A Niche in Time: One Chute

SpaceShipTwo after being released for its final flight on March 31, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury heard the sound of hooks disengaging and felt a sharp jolt as SpaceShipTwo was released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. Relieved of a giant weight, WhiteKnightTwo shot upward as the spacecraft plunged toward the desert floor.

“Fire,” Siebold said as the shadow of one of WhiteKnightTwo’s wings passed across the cabin.

“Arm,” Alsbury responded. “Fire.”

The pilots were pushed back into their seats as SpaceShipTwo’s nylon-nitrous oxide hybrid engine ignited behind them, sending the ship soaring skyward on a pillar of flames.

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A Niche in Time: “Lock the doors”

Debris is visible coming from the left wing of Columbia about two minutes before the shuttle broke up. The image was taken at Starfire Optical Range at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Part 3 of 5

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The space shuttle Columbia glowed brightly as it streaked across the predawn skies of the western United States on Feb 1, 2003. Decelerating from an orbital speed of 28,165 km/hr (17,500 miles/hr) at an altitude of 70,165 m (230,200 ft), the shuttle and its seven crew members were enveloped in super heated plasma as they descended deeper into the thickening atmosphere on their return from a 16-day science mission.

Three observers on the ground who were filming the fiery reentry suddenly noticed something odd. There was a sudden flash on the orbiter, and then bright objects streaked behind the ship and burned up.

“Look at the chunks coming off that,” one shouted. “What the heck is that?”

“I don’t know,” his friend replied.

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Atlantis Lands Safely in Florida

Space shuttle Atlantis lands on runway 33 at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility concluding the STS-129 mission. Photo credit: NASA Jack Pfaller
Space shuttle Atlantis lands on runway 33 at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility concluding the STS-129 mission. Photo credit: NASA Jack Pfaller

NASA MISSION UPDATE

Space shuttle Atlantis and its crew of seven astronauts ended an 11-day journey with a 9:44 a.m. EST landing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Atlantis flew 171 orbits around Earth and traveled 4,490,138 miles since its Nov. 16 launch.

The STS-129 mission included three spacewalks and the installation of two platforms to the International Space Station’s truss, or backbone. The platforms hold large spare parts to sustain station operations after the shuttles are retired.

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Astrogenetix Flies “Superbug” Cure Experiment Aboard Atlantis

ASTROGENETIX PRESS RELEASE

For the fourth time this year, NASA’s Shuttle fleet is carrying a series of experiments being conducted by Austin-based Astrogenetix, a commercial biotech company created to use microgravity to develop the foundation of new medicines.astrogenetix

Payload on Space Shuttle Atlantis Flight STS-129 will consist of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) microbes in search of a target for a therapeutic or vaccine. Research will build on information gained during experiments conducted on board STS-128, which launched in August of this year. Those experiments have allowed Astrogenetix to hone in on a specific group of genes that show promise for identifying a vaccine candidate. On STS-129, Astrogenetix will interrogate specific genes within this group to further narrow the scope of virulence determinants.

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Atlantis Heads for Space Station

Image above: Space shuttle Atlantis with it crew of six astronauts lifts off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/TV
Image above: Space shuttle Atlantis with it crew of six astronauts lifts off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/TV

NASA MISSION UPDATE

Space shuttle Atlantis and its crew of six astronauts are headed for space, ready to begin their 11-day mission to the International Space Station. The climb to orbit takes about 8 1/2 minutes.

Following a smooth countdown, with no technical issues and weather that steadily improved throughout the afternoon, the shuttle lifted off on time from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:28 p.m. EST.

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Obama Makes Call to Atlantis Astronauts

President Barack Obama talks on the telephone to the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis from the Oval Office, Wednesday, May 20, 2009. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.
President Barack Obama talks on the telephone to the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis from the Oval Office, Wednesday, May 20, 2009. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

Below is a transcript of the call that President Barack Obama put in to the space shuttle Atlantis yesterday. During the call, he chats with the crew and promises to name a new NASA Administrator soon.

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Atlantis Astronauts Release Hubble

NASA MISSION UPDATE

The STS-125 crew bid a final farewell to the Hubble Space Telescope today. With servicing completed, the telescope was released from the shuttle’s robotic arm at 8:57 a.m. EDT.

Mission Specialist Megan McArthur released the grapple fixture as Commander Scott Altman and Pilot Gregory C. Johnson guided Atlantis carefully away. Subtle thruster firings will place the shuttle a safe distance from Hubble.

Later in the day, attention will turn to surveys of Atlantis’ thermal protection system, including its wing leading edge panels, nose cap and underside tiles. Imagery experts will evaluate the data to determine the health of the thermal protection system.

Atlantis Astronauts Complete Fourth Hubble Spacewalk

NASA MISSION UPDATE

STS-125 mission specialists Mike Massimino and Mike Good completed the mission’s fourth spacewalk today at 5:47 p.m. EDT. The spacewalkers continued repairs and improvements to the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) that will extend the Hubble’s life into the next decade. The spacewalk lasted 8 hours, 2 minutes.

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