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
The crew of the International Space Station joined Russian leaders and space officials, their NASA counterparts, and international partners around the world to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's launch on April 12, 1961, to become the first human in space.
"In the 20th century, it has become the most extraordinary event, the most significant event not only in Russia but the whole world and we're very proud of the fact that the first cosmonaut went into space on April 12, 1961, and he was our compatriot," Anatoly Perminov, director general of the Russian space … Read more
Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, plans to build a commercial heavy-lift rocket that will carry more than twice the payload of existing large rockets at one-third the cost. That would lower the price of delivering cargo to low-Earth orbit to the long-sought, and so far mythical, $1,000-per-pound range, the company's founder and chief designer announced today.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the Falcon Heavy--made up of three Falcon 9 core stages powered by 27 upgraded Merlin engines and generating a combined 3.8 million pounds of thrust--will be ready for its initial test flight from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., late next year or early 2013.
It will be the most powerful U.S. launcher since NASA's Saturn 5 moon rocket. NASA is exploring options for an even more powerful, congressionally mandated "super heavy-lift rocket" for use in deep space exploration, but it's not yet clear when that vehicle will fly or what its mission will be.
Musk said he expects initial demand to reach 10 Falcon Heavy launches a year if the test flight and subsequent launches go well. Potential customers include commercial satellite operators, NASA, and the military. Musk added that the military currently plans to spend some $1.74 billion on four Air Force launches in 2012 at an average cost of $435 million per flight.
SpaceX's single-core Falcon 9 rocket is available commercially for between $50 million and $60 million, the company said in a statement, while the new Falcon Heavy will cost between $80 million and $125 million, depending on requirements.
"Falcon Heavy represents a huge economic advantage," Musk said. "Falcon Heavy costs about a third as much per flight as a Delta 4 Heavy, but carries twice as much payload to orbit. So it's effectively a six-fold improvement in the cost per pound to orbit. In fact, Falcon Heavy sets a new world record for the cost per pound to orbit of around about $1,000. That's a pretty huge leap in capability."… Read more
After a six-and-a-half-year fall into the inner solar system, NASA's compact Messenger probe fired its main engine for 15 tense minutes today to brake into a looping orbit around hellish Mercury, becoming the first spacecraft to take up long-term residence around the solar system's hard-to-reach, innermost planet.
Following pre-programmed instructions, Messenger's main engine ignited on time at 5:54 p.m. PT, beginning the job of slowing the spacecraft enough for capture by Mercury's gravity. Engineers in the Messenger control center at Johns Hopkins University monitored subtle changes in a radio beacon from the spacecraft as … Read more
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Enduring the heat of re-entry one last time, the shuttle Discovery dropped out of orbit and returned to Earth today to wrap up a near-flawless 39th and final mission, marking the beginning of the end for NASA's winged rocket ships.
After firing its twin braking rockets for a computer-controlled descent halfway around the planet, commander Steven Lindsey took over manual control and guided Discovery through a 250-degree left turn to line up on runway 15.
Pilot Eric Boe then deployed the ship's landing gear and the 204,000-pound shuttle swooped to a tire-smoking touchdown … Read more
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--The crew of the shuttle Discovery, given a "Star Trek" send off by actor William Shatner, undocked from the International Space Station early today to close out an extended assembly and resupply mission, the shuttle's 13th and final visit to the orbital outpost.
With pilot Eric Boe at the controls, Discovery's docking system disengaged from the station's forward port at 7 a.m. ET as the two spacecraft sailed through orbital darkness above the western Pacific Ocean northeast of Australia.
"Houston and station, physical separation," commander Steven Lindsey called … Read more
NASA's Glory atmospheric research mission satellite crashed into the southern Pacific Ocean early today after a protective nose cone fairing failed to separate during launch aboard an Orbital Sciences Corp. Taurus XL rocket. The $424 million failure was the second in a row for the Orbital Sciences booster following the 2009 loss of another environmental satellite due to a similar nose cone malfunction.
"I think it's not an understatement to say tonight we're all pretty devastated," said Ronald Grabe, a former space shuttle commander who now manages Orbital's Launch Systems Group. "But we … Read more