Tethering Gemini XI to Agena-XI was part of an experiment to evaluate the controllability of two vehicles in close proximity without control inputs. Photo Credit: NASA
Half a century ago, this coming week, on 12 September 1966, Gemini XI astronauts Charles “Pete” Conrad and Dick Gordon launched from Earth within a two-second-long “window” and docked with an unmanned Agena target vehicle just 1.5 hours after launch, on their very first orbit of Earth. It was an astonishing achievement and one which mission planners lauded as critical in accomplishing Project Apollo’s mandate of Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR). When the two astronauts docked with the Agena at 11:16 a.m. EDT, some 94 minutes after liftoff, their first task was to undock, then redock, to demonstrate the capability. With this test done, the astronauts settled down to an intensive three days in space. It would be three days of experiments, spacewalking, high-flying, and sheer drama.
Continue reading ‘Send Up a Tanker’: 50 Years Since the High-Flight of Gemini XI (Part 2)
Just a half-hour before the Sun set over the Space Coast on Thursday, 8 September, United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully delivered NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft on its seven-year voyage to explore the near-Earth asteroid (101955) Bennu. Photo Credit: Elliot Severn / AmericaSpace
Earlier this week, ULA successfully launched NASA’s highly-anticipated OSIRIS-REX mission to meet with and study a carbon-rich asteroid that is expected to host organic molecules. But the mission is not a one-way trip, OSIRIS-REX is tasked with doing something no other NASA spacecraft has ever done: return samples of it back to Earth for study, with the hope of revealing more pieces to the puzzle of nature’s secrets behind the earliest stages of the Solar System’s formation and evolution and possibly shedding light on the origins of life as we currently understand it.
Continue reading Through the Lens: OSIRIS-REX Begins Epic 7-Year Mission to Asteroid Bennu and Back
Fifty years ago, this month, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon’s Gemini XI mission would carry them to a peak 850 miles (1,370 km), which remains the highest altitude of any Earth-orbital mission. Only the Apollo lunar flights traveled higher on their expeditions to the Moon. Photo Credit: NASA
Not all astronauts get on with one another, but if there ever was a crew whose members could be described as best buddies, it would be Gemini XI’s Charles “Pete” Conrad and Dick Gordon. Their friendship pre-dated their NASA days, back to a time in the late 1950s when they served together aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ranger. A decade later, as astronauts, their camaraderie endured and they earned a reputation for being fun-loving, cocky, irreverent, and intensely focused. Nowhere was that focus more tightly maintained than on Gemini XI, a three-day mission in September 1966—50 years ago, this month—during which Conrad and Gordon pushed the United States a step closer to landing on the Moon.
Continue reading ‘Would You Believe M=1?’ 50 Years Since the High-Flight of Gemini XI (Part 1)
Precisely on the opening of tonight’s 115-minute “launch window,” the Atlas V 411 took flight. Photo Credit: Michael Galindo/AmericaSpace
Just a half-hour before the Sun set over the Space Coast on Thursday, 8 September, United Launch Alliance (ULA) has successfully delivered NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft on its seven-year voyage to explore the near-Earth asteroid (101955) Bennu. Liftoff of the highly reliable Atlas V—flying in its rarely-used “411” configuration, equipped with a 14-foot-diameter (4-meter) Large Payload Fairing (LPF), a single strap-on, solid-fueled booster, and a single-engine Centaur upper stage—occurred at 7:05 p.m. EDT, precisely at the opening of the 115-minute “window.” OSIRIS-REx is now in the process of being delivered out of Earth’s gravitational clutches as it begins a two-year journey to reach Bennu.
Continue reading OSIRIS-REx Launches on Multi-Year Mission to Asteroid Bennu
An artist’s rendering of OSIRIS-REx at asteroid 101955 Bennu. Its solar arrays will be configured in a “Y-wing” shape to avoid dust accumulation. Image Credit: NASA
Tomorrow evening, if all goes well, a spacecraft destined to visit, retrieve, and return samples from a near-pristine “carbonaceous” asteroid will roar aloft atop a unique “flying-sideways” rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. NASA’s $800 million Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft represents the third member of the New Frontiers program—a medium-class series of deep-space exploration missions, following hard on the heels of New Horizons to Pluto and Juno to Jupiter—and is truly audacious in its scope.
Continue reading OSIRIS-REx Stands Ready for Date With Asteroid Bennu (Part 2)
Wrapping up his fourth space mission, Jeff Williams is now the United States’ most experienced space traveler, with over 534 cumulative days away from the Home Planet. Photo Credit: NASA TV
After more than 172 days in space, U.S. national-record-breaking astronaut Jeff Williams and his Russian crewmates Alexei Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka have landed safely in south-central Kazakhstan, aboard their Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft. The trio undocked from the space-facing (or “zenith”) Poisk module on the International Space Station (ISS) at 5:51 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, 6 September. Following a smooth de-orbit burn, they achieved a textbook landing at 9:13:53 p.m. EDT (7:13:53 a.m. local time on Wednesday, 7 September). In completing the fourth mission of his astronaut career, Williams has accrued more than 534 days away from the Home Planet, making him by far the most experienced U.S. spacefarer of all time.
Continue reading Expedition 48 Crew Wraps Up Six-Month Space Station Mission
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has completed assembly at Lockheed Martin Space Systems near Denver, Colo. Over the next several months engineers will put the spacecraft through a series of intense tests. The $800 million mission to retrieve samples from Astroid Bennu is scheduled to launch in September 2016. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin
Just two days now remain before NASA’s $800 million Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft—the third member of the New Frontiers medium-class exploration program—launches on a multi-year expedition to gather samples from Asteroid 101955 Bennu and return them to Earth for scientific analysis. Liftoff of OSIRIS-REx aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V booster is currently targeted during a two-hour “window,” which opens at 7:05 p.m. EDT on Thursday, 8 September. Opportunities to launch the spacecraft remain available for 33 days, through 12 October.
Rising from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., the Lockheed Martin-built spacecraft will be deposited onto a trajectory which will see it gain a gravitationally-assisted boost from Earth in September 2017, ahead of rendezvous with Bennu in August 2018. It will then set to work on a lengthy imaging and mapping campaign, in order to select an appropriate sampling location. In July 2020, OSIRIS-REx’s 11-foot-long (3.35-meter) articulated arm and sample collector head will gather between 2 ounces (60 grams)—about the same volume as an average candy bar—and 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of regolith from Bennu’s carbon-rich surface. These priceless extraterrestrial grains will be encapsulated inside a Sample Return Canister (SRC) and transported back to Earth for a parachute-assisted landing at the Utah Test and Training Range in September 2023.
Continue reading OSIRIS-REx Stands Ready for Date With Asteroid Bennu (Part 1)
Dan Burbank and Steve MacLean are barely visible, slightly right-of-center, working on the P-3/P-4 truss during EVA-2. Photo Credit: NASA
Ten years ago, this month, the crew of Shuttle Atlantis—Commander Brent Jett, Pilot Chris Ferguson, and Mission Specialists Joe Tanner, Dan Burbank, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, and Canada’s Steve MacLean—roared into orbit to restart the construction of the International Space Station (ISS). Following the delivery of its initial elements into space from December 1998, the station had steadily grown from a couple of modules to the basis of today’s multi-national outpost: with the U.S. Destiny lab, the Quest airlock, the Canadian-built Canadarm2 mechanical arm, and the first set of electricity-generating solar arrays, batteries, and radiators. However, that single set of arrays provided barely a quarter of the power which the station would eventually need to support its remaining science modules. On STS-115, Jett’s crew would deliver the P-3/P-4 truss segment, equipped with a second set of arrays, batteries, and radiators to double the station’s existing power capability.
Continue reading Camping Without Marshmallows: 10 Years Since STS-115 (Part 2)
Artist’s conception of InSight on the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA’s InSight mission to Mars will now go ahead as planned, it was announced today. After a delay due to a vacuum leak last December, with a launch originally slated for last March, it was unclear whether the mission would still be given the green light for a later launch. But now NASA has approved a launch for spring 2018.
Continue reading NASA’s InSight Mission to Mars Approved for Spring 2018 Launch
Joe Tanner had already performed five EVAs before STS-115 left Earth. By the time he returned from the mission, he had completed seven EVAs and spent 46.5 hours outside a spacecraft. Even today, he stands as the 13th most seasoned spacewalker of all time. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de
At first glance, shuttle mission STS-115—launched 10 years ago, this month—seemed to have it all: a rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station (ISS), multiple spacewalks by crew members of different gender and nationality, and an intense plate of robotics activity. Moreover, Commander Brent Jett, Pilot Chris Ferguson, and Mission Specialists Joe Tanner, Dan Burbank, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, and Canada’s Steve MacLean officially restarted the on-orbit construction of the multi-national outpost in the wake of the Columbia tragedy. In the weeks preceding their 9 September 2006 liftoff, Jett noted that the four flight-seasoned veterans on his crew had always launched on-time, with no delays, which proved something of an omen. As circumstances transpired, STS-115 was delayed several times. In fact, after working together on the mission for more than 4.5 years, Jett’s team had the longest training template of any shuttle crew.
Continue reading In For the Long Haul: 10 Years Since STS-115 (Part 1)