Melior Diabolus Quem Scies

On top of a Delta 4-Heavy rocket, the largest rocket ever launched from the West Coast, the NRO’s NROL-49 spy satellite is off to orbit on a classified “national security” mission.

Massive Rocket Blasts Off on Probable Spy Mission

The largest rocket ever to blast off from the West Coast launched into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Thursday afternoon.

The most powerful launch rocket in the U.S., the Delta IV Heavy, took off a little after 1 p.m. Pacific Time carrying a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) spy satellite called NROL-49.

“This launch marks a significant milestone in our nation’s space capability,” launch director Lt. Col. Brady Hauboldt said in a press release. “We’ve really restored a national capability for heavy lift on the Western Range… This extends our ability to cost-effectively deliver payloads of all sizes and compliments.”

According to the United Launch Alliance (ULA), the organization that is running the launch for NRO, “this launch supports the military’s national defense mission.” However, that’s about all of the information that has been publicly disclosed about the payload.

See also:
First Delta IV Heavy launches from Vandenberg
Vandenberg rocket: largest American rocket blasted off today on West Coast
Launch of giant rocket in Southern California heard for miles
23-story rocket launches U.S. spy satellite
Delta IV rocket launches from Vandenberg
First Delta IV Heavy blasts off from Vandenberg
New Spy Satellite Blasts Off on Secret Mission
Vandenberg launches Delta IV Heavy rocket
California: Rocket Launches With Secret Payload
Secret payload launched on largest West Coast rocket
Boeing: Delta – Delta IV Launch Vehicles
Delta IV
Vandenberg Air Force Base
Vandenberg Air Force Base
National Reconnaissance Office
National Reconnaissance Office

And, that’s about it. Except that it’s supposedly an imaging satellite, there’s not much use in speculating further. I’m just happy that it made it to orbit safely, our taxpayer dollars much better spent than on Obamacare.

/pretty pictures, NROL-49

32nd Time’s A Charm?

So far, so good, Atlantis is less than twelve days, reentry, and a touchdown away from a well deserved retirement after two and a half decades of service.

Shuttle Atlantis streaks into orbit on final planned flight

The shuttle Atlantis blasted off on its 32nd and final planned mission Friday, closing out 25 years of service with a 12-day flight to deliver a Russian docking module and critical spare parts to the International Space Station.

With its three hydrogen-fueled main engines roaring at full thrust, the shuttle’s twin solid-fuel boosters ignited on time at 2:20 p.m. EDT, instantly pushing the fully fueled 4.5-million-pound spacecraft away from pad 39A.

Accelerating through 100 mph–straight up–in just eight seconds, Atlantis wheeled about its long axis and lined up on a trajectory paralleling the East Coast. Liftoff was timed for roughly the moment Earth’s rotation carried the launch pad into the plane of the space station’s orbit, the first step in a two-day rendezvous procedure.

Atlantis quickly arced away to the northeast, putting on a spectacular afternoon sky show for area residents and tourists who gathered along Florida’s “Space Coast” to witness the shuttle’s final planned flight.

Commander Kenneth Ham, pilot Dominic Antonelli, and flight engineer Michael Good monitored the shuttle’s computer-controlled ascent, joined by Stephen Bowen, a former submariner, Piers Sellers, and Garrett Reisman, who spent three months aboard the space station in 2008.

“We’re going to take her on her 32nd flight and if you don’t mind, we’ll take her out of the barn and make a few more laps around the planet,” Ham radioed launch director Mike Leinbach a few minutes before takeoff.

The shuttle’s ascent appeared normal with no obvious impacts from external tank foam insulation. Video from a camera mounted on the side of the tank showed a few bits of insulation separating and falling away, but by that point the shuttle was out of the dense lower atmosphere where debris impacts pose a more significant threat.

See also:
Space shuttle Atlantis soars on final voyage
Space Shuttle Atlantis Blasts Off on Final Mission
Shuttle Atlantis Lifts Off for Final Planned Flight
Shuttle Atlantis launches on its last mission
Space shuttle Atlantis soars on final voyage
Space Shuttle Atlantis: A View from the Launch
View of Atlantis launch from over 22,000 miles up
No rookies allowed on Atlantis’ last flight‎
Space Shuttle Atlantis: 25 years of service
STS-132 Begins On-Orbit Operations
STS-132 Mission Information
STS-132
Atlantis
Atlantis (OV-104)
Space Shuttle Atlantis

Godspeed Atlantis, perform your last mission flawlessly and bring your crew home safely.

/and then there will be only two shuttle flights remaining before the United States manned spaceflight program is grounded indefinitely on Obama’s orders

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try Five More Times

UPDATE:

NASA suspends shuttle flights pending probe

NASA will suspend flights of its space shuttle fleet until it understands why strips of insulating foam peeled off the fuel tank used by shuttle Endeavour during Wednesday’s launch, officials said.

“We’re not worried about this one, but we need to understand what’s going on for the next flight,” said shuttle program manager John Shannon said on Thursday.

/not good

After five delays for one reason or another, Endeavour, STS-127 finally got off the ground.

Endeavour, STS-127 Crew Begin Complex Mission

Space shuttle Endeavour and its crew of seven astronauts are in orbit after an on-time launch at 6:03 p.m. EDT from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Following a smooth countdown with no technical issues and weather that steadily improved throughout the afternoon, the shuttle lifted off from Launch Pad 39A and began its orbital chase of the International Space Station.

“It was a testimony for this entire launch and flight control team,” Launch Director Pete Nickolenko said of the countdown and successful liftoff, which came on the sixth launch attempt after technical issues and weather concerns prevented the first five tries. “It was an outstanding effort, and it made the complex look really easy. It really was a case of persistence.”

Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations, also commended the launch effort, but cautioned that the mission to come is “very challenging,” with five spacewalks and robotic activities scheduled. “The teams are fully prepared — they’re ready to go do what they need to go do, and we look forward to the exciting activities as we install the Exposed Facility out on the Kibo module.”

Whether it got off the ground safely or not is still under review.

Debris Strikes Endeavour During Liftoff

As the space shuttle Endeavour lifted off into orbit Wednesday evening, several pieces of debris fell off the external fuel tank, and at least one hit the orbiter.

Astronauts in space and engineers on the ground will spend the next few days examining and analyzing the damage to see if it might pose a danger to the shuttle on re-entry.

See also:
Space shuttle blasts off after month’s delay
NASA Finally Launches Endeavour Space Shuttle on 6th Try
Space Shuttle Endeavour finally lifts off
Shuttle Endeavour blasts off; debris strikes mulled
Space shuttle suffered ‘minor’ damage at launch
NASA Eyes Debris Hits to Shuttle Heat Shield
STS-127 Mission Information
International Space Station
Kibo Japanese Experiment Module
JAXA Kibo Web Site

It’s obviously not the first time this has happened, but I sure hope this debris strike turns out to be nothing and Endeavour and crew return to Earth safely. These space shuttles are inherently dangerous to fly as witnessed by the fact that we’ve already lost 40% of the entire fleet, with the loss of 14 astronauts.

And why do we keep taking the risk of flying to the ISS and continue it’s construction anyway?

NASA to De-Orbit International Space Station In 2016

Despite nearing completion after more than a decade of construction, and recently announcing some upcoming improvements to accompany its full crew of six astronauts, NASA plans to de-orbit the International Space Station in 2016. Meaning the station will have spent more time under construction than completed.

The fact that the ISS has already had $100 billion dumped into it over the years is reason for criticism over the proposed de-orbiting. Proponents of the extra-terrestrial shelter feel 2016 would be too soon to let the 700,000 pound craft crash into the Pacific Ocean. Critics against it say it wastes too much money with few tangible outcomes.

Many of the station’s research programs have already been cut and the US Space Shuttle program is ending in 2010, which leaves few big-ticket programs left on the agenda (save for the station’s yet-to-be-installed Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which searchers for dark- and anti-matter).

See also:
International Space Station, still under construction, may be debris by 2016
Space Station Is Near Completion, Maybe the End
ISS To Go Bye-Bye in 2016?

We haven’t even finished building the damn thing yet and we’re already planning to splash it into the ocean a few years later? What’s the point of further risking lives on dangerous shuttle flights for that?

/if we can’t afford the ISS then, we can’t afford it now