Triple Spaceship Sighting Alert!

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A great opportunity tonight (July 28) to see three spaceships cross the sky at once! Endeavour just undocked from the ISS today, so they will be close to each other, plus there’s another spaceship lurking nearby: a Progress re-supply ship ready to dock with the ISS. How can you find out when and where to look for the three spacecraft? There are a couple of different websites that provide real-time tracking data and information about the ISS sighting opportunities. See below for more info.

The image above is a screenshot from NASA TV of the ISS as Endeavour undocked. Notice the shadow of the shuttle on the ISS solar arrays!

NASA has a Quick and Easy Sightings by City site, where you just search for your country and city which provides local times and the location in the sky where the station will be visible.

The European Space Agency also provides their ISS: Where Is It Now site that also allows you to select your country and city to find the station’s location.

The Heaven’s Above website (which also powers ESA’s site) is also an excellent site to find out when the ISS, as well as all sorts of other satellites and other heavenly sights will be visible. At Heaven’s Above, you can plug in your exact latitude and longitude, so if you live in a remote area, you’ll be able to have exact times and locations to look for satellites instead of relying on information for the nearest city.

There’s also this very cool Google Satellite tracker.

Additionally, you can get a notification on Twitter when the space station will be zooming over your skies. Follow Twisst. (Thanks to big ian for the reminder of this new Twitter addition!)

Here’s wishing everyone clear skies and great views!

STS-127: A Mission in Pictures

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As space shuttle Endeavour undocks from the International Space Station today (Tuesday), now is a good time to look back at the very successful STS-127 mission. Here’s some great images which tell the story of the mission. Above, astronaut Tim Kopra is pictured in the forward port side area of Endeavour’s cargo bay during the first of five planned spacewalks performed by the STS-127 crew. Kopra is now part of the ISS crew, and is staying onboard the space station to serve as flight engineer.

Moon rock on board the ISS. Credit: NASA
Moon rock on board the ISS. Credit: NASA

Of course, during this mission we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Fittingly, there was a Moon rock on board the ISS. The 3.6 billion year-old lunar sample was flown to the station aboard Space Shuttle mission STS-119 in April 2009. NASA says the rock, lunar sample 10072 serves as a symbol of the nation’s resolve to continue the exploration of space. It will be returned on shuttle mission STS-128 to be publicly displayed.
The new Kibo platform, or "front porch." Credit: NASA
Here’s a view of the newly installed “front porch” of the Kibo lab, which is actually the Japanese Experiment Module – Exposed Facility (JEF). This platform will hold experiments designed to work outside the protective confines of the station, exposing them to the space environment. The JEF was installed by the astronauts during this mission.
Dave Wolf during an EVA. Credit: NASA
Dave Wolf during an EVA. Credit: NASA

During the second STS-127 spacewalk, astronaut Dave Wolf worked outside bringing the Linear Drive Unit (LDU) and two other parts to the station’s External Stowage Platform 3 for long-term storage. Wolf is near the end of Canadarm2, which is anchored on the ISS.
Arms in space. Credit: NASA
Arms in space. Credit: NASA

Speaking of the robotic arms, here’s a view of both the space station and space shuttle robotic arms as seen from inside the Kibo laboratory. A portion of the Japanese Experiment Module – Exposed Facility is also visible. The blackness of space and Earth’s horizon provide the backdrop for the scene.
Tom Marshburn during an EVA. Credit: NASA
Tom Marshburn during an EVA. Credit: NASA

Astronaut Tom Marshburn makes his second spacewalk on July 24, along with Christopher Cassidy, out of frame. Eleven other astronauts and cosmonauts remained inside the International Space Station and the shuttle while the two astronauts worked outside.
Astronauts share a lunch on the ISS. Credit: NASA
Astronauts share a lunch on the ISS. Credit: NASA

In total, there were 13 astronauts on board the ISS, a record for the amount of astronauts in one vehicle. Pictured, clockwise from bottom right, are astronauts Christopher Cassidy and Mike Barratt, with Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, an unidentified crew member, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata (floating above), Canadian Space Agency astronauts Robert Thirsk and Julie Payette, European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, and astronaut Christopher Cassidy. Either out of frame or not clearly seen are astronauts Mark Polansky, Doug Hurley, Dave Wolf, Tim Kopra and Tom Marshburn, plus Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.
ISS as seen from departing space shuttle Endeavour. Credit: NASA TV
ISS as seen from departing space shuttle Endeavour. Credit: NASA TV

This screen shot shows the ISS as seen as Endeavour departed from the station on July 28. The views of both the ISS and shuttle were stunning. We’ll post the high-resolution versions when they become available. Notice the shadow of the space shuttle on the space station solar arrays! Amazing!
Endeavour's launch. Credit: NASA
Endeavour's launch. Credit: NASA


And now we’re back to the beginning of the mission. Liftoff for the STS-was at 6:03 p.m. (EDT) on July 15, 2009 from launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The storm clouds stayed far enough away so that Endeavour and her STS-127 crew finally on its sixth attempt. Watch a replay of the launch here.

Long Duration Space Underwear

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As Japan’s first astronaut to spend long duration missions on board the International Space Station, Koichi Wakata has had the opportunity to do all sorts of interesting experiments the past few months. For example, he conducted several different cellular growth and crystal growth experiments, and has even flown a magic carpet in space. One other experiment has been – shall we say – kept under wraps. Wakata has been wearing the same underwear on board the ISS for two months.

“(For) two months I was wearing these underwear and there was no smell and nobody complained,” Wakata, speaking in Japanese, said through an interpreter during a press conference this weekend from the ISS. “I think that new J-ware underwear is very good for myself and my colleagues.”

Wakata has been wearing special underwear and other clothing called “J-ware” designed for the Japanese space agency. According to an article in Discovery News, the clothes are treated with antibacterial and deodorizing materials. In addition to odor control, the clothes are designed to absorb water, insulate the body and dry quickly. They also are flame-resistant and anti-static — as well as comfortable and attractive.

Typically, clothes can only be worn for a few days in space, and especially the clothing worn by astronauts as they exercise. Since there’s no laundromat in space, the clothing is discarded as garbage.

Astronaut Takao Doi, who flew with a shuttle crew last year to deliver Japan’s Kibo laboratory to the station, exercised as much as his crewmates, but his clothes stayed dry.

Wakata’s clothes include long- and short-sleeved shirts, pants, shorts and underwear. Special socks have a separate pouch for the big toes so the astronauts can use their feet like an extra pair of hands, helpful for anchoring themselves on the floor while doing work on the station.

Originally, Wakata was scheduled to wear the underwear for just a couple of weeks. But obviously, he decided to go the long duration route.

Proposed Japanese space toilet.  Credit: JAXA
Proposed Japanese space toilet. Credit: JAXA

At least he wasn’t testing this other option proposed by JAXA. Read more about these special underwear here.

Wakata heads home with the crew of the STS-127 mission, undocking from the ISS today. The first landing opportunity is Friday, July 31.

Sources: Discovery News, Free Space

ISS Now Visible in Daytime!

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Oh wow! I love satellite watching, and especially the International Space Station, but now I don’t have to wait for nightfall anymore. We reported that the ISS had become the second brightest object in the night sky back in March 2009 with the addition of the final set of solar arrays. And now its been confirmed that the space station, under the right conditions, can be visible during the day, too. “On June 13th, I was watching a red-headed woodpecker’s nest when the ISS passed overhead,” said Brooke O’Klatner of Charlotte, North Carolina, who took this image, which was posted on Spaceweather.com.

And the ISS will get even brighter when the STS-127 mission arrives, hopefully in July (liftoff has been re-scheduled for July 11 after being postponed today because of a hydrogen leak.) The mission will add an addition on to the Kibo lab, and with Endeavour attached to the station, it will be quite bright. Can’t wait! In the meantime, I’m going to test out my best eagle eyes and try to see the ISS during the day. If anyone is able to see it during a daytime pass, let us know! (Pictures encouraged!)

Medical Problem Delays Spacewalk

A medical issue with a member of the space shuttle crew has forced a change in personnel for the first scheduled spacewalk of the STS-122 shuttle mission to the International Space Station. The switch has also mandated that the spacewalk be delayed one day to Monday. NASA officials would not say which astronaut was experiencing any medical problems, but did confirm that Stan Love has replaced Hans Schlegel for the initial spacewalk.

“There was a medical issue with the crew,” said John Shannon, deputy shuttle program manager. “The flight surgeons do private medical conferences with the crew throughout the mission. The crew called down and asked for one during the rendezvous, which was a little bit of a surprise to us. They talked to the crew members, they understood what the issue was. I will just say it is not going to impact any of the objectives of this mission.”

In video shown on NASA TV, Schlegel showed no noticeable illness as the shuttle crew come on board the ISS after shuttle docking. Reports on news wires suggested that Schlegel lost his voice, but that claim was not corroborated by Shannon.

Communication during the spacewalk would be critical. Schlegel appeared to talk with the ISS crew as he entered the station, and floated easily through the Harmony node. About half of all people who fly in space experience Space Adaptation Syndrome, which include symptoms such as nausea, dizziness and headaches. But citing medical privacy policies, Shannon refused to answer any questions about the nature of the medical issue, or whether Schlegel would be available for the second spacewalk of the mission, now slated for Wednesday.

“You guys can fish all day, but I won’t bite,” Shannon said.

The spacewalk will help install the new Columbus science module, brought up in Atlantis’ payload bay. Installation of the module is the primary goal of this mission.

The shuttle docked at 12:17 pm EST on Saturday. As the shuttle approached the station, the ISS crew took photos of the shuttle to check for any damage to Atlantis. They were asked to take special note of a small tear in the insulation blanket of the Orbital Maneuvering System rocket pod along the tail of the shuttle. Shannon said the tear is probably not critical, but that it’s being looked at.

“Nobody is very excited about this one,” he said. “I don’t expect this to be an issue but the team will continue to work it.”

The insulation blankets on the OMS pods experience temperatures around 700 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit during peak heating of re-entry. A similar tear on an earlier shuttle flight was repaired by a spacewalking astronaut using surgical staples. Three spacewalks are planned during Atlantis’ current mission and a staple gun is on board if needed.

On a final note, for any Prairie Home Companion fans out there, the shuttle crew wake-up call on Saturday morning was the Powdermilk Biscuit song.

Original News Source: NASA TV

A New Supply Ship for the ISS

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The International Space Station (ISS) depends on regular deliveries of food, air and water, as well as equipment and spare parts to keep the station and its occupants happy and in peak operating condition. Of course, the space shuttle brings supplies on its visits for construction and crew exchange missions, and the Russian Progress spacecraft faithfully brings supplies and equipment to the station approximately every six months. But beginning in February 2008 the ISS will have a new supply ship: Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV). The first of seven planned ships, known as the “Jules Verne,” is currently undergoing fueling to ready the craft for its journey to the space station. Launch is tentatively scheduled for February 22.

The ATV pressurized cargo carrier is based on the Italian-built Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), (aka Leonardo, Donatello and Raffaello) which has already been carried to the station via the space shuttle as a “space barge,” transporting equipment to and from the station. The ATV, which is equipped with its own propulsion and navigation systems combines full automatic capabilities of an unmanned vehicle with human spacecraft safety requirements. Its mission in space will resemble the combination of a tugboat and a river barge.

Every 12 months or so, the ATV will haul 7.5 tons of cargo to the Station 400 km above the Earth. The ATV will launch on board a Arianne 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. An automatic navigation system will guide the ATV on a rendezvous trajectory towards ISS, to automatically dock with the station’s Russian service module. The ATV will remain docked to the station as a pressurized “waste basket” for up to six months until its final mission: a fiery one-way trip into the Earth’s atmosphere to dispose of up to 6.5 tons of station waste.

The ATV is a cylinder 10.3 meters long and 4.5 meters in diameter. The exterior is covered with an insulating foil layer on top of anti-meteorite Whipple Shields. The X-shaped extended solar arrays look like a metallic blue wings. Inside, the ATV consists of two modules, the propulsion spacecraft and the integrated cargo carrier which docks with the ISS.

The ATV’s will become especially important during the time period between after the shuttles are retired and before the next generation of US space craft, can bring supplies and crew to the station. The ESA also sees the ATVs as a way for Europe to pay its share in ISS running costs. Depending on the operational lifetime of the Space Station, ESA will build at least 7 ATVs.

Original News Source: ESA Press Release

ISS Astronaut Dan Tani’s Mother Killed

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Our condolences to space station astronaut Dan Tani, whose mother was killed on Wednesday in a car/train accident. Tani has been on board the ISS since October, and in all likelihood would have returned back to earth on Wednesday if space shuttle Atlantis had been able to launch as originally scheduled on Dec. 6. However, the shuttle has been grounded because of malfunctioning engine cutoff sensors in the external fuel tank. As it stands now, the earliest Tani could return home would be late January.

The Chicago Tribune reported that 90-year old Rose Tani was stopped at a railroad track behind a school bus carrying students from her son’s alma mater in Lombard, Illinois. The gates at the track were lowered, but Mrs. Tani honked her car’s horn and then drove around the bus and past the crossing gates when a freight train struck her car.

NASA officials called Tani over a secured connection to tell him the news, and then offered any help he might need. “He would get whatever personal, psychological and spiritual counseling he would need,” NASA spokesman Jim Rostohar told the Tribune. “He can talk it out through a private phone line.”

While the ISS is equipped with a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to be used in an emergency as a rescue vehicle for the crew, the death of a family member does not fall under the conditions that the escape vehicle would be used. “Before anyone launches, they understand that unfortunate things could happen and that’s unfortunately part of the difficulties, hardships and risks of space flight,” said Rostohar.

Tani is the youngest of four children and his father passed away when Tani was young. A minister at a church in Lombard told the Tribune that Tani and his mother were “incredibly close.” During a spacewalk in November, Tani sent a greeting to his mother. “I know my mom’s watching on the Internet in Chicago, so hi Mom!” he said. “It’s always fun to have your folks watching you at work.”

Original News Source: Chicago Tribune

Happy Holidays in Space

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NASA is encouraging Earthlings to send a holiday greeting to the members of Expedition 16 on board the International Space Station. NASA’s Homepage contains a link to send your holiday good wishes to the crew with pre-made e-postcards. The sentiment is nice, however the cards seem a little backwards.

One e-card has a picture of the ISS with a caption that says “The View From 220 Miles Up,” while another displays a waving EVA astronaut saying “Wish You Were Here.” These cards are supposed to be to the crew and from Earth, so perhaps more appropriate might be a picture of a snowy holiday scene or a majestic Earth landscape with the caption “Wish You Were Here, But Glad You Are Up There Furthering the Advances of Human Spaceflight.”

But take this opportunity to express yourself to the ISS crew.

And now on to more pressing news from the ISS:

Space shuttle Atlantis’ STS-122 mission to the space station has now been delayed to no earlier than January 10, 2008.

“Moving the next launch attempt of Atlantis to Jan. 10 will allow as many people as possible to have time with family and friends at the time of year when it means the most,” said shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale. “A lot has been asked of them this year and a lot will be asked of them in 2008.”

Additionally, it gives engineers more time to understand the engine cutoff sensor problem that has kept the shuttle on the ground. An original launch of Dec. 6 was scrubbed when the sensors failed in a routine test during fueling of the shuttle’s external tank. The problem re-occurred in subsequent tanking test during countdown on Dec. 9, which caused NASA officials to decide to delay the launch until after the first of the year.

STS-122 will bring the Columbus science module to the station, the European Space Agency’s major contribution to the ISS. In addition to conducting three spacewalks to outfit the new science module, shuttle astronauts would also have done a fourth EVA to inspect a troublesome solar array rotary joint on the ISS’s power-providing solar panels that is contaminated with metallic shavings.

So instead ISS astronauts Peggy Whitson and Dan Tani will do that inspection on a spacewalk on Tuesday, December 18 starting at 6:00am EST. They will also look at another more recent power system problem that could be the result of a micrometeoroid or debris impact. On Dec. 8, two circuit breakers tripped, possibly the result of a space debris impact that might have damaged the mechanism that allows power and data to flow through the rotary joint used to turn the array about its axis.

For the SARJ problem, the starboard SARJ is locked in place because of excessive vibration and the metallic shavings and “bearing race ring” damage that were discovered during a quick inspection during the last shuttle mission. The SARJ has two drive gears and two redundant drive motors.

Whitson and Tani could install new bearings on the undamaged race ring and reposition the motors. The other option is to clean up the contamination and fix whatever is causing the problem.

“Once they have more data, they can make a better assessment of which of those approaches we should do, whether we should clean up the current race ring or just shift over,” ISS Commander Peggy Whitson said in a news conference from the station on Thursday morning. “I think either one’s doable,” she continued. “To me, in my mind, I think it would be probably, from an astronaut’s perspective, easier to just shift to the other race ring rather than trying to clean it up. But we don’t know yet how easy that’s going to be to clean up.”

Kirk Shireman, deputy manager of the space station program at the Johnson Space Center, said in a later news conference that no decisions will be made until engineers have more information about what might be causing the problem. The port-side solar arrays and that SARJ is operating normally.

“The idea is, we’ll conduct the EVA right now, the SARJ inspection and the BGA inspection, and we’ll learn what we need to learn,” Shireman said. “Then we’ll find the most opportune time to go fix it, not only the BGA but hopefully the SARJ. It really depends on how our analysis comes out. We’ll figure out exactly how long we can go with the BGA locked and the SARJ restrictions we have in place.”

Back to some holiday frivolity, since Tani would have returned to Earth with the STS-122 crew, which was originally scheduled to return home around the 19th of December, he wasn’t supposed to be on board the ISS during Christmas. Reporters inquired about his change of holiday plans and how gift arrangements were being handled. When asked, Commander Whitson declined to answer if all Tani would be receiving from her would be a lump of coal, saying she didn’t want to give away the surprise.

The astronauts said they have been hoarding foods like smoked turkey and other holiday-type goodies, saving them for Christmas dinner, so it appears that Atlantis and STS-122 were supposed to deliver the holiday meal. However a Progress re-supply ship will be docking with the ISS on Christmas Day, and one of the first things to be unpacked are hamburgers and fresh tomatoes and lettuce. Since fresh foods are a rare commodity on board the station, an All-American burger will be a welcome holiday treat for the crew.

Expedition 16 has also recorded a holiday message to Earth. Watch it here

Original News Source: NASA Press Release, NASA TV