: One hundred sixty three (163) days after launching, the Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft carrying Oleg Kotov, TJ Creamer and Soichi Noguchi returned from the International Space Station on Tuesday, landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan at 10:25 p.m. CDT. The three crew members' departure marked the end of the space station's 23rd expedition, which saw the addition of the Russian Mini-Research Module Rassvet and included the first three Russian cosmonauts to serve together on a six-member ISS crew. Two of the cosmonauts, Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko, together with astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson remain on the ISS as Expedition 24 crewmates, to be joined soon by Fyodor Yurchikhin, Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker launching on TMA-19.
: Last Wednesday, space shuttle Atlantis returned from space for a final time, rolling down the runway into "the history books," as a NASA spokesman phrased it. Should the STS-132 mission indeed be Atlantis' last, then NASA's fourth-to-fly orbiter will be the first to retire safely from service and the first to have its full, as-planned and flown history tallied.
: When the last six space shuttle solid rocket booster segments rolled into the Jay Jay Rail Yard in Titusville, Fla., last Thursday, it marked "one more last in the shuttle program" to quote shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach, and an end to a very long journey. The final half-dozen out of the 1,300 segments cast since 1974 made the last cross-country trip from ATK's plant in Utah to Kennedy Space Center, going the final way of the 1.5 million miles traveled on rail by all 146 booster sets.
: In 1974, astronaut Jack Lousma presented Colorado governor John Vanderhoof with a moon rock -- one piece of the Apollo 17 "goodwill" rock that as a symbol of mankind was bestowed to all 50 states, the US provinces and 135 foreign nations. When Vanderhoof left office a year later, he packed up -- moon rock and all -- and went home. Thirty-five years later with the lunar sample believed lost, University of Phoenix graduate student Richard Kevin Griffis set out to find it as assigned by his professor, former NASA inspector Joseph Gutheinz. Griffis' inquiry led a reporter at KMGH-TV to call Vanderhoof, now 88, who knew precisely where it was: "In my house, in my display of things." Vanderhoof stated he tried to offer it to museums and colleges, but "nobody got excited about it." Still willing to turn them over ("They can take it if they want it, I don't guess I need it."), Colorado's current governor Bill Ritter has said they'll work to find the appropriate place for the moon rock's public display.
: Continuing their celebration of the Hubble Space Telescope's 20th anniversary this past April, the European Space Agency has begun a contest focused on finding the orbiting observatory and its famous photos moonlighting in pop culture. Hubble books, DVDs, posters and even an engraved iPod Touch pre-loaded with Hubble data will be awarded for photos taken of the most artistic, weirdest, funniest, largest or smallest examples of Hubble as an icon. Open to everyone, entries are made by adding photos to ESA's "Hubble pop culture" group on Flickr.com through June 30. (In related news, ESA has also started a separate contest to name Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli's International Space Station mission launching this fall.)
: Over the past three decades NASA has offered to fly student signatures and numerous names to space onboard its orbiters and other spacecraft. Never before however, have they invited the public to "fly their face," until now. For the space shuttle program's final two flights, STS-133 and STS-134, the space agency has established "Face in Space," a website through which the public can submit their head shot to be shot into space on one of two last missions. Once flown, those whose faces flew can return to the site to print out a certificate "signed" by the mission's commander. Camera shy? You can skip flying your face to space and fly just your name instead.
: On Friday, SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) launched its first Falcon 9 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, successfully lofting a mock Dragon commercial crew and cargo capsule into a 155-mile orbit. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said the privately-funded test flight achieved 100 percent of its objectives. The inaugural liftoff came on the second try of the day: an off-high engine reading forced a last-second scrub but SpaceX was able to correct for the issue, reset the countdown and launch within their four hour window.
: On Saturday, four space shuttle fliers were added to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame during an induction ceremony attended by more than 20 Hall of Fame enshrinees at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. First African-American in space Guy Bluford, ISS commanders Ken Bowersox and Frank Culbertson, and record-setting spacewalker Kathy Thornton became the ninth class of space shuttle astronauts to be inducted into the Hall, which now honors 77 NASA crew members.
: The last of the space shuttle external tanks to leave the Michoud Assembly Facility this fall will have a special insignia added to its access door in recognition of its unique history. The tank, ET-122, was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina when the storm came ashore near the New Orleans NASA facility. During ET-122's subsequent restoration, Lockheed Martin developed a motivational logo for its workforce who were completing the repairs, showing the shuttle led by its external tank flying through the eye of the storm. As a nod to their effort, NASA requested the logo be painted on the intertank access door before ET-122 departs Michoud this September for the Kennedy Space Center where it will be readied to fly should the final shuttle mission need rescue.
: A flight suit worn by Sally Ride as she trained to be the first U.S. woman to fly in space was stolen allegedly by a man who once worked for the company responsible for NASA's astronaut flight equipment. Calvin Smith plead not guilty to stealing nearly $10,000 of NASA property including airlock parts, a safety tether, a twice-flown watch and Ride's flight suit.
: While onboard the USS Hornet after splashing down from the Moon, Apollo 11 command module pilot Mike Collins took the opportunity to climb back into Columbia and sign his spacecraft. He penned in part, "The best ship to come down the line, may God bless her" followed by his autograph. Forty years later, the STS-132 crew have appeared to continue the tradition, whether they were aware of what Collins had done or not. As reported first by Central Florida News 13, the six astronauts aboard space shuttle Atlantis' final planned flight concealed their own inscription on a flight deck locker: "The first last flight of Atlantis left Earth on 14 May 2010 from Pad 39A." The note was discovered by a technician inspecting the orbiter using a mirror to see out of reach areas. He told the news station that the crew must have written it in orbit otherwise they would have needed to sign it standing on their heads.
: Before his death last February, famed artist Robert T. McCall began sketches for a mission patch, just as he did nearly three decades earlier when he created the first space shuttle crew emblem for STS-1. Though he sadly didn't live to finish the design, the STS-133 crew who are slated to launch aboard shuttle Discovery's final flight this fall, adapted McCall's drawings for their insignia. The patch depicts the orbiter ascending into a dark blue sky above a roiling fiery plume. A spray of stars envelop the shuttle as it rises over a crescent earth.
: A 16-inch wide capsule possibly carrying the first samples ever collected and returned from an asteroid landed in southern Australia Sunday, after a seven year, 1.25 billion mile trip. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Hayabusa probe touched down on asteroid 25143 Itokawa twice in 2005 but indications were that projectiles designed to eject material into its return capsule failed to fire. Scientists are hopeful that dust particles may have been scooped up, but will not know for a few weeks after the capsule is returned and is examined in Japan. Originally scheduled to come back to Earth in 2007, a fuel leak, a communications loss, and ion engine problems delayed the homecoming by three years.
In the fall of 1969, Forrest "Frosty" Myers' doorbell rang, signaling the arrival of a Western Union telegram he was not sure it would ever come. The short note however, proved reason to celebrate. "Very exciting," he told PBS's "History Detectives" four decades later. "I haven't thought of the Moon the same since," said Myers. The wire message answered Myers' questions but created another. Who sent the telegram that confirmed six miniature works of art were being smuggled to the Moon?
: Fyodor Yurchikhin, Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker are now International Space Station-bound after lifting off at 4:35 p.m. CDT Tuesday aboard Soyuz TMA-19 from Roscosmos' Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. On course to dock Thursday with the orbiting lab, the TMA-19 crew's flight marks the 100th launch to the ISS (34 space shuttles, 37 Progress, one HTV, one ATV, four Russian modules and 23 Soyuz). Once at the station, Yurchikhin, Wheelock and Walker will join their Expedition 24 counterparts Alexander Skvortsov, Mikhail Kornienko and Tracy Caldwell Dyson for three of their five-and-a-half-months aboard and then will transition to Expedition 25 until November. Launched from the same pad and date (by local time) as the first woman in space 47 years ago, Walker is the 55th female to enter orbit and the first astronaut from Houston, home to Johnson Space Center, Mission Control and NASA's training facilities.
: The commander of the only spaceflight to dock to two space stations and the first person to log a year in space, Soviet cosmonaut Leonid Kizim died Monday at age 68. A veteran of three flights including Soyuz T-15, which marked the first visit to Mir and the last to Salyut 7, Kizim made the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1986 with a photograph taken of him adjusting his visor during one of his eight spacewalks.
: First Briton in space Helen Sharman launched a campaign last week to celebrate the first human space flight's 50th anniversary. YuriGagarin50, organized by a coalition of UK space science organizations including the UK Space Agency, aims to showcase United Kingdom and Russian achievements in space, technology and engineering using Yuri Gagarin's 1961 Vostok flight as the catalyst. The promotion includes a mass launching of air- and water-powered rockets on April 12, 2011 (Rockets for Yuri), a joint UK-Russian microgravity experiment, and the debut of a new website featuring an events calendar.
: Two days after their launch, Soyuz TMA-19 crew mates Fyodor Yurchikhin, Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker arrived Thursday night aboard the International Space Station. The trio docked their Russian spacecraft at 5:21 p.m. CDT and opened the hatches two and a half hours later, joining their Expedition 24 counterparts. Though their carry-on luggage was limited by the size of the Soyuz, the new arrivals had the room to fly some small tributes including a watch for a famed aviatrix and a medal for a fallen Army sergeant.
: In the Disney film "Toy Story 3," opening this weekend, Buzz Lightyear, the animated space ranger, does not fly to the International Space Station for 15 months. The 'story' of that real-life space adventure is captured instead in a mission patch designed by 11-year-old Adam Carr of Tampa, Fla. that flew to the orbiting laboratory last month. Five of the patches (out of the 500 produced by Disney) were onboard NASA's space shuttle Atlantis during STS-132, its final planned mission.
: After logging 24.5 million miles orbiting the planet 858 times in 1973, the Apollo command module that flew the second crewed mission to the first U.S. space station, Skylab, made another, albeit much shorter, journey on Tuesday. The Skylab II (or SL-3) spacecraft, which for years was displayed at NASA Glenn (formerly Lewis) Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, was moved 13 miles to the Great Lakes Science Center where the NASA facility's visitor center was relocated in March. The half-hour move took a year plan, two days to prepare and cost a reported $120,000. The module, which is to go on display Wednesday, is on loan from the Smithsonian.
: Although it appears that NASA's space shuttle program will fly at least one last mission in 2011 -- the process began this week to reschedule STS-134, the final planned shuttle flight, to February -- the agency is continuing with its plans to mark the retirement of the orbiter fleet this year. On Thursday, Bob Cabana, director of Kennedy Space Center, issued a memo to the spaceport's workforce that over the next few days, all workers will be receive a "special medallion" as a "token of appreciation" for their contributions to the shuttle program. The high-relief medallion features the program's official commemorative design as chosen earlier this year on one side and on the reverse, the words: "We Dreamed, We Dared, We Made History" over the stars and stripes.
: NASA's first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, TDRS-1, is set to be shut down on Sunday after more than 26 years of service. Decommissioned Oct. 28, 2009 after an equipment failure disabled the satellite's ability to relay spacecraft telemetry and science data, TDRS-1 arrived Sunday, June 13 in its final orbit at about 22,500 miles above Earth, where its remaining fuel will be released and it will be retired. Eight TDRS followed the first, which was launched onboard STS-6 in 1983, and NASA plans to deploy two more of the satellites by 2013.
: A 37-year NASA veteran whose start was as a test engineer working on the Saturn V S-II second stage and who retired as the fourth director of the Stennis Space Center, Roy Estess died on Friday from an allergic reaction to an insect sting. He was 71. Estess, who was known to be a "straight shooter," led the Mississippi test facility from 1989 to 2002, as well as served as a special assistant to the NASA Administrator and as the acting director of the Johnson Space Center.
: Call it rocket recycling -- Having saved a retired Titan II missile from being lost to the shredder, NASA's Kennedy Space Center set about replacing its rocket garden's Gemini-Titan with a more accurate replica. But what to do with their old two-seater spacecraft mock-up and its booster made of two first stages? Give it away, of course. The 100-foot tall rocket (in several parts) rolled into Johnson Space Center last week, where it'll be restored and erected in the Houston center's rocket park.
(?): The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington on Tuesday broke ground for a 15,500 sq. foot Human Space Flight Gallery, a glass-walled $12 million facility aimed directly at landing one of NASA's space shuttle orbiters at the museum. The "if-you-build-it-it-will-come" approach, which is intended to meet the prerequisite of a climate-controlled building large enough to house either Atlantis, Endeavour, or Enterprise (Discovery is going to the Smithsonian), won't be a waste though if "it" doesn't come. The museum's fallback plan is for the gallery to house other space artifacts including the flightsuit worn by Ed Gibson on Skylab III and a full scale mock-up of the International Space Station's Destiny lab.
: LEGO launched on Monday a month-long promotion offering an "authentic vintage Spaceman minifigure, on a removable 2x4 Brick magnet" with orders placed for $75 or more. The magnet, which celebrates the history of the minifigure astronauts with the inscription, "...in space since 1978", coincides with LEGO releasing its newest space-themed building set, the Space Shuttle Adventure, announced in May and shipping now.