Atlantis roars into orbit on 18 October 1989 to deploy the Galileo spacecraft on its mission to Jupiter. Photo Credit: NASA
When the Galileo spacecraft drifted out of Shuttle Atlantis’ payload bay on the evening of 18 October 1989, on the first leg of its voyage to Jupiter, the sight was a moving one for Shannon Lucid. As STS-34’s lead mission specialist, she was primarily responsible for the deployment of one of the most important payloads ever launched by NASA. For almost a dozen years, Lucid had lived and worked with the reality that her job was an overwhelmingly technical one, drawing from its roots in engineering and pure science … but on this day, as Galileo and its Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) booster floated silently into the inky void, she beheld a new reality: the romance of adventure. Emblazoned across the base of the spacecraft which would one day circle Jupiter and deposit an instrumented probe into its atmosphere were two names: “Galileo” in script and “NASA” in worm-like block capitals.
To Lucid, those two words symbolized exactly what the mission stood for: The script represented the romance of adventure and exploration, whilst the worm was indicative of the outstanding engineering and scientific talent which had brought this awesome project from the drawing board to fruition. Yet Galileo’s journey to the launch pad had been a long and tortured one, and its voyage to Jupiter would be longer and harder still.
Continue reading The Romance of Adventure: Remembering Galileo’s Ride on STS-34 (Part 1)
The OA-5 Cygnus, named in honor of the late Alan “Dex” Poindexter, is the third “Enhanced Cygnus.” It is physically similar in configuration to the OA-4 and OA-6 Cygnus spacecraft, launched in December 2015 and March 2016. Photo Credit: NASA/Tim Peake/Twitter
Four years after his untimely death in a boating accident, NASA astronaut Alan “Dex” Poindexter—veteran of two pivotal space shuttle missions to assemble and maintain the International Space Station (ISS), including the delivery of Europe’s Columbus research module—will be honored this weekend, when Orbital ATK launches a Cygnus cargo ship, bearing his name. “Spaceship Alan Poindexter” marks the first Cygnus launch atop Orbital ATK’s homegrown Antares booster since the catastrophic loss of the ORB-3 mission, seconds after liftoff, back in October 2014. Lifting off from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Va., no sooner than 8:03 p.m. EDT Sunday, 16 October, the OA-5 mission will deliver 5,346 pounds (2,425 kg) of equipment and research materials to the incumbent Expedition 49 crew.
Continue reading Orbital ATK Primed for Antares 230 Debut on Sunday Night
Panoramic view of Marathon Valley as seen by the Opportunity rover. The interior of Endeavour Crater lies in the distance. Soon, the rover will move southward to examine a gully thought to have been carved by water long ago. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.
Water on Mars is one of the most talked about and controversial subjects in planetary science. It is now well-known that Mars used to be a much wetter place than it is now, although just how much water there was, and how long it lasted, is still a matter of considerable debate. Direct evidence from rovers, landers, and orbiters, including observations of ancient riverbeds, gullies, and lakes, has shown how at one time Mars was much more Earth-like than it is today. Rovers like Curiosity, Opportunity, and Spirit have actually driven over long-dried-up lakebeds, salty playa lakes, and regions of ancient geothermal activity such as hot steam vents. Now, the Opportunity rover is going to visit another feature not yet explored by any other rover or lander: a gully thought to have been carved by water millions or billions of years ago.
Continue reading Opportunity Rover Ready to Explore Martian Gully for First Time Ever
For the first time on STS-79, a shuttle crew saw Mir in its complete configuration, with six research and habitation modules. This would form John Blaha’s home for four months from September 1996 through January 1997. Photo Credit: NASA
“ … And liftoff of Atlantis on the fourth flight to dock with the Russian Space Station … ”
It was 4:54 a.m. EDT on 16 September 1996, a little more than 20 years ago, that Space Shuttle Atlantis roared into the night to begin STS-79, carrying veteran astronaut John Blaha—the third American to undertake a long-duration mission to Russia’s Mir orbital station—and his five NASA crewmates. As outlined in a previous AmericaSpace history article, STS-79 Commander Bill Readdy, Pilot Terry Wilcutt, and Mission Specialists Jay Apt, Tom Akers, and Carl Walz were tasked with exchanging Blaha for Shannon Lucid, establishing a continuous U.S. human presence in orbit, and accruing long-duration experience ahead of International Space Station (ISS) construction operations.
Continue reading A Pilot for a Space Station: 20 Years Since John Blaha’s Lengthy Mission to Mir (Part 2)
John Blaha gazes through Atlantis’ overhead flight deck windows, shortly after docking with Mir in September 1996. Photo Credit: NASA
Of all the NASA astronauts who have flown long-duration space missions—longer than a month or so—very few have moved from the commander’s or pilot’s seat of a space shuttle and rotated into a lengthy stay aboard an Earth-circling space station. In fact, from the dawn of the International Space Station (ISS) era, only six veteran shuttle commanders or pilots have gone on to spend several months in orbit. Most recent among them was Scott Kelly, who wrapped up the United States’ first year-long mission in March. Yet the first person to do so was completing his first few days aboard Russia’s Mir space station, exactly 20 years ago, this week. Veteran astronaut John Blaha might have seemed an unlikely candidate for a long-duration space mission, but in words he shared with this author, it had long been his intention to fly aboard a space station before he retired.
Continue reading A Space Station Stay Before Retirement: 20 Years Since John Blaha’s Lengthy Mission to Mir (Part 1)
A “self-portrait” of Curiosity at the Quela drilling location at the base of one of the buttes in Murray Buttes. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Ever since first landing in August 2012, the Curiosity rover has helped to revolutionize our understanding of Mars and has seen some incredible scenery along the way. It has travelled across an ancient lakebed and gazed at towering sand dunes and buttes, and now it is ready to begin the next phase in its mission: gradually ascending the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, the massive mountain sitting in the middle of Gale crater. The layers in the mountain will provide more clues as to how the Martian environment changed from being much wetter than it is now, to the dry but cold desert we see today. This next chapter in the rover’s mission is part of a two-year extension which began Oct. 1, 2016.
Continue reading Goodbye, Murray Buttes: Curiosity Rover Continues Journey in Next Phase of Extended Mission
Boasting the aerodynamic tail cone for four of the independent flights, Enterprise demonstrated the capabilities of the space shuttle in the low atmosphere. Photo Credit: NASA
Forty years ago, this fall, the first member of NASA’s space shuttle fleet was structurally complete and well on the way toward her first mission. Yet unlike the five sisters—Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour—who would follow her into orbit, Enteprise never traveled higher than Earth’s low atmosphere. Instead, she supported a series of critical test flights from NASA’s Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) to remove many key unknowns about how the reusable spacecraft might one day perform in the low atmosphere and support unpowered, “deadstick” runway landings.
As outlined in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, Enterprise was rolled out from North American Rockwell’s Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., on 17 September 1976, whereupon she was transported overland to Edwards Air Force Base. In the early spring of the following year, she was flown to altitude atop the SCA for a series of “captive-inert” and “captive-active” missions, which allowed pilots and engineers to wring out controllability and landing-speed issues, before NASA astronauts Fred Haise, Gordon Fullerton, Joe Engle, and Dick Truly conducted a series of audacious Approach and Landing Tests (ALTs) in the high summer of 1977.
Continue reading ‘Better Than Any Simulation’: 40 Years Since Enterprise Took the Shuttle From Ground to Air (Part 2)
NASA’s Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) is pictured here with Shuttle Enterprise during the first of the shuttle program’s Approach and Landing Tests (ALT) at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in summer 1977. Photo Credit: NASA
When we think of the space shuttle, we think of the five spaceworthy orbiter vehicles—Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour—which carved an indelible mark on the United States’ fortunes in low-Earth orbit for no less than three decades. Between the maiden liftoff of Columbia on STS-1 in April 1981 and the final touchdown of Atlantis at the close of STS-135 in July 2011, men and women deployed, retrieved, and repaired commercial and scientific satellites, launched classified Department of Defense assets, visited Russia’s Mir space station, and labored to assemble the most complex engineering feat in human history: the International Space Station (ISS). Yet without the contribution of the often-unsung Orbiter Vehicle (OV)-101, Enterprise, the intricacies of how the shuttle would one day perform during its descent through the low atmosphere to landing would have been infinitely more difficult to understand.
Continue reading ‘In A Real Flight Environment’: 40 Years Since Enterprise Took the Shuttle From Ground to Air (Part 1)
Composite image showing the possible water vapor plumes near the south pole of Europa, at about the 7 o’clock position. The image of Europa, from the Galileo and Voyager missions, is superimposed on the Hubble data. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Intriguing new findings about Jupiter’s moon Europa were announced today by NASA, and while they don’t involve any direct evidence for life, they do provide more information on how scientists could better search for such evidence, without having to drill through the icy crust to the ocean below. The new observations, by the Hubble Space Telescope, have added to the evidence for active water vapor plumes on Europa—an exciting possibility, since they would possibly originate from the subsurface ocean, similar to the plumes on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. And just like the Cassini spacecraft has already done at Enceladus, those plumes—geysers really—could be sampled directly by a future spacecraft such as Europa Clipper.
Continue reading Geysers on Europa? Hubble Space Telescope Finds More Evidence for Water Vapor Plumes