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Saturday, May 31, 2008


A view of the ground underneath NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander adds to evidence that descent thrusters dispersed overlying soil and exposed a harder substrate that may be ice. More from MSNBC.


Space Shuttle Discovery [STS-124] launched today!

Launch Day at the Cape!

Space Shuttle Discovery is in the final phase of today's launch campaign with departure from the Kennedy Space Center targeted at 5:01 PM EDT. All systems remain 'GO.' NASA-TV will webcast the launch later today of one of among the last space transport flights (STS). There are only ten more space shuttle flights following launch of Discovery. The next Space Shuttle flight is an Atlantis mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) set for launch Wednesday, October 8, 2008.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dig it!

The Phoenix Mars lander's robotic arm has been successfully tested and it is now being readied to begin to dig the Martian soil in the search for water in the northern region of The Red Planet. The primary mission goal is to dig into an ice layer believed to exist a few inches beneath the surface and look for signs of water sometime next week if all goes as now planned. The robot arm has the capability of digging up to a 3 foot trench to locate the ice. Music video of mission.

Legislators Feted for COTS Launch Effort While Awaiting Orbital Decision

Three Southwestern Virginia state legislators were feted by over 200 people in a standing ovation Wednesday evening in Abingdon, Va. for their legislative efforts to boost the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport as the launch site for the NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract won by Orbital Sciences Corporation earlier this year.

Donald Purdie, president of the council, described the effort of State Delegate Terry G. Kilgore (R-Gate City) to gain 2007 approval of the first Space Flight Liability and Immunity Act in the nation (now adopted by Florida in 2008).

State Senator William C. Wampler, Jr. (R-Bristol) [foto above] was recognized for his dogged determination to gain the enactment of the ZeroGravity, ZeroTax Act of 2008 which would provide Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corporation an income tax concession on multi-million dollar International Space Station re-supply contracts if launched from Virginia's spaceport. Delegate Joe P. Johnson (D-Abingdon) was recognized for helping gain House passage of the ZeroGravity, ZeroTax Act in the 2008 session.

The Technology Council had hoped that Orbital Sciences Corporation would have announced its final launch pad site selection pending between Virginia and Florida before the Wednesday event. Orbital is expected to make a decision in less than 2-weeks now.

Orbital's COTS demonstration mission is scheduled to take place in the fourth quarter of 2010. Subject to NASA's future requirements, Orbital will be prepared to carry out several follow-on operational COTS missions in 2011 and to conduct as many as eight operational ISS cargo flights a year by 2012 and 2013.

Clock Ticks at Kennedy for STS-124

The countdown is underway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the STS-124 launch Saturday, May 31 at 5:02 p.m. EDT of the space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station. There is an 80% chance of favorable weather at liftoff time. Liftoff will be on NASA-TV.

Discovery will carry aloft the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module Pressurized Module (JEM-PM) and the Japanese Remote Manipulator System (JEM RMS) to ISS on a 14-day mission.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

View to a Martian Landing

The Phoenix spacecraft continues to operate normally with orders now operate the robot digging arm underway. Yet one of the most unique space photographs was released today showing Phoenix seemingly descending into a 10-km-wide crater named Heimdall, "that is just an optical illusion," says Alfred McEwen, HiRISE principal investigator at the University of Arizona. In fact, "the lander is 20 km in front of the crater" and in no danger of tumbling down its rocky slopes. After this photo was taken, Phoenix drifted on by and landed in a rock-free field of icy polygons--just where mission planners wanted it to go. [more photos]

The European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter monitored the Phoenix lander's radio transmissions. The eerie-sounding tones have just been beamed back to Earth and you can listen to them here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Question of Life on Mars

The Phoenix Mars Lander has beamed back images of the Red Planet's landscape that have never been seen before from the the Vastitas Borealis plains beckoning the central qustion of the multi-million dollar, 400-million mile, 9-month space journey "is or was there ever micro-life on Mars?"

Over the next few days the Phoenix will use its 8ft arm to begin digging trenches in the soil to reach ice believed to be buried at up to 1ft. It will analyse the dirt and ice samples for traces of organic compounds, the chemical building blocks of life.

Scientists hope find out if Martian water has ever melted because liquid water in soil may provide the right conditions for micro-organisms to flourish. The probe will also search for certain organic compounds in the Mars soil.

Initial touchdown was detected by astronomers at the Green Bank Radio Telescope Observatory in Pocahontas County, West Virginia where they received the spacecraft radio signal making them the first people to hear the news of the successful landing on Mars northern polar region Sunday evening.

Over 250,000 names of well-wishers are carried on a disc inside the Phoenix craft (including this Blogger). Nature is supporting a mission BLOG.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Discovery 'Go' for May 31 Launch

NASA senior managers completed a review Monday of space shuttle Discovery's readiness for flight and selected May 31 as the official launch date for the STS-124 mission. Commander Mark Kelly and his six crewmates are scheduled to lift off to the International Space Station at 5:02 p.m. EDT. The Discovery's 14-day mission will include three spacewalks and is to be the second of three missions on which astronauts will install components of the Japanese Kibo laboratory.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Mars Landing Set for May 25 7:53 p.m.

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander is preparing for touch down on the Red Planet May 25 and begin a three-month mission to taste and sniff fistfuls of Martian soil and buried ice. On landing day, May 25, live landing commentary will air on NASA TV as the spacecraft approaches a 7:53 p.m. EDT landing.

The Phoenix Mars Lander blasted-off from Cape Canveral, Flordia on Saturday, August 4, 2007. The mission is previewed here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Florida and Virginia Await Launch Pad Decision for Taurus II/COTS

Minotaur-1 on Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport launch pad.

The Orbital Sciences Corporation Taurus II/COTS program launch base site location is eagerly being awaited by space advocates along the East Coast after an announcement delay. The Florida legislature enacted three initiatives to seek to boost the prospects for the commercial space industry - matching the Virginia offer.

Both Virginia and Florida now have enacted protections from lawsuits for the nascent space tourism businesses, tax incentives, and millions of dollars for investment in launch pad infrastructure improvements.

Virginia's most important advantages are: slightly easier boost inclination to the space station, less demand for range and launch delay conflicts, and Orbital being based in Virginia and not far from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Russians Said to be Building Space Tourist Vehicle: No Timeline Set

A private Russian company has ordered the Myasishchev Experimental Machine-building Plant to design a tourist spacecraft to compete in the global market to loft humans to space and back.

"The enterprise is working on documentation and a draft design and is completing the technical feasibility study for the system. A privateRussian company is fully financing the project," a company spokesperson told Interfax-AVN but declined to name the exact firm.

As proposed the spacecraft would be raised to an altitude of several kilometers by a transport aircraft. Then the spacecraft boosts and flies to an altitude of about 100 kilometers, where space tourist passengers would experience zero gravity.

Amazingly, the Russian-made proposal is being designed for two pilots and 14 passengers with the number of passenger seats capable of being increased in the future. The spacecraftweighs about 27 tonnes, the press service said. It is expected that a Myasishchev VM-T Atlant will be used as atransport aircraft. There are two Atlant aircraft in Russia. "It is planned that both aircraft will be used under the flight program," the press service said.