The oldest and perhaps most storied of the shuttle fleet, Discovery launched on her final mission today to deliver a final module to the U.S. segment of the International Space Station, the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module, as well as the first humanoid robot to fly in space, Robonaut2. Named for the ships used by Henry Hudson and James Cook, Discovery launched on her maiden flight 30 Aug 1984. Since that launch, no other shuttle – or spacecraft, has flown to space more (39 launches counting today) or carried more crew members to orbit (246 before today). Among her missions were many notable firsts — first satellite retrieved from orbit and returned to Earth on its second mission (TELESAT-H & SYNCOM IV-1 which had malfunctioned on-orbit), flew the first Russian cosmonaut on a US spacecraft (STS-60), first rendezvous with the Russian space station, MIR (STS-63) and was the last shuttle to dock with MIR (STS-91), reached the highest altitude for a shuttle in low Earth orbit (STS-82), and first ISS crew rotation (STS-102). More importantly, Discovery was the shuttle that returned America to space following the loss of the Challenger and Columbia…
Total miles traveled: 142,917,535; Total days in orbit: 351; (8,441 hours, 50 minutes, 41 seconds); Total orbits: 5,628 (all pre-STS-133). All in all, quite a ride.
And so as I await Discovery’s safe return to Earth and eventual emplacement in a museum, and as the remainder of the fleet is phased out and decommissioned over the course of the next year, I wonder how long it will be before we return to space on an American launcher.
2015? 2018? 2020?
Wonder what the odds are in Vegas on that…
(all images courtesy NASA)
Forty-nine years ago – within one day of each other, one astronaut headed for orbit as America’s first to circle the Earth and a future astronaut opened a series of record attempts in the McDonell F4H Phantom:
Images Courtesy Rex Features & NASA
20 Feb 1962: Lieutenant Colonel John H. Glenn. USMC, in Mercury spacecraft Friendship 7, was launched from Cape Canaveral by an Atlas rocket. His three turns about the earth were the first U.S. manned orbital flights. He was recovered some 166 miles east of Grand Turk Island in the Bahamas by the destroyer Noa (DD 841) and then delivered by helicopter to the carrier Randolph.
F4H-1 Phantom (BuNo 149449) Image Courtesy Boeing Co.
21 Feb 1962: The F4H-1 Phantom II established new world records for climb to 3,000 and 6,000 meters with times of 34.52 and 48.78 seconds. Lieutenant Commander J. W. Young and Commander D. M. Longton piloted the plane on its respective record flights at NAS Brunswick, Maine.
Glenn completed three orbits reaching a maximum altitude (apogee) of approximately 162 statute miles and an orbital velocity of approximately 17,500 miles per hour. Glenn would later go on to be the only Mercury astronaut to fly on the Shuttle (Discovery/STS-95).
LCDR John W. Young, wrapping up his assignment to the Naval Air Test Center, went on to set another time-to-climb record flying out of Point Mugu reached an altitude of 3000 meters (9843 feet) in 34.523 seconds. Three more time-to-climb records were set at NAS Brunswick on 3 Apr 62, reaching an altitude of 25,000 meters (82,021 feet) in 230.440 seconds. Young was selected as part of the second cohort of astronauts later in 1962 (while MO in VF-143) and went on to be the first person to fly 6 times in space – Gemini 3 (first flight of the Gemini spacecraft), Gemini 10, Apollo 10 (CM pilot), Apollo 16 (CDR), STS-1 (Columbia’s and the Shuttle’s first flight) and STS-9 (first Spacelab flight).
Article Series - Centenary of Naval Aviation (1911-2011)
- Flightdeck Friday: Smoke and the Battle of Midway
- Flightdeck Friday: RF-8 Crusaders and BLUE MOON
- Flightdeck Friday: Midway POV – Wade McClusky
- Flightdeck Friday: 23 October 1972 and The End of Linebacker I
- Former VFP-62 CO and DFC Recipient, CAPT William Ecker, USN-Ret Passes Away
- CAPT John E. “Jack” Taylor, USN-Ret.
- Flightdeck Friday: USS MACON Added to National Register of Historical Places
- Tailhook Association and Association of Naval Aviation
- Flightdeck Friday: Speed and Seaplanes – The Curtiss CR-3 and R3C-2
- Flightdeck Friday: A Family Remembers a Father, Naval Officer and Former Vigilante B/N
- Out of the Box Thinking and Execution 68 Years Ago: The Doolittle Raid
- The ENTERPRISE Petition – A Gentle Reminder
- USS Enterprise (CVAN/CVN-65) At Fifty
- A Golden Anniversary: The Hawkeye At 50
- Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy
- Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part II)
- Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part III)
- Reflections on the E-2 Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary
- An Open Letter to “The 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation”
- U.S. Naval Aviation – 100 Years
- Doolittle’s Raiders: Last Surviving Bomber Pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, Dies at 93
- More Naval Aviation Heritage Aircraft (But Still No Hawkeye)
- Naval Aviation Centennial: Neptune’s Atomic Trident (1950)
- Naval Aviation Centennial: One Astronaut, A Future Astronaut and Reaching for New Heights
- Flightdeck Friday Special Edition: The Space Shuttle – Thirty Years of Dreams, Sweat and Tears
- Flightdeck Friday – Postings from the Naval Aviation Museum
- Saturday Matinee: US Naval Aviation – the First 100 Years
- National Museum of Naval Aviation – Some Thoughts and A Call to Action
- Flightdeck Friday – 100 Years of Naval Aviation and the USCG
- Guest Post: THE U.S. NAVY’S FLEET PROBLEMS OF THE THIRTIES — A Dive Bomber Pilot’s Perspective
- This Date in Naval Aviaiton History: Sept 18, 1962 – Changing Designators
- Centennial Of Naval Aviation – The Shadow Warriors
Is it to be the lead Agency for exploration in the fields of aeronautics and space?Â Discovering new technologies, opening new vistas of engineering and scientific knowledge for further exploration and utilization by US industry and the free nations of the world?
Or is it a high-tech outreach group?
Led by a failure in vision from the Oval Office and Congress stretching back for at least the past 20 years, NASA has stumbled its way from one intermediary goal to another.Â The Agency that laid and executed bold plans for manned exploration of LEO and the Moon and robotic missions of breathtaking risk to the outer planets has seen its preeminent position in cutting edge aeronautics overtaken and its manned programs turned into little more than a USPS run to the ISS every few or more months (and even that ceases at the end of this year maybe next year).
Challenged to expand its vision and at least get us back to where we once went, the best the Agency could do was come up with Apollo on steroids.Â And even that wouldn’t have us in a position to go back to the Moon, much less Mars before 2025.
Well, fear not.Â If NASA is too busy on feel-good outreach projects to bother with the hard stuff of exploration of the New Frontier, there are others more than ready to pick up the mantle:
On the occasion of the Global Lunar Conference (GLUC) organized by the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) and the Chinese Society of Astronautics (CSA), held form 31 May to 3 June in Beijing, China preseted a certain number of elements of its program of robotic and manned exploration of the Moon and Mars.Â The lunar program includes three phases.Â The first (2002-2007) included the Chang’e-1 orbiter.Â The second (2008-2013) includes Chang’e-2 next October (test of descent maneuvers from a 100 km orbit), Chang’e-3 in 2013 (lander and rover, to operate for three months on the surface), and Chang’e-4 ( a back-up for Chang’e-3) The third phase (2014-2020) involves return of samples with Chang’e-5.Â This latter would be launched by an LM-5 (Long March-5 SLV – SJS)This will lay the foundation for the future manned lunar mission by 2025.
— “China Unveils Its Lunar Program,” Air & Cosmos (French lang.) July 2010. (subscription)
Also cited were India’s joint and solo programs as well as those of the Russians, Japanese and South Koreans.
It wasn’t always like this — Americans loved (and I pray still do) a challenge, one where the stakes and the risks are great — and the reward greater:
We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours. . . We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
Some were willing to stake their all:
It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.
while acknowledging the lesser degree of surety of reward at journey’s end:
To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money. This year’s space budget is three times what it was in January 1961, and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined. That budget now stands at $5,400 million a year–a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year. Space expenditures will soon rise some more, from 40 cents per person per week to more than 50 cents a week for every man, woman and child in the United Stated, for we have given this program a high national priority–even though I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us.
But a nation mindful of its exceptional place in history, would do no less than that which is bold:
. . . if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon. . .on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, . . .and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.
Assuming we had leaders with vision, boldness and an ability to get things done:
As the leading space-faring nation, the United States is committed to addressing these challenges. But this cannot be the responsibility of the United States alone. All nations have the right to use and explore space, but with this right also comes responsibility. The United States, therefore, calls on all nations to work together to adopt approaches for responsible activity in space to preserve this right for the benefit of future generations.
From the outset of humanityâ€™s ascent into space, this Nation declared its commitment to enhance the welfare of humankind by cooperating with others to maintain the freedom of space.
The United States hereby renews its pledge of cooperation in the belief that with strengthened international collaboration and reinvigorated U.S. leadership, all nations and peoplesâ€”space-faring and space-benefitingâ€”will find their horizons broadened, their knowledge enhanced, and their lives greatly improved.
Atlantis Lifts Off
Space shuttle Atlantis lifted off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the STS-132 mission to the International Space Station at 2:20 p.m. EDT on May 14. The third of five shuttle missions planned for 2010, this was the last planned launch for Atlantis. The Russian-built Mini Research Module-1, also known as Rassvet, or “dawn,” will be delivered and it will provide additional storage space and a new docking port for Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft. The laboratory will be attached to the bottom port of the station’s Zarya module. The mission’s three spacewalks will focus on storing spare components outside the station, including six batteries, a communications antenna and parts for the Canadian Dextre robotic arm.
Image Credit: NASA
When Atlantis returns from her last mission, there will remain only Discovery and Endeavor as operational shuttles — and each with only one flight left this year.Â After that — we buy our way to the space station we led the way on construction and funding.Â $55.8 million per seat to those moguls of capitalism, the Russians, who seizing the opportunity promoted by supply/demand, raised the price per seat to that level form the 26 million we currently pay.Â In the meantime, the command module for the now defunct Constellation program is being looked at for a lifeboat mission off the ISS.Â And an American man-rated booster is now what, 5, 10 years off?
It is enough to make a grown man weep:
And speaking of former spaceflight capabilities or the promise thereof:
Five years is a long time where spaceflight is concerned — especially when the competition is beating your brains out using your money:
and a newcomer has plans for the Moon:
And so here we are, on the cusp of the 40th anniversary of the first landing on the Moon – where have we come in those forty years?Â As a star-crossed (literally) youth in 1969, my imagination was fired by the likes of the space program.Â From Sheppard’s sub-orbital flight that I recall watching from our small black and white TV, all the Mercury and Gemini flights, the unmanned flights to the Moon and Mars and then those stunning images from behind the Moon as for the first time Man’s eyes watched the homeworld rise from behind another body…Â Then there was 2001 with its plot that confused but special effects that made travel in space seem – real.Â It seemed a logical extension of where we were going with the impending landing in July of ’69 and to a young midwestern lad with a penchant for aviation, science fiction and a gaze fixed firmly upward, so near and attainable…
*sigh*Â Welcome again to the Age of Diminished Expectations…
Well, today the LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) entered lunar orbit – reprising the recce missions (albeit HD this time) conducted by 5 Lunar Orbiter missions between 1966 and 1967 preparatory to Apollo’s mission to the moon. (ironically, the Lunar Orbiter was launched by an Atlas-Agena D SLV — and today’s LRO was launched by an Atlas-Centaur V, albeit much more advanced and powerful to be sure than its distant cousin form the 60’s, but again, one would have thought by now we’d be much further along in SLV capability too…)Â The current mission is part of the Apollo-on-steroids return to the Moon program that *might* put us back on the moon by…2020??Â (ed. and if/if the current reviewÂ doesn’t kill it or delay it to a much later date – we’ll know at summer’s end – SJS).Â Accompanying the LRO is the smaller LCROS (Lunar CRater and Observer Sensing Satellite) which actually beat the LRO to the Moon.Â LCROSS made a flyby enroute to an Earth orbit that will bring it back to an impact in the lunar southern polar region.Â The resulting plume will be observed by a number of earth-bound and space-based sensors for expected traces of water.
Yet for all the necessary science that will come from the missions, there is not much in the way boldness that inspires and piques the innate explorer in us.Â Why not a mission to an asteroid with the Constellation?Â Get out of low Earth orbit, get out of lunar orbit and start exploring and working in the interplanetary space that we will have to traverse on the way to Mars?Â Be bold in our declarations to explore space – let’s inspire a new generation of scientists, engineers and explorers, instead of MBAs and lawyers.Â Let’s be a nation on the leading edge of space again and not one satisfied with “do overs.”
Til then, I suppose, some of us will just have to settle for exploring in name only. (yes, the scribe & extended family are in orbit tonight – literally).Â Of course, if one is so inclined, it’s not too late for Mars:
Forty years ago, man had slipped the gravitational pull that had kept him shackled Â in orbit around his home planet, and boldly struck out for the Moon.Â Â
Forty years ago, in a live broadcast on Christmas Eve Â for the ages, he sent back stunning images of his world and our perspective was forever changed:Â
“For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you”.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”
“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”
“And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”
Borman then added, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
To which all we would add is “Amen“
Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, flying on the International Space Station, is being criticized by some U.S. observers for using a digital camera equipped with an 800-mm. telephoto lens and a video camera to image what a Russian official said were “after-effects of border conflict operations in the Caucasus” on Aug. 9, soon after the Georgian army pushed into East Ossetia. Using the space station for military purposes violates the ISS cooperation agreement between NASA and the Russian space agency. The Russians say the images were “requested to support potential humanitarian activities in the area including serious water resource management issues.”Â – 1 Sep 08 Aviation Week & Space Technology (subscription may be required)
Kinda makes one ponder the thinking behind loss of US access to the ISS between the end of the Shuttle missions in 2010 and start of the Constellation flights.