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The US Space Shuttle Fleet

Endeavour Launch

The Space Shuttle program was developed by NASA to provide reusable space vehicles capable of going into low Earth orbit, docking with the International Space Station, and returning to Earth.  The development of the Space Transportation System (the Shuttle’s official name) was critical to the building of the Space Station.  Program development started in the late 1960s.  The program operated from the April, 1981 launch of the Columbia until July, 2011 with the landing of the Atlantis.

Atlantis Landing

The Space Shuttle orbiter launched vertically with a crew of four to seven and a payload of up to 50,000 pounds. Its missions involved carrying large payloads to various orbits (including segments to be added to the International Space Station), provided crew rotation for the International Space Station, and performing service missions. When its mission was complete, the shuttle re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. During descent and landing the orbiter acted as a re-entry vehicle and a glider.  The five vehicles—Columbia, Challenger, Endeavour, Atlantis, and Discovery—flew a total of 135 flights.  Each vehicle was designed for 100 launches—a 10-year operational life.  More later.

Tomorrow,  The Challenger Disaster   Rita Bay

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Space Does a Body Good?

Exercising on ISS

Space Does a Body Good?  Not really.  In low gravity muscles and bones atrophy from lack of use.  When the astronauts return to Earth, the muscle and bone loss can be dangerous. They can develop a condition similar to osteoporosis, a disease that results in a significant amount of bone loss.  Other potential problems include fluid redistribution, a slowing of the cardiovascular system, decreased production of red blood cells, balance disorders, and a weakening of the immune system.  Lesser symptoms include loss of body mass, nasal congestion, sleep disturbance, excess flatulence, and puffiness of the face. The effects, however, reverse quickly when the astronauts return to Earth.

Exercising on ISS

Regular exercise is critical to the health of the astronauts because it counteracts the effects of living for long periods of time in low gravity.  Astronauts on the International Space Station exercise on stationary bikes and treadmills, and a device that allows weigh lifting.

Tomorrow, The US Space Shuttle Fleet       Rita Bay

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Living on the International Space Station

Sleeping on the ISS

Although the International Space Station (ISS) is an exotic environment, it is the astronauts’ home for months at a time.  They must still eat, sleep, work, and exercise just as they would on Earth. The ISS was designed to make life as comfortable as possible for the astronauts within the space constraints of about two football fields.  The atmosphere is bright and spacious.  The temperature is maintained at a cool 70 degrees. 

Eating on the ISS

Each crew member has a private area where they sleep about 8.5 hours daily anchored down in their bed so they won’t float away. The weightless environment makes personal hygiene difficult.  Astronauts use a freshwater hose to take showers, shampoo, and rinse off—then a second vacuum hose to suction off the dirty water. A modified toilet uses flowing air instead of water to dispose of waste.  Astronauts wear regular clothing on the ISS.   The space station is equipped with microwave ovens and refrigerators that allow astronauts to eat regular foods.

Tomorrow,   Space Does a Body Good?     Rita Bay

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The International Space Station: The Next Step

Sky Lab

A space station was originally envisioned as a structure in space that would act as a launching site for further human missions to the moon or Mars.  The United States, after the successful Apollo missions to the moon, committed to establishing a piloted space laboratory orbiting the Earth.  That space laboratory, Skylab, was manufactured on Earth and launched into orbit by Saturn rockets. Skylab was 58 feet long by 22 feet wide and weighed 169,950 pounds.  Skylab 1 was launched in 1973, but was damaged during the flight, losing one of its solar panels and a meteoroid thermal shield which were later repaired by human-crewed missions repaired the station. The mission ended in 1974 but Skylab remained in orbit another five years before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere over the Indian Ocean and Western Australia in 1979.

In 1971 the Soviets launched Salyut 1, the world’s first space station which was followed in 1973 by the United States’ Skylab. In 1986, the Soviets put the Mir Space Station in orbit which was the most successful space station until it was abandoned and burned up in the atmosphere in 2001.

International Space Station

The International Space Station resulted from a cooperative effort of 16 countries with the US and Russia contributing most of the technology.   The first two parts of the International Space Station were launched in 1998.  The satellite orbits more than 250 miles above the earth. International crews have been living there since 2000. The first crew consisted of one American and two Russian astronauts. International crews live aboard the satellite for months at a time performing various experiments and maintaining the facility.  More on all of this later.

Tomorrow, Building the International Space Station       Rita Bay

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The US Unmanned Space Program

Mariner & Venus

The United States has launched numerous unmanned space programs over the years. The Mariner program was a series of robotic interplanetary probes designed to investigate our neighboring planets—Mars, Venus and Mercury. The program included a number of firsts, including the first planetary flyby, the first pictures from another planet, the first planetary orbiter, and the first gravity assist maneuver. 

The Pioneer program consisted of two space missions that explored the outer planets and left the solar system carrying a plaque with info about Earthlings, in case extraterrestrials intercept the probe.  Also, Pioneer Venus in 1978 orbited Venus for a decade and Pioneer Venus 2 sent small probes into the atmosphere of Venus.

Mars Rover

The Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER) is an ongoing robotic space mission  exploring the planet Mars. The mission began in 2003 with the sending of two rovers—MER-A Spirit and MER-B Opportunity—to explore the Martian surface and geology. The probes been one NASA’s most cost effective programs, operating years beyond the anticipated program length.

 

Voyager

The Voyager program is a series of NASA unmanned space missions that consists of a pair of unmanned scientific probes, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. They were launched in 1977 to take advantage of a favorable planetary alignment of the late 1970s. The probes studied Jupiter and Saturn, then continued their mission into the outer solar system, never to return.

The Viking program consisted of a pair of space probes sent to Mars—Viking 1 and Viking 2 launched in 1975. Each vehicle was composed of two main parts, an orbiter designed to photograph the surface of Mars from orbit, and a lander designed to study the planet from the surface. The orbiters also served as communication relays for the landers once they touched down. The Viking program caused a revolution in scientific ideas about water on Mars.

The Helios space probes, a joint venture with Germany, were a pair of probes launched in 1974 and 1976 into heliocentric orbit for the purpose of studying solar processes. The Helios space probes completed their primary missions by the early 1980s, but they continued to send data up to 1985.

Galileo was an unmanned spacecraft sent by NASA to study the planet Jupiter and its moons. It was launched on October 18, 1989 by the Space Shuttle Atlantis and arrived six years later.  Galileo conducted the first asteroid flyby, discovered the first asteroid moon, was the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter, and launched the first probe into Jupiter’s atmosphere. Galileo’s prime mission was a two-year study of the Jovian system. In 2003, Galileo′s mission ended when the orbiter was sent into Jupiter’s atmosphere.

Tomorrow, The Space Station  Rita Bay

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Keeping Track of Moon Rocks

Collecting Moon Rocks

When moon rocks were returned on the Apollo missions, they became the most valuable rocks on Earth—probably priceless. The unmanned Soviet Union Luna missions also returned with samples. In addition, a few moon rocks have been discovered that  journeyed to Earth as lunar meteorites.

Most of the 2,415 samples weighing 842 pounds of moon rocks were collected by Apollo 15, 16, and 17. Most are stored at the Lunar Curatorial Facility at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas with some stored at Brooks Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, placed there in case of loss of the Houston samples. Many small samples are also in the laboratories of researchers around the world. Other samples of moon rocks are on display in public museums.  Only three pieces can actually be touched—the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., the Space Center Houston facility adjacent, and a loaner at the Museo de Las Ciencias at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

Oldest Moon Rocks

Goodwill moon rocks were distributed by President Richard Nixon to 135 foreign heads of state, the 50U.S.states and its provinces. The fragments were presented encased in an acrylic sphere, mounted on a wood plaque which included the recipients flag which had also flown aboard Apollo 17.  Approximately 180 are currently unaccounted for. Many of the moon rocks that are accounted for have been locked away in storage for decades.  Some researchers and hobbyists have documented the presence, absence, and search for the Goodwill Moon Rocks. For fascinating stories about the search for the missing moon rocks check out:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_and_missing_moon_rocks

Alaska Moon Rock

The most recent lost Moon Rock that’s been located is Alaska’s Goodwill Rock.  The rock had been lost after an arson fire in Alaska’s Transportation Museum in Anchorage in 1973.  Coleman Anderson, who now lives in Texas, sued for formal title to the rocks in December, 2010. If he doesn’t receive title, he’s asking to be compensated for the return of the rock and plaque he claims to have found in a pile of debris after the fire.

The lawsuit claims Anderson became owner of the plaque because the state had abandoned it.  According to the lawsuit, recovery efforts concluded days after the fire and remaining debris was declared garbage.  The lawsuit claims then 17-year-old Anderson, who was the stepson of museum curator Phil Redden, entered the debris area as crews removed garbage, discovered the moon rocks plaque covered by a layer of melted materials and took it home with the permission of his stepfather.

State officials, meanwhile, contend the moon rocks were stolen after the fire.The state contends that Anderson’s story “does not correspond with what our documentation shows.” Witnesses afterward saw the moon rocks plaque intact in its glass display case. Later, the display case was broken and the moon rocks and plaque removed, state officials said. Anderson has offered to sell them to the state at a discount.  Litigation is pending.

Tomorrow, Unmanned Explorations     Rita Bay

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