Tag Archives: sts-134

Second to last Space Shuttle Mission

I haven’t talked much about spacey type stuff, si I figured I’d post a quick update about the upcoming shuttle mission, STS-134.  The mission was supposed to have launched yesterday, but due to a hardware malfunction the launch was delayed.  I’ve talked about this mission a bit in this post a while back. 

This mission will be carrying more supplies and spare parts, like most shuttle missions, along with the AMS-02 instrument.  This big physics experiment is designed to detect high-energy particles zipping through space while attached to the international space station.  This experiment is similar in principle to the particle detectors built into the large ground-based particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider and the Tevatron. 

The glitch that prevented launch yesterday was due to an issue with some heaters that did not turn on like they were supposed to during a pre-launch test.  These heaters are intended to keep the fuel lines for the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) from freezing while the orbiter is in space.  The APU is a device that reacts together two hypergolic propellants to produce pressure in the hydraulic systems for the orbiter.  There are three APUs, any one of which can supply the necessary hydraulic pressure, as well as two strings of heaters for the fuel lines as well.  However, the flight rules specify that these heaters need to be working, so NASA will do what it has to do to get them working again. 

This flight will be the last for the space shuttle Endeavour.  She was the fifth and last shuttle built, as a replacement for the Challenger.  After returning from this mission, Endeavour will be de-serviced, taking all the toxic and other hazardous material out of the vehicle.  She will then be flown on the back of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft 747 to the California Science Center for permanent display. 

Expect this launch to occur Monday, Tuesday, or possibly Wednesday, depending on how long it takes to find and fix the cause of this problem.  Launch times will be in the early afternoon, around 2:34 EDT on Monday, and a few minutes earlier on Tuesday, and a few minutes earlier still on Wednesday.  As always, SpaceFlightNow will be streaming the launch live with commentary, and NASATV will also have a live webcast.  This is a cool NASA page, with all the major events during the countdown as well, if you are interested.  Should be a big crowd to watch this one!

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Space Update

I haven’t done any space posts in a while, so I’ll include some updates about stuff going on above the atmosphere.  As seen in the picture above, the Expedition 27 crew for the International Space Station launched from Kazakhstan on their way to the ISS.  They are flying on the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft, lifting off from the exact same launchpad that Yuri Gagarin flew from back in 1961. 

And it’s interesting that I mention Yuri, because next Tuesday, the 12th, is Yuri’s Night.   It’s the 50th anniversary of the first time humanity orbited our home planet.  Space organizations and nerds around the globe make it a big night of celebration.  If this sounds interesting, click the link for Yuri’s night above.  They have collected there a ton of parties around the world, so you can find a local one if it sounds like your thing. 

In other news, the space shuttle Endeavour is being readied for launch on April 29th, for her last flight into space.  She’s carrying a bunch of spare parts, as well as a super cool high-energy physics experiment that will be left at the station to do science over the next decade. 

Discovery, having returned to earth for the last time is in the process of being safed and readied for transport to the Smithsonian museum.   I will definitely make a visit to see her once she’s there.  I miss that job.

The MESSENGER spacecraft around Mercury is sending back awesome photos of never-before-seen parts of that planet. 

SpaceX has made of bunch of ripples with an announcement they want to build a big super rocket to launch something like 58 tons to low earth orbit.  Unfortunately, every article I see about this reads exactly like a press release.  I’m all for SpaceX, and I wish them well.  I just wish there was a bit more skepticism out there about their claims for cost to orbit and such.  I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude. 

Not much new from the rovers on Mars.  Spirit is still silent, and I think might be gone for good, while Opportunity continues to drive merrily along on the other side of the red planet.  She’s already passed 17 miles, and is years and years past her expiration date. 

The Dawn spacecraft is due to arrive at the asteroid Vesta this July.  I really like this mission, because it’s doing something no spacecraft has done.  It’s going to arrive at Vesta and go into orbit around that.  Then, after it’s spent about a year there, it will fire up it’s ion engine again, and head off to visit another asteroid, Ceres.  Ceres is the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt, and is so large it’s gravity has smooshed it into a perfect sphere, like a planet.  Dawn will spend another year there doing science.  Two asteroids, one spacecraft, lots of science.  What’s not to love?

If there is anything you can think of you’d like to ask about, please do below.  Thanks!

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Quick Shuttle Update


Endeavour has been hoisted up into the air in the VAB, for mating to the external tank.  The whole operation takes a couple of days from rollover into the VAB until the orbiter is firmly attached to the external tank.  Check out these photos.

Yesterday the PMM I’ve mentioned was moved, using the Space Station robotic arm, from Discovery’s payload bay and attached to the ISS.  This is a pretty cool new addition, as it’s the first major addition that is not on a plane with all the other modules.  By this I mean, if you are in most parts of the station, there is an up and a down marked on the walls.  You can go forward or backward and left or right to get into any module.  Not this new one.  You would have to go down, through the earth facing port on the middle Unity node, to get into this room.  It may seem kinda silly worrying about up and down when you don’t feel any gravity, but apparently is makes a difference to the astronaut’s equilibrium. 

250 miles overhead, there is another spacewalk going on today.  The astronauts are doing a bunch of little jobs, squaring away the PMM after it’s move, and cleaning up other work sites and tools, installing some parts, removing others. 

I know I’ve kinda been overdoing it on the shuttles, but it’s because 1) They’re easy to write quick posts about without a whole lot of thinking and 2) there isn’t often a shuttle in space, and ‘ only going to be 1-2 more.  So, look for something different from me this weekend.  Thanks!

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Endeavour’s Last Roll-over

I’ve mentioned the STS-134 mission a few posts ago.  This will be Endeavour’s last flight into space, carrying the big particle detector AMS-02.  NASA has a bunch of photos of the roll-over up on their website, which you can visit by clicking the above image. 

Some background on what exactly a roll-over is.  Roll-over is when the Orbiter (that’s the big black and white thing that looks like an airplane) is taken from it’s hanger, the Orbiter Processing Facility(OPF) and wheeled over into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where it will be mated to it’s solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank.  This is a big milestone for all the people working on the orbiter, because it represents turning over control of the orbiter from the test and maintenance folks to the operational folks.  At this point, most of the engineers and technician’s who work on the orbiter on a regular basis say goodbye to the vehicle, until it comes back at the end of the mission.  After about a week or so in the VAB, Endeavour will be ready to roll out to the launch pad.  There is then about a month more work to do, getting ready for the launch on April 12th.

I had the privilege to work on the orbiters for 3 semesters while I was finishing up school.  Endeavour in particular was the orbiter that I spent the most amount of time working on, so I feel a bit of nostalgia, knowing this is her last flight into space. 

Endeavour was actually built as a replacement for the Challenger, when she was lost in a launch explosion in 1986.  She is the youngest orbiter, and the one with the fewest miles and missions to her credit.   I won’t go into too many details, as the NASA link there lays it all out, if you’re interested.


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