Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Different Perspective

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube.

Back in April 2010, a friend invited me to watch the STS-131 launch with orbiter Discovery from the Kennedy Space Center press site across the Vehicle Assembly Building. The press site is about 3 ½ miles from Pad 39A.

Discovery launched at 6:21 AM on April 5, 2010. I used my camcorder to film the experience, not just the launch but what goes on nearby. You never see that on television.

In this video, you'll hear the launch commentary over the public address system, you'll see the Close Out Crew arrive after placing the astronauts aboard the orbiter, and you'll hear the ambient chatter.

At about the 5:20 mark, you'll see the International Space Station transit the Moon. Since the ISS is the orbiter's destination, of course Discovery has to launch when the station is flying overhead so they're on the same orbit.

At the 6:35 mark, you'll hear the T-minus five minute call. From that point, the video is continuous all the way through launch until the orbiter is a star on the horizon.

Be sure to crank up your speakers at the 11:30 mark to fully experience the sound of the launch.

Before the launch, I asked the gentleman in front of me not to stand in front of my camcorder. He assured me he'd comply, but he did it anyway as Discovery cleared the tower. After the launch, he turned to me and said, “Did I ruin your shot?” I replied, “Yes, but it's too late now.”

At the end of the video, you'll see up close KSC's black security helicopter after it lands on the helipad outside the VAB.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Clock Runs Out

November 23, 2014 ... The last intact day for the countdown clock. Image credit:

After 45 years of service, NASA has dismantled the iconic countdown clock at the Kennedy Space Center press site.

According to, the clock does not appear in archival footage until the Apollo 12 launch in November 1969.

According to Popular Mechanics:

It's easy to see the retirement of the 26 foot wide clock — which premiered at the Apollo 12 moon landing launch in 1969 — as yet another sign of the changing times. With the cancellation of the space shuttle program, the clock's last countdown was actually for a SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station.

But resist the temptation to wax nostalgic. NASA is spending $280,000 on a new, modern upgrade — which was direly needed. Not only was the clock falling into disarray, but repairs were becoming prohibitively expensive for the clock's antiquated technology (keep in mind, the clock was still using 40 watt bulbs for its digital display).

The clock eventually will go on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, although a location is yet to be determined. KSCVC will assume the burden of maintaining the aged technology, or replacing it with new electronics to simulate the old countdown.

A May 2013 NASA video documenting the countdown clock.

Below are NASA media photos of the clock being dismantled on November 24.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Top This

The Orion EFT-1 capsule and abort tower atop a Boeing Delta IV Heavy at the Cape's Launch Complex 37. Image source: United Launch Alliance.

United Launch Alliance today released a photo of the Orion capsule atop its Delta IV Heavy at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It's scheduled to launch December 4 on an uncrewed test flight.

NASA today issued a press release on the Orion launch and mission operations teams conducting a dress rehearsal.

The flight controllers who will launch and operate Orion during its Dec. 4 flight test are conducting a mission dress rehearsal today to make sure they have the plans for the 4 ½-hour flight down solid and to refine any areas. The teams, which communicate across several NASA centers and facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and around the country, will be able to practice contingency scenarios as well in case they are needed for Orion’s flight test. NASA will work closely with Orion builder Lockheed Martin and United Launch Alliance — which operates the Delta IV Heavy rocket — throughout the flight.

An artist's concept of the Orion separating from the Boeing Common Booster Core. Image source: NASA.

Fit to Print

ISS Commander Barry Wilmore holds up the first object made in space with additive manufacturing or 3-D printing. Image source: NASA.

An historic first for human spaceflight was performed today when the first 3-D printer in space replicated its own label.

According to the NASA press release:

NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Expedition 42 commander aboard the International Space Station, installed the printer on Nov. 17 and conducted the first calibration test print. Based on the test print results, the ground control team sent commands to realign the printer and printed a second calibration test on Nov. 20. These tests verified that the printer was ready for manufacturing operations. On Nov. 24, ground controllers sent the printer the command to make the first printed part: a faceplate of the extruder’s casing. This demonstrated that the printer can make replacement parts for itself. The 3-D printer uses a process formally known as additive manufacturing to heat a relatively low-temperature plastic filament and extrude it one layer at a time to build the part defined in the design file sent to the machine.

On the morning of Nov. 25, Wilmore removed the part from the printer and inspected it. Part adhesion on the tray was stronger than anticipated, which could mean layer bonding is different in microgravity, a question the team will investigate as future parts are printed. Wilmore installed a new print tray, and the ground team sent a command to fine-tune the printer alignment and printed a third calibration coupon. When Wilmore removes the calibration coupon, the ground team will be able to command the printer to make a second object. The ground team makes precise adjustments before every print, and the results from this first print are contributing to a better understanding about the parameters to use when 3-D printing on the space station.

California-based Made in Space manufactured the printer, which was delivered in September by the SpaceX Dragon CRS-4 cargo delivery flight.

Made in Space issued this press release today:

“When the first human fashioned a tool from a rock, it couldn’t have been conceived that one day we’d be replicating the same fundamental idea in space,” said Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made In Space, Inc. “We look at the operation of the 3D printer as a transformative moment, not just for space development, but for the capability of our species to live away from Earth.”

NASA’s 3-D Printing Project Manager Niki Werkheiser discusses the installation of the 3-D printer on the ISS. Video source: ReelNASA YouTube channel.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Retro Saturday: Computer for Apollo

Click the arrow to watch the documentary. Video source: alijanlondon YouTube channel.

What do you get when nerds have their own TV series? This week's Retro Saturday!

MIT Science Reporter was a public television series on WGBH in Boston in the 1950s and 1960s. To quote from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology museum web site:

In the early days of Boston public broadcasting, MIT was a main supporter of WGBH, whose Channel 2 television effort began in space rented from the Institute near the current Stratton Student Center. MIT and WGBH jointly produced MIT Science Reporter, a pioneering effort to ask scientists and engineers to explain their work to a general audience on television. The program, hosted by deep-voiced MIT science reporter John Fitch ('52), offered lengthy but easily understood interviews that represented a broad range of subjects. Shot with very few takes, the programs required intensive planning. Candid correspondence between WGBH and MIT indicates that some of the “talent” (aka the faculty) were more adept than others at giving a good interview. The goal was to increase public understanding of science and technology not only through broadcasts of the program, but also through a special lending library that made 16mm film copies available to schools and libraries across the nation.

This episode, “Computer for Apollo,” is about ... well, just what the title suggests. According to the MIT museum web site:

This 1965 “Science Reporter” television program features the Apollo guidance computer and navigation equipment, which involve less than 60 lbs of microcircuits and memory cores. Scientists and engineers Eldon Hall, Ramon Alonzo and Albert Hopkins (of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory) and Jack Poundstone (Raytheon Space Division in Waltham MA) explain and demonstrate key features of the instruments, and detail project challenges such as controlling the trajectory of the spacecraft, the operation of the onboard telescope, and the computer construction and its memory. The program was presented by MIT in association with WGBH-TV Boston, and hosted by MIT reporter John Fitch; it was produced for NASA. MIT Museum Collections.