March 2, 2009 / 5:03 p.m. CT (2303 GMT) Japan announces ascans: JAXA, Japan's space agency, revealed on February 25 the selection of two new astronaut candidates, the nation's first since 1999. Takuya Onishi, 33, and Kimiya Yui, 39, will begin on April 1 training for future long duration stays on the International Space Station where they will operate Japan's experiment module "Kibo". The two were selected from among nearly 1000 Japanese men and women who applied during a two and a half month recruiting period held last spring. Onishi and Yui are the first Japanese astronaut candidates to be pilots (for a commercial airline and Air Force respectively).
March 5, 2009 / 12:47 a.m. CT (0647 GMT) Lightning the pad's load: Launch pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida lost 80 feet off its top Tuesday, after having towered 347 feet tall for over 30 years. The pad's Mercury-Redstone-rocket-sized mast, which sat atop the fixed service structure, was lowered by crane to the surface of the pad, where it was placed on its side in preparation for its removal. The fiberglas mast was used to offer lightning protection for the 53 space shuttles that left 39B while they were being prepared on the pad for launch. The mast was no longer needed, given the recent installation of three lightning towers surrounding the pad in support of Ares I, the next vehicle to depart from pad 39B.
March 7, 2009 / 2:01 a.m. CT (0801 GMT) Planet-finder departs the planet: NASA's Kepler mission to find Earth-like planets left Earth Friday evening, launching onboard a Delta II rocket at 9:49 p.m. CST. Engineers acquired a signal from Kepler at 11:11 p.m., after it entered a sun-centered orbit, trailing Earth by 950 miles. In about two months, after calibrating Kepler's only instrument - a wide-field camera - NASA will command the telescope to begin searching for water-compatible worlds.
March 8, 2009 / 10:06 p.m. CT (0306 GMT Mar 9) Schirra sets sail: The U.S. Navy launched and christened the USNS Wally Schirra on Sunday, a Lewis and Clark-class Auxiliary Dry Cargo ship (T-AKE) named in the honor of the late Navy pilot and NASA astronaut. Serving as ship sponsor, Schirra's widow Josephine broke the traditional bottle of champagne across the bow. Scott Carpenter, Schirra's fellow Mercury astronaut, paid tribute, as did Schirra's Gemini 6 crewmate Tom Stafford and his Apollo colleagues Jim Lovell and Bill Anders. Captain Lee Morin, current NASA astronaut, delivered the ceremony's principal address. The USNS Wally Schirra joins the Alan Shepard in service since 2006, continuing a Navy tradition to name the T-AKEs for American explorers and pioneers.
March 10, 2009 / 3:12 p.m. CT (2012 GMT) Patch preview | Soyuz TMA-15: Turning a one-time contest into a new tradition, Soyuz TMA-15 commander Roman Romanenko chose the artwork for his flight's patch from the same batch of children's art as was first solicited for the Soyuz TMA-14 insignia. Fifteen year old Yura Menkevich from Russia's Kemerovo region originally entered his angel-centric design as part of a worldwide art competition organized last year by Russia's Roscosmos for the Soyuz TMA-14 mission launching later this month. TMA-15 will embark for the International Space Station in May with Romanenko and his crew Frank De Winne and Robert Thirsk, representing Europe's and Canada's space agencies respectively. Together with the three already in orbit, they will be the space station's first six-person crew.
March 10, 2009 / 11:10 p.m. CT (0410 GMT Mar 11) Patch preview | Apollo 40 Years: NASA's official logo for the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing this July celebrates all of the Apollo missions rather than just Apollo 11. Adapting the iconic imagery of Earthrise over the Moon, our home planet becomes the zero in "40". The emblem is a part of NASA's planned "First Footprints" commemoration, which celebrates Apollo under the theme "Exploring Space, Discovering Earth." NASA's logo is not the only Apollo 40th anniversary insignia; other designs by space enthusiasts have focused their efforts on Apollo 11.
March 14, 2009 / 3:13 p.m. CT (2013 GMT) Space season: Spring may not arrive until Friday, but the spring space auction season got off to an early start Saturday with Lunar Legacies' first sale in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Four more auctions will follow in the coming weeks, beginning with Dallas-based Heritage Galleries on April 1 with the first memorabilia for sale from moonwalker John Young's personal collection. The bidding then moves west to Beverly Hills for auctions by Regency-Superior on April 17 and Goldberg Collectibles on April 25. In between, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation will host its auction offering astronaut artifacts and adventures from April 9-18.
March 15, 2009 / 8:01 p.m. CT (0101 GMT Mar 16) Power trip: Space shuttle Discovery lit up the sky over Florida lifting off from Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A at 7:43 p.m. EDT with a set of power-providing solar wings for the International Space Station. The crew of STS-119, led by commander Lee Archambault, will deliver the solar panels, which with their truss segment, represent the final U.S.-built major component for the ISS. STS-119 will be a 13-day mission, including three spacewalks. The 125th mission in the program, STS-119 is the 100th space shuttle launch since the 1986 loss of STS-51L/Challenger.
March 20, 2009 / 10:34 p.m. CT (0334 GMT Mar 21) Full length, full power: After nine years of assembly, the International Space Station's integrated truss, or backbone, was finished by the STS-119 crew with the installation of the S6 truss segment on Thursday, and the unfurling of the last solar array wings on Friday. Spanning the length of a U.S. football field (including the end zones) the integrated truss was built and designed by Boeing. Its solar arrays, assembled by Lockheed Martin, produce the equivalent electricity required to power 42 average homes.
March 22, 2009 / 12:03 a.m. CT (0503 GMT) Recovering the iconic Moon: At 7:05 p.m. EST on November 24, 1966, NASA's Lunar Orbiter 2 took a break from photographing the lunar surface directly below and instead aimed its camera at Copernicus crater 150 miles due south. The resulting image revealed the Moon's topography as most hadn't seen it before and was quickly labeled "one of the great pictures of the century." It would be hard to improve upon that legacy, but the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, a public-private partnership, has accomplished just that, reprocessing the original data tape to produce a crisp, higher resolution photo for this century.
March 25, 2009 / 11:24 p.m. CT (0424 GMT Mar 26) Past platform passed, again: The mobile launcher platform (MLP) from which Apollo 10, STS-119, and 55 missions in-between lifted off was ceremonially transferred from the space shuttle to Constellation program Wednesday, as it was similarly passed from Apollo to the shuttle in the late 1970s. MLP-1, which supported Saturn V rockets as ML-3, will bear its third generation of launch vehicles when it launches the Ares I-X test flight this July.
March 26, 2009 / 9:25 a.m. CT (1425 GMT) Soyuz TMA-14 takes off: The International Space Station's first returning commander, his flight engineer, and the first space flight participant to buy a return trip to the station, lifted off aboard Soyuz TMA-14 at 6:49 a.m. CDT from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Gennady Padalka, who led the station's ninth crew, along with first time flier Michael Barratt, will join Koichi Wakata already aboard the station to form the Expedition 19 crew. Charles Simonyi, a Microsoft software developer who first visited the ISS in 2007, will return to Earth in 12 days with Expedition 18's crew, Michael Fincke and Yuri Lonchakov.
March 27, 2009 / 11:51 p.m. CT (0451 GMT Mar 27) Mattingly's moon rock: "He's like me. He's pretty old," quipped Apollo 16 pilot Thomas Mattingly about his moon rock. "But there is a difference," he said pointing to the pebble. "This guy defined the expression 'older than dirt'. I'm just old as dirt." NASA awarded Mattingly with the lunar sample as an Ambassador of Exploration, a program honoring the first generation of space explorers. Mattingly, who turned 73 on March 17, was presented the moon rock at Auburn University, where it will remain on public exhibit.
March 28, 2009 / 5:44 p.m. CT (2244 GMT) Ups and downs: Space shuttle Discovery landed in Florida on Saturday, ending a 13 day flight to the International Space Station just a few hours after a Soyuz docked with the outpost. The overlapping missions tied the record number of humans in orbit first set in 1995 with 13 people aboard three spacecraft. The crew of STS-119, now back on the ground, delivered the station "full power" and symmetry, installing the last two solar arrays. Soyuz TMA-14 brought the first returning commander and space tourist. Both missions flew mementos for others on Earth.
March 30, 2009 / 4:56 p.m. CT (2156 GMT) Major Matt Mason, the movie: As NASA prepares to return astronauts to the Moon, it seems only appropriate that Mattel's Major Matt Mason may be coming back, too. The toy astronauts, which were based on early concepts for real spaceflight hardware, were introduced in 1966 and were popular at the time of the Apollo missions. Forty years later, Matt Mason and his "Men in Space" are movie-bound with Tom Hanks as the title character in the live action film. According to Variety, when the "Apollo 13" actor and Playtone producer met with Universal Studios to discuss the movie, Hanks brought along his Matt Masons.
March 31, 2009 / 10:32 a.m. CT (1532 GMT) Limted lens caps: To send its flagship E-3 digital camera and lenses to orbit, Olympus needed to insure it would be safe for use on the space station. So, when Koichi Wakata unpacks the dSLR, he'll be able to inspect it for broken glass by looking through, rather than removing, the E-3's transparent caps, altogether avoiding the chance for any glass shards to float away. The clear caps are, for now, unique to the space model but according to CNET, a limited "commemorative kit" including the see-through cap and specially-designed camera strap, is in Olympus' plans for sale after Wakata returns from photographing in space.