: The first female space shuttle commander and the leader of the STS-114 return to flight Discovery mission last July, Eileen Collins is leaving NASA, announced the space agency today. A veteran of four space flights, Collins' 16 years as an astronaut have been punctuated by firsts, including the first woman to pilot the shuttle. Also retiring is the center director responsible for the launch pads from where Collins and her crews left the ground. James W. Kennedy was the 8th to helm Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He will leave NASA in Jan. 2007.
: NASA has named astronauts Michael Lopez-Alegria and Sunita Williams, along with cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin as the International Space Station's Expedition 14 crew. Commander Lopez-Alegria and Flight Engineer Tyurin are in training to launch aboard a Russian Soyuz in September 2006. Williams will launch to the ISS aboard STS-116, joining Expedition 14 in progress. Tyurin will be making his second stay on the ISS, having been a member of the Expedition 3 crew. Lopez-Alegria has been to the station twice on two of his three prior space flights. This will be Williams' first flight. The ISS 14 back-up crew is Peggy Whitson, Clay Anderson, and Yuri Malenchenko.
: Two test pilots whose work led to the development of the first rocketplane to reach space and a flexible wing for the recovery of manned spacecraft have died, both succumbing to illness. Alvin S. White, 87, was backup to the late Scott Crossfield for the X-15 project at North American Aviation. Though he never flew the rocketplane, White flew the first flights of both XB-70 Valkyrie aircraft and was at its controls when a collision with an F-104 piloted by Joseph Walker claimed the life of the X-15 astronaut (White ejected safely; his co-pilot was killed). According to friends, White died on Saturday, Apr. 29. Bruce A. Peterson, 72, is reported to have passed on Monday, May 1. A NASA pilot since 1960, Peterson was initially assigned to the Rogallo paraglider (Paraslev) that was under consideration for the Gemini and Apollo space capsules. During his flying career, Peterson logged more than 6,000 hours in nearly 70 types of aircraft. He gained a small measure of fame when the story of a M2-F2 lifting body crash that he was seriously injured in, but survived, was the basis for the TV show The Six-Million Dollar Man.
: collectSPACE is proud to announce that soon buySPACE will be offering items from the personal archives of Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin. These items will range from letters to autographs, and from records to artifacts. A preview catalog for round one of the sale will debut in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, we are now accepting orders for a custom signing with Aldrin, who will visit Rocket Town on May 27. You can send your own memorabilia or order photos and other Aldrin-related collectibles appropriate for him to sign.
: Three Space Shuttle commanders who on Saturday were inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Florida spoke with collectSPACE about the honor. Hank Hartsfield, Brewster Shaw and Charlie Bolden shared what being inducted meant to them and what they hoped others retained after touring the Hall. The trio were joined this past weekend at Kennedy Space Center by nearly 20 Hall of Fame astronauts including the commanders of their first flights: Thomas Mattingly, John Young and Hoot Gibson. Hartsfield, Shaw and Bolden are the 61st, 62nd, and 63rd in the Hall and fifth shuttle class.
: Palmdale, California has called the "front seat" when Space Shuttle Atlantis is retired. Assemblywoman Sharon Runner introduced a Joint Resolution that if passed would transmit an official request to the President and leaders of Congress to grant Palmdale as the future and permanent home of the orbiter. Runner's resolution is the result of a NASA briefing that suggested it will ground Atlantis in 2008, rather than put it through a required maintenance period that could exceed the end of the shuttle program in 2010. As it is written however, the bill would appear to neglect existing requirements for how NASA must dispose of artifacts and its agreement for the transfer of artifacts to the Smithsonian. Runner's reasons for Atlantis to move to Palmdale include the city's role as the place where all of NASA's orbiters were first built, and to free room at Kennedy Space Center for future vehicles.
: Astronauts and others have urged a federal judge to show leniency Monday when he sentences Max Ary for stealing artifacts from the museum he directed, the Associated Press reports. Court papers filed in the case indicate U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten has received more than 100 letters for the former head of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, including one from his most recent employer, the Omniplex in Oklahoma City, which has recommitted itself to contracting again with Ary (his hire with the Kirkpatrick Science and Air Space Museum expired in August 2005). Though the letters haven't been released, defense filings have made reference to their contents. That includes the letter from Bob Agostino, a current Cosmosphere director, who speaks of Ary's "outstanding character and honesty." Among the astronauts who have written are Dick Gordon, Gene Cernan, Wally Schirra, Thomas Stafford, Alan Bean and Jim Lovell, as well as Jan Evans and Bobbie Slayton.
: A key issue that will likely decide whether former Cosmosphere CEO Max Ary goes to prison for selling stolen NASA and Cosmosphere artifacts centers on the judge's evaluation of the loss, The Hutchinson News reports. According to a defense filing, prosecutors argue Ary should be held responsible for a loss greater than $200,000, which would result in a prison sentence ranging from three years, five months to four years, 3 months. The defense contends that the value is less than $70,000, translating to a sentence of less than two years, or if their other arguments are accepted, six to 12 months in jail. It also would move Ary into a different offense 'zone,' which allows the court to order community or house arrest, rather than prison. The difference in loss estimate is based on several factors. Ary's hearing before the U.S. District Court in Wichita, Kansas starts Monday.
: Discovery made a brief but important first move today toward the July launch of mission STS-121. Rolling atop a 76-wheel transporter, the orbiter was driven the quarter mile from its processing facility to the 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building where it will be mated with two Solid Rocket Boosters and External Tank. The 'stack' is scheduled to leave the VAB next Friday for its 4.2-mile, less than one mile-per-hour crawl to Pad 39B.
: Howard C. Weinberger, author of The Robbins Medallions, Flown Treasure from the Apollo Space Program, will publish in June his second guide to the official astronaut souvenirs. Collecting the Robbins Medallions details the coins minted for missions that followed Apollo, including Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, Space Shuttle and the expeditions on-board the International Space Station. The 72-page illustrated book also updates information about the lunar flown medallions and addresses the creation and preservation of the coins. Weinberger will sign copies of his two titles on June 17 at the NASA Glenn/collectSPACE Space Memorabilia Show.
: Max Ary, former Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center President was sentenced this morning to 36 months in federal prison for his role in stealing and selling space artifacts from the museum. U.S. District Court Judge J. Thomas Marten also ordered an additional supervised release period of 36 months that will follow the prison sentence. Ary will pay restitution for the stolen artifacts; a later hearing will decide the amount. "I think a prison sentence is important in your case," said the judge Monday to Ary, "for people to get the message."
: How is pilot Brian Binnie different from Burt Reynolds? Binnie's been in space. And he'd be much quicker to put the moves on your girl. The SpaceShipOne astronaut and the actor debate such issues and more as "men of the square table" in Miller Lite's new commercials. The campaign includes a website, launched today, where the spots can be screened and visitors can vote on future 'man laws'. A similarly themed coffee table book is also planned. Binnie's rocketplane flight broke the record for altitude and won the $10 million X Prize in 2004.
: The June 15 auction at Sotheby's New York is promoted as offering Books and Manuscripts and the majority of the 237 lots are indeed just that. However, flipping to the back of the catalog reveals three items that are far from printed matter: space artifacts that were worn by the late Charles "Pete" Conrad while on the Moon. The trio includes NASA and U.S. flag moondust-stained patches and the radio antenna used by Conrad to communicate during his 1969 moonwalk. Each of the insignias is estimated by Sotheby's to sell between $200,000 and $300,000; the antenna, $20,000 to $30,000.
: UP Aerospace, a new suborbital launch provider for general public and private enterprise payloads, last week unveiled its official "mission patch" for their first liftoff from the New Mexico Spaceport scheduled for this July. In their media release announcing the emblems' availability, UP boldly stated that "given the magnitude and historic nature of the event, these patches are sure to be an instant collector's item." Available only through their website, the insignias are listed for $30 each or $300 if flown on the maiden "SpaceLoft Mission," SL-1.
: Director Philip Kaufman, whose 1983 The Right Stuff dramatized the story of America's original astronauts, will turn his focus back to NASA and the seven astronauts who were first to be lost during flight, reports Variety. In Challenger, Kaufman will look at the role physicist Richard Feynman played in the probe of the 1986 shuttle accident. David Strathairn (Ed Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck) will star as Feynman in the movie written by Nicole Perlman. Kaufman will direct the film for independent producer, Media 8 Entertainment, Inc.
: NASA rolled out its oldest flying orbiter to the launch pad today in preparation for a targeted July 1st lift-off of Discovery on mission STS-121. Leaving the Vehicle Assembly Building shortly after noon, the stack-laden crawler took eight hours to drive to Pad 39B, 4.2 miles away at a speed that never exceeded one mile per hour. STS-121 is NASA's second "Return to Flight" mission, after the loss of shuttle Columbia in 2003.
: The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex begins sales this morning of viewing tickets for the July launch of Discovery and the STS-121 crew. The $51 passes offer the only access (via buses) to the NASA Causeway, the closest location from where the public can watch the shuttle lift-off to orbit. The 5000 tickets for last year's STS-114 launch were reported to have been completely sold less than a day after they were offered. A limited premium package is also available that includes sharing a pre-launch meal with an astronaut. UPDATE for 9:15 a.m. CDT
: All tickets for the causeway have been sold according to the Visitor Complex website.
: Originally set for June 1, the restitution hearing for Kansas Cosmosphere former director Max Ary has been pushed to July 6, reports the Wichita Eagle. Sentenced last week to three years in prison for stealing artifacts from the Cosmosphere and NASA, Ary remains free on bond at least until the hearing that will decide the amount he will repay. The prosecution is seeking more than $200,000 in restitution; the defense contends that the $52,755 received from the artifact sales is the "accurate loss," reports The Hutchinson News. Ary admitted to taking the artifacts but said it was by mistake.
: On Monday, Congressman José Serrano (NY-D) joined other Bronx district leaders to announce a Dominican flag will fly to space on the next shuttle mission. Said Serrano in a release, "It is a very fitting honor for all that the Dominican people have done for the United States both as citizens and as a neighboring nation." Serrano intends to put the flown flag on permanent display at Hostos Community College with the Puerto Rican flag that flew several years ago. "I hope that all Dominican and Puerto Rican people who see the flags there will feel a sense of pride," Serrano stated. Per the Associated Press, quoting a NASA spokesman, the flag will fly aboard Discovery in July or Atlantis in August.
On Saturday, Space Center Houston (Johnson Space Center's visitor complex) will offer the general public its first access to its Saturn V since 2004. The 363-foot rocket has been off limits as conservators worked to repair years of damage, the result of exposure to the humid Houston atmosphere. A climate controlled building was erected around the Saturn V and though intended to be temporary, the structure will serve to exhibit the moon booster for the foreseeable future. To that end, despite being added back to the tram tours this weekend, the Saturn V's surroundings still need work and that may result in sections of the building being roped off. For similar reasons, the first visitors will find the rocket is wrapped in plastic to shield it from pending concrete work.
: The list was handwritten on a slip of paper and for years was speculated but never seen. Per the instructions set forth by Deke Slayton, the head of the era's Astronaut Office, the contents of an astronaut's preference kit — their stash of personal souvenirs stowed aboard the spacecraft — was limited to their eyes only. Later flights' PPKs would follow different rules but to this day, the Gemini and Apollo PPK manifests will only ever be seen if the astronaut chooses to share it. Or, as the case may be with Gemini 6's Wally Schirra, sell it. Listed for $2000 by FarthestReaches.com, the original manifest — the first to be seen, let alone sold from a Gemini mission — includes 11 types of items that encompasses approximately 50 flown mementos. Among them are a pair of Navy wings, medals, flags and patches.
: Two new titles on DVD look at the lessons and legacy of the first space shuttle accident, 20 years later. Spacecraft Films' three-disc setChallenger offers over 12 hours of material comprising the most complete collection ever assembled on the 51L mission. The DVDs include pre-flight and training footage, key pad camera views and President Reagan's speech to the nation delivered the evening of the accident; focus is then turned to the investigation and what went wrong. The separate but complementary Christa McAuliffe: Reach for the Stars presents the award-winning documentary about the United States' first 'Teacher in Space' with 45 minutes of bonus material. Produced in collaboration with Christa's family, the film is narrated by Susan Sarandon with songs composed by Carly Simon. Both titles can be ordered via buySPACE; $44.95 for Challenger, and $29.95 for Christa.
: Commercial suborbital space access company ZG Aerospace has taken payment from 200 people in return for flying personal mementos and small payloads on the maiden flight of their 19.5-foot tall, 775 pound rocket, reports the Seattle Post Intelligencer today. Scheduled for a July liftoff, the mission will be the first to launch from the Southwest Regional Spaceport located in New Mexico. According to ZG Aerospace's website, their payload capacity is less than half full and as such they're still accepting bookings. A business card can be flown for $49.95, which includes post-flight certification. For $1000, up to 25 grams can be carried in a clear "space box." The company also flies diamond-plated titaniam rings for $250.
: In the not so far off future, Bigelow Aerospace wants to fill their inflatable modules with guests to their orbital hotels. In the meantime, as tests of their prototype structures are launched, the space hotelier is willing to settle for stuffing its habs with, well, stuff. More specifically, for $295 you can send your photograph or golf ball-sized item to float inside Bigelow's Genesis II spacecraft. Over several years in Earth's orbit, your memento will be filmed as it drifts in front of multiple cameras that will then download to Bigelow's Out There™ website for you and the world (wide web) to see. The Las Vegas company is now taking "no deposit, no obligation" reservations for up to five photos or items per person. A purchase period will follow before their planned fall launch.