quinta-feira, 27 de março de 2008

Aterragem do Space Shuttle Endeavour ontem à noite

Devido às nuvens, a aterragem foi adiada uma órbita em relação ao previsto ontem, pelo que teve lugar apenas às 0:39 desta madrugada, hora de Lisboa.

No vídeo da aterragem nota-se uma chama perto do leme traseiro do Shuttle, que provém do escape das unidades de alimentação hidráulicas.

Fonte: Email da CBS Space News

Fotos: Damaris Sarria

Update: Shuttle Endeavour glides to smooth night landing
8:55 PM, 3/26/08

Running one orbit late because of troublesome low clouds, the shuttle Endeavour plunged back to Earth today, dropping out of the night for a picture-perfect landing at the Kennedy Space Center to close out a marathon 16-day space station assembly mission. Joining the shuttle astronauts for the trip back to Earth was European Space Agency astronaut Leopold Eyharts, launched to the station in February and returning after 48 days in space.

Flying upside down and backward over the Indian Ocean, commander Dominic Gorie and pilot Gregory Johnson fired Endeavour's twin braking rockets for two minutes and 48 seconds starting at 7:33:14 p.m., slowing the ship by about 206 mph and dropping the far side of the shuttle's orbit deep into the atmosphere.

After a half-hour free fall, Endeavour plunged back into the discernible atmosphere at 8:07 p.m. at an altitude of 76 miles above the south Pacific Ocean. Minutes later, the shuttle's heat shield was subjected to 3,000-degree temperatures as the spaceplane decelerated from its orbital velocity of 5 miles per second.

Crossing high above Central America's Yucatan Peninsula, Endeavour's flight computers guided the shuttle across the Gulf of Mexico and then over the west coast of Florida just south of Tampa, dropping through 84,000 feet at 1,700 mph seven minutes before touchdown.

Three minutes later, at an altitude of about 50,700 feet, Endeavour's speed dropped below Mach 1 and a double sonic boom rumbled across the space center. Gorie took over manual control a few seconds later and after letting Gregory get a few moments of "stick time, guided the shuttle through a sweeping 255-degree left overhead turn to line up on runway 15.

As Gorie pulled the shuttle's nose up just before touchdown, Johnson lowered Endeavour's landing gear and the orbiter settled to a tire-smoking touchdown at 8:39:08 p.m. as jets of flame from the exhaust ports of the ship's three hydraulic power units flared in the night.

"Houston, Endeavour. Wheels stopped," Gorie radioed as the shuttle rolled to a stop.

"Welcome home, Endeavour," astronaut James Dutton called from mission control. "Congrats to the entire crew, to JAXA and CSA (the Japanese and Canadian space agencies), on a very successful mission."

"Thanks, Jim," Gorie replied. "It was a super rewarding mission, exciting from the start to the ending and we just thank you for all your help. Looking forward to seeing you guys soon."

Mission duration was 15 days 18 hours 10 minutes and 54 seconds, covering 6.6 million miles and 249 complete orbits since blastoff March 11 from nearby launch complex 39A.

Observers were startled by the hydraulic power units' exhaust jetting from vents on either side of Endeavour's vertical tail fin. The exhaust is produced by the orbiter's three auxiliary power units, which provide the muscle needed to move the ship's wing flaps, speed brake, landing gear brakes and nose wheel steering. The exhaust appeared normal in infrared views, but was more pronounced than usual in NASA's visible-light camera. NASA spokesman Kyle Herring in mission control said the APUs were operating normally.

Gorie, Johnson and their shuttle crewmates - flight engineer Michael Foreman, Richard Linnehan, Robert Behnken and Japanese astronaut Takao Doi - were expected to doff their pressure suits for a traditional runway walk-around inspection about an hour after landing.

Eyharts made the flight back to Earth resting on his back in a special recumbent seat on Endeavour's lower deck. As with all returning long-duration space station astronauts, a team of flight surgeons was standing by to monitor Eyharts as he began the long process of readjusting to Earth's gravity. The French air force general was replaced aboard the station by NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, who hitched a ride the lab complex aboard Endeavour.

Eyharts and his shuttle crewmates are expected to fly back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston on Thursday.

Endeavour's 16-day mission was the longest yet for a space station assembly flight and the five spacewalks carried out by Linnehan, Behnken, Foreman and Reisman set another one-flight station assembly record of 33 hours and 28 minutes.

Endeavour took off Feb. 7 and docked with the space station two days later. The day after that, Doi, operating the shuttle's robot arm, moved a Japanese storage module into position for attachment to the station while Linnehan and Reisman staged the mission's initial spacewalk.

During the next spacewalk, Linnehan and Behnken then began assembly of the Canadian Space Agency's special purpose dexterous manipulator, a maintenance robot known as Dextre. Attached to the end of the station's robot arm, Dextre can be used to replace components on the station that might otherwise require a spacewalk.

Along with mounting the Japanese module and building Dextre, the astronauts also transferred critical spare parts to the station and mounted Endeavour's heat shield inspection boom on the lab for use by the next shuttle crew, scheduled for launch in late May. That shuttle, Discovery, is carrying Japan's huge Kibo lab module and does not have enough room for the inspection boom as well.

NASA is still assessing its schedule for subsequent shuttle flights. Eleven more flights are planned before the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010, with four flights on tap this year, four in 2009 and three in 2010. In the near term, the shuttle Atlantis is scheduled for launch Aug. 28 on a final mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Endeavour returns to orbit in October for a space station resupply mission and Discovery closes out the year in December with a flight to deliver a final set of solar arrays to the international lab.

But external tank production problems threaten to delay the next several flights. The tank needed by Discovery in late May reached the Kennedy Space Center today behind schedule and while that flight remains on track, the Hubble mission could slip into October when all is said and done, triggering domino-like slips for subsequent flights.

While sources say delays appear inevitable, NASA managers have not yet made any official changes.

quarta-feira, 26 de março de 2008

Procuram-se: Astronautas

Procuramos os candidatos mais brilhantes e em melhor forma física. Devem tolerar bem o trabalho sob stress e apresentar boa tolerância às alturas. Exige-se disponibilidade para trabalhar longe de casa. Se acha que está à altura deste desafio, envie o seu CV actualizado para a Agência Espacial Européia.

Este poderia ser o texto de um anúncio para um emprego qualquer. Mas na realidade a ESA - Agência Espacial Européia - está, pela primeira vez em 15 anos, a contratar astronautas. Existem 8 vagas, para as quais a ESA espera ter mais de 50.000 candidaturas!

Fonte: The Guardian

Situations vacant: applicants should be fit, fearless - and have a head for heights
Europe recruits astronauts for first time in 15 years
· Up to 50,000 applications expected for eight places

This article appeared in the Guardian on Saturday March 22 2008 on p3 of the Top stories section. It was last updated at 00:02 on March 22 2008.

Astronaut Piers J. Sellers participates in a spacewalk

Astronaut Piers J. Sellers participates in a spacewalk

Wanted for unique opportunity: brilliant, physically fit people. Must be cool under pressure, willing to work away from home and have a good head for heights. Free uniform included.

The wording might be a little different, but when the advert appears in newspapers in the next few weeks, it will mark the beginning of one of the most exciting recruitment drives in more than 40 years. The European Astronaut Centre (EAC) needs more astronauts, and from them it expects to choose the first European to walk on the moon.

The EAC, part of the European Space Agency (ESA), last went looking for astronauts 15 years ago. The recruitment comes at a time of enormous change in human space exploration. The space shuttle, until now a workhorse for transporting crews to and from the International Space Station, is due to be mothballed in 2010 or shortly after. And the lifetime of the space station itself is only guaranteed until 2015.

But the plans for humans in space suggest a new era is about to begin. Next year, Nasa plans the first test flight of its shuttle replacement, the Orion module, with which it intends to return astronauts to the moon by 2020. The ESA hopes to be there with them.

"The average age of our astronaut corps is 50 years old, and with that corps, we cannot master the challenges of the future," said Gerhard Thiele, head of the astronaut division at the EAC in Cologne. "I'd not be surprised if one of the candidates we select this time round will be among the first Europeans to walk on the moon."

Thiele, a former astronaut, is looking for four new astronauts plus four back-ups. Applications will be taken via a website, and will be followed by a year-long selection process of interviews, medicals and psychological tests. Up to 50,000 applications are expected.

"People have to be operationally very skilled and must be able to stay cool if things get tense. But what is important to me is that the person is a team player, a servant. They might seem a hero type with the 'right stuff', but they have to understand they are just one small part in the entire scenario. We need people who understand what it means to be humble," said Thiele.

Astronauts traditionally come from strong technical backgrounds, so scientists, engineers and doctors will be high on the list. Piloting skills - though not needed as Europeans are not allowed to fly the shuttle or the Russian Soyuz - are also desirable. The agency has a policy of not recruiting people older than 55, but the physical fitness required to make it through selection usually weeds out plenty of people who are much younger.

For Britons, getting into the astronaut corps is made all the harder by the government's opposition to human spaceflight. While Britain is the fourth largest contributor to ESA, paying €265m (£208m) this year alone, none of that goes towards the astronaut programme.

"To the best of my knowledge, there has never been an ESA astronaut from a country that wasn't supporting human space flight, but this should change in the future," said Thiele. "From the number of letters I get, I'd say almost half the applications will be coming from Great Britain and I can assure every British candidate we are absolutely blind to the colour of the passport during the application process."

At Britain's Empire Test Pilots' School at RAF Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, a spokesman said a shift in the government's position would quickly get people talking. "Anyone in flight test probably has, deep in their soul somewhere, an ambition that it would be a great thing to do, and historically test flying is where astronauts have been recruited.

"It's not really been a topic of conversation in this country because it's not been seen as a possibility. If things changed, we would be very surprised if it didn't become a very hot topic of conversation indeed," he said.

The government recently published its space strategy for the next five years, and announced that it would review its position on human space flight.

Um dos Rovers em Marte poderá ser desactivado!

Um dos Rovers da NASA em Marte poderá vir a ser desactivado, devido a um corte orçamental de 4 milhões de dólares. O responsável do projecto, Steve Squyres, propôs desactivar o rover 'Spirit', possivelmente por ser o que neste momento está em pior estado, para ajudar a fazer frente a este corte. No entanto o administrador da NASA, Michael Griffin, afirmou que para desactivar uma nave espacial há que seguir um procedimento determinado, o que não foi feito para o caso da MER Spirit, como tal essa desactivação está fora de questão. O grupo responsável pela exploração dos rovers Spirit e Opportunity teria assim de lidar com o corte orçamental de outra forma. Estão também previstos despedimentos e realocações de pessoal para outros departamentos do Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Faço votos para que não desactivem NADA que esteja no espaço a devolver resultados úteis. Custou muito dinheiro colocar os rovers em Marte, e não se sabe quando se poderá voltar a ter algo com tanto sucesso lá! Há que aproveitar o máximo possível que estas máquinas produzam, enquanto 'forem vivas'!

Fonte: CNN

Link de interesse: NASAWatch - apresenta um ponto de vista interessante em como o JPL poderá estar a usar o 'Spirit' para fins políticos, em vez de assumir a responsabilidade pelo 'buraco financeiro' que deu origem ao corte orçamental.

Mixed signals from NASA about fate of Mars rover
From Kate Tobin

(CNN) -- NASA sent conflicting signals Monday evening about what an official told CNN is a planned $4 million budget cut in NASA's Mars Exploration Rover program.

Initially the Rover program's principle investigator, Steve Squyres, said one of two vehicles operating on the planet will be suspended because of the cut. He said he learned he would have to trim $4 million from the program's $20 million budget.

He said the move would probably force the rover Spirit into hibernation.

But, he said, the rover could be reactivated if funding is later restored. Squyres also said the cuts would mean layoffs among a staff of 300 scientists who operate and analyze the rovers.

But shortly after CNN.com published the story, NASA administrator Michael Griffin said the agency will not shut down one of the two Mars rovers, according to spokesman Bob Jacobs.

"There is a process that has to be followed for any mission to be canceled and the cancellation of the Mars Exploration Rovers is not under consideration," Jacobs said. "There is an ongoing budget review within the agency's Mars exploration program. However, shutting down of one of the rovers is not an option."

NASAheadquarters spokesman Dwayne Brown confirmed the budget directive had been issued. The cut's purpose is to offset cost overruns with the Mars Science Laboratory, a rover set to launch next year, he said.

Spirit was designed, along with its twin, Opportunity, to be a robotic geologist. The rovers have examined Martian rocks and soil, looking for telltale signs of water.

Opportunity hit pay dirt when it found evidence that salty sea once stood in the area now called Meridiani Planum.

NASA spent $800 million to build and launch Spirit and Opportunity to Mars. They landed about three weeks apart in January 2004, on opposite sides of the planet. Both were designed for 90-day missions but are still operating more than four years later.

Squyres also said he has been told to expect an $8 million budget cut in fiscal year 2009.

terça-feira, 25 de março de 2008

Astronautas da Endeavour preparam-se para regressar à Terra, amanhã.

A primeira oportunidade de aterragem será cerca de 30 minutos antes do pôr-do-Sol, no Kennedy Space Center. Aqui estão os tempos previstos, deve somar 4 horas para obter a hora de Lisboa.

A aterragem será, como sempre, transmitida em directo pela NASA TV.

Fonte: NASA

02:58 AM...15...00...30...Crew sleep begins
03:00 AM...15...00...32...Daily video highlights reel on NASA TV
10:58 AM...15...08...30...Crew wakeup
12:58 PM...15...10...30...Group B computer powerup
01:13 PM...15...10...45...Inertial measurement unit alignment
01:58 PM...15...11...30...Deorbit timeline begins
05:58 PM...15...15...30...Deorbit ignition (rev. 248)
07:05 PM...15...16...37...Landing

Endeavour Crew Prepares for Landing

The crew of space shuttle Endeavour is spending today getting ready for its journey home and the end of the STS-123 mission. Among the preparations is a test of the thrusters that will be used to position the orbiter for re-entry and the control surfaces for its flight through the atmosphere.

After this testing is complete, the crew members will speak to members of the media on Earth.

The STS-123 astronauts also will set up the recumbent seat for Mission Specialist Léopold Eyharts, who joined the crew of Endeavour on the International Space Station. The recumbent seat is a special seat designed to reduce the stress of gravity on those who have spent long periods of time in the weightless environment of space.

STS-123 arrived at the station March 12, delivering the Japanese Logistics Module - Pressurized Section, the first pressurized component of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory, to the station. The crew of Endeavour also delivered the final element of the station’s Mobile Servicing System, the Canadian-built Dextre, also known as the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator.

In addition the STS-123 astronauts delivered Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Garrett Reisman, who replaced Eyharts, a European Space Agency astronaut, on the station.

The orbiter is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., tomorrow.

terça-feira, 18 de março de 2008

Morreu Arthur C. Clarke

Tinha 90 anos.

Faleceu um dos maiores génios da ficção - e divulgação - científica do Século XX, autor da obra que daria origem ao grande clássico do cinema '2001 - Odisséia no Espaço', entre muitas outras. Também lhe é dado o crédito por ter inventado o conceito dos satélites geoestacionários. Em sua homenagem, todos os satélites geoestacionários orbitam na hoje chamada 'órbita - ou cintura - de Clarke'.

Morreu de falência cárdio-respiratória na sua casa no Sri-Lanka, onde vivia há já mais de 50 anos.

Não perca o fenomenal vídeo (mais abaixo), gravado pouco antes do 90º aniversário de Clarke.

Uma mensagem para toda a Humanidade!

Fonte: BBC

Writer Arthur C Clarke dies at 90
British science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke has died in Sri Lanka at the age of 90.

He came to fame in 1968 when a short story called The Sentinel was made into the film 2001: A Space Odyssey by director Stanley Kubrick.

Once called "the first dweller in the electronic cottage", his vision captured the popular imagination.

Sir Arthur was born in Minehead, Somerset. A close aide said he died after a cardio-respiratory attack.


Sir Arthur's vivid - and detailed - descriptions of space shuttles, super-computers and rapid communications systems were enjoyed by millions of readers around the world.

He was the author of more than 100 fiction and non-fiction books, and his writings are credited by many observers with giving science fiction - a genre often accused of veering towards the fantastical - a human and practical face.

A farmer's son, he was educated at Huish's Grammar School in Taunton before joining the civil service.

During World War II, Clarke volunteered for the Royal Air Force, where he worked in the, then highly-secretive, development of radar.

I was very fond of him indeed. A man of integrity, a man of vision, a man you could trust
Sir Patrick Moore

The British astronomer, Sir Patrick Moore, had known Sir Arthur since they were teenagers.

He paid tribute to his friend, remembering him as "a very sincere person" with "a strong sense of humour."

Sir Patrick said: "So I was very fond of him indeed. A man of integrity, a man of vision, a man you could trust, and a very dear friend."

Future thinker

George Whitesides, the executive director of the National Space Society, on which Clarke served on the board of governors, also paid tribute to Sir Arthur.

He told BBC News 24: "That particular enthusiasm of his was what I think made him so popular in many ways.

"He was always thinking about what could come next but also about how life could be improved in the future.

"It's a vision that I think we could use more of today."

After a failed marriage Sir Arthur moved to Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, in 1956, where he lived, with a business partner and his family, and pursued his interest in scuba-diving.

His status as the grand old man of science fiction was threatened when, in 1998, allegations of child abuse, which he strenuously denied, caused the confirmation of a knighthood to be delayed.

Although cleared by an investigation, Sir Arthur's unconventional lifestyle continued to cause some raised eyebrows.

Fire in The Sky

Do álbum 'To Touch The Stars'

Um iPod em órbita!

Só espero que tenham boas colunas!

Clique na imagem para a aumentar, e olhe bem para a segunda janela da esquerda! Vê-se perfeitamente um iPod, que parece de uma geração já mais antiga. Aparentemente, os astronautas também gostam de ouvir música enquanto trabalham! Lindo!

Já houve mais iPods em órbita, uma vez que poupam muito espaço em comparação com os leitores de CD. Como as baterias de lítio têm por vezes problemas, como por exemplo... incendiarem-se, são retiradas dos iPods e substituídas por pilhas alcalinas normais, como as que podemos comprar em qualquer supermercado.

Fonte: TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Link: ABC News

quarta-feira, 12 de março de 2008

Vídeos amadores do lançamento nocturno do Endeavour

Este primeiro é espectacular! Até fiquei arrepiado quando vi como a noite foi iluminada pelo Space Shuttle, em particular as núvens! Infelizmente, claro, foi um espetáculo curto, por causa das mesmas núvens. Já houve lançamentos nocturnos mais bonitos, mas enfim, são assim as coisas.

É unânime a impressão de que o espetáculo foi curto, como se pode ouvir em alguns dos vídeos :)

terça-feira, 11 de março de 2008

Lançamento com sucesso da Endeavour

Foi às 2:28 locais, 6:28 de Lisboa (e não 7:28 como disse ontem). Foi o segundo lançamento nocturno depois do desastre do Columbia, e viu-se muito pouco, pois o Endeavour rápidamente subiu acima de uma camada de núvens.

segunda-feira, 10 de março de 2008

Dois dias espantosos para a Exploração do Espaço

Amanhã de madrugada, por volta das 7:28, será lançada a missão STS-123 do Space Shuttle Endeavour. Levará a bordo mais um módulo para a Estação Espacial Internacional (ISS), de origem japonesa.

No dia seguinte, Quarta-feira, a sonda Cassini, em órbita de Saturno, irá passar a cerca de 50 Kms da lua Encélado, 'sobrevoando' a muito curta distância a zona desta lua onde há 'géisers' que expelem água para o espaço.

domingo, 9 de março de 2008

Lançamento da ATV 'Jules Verne'

O lançamento do Automated Transfer Vehicle 'Jules Verne', hoje de madrugada, a partir de Kourou, na Guiana Francesa.

sexta-feira, 7 de março de 2008

A primeira cápsula espacial européia

Clique para aumentar.
Será lançada no Domingo uma nave espacial de concepção inteiramente européia, designada Automated Transfer Vehicle, com a função de reabastecer a Estação Espacial Internacional.

É a primeira vez que a Agência Espacial Européia (ESA) desenvolve uma cápsula capaz de albergar seres humanos. Apesar de não transportar astronautas no momento do lançamento, será capaz de os receber uma vez atracada à ISS.

Oxalá o próximo passo seja o desenvolvimento de uma cápsula ou de um veículo reutilizável capaz de transportar astronautas até à ISS, onde a Europa tem agora um investimento que não pode ser menosprezado.

Fonte: MSNBC

Link: ESA - Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs)

‘Jules Verne’ set for maiden voyage
European cargo ship will deliver fresh supplies to space station
By Tariq Malik
Senior editor
updated 2:24 p.m. ET March 5, 2008

A European cargo ship the size of a double-decker bus is primed for its maiden flight to haul fresh supplies toward the international space station.

Jules Verne, a massive unmanned cargo ship built for the European Space Agency (ESA) is set to launch Sunday, March 9 from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. A modified European Ariane 5 rocket will loft the nearly 21-ton Jules Verne into orbit from its equatorial launch site on the northern coast of South America.

"It's the biggest spacecraft we've built in Europe and by far the most complicated," said John Ellwood, ATV mission manager for the ESA.

Jules Verne is the first of a new fleet of unmanned spacecraft, called Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs), to launch fresh supplies to station crews through at least 2015. The 32-foot (10-meter) long cylinder with a diameter of about 14.7 feet (4.5 meters) and a roomy cargo hold for food, clothes, new equipment and rocket fuel for the space station.

It is the first new spacecraft in nine years to join the flotilla of U.S space shuttles, Russia's manned Soyuz and unmanned Progress spacecraft that make station-bound flights, NASA officials have said.

"The ATV, as a logistics vehicle, carries almost three times the hardware, fuel, water and oxygen that a Russian Progress carries," said NASA's space station program manager Mike Suffredini. "It is a major contribution to the program."

For its inaugural flight, Jules Verne is packed with propellant and equipment for the station's three-astronaut crew, though ATVs are designed to haul up to 10 tons of supplies to orbit, according to ESA officials. The launch was delayed from a planned late Friday EST liftoff to late Saturday to double check work on its spacecraft separation system.

Jules Verne is due to spend about a week chasing the space station after launch, then park about 1,243 miles (2,000 kilometers) from the station to await the departure of NASA's shuttle Endeavour before proceeding with rendezvous demonstrations. The U.S. space shuttle is scheduled to launch March 11 on a 16-day construction flight to deliver a Japanese-built room and Canadian robot to the space station.

A European first
Built by France's EADS-Astrium, Jules Verne and its fellow ATV spacecraft are Europe's first spacecraft to launch and rendezvous with a crewed orbital outpost. ESA partner nations have spent $1.9 billion (1.3 billion euros) developing the spacecraft as part of a barter system to send future European astronauts and experiments to the space station.

"It's an extremely exciting vehicle for us," said ESA station program manager Alan Thirkettle, adding that the spacecraft has been under development since 1998. "It contains a number of new technologies."

Chief among those new technologies is the ATV's videometers, a visual-based navigation system that relies on lasers to home in on the space station.

Jules Verne and other ATVs will use a global positioning satellite (GPS) system to maneuver within about 816 feet (249 meters) of an aft docking port on the station's Russian-built Zvezda service module, then activate the videometer to beam laser pulses at a set of reflectors near the berth. By analyzing the light patterns reflected back, the videometer should be able determine precisely how far the ATV is from its docking port.

The spacecraft is also equipped with a secondary, radar-like sensor — called a telegoniometer — to monitor its position, mission managers said.

During two demonstration days, as well as the final docking, ESA flight controllers at the agency's new ATV control center in Toulouse, France, will put Jules Verne through its paces and test vital collision avoidance maneuvers to ensure the spacecraft won't crash into the space station should its rendezvous attempt go foul.

Unlike Russia's unmanned Progress ships, which can be remotely guided in by astronauts from a console inside the station, Jules Verne and other ATVs are fully autonomous.

"They cannot drive us in like they can a Russian Progress," Ellwood said. "All they can do is essentially press a red button if they feel we're being unsafe, and send us away."

Expedition 16 flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko, a Russian cosmonaut, and commander Peggy Whitson of NASA are the prime ATV controllers for Jules Verne's flight. Malenchenko performed the first-ever remote controlled docking of an unmanned Progress cargo ship from inside Russia's Mir Space Station in 1994.

"We're absolutely confident with the safety aspects of this spaceflight," Suffredini said.

Ellwood added that each ATV is also equipped with a complete backup system to take control of the spacecraft should its primary systems fail.

"We really have two spacecraft in the middle of this very great bird," Ellwood said.

Thirkettle said ESA plans to launch five ATVs to the space station by 2015 in order to secure a six-month slot aboard the space station for a European astronaut every other year. Astronauts recently delivered Europe's other major contribution, the Columbus laboratory module, to the station last month.

The interior of each ATV can be loaded with up to eight racks worth of equipment for astronauts to retrieve once the spacecraft reaches the space station. They are also designed to use their rocket engines to boost the station into a higher orbit and transfer new fuel into tanks inside outpost's Russian-built thrusters.

Each unmanned cargo ship is designed to stay docked at the station for about six months, then be filled with trash and other unneeded items for disposal in the Earth's atmosphere.

"We're now really feeling that Europe is really coming to the space station," Ellwood said.

NASA preocupada por depender dos russos entre 2010 e 2015.

Uma situação complicada e embaraçosa.

Em 2010 deverá estar concluída a construção da Estação Espacial Internacional (ISS), e serão retirados de serviço os Space Shuttle. Os seus sucessores, as cápsulas Orion, só deverão estar operacionais por volta de 2015. Durante esses 5 anos, a única possibilidade que a NASA terá de colocar astronautas na ISS será pagando aos Russos, que serão os únicos em todo o Mundo com a capacidade de colocar pessoas em órbita! Num momento em que as relações diplomáticas entre os EUA e a Rússia se estão a tornar mais tensas, esta situação é tudo menos ideal. Michael Griffin, administrador da NASA, afirmou que seria possível ter as cápsulas Orion operacionais em 2013 se fossem dados 2 biliões de dólares adicionais à NASA, mas esse pedido não foi feito.

A NASA está assim na vergonhosa situação de ter de dar biliões de dólares aos russos neste período de 5 anos, por não ter gasto meros milhões quando foi preciso...

Como diria um treinador de futebol muito conhecido - 'no eggs, no omelets'!

Fonte: MSNBC

NASA wary of relying on Russia
Moscow soon to be lone carrier of astronauts to the space station
By Marc Kaufman
The Washington Post
updated 2:29 a.m. ET March 7, 2008

Tomorrow night, a European spacecraft is scheduled to blast off from French Guiana on its maiden voyage to the international space station, giving NASA and the world a new way to reach the orbiting laboratory.

For NASA, however, the launch of the Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) also highlights a stark reality: In 2 1/2 years, just as the station gets fully assembled, the United States will no longer have any spacecraft of its own capable of carrying astronauts and cargo to the station, in which roughly $100 billion is being invested. The three space shuttles will be retired by then, because of their high cost and questionable safety, and NASA will have nothing ready to replace them until 2015 at the earliest.

For five years or more, the United States will be dependent on the technology of others to reach the station, which American taxpayers largely paid for. To complicate things further, the only nation now capable of flying humans to the station is Russia, giving it a strong bargaining position to decide what it wants to charge for the flights at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are becoming increasingly testy.

In addition, some fear the price will be paid not only in billions of dollars but also in lost American prestige and lost leverage on the Russians when it comes to issues such as aiding Iran with its nuclear program.

'Serious threat to our national security'
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin calls the situation his "greatest regret and greatest concern." For most of the five-year gap, he said, "we will be largely dependent on the Russians, and that is terrible place for the United States to be. I'm worried, and many others are worried."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees NASA, went further. "This is a very serious betrayal of American interests," he said. "This will be the first time since Sputnik when the United States will not have a significant space superiority. I remain dumbfounded that we've allowed this serious threat to our national security to develop."

The White House, Congress and the space community have known for years that the gap was looming, but there were always other priorities.

Those most involved with the issue say that its seriousness will become more glaring this summer, when negotiations with Russia begin and Congress is likely to debate whether to grant a waiver to the law that prohibits certain kinds of commerce with nations that support the Iranian or North Korean nuclear program.

Griffin has testified that while the waiver is essential, it is "unseemly, simply unseemly, for the United States -- the world's leading power and leading space power -- to be reduced to purchasing services like this. It affects, in my view, how we are seen in the world, and not for the better."

Private spacecraft?
NASA's budget calls for spending $2.6 billion for transportation to the space station between fiscal 2009 and 2013. As it stands now, much of that would go to the Russians.

With that prospect ahead, Griffin told Nelson's committee last week that he is working with the fledgling private rocket company SpaceX to speed its efforts to build a private spacecraft that can take over some of the work of ferrying astronauts into space. Both Nelson and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) had recommended that NASA formally push ahead with that effort.

But SpaceX, while eager to do the work, has not successfully orbited even a cargo spacecraft, let alone one designed to the much higher standards needed for human flight. Nonetheless, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in a telephone interview that his company might have a manned spacecraft capability by the end of 2011 if NASA exercises its option under a 2006 agreement to provide cargo service. With that go-ahead, SpaceX would put its manned rocket program into high gear, he said.

"Is there a risk that we won't succeed? Yes, there is," said Musk, co-founder of the PayPal online payment system. "But if the United States doesn't provide any competition to the Russians, then they have a monopoly on crew transport to the station and they can dictate their terms. Do taxpayers really want all that money to go to Russia, rather than to an American company with American workers?"

In his testimony, Griffin said he is inclined to exercise the human spaceflight option, but he also said he very much doubts that SpaceX will have a spacecraft ready for astronauts by 2012.

'Starved for funds'
The gap in American capability to reach the space station is the result of factors including the 2003 breakup of the space shuttle Columbia, the subsequent decision to retire the three remaining shuttles by September 2010 and the lack of additional funds to quickly build a replacement.

NASA has let contracts to design and test a new-generation rocket and crew capsule, but it has had to go slowly because of the high cost of operating the shuttles, which are the only spacecraft able to carry large components to the still-incomplete space station. Griffin has testified that the replacement spacecraft could be ready in 2013 rather than 2015 if the agency had an additional $2 billion, but the administration has not asked for the funding.

Last year, the White House opposed a bill passed by the Senate to give NASA an additional $1 billion to make up for some of the costs incurred after Columbia broke apart -- a step similar to one taken after the Challenger disaster in 1986.

"What we have here is an agency that has been given a lot to do but has been starved for funds," Nelson said. "I think the gap is largely due to the administration's refusal to give NASA the funds it needs. And now we'll be forced to give billions to the Russians because we didn't spend millions before. It's the worst of all worlds."

Griffin, a strong advocate for manned spaceflight and a loyal member of the administration, said that past Congresses and administrations let the manned space program atrophy and that it took President Bush's 2004 "vision" for human travel to the moon and Mars to rejuvenate the program.

Still, many see Bush as having limited interest in space. Not only have NASA budgets remained tight, but Bush never visited the Johnson Space Center in Houston during his six years as governor of Texas, and as president he visited once, for a memorial service for the lost Columbia astronauts.

EU may provide counterbalance
The European spacecraft scheduled for launch tomorrow night is the first of six cargo-carrying flights by Arianespace, a public-private company, in exchange for NASA ferrying a large European lab to the station on the shuttle. Chairman and chief executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said in an interview last week that the company would like to play a larger role in supplying the space station, but it is waiting for its first successful launch before pressing its case.

The European Union is scheduled to decide in November whether to enter the field of human spaceflight, potentially joining the club that so far includes only the United States, Russia and China.

Le Gall acknowledged that the ATV -- which is the size of a London double-decker bus -- is now more expensive to build and operate than its Russian competitors, but he said that may change if Russia becomes the sole carrier. Nonetheless, the Europeans face a number of obstacles in selling their space transport services to NASA, including buy-American provisions that favor homegrown companies such as SpaceX.

"We believe we can be an important part of the solution for the space station and counterbalance to the Russians, if we are given a chance," Le Gall said.

Despite the broad concern over NASA's future dependence on Russia, Griffin said the agency's experience with its most important space station partner has been good. The Russians helped astronauts stranded on the space station after the Columbia breakup, and they have continued to provide crew and cargo transport services -- currently as part of a $780 million, multiyear contract.

Griffin also said a new deal with the Russians has to be signed by early next year. The Russians, he said, need a three-year lead time to build a sufficient quantity of their expendable, but very dependable, Soyuz and Progress spacecraft.

terça-feira, 4 de março de 2008

Fotografada avalanche em Marte!

Talvez a foto mais incrível da história da exploração do Espaço!

Clique para aumentar.
A Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter estava a passar precisamente por cima desta zona, próxima do Pólo Norte marciano, quando se deu uma avalanche! A camera de altíssima resolução HiRISE tirou a primeira foto de uma avalanche noutro planeta, e mostra mais uma vez que Marte é um planeta muito mais dinâmico do que pensávamos até há alguns anos atrás!


NASA captures dynamic Martian avalanche
First-ever photo shows tan clouds billowing away from foot of a ravine
updated 3:50 p.m. ET March 3, 2008

A NASA spacecraft has taken the first-ever image of an avalanche in action near Mars' north pole.

The High Resolution Imaging Experiment on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took the photograph Feb. 19. The image, released today, shows tan clouds billowing away from the foot of a towering slope, where ice and dust have just cascaded down.

The camera was tracking seasonal changes on Mars when it inadvertently caught the avalanche on film.

HiRISE mission scientist Ingrid Daubar Spitale of the University of Arizona was the first person to notice the avalanche when sifting through images.

"It really surprised me," she said. "It's great to see something so dynamic on Mars. A lot of what we see there hasn't changed for millions of years."

The full image reveals features as small as a desk in a strip of terrain 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) wide and more than 10 times that long, at 84 degrees north latitude. Reddish layers known to be rich in water ice make up the face of a steep slope more than 2,300 feet (700 meters) tall, running the length of the image.

Mars' north pole is covered by a cap of ice, and it even snows there.

The scientists suspect that more ice than dust probably makes up the material that fell from the upper portion of the scarp.

"If blocks of ice broke loose and fell, we expect the water in them will be changing from solid to gas," said Patrick Russell of the University of Berne, Switzerland, a HiRISE team collaborator. "We'll be watching to see if blocks and other debris shrink in size. What we learn could give us a better understanding of one part of the water cycle on Mars."

What set off the landslide and whether such events are common on Mars is something else the team will be looking at.

"We don't know what set off these landslides," Russell said. "We plan to take more images of the site through the changing Martian seasons to see if this kind of avalanche happens all year or is restricted to early spring."