Thursday, 29 December 2011

NASA Twin Spacecraft On Final Approach For Moon Orbit

Artist's impression of the GRAIL Spacecraft
(Image Credit NASA)

NASA's twin spacecraft to study the moon from crust to core will make New Year's Eve and New Year's Day main-engine burns to place the duo in lunar orbit. The Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft are scheduled to be placed in orbit beginning at 1:21 p.m. PST (4:21 p.m. EST) for GRAIL-A on Dec. 31, and 2:05 p.m. PST (5:05 p.m. EST) on Jan. 1 for GRAIL-B.

The Earth is approximately 250,000 miles (402,336 kilometers) from the Moon and NASA's Apollo crews took about three days but the GRAIL craft are taking about 30 times that long, covering more than 2.5 million miles (4 million kilometers) using a low-energy, long-duration trajectory. This has allowed the spacecraft's Ultra Stable Oscillator to be continuously powered for several months to reach a stable operating temperature long before it begins making science measurements in lunar orbit.

The spacecraft will transmit radio signals precisely defining the distance between them as they orbit the moon. As they fly over areas of greater and lesser gravity, caused both by visible features such as mountains and craters and by masses hidden beneath the lunar surface. they will move slightly toward and away from each other. An instrument aboard each spacecraft will measure the changes in their relative velocity very precisely and scientists will translate this information into a high-resolution map of the Moon's gravitational field.

The data will allow mission scientists to understand what goes on below the surface. This information will increase our knowledge of how Earth and its rocky neighbors in the inner solar system developed into the diverse worlds we see today. Maria Zuber, GRAIL principal investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said "This mission will rewrite the textbooks on the evolution of the moon."

Thursday, 10 November 2011

NASA Ready For Launch Of 'Curiosity' Mars Rover

Mars Rover (artists impression)
(Image courtesy of NASA)

NASA's Mars Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is in final preparations for launch from Florida's Space Coast at 10:25 am (EST) on November the 25th.

The MSL mission will carry 'Curiosity', a mobile rover with more scientific capability than any ever before sent to another planet. The rover is now on an Atlas V rocket awaiting liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Scheduled to land on Mars in August 2012, the one-ton rover will examine Gale Crater during a nearly two-year prime mission. Curiosity will land near the base of a layered mountain 3 miles (5 kilometers) high inside the crater. The rover will investigate whether environmental conditions ever have been favorable for development of microbial life and preserved evidence of those conditions.

Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as earlier Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The rover will carry a set of 10 science instruments weighing 15 times as much as its predecessors' science payloads.

The mission is challenging and risky because Curiosity is too heavy to use an air-bag cushioned touchdown. The mission will therefore use a new rocket-powered descent stage lowering the rover on a tether like a kind of sky-crane.

The mission will pioneer these precision landing methods during the spacecraft's crucial dive through Mars' atmosphere next August to place the rover onto a smaller landing target than any previously for a Mars mission. The target inside Gale Crater is 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) by 15.5 miles (25 kilometers). Rough terrain just outside that area would have disqualified the landing site without the improved precision.

No mission to Mars since the Viking landers in the 1970s has sought a direct answer to the question of whether life has existed on Mars. Curiosity is not designed to answer that question by itself, but its investigations for evidence about prerequisites for life will steer potential future missions toward answers.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Deep Space Exploration: Orion Spacecraft Test Flight Proposed For 2014

Artists impression of the Orion Spacecraft
(Image courtesy of NASA) 

NASA has confirmed plans for an unmanned test flight of the Orion spacecraft in 2014. This test supports the new Space Launch System (SLS) that aims to take astronauts deeper into space.

The Exploration Flight Test will launch from Cape Canaveral and is planned to include two orbits to a high-apogee, with a high energy re-entry through Earth's atmosphere. Orion will make a water landing and be recovered using operations planned for future human exploration missions.

NASA is developing the Orion spacecraft to launch astronauts to asteroids, the moon, Mars and other destinations using SLS, the new heavy launch vehicle.  EFT-1 will provide data needed to inform design decisions and act as a pathfinder for new approaches to space systems development.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Herschel Space Observatory Provides Clues To Creation of Oceans

The Herschel Mission is a partnership between the European Space Agency and NASA. NASA's contribution was to develop two of the mission's three instruments and supporting data and science analysis.

The Mission has now identified a new cosmic source for the same kind of water that appeared on Earth billions of years ago and created the oceans.   New measurements from the Herschel Space Observatory show that a comet known as "Hartley 2" from the distant Kuiper Belt contains water with the same chemical signature as Earth's oceans.

The Kuiper Belt is a remote region of the solar system, 50 times as far away as the distance between Earth and the sun.  As well as Pluto, the belt has other dwarf planets and numerous comets.

Dariusz Lis, senior research associate in physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena said "Our results with Herschel suggest that comets could have played a major role in bringing vast amounts of water to an early Earth. This finding substantially expands the reservoir of Earth ocean-like water in the solar system to now include icy bodies originating in the Kuiper Belt."

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Aquarius Mission Provides NASA's First Map of Ocean Salinity

NASA's Aquarius mission has produced its first global map of the salinity, or saltiness, of Earth's ocean surface.

The Aquarius/SAC-D (Satélite de Aplicaciones Científicas) observatory is a collaboration between NASA and Argentina's space agency, and was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on June 10.

Commissioning was completed on July 24 and since then Aquarius has been making the first space observations of the concentration of salt  at the ocean surface.  This is providing valuable data for studies of how variations in salinity influence the ocean's deep circulation and defines the path freshwater takes around Earth.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Moon Mission In Final Preparations For September 8th Launch

Image credit: NASA

NASA's Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), mission to study the moon is in final launch preparations for a scheduled September 8th launch onboard a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

GRAIL's twin spacecraft are tasked for a nine-month mission to explore the Moon in unprecedented detail. They will determine the structure of the lunar interior from crust to core and advance our understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon.

David Lehman, GRAIL project manager for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said "Yesterday's final encapsulation of the spacecraft is an important mission milestone. Our two spacecraft are now sitting comfortably inside the payload fairing which will protect them during ascent. Next time the GRAIL twins will see the light of day they will be about 95 miles up and accelerating."

The spacecraft twins, GRAIL A and B, will fly a circuitous route to lunar orbit taking 3.5 months and covering approximately 2.6 million miles (4.2 million kilometers) for GRAIL-A, and 2.7 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) for GRAIL-B.

In lunar orbit, the spacecraft will transmit radio signals precisely defining the distance between them. Regional gravitational differences on the moon are expected to expand and contract that distance. GRAIL scientists will use these accurate measurements to define the moon's gravity field. The data will allow mission scientists to understand what goes on below the surface of our natural satellite.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Shuttle Atlantis Lands Safely For The Last Time

The Shuttle Atlantis landed safely at 05.57 EDT (10.57 GMT) in perfect conditions after 13 days in space. The STS-135 astronauts, Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim, successfully completed all the mission objectives at the International Space Station and are the last ever to travel on a Space Shuttle.

Space Shuttle Atlantis display at Kennedy Space Center

Once Atlantis is finally decommissioned, it will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said "Here at the Kennedy Space Center where every shuttle mission and so many other historic human space flights have originated, we'll showcase my old friend, Atlantis."

Shuttle Atlantis will be suspended in the air with cargo bay doors opened, so it appears to be back in orbit around the Earth. A multi-story digital projection of the home planet that will rotate behind the orbiter in a 64,000 square-foot indoor facility. The exhibit will open in 2013.

Shuttle Atlantis STS-135 Daily Mission Recap - Flight Day 13

Sunday, 10 July 2011

STS-135 Daily Mission Recap - Flight Day 2

Shuttle Atlantis Atlantis Docks to International Space Station

Astronauts Chris Ferguson, STS-135 commander, and Sandy Magnus, mission specialist, on the aft flight deck of the space shuttle Atlantis during the mission's second day of activities in Earth orbit.
(Photo credit: NASA)

At 11:07 am EDT Commander Chris Ferguson guided space shuttle Atlantis into pressurized mating adapter #2 on the International Space Station’s Harmony node. The two spacecraft were flying about 240 miles high, east of New Zealand, at the time they docked.

This was the 12th and final time Atlantis docked to the space station. It was the 46th shuttle docking to a space station, nine to the Russian Mir station and 37 to the International Space Station. Atlantis performed seven of the nine Mir dockings. This was the 86th space shuttle rendezvous operation and the 164th “proximity operation” in the history of the Space Shuttle Program, where a shuttle conducted operations in close proximity to another spacecraft.

The shuttle and station crews will open hatches and hold the traditional welcome ceremony at about 1:19 p.m. Atlantis’ crew of Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim will join Expedition 28 Commander Andrey Borisenko and Flight Engineers Alexander Samokutyaev and Sergei Volkov of Russia, Satoshi Furukawa from Japan, and NASA’s Ron Garan and Mike Fossum.

The combined crew of 10 begins more than a week of docked operations, transferring vital supplies and equipment to sustain station operations once the shuttles are retired.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Shuttle Atlantis launched successfully on STS-135, the final mission

Photo Credit NASA HD TV

The Shuttle Atlantis launched successfully on STS-135, the final mission at 11.29 am (16.29 BST) after a short delay due to a technical fault.

The historic final ever shuttle mission was nearly delayed by adverse weather, with showers and thunderstorms within 20 nautical miles of the Shuttle Landing Facility for much of the countdown.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Atlantis Astronauts Arrive at Kennedy Space Center

STS-135 Crew: Sandy Magnus, Pilot Doug Hurley, Commander Chris Ferguson
 and Mission Specialist Rex Walheim. (Image credit: NASA TV) 
The astronauts for space shuttle Atlantis' STS-135 mission have arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson said "As our children and our children's children ask us, we want to be able to say, 'We remember when there was a space shuttle.'"  he was accompanied by Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

Their T-38 jets touched down at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility at about 5:30 p.m. EDT. The crew will participate in the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test and related training. The countdown full dress rehearsal is scheduled for Thursday morning.

Astronaut Sandy Magnus said "It’s going to be a challenging mission with only four of us but really the driver for that is the fact that our rescue scenario’s a little bit different than normal. Ever since Columbia, we’ve been mandated to have a shuttle on the pad ready to launch in case the crew has an issue with the orbiter and they need to be rescued. Because we are the last orbiter, there’s not an orbiter there waiting for us so our rescue scenario involves the Soyuz capsules which we’re flying to station via the Russians, and on the Soyuz capsules only one person can come down at a time. With a crew of four it takes a year to get everybody down and that was deemed to be enough. You don’t want to have six or seven people up there it would take close to two years to get everybody down".

Atlantis is being prepared for the STS-135 mission, the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program, targeted for launch July 8.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Preparation for the final Space Shuttle Mission

Space Shuttle Atlantis on the launch pad (Image Credit NASA)

Space Shuttle Atlantis is being prepared for the STS-135 mission, the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program, targeted for launch on July the 8th.

The mission's four astronauts are scheduled to fly to Kennedy from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston in T-38 jets, arriving at 15:45 EDT (22.45 GMT) to begin their prelaunch countdown rehearsal. Their arrival at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility will be shown live on NASA TV.

At Launch Pad 39A in Florida technicians are X-raying the 50 support beams, called stringers, on the shuttle-facing side of space shuttle Atlantis' external fuel tank. This should take about a week to complete but no problems are anticipated with the tank's stringers. Scans began Sunday due to strong storms on Saturday, which caused no damage to the shuttle and pad.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Launchpad

Photo Credit: NASA
Space shuttle Atlantis has completed the 3.4 mile journey from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A.

The external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters were secured to the launch pad at 3:29 a.m. The move began last night at 8:42 p.m. and took approximately 7 hours.

Space Shuttle Endeavour Lands Safely After Final Mission

Image Credit: NASA
Space Shuttle Endeavour landed at Kennedy Space Center at 02.35 EST (07.35 GMT) after successfully completing 16 days in space and more than 6.5 million miles.

Crew members Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Gregory H. Johnson and Mission Specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori delivered the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) and spare parts including two S-band communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank and additional spare parts for Dextre.

This was the final flight of Endeavour, which will now be decommissioned for permanent display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.   Endeavour launched on its first mission on May 7, 1992 and has spent 299 days in space and travelled more than 122.8 million miles during its 25 flights.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Endeavour Ready for Final Flight Home

Image Credit: NASA
Space shuttle Endeavour will return to Earth for the final time on Wednesday, June 1, completing the 16 day mission to upgrade  the International Space Station.

When Endeavour lands on Wednesday it will have spent 299 days in space and traveled more than 122.8 million miles on 25 flights.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Endeavour Set for Return to Earth - Day 14 Video Recap

The six crew members of space shuttle Endeavour have said farewell to the three Expedition 28 crew members aboard the International Space Station and at 4.38 am EDT (9.38 GMT), Space Shuttle Endeavour fired its jets to complete the final separation from the International Space Station, setting it on its course for return to Earth Wednesday, June 1.

The shuttle's re-rendezvous with the space station for the Sensor Test for Orion Relative-navigation Risk Mitigation, known as 'STORRM', was completed as planned with Commander Mark Kelly flying Endeavour to an approach within about 950 feet of the station as the systems visual navigation system was tested.

The hatches between the two spacecraft had been opened at 7:38 a.m. on May 18 and were open for joint crew operations for a total of 10 days, 23 hours, and 45 minutes.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Endeavour STS-134 Daily Mission Recap Video - Flight Day 12

A video recap of flight day 12 of the STS-134 mission of space shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station:

(Video credit: NASA)

Friday, 27 May 2011

Endeavour Astronauts Successfully Complete Final Spacewalk

Astronaut Mike Fincke (Image credit:NASA)

Endeavour Astronauts Mike Fincke and Greg Chamitoff have successfully completed  the fourth and final spacewalk of the mission. Taking seven hours and twenty four minutes, the primary objectives for the spacewalk were accomplished, including stowing the 50-foot long boom and adding a power and data grapple fixture to extend the reach of the International Space Station's robotic arm.

This was the last spacewalk ever to be conducted by space shuttle astronauts. At 5:02 a.m., Fincke and Chamitoff surpassed the 1,000th hour astronauts and cosmonauts have spent spacewalking in support of space station assembly and maintenance.

It was the 248th spacewalk U.S. astronauts have conducted and the 118th from space station airlocks and Mike Fincke's ninth – and at  20.00 EST this evening, he will become the U.S. astronaut who has spent the most number of days in space, surpassing Peggy Whitson's record of 377 days in space.

The Endeavour is due to return to Earth on June 1st.

Record 1000 Hours on Final Shuttle Spacewalk

Image credit: NASA
Astronauts and cosmonauts have now spent 1,000 hours spacewalking for assembly and maintenance of the International Space Station. 

Spacewalkers Mike Fincke and Greg Chamitoff surpassed the 1,000th hour 4 hours and 47 minutes into today's spacewalk, at 5:02 a.m. EDT. It is the final spacewalk of this mission and the last ever by space shuttle astronauts.

Endeavour STS-134 Daily Mission Recap - Flight Day 11

A video recap of flight day 11 of the STS-134 mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station:

(Video courtesy of NASA)

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Endeavour STS-134 Daily Mission Recap - Flight Day 9 (Video)

A video recap of flight day 9 of the STS-134 mission of space shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station.

Third Endeavour Mission Spacewalk Successfully Completed

Photo credit: NASA

Astronauts Drew Feustel and Mike Fincke have successfully completed the third of four planned spacewalks.  The six-hour, 54-minute spacewalk ended at 8:37 a.m. EDT.  They completed all planned tasks, installing cables to increase redundancy for the power system on the Russian segment of the station, completing the external wireless antenna system work started during the first spacewalk.

This was the 247th spacewalk conducted by NASA Astronauts and the 158th in support of space station assembly and maintenance, totaling 995 hours, 13 min.

If all goes as planned, the 1,000th hour of space station assembly and maintenance will be logged during the final spacewalk on Friday, when Mike Fincke will secure the record for the most days in space, currently held by Peggy Whitson who has spent 377 days in space.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Endeavour Crew Complete Second Spacewalk

Mission Specialists Drew Feustel (top) and Mike Fincke on the second
 spacewalk of the STS-134 mission
Image credit: NASA TV
Spacewalkers Mike Fincke and Drew Feustel successfully completed their mission's second spacewalk at 10:12 am EDT (15.12 GMT). Mike Fincke installed two radiator grapple bar stowage beams to the International Space Station while astronaut Drew Feustel worked on the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, called ‘Dextre’.

Lasting eight hours and seven minutes this second of the four spacewalks on the STS-134 mission and the 246th spacewalk by US astronauts. It was Derew Feustel's fifth spacewalk for a total time of 35 hours and 24 minutes and Fincke's seventh spacewalk for a total time of 34 hours.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Launch Date Set For Final Space Shuttle Flight

Image Credit: NASA

NASA's final space shuttle flight is targeted to launch on July 8 at about 11:40 am EDT (16.40 GMT) from the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Mission STS-135 for the Space Shuttle Atlantis will deliver supplies and essential spares to the International Space Station.

The 12-day mission also will deliver an experiment designed to test the tools, technologies and techniques needed to robotically refuel satellites. Chris Ferguson, a veteran of two previous shuttle missions, will command Atlantis with Doug Hurley as pilot.  Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim have been named as the mission specialists.

STS-135 will be Atlantis' 33rd mission and the 37th shuttle flight dedicated to International Space Station assembly and maintenance. It will be the 135th and final mission of NASA's Space Shuttle Program.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Endeavour Mission STS-134 First Spacewalk

STS-134 Crew: NASA astronauts Mark Kelly (bottom center), commander; Gregory H. Johnson, pilot; Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency’s Roberto Vittori, all mission specialists. Image credit: NASA 

Mission Specialists Drew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff have completed the first of four spacewalks of their mission. The spacewalk began at 3:10 am EDT (8.10am GMT) when Drew and Greg switched their suits to battery power, signifying the start of today's work.

Feustel and Chamitoff had a busy time as they retrieved two long term experiments and installed a new package of experiments on ELC-2, which is already on the International Space Station. They also installed jumpers between segments on the left-side truss, or backbone of the station, for ammonia refills and fitted an external wireless communication antenna on the Destiny laboratory that will provide wireless communication to the Express Logistics Carriers.

A carbon dioxide sensor failure in Chamitoff’s spacesuit meant that flight controllers limited his spacewalk time to 6 hours and 20 minutes - 10 minutes less than the planned time - bit still a long time in a space suit!

NASA scientists are analysing images taken from the International Space Station of Endeavour’s thermal protection system during the backflip maneuver while the shuttle approached the ISS. A decision on whether the inspection is required or not is expected later today.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Latest on the Endeavour Mission: STS-134

AMS in the cargo bay  - Image credit : NASA
The crew of space shuttle Endeavour woke today to “Luna” by Jose Serrano was played for Mission Specialist Greg Chamitoff. (Jose is a personal friend and wrote the song especially for this mission).

First Mission STS-134 spacewalk

The crew will also begin preparation for the mission's first spacewalk.  Drew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff will have to get used to reduced air pressure to purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams and prevent the risk of the “bends”.

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS)

The main focus if the mission was achieved at 5:46 a.m. EDT, when the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS) was installed successfully on the outside of the International Space Station's right side. Mission Specialists Andrew Feustel and Roberto Vittori used the space shuttle’s robotic arm to extract it from Endeavour's payload bay. They handed it off to the space station’s Pilot Greg Johnson and Mission Specialist Greg Chamitoff then used the robotic arm to install AMS on the starboard side of the space station.

The AMS is a two ton ring of powerful magnets and detectors to track cosmic rays in a search for various types of unusual matter. The AMS will be operated remotely from Earth, automatically sending information to scientists for the life of the station.T

The AMS team will monitor the experiment 24 hours a day, gathering data and using a large magnet to create a magnetic field to bend the path of the charged particles traveling through space.

Hundreds of scientists from sixteen countries are working together on the project to determine what composes the universe and how it began, so the AMS could provide information about pulsars, blazers and gamma ray bursts that help us understand the cosmos.

Moon-Luna Llena Music Video

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Space Shuttle Atlantis Starts Final Voyage

(Image credit: NASA)

Shuttle Atlantis is making its final planned move from the Orbiter Processing Facility-1 to the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for fitting of its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters.. The move is called the "rollover" and marks the start of  the STS-135 mission to the International Space Station, planned for July.

This will be the final flight for Atlantis and the last ever shuttle mission. Atlantis was the fourth shuttle built and was completed in half the time spent on Columbia through the use of large thermal protection blanket, rather than individual tiles. Atlantis was delivered to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 9, 1985 and has successfully completed 33 missions in space.

Endeavour Docking with Space Station

(Image Credit: NASA)
Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly and pilot Johnson will fly Endeavour for docking with the International Space Station today. An hour before docking, the shuttle will make what NASA nicknamed a “backflip” while the crew take as many pictures as they can of Endeavour's heat shield for analysts to examine.

After docking it is planned that the crew, consisting of Kelly and Johnson, shuttle Mission Specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and the European Space Agency’s Roberto Vittori will join the ISS crew at 8:36 a.m EST (13.36 GMT) for twelve days of experiments and maintenance work. These will include looking at cellular biology, radiation, plant growth and aging, how diet may affect night vision and how an electronic device can check air quality in spacecraft.

Waiting to meet them are ISS Commander Dmitry Kondratyev and Flight Engineers Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev of Russia, Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency, and NASA's Cady Coleman and Ron Garan.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Shuttle Endeavour launched successfully on STS-134 mission to ISS

(Image Credit NASA HD TV)
Space Shuttle Endeavour launched successfully on its final flight at 08.56 am EDT Friday, May 16, on a mission to the International Space Station.  

The STS-134 mission

As part of the STS-134 mission Endeavour will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS), a particle physics detector designed to operate from the station and search for various types of unusual matter. Also on board for delivery are spare parts on the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 3 (ELC3), including two S-band communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank, ammonia tank assembly, circuit breaker boxes, a Canadarm2 computer and a spare arm for the Dextre robot.

The ELC3 also houses a suite of Department of Defense (DoD) experiments that will test systems and materials concepts for long duration spaceflight in low Earth orbit. The STS-134 mission includes four space walks for station maintenance, experiment swap out and transferring Endeavour’s orbiter boom sensor system (OBSS) to the station.  The crew will leave the boom as a permanent fixture to aid future station space walks if needed.

Endeavour’s final landing

Endeavour’s final landing is scheduled for 2:32 am EDT on June 1st at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  At the time of its scheduled landing, Endeavour will have travelled more than 100 million miles during 25 flights and spent more than 294 days in space.

NASA launch video

Shuttle Endeavour is set for launch at 8:56 am EDT (13.56 GMT).

(Image Credit: NASA)
Space shuttle Endeavour’s external fuel tank was filled with more than 500,000 gallons of super cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen began at 11:36 p.m. EDT and the count down restarted at T-6 hours following a two-hour built in hold. 

Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters continues to predict a 70 percent chance of favorable weather for today’s launch. The only concerns are for low cloud ceilings and high crosswinds at the Shuttle Landing Facility. 

Endeavour’s launch is therefore on target for 8:56 am. EDT. Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach said the countdown is going extremely well and the team is ready to go. 

Watch the final launch of Endeavour on NASA Television and at

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Endeavour Launch Delay Update

NASA have announced that technicians and engineers are narrowing in on the likely source of what caused heaters on a fuel line for space shuttle Endeavour’s auxiliary power unit-1 (APU-1) to fail on Friday, resulting in the postponement of the Friday launch attempt for the STS-134 mission.

The NASA launch planning teams will meet Monday and are expected to determine a new “no earlier than” next launch attempt for Endeavour at that time.   

Space Shuttle Program Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses said "We can tell you, pretty much, that it's not going to be any earlier than May 8 (as) there's still a whole lot of short-term work that has to be done."

Problem with power control box

Test results indicate the problem is with a power control box, the aft load control assembly-2 (ALCA-2) in Endeavour’s aft compartment. Teams are working on plans to replace the box or any faulty associated hardware. The launch team currently is backing out of launch countdown operations.  There still are numerous factor to be worked out, but just based on the amount of time needed for repairs a new launch is unlikely before the end of the week, at the soonest. 

Endeavour’s six astronauts are heading back to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for a few days of additional training before they return for the next launch attempt.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour is ready to launch

Pictured clockwise in the STS-134 crew astronauts Mark Kelly (bottom center), commander; Gregory H. Johnson, pilot; Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency’s Roberto Vittori,  Image credit: NASA 

NASA has confirmed that the Space Shuttle Endeavour is ready to launch next week on its final flight to the International Space Station.  Endeavour is scheduled to launch on Friday April 29th at 3:47 p.m. EDT.

There were previously concerns that the launch could be delayed because the external fuel tank had been damaged by Hurricane Katrina but repairs and inspections have now been successfully completed.

Endeavour is now ready on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the countdown will begin on Tuesday at 2 p.m.

Launch Director  Mike Leinbach  said "The final processing flow for Endeavour is going extremely well out at the pad. I'm very proud of the team and we'll going to have a good launch and a good mission."

The STS-134 crew will arrive at Kennedy on Tuesday, April 26, for final launch preparations.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

NASA Announces Museum Locations for Space Shuttles After Retirement

Proposed Shuttle display at Kennedy Center (Image Credit NASA)
NASA has announced where the four shuttle orbiters will be located for permanent display after the Space Shuttle Program ends.

Enterprise in New York City

Enterprise, the first Space Shuttle ever built, will will be moved to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.  Over 150,000 people signed a petition to bring Enterprise to New York City and the museum expects more than a million people a year to visit to see the Shuttle exhibition.

Discovery at Smithsonian

Discovery will be based at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.  The Space Shuttle will be displayed in the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar, replacing Space shuttle Enterprise which is currently on display and has been seen by nine million visitors since 2003.

Endeavour  for California Science Center 

Endeavour, which is preparing for its final flight at the end of this month is going to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, where it will become the centre piece of the museum's Humans in Space exhibition,

Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center

Atlantis, which will fly the last planned shuttle mission in June, will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Center is building a home for Atlantis in the marquee element of the Space Center Visitor Complex that will  include displays for viewing the space shuttle in flight, showing how the spacecraft worked and provide a viewing points for visitors to see get a close up look at the Shuttle. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour's Launch Scheduled for April 29th

Endeavour crew rehearsal
Image credit NASA

NASA has set a new date and time of 3:47 p.m. EDT on Friday, April 29 for the launch of space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission.  The delay means that there is no longer a timing conflict with the Russian Progress supply vehicle which is planned for launch on April 27 to arrive at the International Space Station April 29.

NASA managers will hold a Flight Readiness Review on Tuesday, April 19, to assess the team's readiness to support launch. An official launch date will be selected at the conclusion of the meeting.

Minor storm damage to Space Shuttle Endeavour

Severe storms that hit Kennedy Space Centre on Wednesday and Thursday last week inflicted minor damage to space shuttle Endeavour's external fuel tank foam.  This was found during detailed inspections Saturday by technicians and engineers on Launch Pad 39A.

Final flight for Space Shuttle Endeavour

Shuttle mission STS-134 is the final flight for Endeavour and the second to last flight for the Space Shuttle Program. The 14 day mission will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS) to the International Space Station. AMS, a particle physics detector, is designed to search for unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays.

Endeavour also will carry the Express Logistics Carrier 3 (ELC-3), a platform that carries spare parts that will sustain space station operations once the shuttles are retired from service. The mission will include four spacewalks to do maintenance work and install new components. These are the very last scheduled space walks by shuttle crew members.

Friday, 1 April 2011

NASA publish new information about the Rings of Jupiter and Saturn

Jupiter ring system (Image credit NASA)
NASA scientists working with new data from the Cassini, Galileo and New Horizons missions have matched ‘ripples’ in the rings around Saturn and Jupiter's with collisions with comets.

Comets colliding with rings

Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 passed through Jupiter’s rings in July 1994 and Saturn's rings were distorted by comet debris in 1983.  The collision tilted a region more than 12,000 miles (19,000 kilometers) wide, covering part of the D ring and the next outermost ring, called the C ring. Unfortunately, spacecraft were not visiting Saturn at that time and the event was on the far side of the sun out of range of space-based telescopes.

Dr Linda Spilker, a Cassini project scientist, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena said "Finding these fingerprints still in the rings is amazing and helps us better understand impact processes in our solar system," said Calif. "Cassini's long sojourn around Saturn has helped us tease out subtle clues that tell us about the history of our origins."

Monday, 28 March 2011

STS-134 Mission – Space Shuttle Endeavour

The Space Shuttle Endeavour is planned to launch for the penultimate shuttle misison STS-134 to the International Space Station at 7:48 p.m. EDT on April 19th 2011.

The crew for space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission are Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Gregory H. Johnson and Mission Specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori.

During the 14-day mission Endeavour's six astronauts will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 to the International Space Station.  This is a particle physics detector designed to search for unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays.  Endeavour's payload also includes the Express Logistics Carrier-3, a platform that carries spare parts that will sustain station operations once the shuttles are retired later this year

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Shuttle Discovery STS-133 Mission Crew

Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
NASA Astronauts and STS-133 mission crew members, from left, Mission Specialists Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt, Pilot Eric Boe, Commander Steve Lindsey, Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, and Steve Bowen pose for a photograph in front of the space shuttle Discovery after they landed, Wednesday, March 9, 2011, at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., completing Discovery's 39th and final flight. Since 1984, Discovery flew 39 missions, spent 365 days in space, orbited Earth 5,830 times and traveled 148,221,675 miles.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Space Shuttle Discovery Lands Safely

Photo credit: NASA
The Space Shuttle Discovery Landed safely at 11.57 EST (16.57 GMT) on Wednesday 9th March 2011 on runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center, marking the end of a historic journey after twelve days in space. The weather was good and the NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was waiting to meet the crew of the very last mission of Shuttle Discovery.

Shuttle Discovery entry speed

The orbital velocity of Discovery was Mach 25, which is over 8,500 miles a second. The crew had to turn the wings in a series of rolling and banking manoeuvres to dissipate as much of the speed as possible.

This enabled the spacecraft to enter the Earth’s atmosphere at an angle of 40 degrees that would not place excessive demands on the thermal heat shield. The temperature on the outside of Discovery was as high as 3,000 degrees, which is higher than the melting point of steel but well within the design limits.

The flight control surfaces became active once Space Shuttle Discovery reached a speed of less than Mach 3.5 which is about 2,500 miles an hour.

Breaking the sound barrier

Sonic booms announced the arrival of Space Shuttle Discovery at the Kennedy Space Center and as the spacecraft made the approach it was travelling at over 600 miles an hour and the rate of descent was over 280 feet per second.

A perfect landing

The landing speed when Space Shuttle Discovery touched down on the runway was measured by the onboard computers as 224 miles per hour. NASA confirmed the offficial mission time as 12 days, 19 hours, 3 minutes and 53 seconds.

Future plans for Space Shuttle Discovery

The Shuttle Discovery will undergo a series of tests before being ending its long service as a museum exhibit.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Space Shuttle Discovery Makes Final Return to Earth Wednesday March 9th 2011

Discovery final mission (Photo Credit NASA)
The Space shuttle Discovery is expected to return to Earth for the final time on Wednesday, March 9th at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:57 am EST.

An alternative landing window has also been scheduled for 1:34 pm EST depending on weather conditions in Florida.  The backup landing site is also ready at Edwards Air Force Base.

Successful final mission

Discovery will be completing a 13 day mission to the International Space Station after the original schedule was expended by one day. Shuttle

Discovery undocked from the International Space Station at 6 am CST on the 7th March 2011 after eight days, 16 hours and 46 minutes.

Station Commander Scott Kelly praised the cooperation among crew members of both spacecraft. Discovery Commander Steve Lindsey said the team effort had allowed them “to accomplish well over 100 percent of our objectives.”

Discovery was the first space shuttle to dock with the International Space Station, during the STS-96 mission in 1999.

Final landing

When Discovery lands it will have spent 365 days in space and travelled more than 148 million miles during 39 flights. After touchdown, the Discovery crew will have routine physical examinations and meet their families.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Glory Satellite Disaster

NASA have announced that it will set up a Glory Satellite Mishap Investigation Board after the  spacecraft failed to reach orbit following its successful launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Problem with separation
Scientists say that telemetry indicates that the protective fairing shell on top of the satellite's Taurus XL rocket did not separate as expected.

The launch proceeded as planned from its liftoff at 5:09 a.m. EST through the ignition of the Taurus XL's second stage. However, the fairing failure occurred during the second stage engine burn. It is likely the spacecraft fell into the South Pacific, although the exact location has yet to be identified. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Discovery Crew Prepare for Second Spacewalk

STS-133 and Expedition 26 crew pose for a photo in the PMM
 (Image credit: NASA TV)
At 6:17 p.m. EST on Wednesday 02 Mar 2011 the International Space Station Commander Scott Kelly became the first crew member to enter the newly-installed Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) that was successfully delivered by the Space Shuttle Discovey on its very last misison.

The Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM)

The Permanent Multipurpose Module was secured to the Earth-facing port of the International Space Station’s Unity node and will provide 2,472 cubic feet of much needed pressurized storage space and more room for scientific experiments.

Second space walk

Following the first successful space walk of the mission by Steve Bowen, Mission Specialists Steve Bowen and Alvin Drew are preparing for the second spacewalk of the mission by “camping out” in the Quest airlock. Steve Bowen replaced Tim Kopra as Mission Specialist 2 following an unfortunate bicycle injury on January  15th.  As Steve Bowen last flew on Atlantis in May 2010 as part of the STS-132 crew, his part in the STS-133 mission makes him the first astronaut ever to fly on consecutive missions.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Shuttle Discovery Docks With Space Station for Last Time

The Space shuttle Discovery docked with the International Space Station at 2:14 p.m. EST Saturday, STS-133 Commander Steve Lindsey reversed Discovery into pressurized mating adapter #2 on the International Space Station’s Harmony node.

Docked over Australia

The two spacecraft were flying about 220 miles above western Australia at the time they docked.

Discovery was the first space shuttle to dock to a space station when it docked to Russia’s Mir station on mission STS-91 on June 4, 1998. Discovery also was the first shuttle to dock to the International Space Station on STS-96 on May 29, 1999. This was Discovery’s 13th and final docking to the space station.

Discovery crew board Space Ststion 

The shuttle and station crews opened hatches at 4:16 p.m. Discovery’s crew of Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe, and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Mike Barratt and Nicole Stott joined Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineers Oleg Skripochka, Alexander Kaleri, Dmitry Kondratyev, Paolo Nespoli, and Cady Coleman

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Space Shuttle Discovery Launched on Final Mission

The Space Shuttle Discovery launched from Launch Pad 39A in perfect conditions at 4:50 p.m. EST, after a last minute drama at 5 minutes to launch when the hold went within 15 seconds of aborting due to a problem on the range that was resolved just in time!

Shuttle Mission STS-133

Mission STS-133 is to deliver essential equipment to the International Space Station.  The six astronauts are led by Commander Steve Lindsey and Pilot Eric Boe, who are in the two forward seats on the flight deck with Mission Specialists Alvin Drew and Nicole Stott sitting behind them. On the lower level or middeck are astronauts Steve Bowen and Michael Barratt.

Final Flight of Discovery

Following the STS-133 mission, Discovery will be the first of the shuttle fleet to retire. 
STS-133 Commander Steve Lindsey said “Besides the excitement of completing the International Space Station and all the things we do, I hope people get a sense of the history of what the shuttle is and what we’ve done and what’s ending. Because they’ll probably never see anything like it flying again.”

Shuttle Discovery landing

Shuttle Discovery is returning to Earth on March 7, 2011, with a target landing time of 12:44 p.m. EST, at the Kennedy Space Center, when it will have completed eleven days in space.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Shuttle Discovery's launch tomorrow at 4:50 p.m. EST

At today's pre-launch news conference NASA's mission management team have given their unanimous approval for space shuttle Discovery's launch tomorrow at 4:50 p.m. EST.   "Everything is on track and going beautifully with the countdown," said Mike Moses, mission management team chair. "We're really looking forward to a very action-packed, successful mission and everything is on track."

Weather forecast good

The weather at the launch site remains exceptional with only a 20 percent chance that weather will be prohibitive at launch time. The only slight issue may be a localized off-shore shower in the late afternoon. The forecast during tanking is also looking good.

NASA TV Coverage

At 7:15 a.m. EST NASA TV will begin coverage of the fueling of the external tank. Launch coverage for Discovery's final mission to the International Space Station will begin at 11:30 a.m.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Space Shuttle Discovery Ready for Launch

NASA managers declared Discovery ready to launch next week on a mission to the International Space Station following a daylong Flight Readiness Review on Friday. Discovery is scheduled to launch Thursday, Feb. 24, at 4:50 p.m. EST.

Review of test results

Managers, engineers and contractors went over the detailed analysis and testing performed on the support beams of Discovery's external fuel tank during the session and reviewed the repairs and modifications made. The processes of the repairs and testing involved people throughout the agency and its centers.

Shuttle crew change

The crew also underwent a change recently when astronaut Steve Bowen was assigned to take the place of Tim Kopra who was injured in a bicycle accident.  "Overall the crew was in really good shape and felt really comfortable with this change," said Mike Moses, chairman of the Mission Management Team.

Discovery is poised for Launch

Discovery is poised on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The countdown is to begin Monday at 3 p.m.
Final voyage of Discovery

Discovery flew its maiden voyage on Aug. 30, 1984, on the STS-41D mission.  Later missions included NASA’s return to flight after the loss of Challenger (September 1988) and Columbia (July 2005), launch of the Hubble Space Telescope in April 1990, the final Shuttle/Mir docking mission in June 1998 and Senator John Glenn’s shuttle flight in October 1998. When Discovery retires this year it will have flown in space 39 times, more than any other shuttle.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Shuttle Discovery Crew Lock Down

On Thu, 17 Feb 2011 Technicians preparing Space Shuttle Discovery for launch on the 24th of February closed the inter tank door on the shuttle's external fuel tank at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Teams are performing final inspections on the spacecraft and will fill up several orange bags with water at the flame trench at Launch Pad 39A.

The sausage-shaped bags called ‘water troughs’ are suspended beneath the nozzles of the solid rocket boosters. At ignition, they burst open and the water helps dampen the sound waves generated by the boosters.

At NASA's Johnson Space Center, STS-133 crew members are enjoying a day off today before entering quarantine in their crew quarters in advance of the targeted launch date.
The crew consists of Commander Steven Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Steve Bowen and Nicole Stott. Bowen replaced astronaut Tim Kopra, who was injured in an accident in January.

Discovery will deliver and install the Permanent Multipurpose Module, the Express Logistics Carrier 4 and provide critical spare components to the International Space Station. This will be the 35th shuttle mission to the station and the final mission for the elderly spacecraft.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Colliding Galaxies form 'heart' in space

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has found a pair of colliding galaxies over 430 million light years from Earth in the shape of a giant pink heart.

Mysterious black holes

The new discovery, code named Arp 147, is the result of two galaxies colliding in deep space. The result of this cataclysmic event is an expanding wave of new stars, exploding supernovas and mysterious black holes with mass that could be twenty times that of our Sun. Studies with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and ultraviolet observations with NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) have enabled scientists to estimate that the most intense formation of new stars in these galaxies may have ended 15 million years ago. 

Amazing pictures of colliding galaxies

A composite image of Arp 147 has been prepared by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.  Stunning images of colliding galaxies have been created by combining X-rays from the NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, which show as pink, with red, green and blue optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope. 
Giant ring of black holes in space

Sources:  NASA February 9, 2011 and October 1st, 2010 issue of The Astrophysical Journal, Authors Saul Rappaport and Alan Levine from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, David Pooley from Eureka Scientific and Benjamin Steinhorn, also from MIT.

Photo Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/S Rappaport et al