Saturday, October 22, 2011

This Week @ NASA: 21 October 2011

Top Stories on This Week At NASA. Three new flight directors at Mission Control in Houston. The latest on micro-gravity experiments aboard the ISS, Lifetime achievement awards for the Mars Rovers and Two Governors tour NASA facilities.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Space Shuttle

Credit: NASA

This feature-length documentary (narrated by William Shatner) looks at the history of the most complex machine ever built. For 30 years, NASA's space shuttle carried humans to and from space, launched amazing observatories, and eventually constructed the next stop on the road to space exploration.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dinner at the Starship Gallery, Space Center Houston - Part 3

With Harv Hartman in front of the Apollo 17 Command Module. Harv retired as Director of HR at JSC. He joined NASA towards the end of the Gemini program and stayed on until the construction of the International Space Station. He had lots of great stories to tell.

Part 3: You would think it couldn't possibly get any better, but it did! Just to recap the day. We spent the night at The Houstonion Hotel. Had breakfast with Astronaut Terry Wilcutt. Then on the way to JSC we watched episode 5 of From the Earth to the Moon. This episode was about Tom Kelly and the team at Grumman designing and developing the Lunar Module. Our first stop was the Rocket Park where we saw a Saturn V (this one was slated to fly to the Moon as Apollo 18 before the mission was cancelled). Then we walked over to the Astronaut Memorial Grove. Then listened to an awesome lunch presentation on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. We spent the afternoon at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Quite a full day so far, but there was more to come. Jeff Jackson, Dick Richardson, Matt Gray, Terry Willcutt and Harv Hartman had more in store for us. I was in orbit already!

Next, we drove to Space Center Houston (SCH) where we had a classroom session and recapped the key learning's of the day. After that we had some free time to wonder around the SCH. Harv had pointed me to the Space Shuttle Simulator and I decided to give it a shot. On my first try I ended up doing a pretty good landing. Harv was there right next to me and was my witness. Later that evening he announced to the whole class that I had "greased" the landing. I was smiling so hard all evening my jaw was aching the following morning.

We watched a movie of the Apollo 11 moon landing in the Destiny Theater. The discussion there was about the "team" effort needed to get the first men on the Moon. Everyone had a role, played their part and everyone relied on each other. What better example of this than the "1201 alarms" going on during the descent and the back room guys giving Gene Kranz the GO for landing.

Our reception at the Destiny Theater (with wine and appetizers) was followed by an amazing presentation by a scientist who talked about the research being conducted on the ISS. The ISS has been designated a National Laboratory by Congress. It is truly amazing to think that the ISS was launched in 1998 and that we have had a continuous human presence in orbit for over ten years!

We then went on for a private dinner at the Starship Gallery. Yup!

"Faith 7" Mercury Spacecraft flown by Gordon Cooper. This was the last flight of the Mercury program. Cooper flew a total of 22 orbits (May 15-16, 1962).

Apollo 17 was the 6th and last lunar landing and was crewed by Eugene Cernen (Commander), Ronald Evans (Command Module Pilot), and Harrison Schmitt (Lunar Module Pilot).

Apollo 17 Command Module "America"

Apollo EVA Space Suits

Training model of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (AKA "the Moon buggy"). Rovers were used on Apollo 15, 16 and 17.

Moon rocks. Actually touched one.

Interior of Skylab

Among the many fascinating artifacts was this training mock up of the inside of Skylab. This was our first Space Station and was launched in 1973 and deorbited in 1979 after three long duration missions.

I could easily have spent an entire day just in the Starship Gallery

Astronaut on an EVA with the ISS in the background

Training mock up of the Lunar Module (LM)

Robonaut 2 is now aboard the ISS and was launched on STS-133

The main gallery at Space Center Houston has several historical artifacts including space suits.

Prior to the Challenger explosion astronauts wore just flight suits and helmets. After Challenger they switched to the now famous orange pressure suits.

Space Shuttle space suit

Orlan space suit used by the Russians for EVA

We had an amazing day and the best was yet to come - a visit to the historical Apollo Mission Control center and the ISS Mission Control center. That's for Part 4.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory - Part 2

At the NBL with Astronaut Col. Terrence Wilcutt

After lunch we drove to NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) also known as the Sonny Carter Training Facility. This is where the astronauts train for Extra Vehicular Activities (EVA's) - better known as "Space Walks". The NBL training facility is located near Ellington Field (that's where all those cool T-38 aircraft are hangared) and is named in honor of the late astronaut M. L. "Sonny" Carter, who was instrumental in developing many of the current space-walking techniques used by the astronauts. Could not have picked a better place to have a discussion on training and methods and techniques used to build a world class "team".

Entrance to the NBL, the Sonny Carter Training Facility

The NBL is quite impressive. It's 202 feet in length, 102 feet in width and 40 feet in depth and contains 6.2 million gallons of water that is filtered and cleaned every 24 hours. Angie Prince who is the Branch Chief of EVA training gave us a very thorough overview of the NBL and the training that her team and the crews go through. For every hour of actual EVA the astronauts go through seven hours of simulated training in the NBL. Every time they have astronauts in the water she has a full team of physicians, safety divers, camera crew/divers and "mission control" going through all of the details and choreographing every aspect of the EVA. She said that after each training session they debrief in great detail. Every astronaut is "graded" after each training session. She said that the simulations are so "real" that many astronauts have thanked her and her team while on an actual EVA because the training was so close to the real thing. The selection of the training crews and the training they go through for these simulations was at a level I have not encountered before. They set the bar pretty high and then put together a training program to pull everyone involved to that high level. It was absolutely impressive!

I asked if I could suit up - they thought I was kidding

It was truly an amazing place. While we were there two ISS astronauts were undergoing EVA training in the far side of the pool where the ISS mock ups were located. Several times I offered to help and each time I got a huge smile from Terry and Harv. Oh, they new I was quite serious. Terry told me that sometimes they come over and wear their SCUBA gear and swim around the mock ups of the Space Shuttle and the ISS. How cool is that?

The ISS mock ups are at the far end

Mock up of the Shuttle cargo bay and the robotic arm

They hoisted up two astronauts that were training for an EVA 

Angie is the Chief of the EVA Training Branch

We then ended up in "mission control" at the NBL to continue our discussion on the importance of training and how leaders react during a crisis. Several important points to take away. At the NBL the astronauts train until they have gone over each step until its second nature. They sort of  build up "muscle memory". Then they train through emergencies and "off nominal scenarios" (to use a NASA term). That is they train through all of those situations that can happen. This is done because there will always be the possibility that they will encounter a situation that they have not trained for. In those situations, their training kicks in to cover most of the situation while their brain now starts to "solve the problem" that is presented. This is hard to describe in a short blog nor go over in detail the entire discussion that we had. Perhaps the best example of this is what Dick and Jeff presented. When US Air flight 1549 sucked up birds and both engines died, Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger's training kicked in. If you listen to the cockpit voice recordings of his conversations with "ground" and with his "co-pilot" you can clearly note where his training had kicked in and what he was trying to "problem solve". The co-pilot made the takeoff and was "pilot in command" at the time of the bird strike (this is not unusual as the captain and the pilot take turns flying so as to give flight experience to the co-pilots) but when  both engines shut down Sully said "my plane" and took charge of the situation. Now if you go on to listen to the cockpit audio you can hear him try to solve the issue of where he could put down the plane and he was going through the options of each of the near by airports and available runways including  setting the plane down on the Hudson River. At no time do you hear him talk about controlling or flying the plane. That is because he had practiced "engine out" situations enough times in the simulator that his training had kicked in. He knew what to do and how to keep the plane in the air. He was not actively focusing on flying the plane but was actually focusing on going through ALL the available options to find a safe place to to set the plane down. Oh, I could go on an on about this... but it was one of those discussions that makes you really think. A lot of important tid bits to take away and makes you think how you would apply training to your engineers and organization so that they would react appropriately in  time of crisis and help "solve the problem".

Next Part 3: Dinner at the "Starship Gallery" at the Houston Space Center. There is an actual Goddard rocket, Gordon Cooper's "Faith 7" Mercury capsule, Gordon Cooper's and Pete Conrad's Gemini V spacecraft, the Apollo 17 Command Module "America"... and many more...

This Week @ NASA June 17, 2011

In Their Own Words: Astronaut Mike Barratt

On beng selected as an astronaut to flying the Soyuz and living aboard the ISS for six months...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Apollo Leadership Experience - Part 1

Next to the Saturn V. This one was slated for Apollo 18 before that mission was cancelled

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) and at the adjoining Space Center Houston (SCH) at a workshop titled The Apollo Leadership Experience. The program was hosted by The Conference Board, a non-profit organization providing in-depth research and best practices concerning management, leadership, and corporate citizenship. The company I work for is a member of The Conference Board. The Apollo Leadership Experience is one of their newest programs drawing on the leadership lessons of the manned space flight effort over the 10-year period of The Apollo Program. When this program was announced, at least six people at my company forwarded it to me knowing my interest in NASA and human spaceflight. I have participated in enough leadership and training programs to last a lifetime but this one was hard to turn down. It was about innovation (Saturn V, the Lunar Lander, the Lunar Rover), managing in a large organization and creating a culture of excellence (NASA), managing through a significant set back (Apollo 1), leadership and managing through a crisis (Apollo 13) and setting lofty goals and achieving them (Apollo 11). For those of you who know me... anyone would think that this two day program was created just for me and where I am in my professional career.

The folks at The Conference Board, especially Jeff Jackson and Dick Richardson really pulled together an amazing experience for all of us. From the NASA JSC side we had the undivided attention of four time Shuttle Astronaut Col. Terrence Wilcutt. Terry flew as pilot of STS-68 and STS-79 and as Commander of STS-89 and STS-106. He flew twice to MIR and once to the International Space Station (ISS). By the way, the folks at NASA refer to the ISS as "station". Also with us was Harv Hartman who served with NASA for 33 years and recently retired as Director of HR for JSC. He joined NASA during the Gemini program and stayed on until ISS. Can you imagine the stories he related. If I did not have a family and a job I would still be in Houston listening to him talk about NASA. Mathew Gray filled us with a ton of details on the ISS and just about any topic we presented him with. He is a Manager in the ISS Safety and Mission Assurance Branch. These people really care about NASA and human spaceflight. Amazing, amazing people and truly inspiring!

Our first topic was around innovation and the setting was the Rocket Park at JSC. We had a great discussion comparing "incremental" innovation versus "disruptive" innovation. Werner Von Bruan and team developed their rockets incrementally building bigger engines and bigger rockets going from the Redstone booster to the mighty Saturn V. We compared this type of innovation to what Tom Kelly and the Grumman Team did to develop the Lunar Lander. The design of the Lunar Lander broke all the traditional rules of aircraft design. For a good overview of the design process watch Episode 5 of From the Earth to the Moon. You will see how these managers and engineers really had to think "outside the box". Eventually, the Lunar Lander had very small windows, no seats - the crew flew it standing up, a two stage design where the lower part of the spacecraft remained on the Moon and was used as a launch pad for the ascent stage. This discussion really made me think about my own R&D team because we need to incrementally improve our current product platforms but equally we need some break through thinking to come up with the next "disruptive technology".

Dick and Harv also presented some great insight on some of the key players during the Apollo era. They talked about the leadership styles of James Webb, Werner Von Braun, Tom Kelly, George Low,  and Harrison Storms. Wow! What great leaders they were. I wish we could go back in a time machine and see these great folks in action.

Several folks wanted to go visit the Astronaut Memorial Grove. First a little bit of history. The idea for the Astronaut Memorial Grove was spearheaded in 1996 by George Abbey, JSC director at the time, and then became a reality when seven live oak trees were planted in memory of the STS-51L crewmembers who perished 10 years earlier during the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. From that moment on, tree dedication ceremonies have been held in honor of every astronaut who has since departed this life.

We have lost a total of 17 astronauts (Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia) and I am sure all of you have read the harsh criticisms that NASA was complacent, or they did not care or was negligent. Let me tell you, the managers and engineers at NASA really care, and they put the the lives of their astronauts as the most important aspect of the mission. Everywhere you go you see the three mission patches of the missions where the crews were lost. From the Rocket Park, to the NLB to the JSC buildings.. they are NOT forgotten. There is a tradition in Mission Control where the mission patch of the "current" mission is placed by the door. After the mission is complete the most valuable contributor to the mission from mission control is selected to to place a ladder on the wall and the mission patch is "permanently" attached to the wall of Mission Control. This tradition dates back as far as anyone can remember. When we were looking in at the ISS Mission Control Center you can see all of the mission patches up on the wall, but the three mission patches where the crews did not return are still by the door. These people really care about the crews! It means everything to them.

We then stopped by at one of the JSC buildings for lunch. It was 100F outside but it felt like the sun had gone super nova. Yup, this is a really dedicated bunch of folks living in Houston. Meanwhile, it was 74F and blue skies in Southern California.

Jeff, Dick, Terry, Harv and Matt had a real treat for us at lunch time. Trnt Martin, "the project manager" for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) gave us a presentation on the program and status to date. Don't ask me what I had for lunch because I don't remember one bit. Martin's talk had me totally consumed.  I had blogged previously about the AMS but his inside scoop of this incredible instrument and pictures of it being installed on the ISS totally rocked! (Hmm, secretly I was imagining myself on a spacewalk installing it on the ISS). Here is my advice to all my readers. Go find all of your physics text books and get ready to throw them in the trash can (no, you cant donate them) because they are soon going to be obsolete. Our view of the universe is going to change very soon. With almost a billion particles going through the detector our views of antimatter and dark matter will change very quickly and our knowledge of the natural world will soon change. This is what these folks at NASA are doing. Our understanding of the Universe is going to change very soon. This is really exciting!

Next: the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (Part 2).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

International Space Station and Space Shuttle Endeavour

Credit: NASA

These images of the International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour, flying at an altitude of approximately 220 miles, were taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking on May 23, 2011 (USA time). These pictures are the first taken of a shuttle docked to the International Space Station from the perspective of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Onboard the Soyuz were Russian cosmonaut and Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev; Nespoli, a European Space Agency astronaut; and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman. Coleman and Nespoli were both flight engineers. The three landed in Kazakhstan later that day, completing 159 days in space. Additional photographs ca be found here.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Friday, June 3, 2011

Copenhagen Suborbitals launches test rocket!

Rocketeers Peter Madsen and Kristian von Bengsten. Credit: Copenhagen Suborbitals

Just a small step for all mankind if you compare with NASA or SpaceX, but what a huge leap for all of us aspiring astronauts. Two guys with a vision and a strong desire for personal spaceflight and some 20+ volunteers and some $60,000 built and launched a rocket today. So it went only to a height of 2.8km and some 8+ km down range, the parachutes got tangled up... but they did it. They launched a rocket! This is so exciting.

There are so many private entrepreneurs building rockets these days ranging from Elon Musk's SpaceX, to Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic to Jeff Greason's XCOR Aerospace, and Jeff Bezo's Blue Origin to name a few... all of this has only renewed my faith that someday soon I will have my turn to live out my childhood dream of being an astronaut and flying in space. Today was a great day for all of us who dream of someday seeing the Earth from the outside. Congratulations Copenhagen Suborbitals!

Liftoff of HEAT 1X and TYCHO BRAHE. Credit: Copenhagen Suborbitals

Credit: Copenhagen Suborbitals

Launch video in Danish...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Copenhagen Suborbitals to launch a test rocket on Friday

Credit: Copenhagen Suborbitals

Copenhagen Suborbitals announced today that they have completed all testing and are GO for launch tomorrow of the HEAT 1X rocket and the TYCHO BRAHE spacecraft. Designed and built by two Danish rocketeers Kristian von Bengston and Peter Madsen, the unmanned launch is scheduled at about 3:00pm Danish time. Additional information about the launch including live video can be found here and here. Additional updates from the launch team is also being posted on their Facebook page. Latest reports from the group states that the rocket and the launch platform (Sputnik) has been towed to the launch area located in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Denmark. So far it seems that sea and weather conditions are optimal for the launch.

Overview of the TYCHO BRAHE Spacecraft: Credit: Copenhagen Suborbitals

Credit: Copenhagen Suborbitals

If all goes well tomorrow, the plan is for Peter Madsen to be on the first manned flight sometime in the near future. The eventual goal is to launch paying tourists on this single seat spacecraft on suborbital flights to altitudes of 100 kilometers (62.5 miles). The spacecraft including the astronaut is 3.5 meters long, with a 64cm diameter and a weight of about 300kg. Other data on the spacecraft specifies a 15 mm cork as a heat shield and a "personal parachute for panic egress". From the sketch above it appears that the astronaut will be standing/sitting upright in the small capsule with a clear view through the Plexiglas's dome of the entire ballistic ride. It looks like it will be one wild ride!

PS. I am hoping my wife reads this blog post. IF she does, the yellow lab puppy and the Ducati can be recategorized as a "sure shots".

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Endeavour's final flight is currently underway with touch down at KSC planned for 1 June 2011 at 2:32am EDT. After decommissioning Endeavour will be displayed at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. So expect some detailed photographs of this amazing spaceship sometime in the future.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Alan Shepard: The First American in Space

On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard piloted the Freedom 7 mission and became the second person, and the first American, to travel into space. He was launched on a Redstone rocket, and unlike Gagarin's 108-minute orbital flight, Shepard stayed on a ballistic trajectory - a 15-minute suborbital flight which carried him to an altitude of 116 statute miles (187 km) and to a splashdown point 302 statute miles (486 km) down the Atlantic Missile Range. Unlike Gagarin, whose flight was strictly automatic, Shepard had some control of Freedom 7. He made his second space flight as commander of Apollo 14 from January 31-February 9, 1971, America's third successful lunar landing mission. Shepard piloted the Lunar Module Antares to the most accurate landing of the entire Apollo program.

Following Apollo 14, Shepard returned to his position as Chief of the Astronaut Office in June. He was promoted to rear admiral before retiring both from the Navy and NASA on August 1, 1974. He died of leukemia near his home in Pebble Beach, California on July 21, 1998. Alan Shepard was a true American Hero.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (STS-134)

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is on board the Shuttle Endeavour awaiting liftoff and assembly on the International Space Station.

Space Shuttle Endeavour's Final Flight

Credit: NASA video

After nearly two decades of achievements in space, Endeavour makes one last reach for the stars on its final mission, STS-134. This web cast examines the mission to come and explores the storied flying career for the youngest of NASA's shuttle orbiters.

Space Shuttle Endeavour (Orbiter Vehicle Designation OV-105) is the fifth and final shuttle and was constructed as a replacement for Challenger. Structural spares from the construction of Discovery and Atlantis, two of the three remaining operating shuttles in use at that time, were used in its assembly. The decision to build Endeavour was favored over refitting Enterprise on cost grounds. The orbiter is named after the British HMS Endeavour, the ship which took Captain James Cook on his first voyage of discovery (1776-1771). Endeavour first flew in 1992 on STS-49 and during that mission it captured and deployed the stranded INTELISAT IV communications satellite. In 1993, it made the first service mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Among other notable achievements: in 1998, on STS-89 Endeavour rendezvoused with the MIR space station for an astronaut exchange. That same year on STS-88 Endeavour flew the first assembly mission (Unity Module-Node 1) of the International Space Station. This flight will mark the 25th and final flight of Endeavour.  Upon decommissioning  Endeavour will be displayed at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. This means detailed photographs to follow sometime in the future.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

NASA CCDev 2 Briefing 28 April 2011

Today there was a briefing at the Kennedy Space Center detailing NASA's recent awards of more than $269 million for the continued development of a commercial transportation systems to carry astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit. Four U.S. companies received the awards in the second round of NASA's Commercial Crew Development, or CCDev 2, effort. It is expected that commercial crew transport will free NASA to concentrate on developing and building new technologies for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. This is a step in the right direction for human spaceflight. This is what we all want. We want NASA to refocus on going back to the Moon, to Near Earth Asteroids and eventually to Mars.

SpaceX CCDev 2 video shows Dragon Landing on Mars

No one ever said that Elon Musk doesn't dream big. GO SpaceX!

Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Dennis Tito's Flight and the Birth of Space Tourism

Dennis Tito

Dennis Tito launched into space and into history aboard Soyuz TM-32 on April 28, 2001, and spent 7 days, 22 hours, 4 minutes in space orbiting the Earth 128 times. He returned on Soyuz TM-31. Tito became the first to fund his own trip to space and paid a reported $20 million for his trip. The spaceflight was brokered by the space tourism company Space Adventures Ltd

Dennis Tito has a BS in Astronautics from New York University and a MS in Engineering Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is a former scientist of NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In 1972, he founded Wilshire Associates, a leading provider of investment management, consulting and technology services in Santa Monica, California. Wilshire relies on the field of quantitative analytics, which uses mathematical tools to analyze market risks - a methodology Tito is credited with helping to develop by applying the same techniques he used to determine a spacecrafts path at JPL.

Dennis Tito's Mission Patch

A report from Miles O'Brien.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mission Management: Endeavour ready to fly on Friday

With two days to go to launch, the six-member crew of STS-134 continued its last-minute preparations for its scheduled flight to the International Space Station on Friday. That assessment came following a meeting of the shuttle's Mission Management Team.

STS-134: "Go" for Launch on Friday April 29 at 15:47 EDT

STS-134 Mission Patch

STS-134 (ISS assembly flight ULF6) will be the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour with a scheduled liftoff at 15:47 EDT for a 14 day mission to the International Space Station (the launch window is 10 minutes long and opens at 15:42 EDT and closes at 15:52 EDT) . Touchdown is scheduled for 13 May 2011 at 9:28 EDT. This flight will be delivering the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and an ExPRESS Logistic Carrier. This mission will be the 165th NASA manned spaceflight, the 134th shuttle mission and the 25th and final flight for Endeavour.

STS-134 will be crewed by : Mark Kelly (Commander), Gregory Johnson (Pilot), Michael Fincke (MS1), Roberto Vittori (MS2), Andrew Feustel (MS3) and Gregory Chamitoff (MS4). All veterans of previous spaceflights.

STS-134 Mission Poster

Endeavour and her crew will be delivering the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 2 which is a particle physics detector that is designed to search for antimatter and the origin and structure of dark matter. The ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 3 will carry several Orbital Replacement Units which include a High Pressure Gas Tank, an Ammonia tank Assembly, a S band Antenna Subsystem Assembly, a Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator Arm and a spare pallet controller avionics box. Endeavour will also carry the Sensor Test of Orion Rel-nav Risk Mitigation Detailed Test Objective (STORRMDO) kit.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer

Four spacewalks (EVAs) are scheduled for this flight and are currently scheduled to be the final EVAs conducted by a shuttle crew. EVA1 will be on flight day 5, EVA2 will be on flight day 7, EVA3 on flight day 9 and the final EVA will be on flight day 11.

President Obama and the first family are expected to attend Thursday's launch. This will be the first time since 1998 a sitting president has visited the Kennedy Space Center to view a manned space launch. Another special guest will be Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., the wife of Endeavour commander Mark Kelly. Giffords was shot in the head in an assassination attempt Jan. 10 at a meeting with constituents in Tucson. The latest reports indicate that Giffords has made steady progress since the assassination attempt, and that she has secured the approval of her medical team to travel to the launch.

The best place to watch the launch on-line is at The link to the Mission Status Center can be found here where Miles O'Brien, David Walters and former astronaut Leroy Chiao will be providing a live web cast starting at 11:00 EDT. Launch coverage is also available on NASA TV web cast and the link can be found here.

Good luck and GOD bless the crew of Endeavour. Will see you back home on the good Earth on the 13th of May.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Yuri's Night Recap: Met Astronaut Buzz Aldrin

Mai, Laksen and Buzz Aldrin

We had never attended a Yuri's Night party before, but since this was the 50th anniversary celebrations of Yuri Gagarin's flight we just absolutely had to attend. Especially when the party here in Los Angeles was being hosted by none other than Yuri's Night co-founders Loretta Hidalgo-Whitesides and George Whitesides. The event was held at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles with a party to follow at the Wood and Vine Bar in Hollywood. We barely made the 7:30pm start so we were not able to get in to the main auditorium as it was full. Instead we watched the video feed of the various talks from the Depths of Space Gallery. That in it self was pretty spectacular. The first talk was by Griffith Observatory's Astronomical Observer, Anthony Cook, who gave a detailed account of Yuri Gagarin's life and his historic 108 minute orbit around the planet. Next with video and audio feeds from all over the world, everyone stood up and sang happy birthday to Loretta. Pretty cool! She is an amazing person having degrees from both Cal Tech and Standford. She is a Flight Director at ZERO Gravity Corporation and a team member of Richard Branson's new venture Virgin Oceanic. Next her husband George Whitesides, who by the way is the CEO of Virgin Galactic gave a very interesting talk on how space travel might change in the coming 50 years. He showed some great pictures and video of the test flights of Spaceship 2.

We then drove down to Hollywood to the Wood and Vine Bar. I did not realize that on the corner of Wood and Vine there is a Hollywood star dedicated to the Apollo 11 astronauts. Inside we met a bunch of really fascinating people. Rick Tumlinson was there, Robin from the Mojave Air and Spaceport and I even had a chance to talk with a couple of engineers from SpaceX. But the highlight of the evening was when we met Buzz Aldrin. I was thrilled beyond belief to meet him and talk to him. Buzz is a pretty special guy. He is a West Point graduate who went on to get a PhD from MIT. As a USAF fighter pilot (F-86 and F100) Buzz flew 66 combat missions and he shot down two MIG 15's during the Korean War. Buzz was selected by NASA in 1963 as part of the third group of astronauts. His first mission was with Jim Lovell aboard Gemini 12 which was a 4 day mission with a 5.5hr EVA. But what we all remember about him is his Apollo 11 mission where he served as Lunar Module Pilot on the first lunar landing on July 20th 1969. I have not been able to stop talking about him. After all, how many people do you meet that have walked on the Moon.

It was getting pretty late so we had to get back to Irvine. There was a long line of people waiting to talk to Loretta but standing there all by himself was George Whitesides. I am wearing my jacket with the two Mars Desert Research Station patches and he looks at me and wants to know what the mission patches are about. How cool is that? For a guy who is CEO of company that is building a spaceship... I must say that he is one of the most down to Earth people I have ever met. Just before I left I told him that I definitely will be doing a sub-orbital flight on Spaceship 2. My wife was nodding her approval which was a very good sign. The Sky is definitely NOT the limit!

Yuri's Night was celebrated in 75 countries and 566 registered events took place. Some were pretty far away. There was a party held at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan and even in McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Even the ISS astronauts participated in the celebrations (see below).

Credit: NASA - astronauts wearing their Yuri's Night T-shirts

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ric Elias: 3 things I learned while my plane crashed

Ric Elias had a front-row seat on Flight 1549, the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River in New York in January 2009. What went through his mind as the doomed plane went down? At TED, he tells his story publicly for the first time. Ric Elias is the CEO of Red Ventures, a marketing services company that grew out of Elias' long experience in business

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tour of the International Space Station by NASA Astronaut Cady Coleman

If you are really busy this weekend or you don't have $56 million to go visit the International Space Station this is probably the next best thing. This video from ReelNASA shows Expedition 27 Flight Engineer Cady Coleman flying through the International Space Station with a high-definition video camera.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

SpaceX Update: "First Astronaut Mission in Three Years"

Credit: SpaceX

Another huge win for SpaceX as NASA awards them $75M as part of the Commercial Crew Development initiative. This email update from SpaceX was sent out yesterday.

WASHINGTON D.C. - NASA has awarded Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) $75 million to develop a revolutionary launch escape system that will enable the company’s Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts. The Congressionally mandated award is part of the agency's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) initiative that started in 2009 to help private companies mature concepts and technologies for human spaceflight. "This award will accelerate our efforts to develop the next-generation rockets and spacecraft for human transportation," said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer. "With NASA’s support, SpaceX will be ready to fly its first manned mission in 2014." Musk said the flight-proven Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft represent the safest and fastest path to American crew transportation capability. With their historic successful flight on December 8th, 2010, many Falcon 9 and Dragon components that are needed to transport humans to low-Earth orbit have already been demonstrated in flight. Both vehicles were designed from the outset to fly people.

The announcement comes at a time when the United States has a critical need for American commercial human spaceflight. After the Space Shuttle retires in a few months, NASA will be totally dependent on the Russian Soyuz to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) at a cost of more than $753 million a year -- about $63 million per seat. Musk said Dragon – designed to carry seven astronauts at a time to the space station at a cost of $20 million a seat – offers a far better deal for the U.S. taxpayer. While considerable flight testing remains, the critical-path technology Dragon needs for carrying humans to orbit is the launch escape system.

New Launch Abort System: SpaceX's integrated escape system will be superior to traditional solid rocket tractor escape towers used by other vehicles in the past. Due to their extreme weight, tractor systems must be jettisoned within minutes of liftoff, but the SpaceX innovative design builds the escape engines into the side walls of Dragon, eliminating the danger of releasing a heavy solid rocket escape tower after launch. The SpaceX design also provides crew with emergency escape capability throughout the entire flight, whereas the Space Shuttle has no escape system and even the Apollo moon program allowed escape only during the first few minutes of flight. The result is that astronauts flying on Dragon will be considerably safer. Furthermore, the integrated escape system returns with the spacecraft, allowing for easy reuse and radical reductions in the cost of space transport. Over time, the same escape thrusters will also provide the capability for Dragon to land almost anywhere on Earth or another planet with pinpoint accuracy, overcoming the limitation of a winged architecture that works only in Earth's atmosphere.

Under the award, SpaceX will modify Dragon to accommodate crew, with specific hardware milestones that will provide NASA with regular, demonstrated progress including:
  • Static fire testing of the launch escape system engines
  • Initial design of abort engine and crew accommodations
  • Prototype evaluations by NASA crew for seats, control panels and cabin
The December 8th, 2010, demonstration flight of Falcon 9 and Dragon was the first flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, which was initiated to develop commercial cargo services to the International Space Station. After the Space Shuttle retires, SpaceX will fly at least 12 missions to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract for NASA.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Atlas-5 Launch Tonight from Vandenberg Airforce Base, California

Credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News

If you in the Los Angeles area, tonight might be a good chance to see an Atlas-5 rocket launch. Liftoff is scheduled for 9:25pm PST from Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The weather is supposed to be a little iffy due to high winds with a 30% chance of liftoff tonight. The mission is designated NROL-34 - a "classified" launch for the National Reconnaissance Office. Check in at at for additional mission details.

National Space Society Awards Pioneer Award to SpaceX

Credit: SpaceX

NSS PR – In recognition of SpaceX’s groundbreaking year in 2010, with the successful launch of two Falcon 9 rockets, and the safe return of its Dragon capsule, the National Space Society (NSS) is today announcing that Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will be the recipient of the NSS’s 2011 Pioneer Award for Business Entrepreneur. This award will be presented at the NSS’s annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC), which will be held from May 18-May 22, 2011 in Huntsville, Alabama. Adam Harris, SpaceX’s Vice President for Government Affairs, will accept the award on behalf of SpaceX.