Astronotes: November 14 - November 27, 2004

November 26

Comet-Smashing Probe's Launch Delayed

NASA officials announced this week they will delay the launch of the Deep Impact comet mission until no earlier than Jan. 8. Launch had been slated for Dec. 30.

The delay will "allow more time for evaluation of mission software," a statement said. "While there are no significant problems associated with the spacecraft hardware, additional time is necessary to be ready for launch."

Tests continue for other aspects of the mission and the spacecraft functionality.

Deep Impact is designed to deploy a probe that would smash into comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005. The mothership will photograph the impact and record other data of the contents of a new crater expected to be as big as a football field.

The Boeing Delta II launch vehicle on Pad 17-B is continues. The first stage was hoisted into the launcher Nov. 22. Nine strap-on solid rocket boosters, in sets of three, were slated to be attached beginning Nov. 23 and will continue through Dec. 1. The second stage will be hoisted into position atop the first stage on Dec. 3, the statement said.

The spacecraft must launch by the end of January to meet up with the comet on the planned date.

-- Staff

November 25

Next ISS Crew Named

Veteran NASA astronaut John Phillips and seasoned Russian Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev are the next crew of the International Space Station. Their six-month mission is set for launch in April 2005.

Phillips and Krikalev are the eleventh crew for the orbiting research complex. Krikalev will serve as Station Commander, and Phillips is Flight Engineer and NASA International Space Station Science Officer. Designated Expedition 11, they will be on board the Station when the Space Shuttle makes its first Return to Flight mission. The Shuttle is scheduled to dock with the Space Station in May 2005.

Both crewmembers have previously been to the International Space Station. Phillips flew to the Station aboard the Shuttle on the STS-100 mission in 2001. During that 12-day mission, the crew installed the Canadarm2 Station robotic arm.

In 2000, Krikalev was a member of Expedition 1, the first International Space Station crew. Expedition 11 will be his sixth space flight and fourth long-duration mission. He has the most flights for any Russian cosmonaut.

Selected in 1985, Krikalev flew aboard the Mir Space Station in 1988-89, 1991-92 and the International Space Station in 2000-01. He flew aboard the Shuttle on the first joint U.S.-Russian mission, STS-60 in 1994, and on the first International Space Station assembly mission, STS-88 in 1998. Krikalev has accumulated 625 days in space. At the completion of a six-month stay aboard the Station on Expedition 11, Krikalev will have spent more time in space than any other person.

The Expedition 11 backup crewmembers are astronaut Daniel Tani and cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin.

November 24

Thirsty Bugs Found in Martian-like Desert

The results of the study are published in the Nov. 19 issue of Science.

Expedition Turns Up Life on Pseudo-Mars

November 23

Mars Rover Spirit Takes a Brake

Busily surveying the Columbia Hills at Gusev Crater, NASA's Spirit Mars Exploration Rover continues to suffer a bit of a "brake down."

Rover drivers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California continue to deal with Spirit wheel and brake issues. While surpassing its original warranty, Spirit has intermittently sent information in recent weeks that the brakes on two wheels were not releasing properly when the rover received commands to set a new course.

Recent images relayed by Spirit's navigation camera show in graphic detail what ground operators are dealing with. A westward view from the robot shows the effects of dragging its right front wheel, explained Leo Bister, Spirit mission manager.

This type anomaly has not been observed on the Opportunity rover as it wheels around Endurance Crater on the other side of Mars.

-- Leonard David

November 22

SpaceShipOne: Time Magazine's Invention of the Year

Time magazine has picked SpaceShipOne as the invention of the year. Out on newsstands this week, the magazine salutes the privately-built rocket plane as being ingenious in design and an example of "entrepreneurial moxie."

Led by maverick aerospace designer, Burt Rutan, SpaceShipOne was the product of his firm, Scaled Composites of Mojave, California.

Time put the craft in the number one slot, making note of why it deserved top billing:

"For solving the problems of suborbital flight and re-entry with ingenious design, for boldly going where NASA now fears to tread and returning without a scratch, but most of all for reigniting the moon-shot-era dream of zero-gravity for everyone, SpaceShipOne is Time's Coolest Invention of 2004."

SpaceShipOne winged its way over other selected inventions, among them JVC's J4 humanoid-like robot; 3M Novec 1230, a fire protection fluid; Segway's prototype Centaur, a four-wheel sit-on-it scooter; and an Intel-invented wireless technology surfboard that includes a built-in webcam.

-- Leonard David

November 19

Robot Border Patrol on Point

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are best known for their use in wartime situations. But now UAVs are finding a high-altitude niche flying sentry over the U.S.-Mexico border in the hopes of stemming the tide of illegal border crossings from Mexico.

Starting this month into January -- as part of the new Arizona Border Control -- two U.S. Army RQ-5 Hunter UAVs equipped with electro optical infrared sensors are making reconnaissance flights along the Arizona border area 90 miles southeast of Tucson.

"Unmanned aerial vehicles provide unparalleled surveillance capabilities that not only cause greater levels of apprehension among potential terrorists, but also provide safer working conditions for Border Patrol agents who risk their lives on a daily basis," said David Zolet, vice president, Homeland Security, of the Northrop Grumman Corporation.

The Hunter is just one of several UAVs in Northrop Grumman's portfolio of unmanned systems that could support the Arizona Border Control's surveillance and reconnaissance requirements.

Individuals on the ground may be unaware of law enforcement via UAVs due to their low visual profile at altitude and quiet engine.

The Border Patrol is now part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection within the Department of Homeland Security.

-- Leonard David

November 18

Falcon 1's "Loved Ones" Flight

The maiden voyage of the privately built Falcon 1 booster will be carrying the ashes of loved ones, as well as its primary payload - the Naval Research Laboratory's TacSat-1.

Liftoff date of Falcon 1 from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is January 26, 2005, according to Space Services Incorporated of Houston, Texas. The group's "Explorers Flight" is shaping up to be the largest memorial spaceflight ever conducted, according a company newsletter.

The flight into space will honor people from around the globe, including Space Services' first-ever Russian participant. The firm's spacecraft that carries the ashes of individuals will be integrated to the Falcon 1 on November 29. For those wanting to honor a loved one or friend with a memorial spaceflight, flight space is still available but the arrangements must be completed by November 22.

Cremation remains of up to a gram fit into an Individual Flight Capsule at $995.00. Individual Flight Modules that hold a capacity of 7 grams are available at $5,300.00.

"Our confidence in the success of this mission is high, and our excitement is building as we make our final preparations," explained Chan Tysor, President of Space Services Incorporated.

The Falcon 1 rocket is bankrolled by Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) of El Segundo, California.

-- Leonard David

November 17

Space Elevator Climbs at MIT

It was one small climb for the space elevator last week at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge.

From high atop the roof of MIT's Cecil and Ida Green Building, a tether was lowered to the ground as curious onlookers watched the display in suspended belief under snowy conditions.

A scale model of a robot lifter successfully made its way up the lengthy ribbon, under the watchful eye of Michael Laine, president and founder of LiftPort Incorporated. Based in Bremerton, Washington, LiftPort is a for-profit company devoted to the commercial development of an elevator to space. The lifter was designed by LiftPort's David Shoemaker.

The event was part of SpaceVision 2004, hosted November 11-14 by the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) and the MIT Mars Society.

-- Leonard David

November 16

Space Telescope Mirror Progress

Reflect on this. A major step forward has been made on the mirror required for the super-powerful James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). A state-of-the-art facility has opened its doors in Cullman, Alabama, the location where the observatory's optical components will be machined.

The new facility in Alabama is run by Axsys Technologies Inc. and houses advanced computer-aided manufacturing and metrology equipment that will shape JWST's optical components to a high degree of accuracy. Fabrication in the facility will begin later this month and will be completed in 2007.

The primary mirror for NASA's JWST will make use of 18 hexagonal beryllium segments measuring 4.3 feet (1.3 meters) from tip to tip.

To be the largest deployable telescope ever launched, the observatory features a 20 feet (6.5-meter) aperture primary mirror. Once lofted in 2011, JWST will reside in an orbit 940,000 miles from Earth - at the L2 Lagrange point.

Beryllium, one of the lightest of all metals, was selected as the mirror technology for its demonstrated track record operating at extremely cold temperatures (around minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit) on space-based telescopes.

Northrop Grumman Corporation is the prime contractor for JWST, leading the observatory's design and development team under contract to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Ball Aerospace will incorporate the mirrors into optical assemblies and mount them on the telescope structure. Manufacturing all 18 mirrors will take approximately four-and-a-half years.

-- Leonard David

November 15

Dent or Trick of Light? A Space Station Mystery Solved

NASA engineers scrutinizing hours of video from the International Space Station (ISS) have determined than an apparent dent in the orbital outpost was not the result of a micrometeorite strike.

After a week of investigation, engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) believe a mystery dent in a panel attached to the space station's U.S.-built Destiny module was most likely caused by changes in temperature as the ISS orbited the Earth.

ISS Expedition 10 commander Leroy Chiao set up the arm's video vantage point during an in-flight robot arm exercise on Nov. 8.

"They first saw it while looking in images from STS-113 in November 2002, when they saw what may be a shadow or a dent," NASA spokeswoman Kylie Clem, of the agency's Johnson Space Center, said of the dent. STS-113 was the last space shuttle to visit the space station.

Such indentations, it turns out, are not unprecedented on the ISS. Debris shields on the station's Unity module have also exhibited similar behavior, and engineers believe that the forward and aft triangle regions of the debris shields are susceptible to the temperature dimpling, NASA officials said. 

-- Tariq Malik

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