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

Hubble, Hubble, Toil And Trouble

NASA shuttle blasts off on Hubble life-saving mission

While the Hubble Space Telescope was making some pre-shutdown observations today, the space shuttle Atlantis blasted off on a repair mission to the 19-year-old orbiter.

At precisely 2:01 p.m. ET, the shuttle lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida (see video) amid a plume of fire and smoke.

The seven-astronaut crew this afternoon began its 11-day mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble telescope, which is orbiting about 350 miles above Earth. The shuttle mission — the last one going to the Hubble — is expected to give the orbiter at least another five years of life, according to the space agency.

About nine minutes after liftoff, Atlantis’ three main engines were cut off as the space shuttle entered orbit. Its external fuel tank was jettisoned.

The shuttle is scheduled to rendezvous with Hubble on Wednesday, when mission specialist Mike Massimino will use the shuttle’s robotic arm to reach out and grab the orbiter and pull it into the shuttle’s payload bay. On Thursday, two astronauts will make the first of the mission’s five spacewalks.

The shuttle is carrying 22,500 pounds of equipment for the telescope, including new grapple hooks and a platform that can be used in case future missions go up to service the telescope. This will be the shuttle’s last trip to Hubble though, since the NASA space shuttles are scheduled to be retired next year.

This week’s mission includes plans to install new gyroscopes, circuit boards and critical camera systems. The NASA astronauts are also bringing up a new backup computer system to replace an onboard backup system that had to be put into use last fall when the main system failed, leaving the Hubble unable to do much of its scientific work. NASA engineers made the remote switchover to a backup system from a room in the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., while the telescope hurtled along its orbit around Earth at 17,500 mph.

See also:
Shuttle blasts off to repair Hubble Telescope
Shuttle blasts off on Hubble mission
Hubble mission “brain surgery” in space
STS-125: Final Shuttle Mission to Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope
NASA TV
STS125 (sts125) on Twitter

This is easily the most complex and dangerous shuttle mission ever attempted. So dangerous that, for the first time ever, NASA took the precaution of having another shuttle, Endeavor/STS-127, on the pad, ready to luanch in case of trouble.

Set for launch today, Atlantis has plans to skirt debris

Conditions appear favorable for Atlantis to begin its mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope today — a journey that is expected to include several measures to ensure that the space shuttle avoids any collision with dangerous space debris.

On Sunday NASA officials declared the vehicle ready to go, and predicted just a 10 percent chance of weather conditions precluding a launch.

“We’re not tracking any issues and Atlantis is ready to fly,” said NASA Test Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson.

NASA technicians filled Atlantis’ fuel tanks early this morning in preparation for a 1:01 p.m. launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

Once they’re in orbit, the seven-member crew will carry out a carefully crafted evasive maneuver to cut the risk of collision space debris during the 11-day flight.

The debris has been sown by a surprise satellite collision in February, a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007, and decades of deteriorating space hardware.

The estimated 19,000 pieces of orbiting debris from damaged and destroyed space vehicles could inflict catastrophic damage on a spacecraft.

Nicholas Johnson, NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris at Johnson Space Center, says collisions with space debris are “not something you really need to lose sleep over but it is something that we need to be pro-active about.” In this case, pro-active will mean the shuttle will drop from the altitude of the Hubble some 350 miles above the Earth to a safer orbit 160 miles above the Earth as soon the five spacewalks are completed for the Hubble phase of the mission.

In addition, the shuttle is packing twice the normal 12-day supply of provisions to sustain the crew in the event that the orbiter is damaged, forcing the crew to shelter within a crippled spacecraft.

And in an unprecedented move, NASA has positioned shuttle Endeavor on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center to serve as a rescue vehicle in the event of problems.

See also:
Hubble mission especially dangerous
Nasa launches ‘most dangerous shuttle mission yet’ to fix Hubble telescope
Top Gun pilot leads Hubble ‘mission impossible’
Debris Collision Risk for Atlantis ‘Within Limits’
Space Junk Forcing More Evasive Maneuvers

And, keep in mind that Hubble was never designed to be repaired or serviced in the first place, let alone in space, and the shuttle astronauts have to dodge space debris while they’re attempting the repairs! Not only is it like trying to conduct delicate brain surgery in a pressurized space suit, it’s like trying to conduct delicate brain surgery in a pressurized space suit, while tethered to a fast moving car, traveling the wrong direction on a busy freeway!

/good luck STS-125 and Godspeed!