Fourth Navy MUOS Launch Readied for Wednesday Amid GAO Concerns About Project

ULA's most powerful Atlas-V rocket, the Atlas 551, standing tall atop SLC-41 for a Wednesday morning launch attempt. Photo Credit: ULA

ULA’s most powerful Atlas-V rocket, the Atlas 551, standing tall atop SLC-41 for a Wednesday morning launch attempt. Photo Credit: ULA

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V rocket is poised to fire the Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS-4) satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., as early as Wednesday, Sept. 2, following a delay from Aug. 31 due to hazardous weather from defunct tropical storm Erika.

The 200-plus-foot-tall rocket was rolled from its Vertical Integration Facility to nearby Launch Pad-41 shortly after 8:30 a.m. EDT this morning. Liftoff is targeted for 5:59 a.m. EDT Wednesday, at the opening of a 44-minute launch window extending to 6:43 a.m. EDT.

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Onward!: NASA Selects Next Destination for New Horizons in Kuiper Belt

Artist's conception of New Horizons at 2014 MU69. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker

Artist’s conception of New Horizons at 2014 MU69. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker

It has been nearly a month and a half since the historic flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft, and now the mission team has selected its next target for exploration: a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69, which orbits the Sun about a billion miles farther than Pluto. This will be the first time such a remote object in the Kuiper belt has been visited by a spacecraft from Earth.

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'A Heck of a Push': 30 Years Since the Dramatic Rescue of Mission 51I (Part 2)

The sheer size of the 15,000-pound Leasat-3 satellite is illustrated in this view of James "Ox" van Hoften manhandling it into space on Mission 51I. Photo Credit: NASA

The sheer size of the 15,000-pound (6,800-kg) Leasat-3 satellite is illustrated in this view of James “Ox” van Hoften manhandling it into space on Mission 51I. Photo Credit: NASA

For Dick Covey, the instant Space Shuttle Discovery broke the shackles of Earth on the cusp of daybreak on 27 August 1985 had been a long time coming. In fact, he was the last of his 35-strong astronaut class, chosen seven years earlier, to reach space. “I got that distinction,” he told the NASA oral historian, “and that was hard to take.” At the time of his assignment to what was then listed as “Mission 51C” in December 1983, Covey knew that he would not fly until at least the end of the following year. “At the time, I didn’t realize I was going to be the very last one,” he said, “but I knew I was going to be somewhere down there.” However, it was not to be a disappointing mission. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, the flight which morphed into Mission 51I was tasked with three satellite deployments and the rescue, repair, and reboost of the crippled Leasat-3 communications satellite for the U.S. Navy. Thirty years ago, this week, the five astronauts of Mission 51I—Commander Joe Engle, Pilot Dick Covey, and Mission Specialists James “Ox” van Hoften, Mike Lounge, and Bill Fisher—accomplished one of the most spectacular satellite rescues ever completed in the shuttle program’s history.

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Testing Panspermia: Searching for 'Bubbles of Life' in the Galaxy

Does life spread through the galaxy like an infectious disease, with "bubbles" of inhabited planets? Image Credit: Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

Does life spread through the galaxy like an infectious disease, with “bubbles” of inhabited planets? Image Credit: Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

We still don’t know if there is life elsewhere in the universe, but scientists are working on techniques to better understand how it may have originated anyway, in the event that such alien biology is indeed discovered, even if just simple microbes. Focusing on exoplanets, the research suggests that if multiple inhabited worlds were found, then researchers could look for patterns similar to those found in epidemics on Earth, which might provide evidence for panspermia, the theory that life could spread through our galaxy from one habitable planet to another.

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'Winging It': 30 Years Since the Dramatic Rescue of Mission 51I (Part 1)

In a triumphant ending to a triumphant space salvage, James “Ox” van Hoften strikes a Charles Atlas pose on the end of the shuttle’s RMS mechanical arm, seemingly hoisting the world on his shoulders. Photo Credit: NASA

In a triumphant ending to a triumphant space salvage, James “Ox” van Hoften strikes a Charles Atlas pose on the end of the shuttle’s RMS mechanical arm, seemingly hoisting the world on his shoulders. Photo Credit: NASA

When Discovery touched down at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on 19 April 1985—suffering seized brakes and a burst tire in the process—she left a spot of unfinished business in low-Earth orbit. A few days earlier, her 51D crew had deployed an important U.S. Navy communications satellite, called Leasat-3, whose antenna had stubbornly refused to unfurl and whose Perigee Kick Motor (PKM) had failed to ignite. Despite sterling efforts on the part of the crew and Mission Control to fashion a makeshift “flyswatter” and sending astronauts Jeff Hoffman and Dave Griggs on a contingency EVA, the crippled satellite lingered in an orbit far lower than its intended 22,600 miles (35,700 km). Within days of the incident, NASA’s bulletproof, pre-Challenger attitude prompted mutterings of a shuttle mission to recover, repair, and reboost Leasat-3 to its operational geostationary location. Thirty years ago, this week, Mission 51I succeeded spectacularly and amply demonstrated the shuttle’s myriad capabilities.

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Florida Institute of Technology to Form Buzz Aldrin Space Institute, As Aldrin Says 'You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet'

Dr. Buzz Aldrin can now add professor and institute namesake to his many different "hats." Photo Credit: James O. Davies.

Dr. Buzz Aldrin can now add professor and institute namesake to his many different “hats.” Photo Credit: James O. Davies.

Astronaut, explorer, rocket scientist, American hero, and tireless STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) advocate … these are just a few things that describe Dr. Buzz Aldrin, second moonwalker and one of the world’s most visible space travelers. At age 85, he still shows no signs of slowing down; in fact, he’s working on a new project. Now he can add professor and institute namesake to his still-growing list of “hats.”

On Thursday, Aug. 27, the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) announced that it was formalizing the establishment of the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute, named after one of its newest professors. This institute will promote one of Aldrin’s passions, Mars’ settlement research. FIT also boasts space shuttle veteran astronauts Winston Scott (STS-72, STS-87) and Sam Durrance (STS-35, STS-67) on its faculty roster.

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Seventh RS-25 Test Fire of 2015 Closes Out First SLS Main Engine Test Series

The RS-25 engine fires up for a 535-second test Aug. 27, 2015 at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. This is the final in a series of seven tests for the development engine, which will provide NASA engineers critical data on the engine controller unit and inlet pressure conditions. Credits: NASA

The RS-25 engine fires up for a 535-second test Aug. 27, 2015 at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. This is the final in a series of seven tests for the development engine, which will provide NASA engineers critical data on the engine controller unit and inlet pressure conditions. Credits: NASA

The most efficient rocket engine in history came to life for the seventh time this year yesterday in southern Mississippi, unleashing over a half-million pounds of thrust and sending a thunderous roar across NASA’s Stennis Space Center during a 535-second full duration hot fire test. The same engine that powered NASA’s now retired space shuttle fleet so reliably for three decades, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RS-25, will again be employed for NASA’s enormous Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, upgraded to meet the new requirements for what will become the most powerful rocket in history, and yesterday’s seventh test fire closed out the first series of test fires under highly instrumented and controlled conditions.

“The completion of this test series is an important step in getting SLS ready for the journey to Mars,” said Steve Wofford, engines manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the SLS Program is managed for the agency. “The RS-25 engine gives SLS a proven, high performance, affordable main propulsion system. It is one of the most experienced large rocket engines in the world, with more than a million seconds of ground test and flight operations time.”

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Soyuz TMA-16M Crew Prepares for Spacecraft Switch, Ahead of Soyuz TMA-18M Arrival

Soyuz TMA-16M approaches the International Space Station (ISS) on 26/27 March, as viewed by Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts. After five months attached to the station, Soyuz TMA-16M and its crew of Gennadi Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly will perform a relocation flyabout tomorrow. Photo Credit: Terry Virts/NASA/Twitter

Soyuz TMA-16M approaches the International Space Station (ISS) on 26/27 March, as viewed by Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts. After five months attached to the station, Soyuz TMA-16M and its crew of Gennadi Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko, and Scott Kelly will perform a relocation flyabout tomorrow. Photo Credit: Terry Virts/NASA/Twitter

After five months in a quiescent state, attached to the space-facing (or “zenith”) Poisk module of the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS), the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft—carrying world-record-holding cosmonaut Gennadi Padalka and One-Year crewmen Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly—will undock from the International Space Station (ISS) at 3:12 a.m. EDT on Friday, 28 August, and conduct a 25-minute “flyabout” to redock with the aft longitudinal port of the Zvezda module at about 3:37 a.m. EDT. This maneuver is being performed in support of the relatively rare impending arrival of a third piloted Soyuz TMA-M at the orbital outpost in the coming days and will serve to properly configure each spacecraft at the station for the remainder of their respective missions. Next week, for the first time in almost two years, the ISS population will temporarily jump to nine men, with representatives of the United States, Russia, Japan, Kazakhstan, and Denmark in space at the same time.

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Back to the Ice Giants: Proposed New Mission Would Re-Visit Uranus or Neptune (or Both!)

Uranus (left) and Neptune (right). These two ice giants and their many moons are awaiting further exploration. Image Credit: NASA

Uranus (left) and Neptune (right). These two ice giants and their many moons are awaiting further exploration. Image Credit: NASA

The outer Solar System has been a busy place lately, with the ongoing Cassini mission at Saturn and New Horizons’ recent spectacular flyby of Pluto. Literally in-between those two worlds, however, it has been quiet for a long time now—the last time the ice giants Uranus and Neptune were visited was 26 years ago yesterday, when the Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past Neptune. There have been no new missions to these worlds since then, but if a new proposed mission gets the green light, that may change in the not-too-distant future.

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Of Silver Ships, Space Exploration, and Science Fiction: A Conversation With Scott H. Jucha

Interstellar travel and colonisation has been a staple of science fiction. Is that prospect in humanity's future? Image Credit: Adrian Mann

Interstellar travel and colonisation has been a staple of science fiction. Is that prospect in humanity’s future? Image Credit: Adrian Mann

Long before any man-made object had ever slipped Earth’s surly bonds, humanity was already a space-faring species in the pages of science fiction stories. The sheer splendor of the Universe and the irresistible calling of the unknown had given rise to countless sweeping dramas set on faraway extraterrestrial settings, real or imagined, while also providing readers with insightful views, albeit often allegorical ones, of what humanity’s place in the Universe might be. It was these imaginative works of fiction that in turn often fuelled the passion of visionary thinkers and engineers, which ultimately led to the real-life opening of the final frontier itself.

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