The Sun Kept Rising: Remembering Columbia's Unflown Mission, 35 Years On

Columbia roars to orbit on 8 August 1989, beginning the first flight of her post-Challenger career. Photo Credit: NASA

Thirty-five years ago, NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet was newly grounded, following the untimely loss of Challenger and her seven-strong STS-51L crew shortly after liftoff on 28 January 1986. As well as a human tragedy of enormous stature—whose implications would haunt the shuttle fleet for the rest of its operational lifetime—the destruction of Challenger triggered a dramatic reappraisal of a spacecraft which had been sold on the premise of being reusable, capable of rapid turnaround times, routine flights and as safe as a commercial airliner. It was folly and never again would the shuttle be treated as anything other than a highly temperamental experimental flying machine.



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Starliner's OFT-2 Launch Date Under Review, Ahead of Busy April at Space Station

The crew module of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is mounted atop its service module in the Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in January 2021. Photo Credit: NASA

As SpaceX prepares to launch its second operational rotation mission to the International Space Station (ISS) next month, fellow Commercial Crew Program partner Boeing has met with additional delay as its CST-100 Starliner aims for a second uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2).

Originally scheduled to launch on 25 March, then postponed to no earlier than 2 April, the week-long mission now looks set to be pushed back yet further in response to a full plate of Visiting Vehicle (VV) traffic at the sprawling multi-national orbital outpost. “Based on the current traffic at the space station, NASA does not anticipate that OFT-2 can be accomplished later in April,” the space agency reported Thursday.



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Cutting Edge: Remembering Columbia's STS-62 Mission, OTD in 1994

Tropical Storm Owen vividly backdrops Columbia’s silhouetted payload bay, aft bulkhead and vertical stabilizer during STS-62. Photo Credit: NASA

Almost three decades ago, a quintet of veteran astronauts aboard Space Shuttle Columbia sailed through a mission which their launch announcer called “the cutting edge of microgravity research”.



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SpaceX Launches Starlink-17, Lands Now 8x-Flown Rocket

Starlink 17 launches into low clouds. Credit: USAF 45th Space Wing

SpaceX has successfully launched its second 8x-flown Falcon 9 booster in a cloudy Thursday morning launch to deliver another 60 Starlink internet communications satellites into low-Earth orbit. Liftoff of the veteran B1049 core—which joins sister B1051 as one of SpaceX’s life-leading boosters—occurred from historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida at 3:24am EST.

Eight minutes later, with more than a small measure of relief, B1049 returned to a smooth touchdown on the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), “Of Course I Still Love You”, situated about 390 miles (630 km) offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.



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Riding a Giant Spring: Remembering Apollo 9, OTD in 1969

For the first time in the Apollo program, the Command and Service Module (CSM) and Lunar Module (LM) were flown by humans, autonomously, on the Apollo 9 mission. Photo Credit: NASA

As NASA prepares a second time to “hot-fire” the Core Stage of the largest and most powerful rocket in the world—the Space Launch System (SLS)—we can look back with a touch of nostalgia this week on Apollo 9, one of the “unsung heroes” in America’s drive to plant boots on the surface of the Moon. Overshadowed by the historic circumlunar flight of Apollo 8, the Moon-circling voyage of Apollo 10 and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s triumphant footsteps on the Sea of Tranquility, Apollo 9 tends to get lost in the shadows.

But this complex mission, which rose from Earth atop a mighty Saturn V on 3 March 1969, truly paved the way for our species’ initial foray into the Universe around us, by testing the entire Apollo spacecraft in space for the first time. Apollo 9 rose no higher than low-Earth orbit during its ten days in space in March 1969, but without it the historic landing on the Moon could not have taken place.



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Crew-2 Astronauts Discuss Upcoming Mission, Eye 20 April Launch to ISS

On Monday, Crew-2 astronauts (from left) Megan McArthur, Thomas Pesquet, Aki Hoshide and Shane Kimbrough discussed their upcoming mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: NASA

Four astronauts from three nations, with a combined year-and-a-half of spaceflight experience and three days’ worth of Extravehicular Activity (EVA) between them, gathered at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, on Monday, 1 March, to discuss their forthcoming expedition to the International Space Station (ISS). They are targeting a full-duration, six-month increment aboard the sprawling orbital outpost and are expected to carry about 440 pounds (200 kg) of pressurized cargo uphill.



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Rocket Lab Unveils Reusable Neutron Booster, Targets NET 2024 Maiden Launch

Drawing on the heritage of its Electron fleet, Rocket Lab expects Neutron to begin flying and pushing the limits of reusability by 2024. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab has announced plans to develop a new medium-lift, human-rated launch vehicle, capable of lifting payloads weighing up to 18,000 pounds (8,000 kg) into low-Earth orbit. The Long Beach, Calif.-headquartered smallsat launch provider—whose in-service Electron booster has already completed 16 successful missions out of 18 attempts since May 2017—revealed Monday that the new rocket will be called “Neutron” and its first-stage hardware will be recovered on a floating landing platform downrange in the Atlantic Ocean.

Current projections are for Neutron to commence formal flight operations from Launch Complex (LC)-2 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Va., no sooner than 2024.  



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Expedition 64 Spacewalkers Prepare for ISS Power Upgrades

Kate Rubins and Victor Glover work on the first dedicated iROSA modification kit activity earlier on Sunday. Photo Credit: NASA

Expedition 64 spacewalkers Kate Rubins and Victor Glover have completed a grueling session of Extravehicular Activity (EVA) outside the International Space Station (ISS) to prepare for an extensive campaign of solar array upgrades later this year and throughout 2022.



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'Who Was In NASA 901?': Remembering Project Gemini's Worst Day, 55 Years On

Assigned in November 1965, the Gemini IX crew of Elliot See (left) and Charlie Bassett were tasked with flying a three-day mission in the late spring of 1966. Their flight would have demonstrated rendezvous, docking, maneuvering and spacewalking. All those plans came to nought on the fateful morning of 28 February 1966. Photo Credit: NASA

At 7:41 a.m. CST on 28 February 1966—55 years ago on Sunday—a pair of sleek T-38 Talon jets took off from Ellington Field, not far from the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston, Texas, bound for Lambert Field in St. Louis, Miss. Aboard the lead jet, tailnumbered “NASA 901”, were astronauts Elliot See and Charlie Bassett, prime crew for the forthcoming Gemini IX mission, targeted to launch in May of that year.

And following them in the second T-38, tailnumbered “NASA 907”, were their backups, Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan. Flight rules forbade a member of a prime crew to fly with his counterpart on the backup crew, lest an accident wipe out the entire specialty for one seat on the mission. Tragically, those rules held firm on the fateful morning of 28 February 1966.



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Engineers Continue Troubleshooting Faulty Valve in SLS Rocket's Engine Section

Engineers carefully lowering the giant SLS Artemis-1 core stage onto the B-2 test stand at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, for the Green Run test campaign. Photo: NASA

Earlier this week, NASA and Boeing called off a planned Feb 25 second test fire of the space agency’s mammoth SLS moon rocket core stage, following inspections and checkouts last weekend which discovered a liquid oxygen valve not working properly inside the rocket’s engine section.



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