'We Just Lit Up the Sky': 20 Years Since STS-84, Mission of the Six Nations (Part 1)

Atlantis roars into the night on 15 May 1997, kicking off her sixth visit to Russia’s Mir space station. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Twenty years ago, this week, Space Shuttle Atlantis roared into the night, creating a new dawn across the marshy landscape of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). “We just lit up the sky, all the way up and down the Florida coast,” STS-84 Pilot Eileen Collins remembered, then added: “So we’re told!” The launch of Collins and her six crewmates—with a heritage of no fewer than six sovereign nations—from Pad 39A occurred at 4:07 a.m. EDT on 15 May 1997, kicking off an ambitious nine-day mission to rendezvous, dock and exchange astronauts and supplies aboard Russia’s Mir space station.

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Whitson/Fischer Stand on Shoulders of Titans for Historic 200th ISS Spacewalk

Today’s shortened U.S. EVA-42 saw Expedition 51 Commander Peggy Whitson retain her place as the world’s fifth most experienced spacewalker. Her crewmate Jack Fischer became the 217th person and the 130th American to venture outside his craft in space. Photo Credit: NASA

For the fifth time in as many months in 2017, a pair of astronauts ventured outside the International Space Station (ISS) earlier today (Friday, 12 May), tasked with a broad range of objectivess, including the removal and replacement of an avionics box and the installation of data connectors, protective shielding, a new high-definition camera and a pair of wireless antennas. Expedition 51 Commander Peggy Whitson—who already stands as the world’s most experienced female spacewalker—and Flight Engineer Jack Fischer spent an abbreviated four hours and 13 minutes outside the station. Returning inside after the historic 200th Extravehicular Activity (EVA) of the ISS era, Whitson retains her previous position as the fifth most seasoned spacewalker in the world.

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Soyuz MS-06 Crew Discusses Changes to Forthcoming Space Station Expedition

Soyuz MS-06 crew members (from left) Aleksandr Misurkin, Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei will spend five months in space from September 2017 through February 2018. Photo Credit: Michael Galindo/AmericaSpace

A trio of space explorers, who six months ago could not have imagined they would ever be flying together, gathered yesterday (Wednesday, 10 May) at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, to discuss their forthcoming voyage to the International Space Station (ISS). Seasoned Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Misurkin and a pair of NASA astronauts—first-time flyer Mark Vande Hei and shuttle and ISS veteran Joe Acaba—spoke at length about the five months they will spend aboard the multi-national orbiting outpost from September 2017 through February 2018.

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Grand Finale Part 3: Cassini Completes Third Ring Dive, Sees Bright Clouds on Titan

Two versions of the image of Titan’s clouds, taken on May 7, 2017. The first is with stronger enhancement, and the second is with softer enhancement. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

NASA’s Cassini probe has now survived its third dive into Saturn’s rings, specifically the gap between the innermost rings and the planet itself. This is just the latest in a series of 22 such planned dives for the Grand Finale phase, before the mission ends on Sept. 15, 2017. This time, as well as obtaining more close-up views of the rings and Saturn’s atmosphere again, Cassini took a look at Saturn’s largest moon Titan from a distance, and saw some of the longest and brightest clouds in the hazy atmosphere that it has seen in the entire mission. Even though Cassini won’t be making any more close flybys of Titan, these new views are fantastic.

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First Science Results from Juno Show Surprises in Jupiter's Atmosphere and Interior

Newly-released, enhanced color view of Jupiter’s south pole from Juno as seen on Dec. 11, 2016. The image was taken from an altitude of about 32,400 miles (52,200 kilometers) above the planet’s beautiful cloud tops. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gabriel Fiset

There has been a lot of attention given to the Cassini mission at Saturn lately, but meanwhile, NASA’s Juno probe also continues to be busy studying the largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter. Juno is now revealing more of the giant planet’s secrets, and the first science results have now been published, which were presented last week at the European Geosciences Union meeting. As is common in planetary science, the new findings include significant surprises.

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Baptism of Fire: 25 Years Since the Dramatic Rescue Mission of STS-49 (Part 2)

In the first, and so far only, three-person EVA, astronauts Rick Hieb, Tom Akers and Pierre Thuot manhandle Intelsat 603 into Endeavour’s payload bay for the attachment of a new rocket motor. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty-five years ago, today, on 7 May 1992, Space Shuttle Endeavour launched into orbit on her maiden voyage, a dramatic nine-day flight to retrieve the errant Intelsat 603 communications satellite and reboost it into geosynchronous orbit. STS-49 Commander Dan Brandenstein led an experienced team, consisting of spacewalkers Pierre Thuot, Rick Hieb, Kathy Thornton and Tom Akers, robotic arm operator Bruce Melnick and Pilot Kevin Chilton. Even before the launch, Endeavour’s flight plan was ambitious. Never before in the shuttle program had as many as three periods of Extravehicular Activity (EVA) been performed, and as circumstances transpired STS-49 would set—and then break—her own record, by providing the platform for four spacewalks, totaling 25 hours and 23 minutes. One of those EVAs also set a record for the longest spacewalk ever conducted; a record which would remain unbroken for almost another decade.

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Throwback to the Good Old Days: 25 Years Since the Dramatic Rescue Mission of STS-49 (Part 1)

With the possible exception of Columbia and the very first Space Shuttle mission, few orbiters had as dramatic and exciting a maiden voyage as Endeavour. On STS-49, she provided a reliable stage for the longest EVA in history and the first three-man EVA in history. Photo Credit: NASA

“Ready. Ready. Grab!

The words of Rick Hieb echoed through the silent Mission Control Center (MCC) at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas.

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Grand Finale Part 2: Cassini Completes Second Epic Dive into Saturn's Rings

Illustration of Cassini crossing the ring plane between Saturn and its innermost rings .Cassini has now completed its second dive into the rings of Saturn, with 20 left to go during the Grand Finale. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cassini’s “dance” with Saturn’s rings continues – the probe has now completed its second dive into the rings (orbit 272), specifically the gap between the innermost rings and Saturn itself. That leaves 20 more similar dives to go, as part of the Grand Finale phase of Cassini’s mission before the fateful end on Sept. 15. This is the closest that any spacecraft has ever come to Saturn, showing the rings and the planet itself in detail never seen before.

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PHOTOS: SpaceX Launches First Classified Mission, Lands Fourth Falcon on Dry Land

Liftoff of NROL-76 from pad 39A, the first SpaceX launch of a National Reconnaissance Office payload. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

On May 1 at 7:15 a.m EDT, SpaceX and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) launched the NROL 76 spacecraft on a 58 deg. trajectory up the U.S. east coast, flying atop a Falcon 9’s nearly 1.7 million pounds of thrust from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida.

Launch had been delayed by a defective Falcon sensor.

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Voyages of Endeavour: 25 Years Since NASA's Youngest Space Shuttle Took Flight (Part 2)

In December 1993, Endeavour’s fifth crew successfully captured, repaired and upgraded the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). STS-61 was one of the most ambitious and dramatic missions in the 30-year Space Shuttle Program. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty-five years have now passed since the maiden voyage of Endeavour, the youngest member of NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet, which went on to complete no less than 25 missions into low-Earth orbit during the course of her career. As detailed in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, Endeavour—also known as Orbiter Vehicle-105 (OV-105)—arose as the replacement for the fallen Challenger and launched for the first time on 7 May 1992. From the outset, she began to set records. Her nine-day STS-49 flight was the longest maiden voyage of any of the shuttles and, even today, she retains a unique record for having staged and first (and only) three-person Extravehicular Activity (EVA).

Truly, Endeavour’s career would see the shuttle program live up to its original billing: shuttling hardware and humans from terra firma to low-Earth orbit.

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