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Scott Carpenter – A tribute to a curious but ordinary superman

Scott Carpenter – A tribute to a curious but ordinary superman

“Conquering fear is one of life’s greatest pleasures and it can be done in a lot of different places.

– Scott Carpenter, May 1st 1925 – October 10, 2013-

Scott Carpenter, a curious but ordinary superman. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Scott Carpenter, a curious but ordinary superman.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com


One of only two remaining Mercury Program Astronauts from the 60’s, Scott Carpenter, sadly passed beyond the veil on Thursday October 10th 2013 following a stroke in September. He was 88 years of age. Carpenter was one of the earliest pioneers in the infancy of the Space Age. He was the 2nd American to cross the threshold into orbital space on his MA-7 “Aurora 7” spaceflight and the 6th man overall.  He also held the unique distinction of being not only an astronaut but an aquanaut following his NASA career in the US Navy’s various Sea Lab projects.

For each last step, there is a first step. Born in Boulder, Colorado, USA on May 1st 1925, Malcolm Scott Carpenter was impressed by planes at the age of 5 when his father took him to his first airshow. His love of flight grew as he continued to build and fly model balsa wood plane kits as a boy. He gained a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Colorado, before entering flight school with the US Navy at Pensacola Florida and Corpus Christi Texas. After the Korean War where he flew aerial anti-submarine surveillance and patrols, Carpenter enrolled at Patuxent River’s Navy Test Pilot School in Maryland. Following this, he was assigned as an Air Intelligence Officer on the USS Hornet. During this time he received special orders to report to Washington DC for an unnamed meeting. That meeting led to his selection in Project Mercury on April 9, 1959, which was instituted as the newly formed NASA’s first step to catch up to the Soviets who had taken an early lead in the rapidly escalating Space Race.

What followed is fabled history. The exhaustive raft of testing of 110 candidates down to what are now known as the “Original Seven” and Carpenter formed part of that elite fraternity of Mercury Astronauts. Their every move was recorded and lauded by the public at large as the nascent American Space Program took its initial steps forward. Due to his communications and navigation experience Carpenter was back-up on his good friend John Glenn’s orbital flight. Upon launch, as Glenn cleared the tower, Carpenter’s words of “Godspeed John Glenn” were recorded and have echoed through the years of spaceflight history. Carpenter repeated this goodwill message when Glenn went into orbit again aboard the Shuttle in 1998.

The brotherhood of the Original Seven. Front row, from left, are Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald "Deke" K. Slayton, John Glenn Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter. Back row, from left, are Alan Shepard Jr., Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, and Gordon Cooper. Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

The brotherhood of the Original Seven. Front row, from left, are Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald “Deke” K. Slayton, John Glenn Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter. Back row, from left, are Alan Shepard Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and Gordon Cooper.
Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

On May 24, 1962, Carpenter’s own flight dubbed “Aurora 7” launched and completed 3 orbits of the Earth. His mission; to prove a human could work in space. This was an important link in the chain of events which ultimately resulted in a manned landing on the moon just 7 short years later. For the first time he demonstrated humans could perform tasks, experiments, communications, navigation and eat solid food in space. Due to some technical faults, inadvertent errors during the mission, all of which Carpenter compensated for, Aurora 7 came home safely but overshot the target landing zone due to fuel mismanagement during the mission. He was found by rescuers almost 5 hours late, 1000 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral, coolly relaxing in the life raft alongside his spacecraft.  Ever the gentleman astronaut he even offered his rescuers food and water from his survival kit.

The launch of Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

The launch of Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Looking out for John Glenn's fireflies... Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Looking out for John Glenn’s fireflies…
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Carpenter, awaiting recovery after splashdown. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Carpenter, awaiting recovery after splashdown.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

As with many space explorers who are comfortable with the risk of space exploration, Carpenter had remarked that his mission realised a long held dream and that “This is something I would gladly give my life for.” In today’s modern world of Google Earth and armchair exploration, we should remember that back then it took a special kind of person to ride fire into the heavens to expand knowledge at risk of their own life. Unlike many of his Mercury astronaut peers who were recovered and debriefed after their space shots relatively quickly, Carpenter had time for introspection and reflection on the events and meaning of his experience on Aurora 7. Carpenter was also blessed with a curious and philosophical mind. Peering through the small periscope of Aurora 7 into the endless night outside, Carpenter remarked,

“From that view … you are a long way away. Everything you see gives you satisfaction of the expectation which involves curiosity. The most important driver in everything we did then was curiosity. Can we make machines do this? Can we put our bodies through this? It’s revelatory. Addictive. Beautiful beyond description. To have been in space is very satisfying of one’s curiosity. It’s instructive. It’s marvellous.”

At the time, some may have perceived those comments and qualities to be extraneous for a test pilot / astronaut, favouring engineering rigour and zero margin of error during those early missions.  Consequently, Carpenter never flew in space again. In later years his curiosity and philosophical mind have become more appreciated by his peers.

Following NASA, Carpenter’s curious mind to banish unknowns led him to meeting with the French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. He saw many parallels, between deep space and the deep ocean, with transferable skills, technologies and parallel experiences. But more personally for him, like with his Mercury flight, working beneath the waves to satisfy his curiosity would remove any “unreasoned fears”, just as he had done above the clouds on Aurora 7. As part of the Navy’s Sea Lab II experiment, Carpenter spent 30 days in spring 1965 on the ocean floor of La Jolla as an aquanaut, proving humans could survive in this environment.  At one point during his time under the waves, he even spoke by phone to the crew of Gemini 5 orbiting far overhead. Old Mercury Seven buddy Gordon Cooper was no doubt happy to hear him. His work on the ocean floor has yielded cross benefits for NASA too as Carpenter became the Navy/NASA liaison for underwater zero gravity training – or neutral buoyancy, which has become mandatory for NASA EVA astronaut training. For this work, Carpenter was awarded the Navy’s Legion of Merit medal.

Carpenter on top of SEA LAB II shortly before being lowered to the ocean floor where he stayed for a month. Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

Carpenter on top of SEA LAB II shortly before being lowered to the ocean floor where he stayed for a month.
Credit: Discovery News / CORBIS

In his later years after retiring from the Navy, Carpenter had remained active on various projects utilising his aerospace and oceanic engineering expertise. From enhancing ocean resource usage, to consulting on underwater, diving and submersibles, and lecturing on the future of technology developments and impacts Scott Carpenter had continued to actively contribute to the quality of our lives here on Earth.  Not stopping there, he had also authored three books, one of which is his memoirs “For Spacious Skies” which he wrote with his daughter Kris Stoever. Carpenter remained a staunch advocate of manned spaceflight, and pushing our exploration to Mars.

“We need a goal other than the International Space Station. We need to get cracking on a manned flight to Mars, because that is going to capture the interest, support and imagination of people who pay for spaceflight…We need to go to Mars… Mars is interim, but for now that is a goal that NASA and the country and the planet can live with enthusiastically.”           

Looking back, Carpenter remarked that he and John Glenn bonded over common interests, mutual respect and being Air Force boys. Upon hearing of his great friend’s passing, the last remaining torchbearer of that age, Mercury astronaut John Glenn paid tribute with his friend’s simple words and remarked “Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.” Carpenter himself has said that he believes he is very fortunate to have lived life during a time when there were so many unknowns to be solved during this century. That had pleased him immensely as he was always a very curious person and he has had a lot of satisfied curiosity in his time.

Brothers in Arms; Carpenter (left) and John Glenn (right). Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Brothers in Arms; Carpenter (left) and John Glenn (right).
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Meeting Scott Carpenter at Spacefest V in May 2013 in what turned out to be his twilight months, was a special privilege and for myself, the highest honour, to meet a member of the Original Seven. Meeting Scott himself, who truly understood the wider more nuanced experiences of manned spaceflight, the continuing importance of manned exploration and the questing nature of humanity, was even more special to me. The hallmark of his character, curiosity, still burned brightly in his alert eyes even though his health was visibly failing. I briefly asked him about what lessons he has taken with him on his explorations of the ocean and space into his life. Scott merely whispered, as if sharing a secret;

“Be led by your curiosity. And never forget the fun of learning and discovery. It can take you places you have never dreamed”.

Curiosity brought us here. Scott Carpenter and myself. Credit: Amjad P. Zaidi

Curiosity brought us here. Scott Carpenter and myself.
Credit: Amjad P. Zaidi

Words from a curious but ordinary superman that will stay with me forever. May fair winds be at your back Star Voyager for you have returned to the place where we all came from. You are stardust.  We thank you for your bravery, your discoveries, your humanity and your continuing inspiration.

Godspeed, Scott Carpenter.

Scott Carpenter and his children. His legacy. Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com

Scott Carpenter and his children. His legacy.
Credit: www.scottcarpenter.com









LADEE, first flight to the moon from Wallops Flight Facility

Of course everyone reading this knows about the #NASASocial event for the launch of the LADEE mission to Lunar orbit happening this week on Thursday (9/5) and Friday (9/6).  Follow NASASocial/lists/ladee-launch-social plus @NASA_Wallops, @NASALADEE, @NASAAmes, @NASAGoddard, and also @LRO_NASA for updates.

A nice piece of Wallops history was raised by @TeresaR_WV: “Explorer 9 was the first spacecraft placed in orbit by an all-solid rocket and the first spacecraft successfully launched into orbit from Wallops Island.” (1961, NSSDC).

The LADEE social will be covering a huge range of subjects, including the following.

The LADEE mission will be collecting data on the Lunar Exosphere, specifically tightening the boundaries on gas and dust types and quantities found at altitudes under 50 km so that future work can develop an understanding of the surface boundary exospheric processes that occur on inert rocky bodies like the Moon and Mercury. And the LADEE mission will be flight qualifying the LLCD free space optical communications link. Data collection in the Lunar Exosphere will employ three instruments.

The Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) determines captured (Lunar Exosphere) gas particle types (element) using a kind of electromagnetic filter called an RF Quadrupole or Quadrupole mass analyzer, or Mass Spectrometer. Instruments very similar to this one have flown on many deep space missions including CASSINI. In determining gas types with fairly high frequency (many per second), gas quantity and distribution can be determined over time.

The Ultraviolet – Visible Spectrometer (UVS) will determine observed (Lunar Exosphere) gas types by the characteristic electromagnetic emission spectra of gas particles impacted by solar radiation. It is also capable of a few additional modes (that I haven’t groked yet) that provide information about gas and dust processes in the exosphere.

The Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) captures larger “dust” particles to determine composition and distribution over time, not entirely unlike the NMS. Also not entirely unlike the NMS, it employs an electromagnetic process to do so.

The NMS and LDEX are forward facing, while the UVS is rearward facing, in LADEE’s direction of flight. That is, LADEE flies sideways relative to its Lunar Capture rocket engine which it points out of the way otherwise.

The NASA TV broadcast schedule includes events on Thursday and Friday.

September 5, Thursday

10 -11:30 a.m. – NASA Social for LADEE Mission Live from the Wallops Flight Facility – HQ/WFF (Education Channel)

3 p.m. – LADEE Prelaunch Mission Briefing – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

4 p.m. – LADEE Mission Science and Technology Demonstration Briefing – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

September 6, Friday

6-10 a.m. –Live Interviews on the LADEE Mission – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

4-6 p.m. – Live Interviews on LADEE Mission – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

9:30 p.m. – Live Launch Coverage and Commentary on LADEE Mission – HQ/GSFC/WFF (Public and Media Channels)

9:30 p.m. – Simulcast of NASA EDGE Live Webcast of LADEE Mission and Launch – LARC/HQ/WFF (Education Channel)

September 7, Saturday

2 a.m. – LADEE Post Launch News Conference –HQ/WFF (All Channels)

The LADEE Mission Pages have info for viewing the launch from the US East Coast, and most importantly how to get involved in citizen science!

1st European SpaceTweetup #Spacetacular!!

1st European SpaceTweetup #Spacetacular!!

On 18 September, the German Aerospace Centre (DLR, @dlr_en) and the European Space Agency (ESA, @esa) invited 60 lucky Twitter followers to the first European SpaceTweetup.  Among them some of our most prominent members, @flyingjenny, @herrea, @CraftLass, @travelholic, @amoroso, @marcozambi, @SpaceKate, @DrLucyRogers and @rocketman528. I (@akanel) was also lucky to be invited – and this was my first Tweetup ever!

The SpaceTweetup took place on German Aerospace Day at the joint DLR and European Astronaut Centre site in Cologne.  It was an amazing day, which not even the German grey and rainy weather could spoil!  …it did, of course, make our photographs a bit murky, but that’s about it!

The SpaceTweetup program was full and exciting.  So many thrills packed inside approx. 10 hours that could have easily been the object of two or more separate events.  For those who didn’t get to attend, a four hour (!) long selection of the best moments is available on ESA’s site.


Photo credit: @SimSullen

The day started very excitingly.  We visited and learned about the SOFIΑ Project (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), DLR and NASA’s impressive airborne telescope.  Mounted on a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified by L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, SOFIA has a 2.5 meter reflecting telescope, which makes measurements during flight!  High above the disturbances caused by Earth’s atmosphere, but also easily accessible for maintenance and modifications, SOFIA combines the advantages of space telescopes, like Herschel and Hubble, with the ease of ground based telescopes.

The science done on SOFIA is planned by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI) under the leadership of NASA Ames Research Centre.  Observing mostly in the far infrared, SOFIA will be used to study many different kinds of astronomical objects and phenomena, such as e.g. star birth and death, formation of new solar systems, identification of complex molecules in space (such as organic materials necessary for life), planets, comets and asteroids in our own solar system, nebulae and dust in galaxies and black holes at the centre of galaxies, helping to answer many fundamental questions about the creation and evolution of the Universe.

SOFIA Telescope. Photo credit: @Brigitte_Ba


Spacehacks Playing Astronaut

With the passion for manned spaceflight in continual flux, with the Hubble’s replacement in danger of outright cancellation, and decreasing budgets for even robotic or orbital missions, it would be all too easy to become discouraged by space program withdrawal.

The most powerful thing we can do is spread the word. Tweet! And tweet some more! Put space articles on your Facebook wall. Support projects that invite the public to join their efforts, such as NASA studies or organizations like SPACEHACK, the directory of ways to participate in Space Exploration.

Spacehack Directory
In the coming era, it may very well be all the work we do on the GROUND that gets us more fully into space again, so make an effort as SpaceTweeps to support the projects that support the space program! Through their growth, we spread the word and find strength in numbers. Congress can’t ignore this forever.

Some listings are competitions for prizes, others pay actual wages; some are for students and/or entire classrooms as projects, others for amateur and professional astronomers… and still others are simply ways to gather information to contribute to scientific research.

Video not available

The highest paying gig in there are the NASA bedrest studies, aka the Flight Analog Program. They develop 2-3 new Spaceflight Simulations per year, requiring people to visit a special NASA facility and … well, pretty much lie around while getting paid $160 per day most of the time! No joke. Although – one of the newer programs is a bit more strenuous than usual, as they are testing a version of the Space Station’s “Colbert” treadmill…

Also check out some articles about how NASA programs help real world citizens, such as the rehab facility now offering NASA-developed anti-gravity treadmill for therapy. The ultimate spinoff! Space station exercise? Now also a medical tool for healing and/or physical conditioning.

Powering the Future: Inside the Ad Astra Rocket Company

In an old shoe distribution center just down the road from Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, rocket scientists are developing the engines that may one day propel giant landers to search for life on Europa or hurtle the first human missions to across the void to Mars.  Once part of NASA’s long-term technology development program, the Ad Astra Rocket Company is now a private space propulsion lab headed by former NASA astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz.  On a recent trip to Houston I was privileged to be able to tour the lab and see where the future is being built.

Ad Astra is developing the VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket).  They are developing a plasma rocket that shoots out super-hot exhausted that is controlled and directed by super-conducting magnets.  WOW.  The company is working with NASA to fly a full-scale prototype engine on the International Space Station in the next few years to refine their simulation models and confirm the output of the futuristic engine.

VASIMR diagram from Ad Astra

The building is unassuming to say the least.  It does not have a fancy glass and steel entryway, Tron-like glowing walls, or scenic views. Driving up, we were convinced we were in the wrong place. Inside the building, an open floor plan revealed a small reception area separated from a few modern work stations and a large conference room. The decor was sparse, a tasteful and eclectic mix of awards, spacecraft models, and signed Space Shuttle crew pictures from Chang-Diaz’s flights.


Space Shuttle Mission Schedules: Late 2007-2011

I just uploaded my collection of Space Shuttle mission schedules here.  The zip files include all of NASA’s mission schedules, including as many revisions published during the missions. Missions in this zip file are: STS-119, STS-122, STS-123, STS-124, STS-125, STS-126, STS-127, STS-128, STS-129, STS-130, STS-131, STS-132, STS-133, STS-134, and STS-135.

You can use these Excel files in conjunction with the free Windows program I wrote: NASA Space Shuttle TV Schedule Transfer to Outlook Calendar.  It reads the Excel file that NASA published for each Space Shuttle mission and copies the events into the Calendar of Microsoft’s Office Outlook.

Project page

#NASATweetup Juno Launch

Today is the launch from the Kennedy Space Center to study Jupiter. Want to know about why Jupiter is important? Follow us with the hashtag #NASAtweetup

Challenger’s Enduring Mission: 25 years strong

Challenger's Enduring Mission: 25 years strong

The loss of the space shuttle Challenger and her crew of seven a quarter century ago this Friday marked not just a significant place in American history, but helped capture the imagination of the country and it’s youth.

As Challenger sat poised to begin the twenty-fifth space shuttle mission, students around the United States and select countries around the world tuned in to CNN to watch the launch as it happened. Cable News Network was the only network to carry the launch live. In fact, the White House staff was tuned to the Atlanta-based network to watch the lift-off.

This flight attracted both the youth of the nation and their teachers. After all, one of their own was on board — Teachernaut Sharon Christa McAuliffe.

McAuliffe, along with Barbara Morgan as her back-up, were chosen by NASA in July 1985 for the Teacher in Space project, and it was McAuliffe’s excitement for science and space which created a media likeness toward her.

As the launch neared on that January morning, television sets clicked on in classrooms and student halls.

This aerospace reporter was one of those students, and my school’s choral room was one of those rooms.

Challenger’s crew of seven included commander Richard Dick Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, mission specialists Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair and payload specialists McAuliffe and Gregory Jarvis.

As an early-teen, I developed a strong respect for several astronauts in the corps. including Dr. Resnik. During 1985, I was able to place several phone calls to her office, including a few letters. She offered a lot of information about training, strength and the choices you make in your life.

A beautiful, personally signed portrait and a few items from Dr. Resnik remains in my possession to this day.

Tuesday, January 28, 1986 was extremely cold. Ice coated the launch tower where Challenger waited passively following a one day delay due to a stuck hatch handle.

I can recall the days leading up to the launch as if it occurred only twenty-five months ago.

Challenger’s STS-51L mission, or STS-33 as the technicians handling Challenger’s prelaunch payloads knew it, was originally targeted for Jan. 24 at 3:43 pm. The delays of the launch of Columbia weeks earlier forced a three day delay.

Much of America watched the Chicago Bears win in Super Bowl XX, but for the crew of Challenger and the launch support teams it was bedtime before halftime of the game the night before launch.

Recalling that morning before school, I had CNN on watching the smiles on the crew as they left the Operations and Checkout building. I remember thinking, “there (Dr. Resnik) goes.”

The freezing temperatures forecast for launch morning did cause concern with key managers and their support personal, however almost everyone concluded late into the night that it would be safe fly.

The concern was the rubber O-ring seals on the solid rocket boosters which help trap hot gases from leaking out of the several sections which stack up the booster.

Recalling that morning before school, I had CNN on watching the crew walk out and their smiles as they left the Operations and Checkout building. I remember thinking, “there (Dr. Resnik) goes.”

The space shuttle Challenger lifted-off into the blue skies over Cape Canaveral following a delay to allow for outside temperatures to warm up at 11:38:00 am EST.

“And, lift-off. Lift-off of the twenty-fifth space shuttle mission, and it has cleared the tower,” launch commentator Hugh Harris announced.

It was the first space shuttle launch from pad 39-B.

It was to be an exciting mission as McAulliffe planned to make two 15 minute lessons from space from her classroom on the middeck; and collect data on the other space news of the month, comet Halley’s return.

A science satellite called Spartan-Halley would be deployed by Dr. Resnik using the ship’s robotic arm for forty hours of comet Halley observations. Experiments on Spartan would look into the ultraviolet regions of the comet.

Two seconds after the boosters ignited and Challenger began to rise, around eight puffs of black smoke shot out of the right hand booster and then stopped.

The tenth mission of Challenger was underway, and her crew of seven soared toward super sonic speeds.

In classrooms, teachers and school children cheered the space shuttle as it sailed out over the Atlantic Ocean.

Then it was over in a flash.

As Challenger passed through a region of strong winds, pressures from Challenger’s speed and the crosswinds from a recent jet stream forced the same o-ring seal which had puffed smoke earlier to allow flame to burn through the seal and lick the lower back section of the external fuel tank.

The flame burned the booster’s lower attach point to the tank, causing the forward nose of the booster to veer into the upper section of the external tank and puncture it.

The entire vehicle disintegrated. The orbiter itself did not explode. The force of the disintegration broke apart Challenger.

Challenger’s crew cabin was thrown free and traveled upward for a few seconds prior to falling into the ocean.

It’s hard for most to put into words their memories of that day. I never have wanted to write about this for fear of… I guess I want to keep my memories to myself, many I will not write about here.

Moments after the tragedy, I finished a math exam and literally ran to the school’s front office to call my mother.

I went home and mourned for weeks. Not just for the space program and the crew, but for an innocence lost. I grew up a bit and I vowed to improve myself and aim high.

I think a lot of students of all ages learned from the loss of Challenger, and made personal commitments to achieve higher goals.

In the years that followed, the families of the crew began the Challenger Center for space science education. Today, there are 48 learning centers across America, Canada and the United Kingdom teaching the science involved here on earth and in space. They’re making math and science fun for young students, and that’s important.

We all have our heroes, those who inspire us deep down to stay strong and strive further to meet our dreams. My father who taught me to fly planes, fish and work a computer at an early age, and Dr. Resnik are sincerely those two heroes who have reached out and ‘touched the face of God.’

God bless.

Discovery: America’s Spacecraft of the Ages

space shuttle Discovery — a beautiful white dove and NASA’s work horse
for a quarter century — is just days away from the start of her
thirty-ninth and final voyage upon the ocean of space.

reporter has personally witnessed several of Discovery’s milestones,
including a beautiful low pass over Kelly AFB, Texas in 1989 as she
rode a top a Boeing 747 after her STS-29 mission; the launches of
several of her flights beginning with STS-53 from inside Kennedy Space
Center; and the beautiful IMAX high quality video as she sailed around
two different space stations.

her first flight was in 1984, one would need to go back to America’s
Bicentennial to witness the start of her construction at the Rockwell
plant in Palmdale, California.

after two traditional exploration ships of the early 1600’s and the
1770’s, Discovery has spent the last 26 years making discoveries of her
own in the way we see not just our earth but the space around us.

spares from the building of two previous orbiters were built in 1976.
These segments later began to form Discovery’s crew cabin once the
government gave NASA the funding to build a fourth orbiter in January

At this point
in time, three other orbiters were completed or neared completion.
Enterprise was already performing air flight drop tests, however it was
not space flight rated; Columbia was built and just weeks away from her
delivery to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center; and Challenger was under
construction at the Rockwell plant in Palmdale.

and her sister ship Atlantis were built when it was determined in 1978
that upgrading Enterprise for space flight could not happen due to the
way she was constructed.

Discovery’s wings were completed and were attached to her fuselage in the summer of 1982.

third space shuttle orbiter vehicle (OV-103) destined to soar through
space rolled out of Rockwell for delivery to America’s spaceport on
October 16, 1983.

arriving at Kennedy a few weeks later, Discovery was towed to her new
home in the orbiter processing facility for tests and inspections prior
to her first planned flight in June 1984.

maiden flight was to have been the sixteenth space shuttle mission
(STS-16), but cancelled missions moved it up as the twelfth flight
under a new designation, STS-41D.

was the fourth flight under the new payload identification system:
Space Transportation System (STS) and the 4 meant the fiscal year of
1984, the “1” stated it was a KSC launch (where “2” was to have been
the Vandenberg, AFB site); and “D” is the designation for the payload
flight of the year.

maiden flight was delayed one day to June 26th, but a dramatic shutdown
of two of her three main engines seconds before launch would keep the
craft earthbound another two months.

5 we have main engine start… (NTD states “cut-off”)… We have a
cut-off. We have an abort by the on board computers of the orbiter
Discovery,” NASA’s launch commentator stated as it happened.

launch control began reading all of their data. Engineers began safeing
both Discovery and her boosters as they scrubbed the launch. Launch
director Bob Seick and his team knew the entire stack would need to be
returned to her hanger to replace the three used engines.

Discovery would later return to her ocean side launch pad, and on August 30, 1984, set sail on her first flight:

2, 1. We have SRB ignition and we have lift-off! Lift-off of mission
STS-41D, the first flight of the orbiter Discovery, and the shuttle has
cleared the tower!”, the launch commentator exclaimed at 8:42 am as she
rose into the blue Florida sky.

“Zoo Crew” of six — commander Henry Hartsfield, pilot Mike Coats and
mission specialists Steve Hawley, Richard M. Mullane, Judith A. Resnik
and Charles Walker — spent six days in space deploying three
communications satellites; deploying a 102-foot solar sail mock-up; and
testing Discovery’s on board systems as this was her maiden flight.

Zoo Crew reference was an internal crew joke as Resnik kidded Mullane
and Hawley upon their meeting of actress Bo Derek who had just starred
in the movie remake of Tarzan. Judy would call Mullane “Tarzan” and
Hawley “Cheetah”. Mullane’s answer to Judy, “Well you must be Jane

When I worked
for Space Camp and Astronaut Hall of Fame, I became Mullane’s personal
guide during his two day visit in 1996. I asked him a lot about that
flight and he shared with me several great stories of 41D.

flew her second flight STS-51A two months later on an exciting mission
which saw two spacewalking astronauts go out and capture two wayward
satellites stranded in low earth orbit. The two satellites were
launched earlier in the year, and Discovery captured them and returned
them home to be repaired and relaunched.

orbiter would fly four times in 1985 on satellite delivery flights and
one classified military mission which earned the white dove the name
“Battlestar Discovery”.

1985, the space shuttle’s second launch site at Vandenberg, AFB was
being prepared for it’s first launch. Discovery was destined to become
the military orbiter and fly the first California shuttle flight in
March 1986 on mission STS-62A (6 for 1986, 2 for VAFB and A for the
first payload of the year).

fuel tank contamination issues at the launch site saw that the launch
would likely be delayed past the March target date.

came the loss of Challenger on January 28, 1986, loosing both Resnik,
school teacher Christa McAuliffe and five astronauts due to high upper
level winds placing stress on a frozen, frailed o-ring seal on the
shuttle’s right solid rocket booster. The failed seal allowed for a
small plume of fire to lick the external tank and causing the tank to
explode, causing Challenger to break apart.

spent the next thirty-two months adding a new capture feature to a
redesigned SRB; performing over 100 modifications and upgrades to the
three remaining orbiters; and learning how to fix how NASA conducts
flight safety.

Discovery was then selected to lift America back into space.

September 29, 1988, Discovery mission STS-26R carried a crew of five
and a new tracking and data satellite to replace the one lost on
Challenger’s flight.

spent the next few years carrying aloft space observatories and
spacecraft destined to observe the planets and galaxies.

the spring of 1990, Discovery and a crew of five launched the Edwin
Hubble Space Telescope into earth orbit. On her next flight in October,
the Ulysses spacecraft was deployed from the orbiter to begin an
unexpected nearly 19 year mission to understand
“the Global Structure of the Sun’s environment-the heliosphere“, according to NASA’s JPL.

became the first orbiter to rendezvous with a space station when in
February 1995, the craft began a station keeping flight next to Russia’s Mir
station. A few of us referred to this mission as the “Mir-go-round”

I still recall standing at the launch pad hours before her launch and thinking that this spacecraft will be flying in formation with a space station. There’s something truly special about that… I wanted it to inspire me.

the orbiter would dock only once during the nine shuttle-Mir docking
flights. In June 1998, her STS-91 flight performed the final Mir
docking as her crew picked up astronaut Andy Thomas from his multiple
month stay on the station.

few months later, Discovery’s 25th flight carried a crew of seven
including former Mercury astronaut John Glenn to space on a science
mission. On February 20, 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit
the earth and became a national hero. So much so that then President
John Kennedy denied Glenn’s return to space for fear of loosing him to
a tragic space flight accident later.

Discovery revisited Hubble twice in the late-90’s, and also flew the 100th space shuttle flight on October 2000.

2000’s are known at NASA as the construction years of the International
Space Station. It also became the start of America’s ten-plus years of
continuous living and working in space. Beginning on November 2, 2000
and thru today, at least one American has been in space.

2001, Discovery carried both the station’s Expedition two and
Expedition three crews to orbit to begin their three month stays aboard
earth’s orbital outpost in space.

2002, NASA was running at full steam. The space station was growing and
her crews were performing great science 220 miles above earth.

Then on February 1, 2003, America lost Columbia during her return to earth.

stood down and began to focus on how the physics of the loss of foam
insulation from the external tank can damage the belly of an orbiter
during launch. This is what doomed Columbia as insulation traveling at
a high speed slammed into the wing’s leading edge on the underside of
the orbiter. It punctured a hole and when Columbia completed her 16 day
flight, the hot gases and temperatures of reentry began to fill the
inside structure of the craft causing section after section to break
off over Texas.

Long hours were spent fixing the way the foam insulation was applied to the shuttle’s external tank.

On board the space station, NASA and Russia downsized the crew compliment from three to two until the shuttle program resumed.

in July 2005, Discovery’s 31st mission returned America to space once
again, however this time during her launch several insulation pieces
had broken off without damaging the craft. NASA stood down another year
to make more adjustments to the tank.

Independence Day launch in 2006 on a space station resupply flight gave
America a much needed lift, and helped resume the building of the

Since then,
Discovery has carried up to station the huge Port 5 and the Starboard 6
truss segments; the Japanese Kibo science module in 2008; and the
Leonardo multipurpose logistics module to resupply the complex.

as we witness Discovery’s final flight this month, her 39th mission
will again carry Leonardo, but this time her crew of six will leave the
Italian-built module docked to station permanently as a storage section.

shortest flight of 3 days, 93 minutes was a January 1985 Department of
Defense mission STS-51C. Her longest single flight occurred last April
when it flew a 15 day, 2 hour and 47 minute trip to resupply the
International Space Station.

Discovery breaks out of orbit in two weeks and returns home, she maybe
flying into the sunset of her storied career, but will pass the torch
on to the spacecraft of the future.

takes thousands of people to cleanup and turn each orbiter around for
her next flight. It’s great people like these here at Kennedy and
around the country who have kept Discovery flying safely and in great
shape for more that a quarter century.

Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Washington, DC wants Discovery to
be her next home beginning in early 2012. A formal announcement will be
made this spring.

Discovery has been a favorite of mine for the past 26 years, and I look forward to seeing her again in our nation’s capital.

Story: Charles Atkeison

Space Tweep Gatherings for STS-133

We had really tried to plan a big gathering for this launch where tweeps involved in the NASA Tweetup and those just attending launch could all meet up. The schedule for the Tweetup made it very difficult to find a time when all could gather. 

Due to the launch delays, there is now a much better opportunity for tweeps to get together, because the launch time is earlier in the day. So tweeps, if you are on the Space Coast for the launch, try to make it over to Grills in Port Canaveral at some point afterward. The food is good, and hopefully there will be a lot of us who can make it. Expect heavy traffic and large crowds. There will probably be tweeps there until pretty late, so don’t stress if you get stuck in traffic. 

There are also other opportunities for small gatherings, so if you’d like to list any impromptu get togethers you’re having here, you can leave details in the comments on this post. Registered tweeps can click on a link at the bottom of this post to “watch” it so they will be emailed when new comments are posted. Look for a link that reads, “You are not watching this post, click to start watching.” 

Don’t forget, you can also use tools like Foursquare to find out where tweeps you’ve friended are hanging out. 

Welcome to the Space Coast; travel safely!


While the debate goes on about what NASA should do and what it should let private companies do and use as a shelf product, I came up with the term to describe things NASA need to do by themselves rather than letting others – NASAssary 

Full details on Spacepirations – http://www.spacepirations.com/2010/10/nasassarry.html

So, is a heavy-lift NASAssary? How about propellant-depots?

Next Space Shuttle Launch – Informal Poll


I’m conducting an informal poll on Spacepirations with the purpose of understanding how much first level acquaintances of space enthusiasts know about the upcoming launch of Space Shuttle Discovery.

It would be great to get all of you (obviously space enthusiasts) ask your friends and family 4 simple questions and report back, preferably on Spacepirations.

The questions are:

  1. Which Space Shuttle is getting ready for launch?
  2. When is the next launch?
  3. How many Space Shuttle launches remain after this one?
  4. What mission number is it going to be?

After the launch I will tally the responses and gauge in a non-scientific way how well we space enthusiasts and NASA keep these historic last few shuttle launches and space on people’s minds.

The full post with the poll questions is here: http://www.spacepirations.com/2010/09/next-space-shuttle-launch-informal-poll.html

Thanks for your help!