Saudi Astronaut Appointed to Head Kingdom’s New Space Agency

Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Credit: NASA)

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has appointed his nation’s first – and thus far, only – astronaut to head up a newly created national space agency.

Prince Sultan bin Salman, who flew into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1985, was appointed to the position. Salam, 62, is one of the king’s second son.

As a payload specialist aboard the flight, Salam helped to deploy the ARABSAT-1B satellite from the shuttle’s cargo bay for the Arab Satellite Communications Organization (ARABSAT). His flight marked the first time an Arab, a Muslim and a member of a royal family traveled to space.


A Closer Look at NASA’s FY 2018 Budget

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite a last minute threat of a veto, President Donald Trump signed an $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill on Friday that boosts NASA spending by about $1.1 billion to $20.7 billion.

So, with the fiscal year nearly half over, let’s take a closer look at NASA’s FY 2018 budget, which the Administration had tried to cut. The table below lays out the numbers from the omnibus bill, the Administration’s request and the FY 2017 budget.


A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!


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.


Astrogenetix Continues Work on Staphylococcus Vaccine on Discovery

Astrogenetix PR — NASA astronauts onboard Space Shuttle Discovery’s final mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will carry out the eleventh scientific payload for Astrogenetix, a commercial biotech company based out of Austin, Texas. The research on STS-133 will focus on changes that occur to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in microgravity, which can be targeted to create new vaccines and therapeutics.


Discovery, Glory and X-37B Set for Launch

We’ve got a busy couple of weeks ahead in terms of American launches. The schedule:

Date: Wednesday, Feb. 23
Time: 5:09 a.m. EST
Location: Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
Coverage: (3:30 a.m. EST start)

NASA’s Glory mission will allow scientists to better understand how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth’s climate. Both aerosols and solar energy influence the planet’s energy budget – the amount of energy entering and exiting Earth’s atmosphere. An accurate measurement of these impacts is important to anticipate future changes to our climate.

NASA TV coverage will begin at 3:30 a.m. EST (12:30 a.m. PST) at Liftoff is targeted for 5:09:43 a.m. EST (2:09:43 a.m. PST). Spacecraft separation from the Taurus XL rocket occurs 13 minutes after launch.

Space Shuttle Discovery
Date: Thursday, Feb. 24
Time: 4:50 p.m. EST
Location: Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The much-delayed Discovery mission will finally get off the ground. The six-member crew will deliver and equipment and supplies to the International Space Station, including a Robonaut. This is the next-to-last mission or next-to-next-to-last mission for the 30-year old space shuttle program.

Date: Friday, March 4
Location: Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The U.S. Air Force’s mysterious space plane will lift off its second classified mission aboard an Atlas 5 rocket. The same vehicle completed a 225-day flight last year before touching down at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Discovery Set to Launch No Earlier Than Feb. 24

Repair work to space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank begins in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Technicians will modify 32 support beams, called stringers, on the tank's intertank region by fitting pieces of metal, called radius blocks, over the stringers' edges where they attach to the thrust panel area. Photo credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller


Space shuttle Discovery remains in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) as modifications and repairs are made to the external fuel tank’s support beams known as “stringers.” Additional support structures called radius blocks are being added to 95 stringers, meaning the entire circumference of the external tank will be strengthened by the time all the repairs and modifications are finished.

“It’s been a long road,” said John Shannon, Space Shuttle Program manager. “I’m very confident we have it finally figured out and we have a fix. We’re going to fly with a lot of confidence in this tank.”

Discovery will not launch on the STS-133 mission before Feb. 24, but shuttle managers have not yet chosen a target date for the mission. The schedule depends in part on traffic at the International Space Station during that time frame. A European cargo spacecraft, ATV-2, is scheduled to launch to the station Feb. 15 carrying supplies and equipment.

NASA Repairing Cracks on Space Shuttle External Tank

Image above: Technician is getting ready to take a computed radiography (CR) image scan of the tank. The red machine in the foreground is the CR device. Photo credit: NASA/Frankie Martin

Jan. 3, 2010

Space shuttle Discovery remains inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where technicians today are starting repairs on three support beams, called stringers, on the outside of the shuttle’s external tank. Recent X-ray type image scans of all 108 of the tank’s stringers revealed four small cracks on three beams on the side opposite Discovery. Managers decided Thursday to have those cracks repaired in a similar fashion to repairs made on cracks found on two stringers after Discovery’s Nov. 5 launch attempt.

Also beginning today is another round of imaging — this time, using the backscatter method — on all of the tank’s stringers. Engineers at various NASA centers continue to analyze testing and imaging data.

The repair work is estimated to take 2-3 days. Any further work will be evaluated thoroughly during the week after additional data and analysis are reviewed.

Managers also continue to evaluate an option to perform known and practiced modifications on some stringers. Before breaking for the holiday, technicians reconfigured scaffolding to provide access for the modification work, should it be required. A decision may be made on that work as early as today.

The next available launch date for Discovery’s STS-133 mission to the International Space Station remains Feb. 3 at the opening of a window that extends through Feb. 10.

NASA Postpones Discovery Launch Until February


NASA managers have targeted space shuttle Discovery’s launch for no earlier than Feb. 3 at 1:34 a.m. EST. Shuttle managers determined more tests and analysis are needed before proceeding with the launch of the STS-133 mission to the International Space Station.

The Program Requirements Control Board met Thursday and reviewed engineering evaluations associated with cracks on two 21-foot-long, U-shaped aluminum brackets, called stringers, on the shuttle’s external tank. NASA repaired the cracks and reapplied foam to the exterior of the stringers.


NASA Delays Discovery Launch Until at Least Dec. 17


NASA managers have targeted space shuttle Discovery’s launch for no earlier than Dec. 17. Shuttle managers determined more tests and analysis are needed before proceeding with the STS-133 mission. The launch status meeting planned for Monday, Nov. 29, has been postponed and will be rescheduled.

The Program Requirements Control Board reviewed on Wednesday repairs and engineering evaluations associated with cracks on two 21-foot-long, U-shaped aluminum brackets, called stringers, on the shuttle’s external tank. Managers decided the analysis and tests required to launch Discovery safely are not complete. The work will continue through next week.

The next status review by the PRCB will be Thursday, Dec. 2. If managers clear Discovery for launch on Dec. 17, the preferred time is about 8:51 p.m. EST.

Final Discovery Mission Rescheduled for Night Launch on Dec. 3

Nov. 19, 2010

At yesterday’s Program Requirements Control Board, or PRCB, the Space Shuttle Program clearly identified the analysis and repairs that are required to safely launch shuttle Discovery on its STS-133 mission. This analysis will be reviewed at a special PRCB on Wednesday, Nov. 24. Pending a successful review of the flight rationale at that meeting, a Launch Status Briefing would be held with senior NASA management on Monday, Nov. 29.

The Launch Status Briefing and news conference planned for Monday, Nov. 22 are cancelled. The Kennedy Space Center “Call-to-Stations” to begin the launch countdown will be no earlier than Nov. 30, supporting a first launch attempt no earlier than Dec. 3 at about 2:52 a.m. EST.

The STS-133 crew members are Commander Steven Lindsey, Pilot Eric Boe and Mission Specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Tim Kopra and Nicole Stott.

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.