'The Reality of the Situation': 45 Years Since the Mission of Apollo 15 (Part 1)

For each Apollo landing crew, the cramped confines of the Lunar Module (LM) provided their sanctuary against the hostile extremes of an airless, lifeless world beyond. Photo Credit: NASA

For each Apollo landing crew, the cramped confines of the Lunar Module (LM) provided their sanctuary against the hostile extremes of an airless, lifeless world beyond. Photo Credit: NASA

Four hundred miles (640 km) to the north of the Moon’s equator lies a place called Hadley: a small patch of Mare Imbrium at the base of the Apennine Mountains—some of which rise to 4,000 feet (1,200 meters)—and a 25-mile (40-km) meandering gorge, known as Hadley Rille. In July 1971, Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Jim Irwin expertly negotiated these forbidding landmarks in the Lunar Module (LM) Falcon and set down in one of the most visually spectacular regions ever visited by mankind. They brought back a scientific yield which revealed more about the Moon’s origin and evolution than ever before. Forty-five years ago, this week, in July-August 1971, Apollo 15 conducted one of the most brilliant missions ever undertaken in the annals of space science.

Continue reading ‘The Reality of the Situation’: 45 Years Since the Mission of Apollo 15 (Part 1)

Successful NRO/ULA NRO-61 Launch Bolsters Secret Relay

A ULA Atlas-V 421 rocket launching the classified NRO-61 satellite from Cape Canaveral, FL July 28, 2016. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

A ULA Atlas-V 421 rocket launching the classified NRO-61 satellite from Cape Canaveral, Fla., July 28, 2016. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

The successful launch today of the 11,000-lb National Reconnaissance Office NRO 61 geosynchronous orbit, real-time relay spacecraft has given the U.S. a major new capability to speedily forward high-resolution imagery and other intelligence data from lower orbiting platforms to processing and distribution centers on the ground.

NRO 61’s nearly 200-ft-tall United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V 421 rocket, with two 375,000-lb thrust Aerojet solid rocket boosters and its Russian Energomash 860,000-lb thrust liquid oxygen/RP-1 engine, lifted off on 1.61 million lbs thrust from Launch Complex 41 at 8: 37 a.m. EDT, at the opening of a 57-minute launch window.

Continue reading Successful NRO/ULA NRO-61 Launch Bolsters Secret Relay

Top-Secret NRO-61 Relay Set for Liftoff Thursday as MUOS-5 Finally Climbing to Orbit

An Atlas-V 421 rocket, carrying the NROL-61 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), is transported from the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex-41 for a Thursday morning launch attempt. Photo Credit: ULA

An Atlas-V 421 rocket, carrying the NROL-61 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), is transported from the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex-41 for a Thursday morning launch attempt. Photo Credit: ULA

Two major military space and intelligence operations vital to U.S. national security and future combat operations are underway this week.

Continue reading Top-Secret NRO-61 Relay Set for Liftoff Thursday as MUOS-5 Finally Climbing to Orbit

'The First Thing I Had Ever Lost': 55 Years Since Gus Grissom's Flight in the Liberty Bell (Part 2)

This was one of the final views of Liberty Bell 7 on 21 July 1961, before it was lost beneath the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Not until 1999, more than three decades after Grissom's death, would the sunken capsule be returned to the surface. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

This was one of the final views of Liberty Bell 7 on 21 July 1961, before it was lost beneath the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Not until 1999, more than three decades after Grissom’s death, would the sunken capsule be returned to the surface. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Fifty-five years ago, a small, tough, ex-fighter pilot named Virgil “Gus” Grissom became America’s second man in space … and almost lost his life in a watery demise at its conclusion. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace article, he had grown up with a determination to be the best and by April 1959 was selected as a member of the Mercury Seven. His space mission on 21 July 1961 lasted barely 15 minutes. Launched atop a Redstone missile, “Mercury-Redstone 4” would arc high above the Atlantic Ocean and splash down a couple of hundred miles east of Cape Canaveral. In that sense, it was a similar mission to that of America’s first astronaut, Al Shepard, in May 1961. In several other senses, however, the two missions were poles apart.

Continue reading ‘The First Thing I Had Ever Lost’: 55 Years Since Gus Grissom’s Flight in the Liberty Bell (Part 2)

'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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Continue reading Solar Probe Plus Mission Moves Closer to ‘Touching the Sun’ in 2024

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.

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

'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.

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