March 1, 2011 / 8:14 a.m. CT (1414 GMT) Collecting space: Just before finishing the first spacewalk of space shuttle Discovery's STS-133 mission on Monday, spacewalkers Alvin Drew and Stephen Bowen collected a unique souvenir of their EVA: a bottle full of space. Exposing the astronaut autographed metal cylinder to the vacuum of space, Drew performed the "Message in a Bottle" educational experiment for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The space-filled bottle will be brought back to Earth by Discovery and then displayed in museums in Japan, where the public will be encouraged to write down the message they would place in the bottle.
March 1, 2011 / 9:19 p.m. CT (0319 GMT March 2) Mike Lounge, 1946-2011: Former astronaut John "Mike" Lounge died on Tuesday from complications stemming from liver cancer. He was 64. A veteran of three space shuttle flights, Lounge deployed four satellites with Discovery's STS-51I crew in 1985; returned the shuttle to flight on the post-Challenger STS-26 mission in 1988; and operated telescopes on the astronomy-devoted STS-35 in 1990. He left NASA in 1991 to join Spacehab and later the Boeing Company. A decorated naval aviator, Lounge first went to work for NASA at Johnson Space Center in 1978, two years before being selected as an astronaut.
March 4, 2011 / 10:13 a.m. CT (1613 GMT) Departure: Astronaut Garrett Reisman, who flew two space flights including a nearly 100 day stay on the International Space Station, retired from NASA last week to join SpaceX as an engineer working on astronaut safety for their Dragon crew capsule. Selected as an astronaut in 1998, Reisman's first mission came a decade later aboard the space station during its 16th and 17th expeditions. He returned to space and the ISS last May, flying on what his STS-132 crew mates and he dubbed "the first last flight of space shuttle Atlantis." In total Reisman logged just over 107 days in space, under 21 hours on three spacewalks.
March 5, 2011 / 11:40 a.m. CT (1740 GMT) Sotheby's spacecraft sale: Sotheby's New York has announced it will hold a dedicated auction to offer the Soviet spacecraft that in 1961 launched a mannequin and a dog on a final orbital test flight before the world's first human space flight three weeks later. The auction, which will be held April 12 on the 50th anniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's historic mission, will seek between two and $10 million for the Vostok 3KA-2 capsule which lofted the dummy "Ivan Ivanovich" and the dog Zvezdochka for one orbit of the Earth on March 25, 1961. The only example of the Vostok spacecraft in the United States, Vostok 3KA-2 was previously offered by Sotheby's in 1996 and on a Fox reality TV show, "Ultimate Auction" in December 2000.
March 6, 2011 / 6:10 a.m. CT (1210 GMT) Second secret spaceplane: The second of the US Air Force's mini-space shuttles, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, lifted off at 4:46 p.m. CST Saturday aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launched from Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex-41. Described by the Air Force as identical to the first X-37B launched last April and recovered in December after a safe runway landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., OTV-2's mission goals and duration remain classified. According to the Air Force, the 29-foot space plane "supports space experimentation, risk reduction, and concept of operations development for long duration and reusable space vehicle technologies."
March 7, 2011 / 6:46 a.m. CT (1246 GMT) Final flight: Before leaving the International Space Station (ISS) Monday, space shuttle Discovery's final crew left their mark on the orbiting laboratory. Adding their patch to the station's growing collection of visiting crews' emblems, the simple activity represented the successful completion of their mission's goals. It also symbolized the final contribution by a late artist to the visual history of the U.S. space program. Like Discovery, Robert McCall's final works of art have made their last flight into outer space.
March 14, 2011 / 4:03 p.m. CT (2103 GMT) Patch preview | Soyuz TMA-02M: An eight year old's vision of a rocket ship offered the inspiration for the Soyuz TMA-02M mission patch, Roscosmos revealed on Friday. Kati Ikramov from Krasnoyarsk, Russia was the latest to win the federal space agency's now two-year old Soyuz patch design contest open to children from around the world. The rocket from her artwork was incorporated in to the background of the patch, which cosmonaut Sergey Volkov, NASA astronaut Michael Fossum, and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa will wear when they launch to the International Space Station this May. TMA-02M is the second of Russia's upgraded Soyuz with digital systems.
March 14, 2011 / 4:49 p.m. CT (2149 GMT) Road to retirement: On April 12th, the 30th anniversary of STS-1, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will release where the space agency's three space shuttle orbiters will be transferred for public display. Discovery, as the first of the fleet to fly its final flight, has already begun down the road toward its retirement, but it still has a long way to go before presumably heading to the Smithsonian. Once unpacked of its last mission's payload, Discovery is set to undergo an autopsy of sorts, giving engineers a last chance to learn from the world's most flown spacecraft.
March 16, 2011 / 4:53 a.m. CT (0953 GMT) TMA-01M touches down: Soyuz TMA-01M and its three crew members undocked from the International Space Station and returned to Earth Wednesday morning after spending 159 days on orbit (all but two at the station). With their landing at 2:54 a.m. CDT on the cold and snowy Kazakhstan steppe, Expedition 26 crew mates Alexander Kaleri, Scott Kelly and Oleg Skripochka ended the maiden mission for Russia's new "digital" upgraded Soyuz. Kaleri, who was TMA-01M's commander, is now the second most experienced space traveler in history with a career total of 770 days in space over the course of his five missions.
March 18, 2011 / 2:37 a.m. CT (0737 GMT) MESSENGER makes history: For the first time in history, a spacecraft is now orbiting the innermost planet in our solar system. At about 8:09 p.m. CDT on Thursday, NASA's MESSENGER probe achieved orbit around Mercury after a six-and-a-half year, 4.9 billion mile trip that included one flyby of Earth, two of Venus and three flybys of Mercury itself while completing 15 orbits about the Sun. The accomplishment was met with applause at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab where the mission is being managed. It also already has a postage stamp declaring it the "First Spacecraft To Orbit Mercury," which the USPS had produced even before MESSENGER made history.
March 18, 2011 / 10:26 a.m. CT (1526 GMT) Shaping the shuttle: On Friday, thousands of the men and women who work to build up the space shuttle for launch took a break to shape a shuttle of a different type. Standing side-by-side outside NASA Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building, the workers formed a full-scale outline of the orbiter. The unique photo op, which was also captured in a time lapse video, was organized to honor the 30-year legacy of the space shuttle program and the people who have contributed to processing, launching and landing the vehicle since its first flight in April 1981.
March 21, 2011 / 7:49 p.m. CT (0049 GMT March 22) Successful Space Crafts: NASA and Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade goods, announced Monday the winners of their joint "Space Craft" contest for art inspired by the space shuttle and space exploration. Grand Prize for Best of Show went to Colleen and Eric Whiteley for their Northstar Table featuring a North Star design that when pressed opens a secret drawer. Other winners in the 2D and 3D categories include Rachel Barry Hobson's high texture hand embroidery of the Moon, Nikkita Bhakta's art photograph "Universal Thoughts," and Patrick Burt's gold, silver and diamond embedded titanium ring titled "Brother Sun, Sister Moon." The Grand Prize includes a $500 Etsy shopping spree and an all expenses paid trip to see space shuttle Endeavour launch in April. All the winners' work (or photos of them) will have a chance to be flown in space.
March 22, 2011 / 10:46 a.m. CT (1546 GMT) Deconstructing 39B: Construction crews at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida began Monday dismantling Launch Pad 39B's FSS — the 267-foot Fixed Service Structure that previously supported three swing arms. The deconstruction of the pad's towering structures, which first got underway last September when crews literally tore into the rotating service structure, is being done to reconfigure the pad for future use. 39B's FSS was used for 53 shuttle missions over the course of two decades, starting with the ill-fated 1986 final flight of Challenger through Discovery's 2006 STS-116 mission to the International Space Station (the 12-floor tower was last used by the 2009 Ares I-X test flight). NASA's schedule calls for Pad 39B to be "clean" of the fixed and rotating structures by late April, early May.
March 26, 2011 / 10:27 a.m. CT (1527 GMT) Asking the astronauts: Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden, whose autobiography "Falling to Earth" is set for release in July, took part on Friday in "Astro Chat," a new monthly video interview series organized by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Worden answered questions that were posted to the Foundation's Facebook page as well as through collectSPACE's discussion forums. Among those who submitted questions was Michael Raynor, who played Worden in the miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon."
March 26, 2011 / 5:21 p.m. CT (2221 GMT) Patch previews | MR-3 at 50, STS-1 at 30: The anniversaries of two U.S. human space flight milestones will be commemorated with emblems celebrating their milestones. Next month's 30th anniversary of STS-1, the first space shuttle mission, on April 12, will be signified using a design by NASA artist Sean Collins. The insignia captures shuttle Columbia making its maiden launch, its white-color external tank leading the way. A month later on May 5, the 50-year anniversary of the first American manned mission, Mercury-Redstone 3, will borrow the design of a previous commemorative patch to form the '0' in the number fifty for its NASA celebratory emblem. Both embroidered insignias are being produced by AB Emblem, which supplied NASA with the crew patches worn on all of the shuttle missions.
March 29, 2011 / 2:46 p.m. CT (1946 GMT) Shuttle scruffle: On April 12th, exactly two weeks from today, NASA will publicly reveal where its three space shuttle orbiters will be retired for display. And just like a campaign for office (even including campaign buttons) museums have now entered the final stretch, making their last minute pitches for why they should be awarded one of the spacecraft. From New York City to Seattle, Chicago to Houston, those vying for an orbiter have been sharing new artwork for their proposed exhibits, appealing to politicians and generally voicing their desire to land a space shuttle.