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Progress M-24M Delivers 2014's Third Batch of Russian Supplies to Space Station

Progress M-24M approaches its docking with the International Space Station (ISS), less than six hours after departing Baikonur. Photo Credit: NASA

Progress M-24M approaches its docking with the International Space Station (ISS), less than six hours after departing Baikonur. Photo Credit: NASA

Less than six hours after departing Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Russia’s Progress M-24M cargo craft successfully docked automatically at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the International Space Station’s (ISS) Pirs module at 11:31 p.m. EDT Wednesday. The spacecraft brought approximately 5,500 pounds (2,500 kg) of equipment, supplies, and experiments to the station’s incumbent Expedition 40 crew—which consists of Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Skvortsov, Oleg Artemyev, and Maksim Surayev, U.S. astronaut Reid Wiseman, and Germany’s Alexander Gerst, under the command of U.S. astronaut Steve Swanson—and will remain in place through late October. At the time of docking, the ISS and Progress M-24M were orbiting about 259 miles (418 km) over the Pacific Ocean, just off the western coast of South America.

Continue reading Progress M-24M Delivers 2014′s Third Batch of Russian Supplies to Space Station

NASA Solicits Commercial Mars Telecom Relay Proposals to Avoid Science Transmission Gap

Artist rendering of commercial Mars satellites providing communications back to Earth.  Credit: NASA/JPL

Artist rendering of commercial Mars satellites providing communications back to Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL

Facing the undeniable reality of a looming communications gap in the 2020s in getting gigabits of precious data back from NASA’s highly productive science armada exploring Mars, the agency is now soliciting information on the potential for utilizing commercial Mars-orbiting telecommunications satellites to provide transmission capabilities for future robotic missions to the Red Planet. And this could also be useful for Humans to Mars missions in the longer term.

“We are primarily interested in communications coverage starting in the 2020s,” Lisa May, Lead Program Executive, Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, told AmericaSpace exclusively in response to my questions about NASA’s timing and requirements.

Continue reading NASA Solicits Commercial Mars Telecom Relay Proposals to Avoid Science Transmission Gap

NASA's X-Ray Space Telescope Celebrates 15 Years

Composite Chandra image of four supernovae - the Crab Nebula, Tycho, G292.0+1.8, and 3C58. Image Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO

Composite Chandra image of four supernovae: the Crab Nebula, Tycho, G292.0+1.8, and 3C58. Image Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO

The Chandra X-Ray Observatory, NASA’s space telescope which observes the universe using X-rays, has now completed its 15th year of operations, and astronomers are celebrating the anniversary with a series of special images from the orbiting observatory.

Continue reading NASA’s X-Ray Space Telescope Celebrates 15 Years

'A Woman in the Driver's Seat': Remembering STS-93, First Flight Helmed by a Female Shuttle Commander

The STS-93 crew poses with a model of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. This shuttle mission also entered into the history books for having the first female commander (Eileen Collins, here joined by Steven Hawley, Jerry Ashby, Michel Tognini, and Cady Coleman). Photo Credit: NASA

The STS-93 crew poses with a model of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. This shuttle mission also entered into the history books for having the first female commander (Eileen Collins, here joined by Steven Hawley, Jerry Ashby, Michel Tognini, and Cady Coleman). Photo Credit: NASA

The 2009 book Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, written by Tanya Lee Stone, details the struggles encountered by the “Mercury 13,” a group of women pilots subjected to many of the same tests undergone by the Mercury astronautsbut who were denied the right to fly into space based upon their gender. One of the final chapters in the book is entitled, “We Want to See a Woman Driving the Bus, Not Sitting in the Back.”

On July 23, 1999, decades after this intrepid group of women dared to even dream of space, a woman was finally “driving the bus”: An Air Force flyer, Eileen Collins, became the first woman to command a space shuttle on STS-93 (Columbia). Today marks 15 years since that pioneering milestone in spaceflight history.

Continue reading ‘A Woman in the Driver’s Seat’: Remembering STS-93, First Flight Helmed by a Female Shuttle Commander

SNC Teams Up with Japan's Space Agency to Further Dream Chaser's Development and Potential

Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle is towed across the ramp at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in preparation for tow tests on a Dryden taxiway. The tow tests were part of ground tests in preparation for captive-carry and free-flight tests last year at NASA Dryden. Photo Credit: NASA / Ken Ulbrich

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle is towed across the ramp at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in preparation for tow tests on a Dryden taxiway. The tow tests were part of ground tests in preparation for captive-carry and free-flight tests last year at NASA Dryden. Photo Credit: NASA / Ken Ulbrich

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser “Dream Team” just keeps on growing, as this week the company announced the expansion of its Dream Chaser Space System’s global partnership to include Asia through a new signed memorandum of “cooperative understanding” with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (also known as JAXA), who now joins the European Space Agency (ESA) and the German Space Agency (DLR) in SNC’s ever-growing international team.

Continue reading SNC Teams Up with Japan’s Space Agency to Further Dream Chaser’s Development and Potential

VIDEO: SpaceX Falcon-9 OG2 First Stage Landing Test Provides Crucial Data to Support Next Test on NASA CRS-4 Flight

Experimental landing legs on the SpaceX Falcon-9 v1.1 rocket. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

Experimental landing legs on the SpaceX Falcon-9 v1.1 rocket. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

It was only last week that Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) launched the first wave of a next-generation telecommunications satellite fleet to orbit for customer ORBCOMM on the OG-2 mission, but the flight also gave the Hawthorne, Calif.-based aerospace company another opportunity to test out the experimental landing legs they hope will make their Falcon rockets truly reusable, and in doing so SpaceX expects to drive down the cost of launch dramatically by eliminating the need to build a new rocket for every flight.

Continue reading VIDEO: SpaceX Falcon-9 OG2 First Stage Landing Test Provides Crucial Data to Support Next Test on NASA CRS-4 Flight

'Super-Fast' Progress M-24M Ready for Wednesday Launch to Space Station

Pictured during an undocking from the International Space Station (ISS) in April 2014, the Progress family of cargo spacecraft has resupplied four discrete space stations, including Salyut 6, Salyut 7 and Mir, since the mid-1970s. Photo Credit: NASA

Pictured during an undocking from the International Space Station (ISS) in April 2014, the Progress family of cargo spacecraft has resupplied four discrete space stations, including Salyut 6, Salyut 7 and Mir, since the mid-1970s. Photo Credit: NASA

After three months docked at the International Space Station (ISS), Russia’s Progress M-23M cargo craft—otherwise known as “Progress 55P” in ISS Program-speak—successfully separated from the orbital outpost at 5:44 p.m. EDT yesterday (Monday), bound for several days of “Radar Progress” experiments and ultimately a fiery destruction in Earth’s upper atmosphere on 1 August. In the meantime, its successor, Progress M-24M (or “Progress 56P”), encapsulated within the payload shroud of a mammoth Soyuz-U booster, was rolled out to Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan early Tuesday, preparatory to its own launch at 3:44 a.m. local time Thursday (5:44 p.m. EDT Wednesday). Following a well-trodden “fast rendezvous” path, first trialed in August 2012, it is anticipated that Progress M-24M will dock automatically at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the station’s Pirs module at 9:30 a.m. Baikonur time Thursday (11:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday), a little less than six hours after liftoff.

Continue reading ‘Super-Fast’ Progress M-24M Ready for Wednesday Launch to Space Station

SNC's Dream Chaser Completes CCiCap Milestone 9, Advances One Step Closer to Critical Design Review

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Dream Chaser. Photo Credit: NASA/Ken Ulbrich

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Dream Chaser. Photo Credit: NASA/Ken Ulbrich

This week, Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems (SNC), one of three private companies currently developing spacecraft with NASA funds to ferry crews to and from the International Space Station, successfully completed Milestone-9 in the development of their Dream Chaser under the company’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability agreement (known as CCiCap) with the space agency.

Continue reading SNC’s Dream Chaser Completes CCiCap Milestone 9, Advances One Step Closer to Critical Design Review

Commentary: Forty-Five Years After Apollo 11—An Inspiration For the Future, or Just Another Anniversary (Part 3)

Like a bright ladder reaching the heavens, the Apollo 11 Saturn V is bathed in spotlight on launchpad 39A. Forty-five years ago this week, the first humans climbed it to the Moon.

Like a bright ladder reaching the heavens, the Apollo 11 Saturn V is bathed in spotlight on launchpad 39A. Forty-five years ago this week, the first humans climbed it to the Moon. Image Credit: NASA


When the history of our galaxy is written,

and for all any of us know it may already have been,
if Earth gets mentioned at all it won’t be because its inhabitants visited their own Moon.
That first step, like a newborn’s cry, would be automatically assumed.
What would be worth recording is what kind of civilization we earthlings created
and whether or not we ventured out to other parts of the galaxy.

 Michael Collins, “Liftoff: The Story of America’s Adventure in Space” (1989)

 

Between 60,000 and 100,000 years ago, the first members of anatomically modern humans took their first steps out of the East African savannas, which had been the cradle of human evolution for more than 2.5 million years, to populate the rest of the land of what was an essentially unknown planet. Forty-five years ago this week, humans took their next steps up the evolutionary ladder by walking on the Moon, at a place called Sea of Tranquility, during the Apollo 11 mission in 20 July 1969the first time that any human beings had ever walked anywhere outside of their own planet. These decisive first steps on another world were equally met with exhilaration, hope, and wonder as well as skepticism, fear, and condemnation. The reasons for these widely varied reactions to humanity’s single greatest achievement ever have been multifaceted and intertwined. The second part of this article examined the American public’s opposition to the Apollo missions to the Moon and toward the space program in general, based on financial arguments pertaining to the former’s supposedly unacceptably high costs. This article will focus on some of the deeper, unconscious emotional, ideological, and cultural reasons behind this opposition. Although the reasons explored here are by no means the only ones that affect space policy decisions, they nevertheless provide a valuable glimpse at the public’s deeper fears regarding space exploration, which in turn influence its attitude toward it.

Continue reading Commentary: Forty-Five Years After Apollo 11—An Inspiration For the Future, or Just Another Anniversary (Part 3)

Kennedy Space Center's Operations and Checkout Building Renamed after 'First Man' Neil Armstrong

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden presents Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Director Bob Cabana with a flown Apollo 11 patch. Someday, this patch will be flown on the first manned Mars mission, to be helmed by NASA's Orion spacecraft. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden presents Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Director Bob Cabana with a flown Apollo 11 patch. Someday, this patch will be flown on the first manned Mars mission, to be helmed by NASA’s Orion spacecraft. This presentation took place during today’s renaming of KSC’s Operations and Checkout Building. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins wrote of his friend and colleague Neil A. Armstrong in his 1974 book Carrying the Fire, “[Armstrong] makes decisions slowly and well … [He] savors them – rolling them around on his tongue like a fine wine and swallowing at the very last moment. (He had twenty seconds of fuel remaining when he landed on the moon.)”

Today, Collins and fellow Apollo 11 crew member Buzz Aldrin remembered this decisive thinker, astronaut, and first-rate test pilot, along with luminaries including Armstrong’s two sons Rick and Mark, former Gemini and Apollo astronaut James A. Lovell, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, and Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Director Bob Cabana. In a ceremony held this morning, KSC’s Operations and Checkout (O&C) building was renamed after Armstrong. In addition, guests viewed NASA’s next “giant leap,” the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, being prepared for a scheduled launch in December.

Continue reading Kennedy Space Center’s Operations and Checkout Building Renamed after ‘First Man’ Neil Armstrong