August 2, 2006 / 11:21 a.m. CT (1621 GMT) Morning stroll crawl: After its 4.2 mile, 8 hour journey beginning at 12:05 a.m. CDT, Space Shuttle Atlantis now sits poised for the STS-115 mission on Pad 39B. The roll out came this morning after weather twice forced a delay. Scheduled to launch later this month, the 116th shuttle mission will resume assembly of the space station with the addition of the P3/P4 truss segment and the deployment of the station's second set of solar arrays.
August 3, 2006 / 2:44 p.m. CT (1944 GMT) First flags: The first NASA crew to wear a mission patch was also the first to go on a spacewalk: Gemini IV. Edward White and James McDivitt considered the American flag sewn on their left shoulders to be their insignia as they were the first crew to wear the stars and stripes in space. Since then, the U.S. flag has become a standard marking on spacesuits donned by all American spacewalkers. Today's EVA outside the station however, included German astronaut Thomas Reiter wearing a U.S. extravehicular mobility unit (EMU). As such, Reiter is the first to wear a German flag on a U.S. suit. The black, red and yellow banner replaced the usual red, white and blue on the EMU's left arm. Others that have filled that 'space' have included the Canadian, Japanese and Russian flags.
August 7, 2006 / 6:00 a.m. CT (1100 GMT) Artifacts and adventures: The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation's silent auction of astronaut experiences and artifacts is now open, with bids being accepted on 30 lots. Whether its dining with Buzz Aldrin, hitting the links with Charlie Duke or flying with John Blaha, you are bound to find an adventure of interest. If artifacts are more to your liking, you can choose from a patch, flag or medallion which has been to the Moon or bid on astronaut autographs. Proceeds from the auction fund scholarships for students pursuing degrees in science and engineering.
August 9, 2006 / 2:29 p.m. CT (1929 GMT) From Spain to space: The Expedition 13 crew aboard the international space station took a break yesterday to take a call from members of the European soccer team FC Barcelona, who were in Houston, Texas for an exhibition game. Joined by Brazilian astronaut Marcos Pontes, midfielders Xavi, Puyol and two-time FIFA Player of the Year Ronaldinho presented the crew Barça jerseys bearing each of their names and the number 13. In return, Williams, Vinogradov and Reiter gave the team a photo of Barcelona taken from the station and a Spanish flag that flew on STS-121. Reiter, who last week set a new record for days spent in space by a European astronaut, showed off his own zero-g soccer skills performing a bicycle kick.
August 9, 2006 / 3:39 p.m. CT (2039 GMT) Dr. James A. Van Allen (1914-2006): U.S. space pioneer Dr. James A. Van Allen died this morning at the age of 91. In 1955, Van Allen developed instruments that were later launched aboard the first successful United States satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958, to discover bands of intense radiation — later known as the Van Allen radiation belts — surrounding the planet. Among his achievements for which he was most proud were the first-ever survey of Jupiter's radiation belts with the Pioneer 10 probe and his discovery of radiation belts around Saturn using data from the Pioneer 11 spacecraft. Ever a critic of manned space flight, Van Allen advocated for NASA's move in the 1990s toward more focused remotely-controlled robotic missions.
August 10, 2006 / 11:36 p.m. CT (0436 GMT Aug 11) Orion's logo: While NASA has yet to say the name in public, its new moniker for the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) appears to be closer to announcement. The latest hint has been the inclusion of an Orion emblem inside a NASA internal document that identifies the logo as "approved". The insignia's art depicts the constellation Orion set against a triangular capsule-shaped background.
August 14, 2006 / 11:08 a.m. CT (1608 GMT) Tale of the TV tapes: The highest-quality television signal from Apollo 11 — from an antenna mounted atop the lunar module — was recorded on telemetry tapes at three tracking stations on Earth. Hundreds of the tapes were produced; hundreds have since gone missing. If recovered however and provided a 21st century digital makeover, they could yield a far sharper view of that day compared to what was watched around the globe in 1969.
August 15, 2006 / 5:32 p.m. CT (2232 GMT) NASA Night: The Houston Astros baseball team held their annual NASA Night Monday at Minute Maid Park. The first 10,000 fans received free STS-121 Astros caps and the Discovery crew was there to throw the first pitch. STS-118 mission specialist Tracy Caldwell, who is lead vocal in the all-astronaut band Max Q, celebrated her birthday at the game by singing the national anthem. Past NASA Nights have included a 2002 tribute to the ISS with Dan Bursch; a pre-game celebration of space exploration and NASA Explorer Schools in 2004; and ceremonial first pitches by Discovery's first 'Return to Flight' crew in 2005.
August 15, 2006 / 8:33 p.m. CT (0133 GMT Aug 16) Acquiring Atlantis: As NASA prepares to launch shuttle Atlantis on its 27th mission, California is planning for the orbiter's future retirement. Last week, the State Assembly voted in favor of asking the President and Congress to give Atlantis to Palmdale after it is grounded, perhaps as soon as 2008. Atlantis and its sister vehicles were built and tested in the Antelope Valley city. Whether the assembly's resolution is effective is yet to be seen; if precedence is followed, then Atlantis' post-NASA use will be the Smithsonian Institution's responsibility to arbitrate.
August 16, 2006 / 8:03 a.m. CT (1503 GMT) Planetary promotions: Pluto has always been one. Ceres and Charon may soon be, too. If a new definition for "planet" passes before the International Astronomical Union General Assembly next Thursday, then our Solar System will immediately expand to 12 planets, with many more to possibly follow. Under the IAU definition, a planet must orbit around a star and be large enough for its own gravity to pull it into a nearly spherical shape. A new category of planets has also been proposed; 'Plutons' are planets that take more than 200 earth years to orbit a sun.
August 20, 2006 / 12:29 a.m. CT (0529 GMT) Millennial main engine test: The A-1 test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi supported its 1,000th test firing of a Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) on Thursday, according toThe Clarion-Ledger. The stand, which was originally built in the 1960s to test the first and second stages of the Apollo Saturn V rocket, is one of two at SSC that have together test fired SSMEs more than 2,000 times since 1975. This fall, the A-1 test stand is expected to undergo modifications to support the J-2X engines that power the upper stages of Ares I and V.
August 21, 2006 / 2:01 a.m. CT (0701 GMT) Outward Odyssey: Author and editor Colin Burgess has announced that the University of Nebraska Press will soon release a new series of books that will focus on the social history of space exploration. Titled Outward Odyssey, the series will begin next year with the first two (out of 10) books: Into That Silent Sea and In the Shadow of the Moon. The series' authors include Burgess, Francis French, Tod Bryant, David Hitt, Jay Gallentine, and Brian Harvey. Outward Odyssey will also feature Owen Garriott and Joe Kerwin writing about their time on Skylab and the final in-depth interview with Dr. Van Allen before his death.
August 22, 2006 / 3:09 p.m. CT (2009 GMT) Orion revealed: "We've been calling it the crew exploration vehicle for several years, but today it has a name... Orion." And with those words, Jeff Williams, speaking from aboard the International Space Station, let the moniker slip. According to the Associated Press, the space agency was planning to announce Orion next week and Williams was recording the speech for that occasion, but it was accidentally transmitted over open radio. NASA is still saying that the name is unofficial, but between the trademark application, leaked logo, and today's downlink, it would appear as though Project Orion is all but released.
August 22, 2006 / 6:00 p.m. CT (2300 GMT) Changing of the chief: A NASA internal memo names STS-121 commander Steven Lindsey the next Chief Astronaut, effective October 1. Lindsey, who has logged more than 1200 hours in space over four shuttle missions will replace Kent Rominger, who has been chief since December 2002. Lindsey will be the 11th astronaut to hold the title, which was first given to Deke Slayton. In the intervening 44 years, the nine chief astronauts (in the order they served) were: Alan Shepard, Thomas Stafford, John Young, Daniel Brandenstein, Robert "Hoot" Gibson, Robert Cabana, Kenneth Cockrell, Charles Precourt, and Rominger. As chief, Lindsey will lead the astronaut corps, which today hires over 100 pilots and mission specialists.
August 22, 2006 / 10:12 p.m. CT (0312 GMT Aug 23) Orion released: '...all but released.' That's how we ended our 3 p.m. update about the latest leak of NASA's CEV moniker. Hours later and Orion is now official. The release, which was e-mailed and posted to NASA's website this evening, confirms what was reported in July: the crew exploration vehicle takes its title from what may be the easiest to recognize of the constellations. Missing from today's announcement though, was a logo for Orion.
August 24, 2006 / 9:41 a.m. CT (1441 GMT) Space flown medal: The Royal Society of London has announced it will award famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking the world's oldest honor for scientific achievement, the Copley medal, for his achievements in the fields of theoretical physics and cosmology. Prior Copely recipients during the 275 years in which it has been given have included Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Those other medals however, were not flown in space. STS-121 astronaut Piers Sellers flew the award inside Discovery's middeck lockers during the 13-day mission to the station. The medal will be presented to Hawking on November 30.
August 24, 2006 / 10:42 a.m. CT (1542 GMT) And then there were eight: Four-hundred twenty four (424) astronomers voted today to relabel Pluto from the last of the planets to the first of the dwarf planets in our solar system. The members of the International Astronomical Union accepted a new definition for planets that excludes Pluto on the basis that it had not "cleared the neighborhood around its orbit." Instead, the icy body has been re-categorized as a "dwarf planet," as has also the former asteroid, Ceres. Pluto's moon Charon remains just that, a satellite. The vote overrules an IAU proposal put forth last week to extend full-fledged planetary status to Ceres, Charon and other small bodies. Under the new definition, there eventually may be hundreds of identified dwarves, but only eight planets from Mercury to Neptune.
August 24, 2006 / 2:41 p.m. CT (1941 GMT) Tracking the tapes: An effort to locate the original slow-scan TV recordings of the first lunar landing has advanced from a casual search to a more formal endeavor. Leonard David, writing for SPACE.com, caught up with the NASA personnel now assigned to discovering the tapes' current whereabouts and while they are optimistic, they are also realistic about the precedent for the tapes to have been reused. That said, the search continues as the space agency explores their archives and takes steps to insure that the technology to view and preserve the tapes is not lost before the fate of the Apollo films can be found.
August 25, 2006 / 1:28 a.m. CT (0628 GMT) Ex-planet Pluto products: There's nothing collectors like more than items that display history in motion. Whether its a last minute crew change causing a mislabeled patch or the change in definition resulting in a planet being demoted, the physical objects that contradict reality are often in demand. For Pluto (the planet, not the dog) it means out-of-date orreries', incorrect inscriptions', and old mission posters' second chance in the collecting limelight.
August 25, 2006 / 3:05 p.m. CT (2005 GMT) Ary ordered to pay $132,000: Max L. Ary, founder and former director of the Kansas Cosmosphere, was ordered by a Federal Court judge on Thursday to pay $132,374 for the space artifacts he was convicted of stealing and selling, but will remain free on bond while he files his appeal. According to The Hutchinson News, the restitution payment — including $50,000 for an insurance company, $33,359 for the Cosmosphere, $30,400 to be paid to NASA, and $18,615 for other artifact owners, i.e. collectors — was more than $100,000 below the amount prosecutors had argued Ary should pay. All of the items recovered remain in the custody of the court pending the outcome of Ary's appeal. Attorney Lee Thompson asked to withdraw from the case because Ary "has exhausted his financial resources" and had not paid him since 2005.
August 26, 2006 / 7:11 p.m. CT (0011 GMT Aug 27) Orion logo released: NASA used a press briefing today to officially reveal the project logo for Orion. In addition to appearing on shirts and as a static computer image, the agency also released an animated version of the emblem. According to Orion Project Manager Skip Hatfield, the insignia was designed by artist Mike Okuda.
August 28, 2006 / 8:48 a.m. CT (1348 GMT) Storm tracks: If Atlantis rolls back to the Vehicle Assembly Building tomorrow, as it is currently being prepared to do, it will be the fifth time NASA has had to withdraw a space shuttle from the launch pad due to the threat from an oncoming storm. Hurricane Ernesto is currently projected to pass near Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday afternoon. Prior storm-inspired rollbacks have included: STS-35/Columbia in 1990 due to Tropical Storm Klaus; STS-69/Endeavour in 1995 to protect from Hurricane Erin; and twice for STS-79/Atlantis in 1996 for Hurricanes Bertha and Fran. NASA's rules require a roll if peak winds are forecast to reach 70 knots but the 4 mile trip must be finished before sustained winds reach 40 kn.
August 29, 2006 / 4:57 p.m. CT (2157 GMT) Rollback rollback: For the first time in the history of the program, a space shuttle was directed to reverse course as it was rolling back to its assembly facility to find shelter from an oncoming tropical storm. Already 5 hours into its 10 hour journey, shuttle Atlantis returned to Pad 39B, where it was being prepared to launch STS-115. The vehicle will ride out Tropical Storm Ernesto protected by its steel service structure, but whether it will be able to make the ride to orbit before the window closes is unclear.
August 29, 2006 / 11:40 p.m. CT (0440 GMT Aug 30) Rocco Petrone, 1926-2006: Former NASA Associate Administrator, Marshall Space Flight Center Director, and Apollo Program Director Rocco Petrone, 80, passed away last Thursday at his home in California. He was instrumental in developing the Saturn facilities and equipment used to launch Apollo spacecraft to the Moon.
August 30, 2006 / 2:01 p.m. CT (1901 GMT) Ambassador Ansari: Anousheh Ansari will be the first female space tourist and first of any astronaut to be of Iranian descent. Her mission patch pays tribute to what sets her apart, including adjacent representations of the United States' and Iran's flags. The pairing has caught the attention of the media given the tensions between the two nations. On her website, Ansari displays the title First Space Ambassador and in interviews has been quoted as saying "Maybe, I will generate some positive media about the Middle East with everything going on." Ansari will also wear both flags sewn to the sleeves of her spacesuit. Her ride to space, Soyuz TMA-9, is scheduled to launch Sept 14 but may be reset to the 18th pending STS-115's lift-off.
August 31, 2006 / 6:50 p.m. CT (2350 GMT) Lockheed wins Orion: In what amounts to one of the most significant procurements in more than 30 years, NASA today revealed that it has chosen Lockheed Martin to build its Orion multi-purposed crew vehicle. The Bethesda, Md., based corporation will perform most of its engineering work at Johnson Space Center in Texas, and complete its assembly at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The contract, which is potentially worth as much as $8.15 billion, has a 7-year base valued at around $3.9 billion for design, development, testing and evaluation of the Apollo derived capsule. NASA selected Lockheed over Northrop Grumman, which led a team that included The Boeing Co.