Atlantis still set for December, 6th launch…

The ISS' Columbus module is moved into space shuttle AtlantisI just found this nice picture of the Columbus module being moved into Atlantis’ cargo bay on the NASA shuttle home page. It was taken some days ago. I thought it is worth sharing.
Processing flow on Atlantis is still going smooth, the launch is so far on-schedule for December, 6th. This is confirmed by NASA’s latest statement on the home page:

Space shuttle Atlantis will be the stage for the countdown dress rehearsal next week as preparations for mission STS-122 continue toward a targeted Dec. 6 launch. The rehearsal is known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test or TCDT.

The seven astronauts who will fly the mission are due to arrive at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center over the weekend for several days of in-depth training.

A practice countdown that includes all the normal launch day activities except the liftoff itself will be conducted on the last day of the crew’s visit. Afterward, the crew will return to Houston.

A program-level review of Atlantis and the European-built Columbus module it will carry was conducted Tuesday. A poll taken at the end of the session called for processing to continue. A second review will be held Nov. 30, and NASA will formally select a launch date.

Please note that “formal selection of the launch date” is NASA speak and in this case most probably means sticking with the originally scheduled December 6th date.

NASA Tests Lunar Habitat in Extreme Aantartic Environment

After I had started to pull over NASA’s HSFNEWS mission status reports to my blog, I thought it is a good idea to do this in the future, too. After all, NASA doesn’t even archive HSFNEWS, even though it is highly interesting. So here we go with the first non-shuttle issue ;) I hope you enjoy reading them.


Report #H07-251

NASA TESTS LUNAR HABITAT IN EXTREME ANTARCTIC ENVIRONMENT

WASHINGTON – NASA will use the cold, harsh, isolated landscape of Antarctica to test one of its concepts for astronaut housing on the moon. The agency is sending a prototype inflatable habitat to Antarctica to see how it stands up during a year of use.

Agency officials viewed the habitat Wednesday at ILC Dover in Frederica, Del., as it was inflated one last time before being packed and shipped to Antarctica’s McMurdo Station. NASA is partnering on the project with the National Science Foundation, Arlington, Va., which manages McMurdo Station, and ILC Dover, the company that manufactured the prototype structure. All three organizations will share data from the 13-month test, which runs from January 2008 to February 2009. An inflatable habitat is one of several concepts being considered for astronaut housing on the moon.

"Testing the inflatable habitat in one of the harshest, most remote sites on Earth gives us the opportunity to see what it would be like to use for lunar exploration," said Paul Lockhart, director of Constellation Systems for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Headquarters, Washington.

NASA’s Constellation Program is working to send humans back to the moon by 2020. After initial sorties, the astronauts will set up a lunar outpost for long-duration stays, and they will need a place to live. The agency is developing concepts for habitation modules that provide protection for the astronauts and are easy to transport to the lunar surface.

"To land one pound of supplies on the lunar surface, it’ll require us to launch 125 pounds of hardware and fuel to get it there," Lockhart said. "So our habitation concepts have to be lightweight as well as durable. This prototype inflatable habitat can be taken down and redeployed multiple times, and it only takes four crew members a few hours to set up, permitting exploration beyond the initial landing area."

The structure looks something like an inflatable backyard bounce house for children, but it is far more sophisticated. It is insulated and heated, has power and is pressurized. It offers 384 square feet of living space and has, at its highest point, an 8-foot ceiling. During the test period, sensors will allow engineers to monitor the habitat’s performance.

The National Science Foundation also is interested in lighter, easier-to-assemble habitats. It currently uses a 50-year-old design known as a Jamesway hut, which is bulky and complex in comparison to the habitat being tested. Modern variations on the Jamesway, although lighter, are still rigid and difficult to ship, with limited insulation. During the test of the new inflatable habitat, the foundation will study improvements in packing, transportation and set up, as well as power consumption and damage tolerance for this newest variation of the concept.

To enable lunar exploration, the Constellation Program is developing a new fleet of spacecraft and rockets, as well as transportation and power systems for use on the surface of the moon. More information about NASA’s space exploration plans is available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/constellation

The inflatable habitat is being developed under NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program. For more information, visit:

http://www.ipp.nasa.gov

Video of the send-off event is expected to be available Thursday on the NASA Television Video File. For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

STS-122 group on flickr…

Armando Perdomo, a friend of mine, has created a new STS-122 picture group on flickr. so if you go view the launch or have interesting STS-122 pictures from some other source, you are invited to post them there. And, of course, everyone is invited to view the pictures. Typically, content comes in shortly after launch.

Armando did a similar effort for STS-120, I recommend viewing that picture pool to everyone.

STS-120 launch animation

STS-120 launch as seen from NASA causeway (animation from still pictures)Finally I have a little time to play with my pictures. As a starter, I did an animation of Discovery’s STS-120 launch. You can also view a hi-res version. The animation was created from still images I took with my Canon EOS 400D (called “Digital Rebel” in the USA, if I recall correctly). I was at the NASA Causeway viewing site.

The camera was on a tripod, with pre-set exposure and focus and connected to a wire shutter. I kept the shutter pressed until the space shuttle went out of its view. I did not make any attempt to track the shuttle as I was primarily concentrated with viewing, not photography. This setting brought me about three pictures per second. I then used the computer to size them down and a gif animator to do a real animation out of it.

Of course, I could also have taken a video camera, but then I had to concentrate much more on creating the movie. Also, I did not have a sufficiently well video camera, so this was not option at all ;) I also like the shots very much – plus I plan to do a real high res version some time later, which the 8MP pictures clearly enable me to do.

For now, I hope you enjoy this magnificent space launch!

Spacesuit problem is a problem for STS-122 launch, too …

A 2007 spacesuit as worn by astronauts on the iss and space shuttleAs nasaspaceflight.com reports, NASA is evaluating spacesuit problems:

Cut gloves during STS-120 and a failed EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) test are undergoing large scale evaluations by NASA engineers, with a resolution to the latter required before any further spacewalks will be allowed.

(read full article)

The problems must be resolved by November, 20th, otherwise it will affect the international space stations spacewalk schedule. There is an awful lot of preparation work to do at the ISS. If that can not be completed in time, Atlantis’ STS-122 can not be launched, because the station is not ready for the addition of the Columbus module. So we need to watch this issue closely.

launch transportation tickets for STS-123 …

The STS-123 CrewEndeavour’s STS-123 mission to the international space station is currently scheduled to launch on February, 14th 2008. Of course, there are many things that can make that launch date slip (though I guess we all hope that won’t happen).

Even though it is quite early, I received a few comments asking if launch transportation tickets could already be purchased for it. Unfortunately, this is not possible.

Tickets typically go on sale four to six weeks before launch. And they sell out very quickly. So you should watch the Kennedy Space Center site closely and subscribe to its “Armchair Astronaut Newsletter”. Thus you know when they go on sale and can act quickly.

I will also post in this blog when the tickets become available. So keep reading ;)

back in Germany – part II

OK, I have to admit this is off-topic. But I have to admit I could not resist to post it ;) I am now back from Florida just a few days. And yesterday evening, some light snow appeared. I thought “OK, this will clear over the night”. But look at the end result this morning:

palmtree in the snow

Here you see staring my poor palm tree. I like sun and sunny beaches, so I wanted to have a least a palm at home ;) Thankfully, I was smart enough to buy the right type of palm tree, so no harm yet (when it gets really cold, however, it needs to make a trip to the garage…).

But again: think that I just returned from sunny Florida. And then think that we often have much nicer weather (at least in the 60s) at this time over here. So why not this time? ;) brrrr…

Armando’s STS-120 launch experience report

Armando Perdomo and Rainer Gerhards at Kennedy Space CenterDo you remember Armando Perdomo? He is a frequent reader and commenter on this blog. I also had the joy of meeting him in Kennedy Space Center the day before launch. Armando is a great guy and I enjoy to be able to call him now a friend!

Armando is also a great photographer and, as it seems, story teller. He was even quicker than me in getting his STS-120 launch experience online. I highly recommend his blog to everyone. You can read it here:

http://armandoperdomo.blogspot.com/

I am sure you will enjoy his report.

I would also like to start a “blog parade” (or how is this called in English?;)) with blogs (and other sites) that publish STS-120 launch viewing experiences.
If you have one, please drop me a line, so that I can add a link on this blog. I’ll also see if I can set up a somewhat better system and, if so, will let all of you know.

Columbus stowed in Atlantis!

As of NASA’s shuttle home page, the Columbus ISS module has been stowed inside Atlantis:

The European-built Columbus module has been loaded into the cargo bay of space shuttle Atlantis in preparation for the launch of STS-122 on Dec. 6. Columbus will be attached to the International Space Station and will serve as a laboratory and research center for station astronauts.

The Columbus segment was waiting at the launch pad Saturday when space shuttle Atlantis was rolled into place Saturday at Launch Pad 39A. Once Atlantis’ payload section was covered by the Rotating Service Structure, technicians and workers opened the cargo bay doors and carefully moved the cylindrical Columbus into the shuttle. The module has already been packed with four specialized racks outfitted for experiments. Each rack is about the size of a refrigerator. The segment can hold 10 racks.

Atlantis’ crew of seven includes two European Space Agency astronauts who will help install Columbus on the International Space Station and activate its intricate systems. One of the ESA crew members will remain on the station for a long-duration mission.

The launch milestones came less than a week after space shuttle Discovery returned to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to complete mission STS-120. That mission delivered the Harmony module to the station and will be the connecting point at the station for Columbus.


This is good news, STS-122 is obviously still on track for its December, 6th launch.

A note on the picture above: I took that photo when I visited Kennedy Space Center (KSC) the day before Discovery’s STS-120 launch (October, 22nd 2007). In KSC, you get a bus tour with your “Max Access” admission (and also your launch viewing tickets, which I had). I can highly recommend that tour. It brings you close to real space hardware. Just imagine that I took the above picture of the actual Columbus module that will soon be attached to the ISS – cool … And if you watch closely, you’ll also notice part of the Kibo module (set to launch with STS-123 in February 2008) in the back (right to the middle).

STS-122 Launch Window

Here is some information on the Atlantis’ STS-122 launch window:

The target launch date is December, 6th. The launch Window extends just one week, so everything must go smooth in order to have a launch. The launch time for December 6th is 4:31PM EST. On successive launch attempts, the launch will be roughly 20 minutes earlier (each time).

The daily launch window extends, as usual for international space station missions, for 10 minutes. Typically, the launch is scheduled for the middle of the launch window. A 10 minute window means little contingency for bad weather, so you should expect a launch slip by a day or two in most cases. If possible, plan to have some spare days left.

Updates: