NASA 747 pilot shares experience carrying the space shuttle

"NASA 747 pilot shares experience carrying the space shuttle
Read the detailed experience of the NASA pilot who flew the 747 carrying the space shuttle ATLANTIS back to the KENNEDY SPACE CENTER. A bit lengthy, but trust me... worth every second reading! You will feel that you were there!!! Very good narrative of what it was like!

"....it's all imbedded in the software!"

From: Triple Nickel
Sent: Thursday, June 04, 2009 9:34 PM
Subject: (JSCAS ) Shuttle Carry

Well, it's been 48 hours since I landed the 747 with the shuttle Atlantis on top and I am still buzzing from the experience. I have to say that my whole mind, body and soul went into the professional mode just before engine start in Mississippi, and stayed there, where it all needed to be, until well after the flight...in fact, I am not sure if it is all back to normal as I type this email. The experience was surreal.
Seeing that "thing" on top of an already overly huge aircraft boggles my mind. The whole mission from takeoff to engine shutdown was unlike anything I had ever done. It was like a dream...someone else's dream.
We took off from Columbus AFB on their 12,000 foot runway, of which I used 11,999 1/2 feet to get the wheels off the ground. We were at 3,500 feet left to go of the runway, throttles full power, nose wheels still hugging the ground, copilot calling out decision speeds, the weight of Atlantis now screaming through my fingers clinched tightly on the controls, tires heating up to their near maximum temperature from the speed and the weight, and not yet at rotation speed, the speed at which I would be pulling on the controls to get the nose to rise. I just could not wait, and I mean I COULD NOT WAIT, and started pulling early. If I had waited until rotation speed, we would not have rotated enough to get airborne by the end of the runway. So I pulled on the controls early and started our rotation to the takeoff attitude. The wheels finally lifted off as we passed over the stripe marking the end of the runway and my next hurdle (physically) was a line of trees 1,000 feet off the departure end of Runway 16. All I knew was we were flying and so I directed the gear to be retracted and the flaps to be moved from Flaps 20 to Flaps 10 as I pulled even harder on the controls. I must say, those trees were beginning to look a lot like those brushes in the drive through car washes so I pulled even harder yet! I think I saw a bird just fold its wings and fall out of a tree as if to say "Oh just take me". Okay, we cleared the trees, duh, but it was way too close for my laundry. As we started to actually climb, at only 100 feet per minute, I smelled something that reminded me of touring the Heineken Brewery in Europe...I said "is that a skunk I smell?" and the veterans of shuttle carrying looked at me and smiled and said "Tires"!
I said "TIRES??? OURS???" They smiled and shook their heads as if to call their Captain an amateur...okay, at that point I was. The tires were so hot you could smell them in the cockpit. My mind could not get over, from this point on, that this was something I had never experienced.
Where's your mom when you REALLY need her?
The flight down to Florida was an eternity. We cruised at 250 knots indicated, giving us about 315 knots of ground speed at 15,000'. The miles didn't click by like I am use to them clicking by in a fighter jet at MACH .94. We were burning fuel at a rate of 40,000 pounds per hour or 130 pounds per mile, or one gallon every length of the fuselage. The vibration in the cockpit was mild, compared to down below and to the rear of the fuselage where it reminded me of that football game I had as a child where you turned it on and the players vibrated around the board. I felt like if I had plastic clips on my boots I could have vibrated to any spot in the fuselage I wanted to go without moving my legs...and the noise was deafening. The 747 flies with its nose 5 degrees up in the air to stay level, and when you bank, it feels like the shuttle is trying to say "hey, let's roll completely over on our back"..not a good thing I kept telling myself. SO I limited my bank angle to 15 degrees and even though a 180 degree course change took a full zip code to complete, it was the safe way to turn this monster.
Airliners and even a flight of two F-16s deviated from their flight plans to catch a glimpse of us along the way. We dodged what was in reality very few clouds and storms, despite what everyone thought, and arrived in Florida with 51,000 pounds of fuel too much to land with. We can't land heavier than 600,000 pounds total weight and so we had to do something with that fuel. I had an idea...let's fly low and slow and show this beast off to all the taxpayers in Florida lucky enough to be outside on that Tuesday afternoon. So at Ormond Beach we let down to 1,000 feet above the ground/water and flew just east of the beach out over the water. Then, once we reached the NASA airspace of the Kennedy Space Center, we cut over to the Banana/Indian Rivers and flew down the middle of them to show the people of Titusville, Port St.Johns and Melbourne just what a 747 with a shuttle on it looked like. We stayed at 1,000 feet and since we were dragging our flaps at "Flaps 5", our speed was down to around 190 to 210 knots. We could see traffic stopping in the middle of roads to take a look. We heard later that a Little League Baseball game stop to look and everyone cheered as we became their 7th inning stretch. Oh say can you see...
After reaching Vero Beach, we turned north to follow the coast line back up to the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF). There was not one person laying on the beach...they were all standing and waving! "What a sight" I thought...and figured they were thinking the same thing. All this time I was bugging the engineers, all three of them, to re-compute our fuel and tell me when it was time to land. They kept saying "Not yet Triple, keep showing this thing off" which was not a bad thing to be doing. However, all this time the thought that the landing, the muscling of this 600,000 pound beast, was getting closer and closer to my reality. I was pumped up! We got back to the SLF and were still 10,000 pounds too heavy to land so I said I was going to do a low approach over the SLF going the opposite direction of landing traffic that day. So at 300 feet, we flew down the runway, rocking our wings like a whale rolling on its side to say "hello" to the people looking on! One turn out of traffic and back to the runway to land...still 3,000 pounds over gross weight limit. But the engineers agreed that if the landing were smooth, there would be no problem. "Oh thanks guys, a little extra pressure is just what I needed!" So we landed at 603,000 pounds and very smoothly if I have to say so myself. The landing was so totally controlled and on speed, that it was fun. There were a few surprises that I dealt with, like the 747 falls like a rock with the orbiter on it if you pull the throttles off at the "normal" point in a
landing and secondly, if you thought you could hold the nose off the ground after the mains touch down, think again...IT IS COMING DOWN!!!
So I "flew it down" to the ground and saved what I have seen in videos of a nose slap after landing. Bob's video supports this! :8-)
Then I turned on my phone after coming to a full stop only to find 50 bazillion emails and phone messages from all of you who were so super to be watching and cheering us on! What a treat, I can't thank y'all enough. For those who watched, you wondered why we sat there so long.
Well, the shuttle had very hazardous chemicals on board and we had to be "sniffed" to determine if any had leaked or were leaking. They checked for Monomethylhydrazine (N2H4 for Charlie Hudson) and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4). Even though we were "clean", it took way too long for them to tow us in to the mate-demate area. Sorry for those who stuck it out and even waited until we exited the jet.
I am sure I will wake up in the middle of the night here soon, screaming and standing straight up dripping wet with sweat from the realization of what had happened. It was a thrill of a lifetime. Again I want to thank everyone for your interest and support. It felt good to bring Atlantis home in one piece after she had worked so hard getting to the Hubble Space Telescope and back.

Triple Nickel
NASA Pilot"

--taken from a NASA e-mail

EDIT: The reliability of this e-mail has been put into question (see below comments). I can neither confirm nor deny that this piece was written by the 747 pilot, I can only confirm that it was distributed through NASA e-mail by a NASA Director (where he got it I do not know).
The real 747 pilots have an official NASA blog which can be found here: http://blogs.nasa.gov/cm/blog/shuttleferry.blog/


Gizmodo Space Week

From Gizmodo:
Why We Need to Reach the Stars (and we will)
"...space exploration is the most epic and most important adventure Humanity has ever embarked upon. When we travel to space we are opening the way to the preservation of Humanity. We are trying to contact other civilizations. We are trying to answer the biggest questions of them all: Who are we? Why are we here? How did we get here? Are we alone in this rock we call Earth?"

From Earth To Moon Redux: How The Next Moonshot Will Happen
"May 2019: Our scheduled return to the moon. There's plenty of laboring to be done on the Constellation Program before then, but the foundation is set. Here's how you—as an astronaut—would experience the mission"

Are We Spending Too Much On NASA?
From comments: "1 world, 6.5 billion people and counting. We are spending FAR too little on NASA."

10 Everyday Gadgets with Ties to the Space Program
"Chances are you use a gadget touched by space technology each and every day."

Eating like an Astronaut: Our Six Course Space Food Taste Test

"Eating is one of life's most important activities, and the same applies in space. Every astronaut eats three times a day, and yesterday for lunch, Adam and I had space food. It was awesome."

The Charms of Soyuz: Blasting Off In a Crazy Russian Rocket
"Yesterday, I wrote about what launching aboard a Space Shuttle is like. This time, let's consider the Russian Soyuz rocket and spacecraft. Why? Isn't a rocket a rocket? Is it really that different? Yes and no, no and yes. They both get astronauts into space in around nine minutes. But, they are very different."

Pre-Launch Jitters and Then... Liftoff

"What's it like to go through a launch? How does it feel? Are you able to sleep the night before? Do you get scared? What do you eat before?"


Space...can it get any cooler?

Cassini's Continued Mission from Boston.com's The Big Picture
"NASA's Cassini spacecraft is now a nearly a year into its extended mission, called Cassini Equinox (after its initial 4-year mission ended in June, 2008). The spacecraft continues to operate in good health, returning amazing images of Saturn, its ring system and moons, and providing new information and science on a regular basis. The mission's name, "Equinox" comes from the upcoming Saturnian equinox in August, 2009, when its equator (and rings) will point directly toward the Sun. The Equinox mission runs through September of 2010, with the possibility of further extensions beyond that. Collected here are 24 more intriguing images from our ringed neighbor."
Even more here and here

Space Tech of the Week: Orion

What is it?: A spacecraft design currently under development by NASA. Each Orion spacecraft will carry a crew of four (for ISS missions) to six astronauts (for Lunar missions), and will be launched by the Ares I (see previous Space Tech of the Week). Both Orion and Ares I are elements of NASA's Project Constellation, which plans to send human explorers back to the Moon by 2020, and then onward to Mars and other destinations in the Solar System.

"Orion will launch from Launch Complex 39 at Kennedy Space Center, the same launch complex that currently launches the Space Shuttle." The first Orion flight to the ISS is currently scheduled for 2015, but delays are expected. If commercial orbital transportation services (by Space X with its Dragon capsule) are unavailable, Orion will handle logistic flights to the Station.

"The Orion Crew and Service Module (CSM) stack consists of two main parts: a conical Crew Module (CM), and a cylindrical Service Module (SM) holding the spacecraft's propulsion system and expendable supplies. Both are based substantially on the Apollo Command and Service Modules (Apollo CSM) flown between 1967 and 1975, but include advances derived from the Space Shuttle program."

During the early phases of its development Orion was going to have the capability land on land (like the Soyuz) as well as on water (like Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury). Since then, due to weight issues, water landings have become the only method of recovery for this spacecraft.

"Another feature will be the partial reusability of the Orion CM. NASA aims to reuse each craft for up to ten flights." "Both the CM and SM will be constructed of the aluminium lithium (Al/Li) alloy currently used on the Shuttle's External Tank, and the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets. This alloy is as strong as the Shuttle Orbiter's aircraft aluminium skin, but will make the spacecraft lighter than both its Apollo and Shuttle predecessors."

"Like its Apollo predecessor, the Orion Service Module (SM) has a rough cylindrical shape, but unlike its Apollo predecessor, the new Orion SM will be larger in diameter, shorter, and lighter. It too will be constructed from the same Al-Li alloy as the Orion CM, and will feature a pair of deployable circular solar panels, similar in design to the solar panels on the Mars Phoenix lander, eliminating the need to carry fuel cells and the associated hardware—mainly tanks containing liquid hydrogen [LH2]—needed for their operation. The spacecraft's main propulsion system is an Aerojet AJ-10 rocket engine, derived from the second stage of the Delta II rocket, powered by hypergolic fuels, that are kept in helium pressured fuel cells. "

Official NASA site
Official Lockheed Martin site


We're soooo small

Go here to see this image full size!
Found on Reddit.com


Space Tech of the Week: New Shepard

What is it?: A reusable manned rocket which is being "designed to routinely fly multiple astronauts into suborbital space at competitive prices. In addition to providing the public with opportunities to experience spaceflight, New Shepard will also provide frequent opportunities for researchers to fly experiments into space and a microgravity environment." The rocket is being "developed by Blue Origin, a company owned by Amazon.com founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos"

"The spacecraft is based on technology like that used for the McDonnell Douglas DC-X and derivative DC-XA. Bezos told Reuters in November 2004 that his company hopes to progress to orbital spaceflight. As of January 2005, the company's website announced that it hopes to establish an "enduring human presence in space", but the 2007 version talks instead of aiming to "patiently and step-by-step, to lower the cost of spaceflight so that many people can afford to go and so that we humans can better continue exploring the solar system".

"The New Shepard craft is planned to be a vertical take-off/vertical landing (VTVL) system. The overall shape is circular in cross-section and ogive (bullet shaped) from nose to tail, the base being somewhat rounded. It is powered by a cluster of nine engines powered by High test peroxide (HTP) and RP-1 kerosene, arranged in a 3 by 3 grid on the bottom. Four landing legs containing shock absorbers also extend from the edges of the bottom. The existing demonstrator vehicle has a diameter of 7 metres and a height of 15 metres. The total mass of the propellant is 54 tons and the thrust is 1000 kN."

The vehicle "will consist of a pressurized Crew Capsule (CC) carrying experiments and astronauts atop a reliable Propulsion Module (PM). "

"The launch vehicle is assembled at the Blue Origin facility near Seattle, Washington. Blue Origin is starting the process to build an aerospace testing and operations center on a portion of the Corn Ranch, a 165,000-acre (668 km2) land parcel Bezos purchased 40 km north of Van Horn, Texas."

"New Shepard will take-off vertically and accelerate for approximately two and a half minutes before shutting off its rocket engines and coasting into space. The vehicle will carry rocket motors enabling the Crew Capsule to escape from the PM in the event of a serious anomaly during launch. In space, the Crew Capsule will separate from the PM and the two will reenter and land separately for re-use. The Crew Capsule will land softly under a parachute at the launch site. Astronauts and experiments will experience no more than 6 g acceleration into their seats and a 1.5 g lateral acceleration during a typical flight."

Blue Origin Website



Astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) has a quintessentially personal encounter toward the end of his three-year stint on the Moon, where he, working alongside his intelligent computer, GERTY, sends back to Earth parcels of Helium 3, a resource that has helped diminish our planet's power problems.

MOON Website

June 12 in New York and Los Angeles...
Coming soon everywhere else


Track the ISS! (live)

Google SatTrack (satellite tracker using Google Maps)
You can also track the Hubble Space Telescope and that toolbag that the ISS astronauts lost awhile back.


NASA Images

NASA and Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library based in San Francisco, have made available the most comprehensive compilation ever of NASA's vast collection of photographs, historic film and video. Located at www.nasaimages.org, the Internet site combines 21 major NASA imagery collections into a single, searchable online resource.

Is NASA a scam?

NASA delivers a little bit for a whole lot of money ?

"It is the same old scam NASA has been playing out for decades — the same one that gave us the shuttle and space station, two of the biggest boondoggles in recent American history.

NASA promises a whole lot for a little bit of money.

And it delivers a little bit for a whole lot of money."


Altair Timetable

From flightglobal.com:
NASA sets out Altair lunar lander timetable

"NASA has sketched out the development timetable for its return-to-the-Moon Constellation programme's Altair lunar lander, aiming towards a long-term target of an unmanned June 2018 in-orbit propulsion test in preparation for a manned Moon mission in 2020."

Space Tech of the Week: Ares I

What is it?: "Ares I is the crew launch vehicle being developed by NASA as a component of Project Constellation. NASA plans to use Ares I to launch Orion, the spacecraft being designed for NASA human spaceflight missions after the Space Shuttle is retired in 2010."

The Constellation program, which Ares I is a part of, was begun as an answer to President George W. Bush's Vision for Space Exploration which challenged the agency to return people to the Moon and on to Mars. The official goal of the program is "gaining significant experience in operating away from Earth's environment, developing technologies needed for opening the space frontier and conducting fundamental science."

During the Apollo program one launch vehicle (Saturn V) was used to send both the crew and cargo to the moon, instead the Constellation program will use two vehicles to accomplish the same task (Ares I and Ares V). Ares I will carry the crew in the Orion spacecraft which will later dock in space with the Altair lunar lander (launched onboard an Ares V rocket) and then proceed to the moon.

Ares I will also launch the Orion spacecraft in order to send astronauts to the International Space Station after the Space Shuttle is retired in 2010.

Ares I was designed to use previously proven NASA technologies and so as a result it uses technology from both the Space Shuttle program and the Saturn rocket program.

The first stage of the vehicle is a solid fuel rocket that is derived from the current Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB). "Compared with the current SRB, which has four segments, the most notable difference is the addition of a fifth segment. This fifth segment will enable the Ares I to produce more thrust and burn longer." The first stage for Ares I will be reusable and after flight it will crash down into the Atlantic ocean (by parachute), be retrieved, briefly serviced at Kennedy Space Center,Fl, then sent to Utah for it to be fully refurbished, and then finally it will then be sent back to Kennedy Space Center for integration into a new Ares I.

The upper stage of the vehicle will be propelled by one J-2X liquid fueled rocket engine. This engine is derived from the J-2 engine used in the Saturn program in the 1960s and 70s. Unlike the first stage, the upper stage will not be reusable. New upper stages will need to be built for every mission. This manufacturing will be done at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. It will then be transported on a barge across the Gulf of Mexico to be integrated with the rest of the vehicle at Kennedy Space Center.

"Multiple delays in the Ares I development schedule due to budgetary pressures and unforeseen engineering and technical difficulties continue to increase the gap between the end of the Space Shuttle program and the first operational flight of Ares I. As of late 2007, the first operational Ares I flight is scheduled for late 2015, a full five years after the last Shuttle flight"

A test flight vehicle (named Ares I-X) which will be similar in shape, weight, and size to Ares I will be launched from Kennedy Space Center in Summer 2009.

NASA Ares I Page
NASA Ares I-X Page
Tall George's Visual History of Project Constellation (GREAT!)


Space Tech of the Week: None...again

No Space Tech of the Week so you can spend your valuable time learning about all the cool NASA missions of the past at NASA's Mission Madness bracket !

Round 2 ends today (March 24th)!

Round 3 starts March 26th!

Go vote!


This is madness!

What's your favorite NASA mission of the past 50 years?


or see the current results

Round 1 goes from March 19-20
Championship goes from April 6-7


The Legend of Bat-ronaut

"Although we remained hopeful he would wake up and fly away, the bat eventually became IPR 119V-0080 after the ICE team finished their walkdown. He did change the direction he was pointing from time to time throughout countdown but ultimately never flew away. IR imagery shows he was alive and not frozen like many would think. The surface of the ET foam is actually generally between 60-80 degrees F on a day like yesterday. SE&I performed a debris analysis on him and ultimately a LCC waiver to ICE-01 was written to accept the stowaway. Lift off imagery analysis confirmed that he held on until at least the vehicle cleared to tower before we lost sight of him.

And thus is the legend of the STS-119 Bat-ronaut…."


Public opinion on space exploration survey

Everett Group's Survey on Space Exploration

Purpose of the study:
  • "Gauge Americans’ impressions of the space program relative to other national institutions
  • Determine what the public perceives to be the greatest benefits of the space program
  • Gauge the level of public support for an increase in funding for the space program
  • Identify future missions that the public would support"
"Key Take-Aways
  • Most Americans are interested in the space program (60%) but an alarming number have no interest at all (19%). Interest is particularly soft among women.
  • On the positive side, large majorities feel that the space program is important to national security (71%), contributes to national pride (79%), and inspires young people to study math and science (82%).
  • Half of the public feel that the space program has not directly improved their lives in any way. Those who do, however, cite technological developments and knowledge about the universe.
  • Most believe that the U.S. continues to explore space in order to maintain our status as an international leader or because it is human nature to explore."
From the PowerPoint presentation:

From these results it seems that NASA's current mission of returning to the moon is not what the American public considers the best use of its money. It also seems that the public as a whole isn't too sure what they want NASA to do at all.

Link to survey originally found on NASA Watch

Space Tech of the Week: Dawn

What is it?: "a robotic spacecraft being sent by NASA on a space exploration mission to the two most massive members of the asteroid belt: the asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn is scheduled to explore Vesta between 2011 and 2012, and Ceres in 2015. It will be the first spacecraft to visit either body."

"Dawn is innovative in that it will be the first spacecraft to enter into orbit around a celestial body, study it, and then re-embark under powered flight to proceed to a second target. All previous multi-target study missions—such as the Voyager program—have involved rapid planetary flybys."

"Mission controllers have compared the Dawn mission with that of the fictional space voyages depicted on Star Trek. Dawn project system engineer Marc Rayman says, "Dawn is like the first real interplanetary spaceship! Many spacecraft have gathered data at multiple bodies, but Dawn will be the first to go somewhere, go into orbit, and be able to linger there, and then travel to another body and do the same thing." To do this, Dawn is powered by an ion plasma propulsion engine."
"Dawn will rely on the controlled venting of its plasma thrust to continuously accelerate toward Vesta. On its way, the spacecraft's ion engine will speed it up to about 24,600 miles per hour (11 kilometers per second), far more than any spacecraft has ever achieved."

Dawn launched onboard a Delta 7925H rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fl on September 27, 2007. Its mission duration is expected to be 8 years and it is currently 1 year and 5 months into its mission. On February 17th, 2009 it flew by Mars during a successful gravity assist.
Current location of Dawn

"The mission's goal is to characterize the conditions and processes of the solar system's earliest epoch by investigating in detail two of the largest protoplanets remaining intact since their formation. Ceres and Vesta have many contrasting characteristics that are thought to have resulted from them forming in two different regions of the early solar system; Ceres is theorized to have experienced a "cool and wet" formation that may have left it with subsurface water, and Vesta is theorized to have experienced a "hot and dry" formation that resulted in a differentiated interior and surface volcanism."

Scientific American


We need YOU!

After reading the comments to the ABC news question of the day it's encouraging to read so many people supporting our space program, but it worries me to see the comments coming from the people who do not. It seems they think that first of all, NASA's budget is a huge percentage of the federal budget, and second of all they think of the money being spent on the space program is just like throwing money out the window. It seems they have zero comprehension of the idea that all the money that goes into the space program actually is spent here on Earth.

For some time now I've been very concerned that we (as space enthusiasts) have been completely failing at communicating our message to the general public. I've had countless arguments with people who are "anti-space" and I feel that the arguments of inspiration and spin-offs just don't work for them. People need to see more tangible and direct benefits to their lives. They don't understand the value of something that has long-term benefits like the space program. Most worrying of all they have little comprehension of what is going on in space.
In my opinion the three main issues we as space enthusiasts need to tackle are:
  1. Communication of what we do in space (people barely know what Apollo is. It's amazing how many people don't know we even have a space station and then when they are told are amazed to learn about what we do in space. We can't expect the media to do our work for us. We need to push space exploration religiously ourselves. Our goal should be to educate people about cool things that are done in space on a daily basis.)
  2. Communication of what NASA costs us as taxpayers (there are two ways to think of NASA's budget: $18 billion or less than 1 penny for every dollar spent on taxes or 0.7 % of the federal budget. Out of context the first number seems huge to the average person. The second number seems like a bargain! Just look at this Wired article that discusses a survey that showed that Americans believed that NASA's budget was one-fourth of the total U.S. budget!: http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2007/11/average-america.html)
  3. Communication of how our daily lives are affected by space (this is the usual spin-offs discussion)
  4. Communication of NASA's Return-On-Investment (this is a hard figure to come up with, but if we had it it would be a great one point reply to the nay-sayers)
  5. Communication of NASA's long term benefits to our nation and the world (in my opinion the hardest of all things to communicate or prove)
Note that the key to all 5 points is communication! If NASA isn't able to promote itself that's no excuse as to why we as private citizens can't do it. Do we really care enough about this issue to do this on our own? Wernher VonBraun spent his entire life as a staunch space advocate, communicating his message within the government and to the general public. He realized that we lived in a democracy and that in the end it was the voice of the people that decided the course we would take. He wrote technical books, science-fiction novels, magazine articles, and even worked with Disney on a series of shows dealing with our future in space. We need to the same. Personally, I'm trying to do my part with my blog and a start up model-rocket club (still in development, but the goal is to teach children the basics of rocketry through community events and online educational videos). I don't think what I'm doing is enough, but I'm trying to take one small step at a time.

With the internet we have the opportunity to communicate our message more effectively than ever. Want to spread the gospel of space? Start a blog, make a YouTube video, participate in online communities, contribute space articles to Digg and Reddit, twitter about space, Facebook about space, MySpace about... space, launch model rockets in your neighborhood (but not at your neighbors), go talk at your local elementary school, be an astronaut for Halloween, celebrate Yuri's night, invite friends over for Shuttle launch viewing parties, communicate, communicate, communicate!

"You must be the change you want to see in the world." - Gandhi


Why should we fund NASA?

My looooong response to ABC News Question: Is American's Space Program Worth the Money?

Funding AND supporting NASA can help meet 2 out of the 5 main agenda items listed on President Obama's change.gov transition web page:
1) Revitalizing the Economy and 5) Renewing American Global Leadership

We can not be left behind in space after holding such a substantial lead for decades. We (as a country) must continue to push new frontiers and when we have paved the way we should pass it on to private companies who will continue the work and create new jobs and industries. Companies like Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic, Bigelow Aerospace, and SpaceX are beginning to "settle" on that frontier that NASA first reached in the 1960s. Earth orbit's future is now in the hands of these pioneers.

Now NASA must push beyond Earth orbit and continue our expansion into space. We need to go to the moon and beyond. India and China both have solid plans to send men to the moon by 2020 and the Europeans and Russians have their own goals in regards to the moon as well. In the 1960s and 70s we sent men to the moon and it seemed that there was nothing that could hold back American ingenuity and innovation. The world looked at us in awe. We must not lose this global leadership.

Sending people to the moon would help revitalize our economy because it will create many new jobs to help support this undertaking. We will need all types of people to help build, design, and manage a manned space exploration program to the moon. In addition to that, the space infrastructure that would be created to set up permanent moon bases should also help in the reduction of costs to reach Earth orbit. Lowered costs for reaching Earth orbit can lead to cost savings in the communications industry (which in turn lead to lower costs for all of us). In addition to that, low costs can also lead to the creation of 100% green power sources like Space Solar Power Satellites (Here's a video on that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YiU9MibyBJ0 and the extensive wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_satellite). All that leads to even more economic revitalization.

Also, if you look at it from a longer term perspective, when moon bases become more common (as travel to Earth orbit is becoming today) private corporations will start to pick up where NASA has left off. Why should private corporations go to the moon? Well the moon seems to have huge amounts of Helium-3 under its surface, and on Earth this isotope is very rare. It is hoped that one day (we aren't there yet) this will be used as a fusion power source. How useful can He-3 be for life here on Earth? 25 tons of it (which could be carried back on just one space round trip) can power the entire U.S. for one year. With this amount we could replace all fuels that we pay for essentially making the helium 3 worth about $3 billion per ton. In my opinion He-3 is the reason why so many other countries are in such a rush to get to the moon (see more info below).

In terms of inspiration I can't think of anything more inspiring than continually trying to do the impossible. As JFK once said:

"But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. "

In this country we constantly complain about the state of our education and our lack of a new generation of scientists and engineers, but why should our students strive to achieve these careers? Yes, we have many challenges in medicine and energy, and I agree that these are very important and they can be inspiring to many, but exploration and new discoveries are what (in my opinion) have pushed the boundaries of human imagination. You don't see many movies or read many books about the exciting adventures of engineers developing new energy sources, do you? In ancient times people looked at far away mountains and oceans and wondered what was beyond. They wondered and then they worked to find out and in the process pushed mankind forward. If you wanted to know what their goal was they just needed to point to that nearest mountaintop or to the ocean. Today, we can look to the sky and point to the moon.

UPDATE 4/14/09:
Some valuable (official) resources for those of you writing research papers on why we should fund NASA.


STS-119 On Schedule to launch tomorrow

UPDATE: Launch delayed. Stay up to date at Spaceflight Now's Mission Status Center

"The STS-119 mission will deliver to the station the final set of solar arrays needed to complete the station's complement of electricity-generating solar panels, and through them support the station's expanded crew of six in 2009."

"Over the past year, one new connecting node – Harmony – and two new international partner laboratories – the European Columbus and the Japanese Kibo – have been added to the space station, expanding its capacity for science experiments. And one of the reasons the crew is being expanded is to have more hands aboard performing those experiments. The additional electricity provided by the new solar arrays will help power those experiments."

STS-119 crew member Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will stay aboard the station after the shuttle Discovery leaves replacing Sandy Magnus who arrived on the station in November. Wakata will be the first JAXA station crew member.

STS-119 crew member Joe Acaba is a part of the NASA educator in space program. He spent two years in the U.S. Peace Corp, one year teaching at Melbourne High School, and four years teaching at Dunnellon Middle School (both in Florida). Although he was born in California, both his parents are from Puerto Rico and so he is the first person of Puerto Rican heritage to go into space.

Richard Arnold, another member of the STS-119 crew is also a teacher and a member of the Astronaut educator program. Since 1987 he has taught at middle and college preparatory schools in Maryland, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Romania.



Space Tech of the Week: Kepler

What is it?: "A NASA space telescope designed to search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars." It is NASA's first mission with this capability.

Kepler is a mission under NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, focused science missions. The Kepler Spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral, FL on March 6, 2009, at 10:49 PM Eastern Time.

"There is now clear evidence for substantial numbers of three types of exoplanets; gas giants, hot-super-Earths in short period orbits, and ice giants... The challenge now is to find terrestrial planets (i.e., those one half to twice the size of the Earth), especially those in the habitable zone of their stars where liquid water and possibly life might exist."

"The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery mission #10, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets."

"The scientific objective of the Kepler Mission is to explore the structure and diversity of planetary systems. This is achieved by surveying a large sample of stars to:

  1. Determine the percentage of terrestrial and larger planets there are in or near the habitable zone of a wide variety of stars;
  2. Determine the distribution of sizes and shapes of the orbits of these planets;
  3. Estimate how many planets there are in multiple-star systems;
  4. Determine the variety of orbit sizes and planet reflectivities, sizes, masses and densities of short-period giant planets;
  5. Identify additional members of each discovered planetary system using other techniques; and
  6. Determine the properties of those stars that harbor planetary systems. "

IMAGE: Kepler's Search Area

"Using a space photometer developed by NASA, it will observe the brightness of over 100,000 stars over 3.5 years to detect periodic transits of a star by its planets (the transit method of detecting planets). The mission is named in honor of German astronomer Johannes Kepler."

Official Website: http://kepler.nasa.gov/
Follow it on Twitter: http://twitter.com/nasakepler
Wikipedia Page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler_mission

Star Trek


Space Tech of the Week: Dragon

What is it?: "The SpaceX Dragon is a proposed conventional blunt-cone ballistic capsule spacecraft, capable of carrying seven people or a mixture of personnel and cargo, to and from low Earth orbit. The capsule is being developed by SpaceX. The Dragon capsule will be launched atop a Falcon 9 vehicle."

The Dragon will have both manned and unmanned versions of the vehicle and in its manned version it will be able to carry up to 7 passengers.

"The Dragon capsule is comprised of 3 main elements: the Nosecone, which protects the vessel and the docking adaptor during ascent; the Pressurized Section, which houses the crew and/or pressurized cargo; and the Service Section, which contains avionics, the RCS system, parachutes, and other support infrastructure.

In addition an unpressurized trunk is included, which provides for the stowage of unpressurized cargo and will support Dragon’s solar arrays and thermal radiators."

"To ensure a rapid transition from cargo to crew capability, the cargo and crew configurations of Dragon are almost identical, with the exception of the crew escape system, the life support system and onboard controls that allow the crew to take over control from the flight computer when needed. This focus on commonality minimizes the design effort and simplifies the human rating process, allowing systems critical to Dragon crew safety and ISS safety to be fully tested on uncrewed demonstration flights.

For cargo launches the inside of the capsule is outfitted with a modular cargo rack system designed to accommodate pressurized cargo in standard sizes and form factors. For crewed launches, the interior is outfitted with crew couches, controls with manual override capability and upgraded life-support."

To protect its reentry into Earth's atmosphere it uses a Phenolic impregnated carbon ablator (PICA) heat shield. PICA was developed at NASA Ames Research Center and was the primary heat shield material used for the Stardust space craft.

The vehicle is designed to have lifting re-entry in order to achieve landing precision and low-g's for its crew. It is designed for a water landing and ocean recovery after a slow descent using parachutes.

The Dragon spacecraft project was initiated internally by SpaceX in 2005 and then was submitted as part of SpaceX's proposal for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program on March 3, 2006. COTS purpose is for commercially delivering cargo and crew to the International Space Station. In late December 2008 NASA awarded an ISS cargo delivery contract to SpaceX which calls for a minimum of 20,000 kg of cargo over up to 12 flights to ISS at a cost of $1.6 billion. In the contract there are options to increase the value of the contract to up to $3.1 billion. Included among these options is a crew capable Dragon capsule.



Space Solar Power Satellite UPDATE

Space Solar Power Crowd Bets on Obama

"Advocates of using satellites to beam solar power from space to Earth hope U.S. President Barack Obama's campaign promise to develop alternative energy sources will help resurrect NASA's interest in the technology.

NASA has been without an official space solar power program since 2002, although a coalition of government and private industry volunteers has kept alive visions of demonstrating how the United States might one day draw energy from the sun and transmit it to Earth via microwave beams."

From Yahoo! News Space.com


Space Tech of the Week....none

Sorry, no space tech of the week this week, but I promise it will be back starting next Monday.

In the mean time enjoy this great NASA ad:

and NASA's new lunar architecture (a little out of date, but you'll get the idea)


International Year of Astronomy 2009

Website of the International Year of Astronomy

Space Tech of the Week: AXEL Rover

What is it?: "The Axel rover system is a family of platforms aimed at providing versatile mobility for scientific access and human-oriented exploration of planetary surfaces in the solar system."
"NASA refers to a robot like the Axel rover as a 'tethered marsupial rover' because it would spend most of its time attached to a larger vehicle until it is needed. "

"A primary goal of the Axel system design is minimal complexity. Therefore, the basic Axel rover uses a symmetrical design, with only three actuators to control its wheels and a trailing link. The link serves several purposes: it provides a reaction lever arm against wheel thrust, it adjusts the rover's pitch for pointing its stereo cameras, and it provides redundancy if one of the wheel actuators fails. Using only three actuators, this rover is capable of following arbitrary paths, turning-in-place, and operating upside-down or right-side-up."

"The Axel rover prototype is built like a yo-yo; its tether is wrapped around its central axle. The other end of the tether would be attached to a larger, conventional rover robot, like the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars. "
"When Spirit, for example, encounters a crater, it cannot descend and explore. However, the Axel can; it lets gravity pull down, whirling the rover around. It uses its arm to gather samples; its stereoscopic cameras gather visual details. When it has finished its duties, it can wind itself back up to the top, to be stored again for later use."

JPL Robotics: AXEL
Yahoo! News


Space Tech of the Week: Pancam and Gigapan

What is it?: NASA technology developed to take pictures on Mars used to take the 1,474 megapixel panoramic photo of President Obama’s inauguration .

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Cornell University designed a special high-resolution camera for the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The camera (Pancam) was designed so that scientists on Earth could take panoramic pictures in very high resolution. The camera was able to tilt 180 degrees and rotate 360 degrees. Special software then stitched individual 1-megapixel images together into a high-resolution panorama. This allowed geologists to see the Martian landscape as if they were there on the ground. If they saw something interesting in the distance they then were able to zoom in and take a closer look.

After its successful application on Mars Pancam’s technology was then taken by employees from NASA’s Ames Research Center, Carnegie Mellon University, and Charmed Labs LLC to produce the Earth based Gigapan camera which was used for the inauguration photo.

Gigapan has also been used to create photographic overlays for Google Earth of areas affected by natural disasters (such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake). This allows relief workers to pinpoint areas in need of assistance.

Source: Science @ NASA


Kennedy's New Frontier Speech

Still relevant today 48 years later...

"...I stand here tonight facing west on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch three thousand miles behind us, the pioneers gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build our new West. They were not the captives of their own doubts, nor the prisoners of their own price tags. They were determined to make the new world strong and free -- an example to the world, to overcome its hazards and its hardships, to conquer the enemies that threatened from within and without.

Some would say that those struggles are all over, that all the horizons have been explored, that all the battles have been won, that there is no longer an American frontier. But I trust that no one in this assemblage would agree with that sentiment; for the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won; and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier... the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats.

The New Frontier is here whether we seek it or not.

Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink from that new frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric

That is the choice our nation must make -- a choice that lies between the public interest and private comfort, between national greatness and national decline, between the fresh air of progress and the stale, dank atmosphere of "normalcy," between dedication or mediocrity.

All mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we shall do. And we cannot fail that trust. And we cannot fail to try..."

--John F. Kennedy 1960

Spoken at the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles


International Space Race continues...

Iran claims first launch of its own satellite
From Yahoo! News / Associated Press:
"Iran has successfully sent its first domestically made satellite into orbit, the country's president announced Tuesday, claiming a significant step in an ambitious space program that has worried many international observers."


Space Tech of the Week: The James Webb Space Telescope

What is it?: The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is NASA's next orbiting observatory and the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. A tennis court-sized telescope orbiting far beyond Earth's moon (1 million miles from the Earth), Webb will detect infrared radiation and be capable of seeing in that wavelength as well as Hubble sees in visible light. JWST is a NASA-led international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

This telescope is a large, infrared-optimized space telescope, scheduled for launch in 2013 by an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. Infrared vision is vital to our understanding of the universe. The furthest objects we can detect are seen in infrared light, cooler objects that would otherwise be invisible emit infrared, and infrared light pierces clouds of dust, allowing us to see into their depths.

JWST will have a large mirror, 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) in diameter and a sunshield the size of a tennis court. Both the mirror and sunshade won't fit onto the rocket fully open, so both will fold up and open only once JWST is in outer space.

The JWST's primary scientific mission has four main components:
  • to search for light from the first stars and galaxies which formed in the Universe after the Big Bang,
  • to study the formation and evolution of galaxies,
  • to understand the formation of stars and planetary systems, and
  • to study planetary systems and the origins of life.

JWST will find the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy. JWST will peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems, connecting the Milky Way to our own Solar System. JWST's instruments will be designed to work primarily in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, with some capability in the visible range.

Webb Telescope Site
NASA Webb Telescope Site
Wikipedia Page


This Day in Space History: Columbia Disaster

February 1, 2003

"On the morning of February 1, 2003, the shuttle re-entered the atmosphere after a 16-day scientific mission. NASA lost radio contact at about 0900 EST, only minutes before the expected 0916 landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Video recordings show the craft breaking up in flames over Texas, at an altitude of approximately 39 miles (63 km) and a speed of 12,500 mph (5.6 km/s)."

Wikipedia Article


This Day in Space History: Challenger Disaster

January 28, 1986

"Challenger was destroyed in the second minute of STS-51-L, the orbiter's tenth mission, on January 28, 1986 at 11:38:00 a.m. EST ("51-L".), when an O-ring seal on its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed. The O-rings failed to seal due to a variety of factors, including unusually cold temperatures. This failure allowed a plume of flame to leak out of the SRB and impinge on both the external fuel tank (ET) and SRB aft attachment strut. This caused both structural failure of the ET and the SRB pivoting into the orbiter and ET. The vehicle assembly then broke apart under aerodynamic loads."

Wikipedia Article


This Day in Space History: Apollo 1 Disaster

January 27, 1967

"Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee are killed on the launch pad when a flash fire engulfs their command module during testing for the first Apollo/Saturn mission. They are the first U.S. astronauts to die in the line of duty."

From Wired Article


Space Tech of the Week: Delta IV

What is it?:
The Delta IV is part of a family of Delta rockets that were designed for the United States Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program and commercial satellite business, and are intended to reduce the cost and effort needed to launch payloads into orbit. The Delta IV is available in five versions: Medium, Medium+ (4,2), Medium+ (5,2), Medium+ (5,4), and Heavy, which are tailored to suit specific payload size and weight ranges. Delta IV launch vehicles can accommodate single or multiple payloads on the same mission. The rockets can launch payloads to polar orbits, sun-synchronous orbits, geosynchronous and geosynchronous transfer orbits (GTO), and low Earth orbit (LEO). Delta IV vehicles can launch payloads weighing from 4,300 kg to 12,980 kg to GTO, and can lift over 23,000 kg to LEO.

The first stage of a Delta IV consists of one, or in the Heavy variety three, Common Booster Cores powered by a Rocketdyne RS-68 engine. Unlike most first-stage rocket engines, which use solid fuel or kerosene, the RS-68 engines burn liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

The RS-68 is the first large, liquid-fueled rocket engine designed in the U.S. since the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) in the 1970s. The primary goal for the RS-68 was to reduce cost versus the SSME. Some sacrifices were made in its design hurting its efficiency; however, development time, part count, total cost, and assembly labor were reduced to a fraction of the SSME. The second stage is powered by a Pratt & Whitney RL-10B2 engine, which features an extendable carbon-carbon nozzle to improve specific impulse.

The Delta IV was designed by Boeing and built in Decatur, Alabama by United Launch Alliance (co-owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing) with final assembly at the launch site (LC-37B at Cape Canaveral or SLC-6 at Vandenberg AFB.) by United Launch Alliance. Each Delta IV rocket is assembled horizontally, erected vertically on the launch pad, integrated with its satellite payload, fueled and launched. This process reduces on-pad time to less than 10 days and the amount of time a vehicle is at the launch site to less than 30 days upon arrival from the factory.

The Delta IV entered the space launch market at a period when global capacity was already much higher than demand. It has had difficulty finding a market in commercial launches, and the cost to launch a Delta IV is somewhat higher than that for competing vehicles. In 2003, Boeing pulled the Delta IV from the commercial market, citing low demand and high costs. All but one of the first launches have been paid for by the U.S. Government, with a cost of between $140 million and $170 million.

NASA originally had plans to use the Delta IV Heavy for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the replacement for the Space Shuttle. But these plans changed and the only component from the Delta IV that NASA has adopted is the RS-68 engine that will be used to power part of the Ares V rocket first stage (there are now talks that the RS-68 will be replaced by the Shuttle's SSME engines for the Ares V first stage).

The first payload launched with a Delta IV was the Eutelsat W5 communications satellite. The launch vehicle was a Medium+ (4,2) variant, launched from Cape Canaveral. It carried the communications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) on November 20, 2002.

Delta IV launch on January 18th (17:26):

News on this launch

Boeing's Delta IV Site