Back to the Moon? New House Bill Defunds NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission

Artist's conception of the Asteroid Redirect Mission. The new House bill directs NASA to bypass this mission and return to the Moon instead, before going to Mars. Image Credit: NASA

Artist’s conception of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The new House bill directs NASA to bypass this mission and return to the Moon instead, before going to Mars. Image Credit: NASA

Sending human astronauts to Mars is a dream shared by many, but there are still challenges to overcome and the question of just how to accomplish it is a subject of intense debate. Some supporters advocate sending a mission directly to Mars while others think that returning to the Moon first, for potentially beneficial training, is the way to go. NASA itself has stated its desire to send a crewed mission to a nearby asteroid first, instead of the Moon – going farther into space than the Moon as preparation for the much longer journey to Mars. A major problem has been that NASA has still not set a firm timetable for such a mission. It wants to go to Mars, but the steps to achieving that goal are still unclear.

Now, the House Appropriations Committee has spoken on the issue in a new report, and has made changes in the budget for fiscal year 2017, calling for NASA to abandon its asteroid idea and send astronauts back to the Moon first, before going to Mars.

Continue reading Back to the Moon? New House Bill Defunds NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission

SpaceX Prepares for Third Geostationary Mission of 2016

The Thaicom 8 satellite will be co-located with its sister, Thaicom 5, at 78.5 degrees East longitude. Photo Credit: Orbital ATK

The Thaicom 8 satellite will be co-located with its sister, Thaicom 5, at 78.5 degrees East longitude. Photo Credit: Orbital ATK

For the 25th time in a little under six years, the roar of a Falcon 9 rocket’s Merlin-class engines is expected to echo across Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on Thursday, 26 May, delivering another payload towards space. Liftoff of the Upgraded variant of the SpaceX booster—equipped with improved Merlin 1D+ engines, structural enhancements to its airframe and benefiting from a “densified” cryogenic-loading protocol—is scheduled to occur from the Cape’s Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at 5:40 p.m. EDT Thursday. The relatively spacious, two-hour “launch window” is due to close around 7:40 p.m.

A customary Static Fire Test of the nine Merlin 1D+ engines of the Upgraded Falcon 9’s first stage was successfully conducted on Tuesday evening. “Static Fire complete in advance of Thursday’s launch,” tweeted SpaceX at 10:31 p.m. EDT Tuesday. In addition to transporting the heavyweight Thaicom 6 communications satellite to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), SpaceX will attempt another landing of the Falcon 9 first-stage hardware on the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) in the Atlantic Ocean.

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The Inside Story of How Aviation Week’s Decision to Sit on One Cold War Blockbuster Led to Another

DIA briefings arranged by Gen. “Davy” Jones as part of Aviation Week’s deal not to publish KH-11 details revealed the Soviets had begun development of a space shuttle that ultimately flew only once—unmanned— in November 1988. Credit: Energia

DIA briefings arranged by Gen. “Davy” Jones as part of Aviation Week’s deal not to publish KH-11 details revealed the Soviets had begun development of a space shuttle that ultimately flew only once—unmanned— in November 1988. Credit: Energia

Editor’s note: This month Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, where our U.S. Military Space reporter Craig Covault spent nearly 40 years, is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Since Covault provided decades of award winning coverage, the current editors asked that he write a piece for the Aviation Week anniversary issue detailing the process behind two particular scoops that have become legend at AWST. The story is reproduced here with permission along with two corrections that have come to light.

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On March 20, 1978, Aviation Week & Space Technology revealed that the Soviet Union was secretly developing its own reusable space shuttle. The article, complete with details on the Soviet shuttle’s design characteristics, was a scoop picked up by media around the globe. What readers do not know, however, is the revelation’s connection to another Cold War blockbuster written 14 months earlier, but not published, after a plea from the acting chairman of the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Continue reading The Inside Story of How Aviation Week’s Decision to Sit on One Cold War Blockbuster Led to Another

'An Amazing and Wonderful Experience': 20 Years Since STS-77’s Record-Setting Rendezvous Mission (Part 2)

STS-77's primary cargoes dominate this view of Endeavour's payload bay in orbit. In the foreground is the Spacehab-4 module, with SPARTAN-207 visible in the background. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

STS-77’s primary cargoes dominate this view of Endeavour’s payload bay in orbit. In the foreground is the Spacehab-4 module, with SPARTAN-207 visible in the background. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Twenty years ago this week, six men orbited Earth aboard Shuttle Endeavour on one of the most complex research flights ever conducted in the program’s 30-year history. With such a large number of payloads aboard, it was imperative for the STS-77 crew—Commander John Casper, Pilot Curt Brown, and Mission Specialists Andy Thomas, Dan Bursch, Mario Runco, and Canada’s Marc Garneau—to begin activating as many experiments as possible on the first day of their 10-day flight. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, STS-77 was tasked with a multitude of experiments in the commercial Spacehab-4 laboratory and the deployment and retrieval of as many as four free-flying satellite payloads. Launch was originally targeted for 16 May 1996, but was pushed back to the 19th, since the earlier date was not available to NASA on the Eastern Range schedule. The crew had been training for the mission for almost a year, having been assigned in June 1995, and took their seats aboard Endeavour for an early-morning liftoff at 6:30 a.m. EDT.

“Really an amazing and wonderful experience,” was the opinion of first-time flier Andy Thomas, an Australian-born U.S. astronaut, who was seated on Endeavour’s flight deck for ascent. “I could look out the overhead windows with a wrist-mirror. I could see the flame in the flame trench, prior to liftoff; I could see the flash of the [Solid Rocket Booster] ignition; and then feel the lurch as we were accelerated upwards.”

Continue reading ‘An Amazing and Wonderful Experience’: 20 Years Since STS-77’s Record-Setting Rendezvous Mission (Part 2)

Jupiter's Moon lo Formed Under Unique Processes, New Study Suggests

An impressive image of Jupiter's moon Io, as seen from NASA's Galileo spacecraft from a distance of approximately 600,000 km. A volcanic eruption is easily seen at the moon's upper limb, rising almost 140 km above the surface. A new study has shown that these volcanic eruptions play an integral role in the formation of mountains on the moon's landscape as well. Image Credit: Galileo Project, JPL, NASA

An impressive image of Jupiter’s moon Io, as seen from NASA’s Galileo spacecraft from a distance of approximately 600,000 km. A volcanic eruption is easily seen at the moon’s upper limb, rising almost 140 km above the surface. A new study has shown that these volcanic eruptions play an integral role in the formation of mountains on the moon’s landscape as well. Image Credit: Galileo Project, JPL, NASA

From a mountaineering perspective, Earth doesn’t present much of a challenge when compared to other planetary bodies in the Solar System. Mount Everest, Earth’s tallest mountain whose peak reaches 8.9 km above sea level, may seem like a towering giant from a terrestrial standpoint, but when put in context to the mountains and ridges that dominate the surfaces of some of our Solar System’s planets and moons, it feels more like a modest hill.

Continue reading Jupiter’s Moon lo Formed Under Unique Processes, New Study Suggests

'Wide-Eyed Dreamers': 20 Years Since STS-77's Record-Setting Rendezvous Mission (Part 1)

The Inflatable Antenna Experiment (IAE) extends from the SPARTAN-207 free-flying satellite, after deployment. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

The Inflatable Antenna Experiment (IAE) extends from the SPARTAN-207 free-flying satellite, after deployment. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Early on 20 May 1996, NASA astronaut Mario Runco, Jr., grappled SPARTAN-207—a small, free-flying spacecraft, equipped with a very unique experiment—and lifted it from Shuttle Endeavour’s payload bay with the Canadian-built Remote Manipulator System (RMS) mechanical arm. Together with his five crewmates, Runco had launched just 24 hours earlier, kicking off the 10-day STS-77 mission. And on STS-77, the frequent-flying SPARTAN would undertake its most ambitious exercise yet. Runco released the satellite on time at 7:29 a.m. EDT, into orbital darkness, after which Commander John Casper maneuvered Endeavour to a distance of about 820 feet (250 meters).

Once there, Casper held his ship’s position for about an hour, before conducting a partial flyaround, to a point directly “above” the satellite. Next, he began an 80-minute period of station-keeping to observe a quite remarkable experiment: an experiment with potentially enormous benefits for a range of applications, from space radar to mobile communications, from astronomy to Earth observations, and from environmental research to the analysis of soil moisture and salinity. In fact, STS-77—which was in orbit 20 years ago, this week—set the space shuttle’s myriad capabilities to work and served as a critical pathfinder for future research aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Continue reading ‘Wide-Eyed Dreamers’: 20 Years Since STS-77’s Record-Setting Rendezvous Mission (Part 1)

New Horizons Obtains New Images and Science Data of Post-Pluto Kuiper Belt Object

Image from New Horizons showing the small KBO called 1994 JR1, taken in April 2016. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Image from New Horizons showing the small KBO called 1994 JR1, taken in April 2016. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

The New Horizons mission to Pluto has been nothing less than incredible, giving us our first close-up views of this enigmatic dwarf planet and its moons. But the show isn’t over yet, as the New Horizons team is now planning for its next encounter with another Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) in 2019. But even before then, the spacecraft has been busy observing other smaller objects, and has now collected the first science data on one of them, called 1994 JR1.

Continue reading New Horizons Obtains New Images and Science Data of Post-Pluto Kuiper Belt Object

100th Shuttle Commander and STS-100 Spacewalker Inducted into Astronaut Hall of Fame

This weekend saw the induction of veteran shuttle fliers Brian Duffy (left) and Scott Parazynski into the Astronaut Hall of Fame (AHOF). Photo Credit: NASA

This weekend saw the induction of veteran shuttle fliers Brian Duffy (left) and Scott Parazynski into the Astronaut Hall of Fame (AHOF). Photo Credit: NASA

Having circled hundreds of miles above Earth, a pair of NASA spacefarers with a personal affinity for the word hundred were this weekend inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame (AHOF) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Four-time flier Brian Duffy, who commanded the shuttle’s hundredth voyage in October 2000, and five-time veteran Scott Parazynski, who flew the mission actually designated “STS-100” in spring 2001, were honored by their peers and the public for making significant contributions to the space program. Over the course of their astronaut careers, Duffy and Parazynski totaled nine shuttle missions between March 1992 and November 2007, featuring rendezvous, docking, spacewalking, scientific research, visiting Russia’s Mir space station, and building the International Space Station (ISS). All told, the pair flew three times apiece on shuttles Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour and spent close to a hundred days—98.5 days, to be exact—in space.

Continue reading 100th Shuttle Commander and STS-100 Spacewalker Inducted into Astronaut Hall of Fame

'What Do You Suppose Stafford's Saying?': 50 Years Since Gemini IX Lost Its Agena (Part 2)

The Gemini IX crews consisted of Elliot See (front left) and Charlie Bassett (front right) and their backups, Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan. The deaths of the prime crew on 28 February 1966 forced Stafford and Cernan into their shoes, but was not the end of their misfortunes. On 17 May 1966, they also lost their rendezvous target, the Gemini-Agena Target Vehicle (GATV). Photo Credit: NASA

The Gemini IX crews consisted of Elliot See (front left) and Charlie Bassett (front right) and their backups, Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan. The deaths of the prime crew on 28 February 1966 forced Stafford and Cernan into their shoes, but was not the end of their misfortunes. On 17 May 1966, they also lost their rendezvous target, the Gemini-Agena Target Vehicle (GATV). Photo Credit: NASA

Fifty years ago, this week, it seemed that Project Gemini’s recent spell of tragedy and misfortune was nearing its end. After a spectacular run of five successful missions in 1965—which included America’s first spacewalk and saw the United States move ahead of the Soviet Union with the longest human space mission yet attempted, as well as accomplishing rendezvous between two orbital vehicles for the first time—Gemini seemed to be smoothly clearing the milestones, ahead of Project Apollo. Then, in February 1966, the Gemini IX crew was killed during training and, a few weeks later, the Gemini VIII astronauts came close to losing their lives after accomplishing the first docking in space. With the Gemini IX backup crew of Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan therefore pushed into the shoes of the prime crew, hopes were high that they would launch on 17 May 1966, for an ambitious three-day mission of rendezvous, docking, scientific experiments, and spacewalking.

Continue reading ‘What Do You Suppose Stafford’s Saying?’: 50 Years Since Gemini IX Lost Its Agena (Part 2)

'More Routine, Less Newsworthy': 50 Years Since Gemini IX Lost Its Agena (Part 1)

Had history been kinder, this might have been the view from Gemini IX's windows, 50 years ago, this week. However, the failure of the Gemini-Agena Target Vehicle (GATV) to reach orbit on 17 May 1966 led to a two-week delay to the mission of Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Had history been kinder, this might have been the view from Gemini IX’s windows, 50 years ago, this week. However, the failure of the Gemini-Agena Target Vehicle (GATV) to reach orbit on 17 May 1966 led to a two-week delay to the mission of Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Spring 1966 was a period of gloom for America’s space program. Two astronauts-in-training had been killed on 28 February in an aircraft crash, just 500 feet (150 meters) from the building in which their spacecraft was being built, whilst the crew of Gemini VIII—future Moonwalkers Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott—came close to losing their own lives on 16 March, when their ship encountered violent oscillations after performing the first successful in-space docking. With the deaths of original Gemini IX crewmen Elliot See and Charlie Bassett, their backups, Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan, were reassigned as the new prime crew. But theirs would turn into a mission of frustration. This frustration was prefaced, 50 years ago, this week, by the loss of the single most important element of their mission: the Gemini-Agena Target Vehicle (GATV), their rendezvous and docking target.

Continue reading ‘More Routine, Less Newsworthy’: 50 Years Since Gemini IX Lost Its Agena (Part 1)