: On May 13, NASA broke ground at Johnson Space Center to build a new isolation facility for flight crews to stay three to four days before departing for their launch in Florida. When it opens in the spring of 2005, the new Astronaut Quarantine Facility will provide accomodations for 12, private baths for each, a kitchen and fully equipped workout room. The AQF will also house medical facilities for astronauts pre- and post-flight exams. The building will continue the duties of the current Astronaut Selection and Isolation Quarters, which began as a warehouse in 1967 and was converted in the early 1980s for use by the shuttle program. According to astronaut Pamela Melroy, the new quarantine facility will help prepare for the challenges of long-duration missions.
: In commemoration of the anniversary of the first lunar landing, Omega has announced a limited edition of 3500 individually numbered Speedmasters bearing the Apollo 11 insignia. The special 35th Moon Landing Anniversary Speedmaster case back features a sapphire crystal on which the Apollo 11 patch is glazed in color. The limited status of the watch is also confirmed by a subtle inscription below the Speedmaster Professional name on the silver dial: the date of the first moon landing "July 20, 1969" in red.
: Despite receiving advance praise from the American Library Association's Booklist, Bob Ward's Mr. Space: The Life of Wernher von Braun has been dropped by the Smithsonian Press two months before its scheduled July 30 release, informs Ward. A new publisher is now being sought for what ALA reviewed as a "balanced and much-needed biography."
: SpaceShipOne, a rocket plane privately-developed by aviation legend Burt Rutan and financed by Paul Allen (fomerly of Microsoft) will launch June 21 on a sub-orbital mission to become the world's first commercial manned space vehicle, according to a press release from Rutan's company, Scaled Composites. The pilot (still to be announced) will become the first to earn astronaut wings in a non-government sponsored vehicle. The public is invited to Mojave Airport in Calif. to witness SpaceShipOne launch and land, as well as the overhead rocket boost to space. The Discovery Channel, working with Allen's Vulcan Productions, will produce and air this year a behind-the-scenes television special documenting the entire process by which this milestone was achieved.
: Of the more than 4,000 cover images TIME magazine has made available for order recently through Barewalls.com, 43 are devoted to space exploration or astronomy (give or take the few sci-fi themes), ranging from the 1952 Space Pioneer to the 2004 Mission To Mars. Two sizes are offered for each cover reproduction: 8"x10" for $15.95 and 11"x14" for $19.95 (framing is additional). Though less complete than the TIME gallery, there are also a few LIFE covers.
: If cruising with Scott Carpenter, Walter Schirra, Gordon Cooper and Bill Dana is not reason enough for you to book your cabin now for the "Astronauts on the Mississippi" steamboat adventure, then perhaps a 20% discount and private collectSPACE astronaut reception will inspire you to join the August 20, week-long tour. Organized by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, the vacation, which includes three nights in New Orleans and four nights aboard the American Queen also features a visit to Stennis Space Center near Biloxi.
: When the Huygens probe lands on Saturn's largest moon Titan in 2005, not only will it deliver a variety of scientific instruments to the surface, but it will do so with a musical accompaniment. Four songs - Hot time, Bald James Deans, Lalala and No love - were composed by French musicians and installed onboard the probe in 1997. The purpose of the 12-minute soundtrack, according to the European Space Agency, is to "leave a trace of our humanity in the unknown and to build awareness about this adventure, especially among young people." Dubbed the Siliwood-Music2Titan project, the Cassini-carried Huygens and its tunes journey can be tracked through a dedicated website, Music2Titan.com.
: The trials and tribulations of four students who, in 2002, stole and sought to sell a NASA safe full of moon rocks and meteorites, is the focus of Sheer Lunacy, an article in today's Los Angeles Times by Michael Goldstein. The lengthy feature provides details that were previously not reported - including how the 600 pound safe was physically removed from an office at the space center - apparently gleamed by Goldstein through interviews with the two thieves now serving time, family members and those who knew them. One gets the sense that neither Thad Roberts, the group's ringleader, nor his friend-turned-co-conspirator Gordon McWhorter feel they did anything more than a prank. "We saw ourselves as good criminals," Goldstein quotes Roberts as explaining. "These rocks... were labeled trash, used, consumed. We weren't hurting science. We wore gloves the whole time. We took the extra effort," he says. Sheer lunacy, indeed.
: Former President Ronald Reagan died Saturday at his Los Angeles home. He was 93. During his two terms in office, he saw the maiden launch of Space Shuttle Columbia, eulogized the Challenger crew, and during his 1984 State of the Union, called for a "permanently manned space station" to be developed in partnership with other countries within the course of a decade. He declared that "We can follow our dreams to distant stars, living and working in space for peaceful, economic, and scientific gain." One year prior, Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative space-based anti-ballistic missile system, or "Star Wars".
: To ease inspection and restoration of the Saturn V rocket resting outside the entrance to NASA's Johnson Space Center, its Command Module (CM) and Launch Escape System (LES) were recently removed. Though work proceeds, donations to the Smithsonian's Save The Saturn fund are still in need to bring the booster back to its original appearance.
: Lot 405 in Friday's Christies auction of "Important Pocket Watches and Wristwatches" has been withdrawn from the sale, according to Christies spokesperson Katherine Adler. Why should this be of interest? Lot 405, the "property from a personal collection" was described as offering Thomas Stafford's Omega Speedmaster Professional worn in space during the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (regardless that the Smithsonian was verified to have Stafford's two ASTP timepieces in their collection). However, of possible more interest is what is included with the watch: in addition to covers, patches, photos, invitations and other Apollo paraphernalia, Lot 405 is described as offering "A moon rock (30x30x45 mm.)", which Adler explains was gifted by the president to a country. The watch and rock lot was withdrawn with intentions to offer it again in the fall, says Adler, after Christies consults with NASA.
: For the past few weeks, your chances of spotting a spacecraft as you drove our nation's highways have been almost as good as if you were visiting our nation's museums at random. If you were driving from Kansas to Oklahoma last month, you might have passed by Gemini 6. Travelling from the north and Canada, you may have shared lanes with Apollo 7 on its way to Texas. Apollo 9's road trip began in Michigan and arrived in San Diego. Lest we forget the true road warrior, Liberty Bell 7 continued its nationwide tour with a stop in Alabama. If you haven't yet experienced the excitement of a drive-by capsule encounter, there is still time. Apollo Command Module 011A departed today from Virginia for the USS Hornet Museum in California. Have a great trip!
: Countdown Creations, our buySPACE partners, has relaunched their online catalog with the debut of a new website. CountdownCreations.com offers hundreds of new products, including a full catalog of space patches, a growing collection of models and memorabilia offered jointly with collectSPACE.
: With its flyby of Phoebe this past Friday, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has completed its first satellite pass planned for its four-year tour of the Saturn system. The probe will orbit Saturn 76 times and execute 52 close encounters with seven of the planet's 31 known moons. Cassini came within 1,285 miles of Phoebe, which was Saturn's outermost known moon when it was discovered in 1898 (several farther out were identified four years ago). The first images from the Cassini flyby revealed a scarred, cratered world with a great variation in surface brightness. With Phoebe now behind, Cassini is set to enter Saturn's orbit on June 30.
: Colin Burgess ("Fallen Astronauts") has been named editor of a new series of eight books on the social history of space flight, to be published by an American university press. He is now seeking authors for several of the volumes. Writers are needed for topics ranging from the Shuttle program (both pre- and post-Challenger accident), to planetary probes and satellites, to the history of the Mir and International space stations. Potential contributors need not to have been published before, but should possess a good, solid writing and investigative background needed for the two-year assignment. Interested applicants should contact Burgess for details, including submission requirements.
: The first European cosmonaut and the first Italian to visit the International Space Station won seats in the European Parliament last week during elections held in their respective countries. Czech communist candidate Vladimir Remek (Soyuz 28) and Italian communist party candidate Umberto Guidoni (STS-75, STS-100) will join the 732-seat parliament for a four-year term. Italian astronaut Franco Malerba (STS-46) also ran as a Forza Italia candidate but was not elected.
: Conservators at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center have begun restoration of the Space Shuttle Enterprise in advance of the planned opening of the McDonnell Space Hangar this fall. The public can now watch the repairs in real time courtesy a webcam installed in the hangar. The view, which presently displays Enterprise's left side, may change as better places to mount the cam are identified.
: Johnson Space Center's Saturn V is sadly not alone when it comes to former moon boosters in need of restoration: the mighty rocket resting at Alabama's U.S. Space and Rocket Center is in an equal state of disrepair. The museum has raised more than $1.6 million towards the $5 million needed to move, restore and protect their Saturn V, which was built to test the rocket's launch facilities but was never to fly itself. On Saturday evening, the USSRC will collect $25 donations from the public to attend a reunion of the men and women responsible for putting mankind on the Moon, including a special appearance by one such man, Apollo 11's Buzz Aldrin. Fifty former rocket scientists are said also to attend - among them Dr. George Mueller, NASA's director of manned space flight during the Apollo program.
: In December 2003, Chris Rogine listed for sale on eBay one of the three main parachutes that lowered Pete Conrad, Paul Weitz and Joe Kerwin to a safe splashdown after their Skylab flight. Rogine said he had been gifted with the chute by the late founder of the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in New York, but was unable to document the claim, which lead to his arrest in January for possession of stolen property. On June 3, those charges were dismissed, thanks in part to depositions from Rogine's fellow Aerodrome volunteers. As to who owns the parachute now is still to be decided.
: Fifteen hours before launch of the privately-built SpaceShipOne, its creator Burt Rutan and investor Paul G. Allen announced that pilot Mike Melvill will be at the suborbital craft's controls when it aims to reach space in the early hours of tomorrow morning. Melvill previously flew SpaceShipOne to 40 miles during a test flight last month. Responding to a question posed by collectSPACE, Rutan said that SS1 will not be carrying mementos on its record-setting space flight but rather that would wait for other launches. "You might notice," said Rutan, "that SpaceShipOne does not look like a NASCAR race car - save that for the X PRIZE flights. We didn't want it to look like [SpaceShipOne] was trying to sell something. We are not using advertising or trinkets to try to get a return on investment," Rutan said.
: Beginning in a few hours, as many as 30000 people will arrive in Mojave to witness the first private space flight by SpaceShipOne. Awaiting them are souvenir stands offering for sale SS1 hats, shirts, mugs and more. Not on your way but still seek the swag? A coalition of area non-profit organizations, calling themselves The Rocket Boosters, are exclusively selling licensed SS1 flight souvenirs to support their members.
: The sub-orbital SpaceShipOne launched early this morning and crossed the 62 mile boundary into space by approximately 400 feet. SS1 separated from White Knight at about an hour after takeoff from Mojave Airport in California. In a press conference held two hours after the flight, Scaled Composites' Burt Rutan confirmed that SpaceShipOne's altitude was 328,491 feet qualifying pilot Mike Melvill to receive the FAA's first commercial astronaut wings. The flight also earned recognition from the Guiness Book of Records as the first privately-funded manned spaceflight. Melvill described that once he was weightless, he let go a handful of candy-coated chocolates (a.k.a. M&Ms) and marveled as they spun in front of him. The flight was not without problems though; Melvill was caught off guard by the loud wind buffeting SpaceShipOne during reentry and heard loud booms later associated with a buckled fairing. The vehicle also veered off course due to a bad actuator giving Melvill reason to be scared, but a back-up system allowed him to regain control. More time is needed for the data to be analyzed, but for Rutan and Melvill the flight was beautiful. "It was a mind-blowing experience, it really was -- absolutely an awesome thing," exclaimed Melvill.
: When his federal lawsuit was filed last year, Stephen Morely thought it would lead to authenticating the Omega Speedmaster he purchased as the same watch worn by Buzz Aldrin while he was on the Moon 35 years ago this July. To the contrary, NASA concluded that Aldrin's watch, missing since 1971 - was still missing. Morely's case was dropped last week but his lawyer remains unconvinced.
: In the IMAX film, Hubble: Galaxies Across Space and Time more than 11,000 galaxies were extracted from a 650-megapixel mosaic image and assembled into an accurate 3-D model for the three-minute movie. The result is a virtual ride to the outer reaches of the universe to explore ten billion years of galactic history, from fully formed and majestic spiral galaxies to disheveled collections of stars just beginning to form. Narrated by Barbara Feldon (Agent 99 on TV's "Get Smart"), the film debuted at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore in April and is now also playing at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego, California. According to a Space Telescope Science Institute press release, several dozen more large-format theaters will be added over the next few months and years.
: Countdown Enterprises, in partnership with collectSPACE is opening Rocket Town™ - a space-theme souvenir and memorabilia store located just west of NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas! Grand opening events beginning July 10, include astronaut appearances, rocket science shows and a 35th anniversary celebration of Apollo 11. Rocket Town offers both shopping and hands-on space experiences: perform space station science, witness live events in the mission control and photograph your own spacewalk.
: With the announcement today that collectSPACE/Countdown Creations will host Buzz Aldrin at the 2004 UACC Autograph Show, moonwalkers from every Apollo landing are now confirmed among the guest list (11-Aldrin, 12-Bean, 14-Mitchell, 15-Scott, 16-Duke, and 17-Cernan). Joining the lunar 'six pack' in Burbank this September will be 12 more astronauts and cosmonauts, seven space history pioneers, six actors with space-role credits and, we are told, more to come!