'Isn't That Good Enough?' 55 Years Since Gus Grissom's Flight in the Liberty Bell (Part 1)

The white crack on the side of his capsule, paralleling that on the real Liberty Bell, is visible to the left of this pre-launch image of Virgil "Gus" Grissom. Photo Credit: NASA

The white crack on the side of his capsule, paralleling that on the real Liberty Bell, is visible to the left of this pre-launch image of Virgil “Gus” Grissom. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Had Virgil “Gus” Grissom lived longer, wrote Deke Slayton in his autobiography, Deke, he would have been the first man on the Moon. Slayton found himself in charge of the selection and training of astronauts for the two-man Gemini and Moon-bound Apollo missions by late 1962. After Grissom’s death in the Apollo 1 fire, it was Slayton who ultimately chose Neil Armstrong to command the first manned lunar landing. Yet, he wrote, “had Gus been alive, as a Mercury astronaut, he would have taken that step … my first choice would have been Gus.” Grissom was America’s second man in space, the first astronaut to eat a corned beef sandwich in orbit, and a man who fiercely guarded his privacy. “Betty and I run our lives as we please,” he once said. “We don’t care about fads or frills. We don’t give a damn about the Joneses.”

Fifty-five years ago, this week, America delivered its second citizen beyond the “sensible” atmosphere and into space. Grissom’s mission—like that of his predecessor, Al Shepard—lasted barely 15 minutes and achieved suborbital flight. It was a far cry from the complete Earth orbit accomplished by the first man in space, Russia’s Yuri Gagarin, but it demonstrated that America was definitively in the game of human space exploration.

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Blue Origin Outlines Results of Crew Capsule Parachute-Fail Landing Test

Blue Origin's Crew Capsule during post landing recovery operations last month after completing a test to prove the Crew Capsule could safely land with only two of its three parachutes open. Photo Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s Crew Capsule during post landing recovery operations last month after completing a test to prove the Crew Capsule could safely land with only two of its three parachutes open. Photo Credit: Blue Origin

On June 19, Blue Origin launched their reusable New Shepherd rocket and crew capsule into suborbital space over western Texas, followed minutes later by separate and successful landings of both vehicles. The milestone was another significant step forward for billionaire Jeff Bezos and his Kent, Wash.-based company as they continue development and testing of a reusable and affordable suborbital system catering to space tourism, competing directly with Virgin Galactic in the process.

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Viking Remembered: Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the First Search for Life on Mars

Painting of a Viking lander on Mars, prior to launch. Image Credit: Charles Bennett/Lockheed Martin (Martin Marietta)

Iconic painting of a Viking lander on Mars, prior to launch. The sampling arm reaches into the foreground. Image Credit: Charles Bennett/Lockheed Martin (Martin Marietta)

July 20, 1976, will be forever remembered by space enthusiasts. On that day, Viking 1 became the first U.S. spacecraft to land on another planet—in this case, Mars (the USSR Venera 9 spacecraft landed on Venus in 1975). That lander, and Viking 2 which followed it Sept. 3, 1976, paved the way for more complex missions later on, which would begin to finally unlock some of the secrets of the mysterious Red Planet. The two Viking landers, and their counterpart orbiters, were genuine trailblazers, opening up the vast Martian landscape to robotic and human eyes for the first time.

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Solar Probe Plus Mission Moves Closer to 'Touching the Sun' in 2024

Artist's conception of the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft near the Sun. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL

Artist’s conception of the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft near the Sun. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL

The Solar System is a busy place, with spacecraft currently visiting most of the planets as well as some dwarf planets and comets. Akatsuki is at Venus, several rovers and orbiters are at Mars, the Juno spacecraft just reached Jupiter, Cassini is still orbiting Saturn, Dawn is still at Ceres, and Rosetta continues to study the comet 67P. Mercury, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto have all been visited by previous missions as well. But there is one other place in the Solar System which will also be explored more closely in the near future: the Sun.

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SpaceX Nails Launch and Landing Again, Dragon CRS-9 Now En Route to Space Station

The Upgraded Falcon 9 launches into the night, and returns from the night, with its first-stage hardware alighting perfectly onto Landing Zone (LZ)-1 at the Cape. Photo Credit: Talia Landman / AmericaSpace

The Upgraded Falcon 9 launches into the night, and returns from the night, with its first-stage hardware alighting perfectly onto Landing Zone (LZ)-1 at the Cape. Photo Credit: Talia Landman / AmericaSpace

For the 10th time in a little over four years, SpaceX delivered a Dragon cargo ship on a journey toward the International Space Station (ISS) in the opening minutes of Monday morning. Liftoff of the CRS-9 mission—conducted under the language of the initial $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA—occurred on-time at 12:45 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. In keeping with ISS-bound flights, the launch window was an “instantaneous” one, imposing additional restrictions upon the SpaceX team and leaving little margin for last-moment technical issues or changeable weather conditions.

About 10 minutes after rising from the Cape, Dragon separated from the second stage of its Upgraded Falcon 9 booster and was in the process of deploying its solar arrays and other hardware, ahead of a robotic capture and berthing by Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins on Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, the first stage of the booster executed a smooth touchdown at Landing Zone (LZ)-1 at the Cape just 8 minutes and 17 seconds after launch, marking the second “land” landing of Upgraded Falcon 9 hardware, following last December’s historic opening attempt.

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'Something Fierce': 50 Years Since the Double-Rendezvous, Double-Spacewalk Mission of Gemini X (Part 2)

The Gemini X is recovered from their capsule in the Atlantic Ocean by the U.S.S. Guadalcanal on 21 July 1966. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

The Gemini X crew of Command Pilot John Young and Pilot Mike Collins are recovered from their capsule in the Atlantic Ocean by the U.S.S. Guadalcanal on 21 July 1966. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Half a century has now passed since Gemini X astronauts John Young and Mike Collins paved the way for humanity’s voyage to the Moon by accomplishing a remarkable raft of achievements. Launched precisely on time on the afternoon of 18 July 1966, the two astronauts—both of whom would journey to lunar distance later in their respective careers—successfully performed rendezvous with two unpiloted Gemini-Agena Target Vehicles (GATVs), physically docked with one of them, supported the first “space switch” to boost themselves to a higher orbit, and became the first crew in history to perform two sessions of Extravehicular Activity (EVA). However, an unlucky set of circumstances conspired to make both of Collins’ spacewalks unrecorded on film.

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'Otherwise Engaged': 50 Years Since the Double-Rendezvous, Double-Spacewalk Mission of Gemini X (Part 1)

Six hours after launching from Cape Kennedy on 18 July 1966, Gemini X Command Pilot John Young and Pilot Mike Collins rendezvoused and docked with Gemini-Agena Target Vehicle (GATV)-5005. It was the first of a record-setting two rendezvous to be performed during their three-day mission. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Six hours after launching from Cape Kennedy on 18 July 1966, Gemini X Command Pilot John Young and Pilot Mike Collins rendezvoused and docked with Gemini-Agena Target Vehicle (GATV)-5005. It was the first of a record-setting two rendezvous to be performed during their three-day mission. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Fifty years ago, next week, a man who described himself as “nothing special” and “frequently ineffectual” became the first son of Earth to embark on as many as two spacewalks. Mike Collins—later to earn worldwide recognition as Command Module Pilot (CMP) on the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission—also became the first person to physically touch another vehicle in space. Unfortunately, he also became the first spacewalker to bring home absolutely no photographic record of his achievement. In July 1966, Collins and Gemini X Command Pilot John Young spent almost three days in orbit, rose to a peak apogee of 474 miles (763 km) above the Home Planet, and became the first crew to accomplish rendezvous with two separate spacecraft.

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Critical Science, Commercial Crew Hardware Headed to Space Station Aboard CRS-9 Dragon

The International Docking Adapter (IDA)-2 will be one of two connection points for Commercial Crew spacecraft visiting the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: NASA/Charles Babir

The International Docking Adapter (IDA)-2 will be one of two connection points for Commercial Crew spacecraft visiting the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: NASA/Charles Babir

Forty-five minutes after midnight EDT on Monday, 18 July, SpaceX aims to deliver its 10th Dragon cargo ship toward the International Space Station (ISS). Conducted under the language of the initial $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, next week’s CRS-9 mission will follow on the heels of its eight predecessors and the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Demo of May 2012 and will mark the ninth overall Dragon to successfully reach the orbital outpost. Launching atop SpaceX’s Upgraded Falcon 9 booster from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., CRS-9 will be laden with a Boeing-built International Docking Adapter (IDA)—to be attached to the space station in support of NASA’s Commercial Crew ambitions—and a variety of critical research payloads and supplies for the incumbent Expedition 48 crew.

Earlier today (Wednesday), NASA and other officials gathered at the midpoint of the three-day ISS Research and Development Conference—hosted by the American Astronautical Society (AAS) and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) in San Diego, Calif.—to discuss almost 4,900 pounds (2,220 kg) of payloads and hardware which will be delivered by CRS-9.

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Astronomers Image Massive Exoplanet in Triple-Star System

Artist's conception of the star system HD 131399, with the planet HD 131399Ab in the foreground. Image Credit: Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser

Artist’s conception of the star system HD 131399, with the planet HD 131399Ab in the foreground. Image Credit:
ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser

Over the past couple decades, astronomers have been discovering a seemingly endless variety of exoplanets orbiting other stars. Some are rather similar to planets in our own Solar System, while others are more like ones depicted in science fiction, ranging from rocky worlds about the size of Earth and larger, to massive, searing hot planets larger than Jupiter orbiting very close to their stars. Tatooine is another well-known example—the desert planet orbiting two suns in the Star Wars films. Now astronomers have found a similar world, using direct imaging, but which orbits within a system of three stars.

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Doorway to the Future: 15 Years Since STS-104 (Part 2)

Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly departs the Quest airlock on 28 October 2015 to begin an EVA with crewmate Kjell Lindgren. Photo Credit: NASA

Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly departs the Quest airlock on 28 October 2015 to begin an EVA with crewmate Kjell Lindgren. Photo Credit: NASA

Fifteen years ago, this week, the crew of STS-104—Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Charlie Hobaugh, and Mission Specialists Mike Gernhardt, Janet Kavandi, and Jim Reilly—rocketed into the pre-dawn darkness to effect a major change to the fledgling International Space Station (ISS). Over the next 12 days, they worked to install and activate the Quest airlock, which would provide nothing less than a doorway to space; and a means, in NASA’s words, of enabling “a higher degree of station independence in its own construction and maintenance.” Before STS-104, all station-building spacewalks had been performed via the airlocks of resident shuttles. After STS-104, the option was available for EVAs to be performed directly from the station itself and, for the first time, could be executed without a shuttle being present.

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