: Soyuz TMA-15, which lifted off last May to expand the crew contingent living on the International Space Station to six, departed the outpost Monday night, leaving just two people onboard. The Russian spacecraft landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan early Tuesday with the same three cosmonauts that it had launched: Belgian Frank De Winne, the first European ISS commander; Bob Thirsk, the first Canadian to serve on a long duration station crew; and Soyuz commander Roman Romanenko, the son of Salyut and Mir station cosmonaut Yuri Romanenko. Left behind were Maxim Suraev and Jeff Williams, the latter, coincidentally, a member of the ISS's last two-person crew in 2006. Williams and Suraev will be joined on-orbit by three more crewmates later this month.
: The Outpost Tavern, long a popular hangout for NASA astronauts and mission personnel from the Johnson Space Center located just down the road, will close in January after 30 years in business, its property having been sold. The bar's storied history captured by the astronauts' autographs and space memorabilia covering its walls, the Outpost in more recent years has faced financial challenges coming as the result of its age and a near-catastrophic fire in 2005. Per a note posted to their website on Tuesday, the owners plan "a blow-out thirtieth anniversary party" before they close.
: Apollo 13 lunar module pilot Fred Haise never had the chance to collect a rock from the surface of the Moon ("Houston, we've had a problem" and all) but on Wednesday he was awarded with a lunar fragment to call his own. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden presented Haise with the moon rock as the agency's newest Ambassador of Exploration. Haise's rock (which is in name only) will be displayed at the Gorenflo Elementary School in Biloxi, Mississippi, where Haise had his start and where one of his training spacesuits, as well as other artifacts, serve to inspire the next generation.
: To mark the 10th year that people have lived continuously on board the International Space Station (ISS), NASA has released a special 2010 calendar aimed at teachers and the public. Similar in design to the prior two years of ISS-themed calendars, the 2010 edition highlights historic milestones and educational facts about the orbiting laboratory. Provided as a free PDF download from NASA's website, nearly 100,000 copies are also being delivered to school classrooms nationwide.
: Sapporo Breweries announced Thursday that its first "space beer" will be sold through a lottery to Japanese residents age 20 or older. Brewed from the fourth generation of "Haruna Nijo" malting barley cultivated by Sapporo and then flown to the International Space Station in 2006 in partnership with the Russian Academy of Sciences and Okayama University, "Space Barley" beer will be offered for 10,000 yen per box (about $115) to just 250 lottery winners chosen from those who sign up on the brewer's website through Dec. 24. The proceeds will be donated to Okayama University to further science education and space science research in Japan.
: NASA's contest for employees to design an emblem for the end of the shuttle program came to its own end Tuesday as the deadline for entries expired. According to NASA, nearly 100 patch ideas were received, including some submitted by astronauts. A panel of judges will select the winning design to fly aboard one of the final shuttle missions, influenced in part by the results of a vote among employees to be held in January.
: The first spacecraft to be built for commercial space tourism was revealed Monday in the Mojave desert to an audience of hundreds, including paid ticket holders who will be among the first to fly on the suborbital vehicle. SpaceShipTwo, which evolved from the record-setting SpaceShipOne designed by Burt Rutan with Scaled Composites, will depart the ground under the wings of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft. At altitude, it will separate and light its own rocket engine, propelling six Virgin Galactic customers and two pilots to 65 miles high (space begins at 62 miles). SpaceShipTwo will reenter the atmosphere by feathering its wings and then will glide to a landing on the same runway from which it earlier took off.
: What do you give to the person who has everything, including a paid (to the tune of $200,000) ticket to space? A jacket apparently, or so was the gift chosen for the 250 "Future Astronauts" (and 550 or so other guests and media) who gathered on Monday for Virgin Galactic's unveiling of SpaceShipTwo. Furnished by PUMA, the designer wind breakers (with coordinated black and gray embroidered wool caps) were well received given the cool cold atmosphere of the Mojave desert. The space tourists were also presented with a chrome pendant in the shape of their spacecraft — christened VSS Enterprise — that will boldly launch them where few paying passengers have gone before, as planned for the next couple of years.
: Two Japanese astronauts, each with flights upcoming to the International Space Station (ISS), now have their own personal patches celebrating their respective missions. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut and ISS Expedition 22 flight engineer Soichi Noguchi, who is set to launch Dec. 20 on Soyuz TMA-17, has a hexagonal patch symbolizing the work that he (with his five crewmates) will perform over his six-month stay, as well as his flight being JAXA's sixth mission to the ISS. Japan's seventh station visitor, Naoko Yamazaki will join Noguchi in orbit after she launches as an STS-131 mission specialist aboard shuttle Discovery in March. Her drop-shaped patch displays the motto "fly to the future" above a rainbow leading to Mars.
: Nike has partnered with Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin to design the Mavrk Mid 2 'Rocket Hero,' honoring the 40th anniversary of the moon landings. The sneakers' toe and upper are printed with a photo taken by Aldrin on the moon, with the moonwalker's bootprint emblazoned across the insole. Aldrin's autograph completes the astronaut's influences, etched on the heel. The Nike 6.0 Mavrk Mid 2, which are constructed using a cold-wrap process resulting in a significantly lighter shoe, are set for a limited release on New Year's Day for $89.
: The White House Christmas tree this year includes an ornament honoring NASA's Kennedy Space Center thanks to an unidentified civic group that chose the Florida spaceport as a local landmark. First Lady Michelle Obama selected the space shuttle-adorned bauble to highlight among just a handful of others during a speech she gave earlier this month about the White House decorations' theme. Embracing the spirit expressed by "Reflect, Rejoice and Renew," the President and his family chose to gather the 800 ornaments left over from previous administrations and recycle them by having community groups throughout the country decorate them, paying tribute to their favorite historic sites. The Kennedy Space Center ornament, wrapped in a U.S. flag, features Columbia launching on STS-1 along with the center's seal.
: The ESA Bulletin, the flagship quarterly magazine for the European Space Agency, included with its latest issue a pullout poster displaying 3 decades of patch designs worn in space by European astronauts. The colorful print, which is now also available as a free download from ESA's website, divides the emblems into their flight history, from the Interkosmos missions with the Russians beginning in 1978 through the joint-U.S. missions on the space shuttle and the on-going expeditions to the International Space Station.
: The first African-American to fly in space, two space station commanders who witnessed tragedy from orbit, and a record-setting spacewalker will enter the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in June 2010. Guy Bluford, Ken Bowersox, Frank Culbertson and Kathy Thornton will join the ranks of the 73 astronauts enshrined in the Florida facility since it opened in 1990.
The crew patch for the final scheduled flight of space shuttle Atlantis has yet to be seen publicly, as sources say the emblem for the STS-132 mission, targeted to launch in May 2010, is still in work. That being said, a photo of a pair of Christmas ornaments that was shared recently online may be providing space enthusiasts with an early gift: a sneak preview of the patch. The ornaments -- one colored, one in pewter -- show NASA's fourth-built orbiter flying towards a sunset landing, with the names of the STS-132 astronauts around the border. Not much is known about the origin of the ornaments other than they came from within NASA.
: A trio of crew mates will soon join the International Space Station 22nd expedition, having begun their journey at 3:52 p.m. CST Sunday with the launch of Soyuz TMA-17 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, NASA's Timothy "TJ" Creamer, and JAXA's Soichi Noguchi will join Jeff Williams and Max Suraev aboard the orbiting laboratory when they dock on Tuesday just before 5:00 p.m. CST. Along with supplies, the TMA-17 crew has also packed Christmas gifts and Japanese "space sushi."
: "Uplifting" is the word that John Shannon, NASA's space shuttle program manager, used to describe the 85 designs entered by past and present employees into his office's commemorative patch contest. "A lot of them have the station and Hubble on them, which I think are the two things the shuttle will best be remembered for," he told collectSPACE. Shannon also shared his reasons for holding the contest, as well as the designs themselves, as part of our exclusive interview and online gallery. Browse through and pick your favorite.
: Two men, each who were responsible for a technology that brought astronauts and their adventures back to Earth, died recently. Dr. Donald Stullken, who devised the floatation collar (the "Stullken collar") used by U.S. spacecraft after splashdown, was NASA's recovery team leader during the Apollo missions. In that role, he was often the first person that returning astronauts would greet after being airlifted to the recovery ship. Stullken, 89, passed away in his sleep Dec. 12. ¶ Stan Lebar led development of the camera that enabled millions to watch live television of the astronauts working on the surface of the Moon. He also managed the programs that resulted in TV from onboard Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Four decades later, Lebar led with others NASA's efforts to locate the original Apollo 11 telemetry tapes and restore the best available footage of the first moonwalk for future generations. Lebar, 84, died on Tuesday of a cardiac arrest after years battling cancer.
: IMAX on Saturday used its Facebook fan page to unveil a new poster for "Hubble 3D," the large-format film shot in part this past May by the astronauts conducting the final servicing mission to the space telescope. In addition to revealing a new marketing slogan, "Change your view of our universe," the poster for Hubble 3D also identifies the movie's celebrity narrator as actor Leonardo DiCaprio ("Titanic", "The Aviator"). Hubble 3D is scheduled for release worldwide on March 19, 2010.
: 2009 produced more than 100 books on a variety of space flight topics, ranging from children's titles penned by astronauts to pop lit and picture books to texts intended for academia and aerospace engineers. The American Astronautical Society (AAS) has compiled its annual bibliography, which this year includes books written by collectSPACE contributors and members Chris Calle, Andrew Chaikin, Jay Gallentine, Rod Pyle and David Harland, among others. How many have you read?
: Speaking Monday at a press briefing held in Russia's Mission Control Center located in Korolyov outside Moscow, Roscosmos chief Anatoly Perminov said he was continuing a tradition when revealing "an emblem for the new crew for the New Year." The insignia, which was designed in part based on another tradition, incorporating a child's artwork -- in this case the drawing of a ten year old girl, will be worn by the Soyuz TMA-18 crew (A. Skvortsov, M. Korniyenko and T. Caldwell-Dyson), whose launch to the International Space Station is scheduled for April 2010. The patch depicts the Soyuz in orbit over the Earth as its crew stands poised.
A student-built, full-scale replica of the space shuttle's crew compartment that was briefly considered for training use by NASA's firefighters is faced with being scrapped unless a new home for the detailed mock-up can be found. Chuck Ryan, who led the construction of the "Resolution!" orbiter with nine other then-Cal-Poly students 15 years ago, moved the mock-up from California to Kennedy Space Center, Florida in 2005 but with its shuttle program coming to a close, NASA told Ryan this past spring it was no longer in need of a trainer. The land where it resides now up for sale, the Resolution! may soon be destroyed unless a new home for the 33-foot long, 10-ton model can be located. "It's a testament to the love of manned spaceflight," said Ryan in an interview.