NASA Premiers New Countdown Clock for Orion’s First Launch

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – Just in the nick of time, NASA powered up its new countdown clock at the Press Site to tick down towards blastoff of the first launch of the agency’s new Orion crew capsule on Dec. 4 that will carry a new generation of explorers to exciting new destinations further into deep space than ever before.

Without any fanfare, NASA premiered the new digital clock today, Monday, Dec. 1, to replace the world famous analog clock – seen by countless billions across the globe – that was recently retired and detailed in my story – here.

Check out and compare the new and old countdown clocks in my exclusive photos herein.

“We were in a race against time to remove the old clock and replace it with the new clock over the Thanksgiving holiday period,” said NASA Kennedy Space Center spokesman George Diller in an exclusive interview with Universe Today on Monday.

“The plan was to have it ready in time for the first launch of Orion on Dec. 4,” Diller told me.

A new countdown display has been constructed in the place of the former analog countdown clock at the Press Site at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Orion’s first launch. The display is a modern, digital LED display akin to stadium monitors. It allows television images to be shown along with numbers.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
A new countdown display has been constructed in the place of the former analog countdown clock at the Press Site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Orion’s first launch. The display is a modern, digital LED display akin to stadium monitors. It allows television images to be shown along with numbers. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

A team was working during the holiday.

Why replace the old clock?

“It was getting harder and harder to find the spare parts needed to fix the clock”.

“The original clock was designed in the 1960s”, Diller explained. It has been counting down launches, both manned and unmanned, for more than four decades.

“The clock has been in use since the Apollo 12 moon landing mission in November 1969.”

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
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

It was used continuously throughout the remaining Apollo launches and then for all 135 shuttle launches until the final shuttle mission STS-135 blastoff in July 2011. Since then it has been used exclusively on a plethora of unmanned NASA science launches and resupply missions to the International Space Station.

The old countdown clock was last used in September 2014 during the SpaceX CRS-4 launch to the ISS, which I attended along with the STS-135 launch.

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

In the past few days workers dismantled and hauled off the old clock and installed the new one in place.

But the original base was left in place. The new clock is about the same length as the historic one, with a screen nearly 26 feet wide by 7 feet high.

While not true high-definition, the video resolution will be 1280 x 360.The new countdown clock sports a widescreen capability utilizing the latest breakthroughs in outdoor LED display technology, says NASA.

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

The display can provide images from multiple sources, as well as the countdown launch time. It was cool to see the new clock in action today.

As currently envisaged, the historic Countdown Clock was moved to the nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC).

It will be placed on permanent display for the public to see for the first time at the KSCVC main entrance sometime early next year, Diller explained.

The new countdown clock in contact view with the VAB, Launch Control Center (LCC), US Flag and SLS Mobile Launcher at the Press Site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida used for the first time with Orion’s first launch on Dec. 4, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
The new countdown clock in contact view with the VAB, Launch Control Center (LCC), US Flag, and SLS Mobile Launcher at the Press Site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida will be used for the first time with Orion’s first launch on Dec. 4, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA TV will provide several hours of live Orion EFT-1 launch coverage with the new countdown clock – starting at 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 4.

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
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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

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

How Not To Get Bored During A Year On Space Station

When planning for long-duration space travel, many people would think along the lines of not forgetting a towel or something of that nature. But we on Earth who are spoiled by the astounding pictures beamed from space must realize that even astronauts can get tired of looking at the same few walls for months at a time.

Scott Kelly is going to spend a year in space in 2015, and he highlighted boredom as one of the things he will need to fight against during his time on the International Space Station.

“There are things I will do a little bit differently with regards to pacing myself. You wouldn’t think this is true, but you do have to kind of stay entertained over that kind of period,” said Scott Kelly in a NASA interview late last week, which you can watch above. 

“No matter how exciting that kind of things is, no matter how beautiful the Earth is, when you’re doing it for a year there is still the factor of trying to keep yourself engaged and interested.”

Kelly also highlighted some of the training challenges he will face being that he will be up there twice as long as the typical six-month space station mission. While it won’t take twice as long to do emergency training, he is required to do it with twice as many astronauts/cosmonauts because he will be working with four crews in space.

He also will train with two different Soyuz spacecraft commanders (which will add “complexity”, he noted) and have twice as much science to perform. That includes several “twin” studies where scientists will compare Kelly and his identical brother Mark, a four-time shuttle flyer who retired from the program in 2011.

Another lesson learned from his last six-month flight in 2010? “I know what I want to bring this time that I didn’t have last time,” Kelly said, although he didn’t elaborate on what those items are.

Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will begin their mission just under one year from now.

Twin Peeks: Astronaut Brothers To Go Under Microscope During One-Year Mission

Identical twin astronauts, one headed to space for a year and the other happily at home. Imagine just how excited health researchers are by the prospect of this situation which yes, is happening for real. Scott Kelly is preparing to blast off on a lengthy mission to the International Space Station in 2015 while his retired twin, Mark, will serve as a control.

The 50-year-old men will do a suite of experiments before, during and after the mission to see how much (if at all) Scott’s body changes from his brother in the long term. This ranges from examining their DNA, to their vision, and even changes in the gut.

“These will not be 10 individual studies,” stated Craig Kundrot of NASA’s human research program at the Johnson Space Center. “The real power comes in combining them to form an integrated picture of all levels from biomolecular to psychological.  We’ll be studying the entire astronaut.”

One experiment will examine telomeres, which NASA says are “molecular caps” that sit on the ends of human DNA. As the theory goes, these telomeres are affected in space by cosmic rays (high-energy particles originating from outside the solar system) — which could speed up the aging process. If Scott’s telomeres change after the mission, this could help determine if space is linked to rapid aging.

Another experiment asks how the immune system alters. “We already know that the human immune system changes in space.  It’s not as strong as it is on the ground,” said Kundrot. “In one of the experiments, Mark and Scott will be given identical flu vaccines, and we will study how their immune systems react.”

Then there are experiments looking at gut bacteria that help digestion, seeking out how human vision changes, and even a phenomenon known as “space fog” — how some astronauts find themselves losing alertness in orbit.

Although the twins have inherent fascination for researchers and sociologists, the Kellys themselves have emphasized that to them, having an identical counterpart is something that always was.

NASA astronaut Mark Kelly peers out a window during the penultimate shuttle mission, STS-134, in 2011. Around his neck is the ring of his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, who was recovering from a gunshot head wound during the mission. Credit: NASA
NASA astronaut Mark Kelly peers out a window during the penultimate shuttle mission, STS-134, in 2011. Around his neck is the ring of his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, who was recovering from a gunshot head wound during the mission. Credit: NASA

“We didn’t know anything differently and, you know, he’s not my clone,” Scott said in a joint 2010 NASA interview with Mark.

“You know, a lot of times people would ask, ‘So what’s it like to be a twin?’ and … the response I would usually give is, ‘Well, what’s it like not to be a twin?’ I mean, it’s just, it is,” Mark added, to which Scott responded, “It’s more like … he’s my brother but we just happen to have the same birthday, to me.”

Scott will leave Earth with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko in 2015 for the first one-year mission in space since a handful of lengthy stays on the former Russian space station, Mir, in the 1990s. Scott will serve as Expedition 43/44 flight engineer and have the distinction of commanding two space station missions, Expedition 45 and 46. (He also commanded Expedition 26 in 2010.)

Source: NASA

Gabby Giffords To Resign From Congress

U.S. Congresswoman Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) announced today, Sunday Jan. 22, that she will step down from Congress later this week to continue recuperating from critical brain injuries she suffered during a deadly assassination attempt a year ago in Tucson, Arizona.

She announced the resignation on her official congressional website and in a poignant YouTube video message (see above) to her constituents saying that she will “do what is best for Arizona” as she recovers from the shooting attack that happened 1 year ago on Jan. 8, 2011 in her Arizona district.

One of her last official acts will be to attend the State of the Union Address by President Obama on Tuesday, January 24 at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Giffords is submitting letters of resignations to House Speaker John Boehner and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Brewer will call a special primary and general election to fill her seat for the remainder of her term which expires at the end of 2012. The primary election will be held within about 60 days. She represented the 8th Congressional District in southern Arizona.

“Gabby Giffords embodies the very best of what public service should be. She’s universally admired for qualities that transcend party or ideology – a dedication to fairness, a willingness to listen to different ideas, and a tireless commitment to the work of perfecting our union. That’s why the people of Arizona chose Gabby – to speak and fight and stand up for them,” President Obama said in a statement issued Sunday evening. “Gabby’s cheerful presence will be missed in Washington. But she will remain an inspiration to all whose lives she touched – myself included. And I’m confident that we haven’t seen the last of this extraordinary American.”

“I salute Congresswoman Giffords for her service, and for the courage and perseverance she has shown in the face of tragedy. She will be missed,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement issued Sunday.

Before the shooting she was considered to be a rising star in Congress.

Giffords was shot in the head at point blank range. Six people were killed including a 9 year old girl and a Federal Judge and 13 others were wounded.

The 41 year old congresswoman is resigning in order to continue her recovery from the gunshot wounds she suffered a year ago while conducting a ‘meet-and-greet’ with her constituents at a shopping center in Tucson. She has been undergoing intensive rehabilitation over the past year.

U.S. Congresswoman Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona announced on Jan. 22, that she will step down from Congress. This still image is from her official video announcement.

“I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week,” Congresswoman Giffords says in the heartfelt two minute video message to her constituents.

“A lot has happened over the past year,” she said in halting words. “We cannot change that. But I know on the issues we fought for, we can change things for the better. Jobs, border security, veterans. We can do so much more by working together.”

The video features footage of Giffords before and after the attack, some of it quite graphic.

“I don’t remember much from that horrible day, but I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice,” Giffords goes on to say. “Thank you for your prayers and for giving me time to recover. I have more work to do on my recovery. So to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week.”

Giffords was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2006. She was last re-elected in November 2010 and now will not seek re-election this fall.

Gabby Giffords was a strong supporter of NASA and America’s space program.

Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly

She is married to veteran Astronaut Mark Kelly, who commanded the last mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour in May 2011, STS-134. Kelly recently resigned from NASA to continue helping Gabby in her recovery.

The shooting happened as Kelly was in the final stages of training for the STS-134 mission. Kelly temporarily interrupted his training to be with his wife who was in critical condition.

Space Shuttle Endeavour launches on May 16, 2011 from the Kennedy Space Center with veteran Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly, husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Credit: Ken Kremer

Gabby Giffords has made a remarkable recovery and she continues to improve and inspire all of us every day. She faces a long road of recovery ahead that will require all her efforts to continue making progress.

“Every day my spirit is high. I will return. Thank you !” – Giffords signs off

Stripped Down Discovery rolls towards Retirement at Kennedy Space Center

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Space Shuttle Discovery was briefly on public display on Wednesday July 13 as she emerged from the hanger at the Kennedy Space Center where she has been undergoing processing for retirement since her final landing on the STS-133 mission.

It was a rather stark and sad moment because Discovery looked almost naked and downtrodden – and there was no doubt that she would never again fly majestically to space because huge parts of the orbiter were totally absent.

Discovery was stripped bare of her three main engines and orbital maneuvering pods at the rear and she had a giant hole in the front, just behind the nose, that was covered in see through plastic sheeting that formerly housed her now missing forward thrusters. Without these essential components, Discovery cannot move 1 nanometer.

When the Space Shuttle is forcibly retired in about a week, America will have no capability to launch astronauts into space and to the International Space Station for many many years to come.

Discovery was pulled a quarter mile from the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to make room for Space Shuttle Atlantis when she returns next week from the STS-135 mission, according to Stephanie Stilson, the flow manager for Discovery, in an interview with Universe Today.

Stephanie Stilson,NASA KSC flow manager for Discovery. Credit: Ken Kremer

STS-135 is the 135th and final mission of NASA’s 30 year long Space Shuttle Program.

NASA now only has control of two of the three shuttle OPF’s since one OPF has been handed over to an unnamed client, Stilson said.

Stilson is leading the NASA team responsible for safing all three Space Shuttle Orbiters. “We are removing the hypergolic fuel and other toxic residues to prepare the orbiters for display in the museums where they will be permanently housed.”

“The safing work on Discovery should be complete by February 2012,” Stilson told me. “NASA plans to transport Discovery to her permanent home at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on April 12, 2012, which coincides with the anniversary of the first shuttle launch on April 12, 1981.”

Discovery Photo Album by Ken Kremer

Discovery emerges from OPF 2 processing hanger. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery exits OPF 2 minus main engines. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery moves from OPF 2 to VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery moves from OPF 2 to VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery on public display on Wednesday July 13. Credit: Ken Kremer
Below Discovery’s wing. Credit: Ken Kremer
Gaping hole in Discovery - minus forward reaction control thruster. Credit: Ken Kremer
Rear view of Discovery beside VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery entering the VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery enters the VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Viewing Discovery from the 5th Floor of the VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery parked on the ground floor of the VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer

Zoom into the Epic Images of Endeavour Docked to the ISS

Credit: NASA

Are you enjoying the historic images of space shuttle Endeavour docked to the ISS? Here’s a wonderful new way to experience them. John Williams of Terrazoom and StarryCritters has created an amazing “zoomable” slide show of these images, which allows viewers to quickly zoom into whatever part of the picture you want to see close up. Want to take a good look at Endeavour’s heat tiles or examine a module of the ISS? Just choose a picture and slide the scale (between the plus and minus sign) at the bottom of the application to zoom in.

Thanks to John for sharing his “Zoomify” technology with Universe Today!

See the slideshow on Terrazoom for the option for a full screen version.

Continue reading “Zoom into the Epic Images of Endeavour Docked to the ISS”

NASA Releases Spectacular Portrait Photos of Endeavour Docked at the ISS from Soyuz and Paolo Nespoli

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NASA has at last today (June 7) released the spectacular portrait photos of Endeavour docked at the International Space Station (ISS). These are are the first ever images taken of a space shuttle while still attached to the orbiting lab complex from the perspective of a crewed Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The breathtaking digital images were captured by Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli on May 23 through a window inside the Soyuz TMA-20 vehicle as he and two crewmates were departing the ISS for their return trip to Earth.

Story Update: Check out the expanded photo gallery of more awesome images released by NASA later today

The ISS/Shuttle stack and Soyuz were flying at an altitude of 220 miles as the Soyuz undocked with Nespoli, Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman. After they were about 600 feet away, Mission Control Moscow commanded the ISS to rotate 130 degrees to give a full view of the entire complex from the side.

Nespoli then had about 30 minutes to capture high resolution digital photos and videos of Space Shuttle Endeavour docked to the orbiting lab for the very last time in the midst of her 16 day long final mission; STS-134.

The Soyuz trio landed safely in Kazakhstan later that day.

The imagery was to have been made public a day or two after the landing. But Nespoli accidentally left the SD data cards behind in the Soyuz vehicle, causing them to processed more slowly as part of routine post flight analysis.

Space Shuttle Endeavour and ISS Portrait Photo Gallery

First Ever Portrait of the International Space Station and docked Shuttle Endeavour from Soyuz capsule
This image of the International Space Station and the docked Space Shuttle Endeavour, flying at an altitude of 220 miles was taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking on May 23, 2011 (USA time). It is the first-ever image of a space shuttle docked to the International Space Station. Endeavour at top. European ATV cargo carrier at bottom. Credit: NASA/Paolo Nespoli

First ever images of docked Shuttle Endeavour and the ISS from perspective of a Soyuz spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Paolo Nespoli

NASA’s expanding photo gallery here:

Read my earlier features about the portrait photos of Endeavour and the ISS here:
Spectacular Soyuz Photo Gallery shows Unprecedented View Of Shuttle Docked at Station
Ultimate ISS + Shuttle + Earth Photo Op Coming on May 23 from Soyuz and Paolo Nespoli

Read my features about the final mission of Endeavour, STS 134, starting here
STS-134 Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly appears at U2360° Concert in Seattle: Music Video
Era of Space Shuttle Endeavour Ends with June 1 landing at the Kennedy Space Center

STS-134 Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly appears at U2360° Concert in Seattle: Music Video

Check out this out-of-this-world surprise delivered by the rock band U2 to their concert audience at Quest Field, Seattle U2 on the night of June 4;

A video message from STS-134 Shuttle Commander Mark E. Kelly – From the Official U2 YouTube Website

According to the website, “Bono dedicated ‘Beautiful Day’ to Gabby Giffords, before asking, “Imagine a man looking down on us from 200 miles up. Looking down at our beautiful crowded planet… What would he say to us…? What is on your mind Commander Kelly?”

Kelly recorded a special message for his wife, Gabby Giffords, while he was floating inside the Cupola Observation Dome aboard the International Space Station during the STS-134 mission which landed safely on June 1 at the Kennedy Space Center.

“Hello Seattle… from the International Space Station.”

Before finishing on a line from David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ : “I’m looking forward to coming home. Tell my wife I love her very much… she knows,” said Kelly

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U2 has collaborated with NASA since their 2009 world tour to “include a dialogue between the band and the crew of the International Space Station.”

U2360° has worked with NASA and the International Space Station throughout this tour – having previously linked up with Belgian astronaut Commander Frank De Winne, Michael Barratt of NASA, Bob Thirsk of the Canadian Space Agency, Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Gennady Padalka and Roman Romanenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency as well as Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte during his visit to the International Space Station.

“Working with U2 is atypical for NASA,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for Space Operations in a NASA statement. “By combining their world tour with the space station’s out-of-this-world mission, more people — and different people than our normal target audiences — learned about the International Space Station and the important work we are doing in orbit.”

Be sure to check out this longer video version – and listen to the cheering crowd

Bono Intro to Beautiful Day with Commander Mark Kelly – U2 – Seattle, WA – June 4, 2011

STS-134 Space Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly. Credit: Ken Kremer

Read my features about the final mission of Endeavour, STS 134, starting here
Era of Space Shuttle Endeavour Ends with June 1 landing at the Kennedy Space Center

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.