: Liftoff for MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space, ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) on NASA's first mission to the innermost planet since the Mariner 10 fly-bys in 1974! The probe, which began its seven-year trip at 2:15 a.m. today, will enter Mercury's orbit after one flyby of Earth, two passes by Venus and three flybys of the first rock from the Sun itself. Arriving in March 2011, MESSENGER will collect data about Mercury for an Earth year's time to study the forces that shaped the terrestrial planets.
: Minor League Baseball team, the Lancaster (California) JetHawks will celebrate their neighbors in aerospace at their August 13 home game versus the Modesto A's. The first 2,000 fans to arrive at the stadium will receive a bobblehead doll bearing the likeness of either Space Shuttle pilot Gordon Fullerton or the late X-15 pilot-turned-senator Pete Knight. The dolls, which feature oversized, spring-mounted heads that nod when tapped, model Knight in a silver X-15 pressure suit and Fullerton in a tan flight suit. Before the game begins, Fullerton will perform a fly-over of the stadium in a NASA F/A-18 jet and then return later to sign autographs. Both he and Knight approved the idea for the dolls prior to the May 7 passing of the senator, reports the LA Daily News.
: Ansari X Prize Canadian competitor The da Vinci Project unveiled its rocket Wild Fire Thursday and set its first manned sub-orbital flight attempt for October 2nd from the town of Kindersley, Saskatchewan. A majority of the funding for the required two Prize flights is being underwritten by online casino GoldenPalace.com as part of a title sponsorship. Other funds are being sought through the sale of memorabilia through The da Vinci Project website. In addition to the usual selection of shirts, hats, thongs, frisbees, canine outfits and babies' bibs, the team is also selling artwork autographed by their soon-to-be astronaut Brian Feeney and logo patches that will go along with him for the ride.
: collectSPACE is proud to announce the second annual Astronaut Scholarship Foundation artifacts and experiences silent auction, to coincide with the gala dinner with the astronauts at the UACC show on September 4th in Burbank, Calif. For those unable to attend, online bidding will also be offered. Astronaut-led tours of space centers, items flown to the Moon and to its surface, rare patches and autographs are just a few of the highlight lots donated by the astronauts.
: X Prize competitor Armadillo Aerospace reported experiencing a setback to their plans this past weekend, when their prototype rocket ran out of fuel after climbing nearly 600 feet. "The vehicle hit the ground basically sideways, a little tail first," wrote John Carmack on the group's website. The team expects to be grounded for at least five weeks. "$35,000 of rocket is now a whole lot of primo Armadillo Droppings," referred Carmack to their $125 sale of bags of "assorted curious gizmos and scrap taken right off of 'decommissioned' AA rockets" as advertised on their website. "It's a good thing Doom 3 is selling very well," added Carmack, who is also co-founder and chief technical engineer of Id Software.
: Yesterday, the U.S. Postal Service granted exclusive rights to Stamps.com to begin offering postage that their customers design on their computers using photographs of their choice. Dubbed PhotoStamps, the service allows users to upload images to the stamps.com website, edit their placement using a template for the stamp, and then order sheets of 37-cent postage featuring their design (other denominations, such as postcard and Priority Mail rates are also available). A sheet of 20 First Class PhotoStamps costs $16.99, more than twice the normal price. PhotoStamps are treated as metered mail by the USPS, allowing their exemption from the restrictions that govern commemorative stamps (like depicting living people). There are limits though, including a ban on nudity and no copyrighted photos. In theory, the service should allow NASA's entire imagery archive to be used as the space agency's photos are public domain (in theory because it still requires Stamps.com's employees to recognize this distinction). Four years have past since the USPS has issued a space-topical stamp; enthusiasts using PhotoStamps could start new designs orbiting (not to mention the possibilities for event cover cancellations).
: Not to be outdone by Armadillo's droppings, and to raise money so they can launch again, Space Transport Corporation posted yesterday the remains of their X Prize prototype to eBay for sale. The team's Rubicon 1 rocket with its dummy pilot aboard exploded over a Pacific Ocean beach bluff during its first test flight from Washington on Sunday, August 8. For a minimum bid of $500, you can have your choice of either the Rubicon's engine bulkhead or the twisted wreckage of the nosecone and capsule. Alas, the decapitated dummy head publicized by the press and pictured on eBay is not included with either lot; it is instead destined to fly again.
: Boggs SpaceBooks has begun accepting pre-orders for limited first edition, author-signed copies of the Gus Grissom bio The Lost Astronaut due to be shipped on September 25. Written by Ray Boomhower for the Indiana Historical Society Press, the 300-page hardbound book received praise from Boggs as an "excellent account of Grissom's life... long overdue."
: DVD collector Rick Houston reviews Spacecraft Films' Project Gemini: A Bold Leap Forward three-disc set in his latest Go/No Go column. Combining a new documentary with digitally-restored footage captured over NASA's 10 two-person flights, Gemini is a must-"Go" for space history enthusiasts, writes Houston.
: The Danbury Mint is now shipping the third model in their Milestones of Space Exploration series, the Saturn V booster that launched Apollo 11 (AS-506). Modeler David Senechal, who contributed our review of the first Milestones model ("Apollo 13") has received his Danbury Mint Saturn V, which he describes as remarkable for its details, despite its odd 1:250 scale.
: Beginning on September 1, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) will begin accepting new members for its popular Astronaut Autograph Club (AAC). The astronaut roster for 2005, announced today, includes moonwalkers Buzz Aldrin and Alan Bean; Mercury originals Scott Carpenter and Gordon Cooper; Lunar Module Pilots Fred Haise and Rusty Schweickart; Skylab crewmembers Jerry Carr, Jack Lousma, and Bill Pogue; Gemini and Apollo commander James McDivitt; and Mir Station visitors Hoot Gibson and Norm Thagard. Membership is limited to 350, each of whom will receive monthly in 2005 a letter and signed photograph from one of the astronauts listed above.
: In a dramatic ending that marks a beginning in scientific research, NASA's Genesis spacecraft is set to swing by Earth and eject a sample return capsule filled with particles of the Sun that may ultimately tell us more about the genesis of our solar system. On September 8, 2004, over the skies of central Utah, the Genesis capsule will be snagged in midair by helicopter, with crew members including some who have performed helicopter stunt work for Hollywood. (If the capsule were to descend all the way to the ground, some of the sample-rich wafers inside might fracture or break away from their mountings; hence, the retrieval by helicopter.) Genesis is NASA's first sample return since Apollo 17 in 1972, and is the first time material collected beyond the Moon has been returned by a probe to Earth.
: When in 1993, Soyuz TM-17 launched to the Mir Space Station, its three member crew was seen wearing a patch but a clear photograph of its design proved to be elusive. As only cosmonauts Vasili Tsibilyev, Alexander Serebrov and France's Jean- Pierre Haigneré received embroidered patches to wear on their spacesuits, adding the insignia to private collections was equally a challenge. That is, until now; two years of research by emblem enthusiasts Erik van der Hoorn and Jacques van Oene not only located a clear photograph of the design but led to an agreement with the 14th resident crew of Mir to reproduce their insignia for collectors. For details on how to order, see the duo's SpacePatches.info.
: Variety reports Monday that Fox Studios and Maverick TV are seeking to adapt a recently published biography of Neil Armstrong into a possible mini-series. To be based on "One Giant Leap" by Leon Wagener (Forge Books, April 2004), the mini-series, like the unauthorized book, won't have the cooperation of the first moonwalker; rather, Mr. Armstrong chose author and historian James Hansen last year to pen "First Man," set for release in 2005 by Simon and Schuster. Film rights to Hansen's book were acquired by Clint Eastwood, who will direct and produce the movie for Warner Brothers.
: The bolt pictured here helped return John Glenn to space in 1998, as part of Space Shuttle Discovery's main engines. This STS-95 component could be yours, as well as autographs, patches, art and even space pens, by registering and placing your bid in the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation's second annual silent auction. What's more, in addition to their items, the astronauts are also auctioning experiences such as tours of space centers and classroom visits. The auction, now underway, ends on September 4. Bid now and good luck!
: Released in May, The History Channel's two-disc DVD set, The Race To The Moon is the focus of this week's Go/ No Go review by Rick Houston. Comprised of four History Channel programs, Houston writes that if failure is not an option, then the contents of the second disc may be at best just that: optional to buy.
: Ron Burkey's Virtual AGC emulates the software that ran the primary onboard computers for the Apollo missions (both the command and lunar modules had Apollo Guidance Computers). Virtual AGC is not a game or simulator, but rather for those dedicated to learning its intricacies, an opportunity to gain firsthand experience programming the software that led Americans to the lunar surface. Either that, or its the ultimate clock for your PC's desktop (Burkey describes how on his site).
: Four months ago today, Soyuz TMA-3 returned from the ISS under the air-breaking canopy of its orange and white main parachute. At about the same time, everQuest Design was seeing initial success with its line of messenger bags featuring fabric from a similar chute that flew with Soyuz TM-8 14 years earlier. The timing could not have been better, leading to the Canadian company announcing today their ISS TMA- 3 series of shoulder bags. Order through buySPACE or for a limited time, receive free shipping from everQuest.
: Neil Armstrong and Jerry Ross, along with some 200 other Purdue alumni, have added their slide rules to an exhibit at their alma mater that "testifies to the past mathematical prowess of these computational devices," describes the university's press release issued today. The permanent display, on the first floor of Purdue's Potter Engineering Center, houses the pre-digital analytical marvels, some of which were made in the 19th century and range in length from a few inches to seven feet. In addition to the moonwalker's and space walker's slide rules, astronaut alums Richard Covey and Roy Bridges also donated to the exhibit. The last man on the moon, Gene Cernan has also promised his slide rule.
: To hear the astronauts describe it, the Bell Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV) was an awkward, unwieldy, dangerous but absolutely essential vehicle to preparing them to pilot the Lunar Module to the Moon's surface. This fall, the developers at things- to-come want to put you in the LLTV's pilot seat, at least virtually. TTC's LunarPilot, an add-on for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004, replicates the "flying bedstead" in look, dimensions and basic characteristics, as well as features rather exact panel layout and functionality, limited by the programmers' research and the capabilities of Microsoft's software engine. TTC made the LLTV more powerful and improved its fuel efficiency to enhance gameplay, though experienced users can tweak the parameters to make it more realistic. In LunarPilot, you also fly an NA Mustang P-51D and can try to land the LLTV on a simulated Moon.