A Colorful Art Project You Can Only Do In Space

Wow! That was our reaction to seeing this picture (and others) of a light show aboard the International Space Station. After confirming with NASA that the images circulating lately on social media are real, we were directed to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), who co-ordinated this experiment.

The work is called “Auroral Oval Spiral Top” and was done in the Kibo module on May 12, 2011, JAXA said. This was the second version of the experiment, which initially ran April 30, 2009 during Expedition 19.

Spiral Top performed in 2009. The art project was an earlier version of the Auroral Oval Spiral Top experiment that was done in May 2011. Credit: NASA/JAXA
Spiral Top performed in 2009. The art project was an earlier version of the Auroral Oval Spiral Top experiment that was done in May 2011. Credit: NASA/JAXA

“Auroral Oval Spiral Top uses a spinning top that has arms illuminating with LED linear light sources and point light sources. Various movements of the spinning top floating in microgravity show aurora-like light traces,” JAXA stated on a web page about the experiment.

The project, JAXA added, is “designed to produce aurora-like luminescence traces using a spinning top with both linear and point light sources. In microgravity, the center of gravity of the spinning top continuously and randomly moves while it is spinning. Using the characteristics of the top in microgravity, the project tries to produce various light arts using its unexpected movements/spins, by changing attaching locations of its arms and weights.”

Takuro Osaka, a professor at the University of Tsukuba, was the principal investigator of this art project. What are your favorite experiments performed by astronauts in space? Let us know in the comments.

Another view of the Auroral Oval Spiral Top experiment. Credit: NASA
Another view of the Auroral Oval Spiral Top experiment. Credit: NASA

This Cave Video Makes You Feel Like You’re On An Alien Planet

A few weeks ago, a bunch of astronauts went underground in Italy in the name of science and better finessing the techniques of running a space mission. A movie-style “preview” of their work plays in the video above.

You can see how jazzed the astronauts are about the mission. “It was like being on Mars,” one says. Another says this is inspiration to explore the solar system, because then you get to possibly see beautiful things such as what is right in front of them.

Better yet, there’s way more material where that movie came from. Check out the full playlist on YouTube.

‘Drift Is The Most Dangerous Thing For NASA’

It’s easy to take the International Space Station for granted. It’s been planned, under construction and/or operated for decades. Humans have occupied it continuously for 4,684 days (close to 13 years) as of today. According to two space policy experts, however, NASA should already be thinking of what it’s going to do next after the station’s current agreement expires in 2020.

Ignoring the deadline, they said, could lead to consequences such as (in one scenario) the end of U.S. government spaceflight altogether.

Below are edited excerpts from two officials from George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Scott Pace is its director, and John M. Logsdon is a professor emeritus. They spoke with reporters Thursday (Aug. 29) about the coming NASA budget decision and their views on the agency’s future.

We’d also like to get your feedback on their ideas, so please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Why the Senate allocated so much more money to NASA in fiscal 2014 than the House of Representatives:

Pace: In my view, the House numbers are complying with the Budget Control Act in terms of sequestration numbers. In the Senate, the numbers were not in line with the Budget Control Act, but reflected what the priorities of the authorization committee were … I would argue, and we’ll see if others agree, that the Senate has marginalized themselves in this discussion. The appropriations staff will have the larger say in that, but on the House side, the authorizors and the appropriators will be together because they have discussed what their priorities were.”

Where NASA’s direction comes from:

Logsdon: It’s a residual of 40 years of failure to reach consensus of what the U.S. should be doing in space and particularly, human spaceflight. In the first year and a half of the Nixon administration, he was faced with what to do after Apollo and basically punted. He said, “Let’s develop means, rather than set goals.” The means was the shuttle … The lack of leadership of this administration, which is not much different than most presidents since Nixon and including Nixon, have put us in a situation that is unfortunate, and, as Scott [Pace] says, leads to a lot of drift and lack of sense of purpose.

The biggest obstacle of NASA’s asteroid retrieval proposal:

Pace: [One goal for NASA often is to implement] priorities of decadal surveys from the National Academy of Sciences. Things like the asteroid redirect mission, which will burden portions of the human and science programs, have no decadal survey mention or no larger contribution to the science. It’s another capability-driven-evolution sort of project, with some very basic flaws to it in terms of not providing that long-term sense of strategic purpose.

Concept of NASA spacecraft with Asteroid capture mechanism deployed to redirect a small space rock to a stable lunar orbit for later study by astronauts aboard Orion crew capsule. Credit: NASA.
Concept of NASA spacecraft with Asteroid capture mechanism deployed to redirect a small space rock to a stable lunar orbit for later study by astronauts aboard Orion crew capsule. Credit: NASA.

If the International Space Station will be extended beyond 2020:

Logsdon: There’s not enough money to have a robust space exploration program and to use the space station at a $3 billion a year level in 2028. None of the current partners — with a possible exception of Canada — but certainly, Europe and Japan are not enthusiastic about spending money on space station post-2020. They really had to be dragged, their governments had to be dragged, to commit the funds for the extension to 2020. It’s not clear, if there is a decision to go beyond, whether the United States will have its early partners [committed.]

Pace: What happens with other major scientific facilities that NASA has, like the Hubble Space Telescope, is you have a senior review. After you’ve met the initial requirements [of the mission], you ask what is the facility costing me, what am I getting out of it, and make a decision whether to continue. You will see, in anticipation of 2020, you will see the beginnings of a senior review to see what will be in the NASA 2020 budget. It is dependent upon data being created now — the scientific and technical benefits — and where will the benefits flow for plans beyond space station. If there are no plans for human flight beyond space station … the default option is to do the station as long as it is technically capable, but eventually it will be deorbited. And there will be an end to U.S. government spaceflight.

A view of the International Space Station as seen by the last departing space shuttle crew, STS-135. Credit: NASA
A view of the International Space Station as seen by the last departing space shuttle crew, STS-135. Credit: NASA

If government-funded human spaceflight could end in the United States:

Pace: I can imagine a President presiding over the end of human spaceflight, not as a conscious decision but as an unfortunate accident. Drift is the most dangerous thing for NASA.

Logsdon: Would any President be willing to be that person to end the government-sponsored spaceflight program? I’m not sure the answer is no. It could be that a future President could say we’ve done it and there’s no future reasoning to continue at fairly high expense to continue to do it. But I would speculate the more likely answer, given the industrial and regional interests, is some sort of limping through human spaceflight. It’s more similar than different for the past four decades.

What NASA needs right now:

Logsdon: I’m taking less about the NASA leadership than I am the White House and Congressional leadership. What’s missing is a sense of strategic purpose of the organization, what should it be doing, and that is the job of a national leader. It is enunciating for NASA, as well as other government agencies, for what its long-term and even midterm strategic purpose is in terms of the natinoal interest ought to be.

Pace: [The United States must determine] what is the role of international leadership in space for the United States and to what extent are we willing to make plans for beyond the station. 2020 is not that far away. The focus on NASA right now, with ISS, is utilization. The station has been a great diplomatic success, great technical success, but it’s not clear if it will be a great scientific success.

Two Astronauts Who Beat The Odds To Get Into Space

Getting into space is never a guarantee for an astronaut. Heck, getting into an astronaut program can be tough, as Koichi Wakata and Rick Mastracchio told Universe Today.

The crewmates on Expedition 38/39 are supposed to head to the International Space Station in November. But they beat incredible odds to be selected in the first place. Wakata, who is with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), didn’t even have an astronaut program to join when he was a kid. Mastracchio (from NASA) did, but it took him nine years’ worth of applications to get in.

“When I was five years old, I saw the Apollo [11] lunar landing,” Wakata said. “This was before I was going to school, kindergarten timeframe. But there was no astronaut program in Japan, so I thought it was physically beyond my reach. It was something I longed for.”

With no Japanese astronauts to look up to, Wakata put himself in a related career: airplane engineering. Between 1989 and 1992, he worked as an aircraft structural engineer for Japan Airlines. It was while he was in this career that he saw a newspaper advertisement recruiting the first Japanese astronauts. He applied and was let in, first try.

JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata takes photos of Earth during Expedition 19/20 in 2009. Credit: NASA
JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata takes photos of Earth during Expedition 19/20 in 2009. Credit: NASA

“I was lucky to get into this program,” Wakata said. And now he has a new milestone in his sights: becoming the first Japanese commander of the International Space Station during Expedition 39. Wakata’s space experience includes operating every piece of robotics hardware currently on orbit, from the Canadarm to the Japanese Kibo robotic arm.

He also has extensive leadership training behind him, which helped him prepare for command. He was in charge of an underwater lab (called NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO) in 2006. Wakata also received National Outdoor Leadership training, which puts people in wilderness situations to test their skills.

Finally, Wakata also watched closely what his own spaceflight commanders did. He is a big admirer of Brian Duffy, who flew four times in space — including two of Wakata’s missions. “I learned a lot from him and I try to imitate what he did,” Wakata said.

Unlike Wakata, his crewmate Mastracchio was born in a country with a well-established astronaut program. That also meant, however, a lot of competition. Mastracchio made applications practically every year between 1987 and 1996. Every time he was turned down, he would look for a way to make himself better for the next round.

Rick Mastracchio takes a selfie during a spacewalk on STS-118. NASA's web page says the purpose was to have a photo of his helmet visor. Credit: NASA
Rick Mastracchio takes a selfie during a spacewalk on STS-118. NASA’s web page says the purpose was to have a photo of his helmet visor. Credit: NASA

“I tried not to do things to become an astronaut. I tried to do things that I thought would be interesting,” Mastracchio said. At the same time, those interesting things happened to be items that astronauts would find useful.

Hired in 1987 for Rockwell Shuttle Operations Company in Houston, Mastracchio then moved to NASA in 1990 as an engineer in the flight crew operations directorate. He earned a masters degree in physical science at the nearby University of Houston-Clear Lake in 1991. Mastracchio also got a pilot’s license.

Around the same time of another unsuccessful selection in 1994, Mastracchio switched jobs and became a flight controller in the front room of Mission Control. It’s hard to say if that made the difference, he acknowledged, but for what it’s worth he was selected in 1996. “I just gained more experience, over time, in different jobs,” he said.

Mastracchio has since flown three times into space, performing six spacewalks in that time. There are no further “outside” activities planned for him during Expedition 38/39, but he has trained as a backup just in case.

Why Is This Astronaut Working Survivor-Style In The Arctic?

This week, Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen is on his way to a remote island in the Canadian Arctic. We realize this sounds like the opening episode for Survivor, but his purpose up there is more scientific: to conduct field geology.

Geology work, and training for sample collection is not as easy as simply picking up whatever you see on the ground. It’s important to get a range of rocks that represent the geology of the area. You also need to photograph and otherwise document the area in such a way that geologists can learn more about how it was formed, among other duties.

A trained observer can come to preliminary conclusions while wandering around in the field, and possibly change his or her sample-gathering strategy in accordance with that. The Apollo moon missions were replete with examples of this, with one of the more famous ones perhaps being when Harrison Schmitt (who, unlike his colleagues, had a Ph.D. in geology) stumbled across some orange soil during Apollo 17. This was probably evidence of an ancient fire-fountain of lava on the moon.

But Schmitt certainly wasn’t expecting to see that when he walked on the surface. Check out his reaction around 1:50 in this video:

Field geology was a common feature among the Apollo astronauts, and it could come in handy for planetary exploration again some time: there is some chatter about bringing people to asteroids or (eventually) Mars in the coming decades.

Hansen will join a Western University group to study “impact cratering processes while learning methods and techniques for conducting geological fieldwork that can be applied to sites beyond our planet,” stated the Canadian Space Agency. To make it feel more space mission-like, the group will be working with limited supplies and support.

Geology training isn’t important just on the ground, but also in observing from space. As Hansen points out on this video, from time to time astronauts on the International Space Station are called upon to observe features from their orbital perches. If they understand the processes behind what they see, their descriptions, videos and photos will be more scientific.

Hansen will stay on Devon Island until about July 25, studying impact crater processes along with the rest of the team. Updates should be available on his Twitter feed as well as through the Canadian Space Agency.

And by the way, Canada was also useful to astronauts during the Apollo years. One famous geology site was at Sudbury, Ont. This website highlights the activities of the Apollo 16 crew, which was looking at craters in the area.

Source: Canadian Space Agency

Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser Gets Wings and Tail, Starts Ground Testing

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser successfully rolls through two tow tests at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California in preparation for future flight testing later this year.
Watch way cool Dream Chaser assembly video below![/caption]

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s winged Dream Chaser engineering test article is moving forward with a series of ground tests at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California that will soon lead to dramatic aerial flight tests throughout 2013.

Pathfinding tow tests on Dryden’s concrete runway aim to validate the performance of the vehicles’ nose skid, brakes, tires and other systems to prove that it can safely land an astronaut crew after surviving the searing re-entry from Earth orbit.

The Dream Chaser is one of the three types of private sector ‘space taxis’ being developed with NASA seed money to restore America’s capability to blast humans to Earth orbit from American soil – a capability which was totally lost following the forced shutdown of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in 2011.

Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS
Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS

For the initial ground tests, the engineering test article was pulled by a tow truck at 10 and 20 MPH. Later this month tow speeds will be ramped up to 40 to 60 MPH.

Final assembly of the Dream Chaser test vehicle was completed at Dryden with installation of the wings and tail, following shipment from SNC’s Space Systems headquarters in Louisville, Colo.

Watch this exciting minute-long, time-lapse video showing attachment of the wings and tail:

In the next phase later this year, Sierra Nevada will conduct airborne captive carry tests using an Erickson Skycrane helicopter.

Atmospheric drop tests of the engineering test article in an autonomous free flight mode for Approach and Landing Tests (ALT) will follow to check the aerodynamic handling.

The engineering test article is a full sized vehicle.

Dream Chaser is a reusable mini shuttle that launches from the Florida Space Coast atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and lands on the shuttle landing facility (SLF) runway at the Kennedy Space Center, like the Space Shuttle.

“It’s not outfitted for orbital flight. It is outfitted for atmospheric flight tests,” said Marc Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada Corp. vice president and SNC Space Systems chairman, to Universe Today.

“The best analogy is it’s very similar to what NASA did in the shuttle program with the Enterprise, creating a vehicle that would allow it to do significant flights whose design then would filter into the final vehicle for orbital flight,” Sirangelo told me.

NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center welcomes SNC’s Dream Chaser shrink wrapped engineering test article for a flight test program in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program this summer. Winds and tail were soon joined and ground testing has now begun. Credit: NASA/Tom Tschida Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/102020/sierra-nevada-dream-chaser-gets-wings-and-tail-starts-ground-testing/#ixzz2Yw1peNRJ
NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center welcomes SNC’s Dream Chaser shrink wrapped engineering test article for a flight test program in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program this summer. Winds and tail were soon joined and ground testing has now begun. Credit: NASA/Tom Tschida

Sierra Nevada Corp, along with Boeing and SpaceX are working with NASA in a public-private partnership using a combination of NASA seed money and company funds.

Each company was awarded contracts under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Initiative, or CCiCap, program, the third in a series of contracts aimed at kick starting the development of the private sector ‘space taxis’ to fly US and partner astronauts to and from low Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS).

“We are the emotional successors to the shuttle,” says Sirangelo. “Our target was to repatriate that industry back to the United States, and that’s what we’re doing.”

The combined value of NASA’s Phase 1 CCiCap contracts is about $1.1 Billion and runs through March 2014.

Phase 2 contract awards will eventually lead to actual flight units after a down selection to one or more of the companies.

Everything depends on NASA’s approved budget, which seems headed for steep cuts in excess of a billion dollars if the Republican dominated US House has its way.

Dream Chaser awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket
Dream Chaser awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket

The Commercial Crew program’s goal is to ensure the nation has safe, reliable and affordable crew transportation systems to space.

“Unique public-private partnerships like the one between NASA and Sierra Nevada Corporation are creating an industry capable of building the next generation of rockets and spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the scientific proving ground of low-Earth orbit,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations in Washington, in a statement.

“NASA centers around the country paved the way for 50 years of American human spaceflight, and they’re actively working with our partners to test innovative commercial space systems that will continue to ensure American leadership in exploration and discovery.”

All three commercial vehicles – the Boeing CST-100; SpaceX Dragon and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser – are designed to carry a crew of up to 7 astronauts and remain docked at the ISS for more than 6 months.

The first orbital flight test of the Dream Chaser is not expected before 2016 and could be further delayed if NASA’s commercial crew budget is again slashed by the Congress – as was done the past few years.

In the meantime, US astronauts are totally dependent on Russia’s Soyuz capsule for rides to the ISS. NASA must pay Russia upwards of $70 million per seat until the space taxis are ready for liftoff – perhaps in 2017.

“We have got to get Commercial Crew funded, or we’re going to be paying the Russians forever,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at Dryden. “Without Commercial Crew, we probably won’t have exploration.”

Concurrently, NASA is developing the Orion Crew capsule for missions to the Moon, Asteroids and beyond to Mars and other destinations in our Solar System -details here.

Ken Kremer

Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon.
Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser spacecraft landing on a traditional runway. Dream Chaser is being developed in collaboration with NASA's Commercial Crew Program during the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP).  Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser spacecraft landing on a traditional runway. Dream Chaser is being developed in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program during the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP). Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Armstrong’s Ohio Accent May Have Masked His Missing “A”

“That’s one small step for man… one giant leap for mankind.” And with those famous words astronaut Neil A. Armstrong awed the entire world on July 21, 1969, becoming the first human to set a booted foot upon a world other than our own. But the historic statement itself has caused no small bit of confusion and controversy over the years, from whether Armstrong came up with it on the spot (he didn’t) to what he actually said… small step for “man?” Where’s the “a?”

Although some have said that the article was left out or cut off (and admittedly it sure sounds that way to me) it turns out it’s probably been there the whole time, hidden behind Neil’s native Ohio accent.

According to a team of speech scientists and psychologists from Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing and The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus, it is entirely possible that Armstrong said what he had always claimed — though evidence indicates that most people are likely to hear “for man” instead of “for a man” on the Apollo 11 broadcast recordings.

By studying how speakers from Armstrong’s native central Ohio pronounce “for” and “for a,” the team’s results suggest that his “a” was acoustically blended into his “for.”

“Prior acoustic analyses of Neil Armstrong’s recording have established well that if the word ‘a’ was spoken, it was very short and was fully blended acoustically with the preceding word,” says Laura Dilley of Michigan State University. “If Armstrong actually did say ‘a,'” she continues, “it sounded something like ‘frrr(uh).'”

His blending of the two words, compounded with the poor sound quality of the television transmission, has made it difficult to corroborate his claim that the “a” is there.

“If Armstrong actually did say ‘a,’ it sounded something like ‘frrr(uh).'”

– Laura Dilley, Michigan State University

Dilley and her colleagues used a collection of recordings of conversational speech from 40 people raised in Columbus, Ohio, near Armstrong’s native town of Wapakoneta. Within this body of recordings, they found 191 cases of “for a.” They matched each of these to an instance of “for” as said by the same speaker and compared the relative duration. They also examined the duration of Armstrong’s “for (a”) from the lunar transmission.

The researchers found a large overlap between the relative duration of the “r” sound in “for” and “for a” using the Ohio speech data. The duration of the “frrr(uh)” in Armstrong’s recording was 0.127 seconds, which falls into the middle of this overlap. In other words, the researchers conclude, the lunar landing quote is highly compatible with either possible interpretation though it is probably slightly more likely to be perceived as “for” regardless of what Armstrong actually said.

Read more: Neil Armstrong Didn’t Lie About First Words on the Moon

Dilley says there may have been a “perfect storm of conditions” for the word “a” to have been spoken… but not heard.

“We’ve bolstered Neil Armstrong’s side of the story,” she says. “We feel we’ve partially vindicated him. But we’ll most likely never know for sure exactly what he said based on the acoustic information.”

(Personally, I feel that if the first man to walk on the Moon said he said “a,” then he said “a.”)

The team will present its work at the 21st International Congress on Acoustics June 2–7 in Montreal.

Source: EurekAlert

SpaceShipTwo Fires Rocket Engines for First Ever Supersonic Test Flight- Photos & Video

SpaceShipTwo fires her rocket motor in flight for 1st time on April 29, 2013. Credit: MarsScientific.com
Updated with more Photos & Video[/caption]

In a momentous and long awaited day in spaceflight, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) commercial spaceliner named “Enterprise” lit up her hybrid rocket engines in flight and reached supersonic speeds for the first time in history, today, Monday, April 29, 2013 – in the skies over the Mojave Desert in California.

“What a feeling to be on the ground with all the team in Mojave to witness Virgin Galactic go faster than the speed of sound,” wrote Virgin Galacic founder and owner, billionaire Sir Richard Branson, a short while ago.

Branson wants to bring the incomparable joys of human spaceflight– including weightlessness and spectacular views of the Earth’s curvature- to the masses. Thus making science fiction fantasies of the future like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Star Trek” a reality – TODAY!

“This is a momentous day and the single most important flight test to date for our Virgin Galactic program,” said Branson from the Mojave Air and Space Port. “What a feeling to be on the ground with all the team in Mojave to witness Virgin Galactic go faster than the speed of sound.”

ShaceShipTwo from Virgin Galactic fires its rocket engines for the first time in history on April 29, 2013 to achieve supersonic speed. Credit: Virgin Galactic
ShaceShipTwo from Virgin Galactic fires its rocket engines for the first time in history on April 29, 2013 to achieve supersonic speed. Credit: Virgin Galactic

The SpaceShipTwo test of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was conducted by builder Scaled Composites, led by famed aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, and Virgin Galactic.

With Scaled Composites test pilots Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury at the helm, the engine burn lasted about 16 seconds, exactly as planned and achieved a speed of Mach 1.2 – breaking the sound barrier!

Watch this video of today’s SS2 rocket test flight:

The test flight began at about 7:02 a.m. local California time as SpaceShipTwo took off from Mojave strapped to the belly of the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) mothership.

SS2 was released from the mothership at an altitude of 47,000 feet (14 km) some 45 minutes into the flight.

“The pilots triggered ignition of the rocket motor, causing the main oxidizer valve to open and igniters to fire within the fuel case. At this point, SS2 was propelled forward and upward to a maximum altitude of 55,000 feet [17 km],” said Virgin Galactic in a statement.

SS2 is powered by RocketMotorTwo, developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation – which is also constructing the manned DreamChaser mini shuttle ‘space taxi’ under contract to NASA and aiming to restart launches of American astronauts from American soil to low Earth orbit and the ISS.

Boom camera shot of SpaceShipTwo breaking the sound barrier.  Credit: Virgin Galactic
Boom camera shot of SpaceShipTwo breaking the sound barrier. Credit: Virgin Galactic

“The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date,” said Branson, who watched the flight from the grounds of Mojave.

The entire fight lasted about an hour with SS2 gliding back for a safe landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port to conclude the history making flight.

Until today’s engine firing, the SS2/WK2 aerial test flight program had been limited to captive carry and landing drop tests.

Branson’s near term goal is for SpaceShipTwo to fly to space – commonly defined as 62 miles (100 km) altitude – for the first time before year’s end, validate the vehicle with a rigorous test flight program of gradually expanding the flight envelope to insure full operability and safety and then carry the first revenue paying passengers to space thereafter from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

“For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight. Today’s supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end. We saw history in the making today and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved.”

Rumors that this rocket firing test flight was imminent had reached a fever pitch over the past few days, stoked by broad hints in open messages from Branson himself. So, a large group of Virgin employees and space enthusiasts were present today to witness the momentous event (see photos).

Sir Richard Branson hugs designer Burt Rutan as they are surrounded by employee's of Virgin Galactic, The SpaceShip Company and Scaled Composites watch as Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip2 streaks across the sky under rocket power, its first ever since the program began in 2005. Burt's wife Tonya Rutan is at right taking their photo. The spacecraft was dropped from its "mothership", WhiteKnight2 over the Mojave, CA area, April 29, 2013 at high altitude before firing its hybrid power motor. Virgin Galactic hopes to become the first commercial space venture to bring multiple passengers into space on a regular basis.
Sir Richard Branson hugs designer Burt Rutan as they are surrounded by employee’s of Virgin Galactic, The SpaceShip Company and Scaled Composites watch as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip2 streaks across the sky under rocket power, its first ever since the program began in 2005. Burt’s wife Tonya Rutan is at right taking their photo. The spacecraft was dropped from its “mothership”, WhiteKnight2 over the Mojave, CA area, April 29, 2013 at high altitude before firing its hybrid power motor. Virgin Galactic hopes to become the first commercial space venture to bring multiple passengers into space on a regular basis.

In the not too distant future, the purpose of SS2 is for everyday folks – not just highly trained astronauts – to experience spaceflight and out of this world views of the Earth below and the heavens above.

Eventually, human spaceflight could be as commonplace as flying aboard a commercial jetliner is today.

SpaceShipTwo can carry 8 people total; including a crew of two pilots and six passengers on suborbital missions to space.

Although SS2 cannot go into Earth orbit, Branson hopes that future varients will achieve orbit.

Branson himself will fly aboard the first commercial SS2 flight. Over 500 people have already plucked down over $200,000 to reserve the unprecedented choice seats.

“Like our hundreds of customers from around the world, my children and I cannot wait to get on board this fantastic vehicle for our own trip to space and am delighted that today’s milestone brings that day much closer,” said Branson.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation quickly lauded the Virgin Galactic team and issued this statement:

“The Commercial Spaceflight Federation congratulates the team at Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites for the first powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo today,” said CSF President Michael Lopez-Alegria.

“This incredible achievement is the direct result of the hard work and dedication by these two companies, as well as by RocketMotorTwo developer Sierra Nevada Corporation. Because of their efforts, we are one step closer to achieving safe, routine, and cost-effective access to space that will create abundant opportunities for space-based research and that will inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists. I applaud the team at Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites for their accomplishment, and the team at Mojave Air & Space Port for their efforts in creating a professional and safe testing environment.”

In this era of stingy federal funding and slashes to NASA’s budget, commercial spaceflight will play a major and increasing role in bringing down the high costs of access to space as well as enabling an expanding science exploration program and private commercial space exploitation programs to open up the High Frontier.

Other private companies like SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are already leading the charge with regards to the commercial space exploration race with their Falcon 9 and Antares commercial rockets – now launching crucial cargo for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS) since the retirement of the Space Shuttle orbiters in 2011.

Ken Kremer

New Scripps Research Ship Will Honor Astronaut Sally Ride

Dr. Sally K. Ride, physicist, NASA astronaut, and first American woman to fly in space, will be honored with a U.S. Navy research vessel bearing her name, which will be operated by and homeported at San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“Dr. Sally Ride inspired millions of people, especially young women and girls, to reach for the stars,” said U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. “Naming the Navy’s new ocean research vessel in her honor is a fitting tribute to her legacy of innovation and discovery.”

Dr. Ride died at her home in La Jolla on July 23, 2012, after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61.

Sally Ride was a NASA astronaut for 11 years before joining the UCSD faculty as a physics professor.
Sally Ride was a NASA astronaut for 11 years before joining the UCSD faculty as a physics professor and director of the California Space Institute.

Dr. Ride was selected for NASA’s astronaut corps in 1978 and became the first American woman in space aboard Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983. In 1989, she joined the faculty of UC San Diego as professor of physics and was director of the university’s California Space Institute.

“We are touched by the extraordinary honor that this ship is being named for Sally Ride, who, after serving our nation as a pioneering and accomplished astronaut, served on the faculty of UC San Diego for nearly two decades,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla in a Scripps press release. “Her commitment to teaching and inspiring young minds is legendary and we take tremendous pride in this prestigious and well-deserved honor for her legacy and for UC San Diego.”

According to Gary Robbins in an article for the San Diego Union-Tribune “It is common for a research vessel to be named after an explorer or scientist. Scripps’ current fleet of Navy-owned ships includes the Roger Revelle, which bears the name of the late UC San Diego scientist who helped pioneer the study of global warming. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Cape Cod, Mass. is getting a ship named R/V Neil Armstrong.”

Rendering of the R/V Sally Ride
Rendering of the R/V Sally Ride

Designed to operate globally, R/V Sally Ride will continue the Scripps legacy of conducting pioneering ocean exploration and research critical to our understanding of our planet, our oceans, and our atmosphere. As a shared-use, general-purpose ship, R/V Sally Ride will engage in a broad spectrum of research in physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and climate science, including research missions with relevance to the Navy.

As a seagoing laboratory supporting research and education, the new ship will feature modern research instrumentation to fuel scientific exploration, including mapping systems, sensors, and profilers that will investigate features from the seafloor to the atmosphere.

“I can’t think of a more perfect name for the Navy’s new research vessel. Dr. Ride was a trailblazer in every sense of the word in the fields of science and engineering. Dr. Ride’s namesake ship and its crew will continue her legacy of courage, determination, and spirit of discovery.”

– U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif.

R/V Sally Ride is currently under construction at Dakota Creek Industries Inc. in Anacortes, Washington, and is scheduled for launch in 2015.

Read more on the Scripps news site here, and watch a video on the naming of the vessel below:

Source: Scripps News

ESA Astronaut Will Visit Station for Months

ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter from Germany, will be the first to do a long-duration spaceflight. Image credit: ESA. Click to enlarge.
This July, ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter from Germany is about to become the first European to live and work on the International Space Station (ISS) on a long-duration mission.

ESA Director of Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration, Daniel Sacotte, recently signed an agreement on the mission with the Head of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Anatoli Perminov. “The agreement covers the ESA astronaut?s flight in a crew position originally planned for a Russian cosmonaut”, explained Sacotte, “and he will perform all the tasks originally allocated to the second Russian cosmonaut on board the ISS and, in addition, an ESA experimental programme.”

The agreement forms part of a set of bilateral understandings between Roscosmos and NASA and between ESA and NASA, enabling the implementation of the mission.

Thomas Reiter, the astronaut assigned to the mission, is a member of the European Astronaut Corps, based at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany. L?opold Eyharts, from France, a member of the same Corps, will be the back-up for this mission.

Reiter will reach the ISS on Space Shuttle flight STS-121 currently planned for next July, and return to Earth on flight STS-116 in February.

This will be Reiter’s second long-duration mission on board a space station, following his six-month stay on the Russian Mir, ten years ago, during the ESA Euromir 1995 mission.

“With the maiden flight of the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and the launch of the European laboratory Columbus, both in 2006, ESA is making important contributions to the ISS and its scientific capabilities and, consequently, we are assuming significant operational responsibilities in this programme. I am confident that this mission will give Europe a lot of operational experience and scientific results which will further prepare us for the exciting and challenging times ahead,” said Thomas Reiter.

“Moreover,” L?opold Eyharts pointed out, “as the back-up astronaut for this mission, I am receiving the same training as Thomas Reiter, which will be an excellent preparation for my tasks as prime astronaut for a future ESA mission to the ISS in connection with Columbus.”

Both astronauts are already in training for the mission in the various ISS training facilities at Houston, Moscow and Cologne, together with their Russian and American astronaut colleagues.

“For the first time, and as a test for later European long-duration missions to the ISS, mission preparation, training, operations and multilateral coordination will be carried out as far as possible through the multilateral decision-making and management structures established for ISS exploitation,” underlined ESA’s Mission Manager Aldo Petrivelli.

“This will be an excellent opportunity for testing coordination and cooperation between ground control and support centres like the Houston and Moscow Mission Control Centres, the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich (*), the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne and the various User Support and Operations Centres throughout Europe that will be involved in the mission. The operational teams from ESA, national space agencies, industry and research institutions in Europe will thus gain very useful operational experience, also for future Columbus system, subsystems and payload operations.”

Original Source: ESA News Release