KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--By the light of a waning moon, the shuttle Atlantis fell back to Earth this morning, dropping out of predawn darkness to close out NASA's 135th and final shuttle voyage, a long-awaited--and long-dreaded--milestone marking the end of an era for American manned space flight.
Coming home to a future clouded by tight budgets and uncertain political support, commander Christopher Ferguson guided Atlantis through a sweeping left overhead turn and lined up on runway 15, quickly descending into the glare of powerful xenon spotlights.
Approaching the 3-mile-long runway, Ferguson pulled the shuttle's nose up in … Read more
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--After 37 space station assembly flights over the past 12 and a half years, the shuttle Atlantis undocked from the lab complex for the final time today in a long-awaited milestone that marks the beginning of the end for NASA's last shuttle mission.
With pilot Douglas "Chunky" Hurley at the controls, Atlantis pulled away from the station's forward docking port at 2:28 a.m. EDT as the two spacecraft sailed through orbital darkness 243 miles above the Pacific Ocean east of Christchurch, New Zealand.
"Physical separation, Houston," commander Christopher … Read more
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--In the dwindling hours of the shuttle program's last visit to the International Space Station, the Atlantis astronauts detached a bus-size cargo module from the space station today and mounted it in the shuttle's payload bay, wrapping up NASA's final shuttle station resupply mission.
The astronauts then gathered for a brief farewell to the lab crew before moving back aboard Atlantis to rig the ship for undocking early Tuesday. Landing at the Kennedy Space Center is targeted for 5:57 a.m. EDT Thursday.
The astronauts on the United States' final space shuttle mission will get one extra day in space.
Using the International Space Station's robot arm, the Atlantis astronauts pulled a bus-size cargo module from the shuttle's payload bay today and attached it to the lab's forward Harmony module to clear the way for a busy week of logistics transfers. The Italian-built Raffaello module is loaded with 9,403 pounds of supplies and equipment, including 2,677 pounds of food, that will help keep the station crew supplied through 2012.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--After a cliff-hanger countdown, the space shuttle Atlantis thundered to life and majestically rocketed into history Friday, putting on one last sky show for spectators jamming area roads and beaches to witness NASA's 135th and final shuttle launch.
With commander Christopher Ferguson and pilot Douglas Hurley monitoring the computer-orchestrated countdown, Atlantis' three hydrogen-fueled main engines flashed to life at 120 millisecond intervals, followed 6.6 seconds later by ignition of the shuttle's twin solid fuel boosters at 11:29:04 a.m. EDT (GMT-4).
At that same instant, explosive charges in four massive bolts … Read more
NASA's aging Voyager spacecraft, more than three decades outbound from Earth and approaching the outermost limits of the solar system, may be seeing signs of what scientists believe are huge magnetic bubbles churning at the interface between the sun's influence and interstellar space. The unexpected bubbles, shaped like sausages more than 100 million miles across, likely affect how high-energy cosmic rays pass into the inner solar system and may shed light on how stars interact with their galactic environments.
"It's exciting. We're learning new things almost every day," Voyager project scientist Ed Stone said.… Read more
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Signaling the beginning of the end for NASA's storied shuttle program, the Endeavour plunged back to Earth today, closing out its 25th and final flight.
The baton is now passed to its sistership, Atlantis, which was hauled to the launching pad a few hours earlier for it July 8 blastoff on the program's final voyage.
With commander Mark Kelly and pilot Gregory Johnson at the controls, Endeavour dropped out of a moonless sky and into the glare of powerful xenon floodlights after a fiery descent from orbit, settling to a ghostly touchdown on runway 15 at 2:34 a.m. EDT.
Barreling down the 300-foot-wide landing strip at more than 200 mph, Johnson deployed a large red-and-white braking parachute, Kelly brought the nose down, and Endeavour coasted to a stop on the runway centerline.
"Houston, Endeavour. Wheels stopped," Kelly radioed in a traditional call to Houston.
"122 million miles flown during 25 challenging space flights, your landing ends a vibrant legacy for this amazing vehicle that will long be remembered," astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore replied from mission control. "Welcome home, Endeavour."
"Thank you, Houston," Kelly said. "You know, the space shuttle is an amazing vehicle, to fly through the atmosphere, hit it at Mach 25, steer through the atmosphere like an airplane, land on a runway. It is really, really an incredible ship."
He thanked "every person who's worked on Endeavour," saying "it's sad to see her land for the last time, but she really has a great legacy."… Read more
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--The shuttle Endeavour undocked from the International Space Station for the 12th and final time late Sunday, backing away for a fly-around photo survey before moving back to within 1,000 feet or so to test navigation sensors and software intended for use in NASA's next generation manned spacecraft.
Sailing 220 miles above Bolivia, the shuttle's docking system disengaged its counterpart on the space station's forward port at 11:55 p.m. EDT and the orbiter pulled away directly in front of the lab complex.
"Houston and station, we have physical separation," an astronaut radioed as the two spacecraft separated.
A few moments later, space station flight engineer Ronald Garan rang the ship's bell in the forward Harmony module and, following naval tradition, announced "Endeavour, departing. Fair winds and following seas, guys."
"Thanks, Ron. We appreciate all the help," shuttle commander Mark Kelly replied.
"It was a pleasure serving with you boys," Garan said.
Following standard practice, Endeavour pilot Gregory Johnson was at the controls for undocking, guiding the shuttle to a point about 400 feet directly in front of the outpost before kicking off a slow 360-degree photo-survey fly around, looping up above, behind, below and back out in front of the laboratory at a distance of about 600 feet. A small rocket firing was planned to put Endeavour on a trajectory carrying it back above and behind the station.… Read more
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--A version of the Bush administration's Orion moon capsule, written off by the Obama administration and then resurrected as a space station lifeboat, will be developed instead for use in future manned flights to deep space targets beyond Earth orbit, the agency announced today.
Douglas Cooke, associate administrator of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, told reporters the Orion concept, described by former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin as "Apollo on steroids," is the most capable spacecraft currently on the drawing board for meeting the Obama administration's "flexible path" approach to deep space exploration.
"This is the Orion-based concept that was designed for deep space missions and had the appropriate accommodations and design requirements for that type of mission," he said. "We did look at alternatives in some of the systems designs we're seeing in the various concepts that are being proposed, for instance, for commercial (vehicles)...And after studying those, we found the design approach we've got is really the best for this type of mission beyond low-Earth orbit."
Developed by Lockheed Martin, the solar-powered Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, or MPCV, would carry four astronauts on missions lasting up to three weeks, much longer when attached to a larger interplanetary habitation module of some sort. The capsule would have a pressurized volume of 690 cubic feet, weigh approximately 23 tons at launch and end its missions with splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
Using an advanced abort system and a high-performance heat shield, the MPCV is expected to be 10 times safer than the space shuttle.
But Cooke said he does not yet know what it will cost to develop the MPCV, when the first manned or unmanned test fight might launch, how much individual vehicles will cost, what rocket will be used to launch them or where they might end up going. To date, he said, NASA has spent more than $5 billion on the Orion concept.
"When? Basically, we are still working on our integrated architecture; that includes the space launch system, along with ground systems and other supporting projects in order to put together integrated cost and schedule," he said. "So at this point, we don't have a specific date, although we are working diligently to understand earliest possible test dates within the approach that we are working to lay out."
In 2004, the Bush administration ordered NASA to complete the International Space Station and retire the space shuttle by the end of fiscal 2010, and to channel the savings into development of new rockets and spacecraft designed to support long-duration outposts on the moon by the early 2020s. Since then, the final shuttle flight has slipped to this July.
During Griffin's tenure, NASA came up with the Constellation program to implement the president's directive. The Orion capsule was intended to carry astronauts to and from the moon and to service the International Space Station as required. Two rockets were envisioned, the Ares I to launch Orion capsules into Earth orbit, and a huge heavy-lift Ares V to boost lunar landers and attached Orion spacecraft to the moon.… Read more
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--The Endeavour astronauts installed a $2 billion cosmic ray detector on the International Space Station today, a powerful magnet surrounded by a complex array of sensors that will study high-energy particles from the depths of space and time to look for clues about the formation and evolution of the universe.
"Thank you very much for the great ride and safe delivery of AMS to the station," radioed Sam Ting, the Nobel laureate who has managed the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer project for more than 15 years. "Your support and fantastic work have taken us … Read more