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
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--With commander Mark Kelly at the controls, the shuttle Endeavour caught up with the International Space Station early today, looping under and then ahead of the lab complex before gliding back to a "silky smooth" docking at the station's forward port at 6:14 a.m. EDT.
"Houston and station, capture's confirmed," pilot Gregory Johnson radioed as the two spacecraft sailed through orbital darkness 220 miles above the south Pacific Ocean.
Inside the space station, European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli rang the ship's bell in a traditional naval … Read more
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Running two weeks late because of an electrical glitch, the repaired shuttle Endeavour finally blasted off and rocketed into orbit for the last time Monday, putting on a spectacular, if brief, show for the several hundred thousand spectators who were estimated to have come to watch NASA's next-to-last shuttle launch.
Carrying a $2 billion particle physics experiment, critical supplies, and spare parts bound for the International Space Station, Endeavour's three main engines flashed to life and throttled up to full power while computers monitored their performance 50 times per second.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Engineers have traced an electrical problem blamed for grounding the shuttle Endeavour Friday to a power distribution box in the ship's engine compartment, officials said today. Replacing the box will delay launch until at least May 8--Mother's Day--and possibly later.
"I'm here to disappoint everybody by saying I'm not going to tell you what the new launch date is because I have no idea," Mike Moses, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team, told reporters after engineers decided on a course of action. "We have a lot to evaluate, both the work to do, the R & R (removal and replacement), the retest that has to be done, how we work all that schedule in.
"But we can tell you pretty much it's not going to be any earlier than the 8th. That doesn't mean we're going to go launch on the 8th, that just means we know right now the 8th is our next available opening," he said.
Launch Director Mike Leinbach said engineers plan to remove the suspect aft load control assembly--ALCA-2--box from Endeavour's cramped engine compartment tomorrow, install a replacement Tuesday and get into a complex re-test procedure Tuesday night or early Wednesday.
To make a launch at 12:09:17 p.m. EDT on May 8, NASA would have to start a fresh three-day countdown around 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Whether the team can complete the ALCA-2 swap-out and re-test in time remains to be seen.… Read more
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--An electrical glitch with the shuttle Endeavour's hydraulic power system forced NASA managers to scrub today's planned launch on a space station assembly mission, disappointing thousands of spectators and spoiling a visit by President Obama and his family.
It also was a disappointment to commander Mark Kelly's wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who flew to Florida on Wednesday to watch the launch. Giffords has been recovering after being shot in the head during a shooting in January.
"But as we always say in this business, we will not fly this machine until it's ready," said Launch Director Mike Leinbach. "And today, it was not ready to go."
NASA managers do not yet know what it will take to resolve the problem, but they are hopeful a faulty thermostat in a heater circuit is to blame. If so, the shuttle could be ready for another launch attempt as early as Monday at 2:33:56 p.m. EDT.
But if the problem requires a cockpit fuse panel swap out, or installation of a replacement electrical box in the shuttle's aft engine compartment, Endeavour's launch on its 25th and final mission likely will be delayed until May 9 or 10, after the planned May 6 launch of an Atlas rocket carrying a missile early-warning satellite.… Read more
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Ending months of suspense, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden today announced the winners of a national competition to display the agency's three space shuttles after the fleet is retired and decommissioned later this year, choosing sites in Florida, California, and, as expected, the Washington, D.C., area.
Speaking on the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle flight on April 12, 1981, Bolden said the shuttle Discovery, NASA's senior orbiter, will be displayed near Washington at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
The shuttle Atlantis will remain at the Kennedy … Read more