12 January 2008

Shuttle (and other) news from NASA

First, launch dates for the next two shuttle missions (STS-122 and STS-123) have been announced. ZUI this press release dated 11 Jan:
NASA Friday announced Feb. 7 as the target launch date for shuttle Atlantis' STS-122 mission to the International Space Station and mid-March for the launch of Endeavour on STS-123. Liftoff of Atlantis from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., will be at 2:47 p.m. EST.

A decision by the Russian Federal Space Agency to move up its Progress launch from Feb. 7 to Feb. 5 enables both STS-122 and STS-123 to launch before the next Russian Soyuz mission in early April. This allows astronauts assigned to the space station's Expedition 16 crew to complete the tasks they have trained for, including support of the launch and docking of Jules Verne, the first European Space Agency Automated Transfer Vehicle. Targeting Feb. 7 also allows time to complete modifications to the engine cutoff sensor system that postponed two shuttle launch attempts in December.

Atlantis' main objective during its STS-122 mission to the station is to install and activate the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory, which will provide scientists around the world the ability to conduct a variety of experiments in life, physical, and materials science, Earth observation and solar physics.

Shuttle Endeavour's STS-123 mission will deliver Kibo, the first section of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's laboratory module, and Dextre, Canada's new robotics system to the space station.

NASA have also updated ISS crew assignments. ZUI this press release dated 11 Jan:
NASA has updated assignments for International Space Station expedition crews. The updates reflect changes in the launch schedule for space shuttle missions that will transport rotating crew members.

Astronaut Garrett E. Reisman, a member of the Expedition 16 and 17 crews, now is scheduled to return to Earth on the STS-124 shuttle mission, which is targeted to launch April 24, 2008. He originally was slated to return on STS-126. As planned, Reisman will fly to the station on STS-123, which is targeted to launch in March. He is a native of New Jersey and has a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology.

Astronaut Gregory E. Chamitoff is scheduled to fly to the station as a mission specialist on STS-124. He will take Reisman's place as an Expedition 17 flight engineer and return to Earth on shuttle mission STS-126, which is targeted to launch Sept. 18, 2008. Chamitoff, who was born in Montreal, Canada, grew up in San Jose, Calif. He has a doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Astronaut Sandra H. Magnus will fly to the station on STS-126 to replace Chamitoff. Magnus, a native of Illinois with a doctorate in material science and engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, will serve as a flight engineer and NASA science officer for part of Expedition 17 and part of Expedition 18. Magnus will return to Earth on shuttle mission STS-119 in the fall of 2008.

Astronaut Koichi Wakata will launch on STS-119 and become the first resident station crew member from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, replacing Magnus on Expedition 18. Wakata will serve as a flight engineer on Expedition 18 and return on STS-127.

And finally (for the purposes of this blog post, anyway), MESSENGER will make a close flyby of Mercury next week - the first such visit since Mariner 10's last pass on 16 Mar 1975. ZUI this press release dated 10 Jan:
On Monday, Jan. 14, a pioneering NASA spacecraft will be the first to visit Mercury in almost 33 years when it soars over the planet to explore and snap close-up images of never-before-seen terrain. These findings could open new theories and answer old questions in the study of the solar system.

The MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging spacecraft, called MESSENGER, is the first mission sent to orbit the planet closest to our sun. Before that orbit begins in 2011, the probe will make three flights past the small planet, skimming as close as 124 miles above Mercury's cratered, rocky surface. MESSENGER's cameras and other sophisticated, high-technology instruments will collect more than 1,200 images and make other observations during this approach, encounter and departure. It will make the first up-close measurements since Mariner 10 spacecraft's third and final flyby on March 16, 1975. When Mariner 10 flew by Mercury in the mid-1970s, it surveyed only one hemisphere.

"This is raw scientific exploration and the suspense is building by the day," said Alan Stern, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. "What will MESSENGER see? Monday will tell the tale."

This encounter will provide a critical gravity assist needed to keep the spacecraft on track for its March 2011 orbit insertion, beginning an unprecedented yearlong study of Mercury. The flyby also will gather essential data for mission planning.

"During this flyby we will begin to image the hemisphere that has never been seen by a spacecraft and Mercury at resolutions better than those acquired by Mariner 10," said Sean C. Solomon, MESSENGER principal investigator, Carnegie Institution of Washington. "Images will be in a number of different color filters so that we can start to get an idea of the composition of the surface."

One site of great interest is the Caloris basin, an impact crater about 800 miles in diameter, which is one of the largest impact basins in the solar system.

"Caloris is huge, about a quarter of the diameter of Mercury, with rings of mountains within it that are up to two miles high," said Louise Prockter, the instrument scientist for the Mercury Dual Imaging System at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel. "Mariner 10 saw a little less than half of the basin. During this first flyby, we will image the other side."

Note that, as usual, I have not completely quoted any of these press releases. Clicking on the links will provide further information.

No comments: