January 2008
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Today In Space History: 50 Years In Space

Huntsville Times: America In Space - 50th Anniversary. Click for photo gallery.January 31st marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Explorer 1, America's first satellite. The flight, on 31 Jan 1958, came almost 4 months after the Soviet launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik 1, and followed a failed U.S. attempt to launch a different satellite called Vanguard.

JPL's Explorer 1 was launched by a U.S. Army Redstone booster (AKA Juno I) from Cape Canaveral's Pad 26, and was America's entry into the space race. It first detected the Van Allen radiation belts that surround the Earth. The spacecraft orbited our planet until it burned up in the atmosphere in 1970.

The Soviets may have been first, but with Explorer's success, the Space Race was on! What will the next 50 years bring?

AF General: Spy Satellite Could Hit US

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. military is developing contingency plans to deal with the possibility that a large spy satellite expected to fall to Earth in late February or early March could hit North America.

Expedition 16: Solar Array EVA

Astronauts Whitson and Tani are outside the ISS this morning, working on a failed solar array part. NASA reports:

U.S. Spacewalkers Replace Solar Array Motor

ISS016-E-023499 -- Solar array panels Image Above: Earth's limb and airglow form part of the background for this scene of solar array panels on the International Space Station that appear to be intersecting. Image credit: NASA

U.S. spacewalkers Peggy Whitson, station commander, and Dan Tani, flight engineer, began a spacewalk from the Quest airlock of the International Space Station at 4:56 a.m. EST. Spacewalk tasks include moving to the starboard of the truss structure, removing and replacing a Bearing Motor Roll Ring Module (BMRRM) and inspecting a Solar Alpha Rotary Joint (SARJ). Today’s spacewalk is planned to last 6.5 hours.

+ Read more about the spacewalk
+ Watch NASA TV

Just after 7 a.m. the spacewalkers removed and replaced the BMRRM. The BMRRM, called the “broom”, drives the solar arrays as they tilt towards the sun maximizing power generation. The BMRRM experienced electrical failures in early December.

The spacewalkers are examining the SARJ today after video inspections took place over the weekend providing data for engineers on the ground. The SARJ experienced electrical spikes last year and previous inspections revealed contamination and debris.

+ View crew timelines
+ Read more about Expedition 16

Expedition 16 pics are up at the JSC Gallery. Discussion here. Check the links at right for play-by-play and NASA TV.

Today In Space History: Challenger Disaster

STS-51L Mission Patch. NASA image.Today marks the 22nd anniversary of a terrible tragedy in the history of the Space Program: The Challenger disaster. On 28 January 1986, 7 astronauts lost their lives when Shuttle Challenger exploded just 73 seconds after launch. Mission Fact sheet here; Crew info here; Video here; Image collections here and here.

Mission STS-51L was the 25th Shuttle flight, and it carried the first "Teacher In Space", Christa McAuliffe. The Challenger, (OV-99), was the second orbiter built, and had completed 9 successful missions (starting with STS-6 in 1983) before the awful incident, which was caused by O-rings in the right solid rocket booster becoming brittle in the winter cold.

The accident rocked the nation and became embedded in the minds of an entire generation. The remains of some crewmembers were buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery, and the wreckage of the spacecraft is sealed in a missile silo at Cape Canaveral. NASA grounded the Shuttle program for more than two years while safety improvements were made.

The Challenger Learning Centers, dedicated to space science education, were founded in honor of the crew. Remember the brave men and women of Challenger, Apollo 1, and Columbia!

Today In Space History: Apollo 1 Fire

Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. NASA PHOTO NO: KSC-67PC-0016January 27th marks the 41st anniversary of a tragic day in the race for the moon: the Apollo 1 fire. On 27 Jan 1967, three astronauts lost their lives on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral during a test procedure in preparation for what would have been the first mission in the lunar program. Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee perished when a spark ignited the pure-oxygen atmosphere of the Apollo Command Module at Pad 34. Crew info here; Image collections here and here. The loss of AS-204 caused a delay of nearly two years in the Apollo program, resulting in many changes to the spacecraft design.

Life Magazine photo from the Grissom burialIn December 1997, nearly 31 years after the accident, President Clinton posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor to Chaffee and White. Grissom's was among the first medals awarded in October 1978 by President Carter.

This week will see remembrances of the three tragedies whose anniversaries fall so closely on the calendar: Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. Never forget the heroes of space exploration!

STS-122: Launch Set for Feb 7

Atlantis finally has a new launch date: Thursday, 7 Feb 2008. Ground personnel are busy wiring the external tank sensors with soldered (rather than plug-in) connectors which can withstand the super-cold temperatures of the Shuttle's liquid hydrogen fuel. The seven astronauts will deliver ESA's Columbus module, and berth it to the International Space Station. The flight after that, Endeavour's STS-123 mission, will launch in mid-March. Three other Shuttle flights are scheduled for this year.  NASA reports:

NASA Targets Feb. 7 for Launch

On Launch Pad 39A, Lockheed Martin engineer Ray Clark splices wires between space shuttle Atlantis' external tank and the engine cutoff, or ECO, sensor system. The replacement feed-through connector in the ECO sensor system will be installed later. NASA PHOTO NO: KSC-08PD-0033

Jan. 11
NASA Friday announced Feb. 7 as the target launch date for shuttle Atlantis' STS-122 mission to the International Space Station and mid-March for the launch of Endeavour on STS-123. Liftoff of Atlantis from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., will be at 2:47 p.m. EST.

A decision by the Russian Federal Space Agency to move up its Progress launch from Feb. 7 to Feb. 5 enables both STS-122 and STS-123 to launch before the next Russian Soyuz mission in early April. This allows astronauts assigned to the space station's Expedition 16 crew to complete the tasks they have trained for, including support of the launch and docking of Jules Verne, the first European Space Agency Automated Transfer Vehicle. Targeting Feb. 7 also allows time to complete modifications to the engine cutoff sensor system that postponed two shuttle launch attempts in December.

Atlantis' main objective during its STS-122 mission to the station is to install and activate the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory, which will provide scientists around the world the ability to conduct a variety of experiments in life, physical, and materials science, Earth observation and solar physics.

Shuttle Endeavour's STS-123 mission will deliver Kibo, the first section of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's laboratory module, and Dextre, Canada's new robotics system to the space station.

NASA managers will meet in the coming weeks to address the schedule of remaining shuttle flights beyond STS-123.

Continue reading STS-122: Launch Set for Feb 7

U.S. Satellites Dodge Chinese Missile Debris

Two orbiting U.S. spacecraft were forced to change course to avoid being damaged by the thousands of pieces of space debris produced after China carried out an anti-satellite weapon test one year ago today.

Dragon Space 2008

China Reports Fourteen Potential Astronauts In Training For Three Seats.