As evidenced by the clock on the main screen at 14:15:05 GMT (9:15:05 a.m. EST), this view of a tense Mission Control was acquired a quarter of an hour after the first sign of trouble … and a minute ahead of Columbia’s expected landing. By now, everyone was aware that all hope was gone and contingency procedures were in effect. Photo Credit: NASA
In the second half of January 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia flew her 28th and final mission into orbit. For 16 days, her seven-strong crew supported more than 80 scientific experiments in the Spacehab Research Double Module and aboard a pallet at the rear of the payload bay. By now, the shuttle was perceived to be a dangerous, though well-understood, vehicle; this was the 87th post-Challenger flight and the four-strong fleet of orbiters had a history of robustness, having endured pad aborts, engine problems during ascent, and severe thermal-protection system damage during re-entry. When a briefcase-sized chunk of insulating foam was spotted on launch video falling from the External Tank at T+82 seconds and hitting Columbia’s left wing—at precisely the spot where Reinforced Carbon Carbon (RCC) panels would later shield the ship against the most extreme re-entry temperatures—concern was elevated for a time, but ultimately dismissed.
It was a dismissal that would haunt NASA for years after the event … a dismissal as ill-judged and as ill-conceived as declaring the Titanic to be unsinkable.
Continue reading ‘Lock the Doors': Remembering Columbia’s Final Return to Earth
The Mir space station, as viewed by the crew of STS-63. Photo Credit: NASA
Twenty years ago, next week, in February 1995, U.S. astronauts Jim Wetherbee, Eileen Collins, Bernard Harris, Mike Foale, and Janice Voss, together with veteran Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Titov, launched aboard Shuttle Discovery on one of the most ambitious missions in the reusable spacecraft’s history. Their eight-day STS-63 flight was already jam-packed with objectives—20 scientific experiments in the Spacehab-3 pressurized research laboratory, deployment and retrieval of the SPARTAN-204 solar physics satellite, and a lengthy EVA featuring the first African-American and British-born spacewalkers—but also made history for two other reasons: Its crew featured the first female shuttle pilot and was tasked to perform a close-range rendezvous with Russia’s Mir space station.
Continue reading ‘Next Time, We Will Shake Your Hand': 20 Years Since STS-63 (Part 2)
Comparison of Ceres images taken from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on Jan. 25, 2015, and the Hubble Space Telescope up to January 2004. What is the nature of the ‘White Spot’ visible in both images? What new features are being revealed by Dawn?
Dawn Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA. HST Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Parker (Southwest Research Institute), P. Thomas (Cornell University), L. McFadden (University of Maryland, College Park), and M. Mutchler and Z. Levay (STScI). Montage Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
“Planet” or “dwarf planet” … What is its nature? Those are among the questions.
The sharpest views yet of mysterious “young planet” Ceres taken by NASA’s fast approaching Dawn spacecraft have just been released and are tantalizing us with an “exciting and productive adventure in orbit” soon to come, Dr. Marc Rayman and Prof. Chris Russell, Dawn’s Mission Director and Principal Investigator, respectively, told AmericaSpace exclusively in detailed science mission commentary today about this “survivor of the ages.”
Continue reading Sharpest Views of Mysterious ‘Planet’ Ceres Now Better Than Hubble, Tantalize Scientists
With the flare of its RS-27A first-stage engine and trio of Solid Rocket Motors (SRMs), the Delta II takes flight at 6:22 a.m. PST Saturday, 31 January. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace
Continuing a proud heritage of near-perfect mission success, which stretches back across more than a quarter-century, the 153rd Delta II booster broke the shackles of Earth early today (Saturday, 31 January) and successfully delivered NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite into a near-circular orbit of about 425 miles (685 km), inclined 98.116 degrees to the equator. Launch was originally planned for Thursday, but was scrubbed during the final hold at T-4 minutes, due to an unacceptable situation with upper-level winds, which violated Launch Commit Criteria (LCC). A 24-hour turnaround was set in motion, but was called off, following the discovery of minor debonds to booster insulation during routine inspections, which required repair. When fully operational, SMAP will utilize a 19-foot-diameter (6-meter) ultra-lightweight mesh antenna to support an active Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and a passive radiometer, which are tasked with observing clouds and moderate vegetation to measure the presence of water in the topmost 2 inches (5 cm) of soil. It is expected that SMAP will provide global coverage of soil moisture every three days in equatorial regions and every two days at boreal latitudes, above 50 degrees North.
Continue reading Dazzling Delta II Delivers SMAP to Orbit in Stunning Pre-Dawn Ascent
Valeri Polyakov, pictured at Mir’s windows during the STS-63 shuttle rendezvous mission in February 1995, is the incumbent record-holder for the longest single spaceflight. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de
Twenty years ago, next week, in February 1995, the crew of Shuttle Discovery roared into the night on a mission which featured the first rendezvous with Russia’s Mir space station. During their eight days in space, the six-member STS-63 drew as close as 33 feet (10 meters) from the outpost which would shortly host several long-duration U.S. residents and support no fewer than nine shuttle dockings between June 1995 and June 1998. Yet the mission encompassed far more than that: scientific research within a pressurized laboratory in the orbiter’s payload bay, deployment and retrieval of a free-flying satellite, a lengthy EVA featuring the first African-American and British-born spacewalkers … and the first female pilot of the shuttle era.
Continue reading ‘Not By a Single Centimeter': 20 Years Since STS-63 (Part 1)
The ULA Delta-II tasked with launching NASA’s SMAP Earth Science satellite / mission. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace
Mother Nature and a relatively minor technical issue forced ULA to keep their Delta-II rocket, and NASA’s SMAP satellite, grounded at Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California the last few days, but as of this evening it’s all systems GO for launch attempt number two early Saturday morning. Strong upper level winds forced a scrub on Jan. 29, followed by the discovery of minor debonds to the booster insulation during routine inspections after the scrub, which forced ULA to stand down an additional day for repairs.
Continue reading PHOTOS: Delta-II Ready for SMAP Launch Attempt #2 From California Saturday Morning
An honor guard pays tribute to lost U.S. astronauts, flanked by NASA’s Suzy Cunningham, at the Space Mirror Memorial on the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 28. Photo Credit: Talia Landman/AmericaSpace
This week in spaceflight history is a somber and difficult one, as the anniversaries of three major U.S. spaceflight tragedies occur within days of one another. This week, NASA paid its respects to its explorers who perished in the conquest of space with ceremonies taking place on Wednesday, Jan. 28, the 29th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Another ceremony paying tribute to these heroes was held Thursday, Jan. 29, at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
Continue reading NASA Observes Annual Remembrance Day, Pays Tribute to Lost US Crews
An artist’s concept of ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft, while diving into the atmosphere of Venus during its aerobraking manoeuvres in 2014. Having already depleted its onboard fuel reserves, the spacecraft finally went silent earlier this month, indicating that it had probably taken its last, fateful plunge into Venus’ infernal atmosphere. Image Credit: Image Credit: ESA–C. Carreau
After more than eight years of extensive study of our nearest planetary neighbor, the mission of the European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft was declared officially over in December 2014, following the depletion of its onboard fuel which allowed it to maintain the orbital altitude needed for scientific observations and dooming it to an eventual fiery demise into Venus’ infernal atmosphere. Now the spacecraft seems to have finally met its fate, as indicated by the last carrier signal that it managed to transmit to Earth earlier this month before going radio silent, while writing the last chapter for its highly successful mission of exploration and discovery around the second planet from the Sun.
Continue reading Venus Express Spacecraft Goes Out With a Shout, Ends Triumphant Mission Around Earth’s ‘Twisted Sister’
Artist’s conception of the ring system circling the young giant planet (or brown dwarf) J1407b. Image Credit: Ron Miller
Astronomers today announced yet another mind-boggling finding: a ring system which orbits a distant giant planet has been found to be much larger and more massive than Saturn’s ring system, the best known example in our own Solar System. There may also be exomoons hiding within it. The findings come from astronomers at the University of Rochester in the U.S. and Leiden Observatory in The Netherlands.
Continue reading Massive Alien Ring System Is Much Larger Than Saturn’s—And May Contain Exomoons
Fight for Space is a documentary film that explores the history of the U.S. Space Program, the NASA budget, and the future. (Photo credit: Fight for Space)
Last week, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket soared into the clear night sky above Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The grumbling rocket carrying the U.S. Navy’s MUOS-3 satellite was watched by hundreds of thousands worldwide via social media and live stream, and while many watched in awe as the massive fireball made its way into the night, a generous amount of viewers probably did not know what the rocket was carrying or where the rocket launched from. Some viewers may have even called it a “NASA rocket” or even a “space shuttle,” which is actually a far, far cry from the truth.
Continue reading Three Days to ‘Fight for Space': An Interview With Documentary Filmmaker Paul Hildebrandt