'Fat as a Goose': 45 Years Since Apollo 14 (Part 2)

Al Shepard (foreground) and Ed Mitchell, pictured in the Lunar Module (LM) simulator during training. Photo Credit: NASA

Al Shepard (foreground) and Ed Mitchell, pictured in the Lunar Module (LM) simulator during training. Photo Credit: NASA

A few hours after leaving Earth on 31 January 1971—45 years ago, this week—Apollo 14 seemed a charmed mission-in-progress, providing a stark contrast with its immediate predecessor, the ill-fated Apollo 13. As outlined in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, Commander Al Shepard, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Stu Roosa, and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Ed Mitchell were tasked to almost repeat what the Apollo 13 would have done: executing a pinpoint landing in the Moon’s Fra Mauro foothills and hopefully revealing geological clues about the origin of our closest celestial neighbor. Before that, however, Roosa had to perform the Transposition & Docking maneuver, extracting the Lunar Module (LM), which the crew had named “Antares,” from the spent S-IVB third stage of their Saturn V booster, and beginning their long journey to the Moon.

And it was here that Apollo 14’s problems really began.

Continue reading ‘Fat as a Goose’: 45 Years Since Apollo 14 (Part 2)

'Almost Worth the Entire Trip': 45 Years Since Apollo 14 (Part 1)

Al Shepard, pictured at Fra Mauro during Apollo 14 in early 1971. This was the planned landing site for Apollo 13. Photo Credit: NASA

Al Shepard, pictured at Fra Mauro during Apollo 14 in early 1971. This was the planned landing site for Apollo 13. Photo Credit: NASA

Forty-five years ago, this week, the sixth team of Apollo lunar explorers—and only the third to accomplish a landing on the Moon’s dusty surface—headed back to Earth after a mission which restored confidence in America’s space program after the near-disastrous Apollo 13. Astronauts Al Shepard, Stu Roosa, and Ed Mitchell (who died on Thursday) brought a scientific yield back home which illustrated that the Moon was a far more complex celestial body than previously believed. The mission of Apollo 14 itself was extraordinarily complex, but as well as being a technical story, it was also a very human story of one man’s battle against almost impossible odds to regain flight status.

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Edgar Mitchell, Sixth Apollo Moonwalker, Dies at 85

Ed Mitchell, who died Thursday, 4 February 2016, aged 85. Photo Credit: NASA, with thanks to Michael Galindo/AmericaSpace

Ed Mitchell, who died Thursday, 4 February 2016, aged 85. Photo Credit: NASA, with thanks to Michael Galindo/AmericaSpace

Forty-five years to the week since he arrived in lunar orbit and subsequently became one of only 12 humans ever to leave his footprints in the dust of another world, Apollo 14 astronaut Ed Mitchell has died, aged 85. According to the Palm Beach Post, Mitchell—who accompanied Commander Al Shepard down to the Moon’s surface and performed two EVAs to explore the Fra Mauro foothills, a landing site previously denied to the crew of Apollo 13—passed away in West Palm Beach, Fla., at about 10 p.m. Thursday (4 February), whilst in local hospice care. The news was broken by his daughter, former West Palm Beach City Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell. Following the death of Neil Armstrong, back in August 2012, Mitchell’s passing leaves only seven remaining Moonwalkers alive.

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ULA Atlas-V Launch of GPS IIF-12 Ends Series with 7 GPS Satellites Launched in 21 Months

A United Lainch Alliance Atlas-V booster lofting GPS 2F-12 to orbit for the U.S. Air Force this morning, kicking off a busy 2016 space launch manifest for Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

A United Launch Alliance Atlas-V booster lofting GPS 2F-12 to orbit for the U.S. Air Force this morning, kicking off a busy 2016 space launch manifest for Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

The successful Feb. 5 United Launch Alliance (ULA) launch of the USAF/Boeing GPS IIF-12 satellite commemorates the 100th anniversary of Boeing aerospace and the 16 years of USAF/contractor teamwork it has taken to launch all 12 GPS 2F series spacecraft. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 41 of the 196-foot-tall Atlas-V 401 rocket, with no solid rocket boosters, occurred at 8:38 a.m. EST, at the opening of a 19-minute launch window.

Powered by 860,000 lbs. of thrust from its Russian Energomash RD-180 engine, the Atlas flew northeast into clear skies directly up the U.S. Atlantic seaboard on an azimuth of 45.8 degrees before arching eastward over St. John’s, Newfoundland.

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All Webb Telescope's 18 Primary Gold-Coated Mirrors Now Installed to Unravel Mysteries of the Universe

From NASA: "Inside a massive clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland the James Webb Space Telescope team used a robotic am to install the last of the telescope's 18 mirrors onto the telescope structure." NASA/Chris Gunn

From NASA: “Inside a massive clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland the James Webb Space Telescope team used a robotic am to install the last of the telescope’s 18 mirrors onto the telescope structure.” NASA/Chris Gunn

Construction of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a NASA, European Space Agency (ESA), and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) collaborative project, continues to shape up in early 2016. NASA announced today that all of the observatory’s primary mirror segments are now installed. At Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the 18th and last segment was installed on Wednesday, Feb. 3rd. While this major milestone has been completed, cryogenic testing continues on the telescope’s Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM), described as the scientific “brain” of JWST.

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Veteran Astronaut Kevin Ford Departs NASA

Kevin Ford is reflected and inverted in a blob of water, during his five-month Expedition 33/34 increment. Photo Credit: NASA

Kevin Ford is reflected and inverted in a blob of water, during his five-month Expedition 33/34 increment. Photo Credit: NASA

Astronaut Kevin Ford—who piloted one of the twilight missions of shuttle Discovery’s glittering career, before commanding the International Space Station (ISS) for over 100 days—departed NASA on Friday, 29 January. The retired Air Force colonel had spent more than 15 years as a member of the Astronaut Office and, including his extensive military career, had spent more than three decades in U.S. Government service. Ford served as pilot of STS-128 in August-September 2009, which delivered more than 15,000 pounds (6,800 kg) of equipment and supplies to the ISS and performed a rotation of long-duration U.S. crew members, before returning to the space station in October 2012 as part of Expedition 33. A month later, he rotated into the command of Expedition 34, leading an increment which he had dubbed “Off the Earth … For the Earth,” through March 2013. All told, Ford accrued more than 157 days in orbit, across his two space missions.

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NASA Shows Off Orion EM-1 Structure at KSC for Inaugural SLS Lunar Flight Test

The Orion pressure vessel for the EM-1 mission currently sits upon an upgraded test stand inside Operations & Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: Talia Landman / AmericaSpace.com

The Orion pressure vessel for the EM-1 mission currently sits upon an upgraded test stand inside Operations & Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: Talia Landman / AmericaSpace.com

NASA’s Orion crew module pressure vessel is secured on a test stand called “the birdcage” inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The pressure vessel makes up the underlying structure of the Orion crew module, which will be used for the agency’s unmanned Exploration Mission (EM)-1 flight in 2018. On this mission, the spacecraft will travel significantly farther and spend a much longer duration in space than the previous Exploration Flight Test (EFT)- 1 mission that took place in December 2014.

“This vehicle will go further than any of the Apollo spacecraft has ever went,” said Mark Geyer, John Space Center (JSC) deputy director and former Orion program manager. “It’s the beginning of this architecture, SLS and Orion, to enable us to explore the lunar regions and encounter things like a habitation module, visit asteroids, and then eventually go on to Mars. All a part of leading exploration and the United States being a leader in that.”

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Cape/KSC Spaceport Faces Fantastic 2016 with Especially Significant GPS Kickoff Feb. 5

Propelled by its three 'cores', the Falcon Heavy is expected to make its maiden voyage in April 2016. This behemoth will cement its credentials as the most powerful rocket in current operational status, overtaking the Delta IV Heavy. Image Credit: SpaceX

Propelled by its three “cores,” the Falcon Heavy is expected to make its maiden voyage in fall 2016. This behemoth will cement its credentials as the most powerful rocket in current operational status, overtaking the Delta IV Heavy. Image Credit: SpaceX

The planned Feb. 5 launch of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V carrying the last of 12 U.S. Air Force/Boeing GPS 2F spacecraft will initiate 2016 Cape Canaveral Spaceport operations this week, with as many as 30 liftoffs and nearly a dozen space vehicle landings planned—the busiest schedule in 15 years.

Those landings will include several SpaceX Falcon 9s and, according to USAF 45th Space Wing’s Launch Group Commander Col. Eric Krystkowiak, perhaps an X-37B landing on the KSC shuttle runway. The X-37B currently in orbit launched from the Cape on an Atlas-V May 20, 2015. Three previous flights have landed at Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

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'Cauliflower' Silica Formations on Mars: Evidence of Ancient Life?

Image of "cauliflower" silica formations found by the Spirit rover in 2008 near Home Plate in Gusev crater. Do they hold clues to ancient life on Mars? Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image of “cauliflower” silica formations found by the Spirit rover in 2008 near Home Plate in Gusev crater. Do they hold clues to ancient life on Mars? Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Was there ever life on Mars? That is one of the longest-running and most debated questions in planetary science, and while there have been tantalizing clues, solid evidence has been elusive. Now there is a new piece to add to the puzzle, which may be one of the most interesting yet. As first reported on Smithsonian.com, odd formations composed of silica seen by the Spirit rover, nicknamed “cauliflower” for their shapes, may have been produced by microbes, new research suggests. They are very similar to some silica formations on Earth which are found in hydrothermal environments and are known to have formed with the help of microscopic organisms.

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NASA Announces Payloads for First SLS Mission

An SLS in its Block 1 configuration goes up, up, and away in this artist's rendering. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC

An SLS in its Block 1 configuration goes up, up, and away in this artist’s rendering. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC

It may still be almost three years into the future, but the maiden voyage of NASA’s gigantic Space Launch System (SLS) booster—destined to carry humans beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time in five decades—drew tantalizingly closer today (Tuesday, 2 February), with the formal announcement of 13 shoebox-sized CubeSats which will ride aboard the mission. Accompanying the first “full-up” Orion spacecraft on Exploration Mission (EM)-1 and its journey beyond the Moon, scheduled to fly no sooner than November 2018, will be a fleet of miniaturized payloads devoted to lunar science, heliophysics, asteroid exploration and solar-sail propulsion technology. Significantly, several secondary payload slots aboard EM-1 remain open for NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge, which is open to U.S.-based, non-government teams, and offers a $5.5 million prize “purse” for completing advanced missions beyond the Moon.

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