Discovery Set For Final Fling

Space Shuttle Discovery is poised on the launch pad for her final mission, STS-133. Commander Steven Lindsey and pilot Eric Boe are joined by mission specialists Alvin Drew, Steven Bowen, Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott on an 11 day excursion to the International Space Station delivering a Permanent Logistics module, named Leonardo. Also on the cargo list, an Express Logistics carrier, and a human-like robotic assistant Robonaut 2 - and yes the nickname R2 has been mentioned a couple of thousand times.

You can watch the launch live on NASA TV at 4:50pm EST. Coverage of activities leading up to the launch is already underway.

Discovery awaits on launch pad 39A

So, isn't Leonardo the name of another module?
Well, yes and no. Leonardo is the name of the module, but it has been re-purposed, beginning life as a multi-purpose logistics module that made several trips to the station delivering cargo, to a permanent fixture on the station, providing an additional storage and experimental space. With the retirement of the only vehicle capable of hauling the module into space - the Space Shuttle, the decision was made to convert one of the three Italian built multi-purpose modules to a permanent Space Station module and leave it attached when the delivering Shuttle departs.

Cosmonaut Yuri P. Gidzenko floats inside Leonardo
So, are these the droids they are looking for?
Yes, very funny. Robonaut 2, or "R2" if you like, is the first so called human-like robotic assistant and has "hands" that allow it to perform tasks beyond the scope of previously introduced humanoid robots. R2 is able to lift a 20lb weight with ease, but unlike its more famous Star Wars namesake R2-D2 he is unable to think autonomously and would be completely useless in the swamps of Dagobah. He does however have a twitter account, and will be tweeting about his Shuttle launch experience. Find out more at http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/myexploration/index2.html and follow @AstroRobonaut on twitter.

Robonaut 2, also known as R2

Stay tuned to Spacers for more updates on the launch today.

[update: 1:11pm EST] The vehicle convoy is on its way carrying the crew to the launch pad.

[update: 2:16pm EST] Crew is being strapped into their seats. No issues are currently being worked and the weather looks good for an on-time launch.

[update: 2:41pm EST] Com checks underway.

[update: 3:02pm EST] Hatch is closed. Astronauts are sealed inside the Shuttle. Looking good for on-time launch at 4:50pm EST.

[update: 4:17pm EST] Closeout crew is clear of the launchpad. Discovery is ready for launch. Flight controllers will  be polled for a go/no go shortly.

[update: 4:33pm EST]  Range systems report computer problem. Issue could postpone launch if not resolved.

[update: 4:40pm EST]  Flight controllers polled. Range safety is no-go. Mission managers will give them until T-5:00 before postponing launch.

[update: 4:46pm EST] Holding a T-5:00. Range safety is still no-go.

[update: 4:49pm EST] Range is GO!

[update: 4:54pm EST] Discovery launches!

Images credit: NASA
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Mark Kelly To Command STS-134

Spacers is ecstatic to announce that Commander Mark Kelly has decided, with the full support of his wife Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, to return as Commander to the final mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS-134, currently scheduled for launch on April 19th 2011.

There is little more to say other than the spirit of exploration stands proud and triumphant today, mournful of the voices of dissent that wallow in its shadow.

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Merry Christmas From Space

During this season we are reminded of how we are one world. Whether you celebrate Brumalia, Hanukkah, Mithras, The Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Christmas, Festivus, The Winter Solstice, or even sing the Boars Head Carol, just remember that the myths that shaped us will continue to be our inspiration, as long as reality is our savior.

Merry Christmas to all during this holiday season.

Greetings come from far and wide, even from three humans privileged to see our planet as one from space, Commander Scott Kelly of NASA and Flight Engineers Cady Coleman of NASA and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency.

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Sorry Or LaLaLaLaLa

If you are one of the vocal few who deny the reality of anthropogenic global warming then you should be very familiar with these two options - for they are your only two options. The science has been settled on the subject for well over a decade now, but the noise coming from deniers of simple reality has been artificially inflating counter arguments insisting that... well, actually the arguments are so disjointed and amorphous as to be lost under a fog of contradictions and moving goalposts. Try this simple experiment: Ask a climate change denier to present the evidence to support their argument. Seriously, that's it. Nothing more. Just ask that one simple question. If you get anything else other than a bluster of noise and waffle, then please report it to NASA's climate department immediately! It has been waiting for evidence to the contrary since...

So, there's no evidence for anthropogenic global warming either, right?
Well actually, it is the single most evidentially supported phenomena that we know of. There is actually less supporting evidence for the existence of gravity! Historically, the problem has not been a need for evidence, but a need for the evidence to be available to the general public. The sheer volume of data alone is overwhelming even for climate scientists, and the publicly available evidence has suffered from presentation deficiency disorder. This fact alone has been exploited to the maximum by those bereft of any counter evidence, claiming everything from a complete absence of evidence to stringing out a non-controversy over a leaked email conversation. Well, it's time to bury the dead and fill in the grave. Anthropogenic Global Warming is real. And here is everything that you need to know about it: http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/.

Not a Hockey Stick

The above image is a sample graphic from the site illustrates historical CO2 levels. It may not mean much on its own, other than a clear indication of an anthropogenic influence (Of course, if you disagree please present your alternative explanation), but coupled with actual temperature data it shows a distinct, and undeniable correlation. If there is a better conclusion to draw from this than the Earth is warming and it is because of the influence of Man, then please... please... please present it.

Otherwise here are your two response choices:

1) I'm sorry.

2) Lalalalalalala, I can't hear you!

Image credit: NOAA
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Full Extent Of Gulf Oil Slick Revealed

The full extent of damage from the gulf oil spill is very poignantly revealed in this newly released image from NASA's Terra satellite.

Oil dominates the gulf coast

Click the above image for a larger size and take a moment to think about what you are looking at. This is an environmental catastrophe, no, an environmental tragedy on an unprecedented scale. The human impact is secondary to the horrific impact on the wildlife of the entire area, the species count alone going far beyond any of our worst fears. It looks terrible from space, and it looks even worse close up.

Waves breaking and churning oil

Ours is mostly an economic loss that is already being felt by livelihoods dependent on the coastal ecosystem, but that will very soon start to ripple through the USA and the world. The loss to wildlife is almost incalculable. Particularly galling are the many images of birds covered entirely by a disgusting thick gloop that is painful, debilitating and poisonous.

A pelican is completely covered in oil

The Big Picture has a very graphic pictorial of the effects of the oil on birdlife. I will warn though that it is very difficult viewing. I was only able to view the first few images before feeling too ill to continue.


And all this to save a buck so a fatter paycheck could be delivered to those who created the mess.

So, are you going to get angry about this?
Anger doesn't even begin to describe the emotions about this. A deep sadness and guilt is the starting point, followed by despondence about the stupidity my species is capable of. What truly makes me angry isn't the tragedy itself, but the self-righteous attitude adopted by those who put their own interests above all else. We are facing a crisis like no crisis we have ever faced before, and there are still those who try to spin to their own political gain. From talking heads on "news" programs asking where the oil is, to politicians shifting blame from their own policy, to the corporate restriction of information. If the gravity of the situation wasn't such an overwhelming sadness, it would almost be laughable to hear some of the utter nonsense gushing from those idiotic enough to try and deny their own hand in causing the horror.

It is difficult to find anything positive to report on this. We can only hope that our ability to do things as great as taking majestic images from space, is somehow a match for our ability to be stupid.

Images credit: MODIS Rapid Response Team, Dave Martin/AP, AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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ISS Gets New Crew

The Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft with two American astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut aboard docked with the space station yesterday at 6:21pm EDT, doubling the size of the crew. Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin on arrival said, "We had a great launch and a great docking".

 The new crew poses shortly after arrival

The arrival of the new crew marks the first time that two female astronauts have served together on a long duration mission, an event that coincided with two other milestones for women, launching on June 16th, the 47th anniversary of the launch of the first woman in space, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, and today the 27th anniversary of the first launch of an American woman into space, astronaut Sally Ride in 1983. 2010 has been a landmark year for women in space, with the most number in space at one time being set in April, when Space Shuttle Discovery brought Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson and Naoko Yamazaki, to the station to join Tracy Caldwell Dyson during the STS-131 mission. NASA also has ISS veteran Peggy Whitson serving as chief astronaut this year.

Image credit: NASA TV
Almost Heaven: Women On The Frontiers Of Space.
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Soyuz TMA-19 Launch Today

Three new crewmembers are set to launch aboard a Soyuz rocket to the ISS today at 5:35pm EST. Launching from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the crew are set to complete the lineup of Expedition 24. The two American NASA astronauts, Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker are joined by Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhinand are scheduled to remain on the station for the next 6 months where they will complete several spacewalks and play host to the final two Space Shuttle missions of the program before the fleet retires at the end of the year.

Douglas Wheelock, Fyodor Yurchikhin and Shannon Walker
set to launch aboard Soyuz TMA-19 today

Image credit: RSC Energia.
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