Sunday, April 11, 2010

NASA (women) astronauts set record

When Shuttle Discovery linked with the International Space Station this week it marked the first time so many women astronauts were on orbit together.
And really, as far as SpaceBlog Alpha is concerned, it's about damn time.

The female crew now gathered at the ISS include Discovery mission specialists Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, 34, a former high school science teacher; Stephanie Wilson, 43, a veteran of two shuttle missions; Naoko Yamazaki, 39, an astronaut with the Japanese space agency since 1996; and NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, 40, a member of the three person team already aboard the station.

Russia was the first nation to send a woman into space with the launch of Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova in 1963. Shamefully, NASA couldn't manage to accomplish that feat until 1983 with the launch of Astronaut Sally Ride.

As far as astronauts go, the current women in space are every bit as skilled as Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, and a heckuva lot better looking. NASA TV hasn't been this much fun to watch since, well, ever.

But perhaps most importantly, they continue to set a fine example for young girls around the world who have begun to look at the Final Frontier as just another glass ceiling to break.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mixed reviews for Hubble 3-D IMAX

Not everyone loves the new Hubble 3-D IMAX movie now playing at the National Air and Space Museum (I'm talking to YOU Washington Post).

Of course there are some folks who don't like the Mona Lisa and wonder why she didn't pluck her eyebrows.

The film captures the experience of astronauts tasked with the 2009 HST repair mission.

For myself, I can't help but be excited at the notion of getting that much closer to actually experiencing space flight and gaining a better understanding of the known universe as seen through the eyes of the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA is not known for great film-making (have you ever watched NASA TV? [BORING]) and partnering with Warner Bros. was their only saving grace. But just being surrounded by such glorious images, immersing the viewer in the experience, is in itself a fantastic idea and I, for one, hope to see more of it. Regardless of the scripting...

Hubble Space Telescope Model Kit
Space Views from the Hubble Telescope 2010 Wall Calendar
Hubble: Imaging Space and Time

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Inaugural test flight for SpaceShip Two

Virgin Galactic spaceship 'Enterprise' was launched on its first test flight beneath WhiteKnightTwo Monday drawing ever closer to its maiden voyage planned for 2011/2012.

SpaceShipTwo is the most advanced commercial spaceship currently under construction. Advanced, as in, most likely to launch first.

Both SpaceShip Two and WhiteKnight Two were built by Scaled Composites, established in 1982 by Burt Rutan. They are each larger versions of the spacecraft which won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004.

SpaceShip Two will eventually launch from Spaceport America now under construction in New Mexico.

CNN has a great piece of video from the first 'captive carry' flight here.

Virgin Galactic: Richard Branson, Virgin Group, Sub- orbital Spaceflight, Space Science, Satellite, Orbital Spaceflight

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dancing with the Stars: Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin, 80, is not merely the second human ever to set foot on the lunar surface. He is an iconic image of the United States space program.
He remains an outspoken supporter of manned spaceflight; has supported Obama's plan to scrap the Constellation Project in favor of a Mars mission; and firmly believes Space exploration is not simply a luxury, it's a necessity for the continued existence of humankind.

So, the fact he is, at this very moment, a contestant on ABC's 'Dancing with the Stars' is not just a publicity stunt worth watching. It's a testament to his unwavering spirit and determination, and his ability, even now, to capture the imagination of all Americans and once again lead us into the great unknown.

Good luck Aldrin!!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Leprechauns in Space?

What better way to celebrate the contributions of Ireland's Space Program than St. Patrick's Day?

Yes, Ireland has a space program. In fact, Ireland was the 11th member of the European Space Agency, joining in December of 1980, just three months after the first 10 members created the group.

Ireland's scientific community has played an integral part in many ESA programs including the design and operation of the Herschel Telescope.

So far Ireland has not launched any astronauts of their own, but surely that is merely a matter of time.

The Shadow of the Telescope: A Biography of John Herschel. Translated by B.E.J. Pagel. Edited and with an Introduction by David S. Evans. Illustrated with Photographs and Drawings.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bigelow Aerospace is hiring astronauts: Experience required

Bigelow Aerospace is taking the next step toward being a full-fledged "space" business: It's hiring astronauts.

According to a New York Daily News story the space habitat company is looking for astronauts to service its orbiting modules, perhaps do some extra vehicular activity; anything required to keep the inflatable space stations on orbit.

The openings come just as many shuttle engineers and NASA sub-contractors are wondering what the future will hold for them now that U.S. manned spaceflight has been put on the back-burner.

Monday, March 15, 2010

USAF X-37B: a spaceplace for tomorrow?

Immediately following the Challenger disaster of 1986, the United States Department of Defense embarked on a strategy to implement an independent space policy. The centerpiece of that policy seems to be an unpiloted spaceplane, the X-37B.

This fully classified project has been in the works for more than a decade. has reported it is expected to be launched inside an Atlas rocket sometime next month.
Much like the highly successful the U.S. UAV drone fleet, the reuseable X-37B spaceplane is completely automated. Built by Boeing Phantom Works, it was designed to land like the shuttle, reach speeds of mach 25 and is slated to demonstrate new heat shield technologies.

Not much more than that is known about the spacecraft at this point. Once it lifts off, is tested and put to use, perhaps then we will have more information. Or, since it is owned by the USAF, we might not.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

USAF gathers aerospace legends in Germany

Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan and Jim Lovell, joined together with Ace fighter pilot Steve Ritchie and famed-Blackbird test pilot Robert Gilliland, to sign autographs and visit with wounded service members at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and service members waiting for flights at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

The "Legends of Aerospace Tour" was organized by Morale Entertainment Foundation. The group is on an eight-day tour of bases in Germany, Turkey and deployed locations in U.S. Central Command.

They were there for the service men and women, but used the opportunity to address recent changes in U.S. space policy. Here's an excerpt from the AirForceTimes article on the event:

Between pictures and autographs, Lovell, 81, and Cernan, 75, talked about the future of the U.S. space program.
Both criticized President Obama for wanting to cancel the Constellation program, which would return an American to the moon by 2020, and they urged Congress to reject the commander in chief’s request.
“We will go back to the moon not withstanding our president and his outlook for the future and future of space,” Cernan said. “Under the president’s proposed budget, it is a mission to nowhere.”

 Hopefully, President Barack Obama reads AirForceTimes.

Smash four--smash five!: The missions and aircraft of Captain Steve Ritchie, USAF 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Masten Space Systems keeps chugging along

For the past several years engineers at Masten Space Systems have been working toward the goal of building an inexpensive, versatile, vertical lift-off and landing sub-orbital spacecraft.

Later this year, if all goes as planned, the company will have its first sub-orbital hardware launch. The eXtreme Altitude-1.0 (XA-1.0) is powered by a liquid oxygen-isopropyl alcohol fueled engine.

The company was founded by President/CEO David Masten an engineer and past president of Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society (ERPS).

Masten has a Twitter account and is very vocal when it comes to the progress of his company:

@DMasten Beautiful day in Mojave. Prepping for SXSW, interviewing job applicants, checking up on progress of the new test stand, and paying bills.

In fact, Masten is the only commercial space entrepreneur to ever comment on SpaceBlog Alpha....

Friday, March 12, 2010

How long could ISS fly? 2028 and beyond

The countries responsible for maintaining the International Space Station say they are ready, willing and able to keep the station flying until 2028, its 30th anniversary.

Currently the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada are looking at expanding technologies to make the ISS safer and less expensive to operate.

Chief among the improvements, I think, should be efforts to make certain the toilets continue to flush. So far the space toilets on the ISS have been problematic at best. Let's hope Roto-Rooter is among those working on a reusable spacecraft....

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spaceport America thriving

Spaceport America, located not far from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, continues to thrive despite a faltering global economy. Seems investors believe the future is in space travel. Putting things in orbit, colonizing and exploring the other planets in the Solar System and exploiting the resources available 'out there' continue to hold the most promise for future economic growth.

Virgin Galactic is the most recognized tenant at the first private spaceport in the United States, but they will hardly be the last. They have a 20 year lease for the property and plan to start launching sub-orbital flights with SpaceShip Two sometime in the next couple years. (Nothing with Virgin Galactic is 'for sure' but they are mostly sure.)
Spaceport America is already home to the Rocket Racing League, a division of the UK’s Starchaser Industries, the Wirefly X Prize Cup, and UP Aerospace.
Several unmanned launches have been conducted here, and more are planned.

It remains to be seen exactly what the future of space travel will look like, but chances are it will come from Spaceport America, first.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Falcon 9 testing doesn't happen (We think)

Moonrise behind the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as it stands vertical on its pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

It does not appear the Falcon 9 test firing scheduled for Tuesday afternoon happened as planned. In their live-feed of the event, Spaceflight Now reported that "Spectators report they heard a loud bang at the time of ignition, but no other prolonged sounds of the engine burning."

I say "it does not appear" the Falcon 9 test firing happened because as of Tuesday night we still weren't sure. One unforeseen consequence of relying on private companies to provide space transport means bending to the will of private corporations. Because Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, the company who designed and built the Falcon 9, does not receive public funding and is not a governmental entity, they can choose to talk about what is happening or they can choose not to.

More than four hours after what appeared to be an aborted attempt at firing their new rocket, SpaceX still had not released a statement. Or said anything at all about the incident, in fact.

"2236 GMT (5:36 p.m. EST)
Nearing four hours after the Falcon 9 static fire, SpaceX has not provided any update on the outcome of the engine test, its duration, whether it was aborted, or when they will try again."

NASA, on the other hand, has to be accountable to the public it serves. If they roll the shuttle out to the launch pad, then change their minds at the last minute and roll it back, we expect answers. And we'll get them in a reasonable amount of time. Even if the answer is, "we don't know."

In the not-to-distant past, Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and CEO of SpaceX (and more recently CEO of Tesla Motors, too) has been fairly upfront with reports of what's going on with his company's plan to launch spaceships. Lately, however, the information from SpaceX has slowed to a trickle. Even when things go wrong in full view of the public, the company is clearly reticent about providing an explanation.

True, rocket science is a tricky business, prone to a wide range of unexpected results. However, the public has grown accustomed to being kept up-to-date with what's going on, investing their heart and soul in the efforts of the scientists, engineers, astronauts and muckety-mucks who make the magic happen.
Ask anyone at NASA and they'll tell you how important public support is to what they do.

We can't help but wonder if the same will be true during the age of commercial spaceflight.

Without that free-flowing river of information it remains to be seen if people will continue to offer their unwavering support. Or will instead turn a blind eye to it all, unwilling to go where they are clearly not wanted.

(Within the last hour posted an "abort notice" concerning Falcon 9)

Aerospace CEO takes wheel at electric car firm: SpaceX's Elon Musk seeks to steer Tesla down profitable road.(AUTOMOTIVE)(Tesla Motors Inc. appointed Elon ... article from: Los Angeles Business Journal

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The original Project Orion

Project Orion was the most audacious spaceship plan ever conceived. It was to be a nuclear-pulse powered rocket able to cruise through the Solar System at sub-lightb speeds; a flying, self-sufficient city-ship.

Nuclear-pulse (External Pulsed Plasma Propulsion) was exactly as it sounds: propulsion achieved through controlled nuclear detonation.

The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 pretty much spelled the end of Project Orion, although the amount of radiation released by its launch would have equated to less than 1 percent of the radiation released through conventional above ground atomic testing.

Not that any radiation released in Earth's atmosphere is a good thing. But it seems to us, Project Orion would provide the perfect propulsion for interplanetary travel, at least within our Solar System. And give we now have a floating laboratory and construction platform in the form of the International Space Station, perhaps it is time to revisit the greatest spaceship we never built...

Monday, March 08, 2010

Historic Goldstone deep space antenna gets refit

NASA is conducting an estimated $1.25 million in repairs to one of the most famous antennas in its Deep Space Network. The nine million pound, 230-foot-wide dish, is located at Goldstone Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert about 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles. A steel bearing has finally worn to the point of needing replacement after more than four decades of use.

This particular antenna was the instrument used to relay the words of Astronaut Neil Armstrong when he first set foot on the Moon and the first ever images of the outer planets and their moons. Once repairs are complete it will be a part of the Juno mission to Jupiter next year and the Mars Science Laboratory.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Obama to face NASA workers April 15

On April 15, President Barack Obama will face NASA contractors and workers directly to explain his decision to make drastic changes to manned space program.

If Obama's decisions stand as presented, it will mean the end of the shuttle and the end of the yet-to-be-launched Constellation program which had been meant to replace it.

No one at NASA, and just about every space-supporter alive says Obama's plan will set the U.S. space program back decades. Others, a minority to say the least, claim his funding for advanced propulsion efforts will mean jump-starting the future. Still others are still walking the line.

On April 15 Obama will have an opportunity to sway even more folks to his way of thinking...or alienate even more.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Blue Origins secrets (partially) unveiled

I'd hardly say the secret of the Blue Origin spaceship company has been fully revealed, but this story at at least has a few more morsels of information than we had been privvy to before.

It would be nice to know a little more about their Goddard rocket and the New Shepard spacecraft, but alas, it seems that will not happen until they are fully functioning.

Top on the list is how many test flights have already been performed by the Goddard vehicle. The November 2006 test — the only one publically announced — was unveiled in January 2007.

"I can't talk about our flight test program, other than what's already on the web. And I can't talk about schedule," Lai said. "But we have performed multiple flights with Goddard."

Jeff Bezos, the founder/owner of, has a strictly enforced code of silence at his new rocket design company. And for good reason, it seems.

Burt Rutan, of Scaled Composites (the company which built SpaceShip One and SpaceShip Two) has himself often lamented those in his industry who promise the Moon and fail to deliver. Rutan is famous for being "tight-lipped."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

New drones join Israeli air fleet

Israel has a new fleet of drones capable of flying at 40,000 feet for 20 hours with a range that could take them well into Iranian territory.

Israel has employed drones since 1982, but had the most effective use of the pilotless Heron TP drone aircraft within the last couple years.
These new craft can be laden with cargo (i.e., weapons) or used for surveillance.

These latest versions of the Heron TP are the size of a Boeing 737, dwarfing a typical F-15 fighter aircraft.
Drones, unmanned aerial aircraft, are considered by some to be the most versatile tools in the arsenal of modern warfare.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What is the SDO and why should we care?

The Solar Dynamics Observatory is NASA's latest attempt to understand the inner workings of the star at the center of our solar system. Better known as the Sun.

This the first mission of NASA's Living With a Star (LWS) Program. The idea of these missions to better understand the causes and effects of solar weather; how to predict changes in space weather and perhaps protect against severe storms.

The SDO spacecraft lifted off from Kennedy Space Center this morning aboard an Atlas 5 rocket.

Twitter was abuzz with news of the fantastic launch:

Picture perfect view of SDO's launch, courtesy @NASAKennedy

SDO data coming from Antigua tracking station. So far the flight is going very well, exactly as expected.

Picture of SDO launch (better ones to come soon) #SDOisGo

NASA launches rocket carrying solar observatory

Clouds cleared enough to see a beautiful launch. #SDOisGO

WOW!!!THAT WAS AMAZING! Loud, we can still see the vehicle now, just apoint, contails .. THIS is so cool!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Endeavor delivers Cupola to ISS

Shuttle Endeavor will unload the final NASA piece of the International Space Station puzzle this week, the Tranquility module. The new room comes with a much better view than astronauts ever had before. The Cupola provides a 360-degree view of the outside of the station.

Here is an excellent AP video on the entire process:

(Video Credit)

This marks the first time, with Endeavor docked at ISS, that the combined mass of both spacecraft exceeded 1 million pounds. That's a lot of spacecraft up there, folks.
There are five crew members onboard ISS at this time, and six crew members on Endeavor. The eleven astronauts said "hello" today and will spend the next few days installing the new module, checking out systems and loading/unloading cargo.

Shuttle Endeavor night launch

Check out this home video of the view of the night launch of Shuttle Endeavor. Listen to the "oooohs" and "aahhhs" of the folks in the background, and the calls from the children, "Can we do it again?" (Video Credit)

Reuters news service has great close-up video of the recent night launch of Shuttle Endeavor. This is likely the last shuttle night launch, at least for now.

If you remember the first shuttle launch, April 12, 1981, I'd love to hear your memories. Myself, I recall my trip down to Kennedy to watch Shuttle Columbia head to orbit for STS-1, the first seven day orbital mission. It seems it was delayed a million times, but actually, just once.
It was hot, very hot, despite the fact it was only April. But no matter. The excitement I felt, knowing this was an actual "spaceship" far outweighed any discomfort from the two-hour drive, or the heat, or the wait, or the disappointment when the countdown clock stopped just a minute from lift-off.
And when it finally did lift off the next day I saw that too.

(Photo Credit)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Obama to set new course for NASA

It's been talked about for a week now. Just about everyone knew it was coming. But tomorrow President Barack Obama will finally reveal his plan for NASA.

Every president gets their shot at deciding the fate of the nation's space program, changing its course to suit his own personal prerogative. This might be why NASA has had such a difficult time making any serious changes. Or returning to the Moon, for that matter. and assorted other news agencies are reporting Obama will likely ask NASA to abandon the Constellation program and its plan for a return to the lunar surface, but also that he will offer a $6 billion investment for them to pursue private lifting assistance to get astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station, which he is also saying he would like to keep funded through 2020.

It's a decidedly mixed-bag Obama is offering to space scientists. On the one hand they will need to rely on as yet untested private space services (possibly: Dragon, SS2, or even Blue Origin)to get astronauts into low earth orbit, on the other hand it might just help them fund a design change in lifting services that could revolutionize spacecraft development for the nation.

Only time will tell.