quarta-feira, 22 de agosto de 2007

Endeavour aterra em segurança no Centro Espacial Kennedy

Este vídeo mostra os últimos minutos da missão STS-118, incluindo o pormenor espetacular do estrondo supersónico que se ouve quando o Shuttle passa para uma velocidade subsónica. É a primeira vez que o ouço com tanta nitidez numa emissão deste tipo, provavelmente o Shuttle estava mesmo por cima das cameras quando a transição se deu!

E alguns vídeos amadores.

sábado, 18 de agosto de 2007

A auto-destruição de uma astronauta.

Se até agora me limitava a sentir pena da ex-astronauta Lisa Nowak, com a divulgação de 3 horas de vídeo que a mostram numa cela, imediatamente após ter sido presa em Fevereiro, fico com um nó no estômago. Não tenho palavras, ao ver uma pessoa que apenas meses antes voava no Space Shuttle, e atingia o auge da sua carreira, reduzida quase a uma criança indefesa...

A divulgação destas 3 horas de vídeo também parecem fazer parte do julgamento público de que tem sido alvo. Não creio ser correcto estar a divulgar-se possíveis provas do caso ao público antes de haver qualquer julgamento.

Mas elas estão cá.

E não creio ser voyeurismo vermos isto e darmo-nos conta que todos podemos 'tropeçar' e cometer grandes erros. Todos nos desorientamos de vez em quanto, por vezes em grande estilo. Mas todos merecemos uma segunda chance.

E parece-me também ser claro, pelos fragmentos do vídeo que tenho visto, o estado quase absoluto de desorientação da astronauta. Acho que não podemos nem sequer imaginar o seu estado psicológico e o seu desespero.

O julgamento de Lisa está marcado para o início de Setembro.

A NASA vai fazer regressar o Endeavour mais cedo por causa do furacão 'Dean'

Com a aproximação do furacão 'Dean', e a possibilidade de ter de evacuar o Centro Espacial da NASA em Houston, de onde são controlados os vôos espaciais, foi decidido abreviar a última saída dos astronautas para o exterior da ISS, por forma a possibilitar o fecho das escotilhas que ligam o Shuttle à ISS ainda hoje, por volta das 10:00 da noite, hora de Lisboa. Isto para permitir a separação do Shuttle amanhã, para aterrar na Terça-feira. A hora prevista para a primeira tentativa de aterragem será por volta das 5:30 da tarde, hora de Lisboa.

Na sua última saída para o exterior, os astronautas aproveitaram para tirar uma espetacular foto ao furacão 'Dean' (acima).

Astronauts complete spacewalk
Hurricane Dean prompts NASA to shorten job
The Associated Press
Updated: 3:14 p.m. ET Aug. 18, 2007

HOUSTON - Astronauts hurriedly completed space station maintenance work Saturday in a spacewalk that was shortened to save time in case NASA moved up Endeavour’s departure and ordered the shuttle to land a day early because of Hurricane Dean.

NASA feared the hurricane might veer toward Houston, home of Mission Control, forcing an emergency relocation of flight controllers to Cape Canaveral. The makeshift control center there would not be nearly as good or big as the Houston operation, and that’s why managers were leaning toward bringing Endeavour back to Earth as soon as possible.

In that case, Endeavour would undock from the international space station on Sunday and land Tuesday. As of Saturday afternoon, however, the undocking was still set for Monday, with a touchdown two days later.

Hurricane Dean, a fierce Category 4, was headed toward Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico. It was uncertain whether the storm might strike the Texas coastline late in the week; that uncertainty made NASA’s decision — so many days in advance — all the harder.

Spacewalkers Dave Williams and Clay Anderson could see the eye of the giant hurricane as the shuttle-station complex orbited 214 miles above the Caribbean, exclaiming “oh wow” and “holy smokes.” “Hooo, man, yeah, can’t miss that,” one of them said.

Williams and Anderson tackled only the most important chores that had been planned for the fourth and final spacewalk of Endeavour’s mission. Mission Control cut two hours from the spacewalkers’ to-do list so the hatches between the linked spacecraft could be closed late Saturday afternoon in preparation for a possibly hastened undocking.

The two men attached a stand to the station’s’ exterior for a shuttle inspection boom. The stand won’t be used until next year. They also retrieved two experiments from the outside of the station for return to Earth, and hooked up antenna equipment.

Three hours into the five-hour spacewalk, a fire alarm sounded inside the station, its shrill beeps loud enough to be heard over the radio loops. The station crew rushed to check, but could find no evidence of smoke and Mission Control quickly confirmed it was a false alarm. As it turns out, the same alarm acted up a few weeks ago.

The brief interruption did not affect the spacewalk.

The spacewalkers’ gloves, meanwhile, held up just fine. The previous spacewalk was cut short after one astronaut ripped his glove. As a precaution, Williams and Anderson frequently checked their gloves and stayed clear of sharp edges.

“My gloves look like they just came off the showroom floor,” Anderson said as the spacewalk ended.

NASA’s hurricane deliberations followed almost immediately on the heels of the decision to forgo shuttle repairs.

Late Thursday, mission managers concluded that a deep gouge on Endeavour’s belly posed no Columbia-like threat to the seven crew members during re-entry and also would not lead to lengthy postflight shuttle repairs. For a week, managers had considered sending two astronauts out with black protective paint and untested goo to patch the 3½-inch-long, 2-inch-wide gouge that dug all the way through the thermal tiles.

The gouge was caused by debris that broke off a bracket on Endeavour’s external fuel tank during liftoff Aug. 8. Engineers still do not know whether it was foam insulation, ice or a combination of both. In any case, NASA said it will not launch another shuttle until the longtime troublesome brackets are fixed.

Endeavour’s crew includes teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan, who was Christa McAuliffe’s backup for Challenger’s tragic 1986 flight.


E da CBS:

Update: Astronauts marvel at Hurricane Dean; wrap up abbreviated spacewalk
2:25 PM, 8/18/07,

Canadian astronaut Dave Williams and space station flight engineer Clay Anderson staged an abbreviated fourth and final spacewalk today, pausing for a moment to take in a spectacular bird's eye view of Hurricane Dean, the storm that prompted NASA managers to make preparations for an earlier-than-planned undocking and landing.

The spacewalk began at 9:17 a.m. and ended at 2:19 p.m. for a duration of five hours and two minutes. Williams, Anderson and shuttle astronaut Rick Mastracchio logged a total of 23 hours and 15 minutes of spacewalk time across four outings during Endeavour's mission. This was the 92nd spacewalk since station construction began in 1998 and the 15th so far this year. Total station assembly EVA time now stands at 567 hours and 59 minutes.

Concerned about the possibility of an evacuation that could force NASA to move mission control from Houston to more limited facilities at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA managers told the astronauts to shave two hours off today's spacewalk as part of a plan to preserve the option of undocking early Sunday and landing Tuesday, a day ahead of schedule.

By shortening today's spacewalk, the astronauts can make final equipment transfers and close the hatches between Endeavour and the space station around 5 p.m., setting the stage for undocking Sunday. NASA's Mission Management Team planned to review the forecast during an afternoon meeting and make a decision about how to proceed after hatch closure.

Williams and Anderson accomplished three primary objectives during today's spacewalk. They installed clamps on the station's main solar array truss that will be used next year to temporarily hold a shuttle heat shield inspection boom; Anderson retrieved two space exposure experiments while Williams adjusted an antenna gimbal lock assembly. After that, the spacewalkers worked together to install a wireless instrumentation antenna on the Destiny laboratory module. Deferred to a future spacewalk was work to tie down debris shields on Destiny and the multi-hatch Unity connecting module.

As they worked to install the wireless antenna, the space station sailed 214 miles above Hurricane Dean.

"Oh, wow!" one of the astronauts - presumably Williams - exclaimed as he caught sight of the huge storm. "Oooo man, can't miss that!"

"Holy smoke," Anderson said. Television views from the station showed the hurricane in its entirety, sporting a tight, well-defined eye at the heart of of the storm.

"That's impressive," Williams said.

"Can you see the eye?"

"Oh yeah," Williams said. "Definitely."

"Oh yeah, that's wild," Anderson said. "All right, Dave, I'm going to put another tether on there before I hand it to you."

"Copy that," Williams said as the two spacewalkers continued work to install a wireless instrumentation antenna. "Man, that's impressive."

"Very," Anderson agreed, adding: "They're only impressive when they're not coming to you."

"That's true."

Williams, Mastracchio, Endeavour commander Scott Kelly, pilot Charles Hobaugh, Tracy Caldwell, Al Drew and educator-astronaut Barbara Morgan plan to say goodbye to their space station colleagues - Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, Oleg Kotov and Anderson - during a brief farewell ceremony in the Destiny laboratory module around 4:46 p.m. Hatches between the two spacecraft are expected to be closed about 15 minutes later. Today's mission status briefing is scheduled to begin at roughly the same time and this status report will be updated as soon as possible thereafter.

sexta-feira, 17 de agosto de 2007

Aprenda a identificar as constelações

Através de uma sequência de imagens que representam o céu nocturno, este site ajuda-o a dar os primeiros passos na identificação das principais constelações, da Estrela Polar, e dos planetas. É bastante simples seguir os passos. São cerca de 80 imagens com graus diferentes de detalhe, em que por vezes nos são dadas indicações, e outras nos são feitas questões a que temos de responder, clicando com o rato na estrela ou constelação em questão. Não se preocupe se não fôr capaz de localizar uma determinada constelação, há sempre a possibilidade de dizer que não se sabe.

Achei a idéia bem realizada, com simplicidade mas eficácia. Assim que puder irei testar os meus conhecimentos, olhando para o céu 'a sério'. Mas já fiquei com umas noções básicas que, de outras formas, nunca tinha captado.

NASA decide não reparar telhas do Shuttle

Responsáveis da NASA decidiram não fazer nenhuma tentativa de reparação aos danos nas telhas de protecção térmica. Estas tinham sido danificadas durante o lançamento (ver artigo original).

Os danos não porão, pelo que se sabe, em risco a segurança do Shuttle ou da sua tripulação. Como se sabe, toda a frota de Shuttles sempre sofreu danos nas telhas de protecção térmica, causados por impactos com pedaços de espuma ou gelo, provenientes do grande tanque externo de oxigénio e hidrogénio líquidos. Os danos sempre foram superiores aos desta missão - culminando no gravíssimo dano que ditou a destruição do Columbia.

Uma reparação iria também introduzir variáveis desconhecidas na questão do regresso do Shuttle. É um procedimento nunca antes testado, e que poderia ele próprio causar problemas piores do que os que tentaria resolver.

De qualquer forma os astronautas passaram o dia de ontem a ensaiar os métodos de reparação, só para o caso de se decidir ir em frente.

De resto tudo corre segundo o previsto, apenas com um ou outro pormenor, nomeadamente uma saída ao exterior da Estação Espacial Internacional - ISS - que teve de ser abreviada, devido a danos numa das luvas de um dos astronautas. Este dano não chegou a pôr em causa a a segurança do astronauta, mas depois de uma situação semelhante na anterior missão de serviço à ISS, a NASA instituiu esta precaução.

Os astronautas têm também participado em várias entrevistas e conferências de imprensa, incluindo sessões de perguntas feitas por alunos de escolas nos EUA.

Fonte: MSNBC

NASA decides against shuttle repair in orbit
Managers say Endeavour can return home as is, with gouged tiles
MSNBC staff and news service reports
Updated: 11:33 p.m. ET Aug. 16, 2007

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA decided Thursday that no repairs are needed for a deep gouge in Endeavour’s belly and the space shuttle is safe to fly home.

Mission Control notified the seven shuttle astronauts of the decision right before they went to sleep, putting an end to a week of engineering analyses and anxious uncertainty — both in orbit and on Earth.

Endeavour’s relieved commander, Scott Kelly, thanked everyone on the ground for their hard work. Mission Control replied, “It’s great we finally have a decision and we can press forward.”

Mission managers received the results of one final thermal test on Thursday, then spent five hours debating whether or not to go ahead with potentially risky spacewalk repairs.

Their worry was not that Endeavour might be destroyed and its seven astronauts killed in a replay of the Columbia disaster — the gouge is too small to be catastrophic. They were concerned that the heat of re-entry could weaken the shuttle’s aluminum frame at the damaged spot and result in lengthy postflight repairs.

Decision not unanimous
The massive amount of data from NASA’s analyses indicated Endeavour would suffer no serious structural damage during next week’s re-entry. But Thursday night’s decision was not unanimous. The chairman of the mission management team, John Shannon, said Johnson Space Center’s engineering group in Houston wanted to proceed with the repairs. He quoted the group as saying, “We're OK with ‘use as is,’ but ... we think it would be prudent to repair.”

Everyone else, including safety officials, voted to skip the repairs.

“I am 100 percent comfortable that the work that has been done has accurately characterized it (the damage) and that we will have a very successful re-entry,” Shannon said. “I am also 100 percent confident that if we would have gotten a different answer and found out that this was something that was going to endanger the lives of the crew, that we had the capability on board to go and repair it and then have a successful entry.”

The astronauts had spent much of the day running through the never-before-attempted repair methods, just in case they were ordered up.

Endeavour’s bottom thermal shielding was pierced by a piece of debris that broke off the external fuel tank shortly after liftoff last week. The debris, either foam insulation, ice or a combination of both, weighed just one-third of an ounce (10 grams) but packed enough punch to carve out a 3.5-inch-long, 2-inch-wide (9-by-5-centimeter) gouge and dig all the way through the thermal tiles. Left completely exposed was a narrow 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) strip of the overlying felt fabric, the last barrier before the shuttle’s aluminum structure.

The only way to fix the gouge would have been to send a pair of spacewalking astronauts out with black paint and caulklike goo, and maneuver them beneath the shuttle on the end of a 100-foot (30-meter) robotic arm and extension boom, with few if any close-up camera views of the work.

Risk factors
The spacewalk, which was slated for Saturday, would have involved many untried procedures, and it ran the risk of doing further damage to the shuttle. That's why mission managers didn't want to attempt the operation if it was unnecessary. Wednesday’s spacewalk, cut short by an astronaut's ripped glove, showed how hazardous even a relatively routine spacewalk can be.

Putting goo into the gouge would have introduced an extra level of uncertainty, Shannon said. “Once we do the spacewalk and put material in the bottom of the cavity, we have a new cavity that we have not analyzed,” he said. NASA plans to test the goo on a future shuttle flight in order to have more confidence in case it’s ever needed for real, Shannon said.

There will still be a spacewalk on Saturday, but Canadian astronaut Dave Williams and space station crew member Clay Anderson will be taking on less risky installation tasks.

Before the decision was announced, astronaut Alvin Drew said from Endeavour that he was comfortable with the prospect of flying back to Earth in a gouged ship. Engineers seem confident, he said, “and I trust their confidence that we can get home safely even with the divot that we have in the belly.”

“Spaceflight is risky,” noted astronaut Barbara Morgan, the backup teacher for Challenger’s doomed mission, “but we have all confidence that we’re going to be able to do the right thing.”

Not everyone was convinced NASA's decision was the right one. Stanford University's Douglas Osheroff, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who served on the Columbia investigation board four years ago, questioned NASA’s hesitancy to perform the repairs since they “can only increase their chances of making it down.”

“I don’t see why NASA is going to invent a fix and not use it,” Osheroff said. He added: “This attitude of, ‘It looks like it’s OK, let’s not do anything about it,’ it seems like the Columbia NASA.”

Another lesson in space
In a poignant reminder of NASA’s other shuttle accident, the 1986 Challenger launch explosion, Morgan — Christa McAuliffe’s backup — answered questions from youngsters gathered at the Challenger Center for Space Science Education in Alexandria, Va.

The moderator was June Scobee Rodgers, the widow of Challenger’s commander and the founding chairman of the Challenger center’s board. “Barb, we have been standing by waiting for your signal from space for 21 years,” she said.

One girl asked if Morgan had a special teacher or mentor when she was young.

“Some of my mentors that have meant more than anything to me are seven very special people who I believe are mentors to you, too, and that was the Challenger crew,” Morgan replied. She closed the teaching session by holding up an emblem of the Challenger crew’s mission patch.

Later in the day, Morgan talked via ham radio with students at the Idaho elementary school were she taught before moving to Houston in 1998 to become the first teacher to train as a full-fledged astronaut. The radio operator wasn’t able to get through the first time, but made contact on the second attempt.

Replying to the students' questions, Morgan described how much G-forces increase during launch ("It kind of feels like somebody's standing on your chest") ... how fun it is to eat in zero-gravity ("You can even play with your food") ... and how easy it is to sleep in space ("Once I shut my eyes, I go to sleep right away").

She also faced a question she has encountered repeatedly during her years of training: Would she rather be a teacher or an astronaut?

"Do I have to choose one, or can I do both, please?" Morgan replied. "They’re both wonderful jobs, I highly recommend both."

Morgan conducted her first Q&A with students on Tuesday, and is scheduled to do one more session with a school in Massachusetts on Sunday. She told the Idaho students that she would be telling them much more about her trip after her return to Earth. "I miss you," she said.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and MSNBC.com.

quinta-feira, 16 de agosto de 2007

Com 21 anos de atraso, a primeira aula em órbita!

A primeira aula transmitida de órbita estava prevista para Janeiro de 1986. Infelizmente, o Shuttle que levava a primeira professora a bordo, Christa McAuliffe, não chegou ao seu destino. Era o Challenger. Só agora foi finalmente possível transmitir uma aula do espaço!

Faço votos de que possa haver muitas mais, e que se tornem rotina, porque cada vez mais é preciso motivar a juventude a seguir carreiras relacionadas com a investigação científica e tecnológica.

Fonte: MSNBC

Space teacher conducts first orbital lesson
Barbara Morgan and other astronauts fulfill Challenger legacy
MSNBC staff and news service reports
Updated: 9:32 p.m. ET Aug. 14, 2007

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan transformed the space shuttle and space station into a classroom Tuesday for her first education session from orbit, fulfilling the legacy of Christa McAuliffe with joy and also some sadness.

“I’ve thought about Christa and the Challenger crew just about every day since 20-plus years ago,” Morgan said in a series of interviews right before class got under way. “I hope that they know that they are here with us in our hearts.”

Morgan, 55, who was McAuliffe’s backup for the doomed 1986 flight, got her first opportunity to talk with schoolchildren late Tuesday afternoon, almost halfway through her two-week mission.

The youngsters were assembled at the Discovery Center of Idaho in Boise, less than 100 miles from the elementary school where Morgan taught before becoming an astronaut. Morgan’s two sons, now teenagers, attended inventors’ camp there years ago.

The question-and-answer session was a welcome diversion for NASA officials, who were debating whether to send astronauts out to fix a gouge in the tiles on the shuttle Endeavour's belly. The damage was done by a piece of foam insulation flying off Endeavour's fuel tank during launch — and although it's not thought to pose a threat to the crew, the gouge might be filled in space anyway to avoid time-consuming post-flight repairs.

A decision on the repair plan is expected Wednesday or Thursday, after NASA completes a round of testing and analysis.

A long workday
Morgan's 25-minute teach-in came toward the end of a long workday on the international space station, during which she used a robotic arm to help move a storage platform from Endeavour's cargo bay onto the station.

The controls for the arm came in handy as a prop for Morgan's lesson: She demonstrated how trying to manipulate the controls would send her floating in a different direction, unless she anchored herself using foot restraints.

"As you probably know from Newton's Laws, every action has an equal and opposite reaction," she said.

Morgan's teaching assistants for the lesson included Canadian physician-spacewalker Dave Williams, Endeavour mission specialist Alvin Drew Jr. and space station crew member Clay Anderson. The four astronauts took turns answering questions — and occasionally demonstrating the curiosities of life under weightless conditions.

One child wanted to know about exercising in space. In response, Morgan lifted Williams with one hand and Drew with the other — and pretended to be straining, even though they were all in freefall.

Another youngster wanted to see a demonstration of drinking in space. Morgan and Williams obliged by squeezing bubbles from a straw in a drink pouch and swallowing the red blobs, which floated everywhere.

Other props included pingpong balls and a softball, used to demonstrate how objects move differently in zero-gravity.

On a more serious note, Morgan was asked how being a teacher compared to being an astronaut.

“Astronauts and teachers actually do the same thing,” she answered. “We explore, we discover and we share. And the great thing about being a teacher is you get to do that with students, and the great thing about being an astronaut is you get to do it in space, and those are absolutely wonderful jobs.”

Twelve-year-old Paige Dashiell asked what stars look like from space. The answer: Stars shine steadily and don’t twinkle, because there’s no atmosphere to distort the light. When the lesson was over, Dashiell came away starry-eyed.

“It’s not every day you talk to someone in space,” she said.

Education in space
Although Endeavour's primary mission is space station construction and resupply, Morgan's presence has added a strong educational flavor to the flight.

Morgan is scheduled to participate in two more classroom Q&As during Endeavour's mission. One involves the Challenger Center for Space Science Education in Alexandria, Va., on Thursday. The other will put Morgan in touch with Robert L. Ford NASA Explorer School in Lynn, Mass., on Sunday. NASA Television plans to air both events.

In addition, Morgan is recording several video "teachable moments" while she's in orbit, said Cindy McArthur, who heads NASA's Teaching in Space project at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

After the flight, 10 million basil seeds carried into space and back by Endeavour are to be distributed to students around the country, as part of an educational project called the Lunar Plant Growth Chamber Challenge. Basil and lettuce will be grown in two chambers left behind on the space station.

"I'm going to have a little bit of salad sometime down the line," Anderson joked.

Meanwhile, the students will be asked to design their own chambers that could be used for growing crops on the moon.

"We need to figure out how to feed our long-term explorers on the moon and on Mars, and so NASA has a design challenge for you," Morgan told the Idaho students. "We would love for you to help us figure this out."

terça-feira, 14 de agosto de 2007

Protecção térmica do Shuttle Endeavour danificada

Missão à Estação Espacial Internacional a correr conforme o planeado

Apesar do dano ser razoavelmente profundo - chega a atingir a superfície de alumínio do Shuttle - os responsáveis da NASA consideram que este dano não porá em causa a segurança do Endeavour durante o regresso à Terra. A decisão sobre a realização de uma operação de reparação - para minimizar eventuais estragos durante o regresso - será tomada hoje, Terça-Feira, ou amanhã, pela NASA.
A estrutura de uma das telhas de protecção térmica do Shuttle.
Clique para aumentar.

Os danos foram detectados através de uma manobra que se tornou rotina após o acidente do Columbia, designada Rendezvou Pitch Maneuver, em que o Shuttle faz uma 'cambalhota' para trás, sendo fotografado pelos astronautas a bordo da Estação Espacial com cameras fotográficas de alta resolução. Podemos ver essa manobra no vídeo abaixo.

A missão de serviço à Estação Espacial Internacional - ISS - está a decorrer conforme o planeado. O Shuttle está já a usar o sistema de transferência de energia eléctrica da ISS, pelo que a missão pode ser prolongada, como planeado, mais 3 dias, possibilitando mais uma saída para o espaço pelos astronautas.

Ontem foi substituído um dos giroscópios da ISS, que estava a funcionar incorrectamente há algum tempo, tendo sido desligado ainda no ano passado. Esta operação pode ser acompanhada em directo através da NASA TV.

sexta-feira, 10 de agosto de 2007

Lançamento do Endeavour - fotos de amadores

Gosto muito destas fotos tiradas por modestos amadores, porque dão sempre uma idéia muito melhor do que se veria realmente se lá estivéssemos. Aqui estão algumas, retiradas do site da MSNBC, que está a apresentar fotos enviadas pelos leitores.

Clique nas imagens para as aumentar.

Nesta foto, e na seguinte, vê-se claramente as cores resultantes do pôr-do-Sol.

A América tem de investir mais na exploração do Espaço!

Um astrónomo norte-americano,

quinta-feira, 9 de agosto de 2007

Lançamento do Space Shuttle Endeavour ontem à noite

Por volta das 11:30, hora de Lisboa.

A máquina mais fantástica alguma vez construída pela Humanidade está de novo em órbita! Foi ao fim da tarde, no Kennedy Space Center, o que mais uma vez proporcionou imagens espetaculares para os que seguiram o lançamento em directo, através da NASA TV, ou posteriormente através de sites como este.

Aqui ficam também alguns vídeos amadores, que transmitem de forma diferente a sensação de estar realmente lá.

Este a seguir foi captado mais longe.

Espero um dia poder assistir, ao vivo, a um acontecimento destes. Não me ia preocupar em fazer vídeos nem em tirar fotografias. Ia querer ver com os meus olhos. Quanto muito usava um par de binóculos, mais nada. Já há pouco tempo. Os Space Shuttle deixarão de voar em 2010.

Clique nas imagens para as ver em ponto grande.

Update: Shuttle Endeavour thunders into space
7:08 PM, 8/8/07

The shuttle Endeavour, making its first flight since the 2003 Columbia disaster, blasted off today on a space station assembly mission carrying a crew of seven that includes teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan, Christa McAuliffe's backup in the original Teacher in Space program.

With its three hydrogen-fueled main engines roaring at full throttle, Endeavour's twin solid-fuel boosters flashed to life at 6:36:42 p.m. and the 4.5-million-pound spacecraft vaulted away from launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center atop a churning cloud of fire and exhaust.

Climbing straight up into a hot, hazy Florida sky, Endeavour rolled about its vertical axis into a heads down position below the external tank and rocketed away to the northeast on a trajectory paralleling the East Coast.

One minute after launch, the shuttle had burned up half its weight in fuel and a minute and four seconds after that, at an altitude of 29 miles and a velocity of some 3,650 mph, Endeavour's solid-fuel boosters were jettisoned and the orbiter continued its climb to space on the power of its three main engines.

Endeavour completed its last mission in December 2002 - the flight before Columbia's ill-fated voyage - and despite years of down time to complete a thorough overhaul and to upgrade critical systems, NASA's newest shuttle - built to replace Challenger and named by school kids - sailed through a near-flawless countdown.

"The weather's great, Endeavour is ready to fly after four-and-a-half years so good luck, Godspeed and have some fun up there," Launch Director Mike Leinbach radioed the crew minutes before liftoff.

"Thanks, Mike," commander Scott Kelly replied. "This is a serious business we're in here. I'm proud of your team for getting Endeavour ready to go fly. I'm also proud of my crew and the rest of the astronaut office for their competence and professionalism for consistently making something that is incredibly difficult look easy. We'll see you in a couple of weeks and thanks for loaning us your space shuttle."

"Good, Scott, thanks a lot," Leinbach said. "Take good care of that great ship, Endeavour."

Kelly's comments followed a recent letter he wrote to the media, strongly defending the astronaut office in the wake of a NASA-chartered medical report that included anecdotal allegations of at least some instances of alcohol abuse in the past.

But it was clear sailing today and eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, at an altitude of 65 miles, the engines shut down and Endeavour slipped into its planned preliminary orbit, racing through space at some five miles - 88 football fields - per second. Kelly and pilot Charles Hobaugh fired the ship's orbital maneuvering system engines 37 minutes after launch to raise the low point of Endeavour's orbit and put the ship on course for a Friday linkup with the international space station.

Joining Kelly, Hobaugh and Morgan aboard Endeavour were Tracy Caldwell, flight engineer Rick Mastracchio, Canadian flier Dafydd Williams and Al Drew.

Morgan, who was selected as McAuliffe's backup on July 19, 1985, has waited 21 years to fulfill the legacy of the Teacher in Space, becoming a full-fledged NASA astronaut in 1998. She originally hoped to fly in late 2003, but the mission, originally planned for Columbia, ws put on hold when that shuttle crashed during re-entry.

"I am going up doing the job of an astronaut, the work of an astronaut, but I'm going up with a teacher's eyes, ears, heart and mind," Morgan said in an interview. "And so I look very much forward to doing that with an open mind and being able to come back and ... translate that into how can we best provide wonderful opportunities for our colleagues and our students."

NASA managers were eager to get Endeavour back into orbit after a four-and-a-half-year hiatus. Now sporting state-of-the-art satellite navigation gear and converters to tap into the space station's solar power grid, Endeavour should be able to reduce the load on its own generators and stay docked at the lab complex longer than any previous flight.

"The return of Endeavour to flight status is personally an emotional milestone for me," said Program Manager Wayne Hale, who served as ascent/entry flight director during Endeavour's last mission in November 2002. "It's like a new space shuttle. It's been completely inspected from stem to stern for any defects in the wiring, any structural corrosion and it's come out clean. It's like driving a new car off the showroom floor."

Going into the mission, the flight is officially planned for 11 days and includes three spacewalks. But if the shuttle-to-station power transfer system works as expected, the flight will be extended three days and a fourth spacewalk will be added. Under either scenario, Endeavour is expected to dock with the space station Friday around 1:51 p.m. If the flight is not extended, the shuttle will undock on Aug. 17 and land two days later. In the extended mission scenario, Endeavour would undock Aug. 20 and land on Aug. 22.<

The goals of shuttle mission STS-118 include installation of a 5,000-pound solar array spacer segment; replacement of a critical stabilizing gyroscope; installation of a 7,000-pound external equipment storage platform; and delivery of fresh water and some 5,000 pounds of needed hardware and supplies.

While the shuttle astronauts are plowing through their busy schedule, the space station crew - Expedition 15 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, Oleg Kotov and Clay Anderson - will carry out a long, complex repair job to replace a critical component in the Russian computer system. The unit is mounted near an air conditioner in the Zvezda command module and engineers believe corrosion found on cables leading to and from the box may have played a role in widespread computer failures during a June shuttle visit.

The new hardware was delivered to the station Aug. 5 aboard an unmanned Russian Progress supply ship. It will take the station crew four days to complete the computer overhaul and test the wiring.

"It's got a little bit of everything," lead shuttle Flight Director Matt Abbott said of Endeavour's mission. "We've got some assembly operations with the S5 truss installation, some repair operations with the control moment gyroscope replacement, a lot of resupply - the Spacehab module has about 5,000 pounds of cargo going up in it and we'll bring back about 4,000 pounds of cargo. We've also got some external spares to be installed on the outside of the station, we've got some science going on, several middeck payloads and really a very, very busy timeline."

Endeavour's flight will clear the way for a dramatic shuttle mission in October to move a huge set of stowed solar arrays to the far left end of the station's main power truss and attach a multi-hatch node called Harmony. The new module, temporarily mounted on the left side of the central Unity compartment, will be moved to the front of the station after the shuttle departs, providing docking ports for European and Japanese research modules scheduled for launch in December and early next year.

"It's an awesome schedule," NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said in an interview Tuesday. "We think we know what to do. We've had some pretty awesome flights in the recent past on space station assembly and we expect the upcoming ones to surpass them. So I would say stay tuned.

"I have frequently characterized space station assembly as the greatest construction project human beings have ever attempted," he said. "And I believe when you take it all in, that that's true. There is and there will continue to be much debate on the scientific merits of the space station and I think there should be that debate, that's fine. We will find a way to utilize the space station to help benefit human exploration of the solar system. But leaving all of that aside, it is the most amazing construction project ever attempted by human beings."

On a more human level, Morgan's journey from an Idaho classroom to the space shuttle has generated widespread interest in Endeavour's mission.

Morgan was selected on July 19, 1985, to train as McAuliffe's backup in NASA's original Teacher in Space program. McAuliffe and seven crewmates died in the Jan. 28, 1986, Challenger disaster but Morgan never gave up her dream of carrying education to the final frontier.

"Christa was and is and always will be a great representative of the teaching profession," said Morgan, now 55. "And we are really, really proud of her. She was, is, and always will be our Teacher in Space.

"This mission is symbolic and I know that people will be thinking about not just Christa, but the Challenger crew and the Challenger mission. And that's a good thing. And I know they will be thinking about so many people over the years, the families, friends, colleagues and people the Challenger crew never ever even knew ... who for so many years have been working so hard at continuing on their work and their dreams."

As a full-fledged astronaut, Morgan will not teach any lessons from space as McAuliffe once planned. A few modest educational events are planned, but her focus will be on mission-critical work, operating the shuttle's robot arm and overseeing logistics transfer activity.

"I know people are going to think about Challenger, and they should," Morgan said. "And I want people to remember what great folks they were and that what happened with Challenger was wrong, but what the crew and NASA was trying to do was absolutely right. I'm grateful that we are continuing that."

terça-feira, 7 de agosto de 2007

O Projecto Orion continua sem rumo

A NASA continua perdida com o designado 'Projecto Orion', que supostamente deverá levar homens de regresso à Lua.

Como já falei algumas vezes neste blog, o Projecto Orion pouco mais é que um projecto Apollo 'actualizado'.

Mas esta palavra 'actualizado' tem alguns problemas. Por exemplo, supõe que a tecnologia tenha evoluido muito entre os anos 60 e o século XXI. Mas infelizmente, o progresso tecnológico que se verificou nestes 40 e poucos anos residiu quase por inteiro no domínio dos computadores e micro-electrónica. Tudo o resto - sistemas de propulsão, sistemas de protecção térmica, sistemas de habitação no espaço - não teve quase progressos nenhums!

Apenas nos últimos anos temos visto alguns progressos, incrementais - como todos os progressos dignos de nota - no sistema do Space Shuttle e da Estação Espacial Internacional. O Space Shuttle é, hoje em dia, um sistema completamente diferente do que era há 25 anos. Todos os Space Shuttles foram completamente renovados no interior, com novos sistemas electrónicos, de navegação, pilotagem, gestão de energia, etc.

Ora é precisamente numa altura em que os progressos se começam a ver que a NASA, a mando do Presidente George Bush, irá cancelar o projecto Space Shuttle, para regressar atrás mais de 40 anos!

Bom sinal disto tem sido a evolução muito acidentada do projecto Orion. A cápsula é, já em si, um desenho antiquado. A NASA afirmou que a Orion seria 'uma Apollo em esteróides'. Seria uma versão substancialmente maior da cápsula Apollo.

Mas o que se tem visto têm sido sucessivas reduções de tamanho e de peso, demonstrativas dos sucessivos erros de cálculo - e falta de experiência - de quem a está a desenhar!

A aterragem de uma Orion - em terra firme - como foi originalmente planeada.

Agora chegou-se a um novo cúmulo. Era suposto a Orion poder aterrar em terra firme, usando um sistema de pára-quedas, retrofoguetes e airbags. Mas novamente, para reduzir peso, tal será cancelado, e a Orion terá de aterrar... no mar! Tal como as velhas Apollo, Gemini e Mercury da década de 60...

A aterragem de uma cápsula Apollo, há quase 40 anos.
Tal como as da Orion serão...

Não será necessário pensar muito no custo que isto vai acarretar! As cápsulas terão de ser recuperadas pela Marinha dos EUA, geralmente por porta-aviões... Nem vou comentar mais. Começa a ser excessivamente óbvio que uma missão da Orion será pelo menos tão cara como qualquer missão do Space Shuttle...

Não seria melhor continuarmos ou desenvolvermos o que já conhecemos? Ou tentarmos fazer algo de novo? Em vez de metermos o rabo entre as pernas e fujirmos para o passado?

Please, NASA, stop the Orion project while you can! Do something new! Even if it takes time!

Link: NASA Spaceflight

Orion landings to be splashdowns - KSC buildings to be demolished
By David Harris / Chris Bergin, 8/5/2007 3:55:40 PM

NASA Constellation and Lockheed Martin have deleted the airbag landing system from the next Orion design cycle (Orion 607) in a weight saving measure, opting to return to an Apollo-style splashdown for the vehicle's end of mission.

Meanwhile, a list of shuttle facilities at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) that will be demolished between 2010 and 2012 - including all three Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPFs) - has been produced.

The water landing scenario - previously only required during a launch abort - is one of several items that are being baselined into the next design cycle as a weight savings measure.

The deletion of landing airbags - and reduction of Orion structure - will aid the requirement Lockheed Martin engineers have been given to reduce the mass of Orion, allowable because of the 'softer' water landings.

Previously, the Orion was designed to land on large airbags at a landing range, although earlier hints that was no longer going to be the case came via documentation that showed a water landing - off the coast of Australia - for the Orion 3 unmanned test flight in September 2012. The first manned flight, Orion 4, was due to land at Edwards Air Force Base.

Also part of the mass saving design cycle - knocking off a total of 1,200 lbs from Orion - is the deletion of green propellants on the Crew Module, returning to the tried and tested hypergolic Reaction Control Systems (RCS). This weight savings measure was made in-line with the change to a water landing, due to salt water's neutralizing of potential hypergolic fuel spills after splashdown.

Other information acquired by NASASpaceflight.com's L2 section notes the continuing efforts of scheduling the transition between Shuttle and Constellation, referencing the changes that will be made to KSC, post-Shuttle.

Those evaluations have concluded with the decision that all three OPF's will be demolished between 2010 and 2012, in addition to the Hypergol Maintenance Facility (HMF) and SSME (Space Shuttle Main Engine) work shop.

At the Shuttle Landing Facility, the shuttle specific landing aids will be taken down in addition to the Orbiter Mate-Demate Device. All TAL sites will be abandoned, as they belong to the foreign nations.

Some facilities that may be modified to support Constellation include the STS Flight Simulator (Orion simulators), Space Station Processing Facility (Station support until de-orbit and possible use for Orion processing), and the Payload Canister Rotation Facility. Their fates are currently classed as 'undecided.'

Modifications to the sound suppression system at Pad 39B and the MLP (Mobile Launch Platform) are scheduled to be finished by the beginning of next year, ahead of the 2008 test flight of the Ares I-X. LCC (Launch Control Center) firing room 1 will be activated in August 2008.

The FSS (Fixed Service Structure) modifications to support interface with the dummy upper stage and flight monitoring equipment of the Ares I-X will be completed by Jan. 2009. The lightning mast on the FSS and the VAB high bay 3 work platforms are also scheduled for Jan. 2009.

Other information notes that the Mobile Launcher for Ares 1 - currently at the 60 percent stage of its design review - will have a total rollout mass, including vehicle, of around 12.5 million pounds (567,000kg). For comparison, Saturn V had a total rollout mass of 12.63 million pounds and the shuttle has a rollout mass of 12.02 million lbs.

The dry weight of the Ares I will be 2.2 million lbs (1,000,000 kg), and the tower will weigh 2 million lbs (907,000 kg). The rest of the weight is in the MLP base, support systems, and ground support equipment.

The interstage design for Ares I is also progressing. At 5.5 meters in diameter and 5.7 meters in length, it will house four Booster Deceleration Motor pods (for SRB staging) and two RCS (Reaction Control System) pods for roll control.

The Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for Ares I is scheduled for mid 2008, with a Critical Design Review (CDR) in early 2010. Transition from Ares I design to Ares V design is to start in 2011 and fully transition in 2013. Ares V-Y (Dummy upper stage) is scheduled for mid 2018 with Orion 13/LSAM 1 being the first moon flight in late 2018, although that schedule is deemed ambitious, due to budget constraints.

MCC (Mission Control Center) will be conducting a flight, following on Ares 1-X, with some control on Ares 2, and full control on Ares 3 (first real flight). MCC and Crew procedure development will start early next year, and full flight crew training will begin in 2011.