Saturday, December 27, 2014
Friday, June 20, 2014
The study is all part of an ambitious plan that will hopefully be ready to get off the ground in just over a decade. The first step: use a robotic spacecraft to capture a small asteroid – like 2011 MD – and bring it to a new home, in orbit around the moon.
NASA conceptual planning image of a robotic asteroid capture mission underway.
This type of mission is one of the benefits of the rise of commercial space endeavors, providing NASA with the freedom to focus on exploration.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
|Off to a Saturn moon in Gattaca.|
|The rocket's red glare over Manhattan, September 6, 2013.|
|Virgin Galactic test flight over California's Mojave Desert, September 4, 2013.|
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
|Uncontrolled destruction: last night's chaotic Proton launch.|
|Controlled destruction: a Titan IVA is safely brought down in the wake of catastrophic guidance problems.|
One of the more spectacular examples of a termination system in action occurred on August 12, 1998, when a huge Titan IVA rocket was detonated off the Florida coast 41 seconds into flight. It was later determined that an electrical short caused by faulty insulation on a wire began to cause problems as normal launch vibrations shook the Titan. The guidance computer went offline, came back on, and attempted pitch and yaw maneuvers that exceeded the structural capacity of the Titan. Within moments, with the rocket at an altitude of 20,000 feet, explosive charges ignited which brought the flight to a safe – but expensive – conclusion.
|Logo for the group charged with ensuring a rocket doesn't land in your backyard.|
At no time does the job description of the Range Safety Officer become more difficult than when the flight is manned. It’s a topic no one liked to think about, but having witnessed shuttle launches from as close as media were allowed, I can attest to the fact that an out of control shuttle stack would have been be an entity of nearly unfathomable force. Which is why both the external tank and solid rocket boosters of the assembly carried termination systems – though the orbiter itself did not. This aspect of the system only came into play once: in the moments after the tragic destruction of Challenger, the Range Safety Office bore the responsibility of destroying the two solid rocket boosters that had continued to fly on after the initial explosion.
Knowing that the Russian rockets do not carry such termination systems would likely have me thinking twice about attending a Proton launch – especially since this is the fifth failure of this launch system in two-and-a-half years. A 19-story rocket that weighs over 1.5 million pounds with a mind of its own? That is a scary thought…
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
|A scale model of the Tiangong 1 module. National pride is a key motivator of the Chinese space program.|
|Todays's launch of the Shenzhon spacecraft in the Gobi desert, initiating China's fifth manned mission.|
|The crew of the current mission includes China's second female astronaut. |
Is there something familiar about those colors?
|China anticipates expanding its space station to this expansive degree - in less than seven years.|
Monday, May 6, 2013
|Buzz Aldrin (left) and Jim Lovell (right) on the recovery ship after completing the Gemini 12 mission. Aldrin's future led to walking on the moon on Apollo 11, while Lovell would command the harrowing Apollo 13.|
Buzz Aldrin has always been something of a controversial figure, during his military career and in the wake of his flight to the lunar surface on Apollo 11. In fact, while on the moon, Aldrin - a Presbyterian church elder - secretly carried out a communion service with a small kit, an action forbidden after atheist activist Madalyn Murray O‘Hair brought a lawsuit over a Scripture reading during Apollo 8‘s Christmas, 1968 lunar orbit. In darker days that followed, Aldrin suffered from depression and alcoholism, a period Aldrin himself has addressed in his books. I’ve heard him described as cold or standoffish by people who have encountered him, be it at book signings or other events. I can’t say I met him at a book signing several years ago, as he didn’t even look up from signing my copy.
|Perhaps the most famous NASA photograph: Buzz Aldrin, as photographed by Neil Armstrong.|
Aldrin also tends to be a magnet for criticism for commercializing his role as moonwalker. Buzz has appeared on Dancing with the Stars and voiced The Simpsons, and even had a role in the Transformers movie franchise. Rapping with Snoop? Yes, Aldrin’s done that, too. He admits to undergoing plastic surgery, and just divorced his third wife.
|Buzz Aldrin in recent years.|
To all that I say: so what? Despite the rare fraternity that Buzz became the second member of on that July day in 1969, he is still a human being, subject to the same long litany of bad decisions and problems that litter all of our lives. I’ve been fortunate to meet several of the Apollo astronauts over the years. Pete Conrad, who walked the lunar surface on Apollo 12, came across as serious. Harrison Schmitt, lunar module pilot of the last flight to the moon on Apollo 17, was gregarious. But they’re all different people. And nothing Aldrin could ever do to stir public disapproval can change the significance of the risks he took for the advancement of spaceflight more than forty years ago.
In the sports-mad Philadelphia area, where I live, even players who famously blew a play can live like local royalty, all faults forgiven. It seems strange to me that a man who successfully undertook one of the most dangerous, frightening, and glorious human endeavors can be the target of so much criticism for being just that: human.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Those who live in the vicinity of Florida’s eastern coast still have a fairly routine ability to watch rockets launch despite the conclusion of the space shuttle program, as Kennedy Space Center continues to launch a variety of unmanned spacecraft. Those of us further north rarely see anything more interesting than commercial airliners fly by. That could all change later this week.
Although SpaceX has received most of the commercial space flight attention lately for its successful unmanned mission to the ISS (International Space Station), they are far from the only players in the commercial launch game. And on April 17, dramatic proof of that may come from Virginia.
|Orbital's Antares rocket is raised into place on its coastal Virginia launch pad.|
Sitting right now on a launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in coastal Virginia is Orbital’s Antares rocket. The vehicle is poised for the A-ONE mission, a test flight into space to be followed up by a flight to the ISS later this year. Those along the East Coast may - skies willing - be able to see the Antares rocket take flight in just a few days. Here’s a helpful viewing map.
|Where to look to potentially witness Antares' ascent into space.|
For more on the flight’s scheduling and Orbital’s efforts to supply the ISS, please visit: