atlantis should be blasting off, with its four-person crew, on the very last mission of the US Space Shuttle program.

As it prepares to embark upon its final voyage, I thought I’d share a picture from its first voyage, as it was being delivered to NASA following construction.

Kinda neat, this pic.    Kinda sad, this day.   Its going to be awhile before the US puts its own people into space.     I remember as a kid, at my dad’s house I had a cut-away poster of the shuttle, depicting its innards, that hung over my bed.    I’ve never seen one up close, and it’ll be nice to get the chance once they’re in museums, but I think I have a pretty strong emotional attachment to the shuttles.    So its weird for me to be heading into a world where we aren’t flying these things.

Shame we don’t have a next-generation shuttle entering service to replace our retiring fleet.    I think it is something that the international community ought to consider pulling together to develop, construct, and deploy.    The Soviet Union built the Buran shuttle shortly before its collapse, and those now sit rusting away.    Soon ours will no longer be flight-capable but preserved.    We’re losing capability for space exploitation with the retirement of these vehicles.   While that capability will probably get restored through private industry at some point, it might be awhile.   Currently everything going on there is still in development.  

The rest of this blog will be getting added in real time.

 

 

Ugh.  31 seconds to launch and now the final countdown is on hold.

Here we go…   less than 30 seconds away.

main engines start

it lifted off a second early.   🙂

man, i’m tearing up now.

never seen one fly through a cloud before…. watching it via the cam attached to the fuel tank is neat.

except its having issues, that camera.

solid rocket booster separation, the curve of the earth clear in the background

now everything looks like its at stand still… ah space.   🙂    not quite there yet though.

7700 mph…   i can’t comprehend that.

rolling ‘upright’

sunrise on its belly.

image

more than 4 miles per second?   even more unfathomable for this earth-bound boy.

15000 mph!

main engine cut-off…. the last time they will go silent.   ;(

image

Tank separation

image

Well, that’s the last time I’ll get to observe that.     Perfect launch from what I can tell.

Enjoy your final cruise, Atlantis!

 

Learn more about the Shuttle Fleet:    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43578768/ns/technology_and_science-space/

From Soyouz with Love…

 

Well, I’m stealing space.com’s title here.   Nothing wittier coming out of my head.   

Just wish that I could actually save a copy of videos like this.    Its nothing entertaining, but it is a rare photo-op… that of a US space shuttle docked at the space station, from the vantage point of a Soyouz capsule (that would be Russia’s spacecraft… get used to them… one more shuttle flight and then we’ll be riding the Soyouz for the time being).

http://www.space.com/11909-soyuz-love-iss-shuttle.html

Within hours… Science!

 

The AMS, which I blogged about a few weeks ago, is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which was recently installed (earlier today) on the space station by the Shuttle Endeavor’s crew:

(Here it is being taken out of Endeavor’s cargo bay)

 

Within hours of it being installed it detected at least two high energy particles we’ve only observed within particle accelerators…  meaning we’ve never seen them in nature before now.

Its kind of neat when something can get launched, installed, and begin operations without any hiccups.

Its also kind of neat when a space shuttle makes an addition to the space station that is purely for science  (not life support or other constructing-a-platform-in-space efforts). Its the kind of stuff we built the space station for, and its great we’re already getting science out of it.

Here’s one of space.com’s infographics that explains what the AMS is and does:

See how the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer will hunt dark matter, cosmic rays and antimatter galaxies from the International Space Station in this SPACE.com infographic.
Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration

Now to find that ever-elusive ‘stuff’ mucking up our theories.    🙂

Endeavor

 

The space shuttle Endeavor is poised for its final launch (unless United Space Alliance’s bid to operate the shuttles as private spacecraft proves fruitful) today.

Its the baby of our shuttle fleet, assembled mostly from spare parts, authorized by Congress in 1988  as a replacement for Challenger, and first launched in 1992.   Since they recycled left-over parts from the construction of Discovery and Atlantis, they were able to make Endeavor the least expesnive of the orbiters, with a price tag of a mere 1.7 billion (chump change for spacecraft, really.)

It wasn’t all old-parts though, as Endeavor had a few features not found on the other shuttles (at least at the time).    For instance, Endeavor was the first shuttle to use a drag-chute in its landing.

Today will be its 25th and final NASA mission.   This is a picture from the STS-88 mission, which was the first US mission dedicated to construction on the International Space Station.    Strapped in the cargo bay there is the Unity module.   The first module, the Russian Zarya module, was already in orbit, but when Endeavor’s crew attached Unity to it, no longer were they just modules in orbit, but now a space-station under construction.

I want this as a poster for my desk.

 

Today it will be making another contribution, flying the last big piece to be added to the station from the American side of things… the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.   Endeavor, thus, is sort of a bookend for US construction on the station.    When Atlantis flies later this year, it won’t be adding anything new to the station, but instead will be taking up spare parts we won’t have the ability to get up there once the shuttles are museum displays.

This is a rather important experiment… one of those really important ones we really ought to have, given how much money we’ve put into building the space station…  only makes sense we do some serious science up there, right?

This addition almost got scrapped, but fortunately was spared, and should remain in operation through the station’s currently authorized life-span.    I might do a blog about it sometime soon..   (To put the Endeavor’s price tag in perspective.. the experiment it is carrying up cost 1.5 billion… only 200 million less than the shuttle that is carrying it.)

As the only shuttle named by school children, Endeavor has a special connection with certain aspects of our society.   It may not have done quite as much work as the rest of our fleet, but it nevertheless has made major contributions to those of us here on the ground, and for that, it deserves our thanks.

In a few weeks time, it will have landed and will be getting prepared for its new home in Los Angeles’ California Science Center.    If its on display come October, when I’m down that way, I’m going to insist we go take a look.

(Oh yeah, I’ll be in southern California the week of October 17th.)

Hopefully I’ll be able to watch this launch live on NASA TV as well.   (3:47 EDT)