Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is scheduled to launch on STS-134 currently scheduled for launch on February 26, 2011.

This week in Space

"The International Space Station's antimatter detector gets ready to launch aboard the space shuttle, next Martian rover gets an arm, SpaceX drop-tests its Dragon and new planetary discoveries."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A very inspiring book: My Dream of Stars - the story of Anousheh Ansari's flight to the International Space Station

On September 18th, 2006 Iranian born American Anousheh Ansari achieved her dream of flying in space. Launched aboard Soyuz TMA-9 with commander Mikhail Tyurin (RSA) and flight engineer Michael Lopez-Alegria (NASA), Anousheh reached low Earth orbit and became the 4th "spaceflight participant" and the first female space tourist. TMA-9 docked with the International Space Station on September 20th. She spent the next eight days on the ISS and returned on Soyuz TMA-8 with NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams and Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov. Total mission duration was 10 days, 21 hours and 4 minutes.

I was on a eleven hour flight from Los Angeles to Frankfurt and when I started reading her book My Dream of Stars (written jointly with Homer Hickam) I could not put it down. I rushed through dinner, skipped the in-flight movies had a second glass of wine and kept on reading. Her story is quite inspiring as she walks us through her life from growing up in Mashhad and Tehran to meeting her husband Hamid and her brother-in-law Amir and of co-founding Telcom Technologies, Inc. What were most interesting for me were the chapters dedicated to her selection and subsequent training at Star City. She also gives an open and honest account of her 48hr journey to the ISS. The detail she went into from her bouts of space sickness she had during the first few days, her life aboard the ISS and her conversations she had with the astronauts and cosmonauts to her landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan was absolutely amazing. I read every word and clung to all the details. While Anousheh was at the ISS she also kept a blog which was equally interesting reading.

Anousheh Ansari is quite a remarkable person and teaches us all that through tenacity, hope, innovation and hard work even the impossible can be achieved and even the wildest dreams can be made to come through. More information about her can be found on her web page.

Friday, August 20, 2010

SpaceX completes successful Dragon spacecraft high altitude drop test

In an email press release today, SpaceX announced a successful parachute test of the Dragon spacecraft. Congratulations!

"The purpose of the test was to validate the Dragon's parachute deployment systems and recovery operations prior to the first flight of an operational Dragon later this year. The drop occurred on August 12, 2010 about nine miles off the coast from the scenic town of Morro Bay, CA-- 45 miles north of Vandenberg Air Force Base. An Erickson S-64F Air-Crane helicopter dropped a test article of the Dragon spacecraft from a distance of 14,000 feet, directly above the center of a 6 mile diameter Pacific Ocean test zone. 

Credit: Roger Gilbertson/SpaceX

In a carefully timed sequence of events, dual redundant drogue parachutes deployed first to stabilize and slow the spacecraft. Full deployment of the drogues then triggered the release of the main parachutes, with the drogues detaching from the spacecraft, allowing the main parachutes to deploy. While Dragon will initially be used to transport cargo, the spacecraft was designed to transport crew. The parachute system validated during the drop test is the same system that would be used on a crew-carrying Dragon. The three main parachutes, designed and manufactured by Airborne Systems, are particularly large--each measuring 116 feet in diameter when fully deployed. The oversized parachutes are key in ensuring a comfortable landing for crew members. After the drogues stabilize the spacecraft, the main parachutes further slow the spacecraft's decent to approximately 16-18 ft/sec which makes for a very soft landing. Even if Dragon were to lose one of its main parachutes, the two remaining chutes would still ensure a pretty soft landing for the crew. Under nominal conditions, astronauts would experience no more than roughly 2-3 g's during this type of decent—less than you'd experience at an amusement park. While the test article landed well within the targeted zone, the landing of an operational Dragon will be even more precise. With an operational Dragon, the landing location is controlled by firing the Draco thrusters during reentry, ensuring Dragon splashes down less than a mile from the desired landing site. Even that dispersion is only due to wind drift while Dragon is under the parachutes--if winds are low, Dragon's landing accuracy will be to within a few hundred feet. 

 Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX

For initial crewed flights, Dragon will be recovered by helicopter and airlifted to shore. Our long term goal, however, is to land Dragon on land. Once we have proven our ability to control reentry accurately, we intend to add deployable landing gear and leverage the thrusters in order to land on land in the future.
During this particular drop test operation, Dragon was returned by boat and lifted onto its transport carrier via a bay-side crane.

 Credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX

 A drop test is historically a very difficult test to complete successfully, so congratulations to the entire Dragon drop team for achieving 100% success on their first attempt. In addition, SpaceX thanks the numerous individuals who were incredibly helpful in assisting with the execution of this test--a test of this size requires significant coordination between numerous parties and we greatly appreciate their help. In particular, SpaceX thanks the Dynegy Morro Bay Power Plant, Erickson Air-Crane, Angel City Air Aerial Photography, Associated Pacific Constructors of Morro Bay, Castagnola Tug Service, Morro Bay Harbor, Fire and Police Departments, US Coast Guard Morro Bay Station, The Federal Aviation Administration, Morro Bay Planning Division, Protech Express Towing, SloDivers, Centurion Private Security, Coast Diving Service and Woody Wordsworth at Radio Shack Morro Bay."
Source: SpaceX

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Elon Musk: Will he be the Henry Ford of Spacecraft?

My friend Heather Archuletta (aka Pillow Astronaut) sent me an email in regards to Elon Musk asking "did you see him on the Daily Show? He could be the Henry Ford of spacecrafts... time will tell...". So the timing for this post is perfect. I am with Heather, I believe Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX will be the ones who revolutionize space travel and give the rest of us the chance to work, travel and play in space. Why do we hope that he is the Henry Ford of spacecraft? Well, Henry Ford was the founder of the Henry Ford Motor Company (1903)and is considered the father of the modern assembly line process used in mass production. He revolutionized the automobile industry by producing the first affordable mass produced automobile - the Model-T (1906). We hope that Musk and his team will do the same for commercial spaceflight.

The following is an interview with Elon Musk by the Henry Ford Foundation. The full length interview can be watched here.

This week in Space with Miles O'Brien

"Spacewalkers continue working on repairs, an interview with EVA'er Dave Wolf, success for Atlas 5 rocket and a new shot from Hubble."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Thank You for Supporting the Future of Human Spaceflight" - Elon Musk

"We recently asked for your help to protect the future of human spaceflight – and the response was impressive. Your phone calls and the efforts of supportive members of Congress helped stop the NASA Authorization bill from being pushed through the House of Representatives before important improvements could be made. 

This bill would have authorized over five times more taxpayer dollars to fly NASA astronauts on the Russian Soyuz than to develop an American-made commercial alternative that would energize our economy and create jobs right here at home.

We still have a tough fight ahead of us, but many in Congress are starting to recognize that commercial vehicles like Dragon and Falcon 9 are the nation's best option for ending our reliance on Russia to transport astronauts to the International Space Station and preserving America's leadership role in space. It's not over yet. When the House returns from its summer recess in September, NASA Authorization bill H.R. 5781 will be up for vote again.

We hope you will continue to fight for the opportunity to show how a true public/private partnership can transform America's space program.

We thank you for your support and look forward to working together to ensure an exciting future for American spaceflight.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Perseids Meteor Shower expected to peak 12-13 August 2010

During the next few days the Perseids meteor shower will peak with an expected 50 to 80 meteors per hour. Perhaps the most famous of all meteor showers, the Perseids have been observed and recorded as far back as 36 AD by the Chinese (that is almost 2000 years ago). However, credit for the discovery of the shower’s annual appearance is given to Adolphe Quetelet of Belgium, who, in 1835 reported a meteor shower that occurred in August emanating from the constellation of Perseus. Thus the name "the Perseids" because the point they appear to come from, called the radiant, lays in the constellation of Perseus. The first observer to provide an hourly count was E. Heis from Munster, Germany who recorded a maximum rate of 160 meteors per hour back in 1839. Computations of the orbit of the Perseids between 1864 and 1866 by Schiaparelli (Italy) revealed a strong resemblance to a periodic comet named 19P/Swift-Tuttle which had been discovered in 1862. This was the first time a meteor shower had been positively identified with a comet. Every 133 years this huge comet swings through the inner solar system and leaves behind a trail of dust and gravel. When the Earth passes through the debris, specks of comet debris hit the atmosphere at 140,000 mph and disintegrate in flashes of light producing “shooting stars” with long tails.
The Perseids meteor shower is visible between mid July to mid August each year and this year should be no different from years past where most observers in the Northern hemisphere observed a spectacular shower of “shooting stars”. 2010 is a good year for Perseids because the Moon won’t up during the midnight to dawn hours of greatest activity. As Perseus rises and the night deepens, meteor rates will increase. The best time to observe is during the darkest hours before pre-dawn on Friday morning, August 13th, when most observers will see dozens of Perseids per hour. I am definitely going to stay up to observe the Perseids; I only hope that I can find a dark enough of a spot away from the city lights of Los Angeles.
If you are not sure where Perseus lies in the sky, the following sky chart from NASA Science News should help you find it in the night sky.

Thirteenth Annual Mars Society Convention (2010)

The Thirteenth Annual Mars Society Convention was held this year in Dayton, Ohio August 5-7, 2010. My dear friend and MDRS-88 colleague and award winning author David Levine was invited to give a talk highlighting our mission. He attended the conference and blogged daily about the various presentations and talks given. Attached are the links to his blog "The Days Are Just Packed". Thursday, August 5th. Friday, August 6th. Saturday, August 7th.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"The Mars Diaries" edited by David D. Levine: The story of Crew 88 of the Mars Desert Research Station in their own words

When we were at the MDRS, David had the great idea of taking all of our blogs and compiling them into a book that we can keep as a souvenir or gift to friends and relatives. He has completed his promise and compiled "The Mars Diaries" which is now available for purchase from It will also be available from in 6-8 weeks. I just received several copies and they look absolutely fabulous. Bianca's blog is in Dutch and Diego's is in Spanish but David had them translated into English as well. Thanks David!