Beautiful Shoes: Americans Launching and Landing on the Fourth of July

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

On the morning of 4 July 1982, a rapidly-moving black-and-white speck appeared on the horizon at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., bringing a pair of U.S. space explorers back to Earth after a week in orbit. Minutes later, at 12:09 p.m. EDT (9:09 a.m. PDT), shuttle Columbia and her crew of Commander Ken Mattingly and Pilot Hank Hartsfield alighted on the 15,000-foot-long (4,600-meter) concrete Runway 22, becoming the first American human space mission ever to be in progress on Independence Day, this quintessentially “American” holiday of remembrance.



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As Structural Testing Concludes, Orion and SLS Look Ahead to Artemis-1

The Orion Structural Test Article (STA) undergoes a critical jettison test of panels surrounding the service module last month at Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver, Colo. Photo Credit: NASA

Last week’s completion of parallel structural testing campaigns for Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS) is a critical step towards the maiden voyage of the first human-capable vehicle to visit the Moon since December 1972 and the initial launch of the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V era. Late next year, four shuttle-era RS-25 core-stage engines and a pair of five-segment Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) will ignite with a staccato crackle and a propulsive yield in excess of 8.8 million pounds (3.9 million kg) to deliver the Artemis-1 Orion spacecraft towards the Moon. With the conclusion of structural testing, the route is clear for the completion of the SLS “Green Run” campaign at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Miss., later this fall. And the actual Orion for Artemis-1 is deep into processing at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.



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Mars Month Dawns: Remembering America's Successes at the Red Planet (Part 2)

The Perseverance rover is similar in design to Curiosity, but carries different instruments. Image Credit: NASA

Less than four weeks now remain before a mighty United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V booster lifts off from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., no sooner than 30 July, to deliver America’s latest robotic explorer to Mars. The Perseverance rover is physically not dissimilar to its predecessor, Curiosity, which has since 2012 traversed the Martian surface at Gale Crater. Yet this new rover will carry a significantly expanded toolkit, and the first helicopter ever to be set free on an alien world, when it descends via SkyCrane to touch down in the geologically-rich Jezero Crater in February 2021.



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Rubins, Crewmates Discuss Upcoming Space Station Mission

Kate Rubins, pictured inside the station’s Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) during her Expedition 48/49 increment in 2016. Photo Credit: NASA

The candles will burn brightly for Kate Rubins’ next birthday. When the PhD cancer biologist-turned-astronaut hits 42 on 14 October, she will be serenaded by the blazing engines of a Soyuz-2.1a booster as it propels Rubins and her Soyuz MS-17 crewmates Sergei Ryzhikov and Sergei Kud-Sverchkov towards a six-month tour of duty aboard the International Space Station (ISS). With two previous missions between them, almost three hundred cumulative days spent in orbit, and two spacewalks—to say nothing of the fact that Rubins and Ryzhikov already spent a few days together in space, back in October 2016—this crew will form the core of Expedition 64, the first-ever seven-member increment to occupy the sprawling multi-national orbiting outpost.

On Wednesday, 1 July, suitably socially-distanced from each other and from the media, Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov appeared via video link to discuss their forthcoming mission and take questions from the media and the general public.



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Spacewalkers Wrap Up Battery Work, Prepare for Future Upgrades

Bob Behnken narrowly missed entering the Top Ten list of the world’s most experienced spacewalkers with today’s EVA-66. Photo Credit: NASA

It may have been EVA-66 — the 66th spacewalk in U.S. suits from the Quest airlock, in the absence of the Space Shuttle — but today’s six-hour-and-one-minute Extravehicular Activity outside the International Space Station (ISS) must have resembled “Route 66” for Expedition 63 astronauts Chris Cassidy and Bob Behnken. Only five days since they kicked off the replacement of batteries in the S-6 truss structure, the duo were back outside and again worked through their tasks with solid professional, the occasional touch of humor and all the while working way ahead of the timeline.

Cassidy and Behnken plucked out the last of six aging nickel-hydrogen batteries and popped the last of three brand-new lithium-ion units in its place. They went on to tend to a number of getaheads, including the breaking and resetting of torque on the Channel 3B batteries, the replacement of which is scheduled to get underway with their next EVA on 16 July.



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NASA Awards Contracts to Northrop Grumman for Additional SLS Boosters

When fully operational, the Space Launch System (SLS) promises to be the world’s most powerful rocket and the only booster capable of sending a human-rated craft to the Moon by 2024. Image Credit: NASA

Only days after the arrival of the ten Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) segments for Artemis-1, NASA has awarded a $49.5 million letter contract authorizing Northrop Grumman Corp. to order long-lead-time items for six future missions of the Space Launch System (SLS). The super-heavylift booster—tasked with delivering the first humans to the Moon’s south pole by 2024—is currently slated to make its maiden voyage late next year. Its giant core stage is powered by a quartet of shuttle-heritage RS-25 engines, but 75 percent of its liftoff thrust will come from a pair of five-segment SRBs. The award is the first step in cementing plans for SLS missions throughout the remainder of the current decade.



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SpaceX Launches High-Profile Space Force GPS III-03 Satellite

Laden with GPS III-03, the Falcon 9 powers into a hot Florida afternoon on its third mission of June 2020. Photo: Jeff Seibert / AmericaSpace

SpaceX has successfully launched and, for the first time, recovered a Falcon 9 booster following a National Security Space Launch (NSSL) mission. The never-before-used B1060 core, teamed with a sparkling-new upper stage, lifted off from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at 4:10:46 p.m. EDT Tuesday, right at the end of today’s 15-minute “window”. Its primary payload—the third Global Positioning System (GPS) Block III positioning, navigation and timing satellite—was deployed 89 minutes into the mission, targeting a Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) at an altitude of some 12,550 miles (20,200 km).

Its job done, B1060 returned to a smooth oceanic touchdown on the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), “Just Read the Instructions”, wrapping up SpaceX’s third mission of June and the organization’s 11th launch of the year.



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Mars Month Dawns: Remembering America's Failed Missions to the Red Planet (Part 1)

Unlocking the secrets of the Red Planet has proven a difficult endeavor over the last six decades. No less than five U.S. space missions have failed to reach it as Mars closely guards her secrets. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL

It’s almost Mars Month and from 17 July through 11 August the next biannual “launch window” to reach the Red Planet under the most favorable conditions of planetary alignment and energy expenditure opens again. United Launch Alliance (ULA) stands ready to deliver NASA’s Perseverance rover—a spacecraft not dissimilar to its predecessor, Curiosity, albeit equipped with a quite different scientific payload and, for the first time, a helicopter—as soon as 22 July. Over the last six decades, 45 discrete missions from Russia to the United States, from Japan to Europe and from India to China have been directed towards Mars, either to enter its orbit, to land on its dusty ochre surface or to conduct close observations. Agonizingly, almost half of all those missions failed during launch, during flight or just as they reached their destination.

As the world awaits the liftoff of its latest voyage to Mars, AmericaSpace offers a glance back across six decades of U.S. fascination with a planet which bears such close similarities to our own and may, someday, even be capable of supporting human life.



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SpaceX Set to Launch GPS III-03 Satellite on Tuesday

The U.S. Air Force’s first GPS III satellite heads to orbit atop SpaceX’s Upgraded Falcon 9 in December 2018. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Hopes of seeing four Falcon 9 rockets launch within a single calendar month have evaporated, following SpaceX’s decision to postpone its Starlink/BlackSky rideshare flight by a few days. This puts a high-profile Air Force mission to launch the third Global Positioning System (GPS) Block III timing and navigation satellite in pole position to wrap up an action-packed June.

Liftoff is timed for 3:55 p.m. EDT on Tuesday. And for only the second time in 2020, a shiny new Falcon 9 will be employed to deliver the 8,500-pound (3,900 kg) GPS III-03 satellite into a Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) at a mean altitude of 12,550 miles (20,200 km). The launch had previously been delayed since late April in response to the worldwide COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.



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We Have Capture: Remembering STS-71 and Shuttle-Mir, 25 Years On

Twenty-five years ago, an enduring period of co-operation between the United States and Russia began with the first shuttle-Mir docking mission. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty-five years ago, this summer, six U.S. astronauts and four Russian cosmonauts circled the Earth together in a remarkable exercise of co-operation between two former superpowers and ideological foes. In June 1995, Space Shuttle Atlantis and her crew of seven performed the first docking between an American spacecraft and a Russian space station, linking up smoothly with the sprawling Mir orbital outpost and its own three-man crew. And when the two ships parted company, each had different crew members, as Atlantis returned to Earth with an outgoing Mir crew and the most flight-experienced U.S. astronaut and the station continued its journey with fresh two-man crew. In many ways, STS-71 laid the cornerstone for the International Space Station (ISS).



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