: Pad leader for NASA's Mercury, Gemini and Apollo flights, Guenter Wendt died Monday at his home in Merritt Island, Fla., after being hospitalized for congestive heart failure and suffering a stroke. He was 85. Affectionately known to the astronauts as the "pad führer," Wendt controlled access to the space craft as they were configured on the pad and was the last man that the crews saw before the hatch was closed and they launched. He served the space program for 31 years, first as an engineer with McDonnell Aircraft and then North American Rockwell, spanning Mercury through shuttle.
: The walls that once enclosed NASA's original Mission Control, the Mercury Control Center at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, came tumbling down recently, as the 52 year old building's demolition began. Long ago emptied (its consoles used to support all the Mercury missions and three Gemini flights moved to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex ten years ago), the building succumbed to "time and salt air," according to NASA. The decision to demolish the building was made in 2005 after it was estimated that it would cost the agency as much as $5 million to repair and restore.
: The space station depicted on the Expedition 26 crew's mission patch, reproduced here for the first time online, is notable for what it shows and what it doesn't show. Like prior International Space Station insignias, it illustrates the orbiting lab as it will be configured when the first ISS 26 members arrive to begin the expedition this November. The emblem though, also shows visiting spacecraft including ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle-2 (ATV-2) "Johannes Kepler" and JAXA's H-II Transfer Vehicle-2 (HTV-2), both slated to dock during the mission. Not shown is the space shuttle, as originally the orbiter fleet was to have flown its last flight before this expedition began, but due to a reconfiguration of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (shown installed on the patch), the shuttle Endeavour is now slated to visit Expedition 26.
NASA successfully flew its latest and greatest astronaut launch escape system test on Thursday on a 1.2-mile-high 135-second flight path that safely deposited its mock-up crew module about a mile from where it had lifted off at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Pad Abort-1 collected data for the agency's first new launch abort system since Apollo, which staged two similar tests in 1963 and 1965 also from White Sands. The PA1 test was three days shy of the 50th anniversary for the first U.S. abort system flight, Beach Abort in 1960.
: Just in time for the last of NASA's space shuttle flights, LEGO has announced a June release for its latest space shuttle set. Standing 17.5" tall and with a 10" wingspan, Shuttle Adventure includes 1,204 pieces to build the orbiter, its external tank and twin solid rocket boosters and a satellite payload with unfolding antenna and solar panels. Adventure features an opening cargo bay, moveable robotic arm and a cockpit to seat the two included astronaut minifigures (a third ground support figure has his own vehicle). This is LEGO's ninth shuttle-theme set to be released since the first in 1990.
: No one planned at ATK, NASA's solid rocket motor contractor, to pair space shuttle Atlantis' final flight with hardware used to launch its maiden mission -- it just happened by coincidence -- just as were the 16 other matches between the boosters segment cases' prior flights and Atlantis' missions. The conjunction though, offers the opportune chance to review the history behind NASA's fourth-to-be-built orbiter before it lifts off on its 32nd and final planned flight, STS-132, later this week.
: Two triangular stowage containers located to either side of Atlantis' airlock in the shuttle's cargo bay have been filled for the orbiter's final planned flight with something other than the tool kits they were originally designed to carry. Rather than being packed with spacewalkers' wrenches and ratchets, the dual trunk-size assemblies hold patches and pins, rolls of red thread and gold foil, wall plaques and thousands of space shuttle and space station flags. Acting as an addendum to the Official Flight Kit stowed inside a locker on Atlantis' mid-deck, the mementos are being flown to mark the approaching end of the shuttle program for NASA's employees and partners.
: Selected as a cosmonaut candidate on Sept. 2, 1985 with Energia's (NPOE-7) eighth group (alongside Sergei Krikalev), Andrei Y. Zaytsev died on May 5 at age 52. Though he never flew in space, Zaytsev trained with the back-up crews for two Mir space station expeditions and a Soyuz visiting crew from 1987 to 1991. Five years later, he retired from the Russian space program and returned to work as a test engineer.
: NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity established a new Martian longevity record on Thursday, surpassing the six years and 116 days that Viking 1 was operational on Mars from July 20, 1976 to November 11, 1982. Opportunity's twin, Spirit, began working on Mars three weeks before its sister rover but it has been out of communication since March 22. If it wakes from its hibernation and reestablishes contact with Earth, Spirit will then attain the Martian surface longevity record. The record for the longest working lifetime at Mars belongs to neither lander, but rather NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, which has been operating in orbit since 2001.
: Japan's first probe to our solar system's second planet, the Venus Climate Orbiter "Akatsuki," lifted off aboard an H-IIA rocket at 6:58 a.m. JST May 21 (4:58 p.m. CDT Thursday) from the Tanegashima Space Center. Formerly known as Planet-C, Akatsuki ("Dawn") will arrive at Venus in December where it'll become the first weather satellite to orbit a planet other than Earth, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Riding to space along with Akatsuki was the Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun, or IKAROS, a 66-foot solar sail designed to use both photon propulsion and thin film power generation.
: Propulsion Officer Lonnie Schmitt was celebrated Thursday by his fellow flight controllers for being the first member of Mission Control's "century club." Atlantis' on-going STS-132 final flight marks Schmitt's 100th space shuttle mission working in Mission Control. Schmitt, who first served in the back-room for the shuttle's first flight, STS-1 in 1981, moved to a console in the front Flight Control Room four years later for STS-41B and since then has been lead prop officer for 29 of his 100 missions (he is scheduled as lead prop for the penultimate shuttle mission, STS-133, as well). STS-132 commander Ken Ham radioed from orbit Thursday to thank Schmitt for his dedication, describing him as "a true American hero."
: A day shy of the first astronaut-aquanaut's splashdown from orbit 48th anniversary, Tom Marshburn splashed up from the Aquarius underwater lab off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. Before coming topside, Marshburn took a surface-to-ocean-floor call from collectSPACE to discuss NEEMO 14, the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations 14th expedition, and how working in inner space was preparing him for outer space.
: Two veteran shuttle astronauts announced this week they're leaving NASA. Dominic Gorie, who flew the ninth and final shuttle-Mir docking followed by a mission to map the Earth before leading two flights to the International Space Station, logged more than 48 days orbiting the Earth. Chosen in 1994 with NASA's 15th group of astronauts ("The Flying Escargot"), Gorie plans his last day with the agency to be June 4. Preceding his departure by 10 days, John "Danny" Olivas retired on May 25 after a dozen years as a member of NASA's 17th astronaut class ("The Penguins") selected in 1998. Olivas visited the ISS twice where he did five spacewalks totaling over 34 hours.