A Niche in Time: First Flight

Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo’s glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part 5 of 5

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The morning of Dec. 3, 2016, began like so many others in Mojave. The first rays of dawn gave way to a brilliant sunrise that revealed a cloudless, clear blue sky over California’s High Desert.

This was hardly newsworthy. For most of the year, Mojave doesn’t really have weather, just temperatures and wind speeds. It had been literally freezing overnight; the mercury was at a nippy 28º F (-2.2º C) at 4 a.m. As for Mojave’s famous winds – an enemy of roofs, trees and big rigs, but the lifeblood of thousands of wind turbines that cover the landscape west of town – there really weren’t any. It was basically a flat calm.

In other words, it was a perfect day to fly.

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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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So Exactly How Safe Will SpaceShipTwo Be?

Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 5 of 6

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

With the recent roll out of VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic marked a symbolic milestone in its recovery from the October 2014 accident that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed pilot Mike Alsbury.

Two questions loomed large over the celebrity-studded event. When will it fly? And how safe will it be when it does?

Company officials gave no timeline on the first question. Their answers about SpaceShipTwo’s safety differed significantly from previous claims they made over the last 11.5 years.

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Remembrance Day, Challenger & NewSpace

The space shuttle Challenger explodes. (Credit: NASA)
The space shuttle Challenger explodes. (Credit: NASA)

“There was ice on the ship,” I said quietly to no one in particular.

I was standing in the hallway at work with some co-workers, watching the space shuttle Challenger explode over and over again on a television in one of the offices.

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NASA Remembers Its Fallen Heroes, 30th Anniversary of Challenger Accident

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife Alexis lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns as part of NASA's Day of Remembrance, Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, at Arlington National Cemetery.  The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife Alexis lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns as part of NASA’s Day of Remembrance, Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, at Arlington National Cemetery. The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA will pay will tribute to the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, as well as other NASA colleagues, during the agency’s Day of Remembrance on Thursday, Jan. 28, the 30th anniversary of the Challenger accident. NASA’s Day of Remembrance honors members of the NASA family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery.

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NASA Honors Fallen Astronauts on Day of Remembrance

Challenger crew. Back row, left to right: mission specialist Ellison Onizuka, payload specialist Christa McAuliffe, payload specialist Gregory Jarvis, mission specialist Judith Resnik. Front row left to right: pilot Michael J. Smith, commander Francis "Dick" Scobee, mission specialist Ronald McNair. (Credit: NASA)
Challenger crew. Back row, left to right: mission specialist Ellison Onizuka, payload specialist Christa McAuliffe, payload specialist Gregory Jarvis, mission specialist Judith Resnik. Front row left to right: pilot Michael J. Smith, commander Francis “Dick” Scobee, mission specialist Ronald McNair. (Credit: NASA)

Message from the Administrator:
Day of Remembrance – Jan. 28, 2015

Today we remember and give thanks for the lives and contributions of those who gave all trying to push the boundaries of human achievement. On this solemn occasion, we pause in our normal routines and remember the STS-107 Columbia crew; the STS-51L Challenger crew; the Apollo 1 crew; Mike Adams, the first in-flight fatality of the space program as he piloted the X-15 No. 3 on a research flight; and those lost in test flights and aeronautics research throughout our history.

The crew of STS-107. From left to right are mission specialist David Brown, commander Rick Husband, mission specialist Laurel Clark, mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist Michael Anderson, pilot William McCool, and Israeli payload specialist Ilan Ramon. (Credit: NASA)
The crew of STS-107. From left to right are mission specialist David Brown, commander Rick Husband, mission specialist Laurel Clark, mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist Michael Anderson, pilot William McCool, and Israeli payload specialist Ilan Ramon. (Credit: NASA)

These men and women were our friends, family and colleagues. They still are. As we undertake a journey to Mars, they will be with us. They have our eternal respect, love and gratitude.

Today, their legacy lives on as the International Space Station fulfills its promise as a symbol of hope for the world and a springboard to missions farther into the solar system. Our lost friends are with us in the strivings of all of our missions to take humans to new destinations and to unlock the secrets of our universe. We honor them by making our dreams of a better tomorrow reality and taking advantage of the fruits of exploration to improve life for people everywhere.

Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. (Credit: NASA)
Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. (Credit: NASA)

Let us join together as one NASA Family, along with the entire world, in paying our respects, and honoring the memories of our dear friends. They will never be forgotten. Godspeed to every one of them.

Charlie B.

Book Review: Safe is Not An Option

safe_not_optionSafe is Not an Option: Overcoming the Futile Obsession with Getting Everyone Back Alive that is Killing Our Expansion into Space
By Rand Simberg
Interglobal Media LLC
2013

On May 26, 1865, Captain J. C. Mason pushed off from a dock in Vicksburg, Miss., and steered the steam-powered paddle wheeler SS Sultana north along the rain-swollen Mississippi River. The Sultana’s decks groaned from the weight of more than 2,500 passengers and crew members.

At 2 a.m. the following morning, the ship’s boilers exploded north of Memphis. As many as 1,800 people died in the explosion and fire or drowned in the fast flowing river. The majority of the dead were Union soldiers recently released from a pair of hellish Confederate prison camps. Their ticket home had become a death warrant.

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NASA’s Day of Remembrance Pays Tribute to 3 Brave Crews

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden speaks to NASA personnel and others during a wreath laying ceremony as part of NASA's Day of Remembrance, Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, at Arlington National Cemetery.  The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden speaks to NASA personnel and others during a wreath laying ceremony as part of NASA’s Day of Remembrance, Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, at Arlington National Cemetery. The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Message from the Administrator: Day of Remembrance

Today we pause in our normal routines and reflect on the contributions of those who lost their lives trying to take our nation farther into space. On our annual Day of Remembrance, please join me in giving thanks for the legacy of the STS-107 Columbia crew; the STS-51L Challenger crew; the Apollo 1 crew; and Mike Adams, the first in-flight fatality of the space program as he piloted the X-15 No. 3 on a research flight.

These men and women were our friends, family and colleagues, and we will never forget their lives and passion to push us farther and achieve more.  They have our everlasting love, respect and gratitude.

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The Space Review: Disasters, Regrets and Uncertainties

This week in The Space Review….

Memorials and malaise
This time of year is traditionally a somber one at NASA, as the agency recognizes those who lost their lives on missions. Jeff Foust examines a deeper angst that is evident today as well, given the continued uncertainty about NASA’s future human spaceflight plans and budgets.

All space politics is local
In the new Congress, as in previous ones, the leadership of key space-related committees is dominated by people from states with major NASA facilities. Lou Friedman discusses the importance of broadening NASA’s appeal to win more support, and funding, in the future.

Launch failures: the “Oops!” factor
Launch vehicles are complex machines that sometimes can be felled by simple failures. Wayne Eleazer describes several such failures of rockets, and how a simple “oops”, compounded by other problems, caused them.

Review: Launch On Need
Had the damage to the shuttle Columbia had been understood early enough in its fateful final mission eight years ago, it would have been possible, if just barely, to mount a rescue mission. Jeff Foust reviews a novel that explores that alternate history.

Son of Israeli Astronaut Dies in Jet Fighter Crash

This sad news from the Associated Press:

The son of an Israeli astronaut who died in the space shuttle Columbia disaster six years ago was killed Sunday when his F-16 warplane crashed on a routine training flight, the Israeli military said.

The military identified the dead pilot as Capt. Asaf Ramon, son of Ilan Ramon, Israel‘s first and only astronaut. One of seven crew members killed when the Columbia exploded as it re-entered the atmosphere in 2003, Ilan Ramon is seen as a national hero in Israel, and radio and TV stations broke into their broadcasts Sunday to report the news of his son’s death.

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NASA to Honor Fallen Comrades on Thursday

NASA PRESS RELEASE

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center will pay tribute to the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, as well as other NASA colleagues, during the agency’s Day of Remembrance observance on Jan. 29.

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Some Thoughts on the Eve of a New Year….

Well, it’s the holidays again – specifically, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day – which means it’s time for NASA’s annual dump of bad news in the hope that nobody is paying much attention.

Last year, the space agency treated us to the New Year’s Eve release of an aviation report that had some very scary things to say about the safety of America’s air transportation system. That NASA fought the release of this information for 18 months on the basis that it would hurt commercial aviation and then dumped it at a hastily called news conference at 1 p.m. on New Year’s Eve….it’s all a big co-incidence, to hear NASA tell it.

Ah, bullshit

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