NASA Tribute Exhibit Honors Fallen Apollo 1 Crew 50 Years After Tragedy

The new tribute to Apollo 1 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center was opened during a dedication ceremony on Jan. 27, 2017, 50 years after the crew was lost – with a keynote speech by Kennedy Space Center Director and former astronaut Bob Cabana. The entrance to the Apollo 1 tribute shows the three astronauts who perished in a fire at the launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967 during training for the mission. The astronauts are, from left, Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER VISITOR COMPLEX, FL – NASA unveiled a new tribute exhibit honoring three fallen astronaut heroes 50 years to the day of the Apollo 1 tragedy on January 27, 1967 when the three man crew perished in a flash fire on the launch pad during a capsule test that was not considered to be dangerous.

The Apollo 1 prime crew comprising NASA astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee were killed during routine practice countdown testing when a fire suddenly erupted inside the cockpit as they were strapped to their seats in their Apollo command module capsule, on a Friday evening at 6:31 p.m. on January 27, 1967.

“It’s been 50 years since the crew of Apollo 1 perished in a fire at the launch pad, but the lives, accomplishments and heroism of the three astronauts are celebrated in a dynamic, new tribute that is part museum, part memorial and part family scrapbook,” says a NASA narrative that aptly describes the exhibit and the memorial ceremony I attended at the Apollo/Saturn V Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017 on behalf of Universe Today.

It was the first disaster with a human crew and the worst day in NASA’s storied history to that point.

The tribute is named called “Ad Astra Per Aspera – A Rough Road Leads to the Stars.”

A new tribute to the crew of Apollo 1, who perished in a fire at the launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967, opened at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the 50th anniversary of that fatal day that cost the lives of all three crewmembers. The tribute exhibit at the Apollo/Saturn Center highlights the lives and careers of NASA astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee with artifacts and photos. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

At the tribute dedication ceremony Kennedy Space Center Director and former astronaut Bob Cabana said the families of the fallen crew gave their approvals and blessing to the efforts that would at last tell the story of Apollo 1 to all generations – those who recall it and many more to young or not yet born to remember the tragedy of the early days of America’s space program.

“It’s long overdue,” said KSC center director and former astronaut Bob Cabana at the KSC dedication ceremony to family, friends and invited guests colleagues. “I’m proud of the team that created this exhibit.”

“Ultimately, this is a story of hope, because these astronauts were dreaming of the future that is unfolding today,” said Cabana. Generations of people around the world will learn who these brave astronauts were and how their legacies live on through the Apollo successes and beyond.”

The exhibit “showcases clothing, tools and models that define the men as their parents, wives and children saw them as much as how the nation viewed them.”

The main focus was to introduce the astronauts to generations who never met them and may not know much about them or the early space program, says NASA.

“This lets you now meet Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee as members of special families and also as members of our own family,” said NASA’s Luis Berrios, who co-led the tribute design that would eventually involve more than 100 designers, planners and builders to realize.

“You get to know some of the things that they liked to do and were inspired by. You look at the things they did and if anyone does just one of those things, it’s a lifetime accomplishment and they did all of it and more.”

Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee stand near Cape Kennedy’s Launch Complex 34 during mission training in January 1967. On Jan. 27, 1967, the three astronauts were preparing for what was to be the first manned Apollo flight. The astronauts were sitting atop the launch pad for a pre-launch test when a fire broke out in their Apollo capsule and they perished. Credit: NASA

The crew and the Apollo 1 command module were stacked atop the Saturn 1B rocket at Launch Complex 34 on what is now Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

During the “plugs out” test the Saturn 1B rocket was not fueled. But the fatal flaw was the atmosphere of pure oxygen for the astronauts to breath inside the sealed Apollo 1 command module which was pressurized to 16.7 psi.

The three-part hatch that was in place on the Apollo 1 spacecraft is shown in a tribute to the crew of Apollo 1 who perished in a fire at the launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967 during training for the mission. This is the first time any part of the Apollo 1 spacecraft has been displayed publicly and is part of the tribute exhibit at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida. A version of the hatch after it was redesigned is also showcased as an example of improvements NASA made throughout the agency and to the Apollo spacecraft that would later carry astronauts to the moon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Another significantly contributing fatal flaw was the inward opening three layered hatch that took some 90 seconds to open under the best of conditions.

After working all afternoon through the practice countdown and encountering numerous problems, something went terribly awry. Without warning a flash fire erupted in the cockpit filled with 100 percent oxygen and swiftly spread uncontrollably creating huge flames licking up the side of the capsule, acrid smoke and a poisonous atmosphere that asphyxiated, burned and killed the crew.

With the scorching temperatures spiking and pressures rapidly rising in a closed system, the capsule exploded some 20 seconds after the fire started. And because of the pressure buildup inside with flames licking up the sides and the toxic atmosphere generated from burning materials, the crew succumbed and could not turn the latch to pull open the hatch against the pressure.

The pad crew tried bravely in vain to save them, fighting heavy smoke and fire and fearing that the attached launch abort system on top of the capsule would ignite and kill them all too.

An investigation would determine that the fire was likely caused by a spark from frayed wiring, perhaps originating under Grissom’s seat.

“An electrical short circuit inside the Apollo Command Module ignited the pure oxygen environment and within a matter of seconds all three Apollo 1 crewmembers perished,” NASA concluded.

NASA and contractor North American Aviation completely redesigned the capsule with major engineering changes including an atmosphere of 60 percent oxygen and 40 percent nitrogen at 5 psi blower pressure, new hatch that could open outwards in 5 seconds, removing flammable materials among many others that would make the Apollo spacecraft much safer for the upcoming journeys to the moon.

The multi-layed hatch serves as the centerpiece of the tribute exhibit. No piece of Apollo 1 has ever before been put on public display. Alongside the old hatch, the new hatch is displayed that was used on all the remaining Apollo missions.

The three-part hatch that was in place on the Apollo 1 spacecraft is shown in a tribute to the crew of Apollo 1 who perished in a fire at the launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967 during training for the mission. This is the first time any part of the Apollo 1 spacecraft has been displayed publicly and is part of the tribute exhibit at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida. A version of the hatch after it was redesigned is also showcased (right) as an example of improvements NASA made throughout the agency and to the Apollo spacecraft that would later carry astronauts to the moon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Display cases highlights the lives and careers of the three astronauts in these NASA descriptions.

Gus Grissom was “one of NASA’s Original Seven astronauts who flew the second Mercury mission, a hunting jacket and a pair of ski boots are on display, along with a small model of the Mercury spacecraft and a model of an F-86 Sabre jet like the one he flew in the Korean War. A slide rule and engineering drafts typify his dedication to detail.”

“The small handheld maneuvering thruster that Ed White II used to steer himself outside his Gemini capsule during the first American spacewalk features prominently in the display case for the West Point graduate whose athletic prowess nearly equaled his flying acumen. An electric drill stands alongside the “zip gun,” as he called the thruster.”

“It was great to juxtaposition it with a drill which was also a tool that Ed loved to use,” Berrios said. “He had a tremendous passion for making things for his family.”

“Roger Chaffee, for whom Apollo 1 would have been his first mission into space, was an esteemed Naval aviator who became a test pilot in his drive to qualify as an astronaut later. Displayed are board games he played with his wife and kids on rare evenings free of training.”

Grissom, White and Chaffee composed NASA’s first three person crew following the one man Mercury program and two man Gemini program, that had just concluded in November 1966 with Gemini 12.

The trio had been scheduled to blastoff on February 21, 1967 on a 14 day long mission in Earth orbit to thoroughly check out the Apollo command and service modules.

Apollo 1 was to be the first launch in NASA’s Apollo moon landing program initiated by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Apollo 1 was planned to pave the way to the Moon so that succeeding missions would eventually “land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before this decade is out” as Kennedy eloquently challenged the nation to do.

Legendary Gemini and Apollo astronaut General Thomas Stafford speaks at dedication of new tribute exhibit at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center about the heroic Apollo 1 crew and their contributions to getting us to the Moon on the 50th anniversary of their deaths in the flash fire on Jan. 27, 1967. Stafford was the backup commander of Apollo 1. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

I remember seeing the first news flashes about the Apollo 1 fire on the TV as a child, as it unfolded on the then big three networks. It is indelibly marked in my mind. This new exhibit truly tells the story of these astronaut heroes vividly to those with distant memories and those with little or no knowledge of Apollo 1.

Exit walkway passing through misty projection of Apollo 1 mission patch and crossing over to mock capsule and crew of Grissom, White and Chaffee seated in Apollo 1 Command Module. Family member quotes at left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Falcon Heavy Rocket Launch and Booster Recovery Featured in Cool New SpaceX Animation

SpaceX released a cool new animation today, Jan. 27, showing an updated look at their Falcon Heavy rocket and plans for booster recovery. See below.

The Falcon Heavy is the brainchild of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and founder, and illustrates his moving forward with the firm’s next giant leap in spaceflight.

The rocket is designed to lift over 53 tons (117,00 pounds) to orbit and could one day launch astronauts to the Moon and Mars.

The commercial Falcon Heavy rocket has been under development by SpaceX for several years and the initial launch is now planned for later this year from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

The new rocket is comprised of three Falcon 9 cores.

The Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket developed since NASA’s Saturn V rocket that hurled NASA’s Apollo astronauts to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s – including the first manned landing on the Lunar surface by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969.

Here is the updated animation of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy flight and booster recovery:

Video Caption: Animation of SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch and booster recovery. Credit: SpaceX

The video shows the launch of the triple barreled Falcon Heavy from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Then it transitions to the recovery of all three boosters by a guided descent back to a soft touchdown on land in the Cape Canaveral/Kennedy Space Center area.

SpaceX, headquartered in Hawthorne, CA, signed a long term lease with NASA in April 2014 to operate seaside pad 39A as a commercial launch facility for launching the Falcon Heavy as well as the manned Dragon V2 atop SpaceX’s man-rated Falcon 9 booster.

Launch Complex 39A has sat dormant for over three years since the blastoff of the final shuttle mission STS-135 in July 2011 on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Launch Pad 39A has lain dormant save dismantling since the final shuttle launch on the STS-135 mission in July 2011.  Not a single rocket has rolled up this ramp at the Kennedy Space Center in nearly 3 years. SpaceX has now leased Pad 39A from NASA and American rockets will thunder aloft again with Falcon rocket boosters starting in 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Launch Pad 39A has lain dormant, save dismantling, since the final shuttle launch on the STS-135 mission in July 2011. Not a single rocket has rolled up this ramp at the Kennedy Space Center in over 3 years. SpaceX has now leased Pad 39A from NASA and American rockets will thunder aloft again with Falcon rocket boosters starting in 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX is now renovating and modifying the pad as well as the Fixed and Mobile Service Structures, RSS and FSS. They will maintain and operate Pad 39A at their own expense, with no US federal funding from NASA.

When it does launch, the liquid fueled Falcon Heavy will become the most powerful rocket in the world according to SpaceX, generating nearly four million pounds of liftoff thrust from 27 Merlin 1D engines. It will then significantly exceeding the power of the Delta IV Heavy manufactured by competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA), which most recently was used to successfully launch and recover NASA’s Orion crew capsule on its maiden unmanned flight in Dec. 2014

STS-135: Last launch from Launch Complex 39A. NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
STS-135: Last launch from Launch Complex 39A.
NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011, at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX recently completed a largely successful and history making first attempt to recover a Falcon 9 booster on an ocean-going “drone ship.” The rocket nearly made a pinpoint landing on the ship but was destroyed in the final moments when control was lost due to a loss of hydraulic fluid.

Read my story with a SpaceX video – here – that vividly illustrates what SpaceX is attempting to accomplish by recovering and ultimately reusing the boosters in order to dramatically cut the cost of access to space.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters, including Universe Today, in Cocoa Beach, FL, during prior SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters, including Universe Today, in Cocoa Beach, FL, during prior SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA’s First Orion Crew Module Arrives Safely Back at Kennedy Space Center

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After a history making journey of more than 66,000 miles through space, ocean splash down and over 2700 mile cross country journey through the back woods of America, NASA’s pathfinding Orion crew capsule has returned to its home base at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“The Orion mission was a spectacular success,” said Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin Program manager for Orion at KSC, during a homecoming event attended by space journalists including Universe Today on Friday, Dec. 19, 2014.

“We achieved 85 of 87 test objectives,” noted Schneider. “Only an up righting air bag did not deploy fully after splashdown. And we are looking into that. Otherwise the mission went extremely well.”

Orion’s early homecoming was unexpected and a pleasant surprise since it hadn’t been expected until next week just prior to Christmas.

Orion flew on its two orbit, 4.5 hour flight maiden test flight on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission that started NASA’s long road to send astronauts beyond Earth and eventually to Mars in the 2030s.

The media were able to see the entire Orion capsule from top to bottom, including the exposed, blackened and heat scorched heat shield which had to protect the vehicle from fiery reentry temperatures exceeding 4000 F (2200 C).

 Top view of NASA’s maiden Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com

Top view of NASA’s maiden Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orion is being stored for now inside the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF)

“The heat shield worked extremely well and did its job,” Schneider told Universe Today.

Engineers took three samples from the 16.5 foot diameter heat shield and they are in for analysis.

“I don’t know if you can tell, we’ve actually taken a few core samples off the heat shield already and we’re looking at those,” said Schneider. “We will be removing the heat shield from this vehicle later in February so we will get an ever better look at it.”

One of the main objectives was to test the heat shield during the high speed atmospheric plummet of about 20000 mph (32000 kph) that reached approximately 85% of what astronauts will experience during a return from future voyages to Mars and Asteroids in the next decade and beyond.

“All of Orion’s system performed very well,” Schneider told me in an interview beside Orion.

“And the capsule used only about 90 pounds of its about 300 pounds of hydrazine propellant stored on board.”

“All of the separation events went beautifully and basically required virtually no maneuvering fuel to control the attitude of the capsule. The expected usage was perhaps about 150 pounds.”

“Therefore there is a lot more hydrazine fuel on board than we expected. And we had to be cautious in transporting Orion across the country.”

Up close view of three core samples taken from the heat shield of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Up close view of three core samples taken from the heat shield of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Lockheed Martin is the Orion prime contractor.

The Orion arrived module arrived back at KSC, Thursday afternoon after being hauled across our country mostly on back country roads, and with no publicity or fanfare, on an unmarked flat bed truck to minimize interaction with the public.

“It was like a black ops operation,” said one of the team members responsible to safely transporting Orion from Naval Base San Diego to KSC.

NASA obtained special permits to move Orion from all the states travelled between California and Florida.

“We didn’t want any publicity because the capsule was still loaded with residual toxic chemicals like ammonia and hydrazine.” These were used to power and fuel the capsule.”

Orion’s test flight began with a flawless launch on Dec. 5 as it roared to orbit atop the fiery fury of a 242 foot tall United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket – the world’s most powerful booster – at 7:05 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The unpiloted test flight of Orion on the EFT-1 mission ignited NASA’s roadmap to send Humans to Mars by the 2030s by carrying the capsule farther away from Earth than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has traveled in more than four decades.

Humans have not ventured beyond low Earth orbit since the launch of Apollo 17 on NASA’s final moon landing mission on Dec. 7, 1972.

Watch for more details and photos later.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center about the historic launch on Dec. 5.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin Program manager for Orion at KSC, and Ken Kremer/Universe Today discuss Orion during arrival event at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin Program manager for Orion at KSC, and Ken Kremer/Universe Today discuss Orion during arrival event at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Mars Era Opens with Spectacular Blastoff of NASA’s New Orion Crew Spacecraft

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The long road to NASA’s “Mars Era” opened with the thunderous on-time blastoff today, Dec. 5, of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft.

Orion took flight atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket on its inaugural test flight to space on the uncrewed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission at 7:05 a.m. EST on December 5, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“It’s the dawn of Orion and a new era in space exploration,” said NASA launch commentator Mike Curie as the Delta rocket roared to life.

Orion’s Delta rocket lit the sky on fire and soared to space on the world’s most powerful rocket.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 4, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Jubilation broke out in Mission Control as Orion slowly ascended from the pad.

“It’s a great day for America,” said NASA Flight Director Mike Sarafin.

Inaugural Orion crew module launches at 7:05 a.m. on Delta 4 Heavy Booster from pad 37 at Cape Canaveral on Dec. 4, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Inaugural Orion crew module launches at 7:05 a.m. on Delta 4 Heavy Booster from pad 37 at Cape Canaveral on Dec. 5, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

This story is being updated directly from the Kennedy Space Center. Further details in follow up features.

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage and he is onsite at KSC during launch week for the historic launch on Dec. 5.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion and Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft and Delta 4 Heavy Booster unveiled at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida prior to launch set for Dec. 4, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft and Delta 4 Heavy Booster unveiled at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida prior to launch on Dec. 5, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Cool NASA Animation Beautifully Details Every Step of Orion’s First Launch!

Video Caption: Animation details NASA’s Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission launching on Dec. 4. 2014. Credit: NASA

It’s not Science Fiction! It’s Not Star Trek!

No. It’s a really, really big NASA Mission! It’s Orion!

In fact, it’s the biggest and most important development in US Human Spaceflight since the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.

Orion is launching soon on its first flight, the pathfinding Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission and sets NASA on the path to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Watch this cool NASA animation beautifully detailing every key step of Orion’s First Launch!

Orion is designed to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before. Even farther into deep space than NASA’s Apollo moon landing which ended more than four decades ago!

We are T-MINUS 4 Days and Counting to the inaugural blastoff of Orion as of today, Sunday, November 30, 2014.

To learn even more about the 8 major events and goals happening during Orion’s EFT-1 mission be sure to check out my recent story with NASA’s fabulous new set of infographics – here.

Every aspect of the final processing steps now in progress by engineers and technicians from NASA, rocket provider United Launch Alliance, and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin is proceeding smoothly and marching towards launch.

Orion’s move to Launch Complex-37. Credit: Mike Killian
Orion’s move to Launch Complex-37. Credit: Mike Killian

Orion will lift off on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket on its inaugural test flight to space on the uncrewed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission at 7:05 a.m. EST on December 4, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The two-orbit, four and a half hour Orion EFT-1 flight around Earth will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

EFT-1 will test the rocket, second stage, jettison mechanisms as well as avionics, attitude control, computers and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft.

Then the spacecraft will carry out a high speed re-entry through the atmosphere at speeds approaching 20,000 mph and scorching temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit to test the heat shield, before splashing down for a parachute assisted landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle that will carry America’s astronauts beyond Earth on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars, and other destinations in our Solar System.

NASA TV will provide several hours of live coverage

Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Here’s how Orion EFT-1 Launch will look!
Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roars off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage and he’ll be onsite at KSC in the days leading up to the historic launch on Dec. 4.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion and Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Launch - It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be bright. It’s going to be smoky. Engines are fired, the countdown ends and Orion lifts off into space atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida.  Credit: NASA
Launch – It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be bright. It’s going to be smoky. Engines are fired, the countdown ends and Orion lifts off into space atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Credit: NASA

………….

Learn more about Orion, SpaceX, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Dec 1-5: “Orion EFT-1, SpaceX CRS-5, Antares Orb-3 launch, Curiosity Explores Mars,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

IMG_7780a_Delta 4 Heavy_Ken Kremer

Dive teams attach tow lines to Orion test capsule during Aug. 15 recovery test at Norfolk Naval Base, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Dive teams attach tow lines to Orion test capsule during Aug. 15, 2013 recovery test at Norfolk Naval Base, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Orion Passes Key NASA Flight Review – “GO” for Maiden Test Flight on Dec. 4

After a decade of hard work, numerous twists and turns, and ups and downs, NASA’s new Orion deep space crew vehicle is finally, and officially, marching towards its maiden blastoff in less than two week’s time.

The Orion spacecraft cleared one of the final hurdles to its first launch when top managers from NASA and Lockheed Martin successfully completed a key review of the vehicle’s systems ahead of the looming Dec. 4 flight test.

Orion passed the Flight Readiness Review (FRR) on Thursday, Nov. 20, and officials announced that the spacecraft is “GO” for proceeding on the road to launch – and one day on to Mars!

The FRR is a rigorous assessment of the spacecraft, its systems, mission operations, and support functions needed to successfully complete Orion’s first voyage to space.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for Orion and recently completed its fabrication in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center in September 2014.

Orion in orbit in this artists concept.  Credit: NASA
Orion in orbit in this artists concept. Credit: NASA

Orion will lift off on a Delta IV Heavy rocket on its inaugural test flight to space on the uncrewed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission at 7:05 a.m. EST on December 4, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket is the world’s most powerful rocket and the only booster sufficiently powerful to launch the 50,000 pound Orion EFT-1 spacecraft to orbit.

The rocket was transported to pad 37 in late September. Then, on Nov. 12, this path finding Orion spacecraft was itself rolled out to the launch pad and hoisted and bolted atop the Delta IV Heavy.

The United Launch Alliance Delta-IV Heavy rocket tasked with launching NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission being hoisted vertical atop Space Launch Complex-37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
The United Launch Alliance Delta-IV Heavy rocket tasked with launching NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission being hoisted vertical atop Space Launch Complex-37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

The critical December test flight will pave the way for the first human missions to deep space in more than four decades since NASA’s Apollo moon landing missions ended in 1972.

To learn more about the major events and goals happening during Orion’s EFT-1 mission be sure to check out NASA’s cool new set of infographics explaining the 8 key events in my story – here.

The two-orbit, four and a half hour Orion EFT-1 flight around Earth will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

EFT-1 will test the rocket, second stage, jettison mechanisms, as well as avionics, attitude control, computers, and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft.

Then the spacecraft will carry out a high speed re-entry through the atmosphere at speeds approaching 20,000 mph and scorching temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit to test the heat shield, before splashing down for a parachute assisted landing in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS) on Sept. 11, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS) on Sept. 11, 2014, at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle that will carry America’s astronauts beyond Earth on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars, and other destinations in our Solar System.

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage and he’ll be onsite at KSC in the days leading up to the historic launch on Dec. 4.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion and Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Orion flight test profile for the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) launching on Dec. 4, 2014. Credit: NASA
Orion flight test profile for the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) launching on Dec. 4, 2014. Credit: NASA
Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Iconic Kennedy Space Center Countdown Clock Retires

Iconic Kennedy Space Center Countdown Clock seen here retires
NASA’s 135th and final shuttle mission takes flight on July 8, 2011 at 11:29 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida bound for the ISS and the high frontier with Chris Ferguson as Space Shuttle Commander. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Story updated and more photos[/caption]

In another sign of dramatically changing times since the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, the world famous Countdown Clock that ticked down to numerous blastoffs at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site and was ever present to billions of television viewers worldwide, has been retired.

Years of poor weather and decades of unforgiving time have visibly taken their toll on the iconic Countdown Clock beloved by space enthusiasts across the globe – as I have personally witnessed over years of reporting on launches from the KSC Press Site.

It was designed in the 1960s and has been counting down launches both manned and unmanned since the Apollo 12 moon landing mission in November 1969. And it continued through the final shuttle mission liftoff in July 2011 and a variety of unmanned NASA launches since then.

The countdown clock’s last use came just two months ago in September 2014 during the SpaceX CRS-4 launch to the ISS, which I attended along with the STS-135 launch.

The clock is located just a short walk away from another iconic NASA symbol – the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) – which assembled the Apollo/Saturn and Space Shuttle stacks for which it ticked down to blastoff. See photo below.

A new clock should be in place for NASA’s momentous upcoming launch of the Orion crew capsule on its inaugural unmanned test flight on Dec. 4, 2014.

Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on her 25th and final mission from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011 at 8:56 a.m. View from the world famous countdown clock at T Plus 5 Seconds. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on her 25th and final mission from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011 at 8:56 a.m. View from the world famous countdown clock at T Plus 5 Seconds. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Because of its age, it has become harder to replace broken pieces.

“Maintaining the clock was becoming problematic,” NASA Press spokesman Allard Beutel told Universe Today.

It displays only time in big bold digits. But of course in this new modern digital era it will be replaced by one with a modern multimedia display, similar to the screens seen at sporting venues.

“The new clock will not only be a timepiece, but be more versatile with what we can show on the digital display,” Beutel told me.

The countdown clock is a must see for journalists, dignitaries and assorted visitors alike. Absolutely everyone, and I mean everyone !! – wants a selfie or group shot with it in some amusing or charming way to remember good times throughout the ages.

And of course, nothing beats including the countdown clock and the adjacent US flag in launch pictures in some dramatic way.

Indeed the clock and flag are officially called “The Press Site: Clock and Flag Pole” and are were listed in the National Register of Historic Places on Jan. 21, 2000.

The clock was officially powered down for the last time at 3:45 p.m. EDT on Nov. 19, 2014.

Famous KSC Press Site Countdown Clock and US Flag with VAB during SpaceX CRS-5 launch in September 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Famous KSC Press Site Countdown Clock and US Flag with VAB during SpaceX CRS-4 launch in September 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“The countdown clock at Kennedy’s Press Site is considered one of the most-watched timepieces in the world and may only be second in popularity to Big Ben’s Great Clock in London, England. It also has been the backdrop for a few Hollywood movies,” noted a NASA press release announcing the impending shutdown of the iconic clock.

“It is so absolutely unique — the one and only — built for the world to watch the countdown and launch,” said Timothy M. Wright, IMCS Timing, Countdown and Photo Services. “From a historical aspect, it has been very faithful to serve its mission requirements.”

The famous landmark stands nearly 6 feet (70 inches) high, 26 feet (315 inches) wide is 3 feet deep and sits on a triangular concrete and aluminum base.

Each numerical digit (six in all) is about 4 feet high and 2 feet wide. Each digit uses 56 40-watt light bulbs, the same ones found at the local hardware store. There are 349 total light bulbs in the clock, including the +/- sign (nine) and pair of colons (four), according to a NASA statement.

The new clock will be about the same size.

Fortunately for space fans, there is some good news!

The Countdown Clock will be moved to the nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) and placed on permanent display for public viewing.

Details soon!

Space Shuttle Discovery awaits blast off on her final mission from Pad 39 A on the STS-133 mission, its 39th and final flight to space on February 24, 2011.  Prelaunch twilight view from the countdown clock at the KSC Press Site. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Space Shuttle Discovery awaits blast off on her final mission from Pad 39 A on the STS-133 mission, its 39th and final flight to space on February 24, 2011. Prelaunch twilight view from the countdown clock at the KSC Press Site. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Historic Human Spaceflight Facility at Kennedy Renamed in Honor of Neil Armstrong – 1st Man on the Moon

45 years ago on July 20, 1969, NASA astronaut and Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on another celestial body when he stepped off the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle and onto our Moon’s utterly alien surface.

Today, July 21, 2014, NASA officially renamed a historic facility at the Kennedy Space Center vital to human spaceflight in honor of Neil Armstrong during a a 45th anniversary ceremony at what until today was known as the ‘Operations and Checkout Building’ or O & C.

On that first moonwalk, Armstrong was accompanied by fellow NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin on a two and a half hour excursion that lasted into the early morning hours of July 21. They came in peace representing all mankind.

Today’s ceremony was broadcast on NASA TV and brought together numerous dignitaries including Armstrong’s surviving crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Command Module pilot Mike Collins, Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell who was also Apollo 11’s backup commander, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, and Armstrong’s family members including his sons Rick and Mark Armstrong who all spoke movingly at the dedication.

Dignitaries at the July 21, 2014 renaming ceremony included Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, sons Rick Armstrong and Mark Armstrong, Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell, and Apollo 11 crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace
Dignitaries at the July 21, 2014 renaming ceremony included Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, sons Rick Armstrong and Mark Armstrong, Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell, and Apollo 11 crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

They were joined via a live feed from space by two NASA astronauts currently serving aboard the International Space Station (ISS) – Expedition 40 crew member Rick Wiseman and Commander Steve Swanson.

The backdrop for the ceremony was the Orion crew capsule, NASA’s next generation human rated spaceflight vehicle which is currently being assembled in the facility and is set to launch on its maiden unmanned test flight in December 2014. Orion will eventually carry US astronauts on journey’s to deep space destinations to the Moon, Asteroids and Mars.

Many of Armstrong’s colleagues and other officials working on Orion and NASA’s human spaceflight missions also attended.

Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong
Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong inside the Lunar Module

The high bay of what is now officially the ‘Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building’ was built in 1964 and previously was known as the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building.

It has a storied history in human spaceflight. It was used to process the Gemini spacecraft including Armstrong’s Gemini 8 capsule. Later it was used during the Apollo program to process and test the command, service and lunar modules including the Apollo 11 crew vehicles that were launched atop the Saturn V moon rocket. During the shuttle era it housed the crew quarters for astronauts KSC training and for preparations in the final days leading to launch.

“45 years ago, NASA’s journey to land the first human on the Moon began right here,” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said at the ceremony. “It is altogether fitting that today we rename this facility the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building. Throughout his life he served his country as an astronaut, an aerospace engineer, a naval aviator, a test pilot and a university professor, and he constantly challenged all of us to expand the boundaries of the possible.”

“He along with his crewmates, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, are a bridge from NASA’s historic journey to the moon 45 years ago to our path to Mars today.”

At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA officials and Apollo astronauts view the Orion crew module inside the Operations and Checkout Building, newly named for Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. Viewing Orion from left, are Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana, Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA officials and Apollo astronauts view the Orion crew module inside the Operations and Checkout Building, newly named for Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. Viewing Orion from left, are Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana, Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The Apollo 11 trio blasted off atop a 363 foot-tall Saturn V rocket from Launch Complex 39A on their bold, quarter of a million mile moon mission from the Kennedy Space Center , Florida on July 16, 1969 to fulfill the lunar landing quest set by President John F. Kennedy early in the decade.

Armstrong and Aldrin safely touched down at the Sea of Tranquility on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969 at 4:18 p.m EDT as hundreds of millions across the globe watched in awe.

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed !,” Armstrong called out and emotional applause erupted at Mission Control – “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue.”

Armstrong’s immortal first words:

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

During their 2 ½ hours moonwalk Armstrong and Aldrin unveiled a plaque on the side of the lunar module. Armstrong read the words;

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

Here is NASA’s restored video of the Apollo 11 EVA on July 20, 1969:

Video Caption: Original Mission Video as aired in July 1969 depicting the Apollo 11 astronauts conducting several tasks during extravehicular activity (EVA) operations on the surface of the moon. The EVA lasted approximately 2.5 hours with all scientific activities being completed satisfactorily. The Apollo 11 EVA began at 10:39:33 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969 when Astronaut Neil Armstrong emerged from the spacecraft first. While descending, he released the Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly on the Lunar Module’s descent stage.

Armstrong passed away at age 82 on August 25, 2012 due to complications from heart bypass surgery. Read my prior tribute articles: here and here

Michael Collins concluded the ceremony with this tribute:

“He would not have sought this honor, that was not his style. But I think he would be proud to have his name so closely associated with the heart and the soul of the space business.”

“On Neil’s behalf, thank you for what you do every day.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Orion service module assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center - now renamed in honor of Neil Armstrong.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion service module assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center – now renamed in honor of Neil Armstrong. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

US Air Force Space Surveillance Satellite Bumps NASA’s long awaited Orion Launch to Dec. 2014

Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Stroy updated[/caption]

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – The urgent need by the US Air Force to launch a pair of previously classified Space Situational Awareness satellites into Earth orbit this year on an accelerated schedule has bumped the inaugural blastoff of NASA’s highly anticipated Orion pathfinder manned capsule from September to December 2014.

It’s a simple case of US national security taking a higher priority over the launch of NASA’s long awaited unmanned Orion test flight on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission.

The EFT-1 flight is NASA’s first concrete step towards sending human crews on Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) missions since the finale of the Apollo moon landing era in December 1972.

Final assembly of Orion is underway at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

The very existence of the covert Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, or GSSAP, was only recently declassified during a speech by General William Shelton, commander of the US Air Force Space Command.

Shelton made the announcement regarding the top secret GSSAP program during a Feb. 21 speech about the importance of space and cyberspace at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium and Technology exposition, in Orlando, FL.

US national security requirements forced NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission to swap launch slots with the GSSAP satellites – which were originally slated to launch later in 2014.

An artist concept shows Orion as it will appear in space for the Exploration Flight Test-1 attached to a Delta IV rockets Centaur second stage.   Credit: NASA
An artist concept shows Orion as it will appear in space for the Exploration Flight Test-1 attached to a Delta IV second stage. Credit: NASA

Since both spacecraft will blast off from the same pad at Complex 37 and atop Delta rockets manufactured by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a decision on priorities had to be made – and the military won out.

At a Cape Canaveral media briefing with Delta first stage boosters on Monday, March 17, Universe Today confirmed the order and payloads on the upcoming Delta IV rockets this year.

“The firing sequence for the Delta’s is the USAF Global Positioning System GPS 2F-6 [in May], GSSAP [in September] and Orion EFT-1 [in December], Tony Taliancich, ULA Director of East Coast Launch Operations, told me.

Universe Today also confirmed with the top management at KSC that NASA will absolutely not delay any Orion processing and assembly activities.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Despite the EFT-1 postponement, technicians for prime contractor Lockheed Martin are pressing forward and continue to work around the clock at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) so that NASA’s Orion spacecraft can still meet the original launch window that opens in mid- September 2014 – in case of future adjustments to the launch schedule sequence.

“Our plan is to have the Orion spacecraft ready because we want to get EFT-1 out so we can start getting the hardware in for Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) and start processing for that vehicle that will launch on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in 2017,” Bob Cabana, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and former shuttle commander, told me.

Shelton stated that two of the GSSAP military surveillance satellites would be launched on the same launch vehicle later this year.

“GSSAP will present a significant improvement in space object surveillance, not only for better collision avoidance, but also for detecting threats,” Shelton said.

“GSSAP will bolster our ability to discern when adversaries attempt to avoid detection and to discover capabilities they may have, which might be harmful to our critical assets at these higher altitudes.”

According to a new GSSAP online fact sheet, the program will be a space-based capability operating in near-geosynchronous orbit, supporting U.S. Strategic Command space surveillance operations as a dedicated Space Surveillance Network sensor.

“Some of our most precious satellites fly in that orbit – one cheap shot against the AEHF [Advanced Extremely High Frequency] constellation would be devastating,” added Shelton. “Similarly, with our Space Based Infrared System, SBIRS, one cheap shot creates a hole in our environment. GSSAP will bolster our ability to discern when adversaries attempt to avoid detection and to discover capabilities they may have which might be harmful to our critical assets at these higher altitudes.”

GSSAP will allow more accurate tracking and characterization of man-made orbiting objects, uniquely contribute to timely and accurate orbital predictions, enhance knowledge of the geosynchronous orbit environment, and further enable space flight safety to include satellite collision avoidance.

The GSSAP satellites were covertly developed by Orbital Sciences and the Air Force.

Two additional follow on GSSAP satellites are slated for launch in 2016.

“We must be prepared as a nation to succeed in increasingly complex and contested space and cyber environments, especially in these domains where traditional deterrence theory probably doesn’t apply,” Shelton explained. “We can’t afford to wait … for that catalyzing event that will prod us to action.”

Bob Cabana, director of Kennedy Space Center, discusses Orion EFT-1 with the media at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on March 17. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Bob Cabana, director of Kennedy Space Center, discusses Orion EFT-1 with the media at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on March 17. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orion is NASA’s first spaceship designed to carry human crews on long duration flights to deep space destinations beyond low Earth orbit, such as asteroids, the Moon, Mars and beyond.

The inaugural flight of Orion on the unmanned Exploration Flight Test – 1 (EFT-1) mission had been on schedule to blast off from the Florida Space Coast in mid September 2014 atop a Delta 4 Heavy booster, Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Manager of Production Operations at KSC, told Universe Today during a recent interview at KSC.

The two-orbit, four- hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, Chang’e-3, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF astro/space convention, NY on April 12/13 and at Washington Crossing State Park, NJ on April 6. Also evenings at the Quality Inn Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, FL, March 24/25 and March 29/30

Ken Kremer

NASA Lunar Orbiter snaps Spectacular Images of Yutu Moon Rover driving around Chang’e-3 Lander

Yutu rover drives around Chang’e-3 lander – from Above And Below
Composite view shows China’s Yutu rover and tracks driving in clockwise direction around Chang’e-3 lander from Above And Below (orbit and surface). The Chang’e-3 timelapse lander color panorama (bottom) and orbital view (top) from NASA’s LRO orbiter shows Yutu rover after it drove down the ramp to the moon’s surface and began driving around the landers right side, passing by craters and heading south on Lunar Day 1. It then moved northwest during Lunar Day 2. Arrows show Yutu’s positions over time.
Credit: CNSA/NASA/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo/Mark Robinson
See below more mosaics and LRO imagery
Story updated[/caption]

The powerful telescopic camera aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has captured spectacular new images detailing the traverse of China’s Yutu moon rover around the landing site during its first two months exploring the Moon’s pockmarked grey terrain.

The newly released high resolution LRO images even show Yutu’s tracks cutting into the lunar surface as the world famous Chinese robot drove in a clockwise direction around the Chang’e-3 lander that delivered it to the ground in mid-December 2013.

You can precisely follow Yutu’s movements over time – from ‘above and below’ – in our new composite view (shown above) combining the latest LRO image with our timelapse mosaic showing the rover’s history making path from the touchdown point last December to today’s location.

Yutu is China’s first ever Moon rover and successfully accomplished a soft landing on the Moon on Dec. 14, 2013, piggybacked atop the Chang’e-3 mothership lander.

Barely seven hours after touchdown, the six wheeled moon buggy drove down a pair of ramps onto the desolate gray plains of the lunar surface at Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) covered by volcanic material.

LROC February 2014 image of Chang'e 3 site. Blue arrow indicates Chang'e 3 lander; yellow arrow points to Yutu (rover); and white arrow marks the December location of Yutu. Yutu's tracks can be followed clockwise around the lander to its current location. Image width 200 meters (about 656 feet).  Credit:  NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
LROC February 2014 image of Chang’e 3 site. Blue arrow indicates Chang’e 3 lander; yellow arrow points to Yutu (rover); and white arrow marks the December location of Yutu. Yutu’s tracks can be followed clockwise around the lander to its current location. Image width 200 meters (about 656 feet). Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Altogether three images of the rover and lander have been taken to date by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) aboard LRO – specifically the hi res narrow angle camera (NAC).

The LROC NAC images were captured on Dec. 25, 2013, Jan. 21, 2014 and Feb. 17, 2014 as LRO soared overhead.

The four image LRO composite below includes a pre-landing image taken on June 30, 2013.

Four LROC NAC views of the Chang'e 3 landing site. A) before landing, June 30, 2013 B) after landing, Dec. 25, 2013 C) Jan. 21, 2014 D) Feb. 17, 2014 Width of each image is 200 meters (about 656 feet). Follow Yutu's path clockwise around the lander in "D."  Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
Four LROC NAC views of the Chang’e 3 landing site. A) before landing, June 30, 2013 B) after landing, Dec. 25, 2013 C) Jan. 21, 2014 D) Feb. 17, 2014 Width of each image is 200 meters (about 656 feet). Follow Yutu’s path clockwise around the lander in “D.” Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Since the solar incidence angles were different, the local topography and reflectance changes between images showing different levels of details.

“In the case of the Chang’e 3 site, with the sun higher in the sky one can now see the rover Yutu’s tracks (in the February image),” wrote Mark Robinson, Principal Investigator for the LROC camera in an LRO update.

The solar powered rover and lander can only operate during periods of lunar daylight, which last 14 days each.

During each lunar night, they both must power down and enter hibernate mode since there is no sunlight available to generate power and no communications are possible with Earth.

Here is a gif animation from the NASA LRO team combining all four LROC images.

Four views of the Chang'e 3 landing site from before the landing until Feb. 2014. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
Four views of the Chang’e 3 landing site from before the landing until Feb. 2014. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

During Lunar Day 1, Yutu drove down the landers ramps and moved around the right side in a clockwise direction.

By the end of the first lunar day, Yutu had driven to a position about 30 meters (100 feet) south of the Chang’e-3 lander, based on the imagery.

See our complete 360 degree timelapse color panorama from Lunar Day 1 herein and at NASA APOD on Feb. 3, 2014 – assembled by Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer.

360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander. This new 360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander shows the Yutu rover at five different positions, including passing by crater and heading south and away from the Chang’e-3 lunar landing site forever during its trek over the Moon’s surface at its landing site from Dec. 15-22, 2013 during the 1st Lunar Day. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – kenkremer.com.  See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander. This new 360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander shows the Yutu rover at five different positions, including passing by crater and heading south and away from the Chang’e-3 lunar landing site forever during its trek over the Moon’s surface at its landing site from Dec. 15-22, 2013 during the 1st Lunar Day. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – kenkremer.com. See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

After awakening for Lunar Day 2, Yutu then moved northwest and parked about 17 meters (56 feet) southwest of the lander, according to Robinson.

By comparing the Janaury and February images “it is apparent that Yutu did not move appreciably from the January location,” said Robinson.

At this moment Yutu and the companion Chang’e-3 lander are sleeping through their 3rd Lunar Night.

They entered hibernation mode on Feb. 22 and Feb. 23, 2014 respectively.

Hopefully both probes will awaken from their slumber sometime in the next week when the Moon again basks in daylight glow to begin a 4th day of lunar surface science operations.

“We all wish it would be able to wake up again,” said Ye Peijian, chief scientist of the Chang’e-3 program, according to CCTV, China’s state run broadcaster.

However, the hugely popular ‘Yutu’ rover is still suffering from an inability to maneuver its life giving solar panels. It is also unable to move – as I reported here.

The 140 kg rover is now nearing its planned 3 month long life expectancy on a moon roving expedition to investigate the moon’s surface composition and natural resources.

Chang’e-3/Yutu Timelapse Color Panorama  This newly expanded timelapse composite view shows China’s Yutu moon rover at two positions passing by crater and heading south and away from the Chang’e-3 lunar landing site forever about a week after the Dec. 14, 2013 touchdown at Mare Imbrium. This cropped view was taken from the 360-degree timelapse panorama. See complete 360 degree landing site timelapse panorama herein and APOD Feb. 3, 2014. Chang’e-3 landers extreme ultraviolet (EUV) camera is at right, antenna at left. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – kenkremer.com.   See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014:  http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
Chang’e-3/Yutu Timelapse Color Panorama
This newly expanded timelapse composite view shows China’s Yutu moon rover at two positions passing by crater and heading south and away from the Chang’e-3 lunar landing site forever about a week after the Dec. 14, 2013 touchdown at Mare Imbrium. This cropped view was taken from the 360-degree timelapse panorama. See complete 360 degree landing site timelapse panorama herein and APOD Feb. 3, 2014. Chang’e-3 landers extreme ultraviolet (EUV) camera is at right, antenna at left. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – kenkremer.com. See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

China is only the 3rd country in the world to successfully soft land a spacecraft on Earth’s nearest neighbor after the United States and the Soviet Union.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Chang’e-3, Orion, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars and more planetary and human spaceflight news. Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF astro/space convention on April 12/13.

Ken Kremer

Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover – from Above And Below  Composite view shows China’s Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover from Above And Below (orbit and surface) – lander color panorama (top) and orbital view from NASA’s LRO orbiter (bottom). Chang’e-3 lander color panorama shows Yutu rover after it drove down the ramp to the moon’s surface and began driving around the landers right side to the south. Yellow lines connect craters seen in the lander panorama and the LROC image from LRO (taken at a later date after the rover had moved), red lines indicate approximate field of view of the lander panorama. Credit: CNSA/NASA/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo/Mark Robinson
Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover – from Above And Below Composite view shows China’s Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover from Above And Below (orbit and surface) – lander color panorama (top) and orbital view from NASA’s LRO orbiter (bottom). Chang’e-3 lander color panorama shows Yutu rover after it drove down the ramp to the moon’s surface and began driving around the landers right side to the south. Yellow lines connect craters seen in the lander panorama and the LROC image from LRO (taken at a later date after the rover had moved), red lines indicate approximate field of view of the lander panorama. Credit: CNSA/NASA/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo/Mark Robinson
LRO slewed 54 degrees to the east on Feb. 16, 2014, to allow the LROC instrument to snap a dramatic oblique view of the Chang'e 3 site (arrow). Crater in front of lander is 450 meters (about 1,476 feet) in diameter. Image width is 2,900 meters (about 9,500 feet) at the center. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
LRO slewed 54 degrees to the east on Feb. 16, 2014, to allow the LROC instrument to snap a dramatic oblique view of the Chang’e 3 site (arrow). Crater in front of lander is 450 meters (about 1,476 feet) in diameter. Image width is 2,900 meters (about 9,500 feet) at the center. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University