December 2, 2006 / 11:25 p.m. CT (0525 GMT Dec 3) Saving Skylab... slower: The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama announced yesterday it would take over the restoration of its full scale Skylab mock-up from the volunteer team that organized last July to save it. In the four months that followed, the AIAA led effort accomplished cleaning and restoring 85% of the trainer's first deck compartment and lockers, a majority of the structure and many of its components. Their schedule had them completing restoration by June 2007. Under the new lead of the USSRC, further work will not resume until the spring, when the volunteers will be invited to take part.
December 4, 2006 / 10:24 p.m. CT (0424 GMT Dec 5) Vikings voyeur: New images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show three additional U.S. spacecraft that have landed on the red planet: the Spirit rover active on the surface since 2004 and the two Viking landers that touched down in 1976 (the same orbiter took a photo of Spirit's twin, Opportunity two months ago). The view of Viking 1 reveals the spacecraft's back shell about 850 feet away and the heat shield nearly four times that. Viking 2, unlike Spirit and Viking 1, had not been imaged previously by Mars Global Surveyor. One feature that had been considered a possibility turned out to be Viking 2's back shell, about a quarter mile from the lander, as easily detected in a photo from MRO's higher-resolution camera. NASA made imaging of the Viking 2 site a high priority for the orbiter to help in evaluation of candidate landing sites for NASA's Phoenix mission, scheduled to launch in 2007.
December 5, 2006 / 5:55 p.m. CT (2355 GMT) Tracking tag: Sunita Williams, whose ride to the space station lifts off this Thursday, will begin her space-based life as the fourth member of the ISS Expedition 14 crew. Her patch for the first half of her stay, and that currently donned by Michael Lopez-Alegria, Mikhail Tyurin and Thomas Reiter aboard the outpost has the distinction of being only the sixth in U.S. spaceflight to be nameless. That won't be the case for the second half of Williams' mission. Her ISS 15 crew's emblem, depicted here for the first time on the web, has multiple versions depending on the crew compliment at the time. Designed to resemble a tracking plot for the ISS's orbit, the roman numerals "XV" form part of the trajectory, the insignia incorporates three, four or none of the names of Williams, Fyodor Yurchikhin, Oleg Kotov and Clay Anderson, for four different versions. With astronaut Dan Tani also named to the Expedition 15 crew, it is possible that a fifth edition is yet to be seen.
December 6, 2006 / 12:16 a.m. CT (0616 GMT) Astronauts and baseballs: Is there a bond between astronauts and baseballs? There are autograph collectors who seem to think so, pursuing space explorers to sign on the "sweet spot". Their thinking: the baseball is an icon of American culture and astronauts are American heroes. Even still, some of those they seek to sign fail to see the connection. Apollo moonwalker Buzz Aldrin once posed that he would sign baseballs when baseball players signed rockets... This week however, baseballs took a giant leap toward becoming more relevant to spaceflight. ISS Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, a self-confessed fan of America's pastime, used an official 1984 World Series baseball to demonstrate the station's movement during an orbital boost on Monday. A 23-minute thruster burn by a Russian Progress cargo ship raised the ISS to an altitude of about 219.5 statute miles. In the process, the baseball, which was signed by former Detroit Tigers outfielder Kirk Gibson, appeared to move the length of the U.S. Destiny laboratory. The "static pitch" showed the free-floating ball keeping "space" as the space station around it moved up.
December 6, 2006 / 11:25 a.m. CT (1725 GMT) The man behind the myth: As the legend goes, NASA spent millions developing the space pen while the Russians flew pencils. In reality, both astronauts and cosmonauts write with a pen invented by Paul Fisher in the 1960s. Fisher, 93, died several weeks ago, according to The Forest Park Review, which covers the Illinois city where the Fisher Space Pen Company began in 1953 and operated until 1976 (when they moved to Nevada). Fisher, who also ran for President of the United States twice (in 1960, he finished just behind John F. Kennedy in the New Hampshire primaries), developed a semisolid ink cartridge that relied on pressure, rather than gravity, to write. NASA tested the Fisher Space Pen for two years before flying it on Apollo 7 and every U.S. flight since. The Russians use them too having once even advertised for Fisher from Mir.
December 6, 2006 / 5:06 p.m. CT (2306 GMT) Space ships at sea: Two Navy vessels, one old and one new, both with ties to the space program recently took to the water. The USS Intrepid, which served as the prime recovery ship for Scott Carpenter's Aurora 7 mission and that recovered the Gemini 3 crew and spacecraft, was successfully moved from the New York pier where it was moored for 24 years as a sea, air and space museum to Bayonne, NJ, where it will undergo two years of renovations. Tuesday's five mile sail came one month after the first attempt to move Intrepid ended with the aircraft carrier stuck in the mud. The Navy held a ceremony to christen and launch the Alan Shepard, a new dry cargo-ammunition ship, today in San Diego, California. Named after the first American in space, Shepard's daughters broke a ceremonial bottle of champagne before an invited and general public audience that included Apollo astronauts Bill Anders and Eugene Cernan, family members and Shepard's NASA colleagues.
December 9, 2006 / 8:32 p.m. CT (0232 GMT Dec 10) Night light! Space shuttle Discovery lifted off Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center this evening, marking the first night launch since 2002 and the third U.S. manned flight of the year. Onboard the orbiter is the crew of STS-116: Mark Polansky, Bill Oefelein, Bob Curbeam, Nick Patrick, Joan Higginbotham and Christer Fuglesang, the first Swedish astronaut. Their mission: to bring to the ISS new supplies, a new truss segment, and a new crew member, Sunita Williams. Three spacewalks are scheduled to reconfigure the ISS's electrical power and cooling systems, in part by removing and reattaching more than 100 connectors. Tonight also marked the last time a shuttle will lift off Pad 39B unless a rescue is needed for STS-125, the last Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. STS-116 is the 53rd shuttle to launch from Pad 39B, the 33rd flight of Discovery and the 117th for the shuttle program. It is also the 20th shuttle launch to the International Space Station.
December 11, 2006 / 7:01 p.m. CT (0101 GMT Dec 12) Flight kit's flags: Next year, Space Camp turns 25 and to celebrate 250 small Space Camp flags are flying on Discovery. When they return after the STS-116 mission, they will be used as commemorative gifts to the Camp's alumni, friends and anniversary guests. The flags are among thousands of small souvenirs that comprise the STS-116 Official Flight Kit (OFK). The crew and NASA pack the OFK with items for organizations and governments that support their mission. Bill Oefelein, first Alaskan astronaut has items for the 49th state; Sweden's first flyer Christer Fuglesang has the same for Stockholm. And then there's Sunita Williams, whose six months on the International Space Station began with docking today. Her items include mementos to remind her of home and a friend she had to leave on Earth: her "crazy" terrier Gorby.
December 14, 2006 / 7:50 p.m. CT (0150 GMT Dec 15) Messages: Several recent posts to the cS boards, Messages, update previous entries and share some new sights and sightings:
December 15, 2006 / 1:35 p.m. CT (1935 GMT) Recognizing Ride: The National Aviation Hall of Fame will announce its enshrinees for 2007 tonight at a dinner celebrating the 103rd Anniversary of the Wright Brothers first powered flight. Five inductees will be honored on July 21 in Dayton, including a shipping mogul, historian, two world record holders and an astronaut. The latter, Sally K. Ride is being enshrined for her role as the first American woman to fly in space. This is not her first induction: In 2003, Ride was enshrined into the Astronaut Hall of Fame and just last week was among the inaugural inductees into the new California Hall of Fame. The NAHF will also honor in 2007: former director of the National Air and Space Museum, Walter Boyne; Steve Fossett, globe circling adventurer; flight instructor Evelyn Bryan Johnson and Frederick Smith, founder of Federal Express (FedEx).
December 15, 2006 / 9:02 p.m. CT (0302 GMT Dec 16) Flying saucer: A disc-shaped flying object hovered inside the space station today for 20 seconds, 3.28 seconds longer than has ever happened before. "I used my frisbee a little bit. Earlier today, I set a world record," first Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang proudly told to reporters during today's in-flight news conference. Fuglesang's attempt at the Maximum Time Aloft (MTA) may have been the first ever sanctioned sports event that has occurred in orbit. Supported by the World Flying Disc Federation and overseen by the European Space Agency, the 'toss' occurred live on NASA TV as Swedish students and dignitaries, including Crown Princess Victoria, looked on. Fuglesang, who is a former national frisbee champion, set the disc spinning and then grabbed it single-handed. The basic rules of MTA are simple: A frisbee is thrown such that it stays airborne for as long as possible, before it is caught by person who threw it. The world record prior to today stood at 16.72 seconds, set by Don Cain in 1984.
December 18, 2006 / 1:39 a.m. CT (0739 GMT) Beam me Beamer up: Mission specialist Robert Curbeam, better known as 'Beamer' to his STS-116 crewmates and colleagues on the ground, will be the first astronaut to conduct four EVAs (or spacewalks) during the course of a single shuttle mission when he ventures outside today to attempt to furl a stubbornly-stuck space station solar array. The excursion, which will be the 77th spacewalk dedicated to assembling the space station, is Beamer's 7th in his astronaut career. Before today's EVA, Beamer ranked number 13 on the list of spacewalkers by time outside with 38 hours and 56 minutes. This EVA has allotted six hours and 30 minutes, which if needed, could raise Beamer to #5 but is expected to be complete closer to four hours and 30 minutes, resulting in a final rank of 6 (cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyov holds #1 with more than 72 hours). Christer Fuglesang will accompany Beamer today.
December 18, 2006 / 7:53 p.m. CT (0153 GMT Dec 19) Asteroids, astronauts & autographs: The Association of Space Explorers, a nonprofit organization of over 300 individuals from 30 nations who have flown in space will host a fundraising event at the Chabot Space and Science Center in California on January 13 in support of a series of international workshops to draft a United Nations Treaty on Near-Earth Object deflection. The meetings will cost the ASE $250,000 to hold and thus the desire for the event. The day will begin with an autograph party that will have 11 astronauts — including Rusty Schweickart, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra and Alexei Leonov — signing for a fee. That will be followed by a program and screening of Cosmic Collisions honoring planetary astronomer Carolyn Shoemaker. Sponsorships and tickets are now being sold.
December 19, 2006 / 5:01 p.m. CT (2301 GMT) Hair they go: Shuttle Discovery undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) Tuesday, taking back the crew it launched with, less one. Trading places on the ISS and orbiter were Suni Williams and Thomas Reiter, the latter departing with the STS-116 crew. Before they could leave though, the ISS residents had some last minute items to pack aboard Discovery. During a farewell ceremony held a few hours before the two vehicles separated, Expedition 14 station commander Michael Lopez-Alegria pinned wings onto Reiter's shirt as he named him an honorary NASA astronaut "by the power invested in me, which I just invented." Reiter, who's lived on the ISS for the past 169 days, flew as a representative of the European Space Agency (ESA). And though Williams has just begun her six months on the ISS, a small part of her was stowed on Discovery for the ride home. Her hair, cut in orbit is headed for donation.
December 21, 2006 / 11:16 p.m. CT (0516 GMT Dec 22) Collect this date: Glenn Research Center today announced Saturday, September 15, 2007 as the date for their 3rd annual Space Memorabilia Show, hosted in collaboration with collectSPACE. NASA's Cleveland, OH facility will hold public events every third Saturday of the month next year, including the memorabilia show. As was done in 2006, the U.S. Postal Service will be at the show to offer a commemorative cancellation. Exhibitors, guests and center tours will be revealed as the show approaches.
December 22, 2006 / 4:34 p.m. CT (2234 GMT) Home for the holidays: Commander Mark Polansky piloted the orbiter Discovery to a 4:32 p.m. CT touch down today at Kennedy Space Center's shuttle landing facility, Fla. His STS-116 crew were in orbit for 12 days, 20 hours and 45 minutes; Flight Engineer Thomas Reiter, who rode in Discovery's seventh seat, lived on the space station for 169 days. During their mission, the crew added a new truss segment to the station, rewired the outpost's power system, furled a solar array, delivered supplies and transfered a new flight engineer for Expedition 14, Sunita Williams (replacing Reiter). "Congratulations on what was probably the most complex [station] assembly mission to date," capcom Ken Ham radioed after wheels stop. "We are just really proud of the entire NASA team that put this together. So thank you and I think it's going to be a great holiday," replied Polansky from aboard Discovery. Polansky and his crewmates will fly to Houston, TX on Saturday, where they will be welcomed home at Ellington Field, where a celebration is planned to begin at 4:30 p.m.
December 23, 2006 / 1:10 a.m. CT (0710 GMT) Annual astronautics: In 2006, two shuttle astronauts released their memoirs, Apollo's unsung heroes were hailed, and the history of spaceflight shrank to fit into your pocket. The American Astronautical Society (AAS) History Committee members assembled a list of the more than 50 astronautical titles published over the past twelve months. Browse the books and expand your space library.
December 24, 2006 / 1:36 a.m. CT (0736 GMT) Stocking the space station: The STS-116 crew, now home for the holidays, delivered special care packages to the space station crew while they were docked at the orbiting outpost last week. Among them, Christmas stockings personalized by Nancy "Tad" Young, a member of NASA's Operational Psychology Group, who began the tradition in 1989. Young paints each of the stockings with flight-approved Sharpie markers, trying not to copy any of the past designs, adding crewmembers' names in English or Russian. Though there isn't a fireplace in sight onboard the ISS, the Nomex stockings are flame-resistant. Before launching them, the stockings were stuffed with gifts and treats, including items from family members, although the stocking themselves are often viewed as keepsakes. The stockings are Velcro sealed, not to be opened until Xmas.
December 27, 2006 / 1:12 a.m. CT (0712 GMT) President Gerald Ford and NASA: Gerald R. Ford, Jr., the 38th President of the U.S., died on Tuesday at age 93. Ford assumed office in August 1974, in the wake of Nixon resigning, and was President for 895 days. During his two years as President, Ford witnessed the first American-Soviet space flight, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project and talked with the joint crews while they were in orbit. He saw the first manmade spacecraft touchdown on the surface of Mars, the United States' Viking I, and was present when the shuttle Enterprise made its public debut. He also dedicated the National Air and Space Museum in July 1976 as "a perfect birthday present" to the nation. Prior to being Vice President and then President, Ford, as a member of the House of Representatives, served on the committee that oversaw transitioning NACA to NASA and, "became very interested in the space program itself."
December 28, 2006 / 9:26 a.m. CT (1526 GMT) Money for a monument: The Space Walk of Fame Foundation, which established in 1995 and 1997 monuments to Mercury and Gemini workers, is preparing to pay tribute to Apollo personnel with a new momument targeted for installation in Titusville, Florida, in June 2007. To date, the Foundation has spent $400,000 on the steel and bronze project, but needs another $200,000 to see its completion. To raise funds, individuals or companies can have their name or logo displayed with the monument for $500 to $50,000. The Apollo monument will feature a 3-D recreation of the program's logo sitting on plaques sharing the story of the United States' lunar missions. The tribute will also include the handprints of many Apollo astronauts.