Sunday, October 19, 2014

Camping in Space

Click the arrow to watch the Alyssa Carson interview on Al Jazeera America.

Click the arrow to watch the Alyssa Carson interview on CBS This Morning.

Huntsville's Space Camp was founded in 1982, according to its web site, “to inspire and motivate young people from around the world to join the ranks of space pioneers who persevere to push the boundaries of human exploration.”

I became aware of the program in 1986 when, less than five months after the Challenger accident, a movie called SpaceCamp was released in theatres. The movie is a bit silly, but at its core was the message that, give a positive direction early in life, youth can make a contribution to the future of humanity.

I was 29 when the film was released, too young for the kiddie corps, but found out they also offered adult programs. I attended Space Camp's adult program in November 1986, then returned in 1989 and 1994. During the 1994 visit, my peers voted me the Right Stuff award, which sits here on my desk.

I credit Space Camp with helping to start me on the journey that brought me from California to here on the Space Coast, where I'm now part of the third generation of human spaceflight.

That third generation might include Alyssa Carson, a 13-year old from Louisiana who puts my Space Camp record to shame.

According to her web site, Alyssa has been to the Hunstville Space Camp twelve times, as well as the Space Camps in Canada and Turkey, and the Sally Ride Camp.

Her call sign “Blueberry” was given her at Space Camp due to her diminutive size and the blue Space Camp flight suit she wears.

(My powder blue Space Camp flight suit from 1986 still hangs in the closet, but alas it no longer fits ... Let's see if yours fits when you're 58, Alyssa.)

In recent weeks, Alyssa has become a media sensation, including appearances on CBS This Morning and Al Jazeera America. She has also given a TedX talk, in Kalamata, Greece. She says her goal is to be on a human spaceflight to Mars.

Click the arrow to watch Alyssa Carson's TedX talk in Kalamata, Greece on June 7, 2014. Video source: trebprod YouTube channel.

You can follow her exploits on Twitter at @NASABlueberry1.

Another Space Camp alumna is Abigail Harrison, who goes by Astronaut Abby. Her web site is and you can follow her on Twitter at @AstronautAbby. She's four years older than Alyssa. Abby has also been invited to give a TedX lecture.

Click the arrow to watch Abigail Harrison's TedX talk in Tampa on October 25, 2013. Video source: TEDx Talks YouTube channel.

Space Camp alumni are changing the world. The Space Camp Hall of Fame includes Samantha Cristoforetti, scheduled to launch to the International Space Station on Expedition 42 on November 23. Samantha attended Space Camp at age 18.

When SpaceX launched its first Dragon demonstration flight ot the International Space Station on May 22, 2012, a Space Camp alumna was standing in the front row of the employees watching outside Mission Control. Watch for the Space Camp T-shirt.

SpaceX employees watch the Falcon 9 launch the Dragon COTS demonstration flight on May 22, 2012. Video source: SpaceX YouTube channel.

The Space Camp web site credits Dr. Wernher von Braun for the original Space Camp idea. Von Braun “reasoned there should be an experience for young people who were excited about space.” He passed away in 1977, but Space Camp began five years later.

Maybe, one day, we'll see a Space Camp on Mars. Led by Blueberry and Astronaut Abby.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Retro Saturday: Атомный флагман (Atomic Flagship)

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: Archival Video YouTube channel.

Something a little different for your Retro Saturday.

Атомный флагман (Atomic Flagship) is a 1959 Soviet documentary about the atomic-powered ice-breaker, Ленин (Lenin). The film runs about 21 minutes. It's narrated with an English-language voiceover.

According to Wikipedia, Lenin was “both the world's first nuclear-powered surface ship and the first nuclear-powered civilian vessel. Lenin entered operation in 1959 and worked clearing sea routes for cargo ships along Russia's northern coast. She was officially decommissioned in 1989. She was subsequently converted to a museum ship and is now permanently based at Murmansk.”

I don't think this quite qualifies as a propaganda film, but it has all the trappings. A great classical orchestra and sophisticated cinematography. It also would have made a great target for Mystery Science Theater 3000.

X-37B Returns to Earth

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: 30th Space Wing, Vandenberg AFB YouTube channel.

As reported by NBC News and other media outlets, the X-37B landed yesterday at Vandenberg AFB after nearly two years in space.

Boeing built two of these vehicles for the U.S. Air Force. This one launched December 11, 2012 from Cape Canaveral's Pad 41 for its second flight.

The orbiters will land in the future at Kennedy Space Center's former Shuttle runway. Two former orbiter hangars are being refurbished near the Vehicle Assembly Building to house the vehicles.

James Dean of Florida Today writes this morning that, “The Air Force said it is preparing to launch a fourth X-37B mission from the Cape next year.”

Friday, October 17, 2014

One Hot Video

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: Video YouTube channel.

NASA's Space Technology Launch Directorate released today infrared footage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 first-stage re-lighting its engine to steer back towards a theoretical landing site.

The booster's landing legs weren't installed for the September 21 launch of the Dragon cargo supply flight to the International Space Station, but it was an opportunity to put the stage through its paces.

According to the NASA press release:

NASA equipped two aircraft with advanced instrumentation to document re-entry of the rocket's first stage. The first stage is the part of the rocket that is ignited at launch and burns through the rocket's ascent until it runs out of propellant, at which point it is discarded from the second stage and returns to Earth. During its return, or descent, NASA captured quality infrared and high definition images and monitored changes in the smoke plume as the engines were turned on and off.

NASA's interest in the flight was potential technology for a Mars mission.

“Because the technologies required to land large payloads on Mars are significantly different than those used here on Earth, investment in these technologies is critical,” said Robert Braun, principal investigator for NASA's Propulsive Descent Technologies (PDT) project and professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “This is the first high-fidelity data set of a rocket system firing into its direction of travel while traveling at supersonic speeds in Mars-relevant conditions. Analysis of this unique data set will enable system engineers to extract important lessons for the application and infusion of supersonic retro-propulsion into future NASA missions.”

Lawyer Up

Investigative journalist Emma Perez-Trevino of the Valley Morning Star has obtained legal documents related to Sierra Nevada's appeal of NASA awarding commercial crew contracts to Boeing and SpaceX.

The Valley Morning Star is published in Harlingen, Texas, not far from the new SpaceX commercial spaceport at Boca Chica, Texas.

Space News reported on October 16 that Sierra Nevada had filed suit to force NASA to stop work on the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts awarded September 16 to Boeing and SpaceX.

Below are the links to the documents obtained by the Valley Morning Star.

Plaintiff's Application for a Temporary Restraining Order to Prevent Unlawful Override of CICA Stay (Sierra Nevada)

The Boeing Company's Unopposed Motion to Intervene

Memorandum in Support of The Boeing Company's Unopposed Motion to Intervene