February 1, 2012 / 3:03 p.m. CT (2103 GMT) Petition pushes Pluto probe postage: The team behind NASA's first mission to the last (dwarf) planet started a petition campaign on Wednesday to have the U.S. Postal Service honor its probe with a postage stamp. Set to flyby Pluto in July 2015, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will complete the first era of planetary reconnaissance and study the farthest object ever explored in space. The New Horizons team has set March 13, the 82nd anniversary of the announcement of Pluto's discovery, as the deadline for their petition, which will be delivered to the USPS and the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee for consideration.
February 4, 2012 / 3:21 p.m. CT (2121 GMT) Roger Boisjoly, 1938-2012: Roger Boisjoly, who warned against launching space shuttle Challenger before its ill-fated STS-51L flight, died on Jan. 6 after a battle with cancer. An aerospace engineer for Morton Thiokol (now ATK) at the time of the tragedy, Boisjoly served on a task force examining the effects of cold weather on the space shuttle's solid rocket boosters. At first criticized for being a whistleblower, he was later honored for his efforts and was regarded as a forensic engineering expert. Prior to going to work on the boosters, Boisjoly helped develop life support systems for the Apollo lunar module and spacecraft.
February 7, 2012 / 1:24 p.m. CT (1924 GMT) Janice Voss, 1956-2012: Janice Voss, five time space shuttle astronaut and the former science director for NASA's Kepler mission, died overnight after battling cancer. She was 55. Chosen by NASA for its astronaut corps in January 1990, Voss' five flights as a mission specialist included the only re-flight in the shuttle program's 30 year history. She launched with the first commercial laboratory, rendezvoused with Russia's Mir space station and helped create the most complete topographic map of the Earth.
February 7, 2012 / 6:42 p.m. CT (0042 GMT Feb 8) Penny payload: A Lincoln penny is now on its way to Mars, NASA announced Tuesday. The 1-cent piece, a 1909 "VDB" penny, was attached to a smartphone-size plaque on the Mars rover Curiosity to help calibrate one of its five science cameras. The plaque, which resembles an eye chart, will be used for the Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI, to help with three-dimensional calibration utilizing known surface shapes. Project managers also hope it will also offer a penny for the public's thoughts... about Mars.
February 9, 2012 / 8:49 a.m. CT (1449 GMT) Space sneakers: When players take to the court at this year's NBA All-Star Game later this month, three basketball icons will don a new collection of Nike sneakers inspired by space exploration. The Nike Basketball and Sportswear collections borrow colors and textures from the spacesuits NASA astronauts wore over the past 50 years. LeBron James', Kevin Durant's, and Kobe Bryant's shoes also feature mission patches designed by Nike for them.
February 10, 2012 / 9:46 a.m. CT (1546 GMT) Final flight for space shuttle ferry: One of NASA's two modified Boeing 747s that were used as space shuttle carrier aircraft, NASA 911, made its final flight on Wednesday. Its final mission was a short hop from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base to Dryden's Aircraft Operations Facility located adjacent to Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif. In its retirement, 911 will serve as a parts provider for an airborne observatory.
February 14, 2012 / 10:37 a.m. CT (1637 GMT) Anniversary app: iPad-toting, space history enthusiasts can now relive the historic flight of Friendship 7, which launched John Glenn 50 years ago next week, through a new app released Monday. Spacecraft Films first app for the Apple tablet computer, "Friendship 7: The Voyage of Mercury-Atlas 6" gives iPad users access to more than four hours of archival footage, as well as the complete air to ground and mission control audio for the three orbit, five hour flight. The app also provides an interactive tour of the Friendship 7 cockpit and a gallery of Glenn's photographs.
February 15, 2012 / 7:32 p.m. CT (0132 GMT Feb 16) Hand in dexterous humanoid hand: In the history of handshakes in space, the firm grip exchanged Wednesday on the International Space Station may prove someday to be as monumental as when U.S. astronauts shook the hands of Soviet cosmonauts onboard the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975. For the first time, a humanoid robot, NASA's Robonaut 2 (R2), reached out, grasped and shook the hand of Expedition 30 commander Dan Burbank. "The first human-humanoid handshake in space," said Burbank, describing the milestone. The handshake came as part of the on-going checkout of the robot, which also included R2 using sign language to say "Hello world" in a dexterity test.
February 16, 2012 / 3:09 p.m. CT (2109 GMT) Big Bang theorist's ATV: In 1927, Belgian physicist Georges Lemaître became the first to propose that the universe was expanding, a theory that later became known as the Big Bang. Two years from now – 87 years after his discovery – Lemaître, or at least his name, will expand into space as the new designation for the European Space Agency's (ESA) fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5). Announced on Thursday, ATV-5 Georges Lemaître follows the tradition of naming the unmanned, space station-bound vehicles after great European visionaries. ESA's third ATV – Edoardo Amaldi, named after the "father of Italian space research" – is set to be the next to launch in early March.
February 17, 2012 / 7:03 p.m. CT (0103 GMT Feb 18) Lasting legacy: For the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth, time flies when your flight keeps following you. "Fifty years seems like two weeks more than 50 years," John Glenn told collectSPACE the week before the 50th anniversary of his Feb. 20, 1962 Mercury-Atlas 6 mission. The retired U.S. Senator and former space shuttle payload specialist reflected on the legacy of his Friendship 7 flight, including the potential still waiting for astronauts in orbit.
February 20, 2012 / 5:22 a.m. CT (1122 GMT) Secret stamp still sought: Fifty years ago, within an hour of John Glenn safely landing after becoming the first American in orbit, an unannounced stamp celebrating his success was released into U.S. post offices. The top secret stamp, now recognized as the 1962 4-cent "Project Mercury" commemorative, launched a new orbital mission: creating, cataloguing and collecting first day covers for the more than 300 post offices that distributed the stamp. Fifty years later, the search is still going for a complete set.
February 21, 2012 / 9:18 a.m. CT (1518 GMT) Angry Birds Space: Rovio Mobile, maker of the popular puzzle game Angry Birds, will be flinging its next furious flock into space, and has teamed up with NASA for the ride. Their countdown set for a March 22 launch, Rovio will debut Angry Birds Space featuring new birds and new planets with zero-gravity levels and real physics controlling the gameplay. It's "one small fling for a bird, one quantum leap for birdkind," Rovio teased on the game's website.
February 24, 2012 / 4:34 p.m. CT (2234 GMT) Landmark liftoff: A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launched on Friday from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with its heaviest payload ever, the 15,000 lb MUOS communications satellite for the U.S. Navy. The space-bound cellular telephone tower was lofted into orbit by the 200th Centaur upper rocket stage to fly. A venerable booster used since 1962, the Centaur "created the pathway to the moon and every planet across the solar system." In addition to giving start to numerous planetary missions, the Centaur also advanced the use of cryogenic fuels, benefiting a host of different rockets that followed.
February 24, 2012 / 3:45 p.m. CT (2245 GMT) LEGO space station on ISS: Four months after construction of the International Space Station (ISS) was completed, a station crew member set about building another one. ISS Expedition 29 flight engineer and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa successfully assembled a two foot long LEGO model of the 360 foot orbiting outpost. The brick-built station was then used for a series of educational videos aimed at engaging students in space science.
February 28, 2012 / 7:32 p.m. CT (0132 GMT Feb 29) Welcome Discovery: The Smithsonian will host a four-day festival this April to welcome space shuttle Discovery into the National Air and Space Museum collection. Discovery is scheduled to depart Kennedy Space Center on April 17 and arrive at Dulles International Airport in D.C. that same day, weather permitting. After being demated by crane from atop NASA's Boeing 747 shuttle carrier aircraft, Discovery will be towed on April 19 to the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, where it'll come nose-to-nose with the space shuttle Enterprise. The 'Welcome Discovery' festival will then begin with a parade, NASA title transfer ceremony, special exhibits and talks.