: Space artifacts have been making headlines of late, both for the prices being paid and for NASA's attempts to retain what it sees as its property. Sharing column space this week are articles about an Apollo 13 flown checklist soaring to six figures at auction and the recovery of a 6-foot RL-10 rocket engine. Whether a NASA artifact can be sold, or is seized, is not always clear but it often depends on if the seller can clearly establish title.
: Chris Ferguson, the commander of the final space shuttle mission, will leave NASA on Friday for a new job in the private sector. An astronaut since 1998, Ferguson's spaceflight career included three trips to the International Space Station – STS-115 onboard Atlantis in 2006, Endeavour's STS-126 mission in 2008, and STS-135 again on Atlantis, which closed out NASA's 30-year shuttle program. In total, he logged 40 days and 10 hours in orbit. On the ground, Ferguson served as the deputy chief of the Astronaut Office from November 2009 to September 2010, and played the drums in the all-astronaut band Max Q.
: The advertisement for a postmarked envelope or "cover" signed by seven Chinese pilots was designed to attract collectors' attention but it also caught the eye of two space observers. The autographs were more than just "very rare," as the ad promoted, but seemingly revealed the previously unknown names of China's second team of taikonauts. Selected two years ago, the candidates included China's first two female trainees, Wang Yaping and Liu Yang, as uncovered via the envelope by researchers Tony Quine and Igor Lissov.
: A year after becoming the first company to launch, fly and recover a spacecraft from earth orbit, SpaceX revealed Thursday its next targeted frontier: the model rocket market. Writing on Twitter, the company offered a sneak peak at its 22.8 inch tall (1:88 scale) flying model of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle topped with a miniature Dragon capsule. Although listed on Amazon, the SpaceX-designed kit is not yet available (the product page says "coming soon" and its yet to be priced).
: Seattle's Museum of Flight dedicated on Thursday its new space gallery for two-time space tourist Charles Simonyi. In return, he lent them the second of his two landing spacecraft, Soyuz TMA-13, to be displayed next to the full-size space shuttle trainer the museum is getting from NASA. As it happens, Simonyi was the second self-funded space traveler to offer his Soyuz for a shuttle-centric exhibit. Less than a month earlier, Greg Olsen loaned his Soyuz TMA-6 to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, where NASA's prototype orbiter Enterprise will go display next summer.
: A missing moon rock display has led investigators to finding that NASA has lost track of more than 500 of its extraterrestrial material samples — including moon rocks, meteorites and comet particles — that were loaned to researchers and educators over the past 40 years. According to a report released Thursday by the NASA Office of Inspector General, the space agency's curation office is lacking sufficient control over its loans of astromaterials, leading to an increased risk of their loss.
: After almost two decades, a full-size space shuttle model was moved on Sunday from Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to make space for a real shuttle. The high-fidelity replica Explorer was trucked on top of a wheeled-transporter to a turn basin about five miles away, where in a few months it will depart via barge to Texas for display at Space Center Houston. A $100 million, 64,000-square-foot facility will fill its space at the Kennedy visitor complex, which is being built to house NASA's space shuttle Atlantis arriving in November 2012.
: New York City's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum hosted a title-transfer ceremony Sunday celebrating it now owns space shuttle Enterprise. NASA's deputy administrator Lori Garver signed over the test orbiter aboard the aircraft carrier turned museum in a ceremonial gesture repeating the title transfer completed last month. Sen. Charles Schumer and other local elected officials joined the event, which was the first step towards Intrepid receiving the prototype space shuttle in 2012.
'Any orbit. Any time.' Billionaire Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft and financed the X Prize-winning SpaceShipOne, announced Tuesday that he and aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan have reunited to devise an air-launch system to provide orbital access for cargo and eventually humans. Stratolaunch Systems combines a carrier aircraft – the largest aircraft ever flown – with a multi-stage rocket derived from SpaceX's Falcon launch vehicles. Directed at creating airport-like operations for space travel, flight tests are expected to begin in five years.
: Rocket designer Boris Chertok, who as deputy to the chief of the Soviet space program (Sergei Korolyov) was closely involved in launching the world's first satellite and the first human into space, died Wednesday in Moscow. He was 99. Chertok, who first became involved in space when he led a group of Soviet experts to post-World War II Germany to examine the V-2 rocket, specialized in spacecraft control systems. Actively involved in Russian space efforts through the RSC Energia Corporation until recently, Chertok recounted his sixty year career in his memoirs, "Rockets and People," which NASA has been translating and publishing in four volumes.
: The space shuttle Discovery reached a milestone on Friday in its transition from a flight-worthy vehicle to a museum display. Technicians inside Orbiter Processing Facility-1 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida closed the retired fleet leader's two 60-ft. payload bay doors and then powered down the shuttle for the final time. Like its sister ships Endeavour and Atlantis, Discovery is undergoing preparations to be delivered next year to its final home. Discovery is bound next April for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia.
: Celebrating the achievements, legacy and completion of NASA's space shuttle program, Winco Intl.'s new limited edition set combines the official lapel pins for all 135 shuttle missions with a medallion minted from shuttle-flown metal in a presentation matted atop an original collage by the designer of NASA's space shuttle commemorative insignia. Commissioned by the U.S. space agency, the "Celebrating the Space Shuttle Program" framed set is debuting online as part of Winco's latest, limited-time direct offer for collectSPACE readers.
: Destined for display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, space shuttle Atlantis has been in Orbiter Processing Facility-2 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida since returning from the last of NASA's shuttle missions in July. Its final power down scheduled for as soon as this week, Atlantis has had many of its internal systems and hardware removed to be safe and suitable for exhibit. Before its flight deck could go dark for a final time, Atlantis was lit once more for a photo opportunity to capture it as it appeared powered for flight.
: Russia on Wednesday launched Soyuz TMA-03M with three crewmates bound for the International Space Station's 30th expedition. Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA's Don Pettit and the European Space Agency's André Kuipers will bring the ISS back to its full six-member residency and see the arrival of five supply craft, including the first two U.S. commercially launched cargo capsules. The TMA-03M trio was also the last to launch with a mission patch designed by children.
: The first Dutchman to return to space, André Kuipers' second stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS) has inspired Dutch companies to create new commemoratives. PostNL has introduced 34 postcards and a three-stamp "sheetlet" in honor of Kuipers' PromISSe mission. Dutch watchmaker Roland Oostwegel has created the R.O.1 SPACE, a special mission elapsed time tracking watch with limited editions available for those still on Earth. And speaking of space-bound supplies, don't forget André Kuipers' personal choice of Dutch cheese...
: A not-so-strange metal "space ball" dropped out of the sky and slammed in to the remote grassland of northern Namibia last month, according to media reports. The 14-inch-wide (35-centimeter) metallic sphere impacted the ground about 480 miles north of Windhoek, the African country's capital. After consulting with NASA and the European Space Agency, and determining it was made of a "metal alloy known to man," the space ball was recognized as space debris, a tank that held fuel for rocket thrusters aboard a spacecraft. A number of these spherical tanks have been found across southern Africa, Australia, and Latin America over the past two decades.
: When Aki Hoshide arrives on the International Space Station in May 2012, he'll be stylishly outfitted thanks to a dozen amateur artists. JAXA revealed Monday the winners of its recent contest to design shirts for Hoshide's stay aboard the ISS as part of the Expedition 32/33 crews. The 12 designs, which have been reproduced on the front, back, and sleeves of three t-shirts, include an anthropomorphisized Kibo laboratory and a space age take on the evolution of man. The winners, in addition to seeing their art in space, will each receive their design's t-shirt.
: NASA's Johnson Space Center signed an agreement Dec. 19 transferring ownership of the Shuttle Motion Simulator to Texas A&M University, College Station. Unlike NASA's other retired shuttle simulators and mockups, and even the three flown orbiters themselves, the SMS is not destined for museum display but will continue service as an operational simulator. After it's delivered and reassembled at Texas A&M in 2012, the simulator's detailed flight deck will be opened for 'flights' by students of all ages and the public. "It will be living history that many people can enjoy," John Valasek, director of the university's vehicle systems and control laboratory, says.
: Having logged more than a month in space on his three missions (including the final space shuttle flight), Rex Walheim is no stranger to floating. But come Monday (Jan. 2), he will embark on his first float — Rose Parade-style, that is. Rex will be featured on Bayer Advanced's "Garden of Imagination" float riding with his older brother Lance, a noted horticulturist. The float will use more than 20,000 roses to share their story of how the ability to "just imagine" led to the careers they now enjoy.
: Straddling the New Year, the first of two Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft, GRAIL-A, entered orbit around the moon on Saturday, its mirror twin (GRAIL-B) set to do the same on New Year's Day. Launched onboard the same rocket on Sept. 10, GRAIL-A began its lunar orbit insertion burn at 3:21 p.m. CST, and was confirmed about the moon 40 minutes later. The staggered arrival will set up the twin probes' tandem mission to map the moon's gravity field.