Columbia is approached by servicing vehicles on the runway on 7 December 1996, after concluding STS-80, the shuttle program’s longest Extended Duration Orbiter (EDO) mission. Photo Credit: NASA
Twenty-five years ago, this week, NASA and Rockwell International reached a historic agreement which would, both figuratively and literally, “extend” the shuttle and its myriad capabilities beyond anything previously achievable. On 2 April 1990, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed, requiring Rockwell—the shuttle’s prime contractor—to “produce commercially a cryogenic pallet” for the long-planned Extended Duration Orbiter (EDO) program, which sought to stretch missions beyond the nominal week to at least 16 days and perhaps further to 28 days. That contract enabled 14 long-duration missions between June 1992 and February 2003, which supported hundreds of scientific investigations, deployed and retrieved satellites, and transformed the shuttle into a miniature space station. In fact, when one excludes Skylab and ISS expeditions, EDO allowed the shuttle to fly for almost 18 days, marking the longest “standalone” U.S. space mission of all time.
Continue reading Stretching the Shuttle: 25 Years Since the EDO Decision
This sequence of images shows a blast zone where the sky crane from NASA’s Curiosity rover mission hit the ground after setting the rover down in August 2012, and how that dark scar’s appearance changed over the subsequent 30 months. The images are from HiRISE on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
Virtually since the moment of the nail-biting touchdown of NASA’s Curiosity mega rover inside Gale some 2.5 years ago, the most powerful camera orbiting Mars has been keeping tabs on the blast zones and scars created by the impact of the rover and other components of the landing gear.
The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter soaring overhead has periodically observed the rover as well as the heat shield, descent stage, back shell, and parachutes to track changes over time from the August 2012 landing, until as recently as February 2015. And future observations will undoubtedly continue.
Continue reading Watch Curiosity’s Scars on Mars Change Over Time
Artist concept of OSIRIS-REx, the first U.S. mission to return samples from an asteroid to Earth. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard
The first United States mission in history to launch a robotic spacecraft to an asteroid, retrieve samples, and return those samples back to Earth for study just passed a big milestone in its development this week. NASA’s Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer mission—or OSIRIS-REx for short—has been nearly four years in the making, and this week the mission was given the green light to transition from design and development to testing and assembly of the spacecraft itself.
Continue reading Spacecraft Assembly Begins for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission
Scott Kelly’s first selfie, taken after setting up camp in his crew quarters in the station’s Harmony node on 27/28 March 2015. Photo Credit: Scott Kelly/Twitter/NASA
With about 1 percent of his 342-day mission—which began Thursday, with a rousing launch aboard Soyuz TMA-16M, from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan—now complete, U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly spoke yesterday (Monday, 30 March) to his identical twin brother, Mark, as well as NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and President Barack Obama’s science advisor. During the exchange, Kelly discussed his ambitious voyage, which marks the first joint U.S.-Russian One-Year Mission, the first flight of such extreme duration to occur aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and the first of its kind to take place in the 21st century.
Continue reading Scott Kelly Describes Return to Space Station as ‘Coming to My Old Home’
Artist’s concept of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Image Credit: NASA/ESA
The most sophisticated and ambitious space-based observatory ever conceived by the human mind continues to take shape through various aerospace centers across the country, where work is progressing steadily with development of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). This year is a big year for the JWST program: Assembly of the actual flight telescope will begin this year, with its structure arriving at Goddard Space Flight Center this summer, followed by installation of the telescope’s 18 gold-coated hexagonal flight mirrors throughout the rest of the year.
The spacecraft bus and sunshield continue to be put together at Northrop-Grumman in California as well, and testing of test equipment at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in preparation for testing of the integrated telescope and instrument module in 2017 will take place throughout the year. However, some of the most difficult days for the JWST program lie ahead.
Continue reading NASA Says Webb Telescope Within Budget and On Track for 2018 Launch, GAO Not So Sure
Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka joined their Expedition 43 crewmates Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov, and Samantha Cristoforetti in the Zvezda service module for a crew greeting ceremony. Photo: NASA
SPACE STATION WEEKLY UPDATE March 23 – March 29, 2015 — The International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 43 crew members kept busy last week, continuing work for the station’s ongoing research and science experiments while also preparing for upcoming cargo delivery. They also welcomed three new crew members, including two who will remain in space for nearly a year (342 days), bringing the number of humans living in space back up to six.
Continue reading Ongoing Research and New Crew Arrival Highlight Busy Week on Orbit for Expedition 43
Artist’s conception of the Alpha Centauri binary star system and the exoplanet Alpha Centauri Bb. Our own Sun is also shown in the distance. Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/N. Risinger
The closest star system to our own Sun may have two Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting it, a new study has shown based on observations by the Hubble Space Telescope. If confirmed, the discovery would help to illustrate just how common exoplanets are; data from Kepler and other telescopes has also already shown that the vast majority of stars have exoplanets orbiting them, and the number of exoplanets in our galaxy alone is now thought to number in the billions.
Continue reading Two Earth-Sized Exoplanets May Exist in Closest Star System, Hubble Observations Reveal
Marine Gen. John “Jack” R. Dailey (front right), director of the National Air and Space Museum, presents the 2015 Current Achievement Trophy Award to William Borucki (front left) and NASA’s Kepler Mission Team. Photo Credit: NASM
The scientists and engineers searching for potentially habitable planets orbiting distant stars, as well as the exploration of all the planets in our Solar System, headlined the 2015 Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum trophy awards for Lifetime and Current Achievement.
The awards were presented Mar. 25 at a glittering black tie ceremony and dinner at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.
Continue reading Kepler Planet Hunter and APL Experimenter Krimigis Honored by Smithsonian
Bill Oefelein was one of the first members of his astronaut class to venture into space and the first Alaskan to reach orbit. He turns 50 today. Photo Credit: NASA
Although he forged an unfortunate place in popular culture and gained intense media attention in early 2007 as part of a bizarre “love triangle,” former shuttle astronaut Bill Oefelein—who turns 50 today (Sunday, 29 March)—also became the first Alaskan ever to embark on a space voyage and the first person to write a blog whilst in orbit. Nicknamed “Billy O,” he served as pilot aboard Discovery during STS-116 in December 2006 and, following his departure from NASA in May of the following year, he founded AdventureWrite, a freelance photography and writing company, which he has described as “a venue to chronicle life’s adventurous journey and share that journey with others.” From his birth in Virginia, through his upbringing in Alaska, to flying the shuttle, Oefelein has lived, and continues to live, a life of adventure and exploration.
Continue reading Veteran Shuttle Pilot and Adventurer Bill Oefelein Turns 50 Today
Terry Virts is pictured working on cable-routing activities in support of the future International Docking Adapters (IDAs) during EVA-29 on 21 February 2015. This was the first spacewalk in the 50th anniversary year since Alexei Leonov’s pioneering EVA. Photo Credit: NASA
Less than a month ago, on 1 March 2015, U.S. astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts concluded a spectacular series of three EVAs to prepare the International Space Station (ISS) for its most significant phase of expansion and relocation of hardware since the end of the shuttle era. They laid 340 feet (103 meters) of cables in support of the arrival of two International Docking Adapters (IDAs)—critical for NASA’s future Commercial Crew aspirations—as well as a further 400 feet (122 meters) of cables for the Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles (C2V2) architecture and prepared two berthing ports on the Tranquility node for use later in 2015. In concluding the last of these EVAs, Wilmore and Virts completed the 187th spacewalk performed by astronauts and cosmonauts from the United States, Russia, Canada, France, Japan, Germany, Sweden, and Italy since December 1998 to assemble and maintain the largest and most complex engineering achievement in human history. It is a mammoth effort which is expected to continue this year and throughout the station’s operational lifetime.
Continue reading Traversing the New Frontier: The First 50 Years of Spacewalking (Part 6)