'Roger, Go': Remembering the Shuttle's Return to Flight, 30 Years Ago

Thirty years ago, at 11:38 a.m. EDT on 29 September 1988, America returned to space with humans for the first time in the 32 months since Challenger. Photo Credit: NASA

As America prepares for another “return to flight” next year—carrying astronauts to low-Earth orbit aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon—a moment of reflection should occur this weekend, as 30 years pass since the return to flight of the Space Shuttle Program (SSP) in the wake of the Challenger tragedy. Thirty-two months after seven astronauts were lost in the skies above Cape Canaveral, a crew of five rocketed into orbit at 11:38 a.m. EDT for a four-day flight which re-established the shuttle’s credentials, evaluated new hardware for the first time and passed a major hurdle in enabling the more complex missions which would follow.

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ULA Selects Blue Origin's BE-4 Engine to Launch New Vulcan Rocket

Vulcan Centaur, United Launch Alliance’s next-generation American rocket, lifts off in this artist’s rendering. Image Credit: ULA

ULA’s answer to the competitive launch services market, the Vulcan Centaur rocket, is well on its way to becoming a reality, as the company provided an update this afternoon on the status of the new booster’s development. 

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Kepler Enters Hibernation Mode, Downlinks Latest Science Data Before Fuel Runs Out

Artist’s conception of the Kepler Space Telescope in space. Fuel is now running very low and the spacecraft has downlinked its latest science data to Earth. Image Credit: NASA/AP

The end is nigh – that appears to be the case at least for NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope which is now running very low on remaining fuel. Although this has always been expected and planned for, the Kepler team received a new notification this past week that the fuel level is now critically low. As a result, the spacecraft has now been temporarily “put to sleep” – a hibernation mode to help conserve what fuel remains while the latest science data is downlinked to Earth. It is expected that Kepler only has a few months left at most to keep searching for exoplanets; along with other telescopes, Kepler has revolutionized the study of those distant worlds orbiting other stars, discovering thousands of new exoplanets, with many more still awaiting discovery.

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Summer of the Shuttle: Remembering the Ill-Fated Summer of '84

An ominous cloud of smoke billows away from Pad 39A in the seconds after a problematic Main Engine Start on 26 June 1984. Photo Credit: NASA

More than 30 summers ago, America’s shuttle program should have entered its prime. Touted for over a decade as capable of flying regularly and routinely, the early summer of 1984 was envisaged to see as many as three missions by Discovery and Challenger—two laden with scientific and technological payloads, the third a classified voyage on behalf of the Department of Defense—as the reusable fleet of orbiters transitioned from test-flights to full operations. In three years of shuttle operations, the ships had demonstrated their abilities to serve as scientific research platforms, satellite launching pads and could retrieve and repair damaged spacecraft. The future seemed bright.

That is, until the morning of 26 June 1984.

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Delta-IV Heavy Undergoing Wet Dress Rehearsals as Parker Solar Probe Nears August 4 Launch

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta-IV Heavy underling a Wet Dress Rehearsal on Space Launch Complex 37B for NASA’s upcoming Parker Solar Probe launch, slated for no earlier than August 4, 2018. Photo Credit: ULA

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) rocket slated to launch humanity’s first mission to ‘touch’ a star is spending this week undergoing critical pre-flight testing with two Wet Dress Rehearsals (WDR), or practice countdowns, at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, to ensure everything is GO for a launch attempt next month with NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft.

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SpaceX Turns Focus to Vandenberg for Twilight Launch with Iridium-7 NET July 20

Launch of Iridium-4 from Vandenberg AFB, California. Photo: SpaceX

Up next on the U.S. space launch manifest is another SpaceX mission, and another twilight one at that, scheduled to fly atop a ‘Block 5’ Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California as soon as July 20 with the seventh batch of Iridium NEXT satellites. Liftoff of Iridium-7 is currently scheduled for 5:12 a.m. PDT (12:12 UTC) from Space Launch Complex 4E, about 10 minutes after the first light of dawn appears on the eastern horizon.

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Dragon Captured Over Canada, CRS-15 Arrives with New Science for Space Station

The SpaceX Dragon CRS-15 cargo ship approaches the ISS while traversing Egypt’s Nile delta on July 2, 2018. NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold captured the Dragon shortly after over Quebec, Canada. Photo: NASA/astronaut Ricky Arnold (@Astro_Ricky on Twitter)

A reused SpaceX Dragon cargo ship, flying its second mission, arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) again this morning, following a stunning dawn launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 29. Soaring at 17,500 miles per hour, more than 256 miles over Quebec, Canada, NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel captured Dragon at 6:54 a.m. EDT using the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm, while NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor kept watch over the spacecraft’s systems.

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A Sore Head: Americans in Space on Independence Day

On 4 July 1982, the crew of STS-4 became the first U.S. astronauts to spend Independence Day in space. It also marked the date of their spectacular return to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Photo Credit: NASA

For almost two decades, the Fourth of July—that most quintessential day of celebration in the United States—has seen at least one American citizen off the planet, aboard the International Space Station (ISS). This year, astronauts Drew Feustel, Ricky Arnold and Serena Auñón-Chancellor will observe the 242nd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence from their orbital perch, 250 miles (400 km) above Earth. Yet before the era of continuous ISS habitation, several shuttle crews and Mir residents spent the holiday aloft and in two cases, in 1982 and 2006, astronauts landed and launched on the day itself.

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SpaceX Launches CRS-15 Dragon Into Stunning Twilight to Space Station

A flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule loft the CRS-15 resupply mission into a morning twilight from Cape Canaveral, FL June 29, 2018. Photo: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

Laden with approximately 5,900 pounds of payloads and supplies for the incumbent Expedition 56 crew of the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX’s CRS-15 Dragon cargo ship has successfully launched into low-Earth orbit from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The spacecraft rose from Earth at 5:42 a.m. EDT on 29 June, beginning the 15th dedicated cargo mission under SpaceX’s Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. Key payloads heading uphill on this mission include NASA’s ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS), designed to monitor the temperatures and water requirements of plants, and a spare Latching End Effector (LEE) for the 57.7-foot-long (17.6-meter) Canadarm2. Current plans are for Dragon to arrive and berth at the station on 2 July, where it will remain for about a month.

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Complexity, Human Errors & Other Factors Delay Webb Telescope Launch Again, Now to 2021

Engineers conducting a white light inspection of the James Webb Space Telescope’s large mirror. Photo Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

The most sophisticated and ambitious space-based observatory ever conceived by the human mind, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), will not be ready to launch until AT LEAST Spring of 2021, according to a report this week by an Independent Review Board (IRB) established by NASA to assess the JWST program.

JWST is one of NASA’s most ambitious, complex and expensive projects ever, but has been plagued with problems and delays ever since it entered development in 1999. And while such projects of technological sophistication will always face various unforeseen challenges, JWST has faced so many that it will now launch a decade later than originally planned (at least), and will require the U.S. Congress to reauthorize the highly-anticipated mission, because it has now gone over its cost cap set by Congress in 2011.

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