Discovery on her way home…

The astronauts on board space shuttle Discovery have just initiated the deorbit burn. TThe burn is 1 minute, 85 second to slow down the shuttle for its decent back to earth. Each orbital maneuvering engine provides 6,0000 pounds of thrust for this maneuver.

Ares Launch Viewing …

Ares launched in to orbit (artist's conception)
While I was at Kennedy Space Center last week, some folks mentioned that the first Ares test flights are planned for 2009. That surprised me and, to be honest, I did not yet verify the information. On the other hand, Constellation (and thus Ares) has a very challenging schedule, so I would not wonder if it is try. After all, tests take time and so it makes only sense to start as early as possible.

I wonder if the public will be able to witness the first Ares flight. I guess the situation is quite different from a shuttle launch. Ares will be totally new, never before launched and as such there inherently is a much greater risk of a mishap during the first launch attempt. That risk may be too high to allow general attendance. On the other hand, NASA Causeway is over eleven miles away from launch pad 39B, where Ares will launch.

So it comes down to keep a keen eye on the potential Ares launch date. Of course, it would be very cool to view the first launch ever of a totally new vehicle. Keep reading my blog, I’ll keep you informed on any news updates. And if you happen to know something, please drop me a line ;)

STS-120 MCC Status Report #31

Report #31
4 a.m. CST Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – The astronauts on space shuttle Discovery are only hours away from a landing in Florida that will conclude a successful 15-day mission that delivered a new module and repaired a damaged solar array on the International Space Station.

This morning’s wakeup song, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” by Sherman and Sherman, was played at 1:38 a.m. CST for Commander Pam Melroy.

Deorbit preparations begin at 7:03 a.m. and the crew should get the okay to close the payload bay doors at 8:19 a.m. If systems are good and the weather cooperates, Melroy will conduct the deorbit burn at 10:59 a.m. That will slow Discovery enough to fall out of orbit to begin its descent toward a landing at the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility at 12:01 p.m. CST.

A landing on that opportunity will wrap up Mission Specialist Clay Anderson’s flight to the International Space Station after 152 days in space.

There is another landing opportunity on the following orbit, which would put touchdown at 1:36 p.m. CST.

Aboard the International Space Station today, Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Dan Tani will review the plan for Friday’s spacewalk. Whitson and Malenchenko will undo connections between the Destiny laboratory and Pressurized Mating Adapter 2, in advance of robotics operations next week. That work will relocate PMA-2 to the new Harmony module, then move both of them into place on the front of the lab.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Wednesday afternoon or earlier if events warrant.

STS-120 MCC Status Report #30

Report #30
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007 – 3 p.m. CST
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – The seven astronauts on board space shuttle Discovery completed final preparations today for their return home with landing planned for the first of two opportunities to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, at 12:02 p.m. Wednesday.

In preparation for the return home, the crew tested flight control systems and thruster jets, stowed equipment and installed a special reclining seat for Clay Anderson, who is returning after more than five months on board the International Space Station. Later, the crew oversaw an orbit adjust maneuver to optimize landing opportunities with weather forecasts indicating favorable conditions for Wednesday’s landing.

Early Wednesday morning, Entry Team Flight Director Bryan Lunney and his team will oversee Discovery’s reentry and landing with the deorbit burn set for 10:59 a.m. The 1 minute, 58 second burn will slow Discovery by 148 miles per hour (217 feet per second) for the reentry across the heartland of the United States traveling from the northwest to southeast.

A second landing opportunity also is available about 90 minutes later. Lunney will consider Florida only for Wednesday’s landing attempts with plenty of consumables on board to stay in space through Saturday, if necessary.

After its final on-orbit wakeup call from Mission Control at 1:38 a.m. Wednesday, the crew will begin landing preparations at 7:03 a.m. and close Discovery’s payload bay doors at 11:42 a.m. for reentry.

Aboard the space station, Commander Peggy Whitson, and Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Dan Tani had some off duty time before their full-court press toward Friday’s spacewalk by Whitson and Malenchenko to prepare Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 for its relocation Nov. 12.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Wednesday morning or earlier if events warrant.

Important Reminder: All Times are CST! Add 1 hour for EST!

STS-120 MCC Status Report #29

Report #29
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007 – 4 a.m. CST
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – Landing preparations are the order of the day for the seven astronauts on space shuttle Discovery, who are planning to conclude a two-week mission with a Wednesday landing at the Kennedy Space Center.

The crew’s 1:38 a.m. CST wakeup call was “Space Truckin’” by Deep Purple, played for Mission Specialist Clay Anderson, who will wrap up a five-month mission to the International Space Station when Discovery lands. The crew will start routine deorbit preparations and cabin stowage three hours later.

At 4:23 a.m. Commander Pam Melroy, Pilot George Zamka and Mission Specialist and Flight Engineer Stephanie Wilson will power up an auxiliary power unit to conduct a checkout of the orbiter’s flight control surfaces. At 5:33 a.m. they start a test firing of each of the shuttle’s reaction control system jets.

The shuttle astronauts take a break from packing at 8:43 a.m. to talk about the flight with the Associated Press,, and the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, before they return to packing. At 1:18 p.m. mission specialists Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock will set up a recumbent seat on the middeck for Anderson to use during entry and landing. Zamka is scheduled to stow the Ku-band communications antenna at 3:03 p.m.

The International Space Station’s crew is enjoying a day off duty before starting a heavy schedule of spacewalks and robotics activities which kick off with a spacewalk by Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko Friday morning. NASA-TV will host an Expedition 16 Mission Status Briefing at 11 a.m. today featuring the lead flight director, increment manager and lead spacewalk officer to preview the activities. The goal of the work is the relocation of the Harmony module so the station will be ready to receive the European laboratory module on the next shuttle flight, targeted to launch in early December.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Tuesday afternoon or earlier if events warrant.

STS-120 MCC Status Report #28

Report #28
Monday, Nov. 5, 2007 – 5 p.m. CST
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – Space shuttle Discovery’s crew left the International Space Station this morning after almost 11 days of joint operations with the Expedition 16 crew. After inspecting the orbiter’s heat shield for any micrometeoroid damage, the astronauts turned their attention to returning home on Wednesday.

Tuesday the shuttle crew will spend its last full day on orbit testing Discovery’s flight control systems and maneuvering thrusters while final packing winds up a memorable assembly flight to the station.

With all systems checked out, the STS-120 crew will bring Clay Anderson home after 152 days in space on Wednesday to one of two landing opportunities available at the Kennedy Space Center at 12:02 p.m. and 1:36 p.m. CST. Weather forecasters predict favorable landing conditions once a cold front passes through late Tuesday night. The backup landing sites at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and White Sands Space Harbor, N.M., will not be considered Wednesday.

Under the control of Pilot George Zamka, Discovery backed away from the station at 4:32 a.m., completing 10 days, 21 hours and 52 minutes of docked operations. The historic flight saw Discovery’s crew deliver the Harmony Node and relocate a solar array to increase power generation. Unforeseen damage to the array was repaired during a dramatic spacewalk following three days of engineering analysis, testing and plan preparation on the ground.

The mission sets the stage for the next component of the station to be delivered. Space shuttle Atlantis is prepared to roll to the launch pad this weekend for final processing toward launch of the European Space Agency science laboratory “Columbus.” The STS-122 launch remains targeted for early December.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Tuesday morning or earlier if events warrant.

STS-120 MCC Status Report #27

Report #27
2:45 a.m. CST Monday, Nov. 5, 2007
Mission Control Center, Houston, Texas

HOUSTON – All systems are go for this morning’s undocking of Space Shuttle Discovery from the International Space Station, completing 11 days of joint docked operations that saw the successful delivery of a new pressurized module and the repair of a damaged solar array wing.

The shuttle crewmembers got their wakeup call at 1:08 a.m. CST with “Roll Me Away” by Bob Seger, played for Pilot George Zamka, who will be at the controls of Discovery when it undocks from the station at 4:32 a.m.

Discovery will move in front of the station to a range of 400 feet, and then Zamka will begin a full one lap flyaround so his crewmates can get video and digital still imagery of the newly-configured station. The new features include the Harmony module docked to the Unity node, and the P6 Truss element, with both solar array wings fully deployed, at its permanent location on the port end of the truss.

When the shuttle again crosses directly in front of the station, Zamka will fire the reaction control system jets to begin Discovery’s separation. He’ll make the final separation jet firing at 6:15 a.m. to start Discovery’s trip home.

Late this morning Zamka will join Mission Specialists Scott Parazynski, Stephanie Wilson and Paolo Nespoli and Commander Pam Melroy at the controls of the shuttle robot arm to conduct a late inspection of the shuttle’s thermal protection system using the Orbiter Boom Sensor System. The crew will re-examine the reinforced carbon-carbon panels on both wings and the nose cap for any evidence of damage from orbital debris.

Mission Specialist Clay Anderson, who has been in space since his launch to the International Space Station in June, is scheduled for exercise today and tomorrow to help prepare his body to feel the pull of gravity again. Discovery is targeted to land at the Kennedy Space Center Wednesday at 12:02 p.m. CST.

The next STS-120 status report will be issued Monday afternoon or earlier if events warrant.

Orion as a Space Shuttle Successor

NASA Orion Capsule, Artist's viewOn the official NASA Orion home page, it is still stated that Ares I will deliver the first Orion to the International Space Station by 2014.

However, in all talks I attended at the Kennedy Space Center, the most optimistic date was 2015. And it may take well a bit longer… It is interesting to note that between Apollo and the Space Shuttle program, there also was a six year gap in the human space flight. During that period, NASA had no capability of putting humans in space. It looks like we are up now for at least the same. I just hope they will get Orion off the ground early enough to actually use it for ISS crew ferrying. If the schedule goes beyond 2016, which does not seem unrealistic, ISS crew swaps may possibly only be done by Russian spacecraft. I hope that America will not rely only on these…

Of course, all comes down to budget. I am sure the engineers can do much quicker, but they need to have funds. When the constellation program was announced, it was a lot of vaporware. Most importantly, there was no NASA budget increase. So NASA has already taken money from scientific missions. To go quickly with Orion, additional funds are desperately needed.

Next Delta IV launch at KSC

In case you are around, you may want to view the upcoming Delta IV Heavy launch at Kennedy Space Center. It is especially well visible from along Cape Canaveral beaches. The Delta IV is the most capable expendable launcher and for sure a great view (unfortunately I never witnessed a launch myself). Originally scheduled for last Friday, it is now set for launch on November, 10th, after 8pm ET. It carries a military payload, so there is view information about it available. When I last checked, it was not even in Kennedy Space Centers’ web launch calendar. Call them for updates — the date was announced in the center and I am sure they will tell you on phone.

If you go visit this launch, I would also very much appreciate if you could drop me a few lines with your experience.