NASA Astronaut Paul Weitz Passes Away at 85

In this June 1973 photograph, Skylab 2 pilot Paul J. Weitz operates the control and display console of the Apollo Telescope Mount solar observatory. (Credit: NASA)

Skylab and space shuttle astronaut Paul J. Weitz has passed away from cancer. He was 85.

Weitz, who served in the United States Navy and retired as a captain in 1976, was one of the 19 astronauts selected by NASA in April 1966. His NASA career lasted 28 years and included two space flights.

Weitz was part of the first Skylab crew along with commander Pete Conrad and science-pilot Joe Kerwin in 1973. The crew saved the station, which suffered damage after a solar wing deployed during launch. The wing was ripped away along with a heat shield; the other solar wing was pinned to the station by debris.

The crew deployed a solar shade to bring down temperatures inside the laboratory and freed the remaining solar wing during a space walk. Weitz and his crew mates splashed down on June 22, 1973 after a record 28 days in space.

Weitz commanded STS-6, the first flight of Space Shuttle Challenger, which launched on April 4, 1983, and landed on April 9. The mission’s primary payload was the first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, a new NASA satellite that would revolutionize low-Earth orbit communications forever.

Mr. Weitz also served as Deputy Director of the Johnson Space Center. He retired from NASA in 1994.

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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Has NASA Decided to Put Crew on First SLS Flight?

If this is true, it will be only the second time in history that a crew has flown on on the first flight of a launch vehicle.

The only other time was the space shuttle — and they had to do it. There was no way to fly the space shuttle without a crew. As the book “Into the Black” shows, that mission came close to disaster during launch due to a shock wave that bounced off the pad and damaged the forward connector between the shuttle and the external tank. The force also nearly damaged the tail flap.

Yes, the Orion spacecraft will have an abort system. But still, it is very risky to put a crew on the very first flight of a brand new booster. Other human launch vehicles were tested separately and with spacecraft before any crews were placed on board.

Another concern is the Orion spacecraft, whose only flight test lacked crucial equipment such as the service module and life support.

The flight might come off just fine. But, I fear that NASA’s concern about keeping the program funded, and Donald Trump’s desire for some space spectacular to boost his re-election chances, could combine to produce something very unfortunate.

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Orbital ATK Donates SRBs for Space Shuttle Endeavour Exhibit

Endeavour and the shuttle carrier aircraft over Houston (Credit: NASA)

DULLES, Virg., 28 March 2017  (Orbital ATK PR) – Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, and NASA have donated a set of flight-worthy solid rocket boosters from the Space Shuttle Program to the California Science Center to display with a full-up exhibit of the Endeavour orbiter and external tank.

“We take great pride in our 30-plus years of participation in the Space Shuttle Program,” said Charlie Precourt, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Propulsion Systems Division. “We’re pleased and honored that we can contribute hardware to this amazing exhibit at the California Science Center.”

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Piers Sellers: A Legacy of Science

piers_sellers2
Piers Sellers floating above on the aft flight deck of the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2002. (Credits: NASA)

By Patrick Lynch
NASA’s Goddard Space
Flight Center

Piers Sellers, who passed away on Dec. 23 more than a year after learning he had pancreatic cancer, leaves behind a dynamic legacy at NASA.

As an astronaut he helped build the International Space Station. As a manager he helped lead hundreds of scientists. And as a public figure he was an inspiration to many for his optimistic take on humanity’s ability to confront Earth’s changing climate.

But his most lasting contributions will be in the field where he began his career: science.

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Trump Appoints New Members of NASA Transition Team

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

President Elect Donald Trump has appointed six new members to the NASA transition team, including Steve Cook, who formerly managed the agency’s Ares program, and retired astronaut Sandra Magnus.

Steve Cook, acting president of Dynetics Technical Services in Huntsville, Ala., led NASA’s Ares program from July 2005 to August 2009. The program included the Ares I and Ares V heavy-lift vehicle and the Orion crew spacecraft for deep-space exploration.

The Obama Administration canceled the programs. However, Congress resurrected the Ares V as the Space Launch System and kept the Orion program in place.

At Dynetics, Cook has been involved in support Aerojet Rocketdyne’s development of the AR-1 engine. He also supported the company’s work on Stratolaunch Systems’ aircraft, which is designed to air launch satellite boosters.

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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

john-glenn-with-friendship-7-capsule
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.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program By the Numbers

commercial_crew_cst100_dragon_iss
With the recent news that commercial crew flights to the International Space Station will likely slip to the end of 2018, I thought it would be a good time to review what NASA has spend on the program since it began in 2010. And, since NASA has separated cargo and crew, we will also look at the space agency’s commercial cargo programs.

The table below shows that NASA has given out nearly $8.4 billion in contracts to Commercial Crew Program partners over the past six years. These figures do not include NASA’s overhead.

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Four Years Ago Endeavour Made Its Final Bow


Editor’s Note:
I was on the flight line that day taking pictures. It was just spectacular to see this flyby. Right off the deck. The 747 had taken off from Edwards that morning; after the Mojave flyby, it flew over Lancaster and Palmdale before heading up to the Bay Area and then down to Los Angeles.

Video Caption: Video by Brandon Litt, posted with permission.

On Sept 21, 2012, workers at the Mojave Air & Space Port (airport code KMHV), and anyone else who found one of several entrances temporarily opened to the public, were treated to a rare close-up view of the fly-by of the Space Shuttle Endeavour atop the Shuttle Carrier 747 “NASA 905”. The tour of California en route from Edwards AFB to Los Angeles was the last time the shuttle/747 configuration would ever fly. We only knew the shuttle/747 would fly by Mojave. We didn’t know the view was going to be so good until a moment before when “Astro 95” asked Mojave Tower for a low pass over Runway 26, which would give everyone along the flight line the best possible view.

Many thanks to NASA for the nice display on Endeavour’s final journey.

This is a video that my co-worker Brandon Litt took with his cell phone. When I found that he hadn’t posted it on YouTube, I got his permission to do so. This view really needed to be shared. (I’m in the video with my back to the camera wearing a red shirt, which was from the STS-134 launch.)

See also my photos of the fly-by at http://ian.kluft.com/pics/mojave/2012…

I Will Launch America: Launch Site Integrator Misty Snopkowski

i_will_launch_misty_snopkowskiBy Steven Siceloff,
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Misty Snopkowski has worked on human spaceflight initiatives since 2003, building up expertise with the Space Shuttle and International Space Station Programs and now standing on the precipice of the new era in human spaceflight with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

“I got to work up until the very last shuttle launch in 2011, which was a pretty amazing period in time,” Snopkowski said. “Then I joined commercial crew. You flip the script and go into a brand new program. I was this young person who got to start at the very beginning of a new program and most people don’t ever get that opportunity.”

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External Tank Arrives in Marina del Rey; Trip Through LA Set for Saturday

External Tank 94 (Credit: California Science Center)
External Tank 94 (Credit: California Science Center)

LOS ANGELES (California Science Center PR) — After an eventful 4,400 nautical mile journey, ET-94 has reached Marina del Rey! After leaving the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, it rode out a storm in the Cayman Islands, passed through the Panama Canal, and made its way up the Pacific Coast, where it played a part in rescuing a group of stranded fisherman after their boat sank.

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