Independence Weekend: Launches, Landings and Working in Space on the Fourth of July (Part 1)

 

Thirty-three years ago, today, on 4 July 1982, the crew of STS-4 became the first U.S. astronauts to spend Independence Day in space. It also marked the date of their spectacular return to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Photo Credit: NASA

Thirty-three years ago, today, on 4 July 1982, the crew of STS-4 became the first U.S. astronauts to spend Independence Day in space. It also marked the date of their spectacular return to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Photo Credit: NASA

On the morning of 4 July 1982, a rapidly moving black and white speck appeared on the horizon at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., bringing a pair of space explorers back to Earth after a week in orbit. Minutes later, at 12:09 p.m. EDT (9:09 a.m. PDT), shuttle Columbia and astronauts Ken Mattingly and Hank Hartsfield alighted on the 15,000-foot-long (4,600-meter) Runway 22, becoming the first U.S. space mission to be in progress on Independence Day. It was true that several key voyages of U.S. space exploration had taken place in July—not least humanity’s first piloted landing on the Moon and the joint Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP)—but until STS-4 and the flight of Mattingly and Hartsfield, no American had ever been in space on this quintessentially U.S. holiday.

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Flight Plan for New Horizons' Historic Pluto Flyby Uploaded to Spacecraft as Surface Details Begin to Emerge

New Horizons scientists combined the latest black and white map of Pluto’s surface features (left) with a map of the planet’s colors (right) to produce a detailed color portrait of the planet’s northern hemisphere (center). Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

New Horizons scientists combined the latest black-and-white map of Pluto’s surface features (left) with a map of the planet’s colors (right) to produce a detailed color portrait of the planet’s northern hemisphere (center). Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

New Horizons is now just 11 days from its historic flyby exploration of the Pluto system, some three billion miles away at the entrance to the realm of our Solar System’s still unexplored Kuiper Belt, and this morning (July 3) the mission team successfully uploaded the command load flight plan to the piano-sized spacecraft for its close flyby 7,800 miles above Pluto on July 14. At the same time, the images just keep getting better, now in true color (what your naked eye would see) and showing features as small as 100 miles across, revealing a reddish-brown world reminiscent of Mars as the spacecraft clears 720,000 miles every day on its journey to close out humanity’s initial reconnaissance of the major bodies in our Solar System.

“Pluto’s reddish color has been known for decades, but New Horizons is now allowing us to correlate the color of different places on the surface with their geology and soon, with their compositions,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo. “This will make it possible to build sophisticated computer models to understand how Pluto has evolved to its current appearance.”

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Preparations Underway at Wallops for Orbital ATK Antares Return to Flight

An aerial view of Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport shows construction progress as of June 29, 2015. Photo Credit: Elliot Severn / AmericaSpace

An aerial view of Launch Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport shows construction progress as of June 29, 2015.
Photo Credit: Elliot Severn / AmericaSpace

Seven months after an Antares rocket carrying the doomed Orb-3 mission plummeted onto its launch pad, reconstruction efforts are in full swing in preparation for the rocket’s return to flight. On June 28, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility celebrated its 70th anniversary by holding an open house, giving the public and media an opportunity to tour the launch facilities on Wallops Island. During this event, representatives from NASA and the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority shed some light on their progress toward reestablishing launch capability.

As catastrophic as the accident appeared, the damage to Launch Complex 0A was not as extensive as expected. Antares impacted just feet from the north wall of the flame trench. The reinforced concrete structure protected much of the launch pad from the force of the resulting explosion. Fortunately, the nearby storage tanks on the north side of the pad were also spared in the accident.

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Just Days Before Historic New Horizons Flyby, SOFIA Makes Observations of Pluto

From NASA: "Image is an artist's conception of the Pluto occultation seen close-up, not a photo." NASA's SOFIA jetliner recently observed Pluto during an occultation, prior to New Horizons' historic flyby. Image Credit: NASA

From NASA: “Image is an artist’s conception of the Pluto occultation seen close-up, not a photo.” NASA’s SOFIA jetliner recently observed Pluto during an occultation event, prior to New Horizons’ historic flyby. Image Credit: NASA

In a year brimming with ongoing discoveries about distant, unknown worlds, including the Solar System’s planets and a comet, 2015 seems to be shaping up to be the “Year of Pluto.” Less than two weeks before the New Horizons spacecraft will make a historic flyby of the dwarf planet and its moons, on June 29 (June 30 in New Zealand) NASA’s SOFIA (the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) jetliner made observations of Pluto as it briefly passed between a star and the Earth. This event, known as an “occultation,” “back lit” the dwarf planet, making astronomical observations easier. In addition, data collected during these observations will further aid the New Horizons team, as their spacecraft approaches closer and closer to Pluto and its moons by the day.

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New Color Images Show 'Two Faces' of Pluto and Odd Dark Spots Along Equator

New color images of Pluto sent back by New Horizons showing two different "faces" or hemispheres of the dwarf planet and its largest moon Charon. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

New color images of Pluto sent back by New Horizons showing two different “faces” or hemispheres of the dwarf planet and its largest moon Charon. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

First there were the unusual bright spots on Ceres, which are still awaiting an explanation, and now as New Horizons races toward its flyby encounter with Pluto on July 14, another mystery has emerged: four intriguing large dark spots more or less along Pluto’s equator which seem to be roughly the same size and evenly spaced. The spots are mentioned as part of an update today from NASA about the “two different faces of Pluto” that scientists are now starting to see in more detail.

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New Horizons Is GO for Best Flight Path to Pluto, Mission Team Determines No Hazards Ahead

These images show the difference between two sets of 48 combined 10-second exposures with New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera, taken at 8:40 UTC and 10:25 UTC on June 26, 2015, from a range of 21.5 million kilometers (approximately 13 million miles) to Pluto. The known small moons, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx, are visible as adjacent bright and dark pairs of dots, due to their motion in the 105 minutes between the two image sets. Credits: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI

These images show the difference between two sets of 48 combined 10-second exposures with New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera, taken at 8:40 UTC and 10:25 UTC on June 26, 2015, from a range of 21.5 million kilometers (approximately 13 million miles) to Pluto. The known small moons, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx, are visible as adjacent bright and dark pairs of dots, due to their motion in the 105 minutes between the two image sets. Credits: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI

We are now inside two weeks until New Horizons’ date with Pluto on July 14, a day which will surely go down in history and close out humanity’s initial reconnaissance of every major world across the solar system. But in order to get there the spacecraft must avoid hitting anything that might be in the way, such as rings, new moons not seen before, or tiny dust particles. The spacecraft is moving so fast (30,000 mph) that even the tiniest sand grain sized dust particles could be lethal, causing severe damage to the spacecraft and its suite of science instruments and cameras.

For seven weeks now the mission team has been conducting detailed searches for such hazards, using the piano-sized spacecraft’s powerful Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) telescopic camera, and today NASA gave New Horizons the final GO to proceed with it original “best” flight path through the Pluto system, one which will allow the mission to conduct all of its originally planned science objectives.

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Flying the Friendly Martian Skies: NASA to Test Mars Airplane Prototype

Artist's conception of the Prandtl-m airplane flying above the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA Illustration/Dennis Calaba

Artist’s conception of the Prandtl-m airplane flying above the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA Illustration/Dennis Calaba

For several decades, Mars has been a busy place, with orbiters, landers, and rovers providing unprecedented views of the Red Planet. Another exciting possibility which has yet to be realized is an airplane, which could soar through the atmosphere, showing Mars in a way not possible before—closer than an orbiter, but unique from a lander or rover stuck on the surface. NASA is now testing just such a concept, the first Mars airplane which could fly in the Martian skies in the 2020s.

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On the Final Path: New Horizons Executes Last Course Correction Maneuver Prior to Pluto Closest Approach

With just under two weeks remaining before New Horizons flies through the Pluto system on July 14, the spacecraft has successfuly executed its last scheduled course correction maneuver, which put it right on top of the mission's intended trajectory through the Pluto system. Image Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)

With just under two weeks remaining before New Horizons flies through the Pluto system on July 14, the spacecraft has successfuly executed its last scheduled course correction maneuver, which put it right on top of the mission’s intended trajectory through the Pluto system. Image Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)

With just under two weeks remaining for its close flyby of the Pluto system on July 14, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has swung into full action in preparation for the historic event. As part of its pre-scheduled approach phase activities, the intrepid robotic explorer successfully conducted its final course correction maneuver, which put it right on top of the trajectory required for its upcoming close passage through the Pluto system.

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Raytheon's US Student Rocketry Team Wins International Rocketry Challenge and Encourages Youth in STEM

Team from left to right [front row] Mark Keaton (coach), Chelsea Suddith, Katie Burns, Cady Studdard Back row Tracy Burns (mentor), Evan Swinney, Andrew Heath, Niles Butts, Cristian Ruiz, Joseph Cole (coach).

Team from left to right [front row] Mark Keaton (coach): Chelsea Suddith, Katie Burns, Cady Studdard. Back row: Tracy Burns (mentor), Evan Swinney, Andrew Heath, Niles Butts, Cristian Ruiz, Joseph Cole (coach). Image Credit: Raytheon

Team America took home the gold after winning first place in the International Rocketry Challenge at the 2015 Paris Air Show. The U.S. team, called the RCS Engineers, from Russellville, Ala., consists of seven students from Russellville City Schools ranging in ages from 13 to 17 years old. The diverse group of aspiring engineers beat teams from the United Kingdom (second) and France (third). They were responsible for designing, building, and launching a rocket reaching an altitude of exactly 800 feet within a 46- to 48-second flight window. Raytheon Company supported RCS Engineers after winning the Team America Rocketry Challenge in May and helped fund their trip to Paris to compete for the international title. AmericaSpace had an opportunity to interview the team and hear about their experience competing in the global rocketry challenge.

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NAVY's 7.5-Ton MUOS-4 Satellite Arrives in Florida for August Launch on Most Powerful Atlas-V

On June 28, MUOS-4, the next satellite scheduled to join the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) secure communications network, shipped to Cape Canaveral from Lockheed Martin’s satellite manufacturing facility in Sunnyvale, California. Launch is currently scheduled for no earlier than August 27. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

On June 28, MUOS-4, the next satellite scheduled to join the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) secure communications network, shipped to Cape Canaveral from Lockheed Martin’s satellite manufacturing facility in Sunnyvale, Calif. Launch is currently scheduled for no earlier than Aug. 27. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

The fourth in a Lockheed Martin-built, five-ship fleet for a next-generation, narrowband tactical military satellite communications system has arrived in Florida for its August launch. The U.S. NAVY’s 7.5-ton Mobile User Objective System-4 (MUOS-4) arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft via Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale, Calif., facility and nearby Moffett Federal Airfield on June 28, courtesy of the 60th Air Mobility Wing of Travis Air Force Base.

“MUOS allows troops all over the world to talk, text and share mission data seamlessly, while traveling, like a cellular network, without having to worry about where they are in relation to a satellite,” said Iris Bombelyn, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for narrowband communications. “MUOS-4 will complete our near global coverage, reaching further north and south toward the poles than ever before.”

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