Hank Hartsfield (bottom center), surrounded by his STS-41D crewmates on the maiden voyage of Discovery in August 1984. Photo Credit: NASA
Thirty years ago, today (30 August 1984), the Shuttle Discovery—which would become, in time, the most-flown member of NASA’s fleet of orbiters—embarked on her maiden space voyage, launching from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Aboard Discovery were Commander Hank Hartsfield, Pilot Mike Coats, Mission Specialists Mike Mullane, Steve Hawley, and Judy Resnik, and Payload Specialist Charlie Walker. During their six days in space, they became the first shuttle crew to deploy as many as three commercial satellites, they extended an experimental solar array “wing,” and they became forever known to history as “The Icebusters.” However, as described in a previous AmericaSpace history article, the 41D mission had already experienced more than its fair share of excitement, before Discovery even departed the launch pad.
Continue reading ‘You’d Be Booked Up’: 30 Years Since the Maiden Voyage of Shuttle Discovery (Part 1)
John L. “Jack” Swigert, pictured in a 1971 NASA photo. Photo Credit: NASA
In 2011, waiting for STS-133 to launch on a sunny February afternoon in Titusville, Florida, an out-of-town visitor inquired about Apollo astronauts while talking to a former Cape worker in the proximity of the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum, formerly located on the city’s Main Street. She brings up the name “Jack Swigert,” and an embarrassed giggle erupts from the elderly gentleman. “Well, some of those boys were wilder than others,” the man says, smiling broadly and shaking his head, undoubtedly remembering the long-dead astronaut’s adventures in bachelorhood.
Continue reading For Jack Swigert, On His 83rd Birthday
Artist’s conception of an asteroid collision around the Sun-like star NGC 2547-ID8. Such impacts around young stars lead to planetary formation later on. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Solar systems, including ours, are thought to begin as massive clouds of dust and gas surrounding young stars; over billions of years, planets form from repeated impacts of rocky debris. Asteroids and comets are left-over chunks of debris from that process which didn’t coalesce together. Such debris clouds, or protoplanetary disks, have been found around many young stars. These are solar systems still in their infancy. Now, astronomers have been able to observe the actual collision between two large rocky bodies, most likely asteroids, in a protoplanetary disk surrounding a young, Sun-like star 1,200 light-years away.
Continue reading Astronomers Witness Asteroid Smash-Up Around Sun-Like Star
Global partnerships could one day lead to European or Japanese versions of the Dream Chaser docking at the ISS in this artist’s concept. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)
By amassing “global partnerships with 21 space agencies,” the private Dream Chaser space plane has a solid foundation and “a path to continue” forward, Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems, told AmericaSpace in Part 4 of our exclusive, one-on-one interview about the company’s efforts to build a cost-effective and potentially international version of their “astronaut taxi” to the International Space Station (ISS), as well as multiple exciting missions beyond!
Continue reading Global Partnerships Pave Path Forward for Private International Dream Chaser for Multiple Purposes: One-on-One Interview With SNC VP Mark Sirangelo (Part 4)
Mission 51L Commander Dick Scobee talks to schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe about the instrumentation of the shuttle’s flight deck during pre-launch training. Photo Credit: NASA
Thirty years ago, yesterday, on 27 August 1984, one of the most momentous—and, as circumstances would transpire, also tragic—events in space history unfolded, when President Ronald Reagan announced the Teacher in Space Project (TISP) and directed NASA to find a gifted educator with the ability to communicate his or her enthusiasm to ground-based students from the orbiting shuttle. Over the course of the following months, more than 11,000 U.S. teachers applied and were assessed, culminating in July 1985 with the selection of Christa McAuliffe, a social studies educator from Concord, N.H. Her fateful launch aboard Challenger on Mission 51L on 28 January 1986 brought the shuttle program to its knees, but the spirit of McAuliffe’s unrealized voyage endured and finally came to pass in August 2007, when her backup, Barbara Morgan, flew as a fully-fledged mission specialist on STS-118.
Continue reading Endearing and Enthusiastic: 30 Years Since NASA’s Teacher in Space Project
Artist’s concept of the New Horizons spacecraft during its planned encounter with Pluto and its moon Charon in 14 July 2015. New Horizons has just completed a major milestone in its mission by crossing the orbit of Neptune on Aug. 25, exactly a quarter-of-a-century after Voyager 2 flew by the ice giant planet in 1989. Image Credit: Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)
They say there’s no such thing in life as chance, but only choice. That certainly holds true for NASA’s New Horizons mission which has been the culmination of more than two decades of efforts by the space agency and the planetary science community alike to study the last unexplored frontier of the Solar System: dwarf planet Pluto and the vast expanses of the Kuiper Belt that lie beyond. Yet, in what can be described as a unique cosmic coincidence, New Horizons, which has been travelling through the outer Solar System for the last 8.5 years to reach its destination, has just passed the orbit of Neptune earlier this week, exactly a quarter-of-a-century after the iconic Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first close-up views of the fascinating ice giant planet, in August 1989. Having completed this major milestone, New Horizons is now in the homestretch of its historic journey toward Pluto, where it will arrive in less than a year, for its long-awaited flyby of this fascinating and mysterious world.
Continue reading Passing the Torch: Twenty-Five Years After Voyager 2, New Horizons Crosses Neptune’s Orbit On Its Way to Pluto
Steve Nagel (1946-2014). Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de
Veteran shuttle flyer Jerry Ross—the first human being to chalk up as many as seven discrete space missions—spoke touchingly and with humor yesterday (Tuesday, 26 August) at the funeral of his friend, astronaut Steve Nagel, who died from cancer last week, aged 67. Since their first meeting at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., almost four decades ago, Ross and Nagel “discovered we had a lot of things in common” and ended up flying two shuttle missions together. During his eulogy, Ross reflected warmly on the legacy of his former crewmate and their half-joking wish to someday regale each other at an Astronaut Retirement Home. “We would have two rocking chairs next to each other on the front porch,” Ross wrote in his speech, which he has kindly permitted AmericaSpace to use, “and enjoy giving each other a bad time while talking about our ‘similarities’.”
Continue reading Men of Similarity: Jerry Ross Fondly Remembers His Friend, Steve Nagel
From the European Space Agency (ESA): “Artist’s impression of Rosetta’s lander Philae (front view) on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Philae will be deployed to the comet in November 2014 where it will make in situ observations of the comet surface, including drilling 23cm into the subsurface to extract material for analysis in its on board laboratory.” Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab
Just weeks after the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft made history with its unprecedented rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta’s team is hard at work determining possible landing sites for Philae, the spacecraft’s lander. ESA announced that it has narrowed down the search for landing sites to five locations. If all goes as planned, Philae will make history again, completing the first landing on a comet’s surface in November.
Continue reading The Next Giant Leap for ESA: Rosetta Team Determining Possible Landing Sites for Philae
“Got Life?”—the ExoLance logo. Image Credit: Explore Mars
Is or was there life on Mars? That is one of the biggest and most hotly debated questions in planetary science. The manner in which the evidence has been searched for is also a topic of much discussion. The Viking landers in the 1970s were the first to look for direct evidence for microbial life still existing in the Martian soil, and the results are still regarded as inconclusive, with both pro and con supporters debating whether the landers actually found living microbes or just unusual soil chemistry. Subsequent lander and rover missions have focused more on determining whether conditions in Mars’ ancient past were habitable and able to support life as we know it, rather than searching directly for evidence of past or present life itself.
Continue reading Taking Aim With ExoLance: A New Way to Search for Life on Mars
The AsiaSat-6 payload undergoes final processing, ahead of its launch on Tuesday, 26 August. Photo Credit: AsiaSat
Three weeks after launching the AsiaSat-8 communications satellite, SpaceX is primed to deliver its sibling, AsiaSat-6, into geostationary transfer orbit at an altitude of 22,236 miles (35,786 km) on Wednesday, 27 August. The Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services organization—headed by entrepreneur Elon Musk—will launch its fifth Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket of 2014 during a three-hour “window,” which extends from 12:50 a.m. until 4:05 a.m. EDT. As with AsiaSat-8, the geostationary altitude of this heavyweight mission requires the maximum performance capability of the Falcon 9 v1.1, and consequently the booster will not be equipped with extendible landing legs and will not perform a “propulsive return-over-water” and controlled splashdown.
Continue reading SpaceX Primed to Launch Second AsiaSat Mission in Three Weeks