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: “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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A Look at the History of Suborbital Spaceflight

Neil Armstrong with the X-15 on the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

With Richard Branson once again predicting that Virgin Galactic will fly SpaeShipTwo into space before the end of the year, it seems like a good time to take a look at the history of suborbital spaceflight.

The number of manned suborbital flights varies depending upon the definition you use. The internationally recognized boundary is 100 km (62.1 miles), which is also known as the Karman line. The U.S. Air Force awarded astronaut wings to any pilot who exceeded 80.5 km (50 miles).

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Charlie Bolden’s Statement on Passing of John Glenn

President Barack Obama presents former United States Marine Corps pilot, astronaut, and United States Senator John Glenn with a Medal of Freedom, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, during a ceremony at the White House in Washington. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
President Barack Obama presents former United States Marine Corps pilot, astronaut, and United States Senator John Glenn with a Medal of Freedom, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, during a ceremony at the White House in Washington. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the passing of Sen. John Glenn:

“Today, the first American to orbit the Earth, NASA astronaut and Ohio Senator John Glenn, passed away. We mourn this tremendous loss for our nation and the world. As one of NASA’s original Mercury 7 astronauts, Glenn’s riveting flight aboard Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962, united our nation, launched America to the forefront of the space race, and secured for him a unique place in the annals of history.

“While that first orbit was the experience of a lifetime, Glenn, who also had flown combat missions in both World War II and the Korean War as a Marine aviator, continued to serve his country as a four-term Senator from Ohio, as a trusted statesman, and an educator. In 1998, at the age of 77, he became the oldest human to venture into space as a crew member on the Discovery space shuttle — once again advancing our understanding of living and working in space.

“He earned many honors for both his military and public service achievements. In 2012, President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor the country can bestow, and he also received the Congressional Gold Medal.

“Glenn’s extraordinary courage, intellect, patriotism and humanity were the hallmarks of a life of greatness. His missions have helped make possible everything our space program has since achieved and the human missions to an asteroid and Mars that we are striving toward now.

“With all his accomplishments, he was always focused on the young people of today, who would soon lead the world. ‘The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds and advance the kind of science, math and technology education that will help youngsters take us to the next phase of space travel,’ he said. ‘To me, there is no greater calling … If I can inspire young people to dedicate themselves to the good of mankind, I’ve accomplished something.’

“Senator Glenn’s legacy is one of risk and accomplishment, of history created and duty to country carried out under great pressure with the whole world watching. The entire NASA Family will be forever grateful for his outstanding service, commitment and friendship. Personally, I shall miss him greatly. As a fellow Marine and aviator, he was a mentor, role model and, most importantly, a dear friend.  My prayers go out to his lovely and devoted wife, Annie, and the entire Glenn family at this time of their great loss.”

For more information about Glenn’s NASA career, and his agency biography, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/johnglenn

Original 7 Astronaut John Glenn Passes Away at 95

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Sad to report that former NASA astronaut John Glenn, who became the first American to fly into orbit in 1962, has passed away in an Ohio hospital. He was 95 years old.

In addition to flying Friendship 7 in the Project Mercury, Glenn became the oldest person to travel into space when he joined the STS-95 space shuttle crew on a nearly 9-day orbital mission in 1998.

At the time of his second and final spaceflight, Glenn was a United States Senator from Ohio. He served in the Senate from December 1974 to January 1999.

Glenn was the last of NASA’s Original 7 astronauts to pass away. Scott Carpenter died in 2013 at the age of 88.

My deepest sympathies to his wife, Annie, and his family and friends.

President Barack Obama issued a statement today on Glenn’s passing.

Statement by the President on the Passing of John Glenn

When John Glenn blasted off from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas rocket in 1962, he lifted the hopes of a nation. And when his Friendship 7 spacecraft splashed down a few hours later, the first American to orbit the Earth reminded us that with courage and a spirit of discovery there’s no limit to the heights we can reach together.

With John’s passing, our nation has lost an icon and Michelle and I have lost a friend. John spent his life breaking barriers, from defending our freedom as a decorated Marine Corps fighter pilot in World War II and Korea, to setting a transcontinental speed record, to becoming, at age 77, the oldest human to touch the stars. John always had the right stuff, inspiring generations of scientists, engineers and astronauts who will take us to Mars and beyond–not just to visit, but to stay.

Today, the people of Ohio remember a devoted public servant who represented his fellow Buckeyes in the U.S. Senate for a quarter century and who fought to keep America a leader in science and technology. Our thoughts are with his beloved wife Annie, their children John and Carolyn and the entire Glenn family. The last of America’s first astronauts has left us, but propelled by their example we know that our future here on Earth compels us to keep reaching for the heavens. On behalf of a grateful nation, Godspeed, John Glenn.

NIAC Focus: Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments

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Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE). (Credit: NASA JPL)

NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently selected 13 proposals for Phase I awards. Below is a proposal submitted by Jonathan Sauder of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE)

Jonathan Sauder
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Venus, with its sulfuric acid clouds, temperatures of over 450′, and surface pressure of 92 bar, is one of the most hostile planetary environments in the solar system. Only a handful of Soviet Venera and Vega landers have successfully reached the surface of Venus. Even these robust probes only survived for 23 to 127 minutes before the electronics failed in the hostile environment.

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Boldly Going Where 14 Men Have Gone Before

For nearly a dozen years, Virgin Galactic has used the number of individuals who have flown into space as a target to shoot for once the company began suborbital space tourism service. Virgin promised to double the number, which was around 500 when the company launched in 2004, within the first year of operation. That year was originally targeted for 2007 in the confident days after the success of SpaceShipOne.

That goal has long since faded away, and it’s unlikely Virgin will double the number of space travelers during the first year. In any event, the number of space travelers cited by Virgin has always been a bit misleading. The company’s well heeled customers, who are paying upwards of $250,000 per flight, will actually be joining a much more elite group on their suborbital flights.

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MESSENGER Becomes First Spacecraft to Orbit Mercury

JHU-APL PR — At 9:10 p.m. EDT, engineers in the MESSENGER Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., received the anticipated radiometric signals confirming nominal burn shutdown and successful insertion of the MESSENGER probe into orbit around the planet Mercury.

The spacecraft rotated back to the Earth by 9:45 p.m. EDT, and started transmitting data. Upon review of these data, the engineering and operations teams confirmed that the burn executed nominally with all subsystems reporting a clean burn and no logged errors.
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NASA TV to Cover MESSENGER Orbital Insertion

WASHINGTON — NASA Television and the agency’s website will carry live coverage from 8 to 10 p.m. EDT Thursday as the first spacecraft enters Mercury’s orbit. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which operates the MESSENGER spacecraft, is conducting the webcast from its mission control building in Laurel, Md.

NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging, or MESSENGER, is scheduled to enter the planet’s orbit at approximately 9 p.m. after conducting more than a dozen laps through the inner solar system for the past 6.6 years.

For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and scheduling information, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

For more information about the mission, visit:  http://www.nasa.gov/messenger

MESSENGER Set to Enter Mercury Orbit Tonight

NASA Mission Update — After more than a dozen laps through the inner solar system, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft will move into orbit around Mercury on March 17, 2011. The durable spacecraft–carrying seven science instruments and fortified against the blistering environs near the sun–will be the first to orbit the innermost planet.

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Russians Aim for Landings on Moon, Mercury, Phobos and Europa

During the International Academy of Astronautics Summit on Wednesday, Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov laid out Russia’s ambitious plans for Solar System exploration, which includes a sample return from Phobos and the Moon as well as landings on the planet Mercury and Jupiter’s moon Europa. The meeting, which was aimed at deepening international cooperation in space, was attended by 27 heads of space agencies.

The Russian space agency and ITAR-TASS reported on Perminov’s comments, which also included remarks about nuclear propulsion, climate change monitoring, asteroid missions, space situational awareness, and the International Space Station.

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NASA, Roscosmos Discuss Cooperation on Lunar, Asteroid Missions and Nuclear Propulsion

Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov

Roscosmos and NASA Negotiate Missions to Distant Space
Roscosmos PAO

Space agencies of Russia and US, Roscosmos and NASA, discuss space missions to distant space, Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov stated at the summit of the space agency heads held under the aegis of International Academy of Astronautics in Washington.

Perminov and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who both lead Space Cooperation Working Group in the framework of the Russian-US President Commission, met in Washington to hold the third meeting of the Working Group.

According to Roscosmos Head, Russian proposals concerning future cooperation “had been submitted to NASA”. The list includes different options, including missions to LLO and asteroids. The agenda also covered future cooperation in the Russia-initiated Mercury landing program and development of a nuclear propulsion system.

Nuclear propulsion systems are considered for large-scale human missions, not for small spacecraft which could use other type of propulsion – ionic engines or solar wind energy. The system is unique, as no other propulsion in the world is made on the basis of similar principles.

MESSENGER Complete Gravity Assist of Mercury But Suffers Glitch

mercury_northpole

NASA MISSION UPDATE

MESSENGER successfully flew by Mercury yesterday, gaining a critical gravity assist that will enable it to enter orbit about Mercury in 2011 and capturing images of five percent of the planet never before seen. With more than 90 percent of the planet’s surface already imaged, MESSENGER’s science team had drafted an ambitious observation campaign designed to tease out additional details from features uncovered during the first two flybys. But an unexpected signal loss prior to closest approach hampered those plans.

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Mercury: Bleak as it Ever Was…

mercury_northpole

NASA MISSION UPDATE

During MESSENGER’s approach to Mercury yesterday, the NAC acquired a high-resolution, 62-image mosaic of the sunlit crescent planet. Many of these images show portions of Mercury’s surface not previously seen by spacecraft, including the NAC image shown here. In this image, Mercury’s northern horizon cuts a crisp line against the blackness of space. The surface in the lower right corner of the image is near Mercury’s terminator, the line between the light dayside and dark night side of the planet. Looking toward the horizon, smooth plains extend for large distances, similar to volcanic plains seen nearby during MESSENGER’s second flyby of Mercury.  (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

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