Check out this absolutely stunning collection of new Comet Lovejoy photos taken by space station commander Dan Burbank just before the Christmas holidays on Dec. 22, 2011 – what an amazing holiday treat, the Chrtistmas Comet!
Burbank shot these exquisitely detailed nighttime images showing the comet near the Earth’s horizon and framed with a gorgeously rich star field, all while floating aboard the International Space Station (ISS) some 400 kilometers (250 miles) above all of us – and absent any atmospheric interferences and distortions !
Burbank is a NASA astronaut and commander of ISS Expedition 30.
The comet has put on a spectacular show for observers in the Earth’s southern hemisphere despite prognostications of a fiery death as it careened through the suns corona during perihelion on Dec. 16 at a distance of 140,000 kilometers (87,000 mi).
Astronaut Burbank launched to the ISS on Nov. 13 along with Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin aboard the Soyuz TMA-22 capsule from the Baikonur Cosmosdrome. The trio docked on Nov. 16 for a more than 4 month stay.
Comet Lovejoy was only discovered on 27 November 2011, by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy and classified as a Kreutz sungrazer. It has put on an unexpected and magnificent Christmas Comet holiday show.
Burbank first caught an accidental glimpse of Comet Lovejoy on Dec. 21 and snapped an initial set of beautiful comet photos from the Cupola observation dome aboard the ISS.
And – there’s still time to create an Asteroid Vesta themed winter holiday greeting card, here
A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying the first crew of humans to fly to space in the post Space Shuttle Era has successfully docked at the International Space Station early this morning, Nov. 16 at 12:24 a.m. EST, averting the potential of having to at least temporarily abandon the massive Earth orbiting research complex.
After an 11 year stretch of continuous human occupation, the future residency of humans aboard the ISS swung in the balance in the wake of a Russian Soyuz rocket failure in August that temporarily grounded all Soyuz launches – manned and unmanned – until the root cause was determined and satisfactorily rectified with NASA’s consent.
The very survival of the ISS hinged on the successful launch of a trio of Russian and American space flyers just 2 days ago from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan aboard the Soyuz TMA-22 capsule, which took place amidst an unprecedented blizzard and white out conditions with near zero visibility.
The three man crew of Russian rookie cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin along with veteran NASA astronaut Dan Burbank arrived at the Poisk module of the orbiting outpost just in the nick of time – before the last three ISS crewmembers still aboard would have been forced to depart just 5 days from today leaving no humans aboard.
Luckily the Soyuz launch and automated rendezvous and linkup with the ISS flying some 400 km (248 miles) above the South Pacific proceeded flawlessly, announced Russian space officials at Mission Control in Moscow shortly after the successful docking. The event was carried live on NASA TV.
A full complement of 6 crew members was thus restored to the ISS, but the handover period will be exceedingly short because the Soyuz TMA-22 launch was postponed from September 22 due to the Soyuz rocket failure in August carrying the unmanned Progress cargo resupply vessel.
The new trio joins the current Expedition 29 residents comprising ISS Commander Mike Fossum (NASA) and Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa (Japan) and Sergei Volkov (Russia). But Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov will depart on Monday, Nov. 21, and thereby reduce the station crew population back down to three.
“The crew will have a very busy time during the short handover period,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operation Directorate, who was present in Moscow.
“I want to thank our Russian colleagues for a tremendous job. It’s great to have six people back aboard the ISS,” Gerstenmaier said.
The newly arrived crew is expected to stay at the ISS for about five months and carry out a wide range of science experiments.
After closing the hooks and latches, removing the docking probe and conducting extensive pressure and leak checks, Shkaplerov, Ivanishin and Burbank opened the hatches and floated into the ISS to join their awaiting friends friends with a big round of bear hugs and greetings at about 2:39 a.m. EST today, Nov 16.
“Its great to see all six of you together up there,” radioed Gerstenmaier after the hatch opening.
“It’s was a great ride uphill and it will be a great stay up here,” Burbank replied.
The cosmonauts children exuberantly said “Hi , how are you. Kisses to you Daddy !” to their dads in space moments later !
The next three man Soyuz crew of US astronaut Don Pettit, Dutch astronaut André Kuipers, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, is set to arrive on December 23 and again restore the crew to a full complement of six.
The future survival and fate of the International Space Station was on the line and is now firmly back on track following today’s (Nov. 13) successful, high stakes liftoff of a Russian Soyuz rocket carrying a three man crew of two Russians and one American bound for the orbiting research platform, amidst the backdrop of a spectacular snowstorm swirling about the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan – rare even by Russian standards.
The international crew comprises Expedition 29 Flight Engineer Dan Burbank from NASA – veteran of two prior shuttle missions to the station in 2000 and 2006 – and Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin from Russia. It’s the rookie flight for both Russian cosmonauts.
This is the first flight of a manned Soyuz-FG rocket – and of humans to space – since NASA’s Space Shuttle was forcibly retired in July and the subsequent failure of a virtually identical unmanned Soyuz-U booster in August which grounded all Russian flights to the ISS and threatened to potentially leave the station with no human presence aboard.
The trio of space flyers soared to the heavens at 11:14:03 p.m. EST Sunday Nov. 13 (11:14:03 a.m. Baikonur time Monday, Nov. 14) abroad their Soyuz TMA-22 capsule which was mounted atop the 50 meter tall Soyuz rocket.
Blastoff occurred precisely on time at about the time when the frigid, snow bedecked launch pad rotated into the plane of the orbit of the ISS. The launch was carried live on NASA TV and the ship quickly disappeared from view behind the nearly blinging blizzard.
The Soyuz TMA-22 achieved orbital insertion some nine minutes later into an initial 143 by 118 mile orbit, inclined 51 degrees to the equator.
The vehicles antennae’s and solar arrays were quickly deployed per plan and all spacecraft systems were functioning perfectly according to Russian Ground Control in Moscow.
Following a two day orbital chase and three course correction burns the future ISS residents are due to dock at the Russian Poisk module at the complex at about 12:33 a.m. EST on Wednesday, Nov. 16.
In the hours prior to launch the crew received a religious blessing from the Russian Orthodox Church, took the bus for the 25 mile trip to the Cosmodrome, donned their white Sokol launch and entry suits and headed to the pad.
The crew boarded the capsule in the midst of an extremely heavy snow storm which struck the Baikonur region of Kazakhstan in the evening prior to launch. See photo from backup NASA astronaut Joe Acaba.
Although snow is quite common at this time of year, the blizzard conditions at launch time were actually quite rare according to NASA spokesman Rob Navias at Baikonur.
American rockets would never blast off in such severe weather conditions – but it’s nothing for the Russians!
The temperature was about 24 F, roughly 6 inches (15 cm) of snow had accumulated on the ground at launch time and moderate wind gusts partially obscured the view.
For the first time ever, a Soyuz crew was dressed in parkas – See Joe Acaba twitpic below !
Gantry towers were retracted from the three stage Soyuz booster at about T minus 25 minutes. The umbilical’s retracted in the final seconds.
The three stage Soyuz-FG rocket lifted off from Launch Pad 1 (LC-1), the same pad from which Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin flew as the first human to space 50 Years ago this year. The pad is named “Gagarin Start” in honor of Gagarin’s courageous achievement on April 12, 1961.
The rocket was fueled with kerosene (RP-1) and cryogenic liquid oxygen.
The ISS was flying some 248 miles above the Pacific Ocean and just west of Chile at launch time.
The importance of the TMA-22 mission cannot be overstated because it restored confidence in Russian rockets which now serve as the world’s only pathway for providing human access to the $100 Billion earth orbiting outpost.
The cramped Soyuz capsule measures just 2.2 m wide by 2.1 m high and weighs 2200 kg.
Today’s critical launch had been delayed be nearly two months from September 22, following the failure of a nearly identical Soyuz-U booster in August which was carrying the Progress 44 cargo resupply spacecraft and crashed ignominiously in Siberia after the third stage shut down unexpectedly.
The Progress 44 was loaded with nearly 3 tons of supplies and was bound for the ISS.
The third stage is nearly identical for both the manned and unmanned versions of the normally highly reliable Soyuz booster rocket.
The launch came only after a thorough review of the causes of the accident by a special State Commision- which was traced to a clogged fuel line – introduction of new quality control measures and careful inspection of all the engines.
“We have no doubt in our minds both the rocket and the vehicle are ready, all the activities have been done at the appropriate level of quality and reliability,” said Vladimir Popovkin, Head of Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, prior to liftoff.
The new crew will join the other half of Expedition 29 already in residence aboard the ISS; Expedition 29 Commander Mike Fossum (NASA) and Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa (Japan) and Sergei Volkov (Russia). This will temporarily restore the ISS to a full complement of 6 crewmembers – but only for a few days.
Fossum will hand over command of the station to the new crew within four days. His crew departs the ISS for Earth reentry on Nov. 21.
The successful launch means that the ISS will not have to be left unmanned for the first time since continuous manned occupation began over 11 years ago and which would have placed the station at risk in case of failures requiring human intervention.
Burbank, Shkaplerov and Ivanishin will spend 5 months aboard the station. They will be joined in December by the next trio to round out Expedition 30
The stakes could not be higher for the Russian Soyuz rocket now poised at the launch pad at Baikonur in Kazakhstan and which will loft the next trio of space flyers to the International Space Station on Sunday, Nov. 13. This is the first flight of a manned Soyuz rocket since the Space Shuttle was retired in July and the subsequent failure of an unmanned Soyuz booster in August of this year.
The booster was rolled out to the pad on Friday (Nov. 11) and the very fate of the Space Station and the partners $100 Billion investment hinges on a successful blastoff of the venerable Soyuz – which dates back to cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and the inauguration of human spaceflight 50 years ago. This launch must succeed in order to keep a human presence aboard the ISS and comes in the wake of an upper stage failure days ago that left Russia’s ambitious Phobos-Grunt Mars mission stranded in Earth orbit and potentially doomed. See the Soyuz rollout video and pictures below
The Soyuz rocket and spacecraft were rolled out on a rail car at Baikonur
Video Caption – Rollout of Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft and booster to Baikonur launch pad in Kazahkstan.
Following the August 24 launch failure and crash of a Soyuz rocket carrying the Progress 44 cargo resupply vehicle to the ISS, Russia’s manned space program was grounded because the third stage of the Soyuz rocket which malfunctioned is virtually identical for both the manned and unmanned versions.
Since NASA was forced to shut down the Space Shuttle program, the Russian Soyuz rocket and capsule are the sole method of transport to the ISS. Thus, American astronauts have no choice but to hitch a ride with the Russians.
No American replacement spacecraft will be ready for humans until 2014 at the very earliest. And significant NASA budget cuts are likely to delay the introduction of the proposed “space taxis” by several more years.
Liftoff off the three man crew aboard the Soyuz-TMA 22 capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is slated for 11:14 p.m. EST Sunday Nov. 13 (11:14 a.m. Baikonur time Monday, Nov. 14) aboard the Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft.
Originally, the launch of the Soyuz TMA-22 crew had been scheduled for September 22 but was immediately put on indefinite hold following the August 24 crash.
Russia promptly announced the formation of a special state commission to investigate the failure, which rapidly traced the malfunction to a clogged fuel line and instituted fixes and stricter quality control measures.
The international trio of new ISS residents consists of Expedition 29 Flight Engineer Dan Burbank from NASA and Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin from Russia.
After a 2 day chase, they are due to link up with the ISS when their spacecraft docks to the Poisk mini-research module at 12:33 a.m. Wednesday.
When Burbank, Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin dock they will join the other trio of Expedition 29 crewmembers already aboard the ISS; Expedition 29 crewmates Commander Mike Fossum (NASA) and Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa (Japan) and Sergei Volkov (Russia) – and temporarily restore the ISS to a full complement of 6 crewmembers.
But the full ISS staffing will be short-lived, because Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov will hand over all ISS duties to the new crew and undock their Soyuz TMA-02M capsule from the Rassvet research module on Nov. 21 and depart for Earth reentry and landing in Kazakhstan hours later.
The new crew of three must reach the ISS before the current trio departs or the ISS would be left unmanned for the first time in over 11 years.