Opportunity Gets a View From The Edge

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The rover Opportunity captured a view into Endeavour crater as a low Sun cast a long shadow in this image, acquired back on March 9.

Endeavour is a large crater — 14 miles (22 km) wide, it’s about the same area as the city of Seattle. Opportunity arrived at its edge in August of 2011 after several years of driving across the Meridiani Plains.

Opportunity is currently the only operational manmade object on the surface of Mars… or any other planet besides Earth, for that matter. It’s a distinction it will hold until the arrival of Mars Science Laboratory at Gale Crater this August.

From the NASA news release by JPL’s Guy Webster:

The scene is presented in false color to emphasize differences in materials such as dark dunes on the crater floor. This gives portions of the image an aqua tint.

Opportunity took most of the component images on March 9, 2012, while the solar-powered rover was spending several weeks at one location to preserve energy during the Martian winter. It has since resumed driving and is currently investigating a patch of windblown Martian dust near its winter haven.

Opportunity and its rover twin, Spirit, completed their three-month prime missions on Mars in April 2004. Both rovers continued for years of bonus, extended missions. Both have made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life. Spirit stopped communicating in 2010. Since landing in the Meridiani region of Mars in January 2004, Opportunity has driven 21.4 miles (34.4 kilometers).

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State University

Thierry Legault’s Incredible Ground-Based Views of Endeavour’s Final Flight

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Award-winning French astrophotographer Thierry Legault traveled through Germany, France and Spain during Endeavour’s final mission to find clear skies and good seeing to capture the shuttle’s voyage to the International Space Station. While he told us it wasn’t easy, the results are incredible! The visible detail of the shuttle and parts of the International Space Stations is absolutely amazing. You can see the newly installed Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer in one shot, as well as the open payload bay doors on Endeavour in another. The video Legault shot is available on his website, and he has unique 3-D versions as well.

Below are some of his trademark views of transits of the Sun by ISS and Endeavour, with one showing the shuttle just before it docked to the station.

Solar transit taken on May 18th from Essen, Germany through thick clouds showing Endeavour a few minutes before docking to the ISS. Transit duration was 0.7 seconds. Credit: Thierry Legault.

Legault told us he was chasing the shuttle and the station from different parts of Europe, however because of weather problems (clouds and turbulence) he was not very happy with the results. But this image is stunning anyway even though clouds dimmed available light by more than 100 times, Legault said. What is perhaps most amazing is that the transit time for this pass in front of the Sun was 0.7 seconds!

Here’s a less cloudy view taken on May 25:

A close-up view of Endeavour and the ISS transiting the sun on May 25th from France. Transit duration was 0.5 seconds. Credit: Thierry Legault.

And the full view for reference. This transit was only a half second!

Solar transit taken on May 25th from France (Orleans), showing Endeavour docked to the ISS. Credit: Thierry Legault.
Series of transits taken on May 20, 22 and 23, 2011 from different areas of France, showing variations of orientation of the ISS with Endeavour docked. On May 23, the ISS passes besides a sunspot which is larger than the Earth. Credit: Thierry Legault

All transit images were taken with Takahashi TOA-150 6″ apochromatic refractor (focal length 2400mm and 3600mm) on EM-400 mount, Baader Herschel wedge. Nikon D3X at 1/8000s, 100 ISO, working in continuous shooting at 5 frames per second during 5 seconds.

Frames from videos taken from Spain (May 31) and France (June 1) 90 minutes before deorbit burn. Credit: Thierry Legault and Emmanual Rietsch.

Here are frames from videos taken by Legault and fellow astrophotographer Emmanual Rietsch just prior to the deorbit burn for landing on June 1. The video of these shots, as well as more images are also available on Legault’s website.

Thanks to Thierry for sending Universe Today these amazing images and allowing us to post them!

Double Spaceship Sighting Alert — and Last Chance to See Endeavour in Orbit

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UPDATE: And we have a sighting! Beth Katz from Pennsylvania in the US sent us this image,an 8 second exposure of the ISS and Endeavour taken early this morning. “We observed them seeming even further apart and then closer as they moved away from us,” Beth said via email.

Space shuttle Endeavour will undock from the ISS just before midnight EDT on Sunday night/Monday morning at 11:55 pm EDT (3:55 UTC) and depending where you live, you might have an opportunity to see the two spaceships flying in tandem. People in Europe might have the chance to see the two spaceships right after they separate in the early morning hours, and people in the US/Canada/Mexico might be able to see the two flying close to each other. This is an incredible sight, and will be the last opportunity to see Endeavour in orbit, as she will be retired after she lands and completes the STS-134 mission. The station and shuttle will appear in the night or early morning sky as a closely-spaced pair of bright lights. The ISS is bigger, so will appear as the brighter object trailing the smaller Discovery as they move across the sky.

On Monday night/Tuesday morning, there will be another chance to see the two ships, although they will be widely separated.

To find out if you’ll be able to see the two spaceships in your area, there are a few different sites to check out:


NASA has a Skywatch page where you can find your specific city to look for satellite sighting info.

Spaceweather.com, has a Satellite Tracker Tool. Just put in your zip code (good for the US and Canada) to find out what satellites will be flying over your house.

Heaven’s Above also has a city search, but also you can input your exact latitude and longitude for exact sighting information, helpful if you live out in the country.

Seeing the two spacecraft flying closely in tandem is a very unique and thrilling sight. Good luck! If you manage to capture any images, send them to Nancy.

The Sights and Sounds of Endeavour’s Final Launch

Videographers David Gonzales and Mike Deep filmed Endeavour’s final launch with two cameras from the Kennedy Space Center Press Site, and put this video together for Universe Today. They did a great job of capturing what a shuttle launch sounds like, from the countdown, to the cheering of the crowd, to the crackling and popping of the launch itself.
Continue reading “The Sights and Sounds of Endeavour’s Final Launch”

Why Endeavour scrubbed on Friday

We were not in the Spacevidcast studios for this one, but I kept getting questions about the APU and why we scrubbed. Thought it wise to create a quick little SpacePod to explain why the final launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour was delayed to No Earlier Than Monday, May 2nd, 2011.

STS-130 Shuttle flight facing delay due to Payload technical glitch

Caption: Overhead view of Tranquility & Cupola modules inside the Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center on Jan 8, 2010. Tranquility will be attached to ISS by STS 130 astronaut crew. Credit: Ken Kremer

(Editor’s Note: Ken Kremer is in Florida for Universe Today covering the pre-launch activities of Endeavour.)

The launch of Shuttle Endeavour on the STS 130 flight now faces a potential delay due to technical problems with the external ammonia connecting lines which are designed to provide critical cooling capability to the new Tranquility module. Tranquility is a pressurized module being brought aloft as payload in the cargo bay of Endeavour on the STS 130 mission. Launch of Endeavour is currently set for 4:39 AM on Feb. 7.

NASA spokesman Allard Beutel told me Friday afternoon Jan 8 that, “As space station and space shuttle teams prepared for February’s launch of Endeavour, a high-pressure ammonia jumper hose assembly failed during a prelaunch test Thursday. Four such hoses, which will be used to connect the new Tranquility module to the station’s cooling system, are to be installed and activated by spacewalkers during the STS-130 mission.”

Delivery and attachment of Tranquility to the International Space Station (ISS) is the primary goal of STS 130. Its like adding a new room to your house. Tranquility will provide extra living and work space for the astronaut residents aboard the ISS.

NASA engineering teams are now working diligently to try and rectify the hose problems through additional testing, developing alternative work arounds and data evaluation. As they continue searching for solutions throughout the weekend and beyond, its not clear at this point if they can maintain the targeted Feb 7 launch date or if the technical glitch will force a delay.

NASA is considering many options on how to proceed and an on time lift off is still a possibility if the hoses can be cleared for flight as is. Some alternatives include delaying the launch for days if the hoses can be somehow modified quickly and easily, constructing new custom hoses or basically launching with the hose problems as is and living with the problem. This would require significantly revamping all the procedures for how the STS 130 crew would attach and activate Tranquility at the ISS. In this case the mission could potentially be shortened by deleting one or more of the planned three spacewalks. New high pressure ammonia hoses could then be built, delivered and installed on a future shuttle flight.

Image caption: NASA technician proudly enjoys his work preparing Tranquility for launch to the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer

A more drastic solution would be to switch the order of the remaining five shuttle flights and launch the STS 131 mission, currently slated for Mar. 18, ahead of STS 130. This alternative however would wreak havoc on this years schedule of the final flights before the shuttle is retired and appears less likely as an option, at least as of today. In order to switch the missions, Endeavour would necessarily have to be rolled back off Pad 39 A and be returned to wait inside the VAB since NASA now has only one functioning shuttle launch pad. The second pad, 39 B, was transferred to the Constellation program last May for launch of the Ares 1 X rocket. To accommodate the new Ares booster, Pad 39 B is being dismantled and is no longer capable of launching space shuttles.

Beutel said to me that, “NASA managers are assessing the possible options to address this. We should have a better idea where things are heading early next week”.

Just two days ago on Jan 6, I attended the rollout of Endeavour to Launch Pad 39 A during a week of uncommonly frigid weather here in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center and all systems remain go. There are no issues with Endeavour itself at this time and NASA is diligently taking care to shelter Endeavour at the pad from the cold and maintain it at a safe temperature with heaters and warm air purges. Pre-launch propellant servicing is in progress throughout the weekend.

NASA held a media briefing on Tranquility on Friday which I attended was able to observe Tranquility first hand inside the Space Station Processing Facility (see photos). The current plan is to place Tranquility inside the payload transport canister located nearby inside the facility and then transport it to the launch pad on Jan 15.

Tranquility is a new module that will house critical life support systems for the orbiting outpost as well as exercise gear important for maintaining the well being and stamina of the astronaut crew as they roam about the ISS. Tranquility will also be utilized for some science experiments. The Cupola observation module is joined to Tranquility. Both modules will be delivered to the ISS by the STS 130 crew.

Shuttle Launch Date Still Uncertain

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NASA officials are hoping that the repairs to space shuttle Atlantis’ fuel sensor system will be completed in time for a January 24 launch date for the STS-122 mission to the International Space Station. But in a January 3rd press briefing, John Shannon, deputy manager of the shuttle program told reporters that a February 2nd or 7th launch date is more probable given the testing and the work required.

“There’s no way we’re going to be earlier than Jan. 24,” Shannon said. “I would say it is a stretch to think we would make the 24th, that would require the weather to cooperate out at the Kennedy Space Center, it would require no hitches in any of the testing.”

A suspect connector in the engine cutoff (ECO) fuel sensor system was removed from the shuttle’s external tank and is being tested at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. If the tests there don’t replicate the false readings that occurred during two launch attempts in early December, another on-pad fueling test might be required to collect additional data. If so, the launch could be delayed to Feb. 2 at the earliest.

A fueling test performed on December 18 isolated the problem to the 1 1/2-by-3 inch connector called a pass-through connector, located both inside and outside the tank. The wires for all four ECO sensors pass through the same connector. From the data of that test, engineers believe the problem lies in gaps between pins and sockets on the external side of the pass-through connector when the system is chilled to cryogenic temperatures, as when the tank is filled with liquid hydrogen and oxygen.

“It’s a difficult problem,” Shannon said. “I’m not making excuses here, but at liquid hydrogen temperatures is the only time it shows up so you have to set up a test that uses liquid hydrogen. We’re very interested. This is the first time we’ve removed the hardware from a vehicle and had the opportunity to test it without disturbing it before hand. So it will be interesting to find out.”

Engineers are now working on installing new connectors to the tank.

“All of those changes, it’s fairly simple, it’s a fairly elegant change and we feel very confident that if the problem is where we think it is, between the external connector and the feed through, that this will solve that,” Shannon said. “Now, if you look at the schedule, we’re going to have new external connectors and feed-through assemblies at KSC this weekend and we’re going to proceed with installing that on external tank Number 125, which is the one Atlantis is currently mated to. We expect that work to be done by next Thursday.”

“But I asked the team to go ahead and protect that date (Jan. 24) as the earliest date that we could possibly go,” Shannon continued. “I think it is much more likely that we’ll be ready to go somewhere in the February 2 to February 7 timeframe, given we don’t have any additional findings as we go through our testing.”

Another timing issue to deal with is the scheduled Feb. 7 launch of a Russian Progress supply ship to the ISS. Joint U.S.-Russian space station flight rules don’t allow a Progress docking during a shuttle visit. If the Russians won’t change their launch date, Atlantis would have to take off by Jan. 27 or the flight would slip to sometime around Feb. 9 in order to get the Progress docked before the shuttle arrives.

Also, NASA originally planned to launch the shuttle Endeavour on the next mission to the ISS on Feb. 14. But the Atlantis delay will force a subsequent delay for Endeavour. Shannon said that NASA typically needs five weeks between launches to get ready for the next flight.

Original News Source: NASA News Audio