SOFIA Takes To The Skies

NASA's latest Earthbound telescope is not on the ground, it is in the sky. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, better known as SOFIA, is a unique telescope that is housed in a 747 - yes, a Jumbo telescope inside a Jumbo jet!

SOFIA opens its eye in the sky

Concentrating on observing in the mid to far infrared spectrum, SOFIA wouldn't be able to operate on the ground, and rather than outlay the expense of operating a space-based telescope NASA decided to try out a flight platform. So far the results are a success, with around 80% of the infrared light that a space telescope would receive reaching the 8 foot mirror. At a fraction of the cost of space operation, a single flight of SOFIA observation will provide a much needed service in an observation spectrum that is already oversubscribed.

Find out more information and images from SOFIA at: http://www.sofia.usra.edu/

Image credit: NASA
Digg this

STS-132: Mission Highlights

Catch the best of the STS-132 mission and the final flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis:

Digg this

STS-132: Catchup Highlights

Atlantis is home safe, so catch up on some highlights

Flight Day 10 Highlights

Flight Day 11 Highlights

Flight Day 12 Highlights

Digg this

STS-132: Raiders Of The Lost Highlights

Spacers apologizes for the current loss of service, but there's still highlights to watch!

Flight Day 7 Highlights

Flight Day 8 Highlights

Flight Day 9 Highlights

Digg this

STS-132: Highlights Galore

Spacers is still experiencing internet problems - and in the middle of a Shuttle mission too!

Grab some highlights while we iron out the problems.

Flight Day 4 Highlights

Flight Day 5 Highlights

Flight Day 6 Highlights

Digg this

STS-132: The Highlights Begin

An internet outage has kept Spacers offline since the launch, but we're back in business now. Let's get some highlights on the table first.

Flight Day 1 Highlights

Flight Day 2 Highlights

Flight Day 3 Highlights

Digg this

STS-132: Atlantis Launch Video

Quick off the mark, NASA TV has the launch ready to view.

Digg this

Atlantis Looks Good For Launch Today

Space Shuttle Atlantis is looking good for an on-time launch today at 2:20pm EDT on its final scheduled mission carrying a Russian research module and replacement parts to the International Space Station. There are no issues currently being worked and weather looks good with a 70% chance of favorable conditions. With astronauts Ken Ham in command and Tony Antonelli as pilot, Atlantis hauls its final crew consisting of mission specialists Michael Good, Garrett Reisman, Piers Sellers and Steve Bowen.

The crew is strapped in

Follow the NASA launch tweetup on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/search?q=#nasatweetup

[update: 1:05pm EDT] 10 minute hold underway with 20 minutes remaining on the countdown.

[update: 1:15pm EDT] 10 minute hold complete. No issues in work.

[update: 1:26pm EDT] 20 minute hold underway with 9 minutes remaining on the countdown.

[update: 1:35pm EDT] Errant ball bearing found from a camera mount is causing a possible launch constraint. Mission managers are discussing, but this may mean they can't come out of the T-9 hold.

[update: 1:48pm EDT] Weather looks great and no technical issues. Waiting for a call on the ball bearing problem.

[update: 1:51pm EDT] Weather up to 90% favorable. No call on ball bearing. It was found in Atlantis' payload bay before closing the doors.

[update: 1:55pm EDT] NASA TV reporting that they expect the ball bearing issue to be cleared, engineers are just discussing to make sure it won't be a problem during the mission.

[update: 2:01pm EDT] Ball bearing issue cleared! Go for launch!!!

[update: 2:06pm EDT] On-board flight recorders activated.

[update: 2:08pm EDT] Launch director gets all go on poll, no constraints.

[update: 2:12pm EDT] 32nd flight of Atlantis is go! 20 minute planned hold complete. T-9 on the countdown clock.

[update: 2:14pm EDT] Orbiter access arm retracting.

[update: 2:17pm EDT] Aero surface check.

[update: 2:19pm EDT] Beanie cap being retracted.

[update: 2:20pm EDT] Atlantis launches! What a beautiful sight.

Atlantis soars on her final planned launch

[update: 2:22pm EDT] SRB Separation.

[update: 2:26pm EDT] Roll to upright, gorgeously smooth.

[update: 2:28pm EDT] Plasma time, my favorite view!

[update: 2:29pm EDT] MECO. Atlantis is in orbit for its final mission. Good luck Atlantis!

I always get excited at launches, but this time I felt more emotional than I thought as I realized I was watching Atlantis soar into the sky for for the final time. This will be a great mission to watch and no doubt the world will be watching too. Keep it tuned to Spacers for updates as the mission progresses.

Thank you for loving spaceflight.

Images credit: NASA TV
Digg this

Ice Free Eyjafjalajökull Picture

Check out the latest picture from orbit of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjalajökull from NASA's Aqua satellite. (click to make huge!)

This picture gives a clear view of the ash cloud as it streams hundreds of miles from the volcano toward Europe. The disruption to air traffic is made all the more understandable by pictures like this. Eyjafjalajökull shows no signs of letting up in the near future, and a lack of pressure from glacial ice on the surrounding land is making the eruption more severe. Although it is difficult to say if the eruption would have been suppressed by the presence of ice, glacial retreat is being increasingly factored in to the prediction models for volcanic eruptions in sub-tundra regions.

A warming planet has many implications beyond simple weather and ocean changes, and we are just now beginning to get a look into the future of a man-altered climate. The controversy over anthropogenic global warming was over decades ago, but yet forces of denial still persist despite exponentially increasing evidence that is far in excess of what is required to be beyond reasonable doubt. The question now isn't why the denial exists - it simply suits a particular political and economic agenda - but rather what will reach tipping point first, the Earth's climate, or the untenability of denial. We can only hope it is the latter.

For more information on climate observation visit: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/

Image credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team
Digg this

Atlantis' Almost Final Flight

Space Shuttle Atlantis is looking good for its almost final flight on Friday at 2:20pm EDT. Almost final? Yes, this is the final 'planned' flight of Atlantis, but the orbiter will not be officially retired until after the final Shuttle mission in November because it will remain on standby as an emergency rescue shuttle in case of a failure that prevents Endeavour from landing. Essentially it will be a launch-on-need vehicle and won't have an official STS mission number.

STS-132 is Atlantis' 32nd flight and will carry a Russian research module MRM1, and an integrated cargo carrier to the ISS. MRM1 will be attached to the Zarya module and will not only provide research capability, but also a refueling module that enables visiting Soyuz and Progress spacecraft to transfer propellant to the station.

 STS-132 Mission Patch

Three spacewalks are planned for the 12 day mission, which began its official countdown today. Spacers will be covering the launch on Friday, so keep it tuned to your favorite space blog.

Image credit: NASA/Crew of STS-132

Digg this

Eyjafjallajökull Throws A Curveball

Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull is causing disruption across Europe again after another eruption, only this time the ash cloud has been grabbed by twisting air currents and aimed directly at the UK. In this dramatic picture from the Terra satellite, the path of the cloud can be clearly seen curving southward from the eruption site.

Eyjafjallajökull meets weather

As the UK headed to the polls for a general election, mother nature wanted to take a closer look and disrupted air traffic again in the process. This eruption was said to reach as high as 7 kilometers and was made worse by the lava flow stopping, which creates a more explosive venting of ash.

Iceland itself is an island that was created by volcanic eruptions over a geological rift where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. Essentially situated above a hotspot in the Earth's crust, the Icelandic plume, the central rift of the island is highly active with volcanism and geothermal phenomena such as geysers. The activity is ongoing and is actually causing the growth of Iceland itself. In the 1960's a volcanic eruption off the south western coast caused the formation of an entirely new island, subsequently named Surtsey. Given this rate of expansion we can reasonably expect Iceland to take over the entire Northern hemisphere in the next few million years. Now that's what I call disruption!

Image credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team
Digg this

Final Shuttle Moved To November

Endeavour's mission STS-134 has become the final Space Shuttle mission, its launch date moving past the previous final mission set for September, Discovery's STS-133 due to the replacement of the primary magnet in its payload, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, to take advantage of the recent announcement of the extension of ISS through 2020. As the Shuttle program winds down it was expected that there would be several delays and shifts, and even speculation that NASA would miss its target of flying all the remaining missions before the end of 2010, the deadline set by the Bush administration for retiring the ageing fleet. This may of course still happen, but for now it looks like Shuttle watchers will get their final chance a little closer to Christmas.

Atlantis is ready at the pad

Meanwhile, the STS-132 mission with Space Shuttle Atlantis is on target for a May 14th launch, with a successful rollout of the orbiter to the launch pad last week. Propellants are now loaded on board the orbiter making it ready for maneuvering in space.

Keep it tuned to Spacers for updates on the mission and live blogging of the launch.

Image credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
Digg this

Stunning Solar Dynamics Observatory Images

The Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, is the latest NASA satellite to go into action observing our closest star, The Sun. The few images that it has produced so far can only be summed up in one word - Wow!

The first of SDO's amazing solar prominence images

With the ability to show even more resolution and detail than SOHO, SDO is set to provide images and movies of our Sun that will more than surpass the expectations of scientists and public alike. This solar prominence image shows an eruption of plasma that burst from the surface and then rained down again closely following the twisted and tortured magnetic flow lines. What's more, SDO has taken movies of other events like this, which are just as stunning.

SDO shows off its multi-temperature capability

Check Spacers for more SDO images and movies in the near future.


Digg this