A ring and barrel recently loaded onto the Vertical Assembly Center at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The tool is being used to perform confidence welds prior to welding together the first SLS core stage tanks. Credit: NASA/Michoud
MICHOUD ASSEMBLY FACILITY, NEW ORLEANS, LA — The first pieces of rocket hardware have been loaded onto NASA’s gigantic new weld tool tasked with assembling the core stage fuel tanks for NASA’s mammoth new heavy lift rocket—the Space Launch System (SLS)—that will one day boost “Humans to Mars.”
The road to SLS production and first launch has started, with acceptance testing using parts from the over 34,000 square feet of real metal components already manufactured.
Continue reading SLS Core Stage Test Welds Begin at NASA’s Welding Wonder in Michoud
Columbia roars into orbit at 10:53 a.m. EST on 18 October 1993, 21 years ago yesterday. Photo Credit: NASA
Twenty-one years ago, yesterday, on 18 October 1993, the longest flight ever attempted in shuttle history—the 14-day STS-58 mission, carrying the second Spacelab Life Sciences (SLS-2) research payload—was launched into orbit. Aboard Columbia were astronauts John Blaha, Rick Searfoss, and Bill McArthur, together with physicians Rhea Seddon and Dave Wolf, biochemist Shannon Lucid, and veterinarian Marty Fettman. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, SLS-2 attracted a measure of controversy, in that it represented the first human space mission to feature the euthanasia and dissection of animals as part of a medical investigation in the microgravity environment.
Continue reading ‘The Choreography Was Incredible': 21 Years Since the Controversial Mission of STS-58 (Part 2)
Wide-Angle Camera (WAC) image of Kandinsky crater, near Mercury’s north pole, which contains water ice. The original broadband image is on the left (outlined in yellow), and the brightness and contrast-enhanced version is on the right. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
The Solar System is full of surprises. Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, is a baking hot world, as would be expected. It is one of the last places where you would think anything would or could be frozen, but things aren’t always as they seem. There has been tantalizing evidence already for water ice deposits in craters at Mercury’s north pole, and now the MESSENGER spacecraft in orbit around the small planet has visually confirmed it for the first time.
Continue reading MESSENGER Takes First Images of Ice Near Mercury’s North Pole
From NASA’s Human Spaceflight Gallery: “The prime crew of the first manned Apollo space mission, Apollo 7, stands on the deck of the NASA Motor Vessel Retriever after suiting up for water egress training in the Gulf of Mexico. Left to right, are astronauts Walter Cunningham, Donn F. Eisele, and Walter M. Schirra, Jr.” Photo Credit: NASA
January 27, 1967, Cape Canaveral, Fla.: At 6:31 p.m. Eastern Time at Launch Complex 34 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the frantic word “Hey!” was recorded coming from the cockpit of the Apollo 1 capsule, crewed in a “plugs out” test by astronauts Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White, II, and space rookie Roger Chaffee. The exclamation was followed by unusual activity recorded inside the capsule by an adjacent camera. A sickening scene would play out for those listening to the transmissions, ending in seconds as the situation grew more desperate inside the capsule as an oxygen-fueled fire ripped through it. It soon transpired that all three astronauts were lost during the accident, culminating in what astronaut chief and colleague Donald K. “Deke” Slayton would call “the worst day” in his book, Deke!, co-authored with Michael Cassutt.
Continue reading Reviving a ‘Dream Deferred': Remembering the Flight of Apollo 7
Glorious view of the Home Planet from STS-58, with the SLS-2 Spacelab module clearly visible in Columbia’s payload bay. Photo Credit: NASA
“John, we’re going to fly you one of these days,” Launch Director Bob Sieck called over the communications loop on 15 October 1993. The disappointment of another scrubbed launch attempt was evident in his voice. “Just hang in there.”
“Nice try,” came the call from astronaut John Blaha on Columbia’s flight deck, as he and his six crewmates prepared to disembark from the orbiter after 2.5 hours on their backs in bulky, uncomfortable pressure suits, harnesses, and parachutes. It was the second time that they had been through this routine in trying to get into space for what was to be NASA’s longest shuttle flight to date, lasting a little over two weeks. For mission STS-58—which finally launched on this day (18 October), 21 years ago—would earn its own reputation, not only for its duration, but for the fact that it controversially featured the first euthanasia and dissection of animals in the microgravity environment.
Continue reading ‘A Unique Opportunity': 21 Years Since the Controversial Mission of STS-58 (Part 1)
Recovery crew members process the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle at Vandenberg Air Force Base after completing 674 days in space. A total of three X-37B missions have been completed, totaling 1,367 days on orbit. Photo Credit: Boeing
The U.S. Air Force’s mysterious X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) ended its third secretive mission today, landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California at 9:24 a.m. PDT after spending 674 days in orbit carrying out its secretive mission for the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. Although the Boeing-made X-37B’s existence is public knowledge, its precise mission objectives and ultimate capabilities remain heavily classified.
Continue reading Air Force’s Secretive X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Returns After Nearly Two Years in Orbit
Artist’s conception of an ice giant type exoplanet. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STScI)
Many different kinds of exoplanets have been found by astronomers, from giant “hot Jupiters” and “super Earths” to smaller rocky worlds like Earth or Mars. Now, another type has been discovered, an “ice giant” similar to Uranus or Neptune in our own Solar System. The planet is about 25,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius and is one of the first found that appears to be similar to the ice giant planets in our Solar System, Uranus and Neptune, which are part gas and part ice in composition. The discovery was made by an international team of astronomers, led by Radek Poleski, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State University.
Continue reading New Uranus-Like ‘Ice Giant’ Exoplanet Discovered
Philae’s primary landing site from 30 km. Close-up of the region containing Philae’s primary landing site J, which is located on the ‘head’ of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The mosaic comprises two images taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 14 September 2014 from a distance of about 30 km. The image scale is 0.5 m/pixel. The circle is centred on the landing site and is approximately 500 m in diameter. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Site J it is! Philae will touchdown on the comet’s “head” on Nov. 12.
Following a thorough science, engineering, and hazard assessment of the merits of Site J, the European Space Agency (ESA) has given the green light for its Rosetta orbiter to deploy its Philae lander to the primary site on the “head” of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as the location for the history’s first attempt to touchdown on a comet.
Continue reading ESA ‘Green Lights’ Primary Landing Site for Rosetta’s Philae Lander
An artist’s impression of a Kuiper Belt object (KBO), located on the outer rim of our Solar System at a staggering distance of 4 billion miles from the Sun. A HST survey uncovered three KBOs that are potentially reachable by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft after it passes by Pluto in mid-2015
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)
Excitement is building as one of the most anticipated missions this decade gets closer and closer to providing the world with our first up-close views of a place so far away that humanity has never seen it in any real detail. For nearly eight years New Horizons has been blazing a trail across the Solar System, and with it recently crossing the orbit of Neptune the spacecraft is now in the final stretch of its primary objective, aiming for a July 2015 encounter with the only world not yet visited by humanity’s robotic explorers, Pluto. But the spacecraft won’t be able to slow down enough to stay and enjoy the view; Pluto’s gravity is so weak, and New Horizons is traveling so fast, that the spacecraft has no room for the extra fuel that would be required to go into orbit. Instead it will fly by Pluto at nearly 9 miles per second (over 30,000 mph), giving the science team back on Earth one shot at collecting all the science data and imagery they can.
Continue reading Hubble Reveals Three Potential Deep Space Objects for New Horizons to Explore After Pluto
A series of surface features called irregular mare patches that have been recently discovered on the Moon, are thought to be remnants of small basaltic eruptions that are indicative of lunar volcanic activity as recent as several million years ago. This image by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows one such feature, called Maskelyne. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
Barren, desolate, and geologically dead … Our view of the Moon ever since the first humans set foot on the soft lunar soil almost half a century ago has been that of a still and unchanging world which, apart from the occasional moon quake, is only disturbed by the random meteoroid that strikes its surface. Despite the apparent timelessness of the Moon, a growing body of evidence in recent years has started to reveal that our nearest celestial neighbor has been geologically active much more recently than previously thought. The latest such evidence come from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, which has discovered many dozens of geologic features across its surface that are indicative of very young volcanic activity, as recently as a few million years ago.
Continue reading New Moon: LRO Discovers Evidence of Young Lunar Volcanism