STS 135 Mission Updates Day 12

  • Crew Completes Late Inspection
    Space shuttle Atlantis’ crew completed today’s inspection of the shuttle’s thermal protection system at 10:30 a.m. EDT. They used the 50-foot long Orbiter Boom Sensor System to conduct a high fidelity, three-dimensional scan of areas of the shuttle that experience the highest heating during entry—the wing leading edges and nose cap. Managers and engineers in Mission Control will review the data today and tomorrow to validate the heat shield’s integrity.

    This marks the final use of the shuttle’s robotic arm, dating back to its inaugural flight on the shuttle Columbia in October 1981on the STS-2 mission, operated by Commander Richard Truly and Pilot Joe Engle for approximately 10 hours of checkout operations. Canadarm deployed and retrieved its first payload, the Plasma Diagnostic Package, on Columbia’s STS-3 mission of Commander Jack Lousma and Pilot Gordon Fullerton.

  • Late Inspection Begins
    Space shuttle Atlantis’ crew has begun today’s inspection of the shuttle’s thermal protection system. They will use the 50-foot-long Orbiter Boom Sensor System to conduct a high fidelity, three-dimensional scan of areas of the shuttle that experience the highest heating during entry – the wing leading edges and nose cap. Managers and engineers in Mission Control will review the data today and tomorrow to validate the heat shield’s integrity. The inspection is scheduled to take several hours.

    Today’s mission status briefing is scheduled for 7:30 a.m.

    Today’s Mission Management Team Briefing is scheduled for 1 p.m.

  • Atlantis Separates From International Space Station
    At 4:18 a.m. EDT, space shuttle Atlantis fired its jets, separating a space shuttle from the International Space Station for the last time. �

    At 6:19 a.m., the “late inspection” of Atlantis’ heat shield will commence, and today’s Mission Status Briefing will air on NASA Television at 7:30 a.m.

  • Atlantis Undocks from International Space Station
    At 2:28 a.m. EDT, space shuttle Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station while the spacecraft were 243 miles above the Pacific, east of Christchurch, New Zealand. Atlantis spent eight days, 15 hours and 21 minutes attached to the orbiting laboratory.

    Over the 37 missions devoted to assembling and maintaining the space station, shuttles were docked for 276 days, 11 hours and 23 minutes – almost 40 weeks.

    Pilot Doug Hurley now is moving Atlantis to a distance of 600 feet in front of the complex, where he will halt the shuttle for 27 minutes while the space station yaws 90 degrees to present its longitudinal axis to Atlantis. This will provide Mission Specialists Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus the opportunity to snap digital pictures of the station from angles the shuttle never has seen before during a fly-around. Hurley will move Atlantis to a point 600 feet above the station, and then behind it. He then will fire Atlantis’ thrusters to move below the station, and at 4:18 a.m. he will perform a final separation burn to depart the vicinity of the station.

    With the two spacecraft separated, Atlantis’ crew will focus on preparing for landing at Kennedy Space Center early Thursday morning. The time of landing has changed slightly, to 5:56 a.m. EDT. Ground tracks have been posted here:

  • Final Undocking Today for Shuttle Program
    Today’s wakeup song was “Don’t Panic,” by Coldplay, played at 9:59 p.m. EDT for space shuttle Atlantis Pilot Doug Hurley.

    Hurley will guide Atlantis away from the International Space Station on a half-lap fly-around about an hour after the shuttle undocks at 2:28 a.m.

  • Shuttle Set to Undock Early Tuesday
    The crews of space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station are separated by closed hatches for the first time in eight days. They have gone to sleep, closing a busy day that featured the return of the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module to Atlantis’ cargo bay and an emotional farewell ceremony.

    Wakeup at 9:59 p.m. EDT will begin undocking day in space, as a space shuttle leaves the station for the final time.

  • Hatches Closed Between Station and Shuttle for Final Time
    Following a poignant farewell ceremony by the crews of Atlantis and Expedition 28, hatches between the International Space Station and a space shuttle were closed for the final time at 10:28 a.m. EDT.

    The hatches between the spacecraft were open for seven days, 21 hours and 41 minutes.

    Atlantis’ crew will spend the remainder of today preparing for Tuesday’s early morning undocking. The station crew goes to sleep at 1:29 p.m. and the shuttle crew follows at 1:59 p.m.

  • Raffaello Returned to Atlantis’ Payload Bay
    Driving Canadarm2 from the robotic workstation inside the International Space Station’s cupola, Sandy Magnus and Doug Hurley grabbed the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module at 6:09 a.m. EDT. They detached it from the station’s Harmony node at 6:46 a.m. and placed it back in space shuttle Atlantis’ cargo bay at 7:48 a.m.

    The 21-foot-long, 15-foot-diameter Raffaello is filled with nearly 5,700 pounds of unneeded materials from the station that will be brought back to Earth. Over nearly eight days, crews aboard the shuttle and station unloaded 9,403 pounds of spare parts, spare equipment and other supplies from Raffaello – including 2,677 pounds of food – that will sustain space station operations for the next year.

    Atlantis and station Expedition 28 crew members will say farewells and close hatches between the spacecraft at 9:19 a.m.

  • Canadarm2 Grasps Raffaello
    From the International Space Station’s cupola, astronauts Sandy Magnus and Doug Hurley have grasped the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module with Canadarm2, the station’s robotic arm. Raffaello’s hatch was closed at 1:03 a.m. EDT today and the Harmony side of the hatch was closed at 3:23 a.m. Raffaello, which was attached to the Harmony node at 11:07 a.m. on July 10, will be transported through space back to Atlantis’ cargo bay for its return to Earth.
  • Raffaello Vestibule Depressurization Under Way
    Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have begun depressurizing the vestibule, which connects the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node. The process is expected to take about 90 minutes. Once that is complete, Atlantis Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialist Sandy Magnus will use the space station robotic arm to remove Raffaello from Harmony and return it to Atlantis’ cargo bay.

Spektr-R radio observatory launches in spectacular style

At 06:31am Russian Time (10:31pm EDT on the 17th July & 03:31am BST) on the 18th July 2011 the Zenit-3F rocket (looking suprisingly like a Falcon9 Space-X vehicle) successfully launched the Spektr-R radio observatory from the Bakinour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

With around 10 minutes to go prior to launch, the retractable arms holding the rocket in place, seemed to retract. For the remaining few minutes prior to the launch liquid propellant vented from the top and sides of the vehicle. The pronoucements from mission control seemed curt and strictly informational (and in Russian). With around 30 seconds to go, my anticipation grew as the propellant venting suddenly stopped and an errie calm came over the launch pad.

Suddenly, with no nod to a last 10 second countdown, a huge cloud of white smoke appeared from the far side of the rocket, and she was aloft. Racing through, what seemed, a crystal blue sky in the former Russian colony the arid desolation of the surrounding area was very evident. This was certainly no lush rain forest launch facility or Sunny beach side resort. This was launching rockets “Russian Style”.

The Zenit-3F rocket, is operated by Roscosmos (The Russian Space Agency). It consists of a Zenit-2SB (Zenit-2M) core vehicle, with a Russian Fregat-SB 3rd stage, and stands 59.6 metres (196 ft) tall. It is the newest of the Zenit rockets and has only been used once before, launching the Elektro-L weather satellite in January 2011, again from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

The Spektr-R payload is a Radio observatory and is an international collaborative mission consisting of Russia, Australia, Canada, Europe, India, Ukraine and USA. Its aim is to launch a free flying satellite carrying a 10-meter radio telescope in high orbit around the Earth. It will be used in conjunction with ground based radio telescopes to obtain high quality radio images of radio objects in the Universe. The satellite weighs just over 3.5 tonnes and operates in the 1.35 – 6.0; 18.0; 92.0 cm wavelength bands. Its orbit is highly elliptical. When deployed operationally, the closest approach to Earth (perigee) will be 6000 miles and its furthest point will be 240,000 miles. It is hoped the radio observatory will remain in operation for at least 5 years.

TheSpektr-R radio telescope undergoing final tests
Above: Crowned with a 10-meter antenna, the Spektr-R radio telescope undergoes final tests. Credit: NPO Lavochkin.

Space Shuttle Acronymns

I have been listening to various NASA briefings about the status of the Space Shuttle since the launch on Friday. They DO like to use plenty of TLA (Three letter acronymns). Here’s a list some of them, and what they mean (more will be added during the flight):

ACO(Assembly and Checkout Officer) – Responsible for all shuttle-based activities related to construction and operation of the Space Station, including logistics and transfer items stored in a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) or Spacehab. Also responsible for all shuttle payloads.

AEM(Animal Enclosure Module) used in investigations of the influence of microgravity on rodent physiology and anatomy.

APU(Auxiliary Power Unit) – Hydrazine-fueled, turbine-driven power unit that generates mechanical shaft power to drive a hydraulic pump that produces pressure for the orbiter’s hydraulic system. Sits in the aft (the back) of the Space Shuttle. Was the cause of the initial delay during STS-134.

BOOSTER(Booster Systems Engineer)

CATO(Communication and Tracking Officer) -Oversees the voice, radio, and TV systems on the station.

DAT(Damage Assessment Team)

DOD(Department of Defence)

EGIL(Electrical, General Instrumentation & lighting)

ET(External Tank) – Large orange tank that is mated to the Space shuttle, that holds the Liquid Oxygen (553,358 litres) and liquid Hydrogen (1,497,440 litres).

EVA(Extra Vehicular activity) – Any action normally undertaken outside the spacecraft ie spacewalk

FAO(Flight Activities Officer) – Responsible for planned and supported crew activities, checklists, procedures and schedules.

FDO(Flight Dynamics Officer) – Responsible for all aspects of the flight path of the shuttle or spacecraft.

FES(Flash Evaporation System) – Respsonsible for keeping a reasonable temperature within the orbiter once the payload bay doors are closed, prior to landing.

GC(Ground Control) – Runs Mission Control’s computers and coordinates radio links with international control centers

HAC(Heading Alignment Circle) – Represents the Shuttle’s “landing pattern”. It is a large computed corkscrew-like path that puts the Space Shuttle in the correct position for the final approach.

ISS(International Space Station)

LEO(Low Earth Orbit) – ‘generally’ considered (though there is some debate about this) to be from a few hundred to just under 1,000 miles from the surface of the Earth. Spacecraft in these orbits normally complete 1 complete orbit in around 90 minutes, due to the fact they are travelling at around 17,000 miles an hour.

GC(Ground Controller) – coordinates space flight tracking and data network.

GPC(General Purpose Computer) – Part of an array of computers aboard the Space Shuttle.

GVA(Gaseous vent arm) – Almost caused the abort of STS-135, as engineers were unsure whether this had fully retracted.

KSC(Kennedy Space Center) – The place where ALL space shuttles have launched from.

KU Band – Antenna aboard the space shuttle orbiter is located in the payload bay. Radio frequency spectrum between 15,250 MHz and 17,250 MHz. The Ku-band carrier frequencies are 13.755 GHz from the TDRS to the orbiter and 15.003 GHz from the orbiter to the TDRS.

MECO(Main Engine Cut Off)

MC(Mid Course) – Usually in reference to ‘mid course’ correction. These are small rocket burns that allow tiny adjustments to be made to ensure things remain ‘on course’. In the case of the shuttle these MC’s can be to ensure correct docking with the ISS.

MCC(Mission Control Center) Normally in Houston for US missions

MCP(Mission Control Programmer)

MMACSMaintenance Management and Control System

MMT(Mission Management Team)

MPLM(Multi-Purpose Logistics Module) – a pressurized module that serves as a “moving van” for the International Space Station carrying equipment, experiments and supplies to and from the Station aboard the Space Shuttle. 3 have been built by the Italian Space Agency.

NC1/2/3 – A series of rocket burns performed by the astronauts to allow the Shuttle to catch up with the ISS.

OBSS(Orbiter Boom Sensor System) – A 50ft boom carried on board the Space Shuttle. It can be attached to the Canadarm, doubling its length to 100ft. At the end of the boom, there is an instrumentation package of cameras and lasers used to scan various aspects of the Shuttle and ISS. Was first flown on “return to flight” mission by Space Shuttle Discoivery in July 2005, and has been flown on every shuttle mission since.

OMS(Orbital Maneuvering System)

OPS(Orbiter Project Schedule) – Schedules and procedures undertaken to perform a task on the shuttle. For example, OPS3 deals with preparation for deorbit burn.

PC(Probability of collision) – If space debris is detected, this is an indication of how likely the debris is to crash into the ISS.

PDRS(Payload Deployment and Retrieval System) – The electro-mechanical arm that maneuvers a payload from the payload bay of the space shuttle orbiter to its deployment position and then releases it.

QT(Quality Test)

RCC(Reinforced Carbon Carbon)

RCS (Reaction Control System) – Thrusters on a rocket to control attitude control and steering. The RCS thrusters on the the Space Shuttle are on the nose the orbiter

RPM(Rendezvous pitch maneuver) – Prior to the shuttle docks to the ISS, the shuttle performs a backflip, so that the Astronauts aboard the ISS can do a visual inspection of the tiles on the space shuttle.

Rendezvous pitch maneuver (RPM) for STS-135

RSS(Rotating service structure) – The device that surrounds the space shuttle prior to launch. Is normally retracted the day before the launch. Too view a video of LAST RSS retraction see the video below.

SRB(Solid Rocket booster) – Once these are ignited at launch, they CANNOT be stopped, and the shuttle HAS to launch. They burn for approximately 2 1/2 minutes, separate from the shuttle and parachute into the sea where they are retrieved and used for future flights.

STS(Space Transportation System)

TDRS(Tracking and Data Relay Satellite Systems) – A series of American satellites and ground stations used by NASA for space communications.

TI Burn(Terminal initiation burn) – Important engine burn when the shuttle is quite close to the ISS. Occurs when Shuttle is around 8 nautical miles behind the station and finishes around 2,000 feet away.

TIG(Time of Ignition)

TPS(Thermal protection system) – Tiles on the space shuttle, that protect the vehicle when it returns to Earth. Damage to this system, caused the loss of Columbia in 2003.

VRCS(Venier Reaction Control System) – Small Rockets/Thrusters on the space Shuttle that burn monomethylhydrazine (MMH) fuel.

STS-135 Mission Status: Weather playing a part in delaying launch

With the Launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis scheduled for 11:26am EDT (16:26 BST) on Friday 8th July, the weather seems to be playing its part in trying to lengthen the program for at least a day or two.

Heavy, persistent rain has all day peppered the launch site, and the retraction of the RSS (Rotating Service Structure) was delayed for a short time due to the foul weather.

NASA experts suggest there is only a 30% chance of a launch tomorrow, but that the weather is looking much more favourable for a Sunday launch. Failure to launch by Sunday could cause a weeks delay, due to the launch of a Delta rocket from the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the 14th July.

Today, around 2:40pm EDT (19:40 BST), slightly later than anticipated due to the bad weather, the RSS (Rotating Service Structure) was retracted from around Atlantis. It took around 25-30 minutes for the RSS to fully retract, but when it did it showed Atlantis in all its glory, for the last time.

Fully retracted RSS showing Space Shuttle Atlantis

Download short time lapse video of FINAL RSS retraction2 or View RSS Retraction on Flickr

The RSS serves 2 main purposes. One is to protect the shuttle from the weather, and the other is to allow NASA engineers to access various parts of the shuttle to install cargo and access certain parts of a space shuttle in a controlled fashion. It is 102 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 130 feet high.

It has also been widely reported that Atlantis was hit by lightning earlier today, while on the launch pad, and that damage assessment crews were examining Atlantis to see if any damage had occurred.

*** STOP PRESS *** While writing this article, it has been reported that NASA says no issues related to earlier lightning strike at launch pad and that the Space Shuttle Atlantis is on schedule to launch tomorrow

Tips to watch a launch

Now that the last launch of the space Shuttle Atlantis is fast approaching, I thought i’d offer some advice to those lucky enough to witness the launch in person.
Having watched the final launch of Discovery from the Causeway in Februrary 2011, I feel that I may be able of offer some advice of what works and what doesn’t when watching a launch.

  • Take and USE sun screen. February 2011, when Discovery flew was very hot. The start of July/August will be more so.
  • Take a hat. If you’re folically challenged, like me, this will save you from sunburn or possibly something worse.
  • Take plenty of water and remain hydrated. You could be waiting for a good number of hours prior to the launch, and staying hydrated is VITAL. Same thing applies to something to eat.
  • Bring a fold up chair. Sitting on the floor can be fine for 20-30 minutes, but after an hour or two this ceases to be fun. In fact it becomes downright uncomfortable.
  • Many hundreds of thousands of people are probably at the launch with you. Prepare to hang around after the launch. Also prepare for long traffic jams on the journey home. It took 1 hour to get to KSC in the morning of launch of STS-133, and 3 1/2 hours to get back.
  • Expect queues for everything at KSC, especially on launch day. Specific mission merchandise is also sold in the days following the launch, and you don’t want to spend your time queuing in the KSC shop. I speak from expereince here, because this is what I did. Following day, no queues plenty of merchandise.
  • Remember, your KSC visitor ticket entitles you to visit KSC again, so don’t feel you have to cram in everything in 1 day.
  • Get to your chosen location EARLY.
  • ENJOY yourself with like minded people
  • Prepare for a shock. The Space shuttle or rocket, will seem to launch silently. This initially confused me. It is of course, because sound travels MUCH slower than light. After a short time though a wall of sound will envelop you everything and everything vibrates quite noticeably. I LOVED IT!!! And I swear I could feel the heat SIX MILES AWAY!!

As an avid photographer, one piece of advice I DIDN’T take was NOT to take photographs. The logic (from NASA) goes something like this: NASA has hundreds of cameras dotted around the launch area. Some are VERY close. They have been positioned to get the BEST vantage point and to show the BEST Views. They have been taking photos of shuttle launches for 30 years. Their pictures will be better. You will miss a VAST amount if you see the launch from behind a viewfinder. I ignored all that advice and snapped around 150 photos. While perhaps not as good as the NASA photos, I can say like the small child at the end of the X-Files credits ‘I made this’……….

Space Shuttle Discovery Launch Cleared Tower

Space Shuttle Discovery Launch: Exhaust Plume

3D Shuttle Launch STS-133
This one requires Red/Cyan 3D glasses

Here are some more of my photos:


The Space Shuttle: Expensive Ferrari with nowhere to go?

On Friday @ 11:26 EST (Eastern Standard Time), 16:26 BST (British Summer Time) the space Shuttle Atlantis will leave the launch pad for the last time, bringing down the curtain on what could be considered both the most successful and least successful program in American Space history.

Mercury,Gemini & Apollo were all borne out of a purpose. Essentially to beat the Russians, first into space (which was a failure) and then to the Moon (which was a spectacular success). By 1972 though, at the end of the Apollo program, the American public was tired and frankly disinterested in the Moon and the accomplishments of NASA. The expense of the Moon programme had been a massive drain on the resources of the United States and there was a general consensus that these costs could not be bankrolled for ever.

Out of this was borne the Space Shuttle. The objective of the shuttle was to make space travel routine and to DRASTICALLY reduce cost. Instead of spending billions of dollars with wasteful rockets the era of reusability came to the fore. The original plan for the space shuttle was to launch one every 2 weeks for a fraction of the cost of the Apollo program. After numerous designs, tests were conducted and on April 12 1981, the first space worthy shuttle (Columbia) stood on the launch pad carrying veteran astronaut John Young and first time pilot, Robert Crippen. I can remember the day clearly. The beautiful white elegant winged creature strapped to a (back then) white external tank with the solid Rocket Booster, attached like giant chinese candles on the side. The footage shown now almost appears to come from another age (no HD back then), but in reality the 135 flights of the space shuttle have only taken 30 years. A startling achievement in itself, especially when you take into consideration the nearly 5 years of non flight after the accidents of Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003.

Elegant though the shuttle undoubtedly is, it reminds me of a very expensive car with a driver who has no clear idea of what he wanted to do with it. After the excitement of the initial test flights, the American public grew tired again of hearing about Space shuttle flights. In once sense, the idea of making space flight routine had become reality. Even I, as an avid space geek became somewhat disinterested in the routine of watching a shuttle launch. In hindsight, this is when a danger became apparent. In order to make flights appear routine, corners were cut, people who should have been listened to weren’t. All this tragically culminated in the flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger (Mission 51L) on January 28, 1986. 73 seconds into the flight, one of the Solid rocket boosters that attach to the main tank, ruptured & exploded killing all 7 astronauts on board. The inquiry that was subsequentally held found that while NASA voiced a ‘safety first’ policy, they had placed intolerable pressure on external contractors to prove that it was NOT safe to launch. As they could not prove categorically that it wasn’t safe to launch the launch went ahead.

Post Challenger, the space Shuttle program continued at a much subdued pace. Launches were less frequent, but after the trauma of Challenger, NASA needed to get the confidence of the American people again. More than 85 flights occurred between Challenger explosion and the last major disaster of the shuttle program, when Columbia burnt up on re-entry in 2003. Many launches were mundane, deploying or retrieving satellites. During this time though, many of the now famous planatary probes and space observatories were launched. These include the Magellan Venus probe deployment and Galileo Jupiter probe deployment in 1989 and the Ulysses/IUS solar probe deployment in 1990. Also launched by the Space shuttle during 1990, was a device that has profoundly changed our relationship with the Universe. The launch of the Hubble Space Telescope aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in April 1990 ushered in a new realm of observational astronomy.

hubble space telescope
Hubble Space Telescope Photo Credit: NASA

Initially a public relations and scientific disaster (due to blurred optics), the space shuttle came to the rescue again in 1993, and became an ideal vehicle to facilitate its repair and ultimate triumph. These few years were the AGE OF THE SHUTTLE FLEET.
The Pillars of Creation taken by the Hubble Space telescope
The Pillars of Creation taken by the Hubble Space telescope

Since 1998 the Space Shuttle has mainly been involved with ISS (International Space Station) construction, re-supply, garbage collection and crew rotation.(The ‘wisdom’ of a $100 billion orbiting space station will no doubt be the subject of a future post.)

ISS taken from Soyuz
ISS taken from Soyuz

One notable exception to this was the STS-125 mission by Atlantis to service the Hubble space Telescope for the last time. After the Columbia accident, this mission was deemed too dangerous, and was cancelled, due to the fact the orbit of the Hubble telescope meant, if anything went wrong, the shuttle couldn’t change course and dock with the ISS for safety. This decision was later reversed after an outcry by scientists, astronauts and the general public.

When Atlantis launches from pad 39-A on Friday, It has been estimated that the entire shuttle program will have more than $200 billion dollars since its inception in the 1970’s. Detractors say NASA has been wasting time and money since the 1970’s. I disagree with this sentiment. Spin-off technologies, borne directly from the Space Shuttle programme are at the forefront of scientific innovation the world over. From the development of artifical hearts and automotive insulation to infrared cameras and gas detectors Link to NASA Spin-off technologies these devices would probably not exist were it not for the Space Shuttle. Also, no other vehicle, other than the space Shuttle could have repaired the The Hubble space telescope. It was a service truck, albeit an expensive but elegant one, and in my view the world is a better place for it. Working and living in space has become much more routine. More of the dangers of space flight (from micro-meteorites to radiation exposure etc) are better appreciated and understood and this can only augur well for the trips humankind will to take to the Moon and Mars and beyond.

The Future
Now that the shuttle will no longer be flying, what now for NASA and its astronauts? Well NASA has teamed up with with Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) to carry American astronauts in an upgraded (all digital) Soyuz capsule for around $65 million per astronaut. These will fly from Baikonur in Kazakhstan and presumably from the ideintical facility in French Guiana from where the ESA (European Space Agency) launch. Back in the US, SpaceX, a commercial provider, has suggested that it will be ready to dock with the ISS in around a year, and hopefully be crew rated (to carry astronauts) in around 2013. There are a lot of if, buys and maybes before that can happen. The Russians have already stated that they are reluctant to allow private companies to send astronauts to the ISS. Will the Russians, create difficulties to maintain its monopoly position? Who is also to say that the Russians won’t suddenly change the price when they want.
There is also a major issue to do with loss of technical expertise. Thousands of rocket engineers, aerospace workers and scientists are currently being laid off. This directly effects the economy because those who cannot find jobs, will no longer be pumping money (from well paid jobs) into the economy. If a proportion of these workers, move into other fields, as seems likely, the expertise gleaned from almost 50 years of manned spaceflight will be lost. Playing catch-up is a dangerous game. My own feeling is that NASA should have been allowed to continue flying the shuttle fleet, until as such time a replacement was available. For America to become a travelling hitchhiker, having to arrange carriage with anyone going in the same direction, seems profoundly wrong to me. There are arguments in the Senate about which way NASA should go, or even if it should even exist any more. NASA certainly has a role to play in both future manned flight, and also interplantary probes. The experience that NASA has gleened during the 50 years of both manned and unmanned exploration is vital so that America and its allies can maintain their lead in space technology.

Greetings fellow Earthlings

Greetings and welcome to my blog.

My name is John Richards. I’ve been interested in spaceflight and astronomy since before i could tie my own shoelaces. I am now 43 years old, married and with 2 children. I am an ENTHUSIASTIC astronomer, space flight geek who FINALLY (due to a chance conversation with my eldest son’s school teacher and a WONDERFUL wife) got to see a space shuttle launch in February 2011 with the launch of STS-133. Since coming back, i’ve become obessed with spaceflight, rocketry, high altitude ballooning (of which more later) and generally anything that can be launched into space. I’ve watched more rocket launches since February since than i’ve ever watched before and I AM LOVING IT.

The aim of this blog is simple.

To stimulate, to educate, and to share my love and enthusiasm of spaceflight, rockets, space shuttles to as wide an audience as i can. Also I aim for this to become a forum for the exchange of ideas and for me to be educated as well. (because i’m not conceited enough to think i know everything)

NASA is in transition at the moment. With the premature (in my view) demise of the shuttle fleet, and no imminent US launch facility, the United States effectively becomes a hippy hitch hiker looking for a ride to the International space station via any means possible. At the moment, the only way to travel there is to use the Soyuz at a cost to the American taxpayer of more than $50 million per astronaut. Is this right? Will the layoff of thousands of skilled aeronautical engineers, space scientists and others really help the American space program in the future? Or is the stepping back of the American government, a first step into the true commercialization of space by private similar to the railroad in the 19th century.

It appears an exciting time at the moment (unless of course you’re a NASA contractor) with plenty of players throwing their hats into the ring. Names include Space X, Virgin Galactic, Bigelow Aerospace, Space Adventures and Copenhagen Suborbitals to the more established governmental players like the ESA (European Space Agency), Roscosmos, ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation). All these players are at various stages in the commercialization of space at this blog will hopefully chart their progress.

As well as discussing spaceflight, the commercialization of space, rockets and rocketry the blog will hopefully more mundane questions including:

    Why does it take 2 days for the Space Shuttle to catch up the International Space Station (ISS)?

    What is the Hubble Space Telescope?

    Why are rockets so big?

    And many more

You can follow me on:
Flickr (pictures of STS-133, ISS passes, rockets launches etc)

**** STOP PRESS **** As I write this, NASA has released (via the Russians) some photos taken by Paolo Nespoli after their Soyuz craft undocked from the International space station. Before returning to Earth the Soyuz craft did a fly about the International space station. In reality the Soyuz stayed largely stationary while the Space station (ISS) was moved. At the time of the Soyuz undocking, the space station was This was potentially a never to be repeated event. Some of MY pictures can be viewed at ISS / Shuttle flyby photos. After nearly 2 weeks the official STUNNING versions have now been released by NASA. Here is a sample:
Iss and Space Shuttle Endeavour as seen from Soyuz

Other images (including Hi-Res) can be found at: International Space Station & Docked Shuttle Images