'Yabadabadoo': 50 Years Since Apollo 7 Brought America's Lunar Goal Closer (Part 2)

The expended Saturn S-IVB stage as photographed from the Apollo 7 spacecraft during transposition and docking maneuvers. This view is over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. Photo Credit: NASA

Fifty years ago, this month, Apollo 7—America’s first three-person space mission—launched from Pad 34 at Cape Kennedy and spent almost 11 days in low-Earth orbit, testing systems aboard the Command and Service Module (CSM) and clearing a significant hurdle in the nation’s drive to land a man on the Moon before the end of the 1960s. In laying to rest the ghosts of the Apollo 1 launch pad, it was a spectacular success, the second-longest U.S. space mission at that time, and Commander Wally Schirra earned a niche in history as the first man to log a third flight into orbit. Yet in spite of its technical success, five decades later, Apollo 7 remains haunted by head colds and a reportedly testy crew, none of whom flew again.

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Soyuz MS-10 Crew Lands Safely in Kazakhstan, Following Launch Vehicle Failure

Alexei Ovchinin (foreground) and Nick Hague wave to well-wishers, ahead of their ill-fated launch on Thursday, 11 October. Photo Credit: NASA/Twitter

Soyuz MS-10 crewmen Alexei Ovchinin of Russia and NASA’s Nick Hague have performed an emergency return to Earth and landed safely in Kazakhstan, following a failure in their Soyuz-FG booster. The two men—with Ovchinin making his second launch, having previously spent a half-year in space in 2016, and Hague on his first flight—were launched on time from Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 2:40 p.m. local time (4:40 a.m. EDT) Thursday, 11 October. However, within minutes, ominous reports of a booster “failure” emerged over the airwaves from the Russian launch announcer and the crew performed a high-G ballistic descent back to Earth. When search and rescue forces reached them, Ovchinin and Hague had exited the Soyuz MS-10 descent module and were described as in good condition and healthy.

According to NASA, they were flown via Karaganda Airport back to the Gagarin cosmonauts’ training center, on the forested outskirts of Moscow. “NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the NASA team are monitoring the situation carefully,” noted a NASA news release. “NASA is working closely with Roscosmos to ensure the safe return of the crew. Safety of the crew is the utmost priority for NASA. A thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted.”

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First '8-Ball' Astronaut Ready for Thursday Morning Launch to Space Station

Nick Hague will serve as Flight Engineer-1, flying right-seat on Soyuz MS-10 to Commander Alexei Ovchinin. Photo Credit: Nick Hague/NASA/Twitter

The first member of NASA’s 2013 astronaut class stands ready to launch into space on his first mission at 2:40 p.m. local time (4:40 a.m. EDT) tomorrow (Thursday, 11 October), from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Forty-three-year-old Air Force Col. Nick Hague will fly aboard Soyuz MS-10, alongside seasoned Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchininwho previously logged six months in orbit in 2016—for an anticipated half-year stay on the International Space Station (ISS).

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Hubble Space Telescope Enters Safe Mode After Gyro Failure

The Hubble Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA

Update – October 8, 2018: NASA has released a statement about the situation with Hubble.

“NASA is working to resume science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope after the spacecraft entered safe mode on Friday, October 5, shortly after 6:00 p.m. EDT. Hubble’s instruments still are fully operational and are expected to produce excellent science for years to come.

Hubble entered safe mode after one of the three gyroscopes (gyros) actively being used to point and steady the telescope failed. Safe mode puts the telescope into a stable configuration until ground control can correct the issue and return the mission to normal operation.

Built with multiple redundancies, Hubble had six new gyros installed during Servicing Mission-4 in 2009. Hubble usually uses three gyros at a time for maximum efficiency, but can continue to make scientific observations with just one.

The gyro that failed had been exhibiting end-of-life behavior for approximately a year, and its failure was not unexpected; two other gyros of the same type had already failed. The remaining three gyros available for use are technically enhanced and therefore expected to have significantly longer operational lives.

Two of those enhanced gyros are currently running. Upon powering on the third enhanced gyro that had been held in reserve, analysis of spacecraft telemetry indicated that it was not performing at the level required for operations. As a result, Hubble remains in safe mode. Staff at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute are currently performing analyses and tests to determine what options are available  to recover the gyro to operational performance.

Science operations with Hubble have been suspended while NASA investigates the anomaly. An Anomaly Review Board, including experts from the Hubble team and industry familiar with the design and performance of this type of gyro, is being formed to investigate this issue and develop the recovery plan. If the outcome of this investigation results in recovery of the malfunctioning gyro, Hubble will resume science operations in its standard three-gyro configuration.   

If the outcome indicates that the gyro is not usable, Hubble will resume science operations in an already defined “reduced-gyro” mode that uses only one gyro. While reduced-gyro mode offers less sky coverage at any particular time, there is relatively limited impact on the overall scientific capabilities.”

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SpaceX Successfully Lands First Falcon in California, Following Spectacular Launch of SAOCOM-1A

Falcon 9 soaring above the mountains surrounding Vandenberg AFB, CA with SAOCOM-1A. Photo: SpaceX

SpaceX has triumphantly wrapped up the first Return to Launch Site (RTLS) of a Falcon 9 first stage at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., following the early-evening flight of Argentina’s long-awaited SAOCOM-1A radar-imaging satellite on Sunday, 7 October. Liftoff of the reused booster—which previously saw service to deliver ten Iridium NEXT global mobile communications satellites into orbit in July—took place from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at 7:21 p.m. PDT.

07:46 later, in scenes previously only seen at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., the first stage returned to a smooth touchdown on solid ground at Vandenberg. The landing occurred on SpaceX’s Landing Zone (LZ)-4, which sits on land formerly occupied by Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4W, a location used for 93 Atlas-Agena and Titan rocket launches between July 1963 and October 2003. With tonight’s launch, 2018 is shaping up to be SpaceX’s busiest-ever year on the West Coast, with five missions already flown and more on the books before December.

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Riding the 'Big Maumoo': 50 Years Since Apollo 7 Brought America's Lunar Goal Closer (Part 1)

Build-up of the Saturn IB gets underway at Pad 34 in April 1968, ahead of Apollo 7, the giant rocket’s first mission with a human crew. Photo Credit: NASA

Five decades ago, a gigantic rocket—nicknamed “the big maumoo” by Apollo 7 Commander Wally Schirra—stood primed on Pad 34 at Cape Kennedy, ready to launch the first stepping-stone in America’s bid to land a man on the Moon before the end of the 1960s. Powered by eight H-1 engines on its S-IB first stage and a single J-2 engine on its S-IVB second stage, the Saturn IB had previously flown in an unmanned capacity on three occasions in 1966, after which it was primed to deliver its first human crew into low-Earth orbit on the Apollo 1 mission in the spring of the following year. However, astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were tragically killed in a ground-based test aboard Apollo 1 and “their” Saturn IB ended up being used to loft the first Lunar Module (LM) into low-Earth orbit in January 1968.

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SpaceX Aims for First Falcon Landing at Vandenberg With Sunday Night SAOCOM-1A Launch

Saturday’s launch will mark the fifth SpaceX flight of 2018 out of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., tying a “personal best” from last year. Photo Credit: NASA

Following a smooth Static Fire Test of its nine Merlin 1D+ first-stage engines on Tuesday, 2 October, SpaceX stands ready to launch—and land—its first Falcon 9 booster on solid ground this weekend, as it undertakes an ambitious mission to deliver Argentina’s SAOCOM-1A radar-imaging satellite into orbit. Liftoff is currently scheduled for 7:21 p.m. PDT (10:21 p.m. EDT) Sunday, 7 October, and will mark the 17th SpaceX launch of 2018, placing the Hawthorne, Calif.-based organization in pole position to eclipse its “personal best” of 18 missions, achieved in 2017. Launch was originally scheduled for Saturday evening, but was postponed 24 hours, to enable SpaceX “to complete pre-flight vehicle checkouts”.

But the real significance of Saturday’s flight will be the first Return to Launch Site (RTLS) on the West Coast. Although “land” landings have become relatively commonplace on the East Coast, with first-stage boosters having alighted at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on no fewer than 11 occasions since December 2015, the resounding sonic boom and blazing fireshow of a rocket returning from the edge of space has not yet been seen at Vandenberg. 

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Parker Solar Probe Conducts First Venus Fly-By, On Course For The Sun in Late October

An illustration of Parker Solar Probe passing Venus. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, launched just under two months ago atop a ULA Delta-IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, successfully conducted its first gravity-assist around Venus early this morning, October 3, as it makes its way to the sun on a science mission unlike anything we’ve seen before.

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Hubble and Kepler Telescopes May Have Just Found The First Exomoon, 8000 Light-Years Away

Artist’s concept of what the Kepler-1625b planet-moon system might look like. Image Credit: Dan Durda

Exoplanets – planets orbiting other stars – have been found by the thousands now, with many more to come. But what about exomoons? So far there haven’t been any confirmed yet, and they are much more difficult to detect, but that may change soon. A new paper, just published in Science Advances, provides a very interesting update about a possible exomoon that we’ve heard of before – orbiting the planet Kepler-1625b, 8,000 light-years away. The paper, by researchers Alex Teachey and David Kipping at the University of Columbia, is an update to earlier work and gives new support to the possibility that the object really is a moon. If so, this moon is huge – about the size and mass of Neptune, while the planet is several masses larger than Jupiter!

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'Roger, Go': Remembering the Shuttle's Return to Flight, 30 Years Ago

Thirty years ago, at 11:38 a.m. EDT on 29 September 1988, America returned to space with humans for the first time in the 32 months since Challenger. Photo Credit: NASA

As America prepares for another “return to flight” next year—carrying astronauts to low-Earth orbit aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon—a moment of reflection should occur this weekend, as 30 years pass since the return to flight of the Space Shuttle Program (SSP) in the wake of the Challenger tragedy. Thirty-two months after seven astronauts were lost in the skies above Cape Canaveral, a crew of five rocketed into orbit at 11:38 a.m. EDT for a four-day flight which re-established the shuttle’s credentials, evaluated new hardware for the first time and passed a major hurdle in enabling the more complex missions which would follow.

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