Pad 39A, America's Moonport, Celebrates Over 100 Launches in 50 Years of Service

The launch of Apollo 11 on 16 July 1969 was arguably Pad 39A’s finest hour. Photo Credit: NASA

In a strange twist of irony, Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida was not originally meant to be named “39A” at all. Having supported its first launch, 50 years ago, last week, the iconic pad—which saw the first teams of human explorers leave Planet Earth, bound for the Moon, together with America’s first space station and dozens of Space Shuttle missions—occupies a roughly octagonal footprint on the marshy landscape of Florida’s Merritt Island. More than a half-century ago, blueprints called for the construction of up to five launch pads, potentially labeled 39A through 39E, which might have run sequentially from north to south. As circumstances transpired and planning changed, only two pads were brought to operational service. The original 39A complex was never built and in 1963 the site which would have been 39C was renamed the “new” 39A. Today, after recently seeing off the 106th launch in its illustrious history, for Pad 39A an exciting future lies ahead.

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Dream Chaser Flies Long-Awaited Second Free-Flight Test

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. Photo Credit: NASA / Ken Ulbrich

The engineering test article for Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser ‘spaceplane’ flew its long-awaited second free flight test this weekend (Nov 11, 2017) over NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base, CA. 

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Orbital ATK Honors Veterans With Rousing Launch of OA-8 Cygnus to Space Station

Orbital ATK Antares rocket launching the OA-8 Cygnus spacecraft. Photo: Cole Ippoliti / AmericaSpace

Fittingly for a veteran rocket and a veteran spacecraft, traveling to visit a group of veteran astronauts and cosmonauts aboard a veteran space station—including the first Marine Corps skipper of the multi-national orbiting outpost—it was hoped that the OA-8 Cygnus cargo mission would coincide with Veterans Day, by launching on Saturday, 11 November. As well as honoring the fallen from World War I, and marking 99 years to the date since the official end of hostilities on 11 November 1918, Veterans Day reminds us of the respect owed to our military service personnel.

Alas, it was not to be. In spite of a near-perfect countdown, yesterday’s opening launch attempt was scrubbed in the final minutes, when an aircraft strayed into the launch danger zone. Liftoff was correspondingly rescheduled for 7:14 a.m. EST on Sunday, 12 November, and proceeded without incident.  Orbital ATK’s 133-foot-tall (40.5-meter) Antares 230 booster rose from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Va., delivering Cygnus perfectly into low-Earth orbit. Rendezvous and berthing with the International Space Station (ISS) is currently scheduled for Monday morning.

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OA-8 Cygnus Mission to Honor Gene Cernan, 45 Years After Last Moonwalks

The OA-8 Cygnus, pictured in the clean room, with an image of its astronaut namesake, veteran Moonwalker Gene Cernan. Photo Credit: Elliot Severn/AmericaSpace

Only months before its purchase by Northrop Grumman is expected to be finalized, Orbital ATK plans to launch its next Cygnus cargo freighter (OA-8) to the International Space Station (ISS), no sooner than Saturday, 11 November, during a five-minute “window”, which opens at 7:37 a.m. EST. The mission will mark the return of the Dulles, Va.-based company’s Antares booster, flying out of Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Va. Loaded with over 7,000 pounds (3,100 pounds) of equipment, supplies and research hardware for the incumbent Expedition 53 crew, OA-8 is expected to arrive at the space station early Monday, berthing at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the Unity node, where it will remain for three weeks.

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NASA Designs Advanced New SELFI Instrument to Help Search For Life on Enceladus

The plumes of Enceladus: SELFI would study their composition in more detail than ever before. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Is there life on Enceladus? Are there any Enceladan bacteria or other little critters swimming in that alien ocean on this tiny moon of Saturn? We don’t know yet, but there is compelling evidence from the Cassini mission for at least a habitable environment in the dark waters below the icy crust. What’s needed now is to return to Enceladus with new and better instruments, designed especially to search for signs of active biology, which Cassini couldn’t do. Now, a new instrument has been designed by NASA which would further study the water vapor plumes erupting from the moon’s south pole and analyze what’s in them in more detail than previously possible. Those plumes are tantalizingly connected to the salty subsurface ocean below the surface ice.

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Dick Gordon, Gemini High-Flyer and Solo Lunar Orbiter, Dies Aged 88

Dick Gordon (left) and Pete Conrad await the start of an emergency water egress training exercise in the Gulf of Mexico in July 1966. Photo Credit: NASA

Veteran astronaut Dick Gordon, who passed away on Monday, aged 88, brings to just 14 the number of remaining spacefarers who have traveled to the Moon and back. Gordon’s impressive career saw him fly to the highest altitude ever reached by a human being on his first mission in September 1966, before traveling even further, to the Moon itself, on his second in November 1969. By the time he retired from NASA in early 1972, after more than eight years with the agency, Gordon had attained the rank of a Captain in the U.S. Navy and had spent over 315 hours in space, including 38 minutes of Extravehicular Activity (EVA). He remains one of only 24 sons of Earth to have voyaged to the Moon.

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Juno Mission Gets New Project Manager As Spacecraft Completes Eighth Science Flyby of Jupiter

Illustration of Juno near Jupiter, which combines real images of the planet from the spacecraft with Juno artistically “added in.” Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has successfully completed its eighth science flyby of Jupiter, passing over the gas giant’s swirling cloud tops once again as it continues to unravel the mysteries of the largest planet in the Solar System. The mission itself also now has a new project manager, who will oversee the continuing flow of information being sent back, which has already greatly expanded our knowledge of Jupiter, upending some theories and presenting new questions.

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'Without Breaking the Shell': 50 Years Since the Saturn V's Maiden Launch

At the stroke of 7 a.m. EST on 9 November 1967, the first Saturn V took flight. Photo Credit: NASA

“T-minus-25…,” came the calm, measured tones of the launch announcer in the pre-dawn darkness of Thursday, 9 November 1967. “Stages reporting Ready for Launch…”

Fifty years ago, the largest and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status thundered into the clear Florida sky, shaking windows, dislodging roof-tiles and making spectators wonder if the Sunshine State had sunk into the ground. Standing 363 feet (110.6 meters) tall, the Saturn V would fly 13 times between 9 November 1967 and 14 May 1973, supporting three unmanned missions, testing the entire Apollo spacecraft in manned capacity in low-Earth orbit and despatching nine crews of human explorers towards the Moon. Although the Soviet Union’s ill-fated N-1 booster had a greater thrust at liftoff, the Saturn V has retained its admirable record for raw, naked power for a half-century. It is a record unlikely to be broken until the Space Launch System (SLS) and other super-heavylift boosters enter operational status, later this decade and into the 2020s.

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WATCH: Remote Cameras Capture Spectacular Views of Koreasat 5A Launch

Liftoff of Koreasat 5A. Credit: Jeff Seibert / AmericaSpace

Yesterday (Oct 30, 2017) SpaceX launched their third mission just this month, followed shortly after by their third landing in the same timeframe. Their pace in 2017 has now tied them with ULA’s all-time record for most launches in a year, and very soon they will take that record for themselves.

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SpaceX Launches Third Mission of October with Koreasat-5A, Lands Booster Again

The Upgraded Falcon 9 sprints uphill into crystal-clear Florida skies to deliver KoreaSat-5A to orbit. Photo Credit: SpaceX/Twitter

More than a third of all SpaceX launches have occurred in 2017 alone, as the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services provider despatched its 16th Upgraded Falcon 9 of the year on Monday afternoon (30 October) to deliver the heavyweight KoreaSat-5A communications satellite to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). Liftoff of the 230-foot-tall (70-meter) booster took place at 3:34 p.m. EDT, right on the opening of a 144-minute “window”. Under near-perfect Florida skies, the Upgraded Falcon 9 rose from historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), as SpaceX eyes at least three more missions before year’s end, including the long-awaited maiden voyage of the Falcon Heavy. Today’s flight was the second occasion in 2017 that SpaceX has launched as many as three Falcons within a single calendar month.

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