November 21, 2019

23.10.12: Exciting Changes & More at the Kennedy Space Center.

39A +Solar Halo! (All photos by Author).

New and exciting things are afoot along the U.S. Space Coast. This past week, we had the chance to witness the transition of history up close as the age of the space shuttle comes to an end and we move into an era where NASA gets back to what it knows best; exploration. It’s been a bitter-sweet year, watching the four remaining orbiters (Enterprise, Endeavour, Discovery & Atlantis) get dispersed throughout the country.

We were thrilled to be able to witness the very last orbiter to occupy the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) before its transfer to the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex on November 2nd of this year;

We always seem to be “drawn”ť to Atlantis. The two launches that we had the privilege to witness up close where both Atlantis; STS-125 and the final repair mission to the Hubble from the visitor center, and STS-132 from the press site during the #NASATweetup. With the arrival of Endeavour to Los Angeles, an orbiter will never take to the skies again. It seems strange to watch the shuttle fleet go into retirement. I remember watching the very first drop tests of Enterprise carried out at Edwards as a kid in the late 70′s. It was always assumed that the shuttle fleet would grow and become a mainstay of the space program as we pressed outward from low Earth orbit as a dedicated work horse. It’s a strange sort of space policy we’ve ended up with, one that goes in fits and starts from one administration to the next.

Atlantis in the VAB.

But new beginnings are afoot, both in the space program and at the KSC visitor complex. Atlantis is scheduled to go on permanent display in July 2013, and will feature a thrilling exhibit showcasing the orbiter as if suspended in space with its payload bay doors open. A Rocket Garden Cafe is now open for business, with food that’s out of this world. Tours are also currently allowing folks to get up close to previously off-limits areas, such as launch pad 39A & the VAB. Signs of a brave new era are evident, as SpaceX has begun routine missions to the ISS and NASA’s Orion/MPCV is slated to once again take U.S. astronauts spaceward in the coming years. It was thrilling, just weeks ago, to watch the Falcon 9 rocket headed northeastward after the ISS; hopefully, that’ll once again become a frequent sight for U.S. Space Coast residents and visitors.

Historic Launch Pad 39A.

Do make an effort to visit the KSC as these “times of transition”ť are often the best to gain unprecedented access to some fascinating locales in space history. A big shout out and thanks to Andrea Farmer and @ExploreKSC for making it all possible!

 

Astro Event of the Week: Spot Atlantis on its Final Flight!

This week sees the first in a series of finales; three shuttle missions remain, and the first shuttle up for its final voyage is Atlantis and STS-132. This is a resupply mission to the International Space Station, as NASA prepares to enter life aboard the ISS without a shuttle next year. Atlantis first took to space on October 3, 1985 and has performed such notable feats as the launching of the Magellan & Galileo spacecraft as well as the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and last year’s final repair of the Hubble Space Telescope aboard STS-125. Atlantis takes its name from the famous sailing ship that first scouted out Wood’s Hole in the early 20th century, the RV Atlantis. After STS-132, Atlantis will have logged nearly 300 days in space. Atlantis will be kept for a STS-335 Launch On Need standby for the final STS-134 flight of Endeavour later this year, which is also the last of the shuttle program.

The good news is several sighting opportunities should be possible for both Atlantis and the ISS during its 13 day planned mission. Launch is scheduled for 2:20 PM EDT on Friday, May 14th, and the shuttle will pass over Europe as it lifts into orbit that evening at dusk. Interestingly, it looks like the Sun angle may be setting up for some transit sighting opportunities over the US Southeast during this mission. Docking will occur on day three, which will be on the 17th if everything launches on schedule. Lit dusk passes on the pair will favor the US eastern seaboard, and generally, the farther north you are, the higher the STS-ISS pair will be. Around late June, the ISS will enter a summertime orbital phase where its orbit will actually be permanently illuminated at times, and even now, the nights aboard the ISS are drawing up short. Do track sites such as Heavens Above, CALsky, Spaceweather, and this space for updates… it’s worth it to see Atlantis do its thing one more time!

(Note: An orbital ballet of sorts is also in progess at the ISS; today, the Progress 36 module undocks from the nadir port of the Zvezda  module. Progress will deorbit and burn up over the Pacific in June. Then, on Wednesday, cosmonaut Kotokov will pilot the Soyuz TMA-17 and undock from the aft end of the Zarya module and move it to replace Progress, freeing it up for the installation of the MRM-1  carried aboard Atlantis. Talk about a cool valet job!)

The astro-word for this week is: Space Tweetup! A space tweetup is an alignment of two or more space enthusiasts for a space flight cause via that most venerable of 140 character platforms, Twitter. A Tweetup may be virtual, as in “let’s watch a launch via NASA TV and tweet about it” or in person, as in next week’s NASA tweetup for the STS-132 launch, of which Astroguyz is proud to be a member. NASA obviously “get’s it,” and is eager to promote new technology and engage its legion of fans, many whom feel disenfranchised with the “old school” media. People often ask me, “Why bother with Twitter?” I reply that events like the NASA tweetup have given me the opportunity to gain access normally reserved only for a select few, and an ability to connect to readers in a way not possible previous. It’s hard to imagine that scant decades ago, the monthly astronomy magazine bulletins would tell us about the comet that had long since come and gone; through Twitter communities, I can not only act on alerts for new objects, but share images straight from the eyepiece in real time. I highly encourage anyone interested to apply for a NASAtweetup; it’s open to all, and they’ve had events at the Kennedy and Johnson Space Center and in Baltimore at the Goddard Space Center thus far. And if you can’t make it, you can always participate vicariously online!

May 2010: Life in the Astro-Blogosphere.

May brings ultimate news to the Astroguyz camp, with the selection for yet a second NASAtweetup, this time to the final launch of the shuttle Atlantis! Expect us “to be all STS-132, all the time” as we track events leading up to and during the launch. With that in mind posts will be noticeably space shuttle oriented, so be forewarned. So without further digression, here’s what you can expect from an Astroguyz soapbox coming to a viewing device of your electronic choosing…

Coming to a Sky near You: You’ve heard of em’, but have you ever tried spotting a quasar yourself? This month, we show you what it takes to cross this elusive class of objects off of your life list. And of course, we’ll keep you abreast of the latest STS/ISS sightings, as the pair couples and uncouples in low Earth orbit. For those fortunate to be positioned from northern Africa through Southeast Asia, the 2 day old Moon will occult Venus on the 16th. The rest of us will see a close conjunction of the pair. On the lunar surface, we explore Aristarchus, a crater home to the most recorded Transient Lunar Phenomena. On the final day of the month, the Moon once again meets up with S Scorpii in an interesting occultation of the close binary star. On that same date, we’ll point you towards an offbeat reader submitted event; Jupiter’s moons positioned in 1,2,3,4 order. Our own Moon will reach New on the 14th and Full phase on the 27th.

This Month in Science: Did we mention that we’ll be attending the NASA STS-132 Tweetup? Expect you-are-there tweet-reporting, videos, deep ponderous thoughts, and a full length after-action post. For those who didn’t get picked (hey, this was us more often than not!) we’ll give you a complete guide to off-site observing, good for both manned and unmanned launches both out of the KSC and the Cape. We also resume our exposé on Great Orbiting Observatories, this month delving into the ultraviolet end of the spectrum. And speaking of UV, we review the UV flashlight from INova, and why you need one of these curious devices…

This Month in Science Fiction: This month, we take advantage of the spring publishing lull to work through some of our backlog. Expect a review of Solis by A.A. Attanasio, a book that we can’t believe let sit on our shelves all these years before finally cracking. We also review what’s rapidly become our favorite in Sci-Fi podcasting, the Drabblecast. In the hot-off-the-press-department, our advance copy of Dervish House by Ian MacDonald, soon to be released by Pyr just hit our doorstep and we’ve delved headlong into this tale of a futuristic Istanbul.

Launches in May: What with all this talk of adventure in a time of NASAtweetups, you might get the impression that STS-132 launches on May 14th at 2:19 P.M. EDT! This mission will be deploying the Russian-built Mini Research Module to be attached to the Zarya Module, as well as carrying further maintenance supplies and spare parts to the ISS. The flight is also notable as it is more than likely the last flight of the shuttle Atlantis, unless it launches in the very unlikely event of a rescue op during the final two missions. Astroguyz will be on hand to witness the final flight of Atlantis as she rides into orbit one last time. About a week prior, Falcon 9 will launch out of the Cape on May 8th at 11 AM EDT, on the qualifying flight of Space Xs Dragon spacecraft. This flight test is crucial to demonstrate that private companies can indeed fill in the gap left by the termination of the shuttle program and take up the duty of unmanned resupply of the ISS. Another interesting launch of note occurs on May 17th at 5:44 PM EDT, when Japan’s Akatsuki Venus Climate Orbiter departs Tanegashima Space Center for a journey to the cloud-shrouded world.  Follow these latest mission updates courtesy of SpaceFlightNow.

Astro Bloopers: Alright. This month’s snafu is spaceflight related, and the offense was committed twice in the past month by two separate organizations, both of which should have known better! The problem occurred with a common misconception of the Kennedy Space Center versus Cape Canaveral; both tend to be interchanged by the media, but are in fact separate installations! KSC is the launch site for manned missions such as the Shuttle and the Apollo missions; the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is the home of unmanned satellite and deep space probe launches. NOVA recently got the two exactly wrong in a recent otherwise outstanding episode, and then CNN bumped the lunacy up a notch during Obama’s visit to the Space Coast, referring to the KSC as the Kennedy Space Station! And they complain about us upstart blogs…what are they, missing a science reporter?

This Month in Astro-History: On May14th, 1973 Skylab was launched. The first manned space station for the United States, Skylab utilized left over Apollo hardware to cobble the station together and saw its first crew of three opening it for business on May 25th of the same year. Two more crews followed until abandonment in early 1974. Astronauts conducted several science experiments while in space, including solar observations and microgravity experiments. Ideas to eventually reoccupy Skylab when the Shuttle came online in the 80’s never materialized. Skylab re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere amid much media craziness on July 11th, 1979.

Astro Quote of the Month: “Everything really is made from one fire, the fire of all the stars. In that furious light, the stars forge the elements, strew them into the black void, and then stand around and watch the frantic atoms huddling together in the cold limits, sharing their small heat and enormous dreams.”

Solis, A.A. Attanasio.