Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I Dream of Space

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Do you dream of space? I dream of space! Most people I know dream of going to space. I live in awe of people who went to space. One chicken I know even went to space! That's right. Domesticated poultry has been into the black, and you have not. Many commercial companies chock full of talented young scientists (okay, and eccentric billionaires) are trying to change that. Still others are trying to make space travel safe and affordable for tourists, one ticket at a time.

Reuben Metcalfe - I DREAM OF SPACE
Reuben Metcalfe, an animated space enthusiast , founded Wellington (NZ) based I Dream of Space Ltd., a company negotiating deals with several up-and-coming commercial space flight providers, who will ferry a lucky winner into space through what they whimsically call their "Space Posters of Excellence".

Your ante comes in the form of purchasing a beautiful space poster through their Sales Promotion program, whereupon your chances of getting into space as a tourist are one in 25,000. (Your chances of becoming a NASA astronaut, by contrast, are about 1 in 12 million.)

Want a poster or have questions about the program? So says Reuben, "Our fancy technology devices make noises every time you do this. Every. Single. Time."


So what was your EUREKA moment? What made you want to promote a trip to space?
Reuben Metcalfe: Well for a start, it's about time someone did it! I'd been sitting on the idea for some time, and finally had the guts to test it at an event called 'Startup Weekend'. It took us around 3 hours to build, and about as long to get our first 30 customers -- and that was without even leaving the room. We were the only company that weekend to have real, paying customers. Such a process can take months in a lot of companies, so I knew we were on to a winner... since then, I've been pretty much obsessed with all things space.

Where are you in the process? I understand you move around quite a bit; where have you traveled to gather interest in The Dream?
Reuben Metcalfe: This is a regular question we've been asked since we launched a few weeks ago. I can say as of the May 2012, we have around 500 customers, though most of those came through in the last week, and we haven't even started spreading the word. There are tweaks to the site being done to tighten up the user-experience before we really start pushing this thing in earnest. In terms of my own travel, though, this is definitely a global market; we'd like to have this site in several languages soon.

A lot of the actual space-related events have been in America, so I've spent time here in California attending events in an effort to build relationships with the community/industry, and of course learn more about it myself -- which is interesting actually; there are already a number of other business opportunities in the Space industry that are just waiting for people come along and snap up, if they took the time to look.

Reuben Metcalfe, Los Angeles, CA
With the technologies coming out of current commercial space companies, what do you think of their activities? How long do you think it will be before space tourism is an affordable reality?
Reuben Metcalfe: It IS an affordable reality! In terms of when the first launches are taking place, the jury's still out on who exactly is going to launch the first tourists - that is, outside of the Russians, who've been doing it for some time, though you're talking multi-million dollar ticket prices there. A good way to look at this is to go back ten years and see the activity around how involved the private sector was in 2002, how much we've achieved since then, and how many new players we're seeing enter the market. It is not an accident those numbers are growing. The public just doesn't recognize it yet because we're still too far ahead of the adoption curve.

People need awhile to get their heads around it. It's been the same story for every major leap in human innovation, from the telephone, to the automobile, the airplane, the internet... in recent years, we've seen the desktop and mobile markets go through that growth phase, and I believe we'll be seeing very serious commercial space-industry / space-tech advances in the near future... especially now that a lot of community driven projects are starting to coalesce.

In the meantime, we're focusing on making space accessible to those who've been waiting for a long time their chance to go - and of course, to make it easily accessible for a new generation of would-be space enthusiasts, who have never even bothered to think about space as an option before - that's the exciting thing for me, I think."

Excellent, thank you Reuben! And readers:

Definitely check out the I DREAM OF SPACE Facebook page and encourage your space pals to "Like" it so you can catch updates on their wall feed. Also see Reuben's talks and travels on the IDOS YouTube Channel, or see new developments at @winatriptospace twitter feed.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Why Does Commercial Even Matter?

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It was my fourth time staying up almost all night watching SpaceX milestones on internet streams; finally, after a scrub, a launch, and a smooth capture, we were treated to a triumphant opening of the Dragon capsule hatch!

I sleepily tweeted about the "success of the first commercially built and managed spacecraft to berth with the ISS as opposed to a government-run mission." Most of my SpaceTweep friends grokked the significance of the accomplishment, but I received one Tweet-Reply saying, "Actually, the NASA contract with the Russians is with Energia, a private company. But, why does commercial even matter?"

ISS Mission Control
What's The Big Deal About Private Space Launches?

Happily, commercial matters because it just worked. However, it seems a few people misunderstand how this mission differs from past operations or contracts.

Certainly, NASA contracts with hundreds of private companies, always has. Even Chrysler built missiles and boosters for the agency back in the day! The Federal Procurement Data System annually lists the NASA Top 100, detailing their actions and dollars spent, and each NASA center publishes lists of local contractors and sub-contractors.

SpaceX is different. They are not contractors who hand over hardware or services based on agency-ordered specifications, whereby NASA takes possession and then runs the show. SpaceX ran their own show, as part of the COTS program, or the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services.

Astronaut Don Pettit in the Dragon Hatch
Don Pettit in the Dragon Hatch

Sorting out the COTS program details, like anything else in the space industry, is something of a "Death By Acronym" endeavour, but well worth learning if we are looking at a potentially new model for space exploration.

COTS falls under NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo program, affectionately known as "C3PO", and we're just assuming George Lucas never sued. The droid namesake invests and provides technical assistance to stimulate the private sector to develop space transport in faster and cheaper ways than the government, which can seem to hemorrhage money these days for all the wrong bureaucratic reasons. Also, subtract the part where we have to lobby each presidential administration for funds, and fall mercy to potential changes in direction every 4 years at party whim or due to partisan bickering.

[ Insert "lowest bidder" jokes here. ]

SpaceX can do as they please, no matter who is in Congress or the White House. NASA had little to lose by inviting companies to join the major league and bring their own money, private investors, resources, ideas and young hot-shot engineers into their sports arena. It actually frees them from managing the process, and encourages job opportunities in new sectors where NASA and other entities will eventually become customers.

I have a friend at SpaceX who gave me a tour of their Hawthorne HQ. For the first time, I know someone in the space industry who sits at a Mission Control console who doesn't work for the government. No federal badge. Nonetheless, he guided a CanadArm capture.

Dragon attached to Harmony Node
Dragon attached to the Harmony Node

Other COTS participants, Orbital Sciences and Kistler Aerospace, have yet to demonstrate their inventions, but now that SpaceX has shown what can be done, certainly many space enthusiasts are even more hopeful that they are motivated to compete as effectively as they can.

Are there downsides? Sure. SpaceX is actually 3 years behind schedule. The whippersnapper private industry is still green, and even while standing on the shoulders of 50+ years of giants, they must undergo the process of learning what governments already know: what it takes financially, technically, logistically, organizationally and collaboratively, to put anything in orbit.

Another interesting tangential development is the eccentric billionaire factor. Metaphorically, their eyes may often be bigger than their stomachs, but there are a lot worse things obscenely wealthy individuals could spend their money on. If they choose rockets over the usual sports teams and mansions, I say have at it. Maybe they selfishly want accolades, maybe they want to go down in history, maybe they want to be the first person on Mars, or maybe some will truly and altruistically want humanity to benefit from their willingness to experiment with new technologies, and ensure science continues in orbit or beyond.

Isn't that the human pioneering spirit that took us to space in the first place?

Don Pettit, André Kuipers and Joe Acaba
Don Pettit, André Kuipers & Joe Acaba
NASA News Conference inside Dragon

The difference now is that in terms of policy and administration of the process of space travel, the "Government Only" sign can now be taken down.

COTS plans are transparent, as are those of the related Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, which includes Boeing, United Launch Alliance, Sierra Space, Paragon and Blue Origin corporations. The Space Act Agreements and goals of each sector are public for anyone to peruse at their leisure.

Our way of life, our level of science know-how, our new technologies, our ability to travel and communicate, our attempt to feed and water the 8 billion hairless apes crawling over this floating rock are all based on world space programs. What we have witnessed now is a fundamental shift in how that process CAN be handled. Many thought it took a government to pull off, but that is no longer the case. Private industry CAN manage development of, manufacture and guide a ship into orbit to dock with international hardware – with fewer people, far less money and much less time. It's been done.

A milestone is a milestone, and it should not be minimized.



Friday, May 25, 2012

Dragon Berth!

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They came! They saw! They caught a Dragon by it's tail! Another rousing block of hours on NASA Television and other multiple live feeds from the International Space Station, whereupon the Spacetweep crowd once again gave up what was left of our sleep schedules to watch the Dragon capsule capture!

We just love it when space milestones are the top news stories of the day. SpaceX Hawthorne Software Engineer Boris Lipchin (@lenorin) posted this wonderful set of screen captures:

SpaceX Dragon Capture by the ISS
ISS Captures the SpaceX Dragon Capsule

On the west coast, I rose at 3:00am to watch what I hoped would be about an hour of coverage prior to capture. A slight retreat gave us a bit of a cardio workout, but both NASA and SpaceX mission control monitored and solved issues easily (at least, they sure make it look easy!), and we didn't care how long we had to wait so long as we never heard the word ABORT.

With both the ISS and the Dragon traveling at 17,500 miles per hour (about 5 miles per second), we watched with fingers crossed as the capsule drew nearer. Finally, at 6:56am Pacific time for me, NASA Astronaut Don Pettit used CanadArm2 (thank you, Canadian Space Agency) to reach out to the SpaceX Dragon, completing a successful grapple over northwest Australia.

Pettit (@astro_pettit) quipped to Mission Control, "Looks like we caught a Dragon by the tail!" Ha, funny guy.

Dragon and Solar Arrays
All morning, we were treated to breath-taking views of our oceans and continents, waiting for the right conditions and lighting for the long-awaited rendezvous. It doesn't matter how many times I see Low Earth Orbit maneuvers, I always get chills. It is truly astonishing what we clever hairless monkeys undertake in, on and around our planet... in a place where we aren't really designed to exist!

As the morning progressed, all went smoothly as first stage of berthing brought the visiting cargo ship to Harmony Node's nadir Earth-facing port. The second stage of berthing, an actual connection of hatches, was completed at 9:02am Pacific time. Cheers & tears!

Dragon officially became part of the ISS orbiting complex, making it the very first commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station. Lots of tears, lots of cheers, and newfound hope for Americans in space!

May 25th, 2012
Happy Berthday Dragon! SpaceX is victorious, the naysayers are quieted, and you've joined some pretty hearty company in space exploration and cultural history.

Next up... hatch opening...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dragon Fire!

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Yeah, so this happened. Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) launched a rocket, with a cargo capsule and everything, hoping to rendezvous with and help re-supply the International Space Station:


Falcon 9 Rocket and Dragon C2+

Spacetweeps worldwide followed hundreds of twitter feeds and multiple live streams to exalt over the commercial space industry milestone, not the least of which were dozens of SpaceX and NASA employees, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (@elonmusk), and ex-Trek cast members LeVar Burton (@levarburton) and Wil Wheaton (@wilw).

Blastoff, MECO and the opening of the Solar Arrays were met with bro-hugs, bursts of applause, and loud cheers from both mission control sites at the Cape and Space X Headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

Matt Sachtler of SpaceX
Happy Faces in SpaceX Mission Control

First hurdles cleared! Now begins the testing phases. Yesterday, the free drift demo went well, as did the abort burn tests. Over the next week, many demonstration maneuvers will commence prior to berthing.

The CanadArm will grasp Dragon and guide it to the to Earth-facing side of the Harmony node, where it can attach to the station. The ISS crew will open the hatch, conduct an air inspection, and then unload cargo (food, water, ice, clothing, student experiments, and various systems hardware) for the station residents.

Details are available in the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Mission Overview and Mission Objectives documents.

SpaceX webcast of Falcon 9 Launch
Another piece of "secret" cargo that isn't really all that secret since ABC covered it, is the collection of small tubes carrying the ashes of 300+ humans. Among the individuals' remains set to orbit, compliments of Celestis, are Mercury 7 Astronaut Gordon Cooper, and actor James Doohan, who played Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott on Star Trek.

To read the entire manifest, got to the SpaceX-D USOS (U.S. On-Orbit Segment) Cargo document on the NASA.gov server.

Monday, May 21, 2012

SpaceX Launch Viewing Guide

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The next opportunity for the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch to take the Dragon capsule to the International Space Station will be tonight! Or, more accurately, very early Tuesday morning.

I'll be tuned in to a number of feeds on various machines and on NASA television to watch again, with fingers crossed that we won't have anymore heart-breaking aborts with half a second left on the clock.

Cape Canaveral Air Station
One of my friends' kids in front of the Cape C sign!

The estimated launch window for this attempt will begin at 12:44am PACIFIC time, 03:44am EASTERN time, and 07:44 UTC ... another sleepless night! But it's always worth the fun and hype, particularly when all the SpaceTweeps get rolling on Twitter. Follow me at @Pillownaut for live-tweeting and join the conversations! Watch the re-tweets for other space folk from NASA and SpaceX you can follow.

Live coverage available for the hour before the event will be on:

SPACE EXPLORATION TECHNOLOGIES: http://www.spacex.com/webcast

NASA TELEVISION: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

SPACEFLIGHT NOW: http://spaceflightnow.com/falcon9/003/status.html

SPACEREF INTERACTIVE: http://spaceref.com

LIVESTREAM: http://new.livestream.com/spacex

MSNBC: http://video.msnbc.msn.com/msnbc.com

SpaceX Employees
Coverage includes interviews with SpaceX employees

Some tidbits to keep in mind while watching and hoping for this amazing space exploration milestone? SpaceX has spent $1.2 billion dollars thus far in pursuit of what you will be watching. One-third of their funds have come from NASA. Another third has come from customers, and most of the rest came from investors. CEO Elon Musk has personally contributed $100 million.

To put this into perspective? Across SpaceX's entire history of development, including rocket design, testing & launch operations, they have still spent less than Facebook just paid for Instagram.

Another thing – and perhaps I'm splitting hairs, but many people and outlets have been reporting that "Dragon will dock to the space station".

Hate to rain on parades, because I am as invested emotionally in their success as any space enthusiast -- but I read the entire Mission Overview and Mission Objectives from the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) pages, and … wow. The capsule must pass MANY, MANY TEST HURDLES before being allowed to approach the ISS in a best case scenario.

SpaceX Mission Control
Hey is that Mark Zuckerburg on the top right?!

The crew of the ISS and two MCCs on Earth will closely monitor launch, engine firings, a "free drift" demo, abort capability, positioning systems tests, checkout maneuvers, instrumentation accuracy, acceleration & breaking in close proximity to the ISS, and many station fly-unders at various distances.

Of great import will be ability of the ISS crew to send commands to the un-manned Dragon, having it follow the station in orbit and position for possible docking.

Huge goals have been set, and time will tell if SpaceXers were cocky in setting them, or such a great set of inventors that we should have just thrown a human in that capsule. Hopefully, we'll see the first set of tests in less than 24 hours!

Friday, May 18, 2012

The World's First Time Traveler

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Did you know that Russian Cosmonaut Сергей Авдеев ("Sergei Avdeyev") is considered Earth's first significant time traveler?

During his active years as a cosmonaut (1992-1999), he set a record for cumulative time in space. Across 3 visits to the Mir station, he spent an astonishing 747 days in low Earth orbit! Sergei circled the planet nearly 12 thousand times, traveling a total of 515 million kilometers.

After Avdeyev retired from Roscosmos in 2003, cosmonaut Sergei K. Krikalev reached 803 days in space, breaking the record for time – but not for speed.

Avdeyev is the first human being calculated to have traveled a measurable .02 seconds into the future.

Russian Cosmonauts
Mir Cosmonauts Avdeyev, Gidzenko & Reiter

Spending just over two years on MIR going 17,500 miles per hour is what racked up those 20 milliseconds, says Princeton astrophysicist J. Richard Gott: "If you go out 500 light-years, then come back at the same speed, when you arrive back the Earth would be 1,000 years older and you would only have aged 10 years."

The closer we get to the speed of light, of course, the slower time proceeds. Moving physically through time more noticeably would require travel at 99.995% the speed of light, so 20 milliseconds probably seems pretty tame – but we'll take it!

Sergei Avdeyev is, technically, one-fiftieth of a second "younger" than if he had stayed home. He has thus traveled one-fiftieth of a second into the future, effectively experiencing .02 seconds less than the rest of us here on Earth.

Time Travel
The Apollo astronauts hold the overall speed record in that their crafts traveled faster, but they were only in space for a few days at a time. The fastest spaceships of today travel at only .00004 percent the speed of light, and a voyage to our closest star, Alpha Centauri, would take about 80,000 years.

Say we somehow found the fuel and other means to speed that up to say, 75% percent of the speed of light? We could reach Alpha Centauri in 5.7 "Earth years." But for the astronauts on the ship, the trip would take a tad less than 4 years. Neat theories! Think we'll ever pull it off ??

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Launchapalooza

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Ariane V took off yesterday, Soyuz the day before... and wow, this Thursday is shaping up to be magical international Launch Day!

If all goes well with weather and hardware, there will be three prominent space launches in five hours. Seriously, words like "Launchapalooza" are being used on Twitter. We always dreamed of the day when launches would be part of regular everyday life, but it's still great to see people talking about them!

Shizuku GCom W1
Shizuku

Here is the launch scheduled for tomorrow if you want to follow along:

SOYUZ / KOBALT
1400 GMT / 10:00AM ET
A Soyuz rocket will launch a Kobalt optical reconnaissance satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia (800km north of Moscow) for the Russian ministry of defense.

H-2A / GCOM W1 / KOMPSAT 3
1630 GMT / 12:30 ET
The Japanese H-2A rocket will launch the GCOM W1 ("Shizuku") and Kompsat 3 satellites from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center. Shizuku is the first Global Change Observation Mission dedicated to studying Earth's water cycle. Kompsat 3 is a South Korean Earth observation satellite.

PROTON / NIMIQ 6

1912 GMT / 03:12PM ET
An International Launch Services Proton rocket with a Breeze M upper stage will launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to deploy the Nimiq 6 satellite. Nimiq 6 will provide Ku-band HDTV across Canada for Telesat.

SpaceX Dragon

Then, this weekend, the big ticket item all the space nerds are anxiously awaiting! It's been delayed NINE times now. Will the 10th date be the charm once they have passed all safety reviews?

FALCON 9 / DRAGON C2+
0855 GMT / 04:55 ET
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the second Dragon spacecraft from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, to demonstrate rendezvous and berthing with the ISS for future cargo-delivery. The company is building the Dragon to fly on operational resupply missions to the orbiting lab.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Soyuz Countdown

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Soyuz launch coverage on NASA television starts tonight at 7pm Pacific, 10pm Eastern, 2am GMT, 5am Moscow! Launch is set for Kazakh time 5/15 9:01am, when the Soyuz TMA-04M will carry the Expedition 31/32 crew members to the International Space Station.

Roskosmos Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin, and NASA astronaut Joe Acaba are scheduled for a long-duration mission aboard the ISS. Comrade Revin is the spaceflight rookie on this particular mission, and if all goes well, I look forward to adding him to my master Map of Space Travelers as the #523rd human being to venture into the black!

Soyuz TMA-04M crew
Acaba, Padalka, Revin

On this eve of the launch (late May 14th in American time zones, May 15th in Kazakhstan), I thought I would research the steps up to the Soyuz launch, having only been watching NASA TV sporadically over the past few days as they carried out the rocket mating and the rollout to the launchpad at Baikonur Cosmodrome.

I know a great deal about Space Shuttle Countdown 101, but as yet, still have much to learn about the processes involved with the Soyuz vehicles. They have been around for a long time, so there's no excuse! But like most other things, we examine closely that which is nearer to home.

As I'm now watching the Soyuz TMA-04M final pre-launch crew news conference and Russian State Commission meeting in Baikonur and gearing up for tonight's launch, I thought I'd share the steps I found...

Soyuz
Blessing the rocket

T-06:00:00 Batteries are installed in the booster

T-05:30:00 State commission gives "go" to take launch vehicle

T-05:15:00 Crew arrives at launch site facility

T-05:00:00 Tanking begins

T-04:20:00 Spacesuits prepped and donned by cosmonauts

T-04:00:00 Booster is loaded with liquid oxygen

T-03:40:00 Crew meets delegations

T-03:10:00 Reports to the State commission

T-03:05:00 Crew transferred to the launch pad

T-03:00:00 Vehicle first and second stage oxidizer fueling complete

T-02:30:00 Crew ingress through orbital module side hatch

T-02:00:00 Crew in re-entry vehicle

T-1:45:00 Re-entry vehicle hardware tested; suits ventilated.

T-01:30:00 Launch command monitoring and supply unit prepared; Orbital compartment hatch tested for sealing

T-01:00:00 Launch vehicle control system prepared for use; gyros activated

T-00:45:00 Launch pad service structure halves are lowered

T-00:40:00 Re-entry vehicle hardware testing complete

T-00:30:00 Emergency escape system armed; launch command supply unit activated

T-00:25:00 Service towers withdrawn

T-00:15:00 Space suit leak tests complete; crew engages personal escape hardware automatic mode

T-00:10:00 Launch gyro instruments uncaged; crew activates on-board recorders

T-00:7:00 All pre-launch operations complete

T-00:06:15 Key to launch command given at the launch site; Automatic program of final launch operations is activated

T-00:06:00 All launch complex and vehicle systems ready for launch

T-00:05:00 Systems switched to onboard control;
- Ground measurement system activated by RUN 1 command;
- Commander's controls activated;
- Crew switches to suit air by closing helmets;
- Launch key inserted in launch bunker

T-00:03:15 Combustion chambers of engine pods purged with nitrogen

T-0:002:30 Booster propellant tank pressurization starts;
- Onboard measurement system activated by RUN 2 command;
- Prelaunch pressurization of all tanks with nitrogen begins

T-00:02:15 Oxidizer and fuel drain and safety valves of launch vehicle are closed; Ground filling of oxidizer and nitrogen to the launch vehicle terminated

T-00:01:00 Vehicle on internal power;
- Automatic sequencer on;
- First umbilical tower separates from booster

T-00:00:40 Ground power supply umbilical to third stage is disconnected

T-00:00:20 Launch command given at the launch position; engines turned on

T-00:00:15 Second umbilical tower separates from booster

T-00:00:10 Engine turbo-pumps at flight speed

T-00:00:05 First stage engines at maximum thrust

T-00:00:00 Fueling tower separates... and... LIFT OFF!

Soyuz
Союз

Lastly, here's a brief rundown of the whole "T minus" deal if anyone has kids on hand they're teaching about launches ;)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Female Cosmonaut Headed To The ISS!

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Not a moment too soon! What wonderful news for Roskosmos and the International Space Station: Russian Cosmonaut Yelena Serova has been selected for Expedition 41, set to travel by Soyuz to the ISS in 2014.

Елена Серова
Елена Серова

There is one active female cosmonaut. ONE. Yelena is it. And of the 18 chosen since 1961, only 3 have ever flown. Those three were Soviet, so Yelena will technically be the first female cosmonaut from the Russian Federal Space Agency.

Valentina Tereshkova flew on Vostok 6 in 1963, becoming both the first woman and the first civilian to fly in space. After a 19-year gap, Svetlana Savitskaya flew 2 missions in 1982 and 1984, where she was the first woman to perform a space walk (EVA).

Tereshkova, Savitskaya & Kondakova

Yelena Kondakova was the first Russian female to complete a long-duration mission on Mir in 1994, and then in 1997 she was the first, and now forever only, Russian woman to fly on the Space Shuttle (STS-84 Atlantis).

Another two decades later, Yelena Serova will join a very small club, indeed.


Born April 22, 1976 in Primorsky Krai, Yelena Olegovna Serova (Елена Олеговна Серова) was selected at the age of 30 in the RKKE-14 group in 2006 while working as a flight engineer.

She is married to Test Cosmonaut Mark Serov (selected in RKKE-13 in 2003, but retired for medical reasons before flying any missions), and together they have a 10-year-old daughter.


NASA's Barry "Butch" Wilmore and RFSA's fellow space traveler Dmitri Kondratiev will also be along for her historic ride; not to make them sound like incidental passengers or anything, but when one seizes upon a gratifying milestone... well, pardon me if I hand her the spotlight.

Can't wait to add her to the master world map of space travelers!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mojave Air & Space Port

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Gateway to space! That's what the sign says when you enter Mojave, California. And why not? Good a place as any for the Mojave Air & Space Port -- also sometimes known as the "Civilian Aerospace Test Center". Following the social events at NASA Dryden this past week, a few of us stragglers had a mini #SpaceGirlTweetup on our way home!

We wound up realizing we should do this more often.

Annie Wynn and Camilla SDO
Mojave Air & Space Port

MHV, formerly a WWII Marine air station, is now the up-n-comin' Space Oasis! Or at least, that is what we're all hoping as space start-ups congregate to test vehicles and develop new technologies. It is the first facility to be licensed in the United States for horizontal launches of reusable spacecraft, being certified as a spaceport by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2004.

Later that same year, the first private spacecraft, named SpaceShipOne, was launched by Virgin Galactic. SpaceShipTwo, which will host tourist trips to the "62-mile-high" club, is currently being developed. Other space port inhabitants include Stratolaunch, Interorbital System, Orbital Sciences, Masten Space Systems, XCOR Aerospace, Masten Space Systems, and Firestar Technologies.

Rotary Rocket
The ROTON - Rotary Rocket

The port has a long history of military service, test programs and world records; perhaps not as importantly, but still rather novel: it has been a filming site for 18 television shows and 16 movies, including the Hey Let's See Keanu Reeves Blow Up a Huge Plane scene in Speed (1994).

Since 1981, the site has also housed the civilian National Test Pilot School (NTPS), and since 1994, the affiliated National Flight Test Institute.

Test Pilot School
Sign me up!

For tourists interested in visiting, one of the very new features of the port is "Legacy Park", a lovely mirage covered with lawns and wild flowers -- quite the odd site in the desert!

Created on behalf of all the Mojave workers who have contributed to the site, the lovely park houses memorials to fallen test pilots, a composite of the SpaceShipOne craft, the flown ROTOR rocket and a mockup of the Rutan Model 76 Voyager -- the first aircraft to fly around the world without stopping or refueling.

Voyager Restaurant
Julie, Heather, Camilla, Jane & Annie

Another fun "don't miss" item is the aviation-themed diner with many dishes named after aircrafts and pilots! Voyager Restaurant overlooks the runways, where we ate lunch while watching planes taking off and landing.

Besides being right on top of the flightline, your dining experience includes great food, local aeronautics newspapers and periodicals, Tower Radio at each table, and free wifi. Okay, it was no NASA Social, but not a bad show!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dryden NASA Social

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Tweetups turned into Socials, and Dryden Research Center's first official gathering was a rousing success! What a ride!

Dr. Hugh L. Dryden would probably have been amazed at the frenzy created by these events, given his reputation for calm countenance... hmm, I wonder if he would have joined us on Facebook?

F/A-18 Fighter Aircraft
OMG! Chicken in the Cockpit!

I got to sit in the cockpit of an FA-18 Super Hornet twin-engine carrier-based multi-role fighter aircraft! And I really just want everyone in the world to know it. Thank you.

We saw, either up close or in slides & videos, many retired and active aircraft, so I kept the link to the Dryden Historical Aircraft Photograph Collection handy throughout the day in order to identify everything. It's a bit surreal to visit a largely isolated place where millions of dollars worth of flying machines are just sitting around everywhere! And even more surreal is that, by the end of the day, you've gotten entirely too used to it.

Edwards AFB
Mojave desert in California

Edwards Air Force Base is just east of the middle of nowhere, but SO well worth the trip to see a place not many people are allowed to visit. There were speeches, there were songs, there were many hours of walking and tweeting and ... wow, there was even a flight-suit fashion show.

We were treated to SONIC BOOMS, and a test pilot named Jim Less (his aviator callsign is "Clue", LOL!) performed a fast, roaring flyby in an F/A-18 just for our waiting cameras!

Afterward, we roamed from hangar to hangar to see currently used aircraft, new designs in the making by General Atomics, Northrup Grumman, McDonnell Douglas, and Boeing, plus many historical artifacts back to the Apollo era.

Test Pilot Helmet
Test Pilot Helmet!

We were allowed to sample flight food (tubes similar to those used on space missions), try on various helmets, board the CTV, mingle with research and test pilots, and of course meet many other aeronautics enthusiasts from all over the US!

After hours, we headed to the local test pilot hangout in Boron, CA for dinner and ... okay, singing & sombreros after a little tequila time ;)

Apollo LLRV
Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV)

Click on any picture to go to the full gallery, or click this link to see the NASA Dryden album in my Pillownaut Picasa site, which also includes last year's trip to the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale to see SOFIA!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

NASA Tweetup #5

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New Tweetup on Friday, May 4! Now called the NASA Social! Back in MY DAY they were called Tweetups, anyway. Just kidding, don't want to sound like a geezer 50 years before I should.

Anyway, it's ROAD TRIP time again, and this time I'll be headed to Monterey, where I'm excited to show Camilla the Apollo Moon Tree in Friendly Plaza, and then on to the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) on Edwards Air Force Base in California.

NASA Dryden Flight Research Center
Seems pretty big on the ground, but if you check out all of Edwards AFB on Google Maps, you'll see it's only a very tiny portion of the base! And pretty far inside the boundaries, so you'll never trip over it.

Sadly, Dryden is one of the very view NASA sites that is not open to the public, partly due to the classified nature of some aeronautical research, and partly due to budget concerns on the base. One used to be able to reserve pre-arranged tours at Dryden with specific dates, but those small allowances were also cancelled as of December 2011.

NASA Dryden logo
So, if you are interested in the first "A" of the NASA acronym, follow me Friday on Blogspot, Twitter, Facebook and Picasa this week for all things Dryden! Most of the Tweetups I've been to thus far have been about Space, but the agency's Aeronautics research and manufacturing branches are also crucial to the whole!

I'm already on the road, now -- and eagerly anticipating Star Wars Day (anyone think that was a coincidence?) at Dryden, perhaps seeing experimental aircraft, perhaps getting to meet real live test pilots, and... would an Autonomous Airborne Refueling Demonstration be too much to ask?

A girl can dream.

Dryden Fleet
Last summer, it was my honor and pleasure to visit the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility to see SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. That was rather a short and sweet affair off the base. This time, however, the crowd of 75 social media (mongers? maulers?) ... okay, let's call us "enthusiasts", will be able to spend the entire day seeing the aircraft fleet!

All participants have been told we can photograph static aircraft, though no word yet on what we will see or be able to record in flight. Stay tuned for more updates! On twitter, you can also follow hashtags #DrydenSocial and #NASASocial, or follow the @NASADryden feed.

For my and Team Camilla's updates, you can follow @Pillownaut, @Camilla_SDO and @jotolluch!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Space Registry!

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Sadly, this is not a way for people to get married in orbit while amassing cool presents from various NASA Gift Shops. (It should be, but it's not. And, someone should get on that.)

Sure is a fun toy for nerds, though. Awesome place to kill major amounts of curiosity time! Been trapped here for hours.

The U.S. Space Objects Registry tracks all objects ever launched into outer space by the United States (and they are preparing to add items for Russia and China). On the top right of the page, you can click Browse Registry to begin with America’s first satellite (Explorer I in 1958) and continue on through every piece of hardware we ever shot into the sky!

US Space Objects Registry
Of course, it's much more fun and intriguing to play with the drop-down menus, which are quite enlightening. I found more decayed objects than I would have thought, but also more recovered objects than I imagined in our launch history. A lot of stuff is still floating out there, but quite a lot has been guided back to our planet's surface.

Selenocentric: As seen or estimated from the center of the moon; with the moon central.

Heliocentric
: Referred to or measured from the sun's center (or appearing as if seen from it).

GSO: Geosynchronous, as opposed to Geostationery, orbit.

Areocentric: In orbit around the planet Mars (or "Ares").

US Space Registry Search Results
Once inside the results, you can click on the International Designator to find more details, such as:

US Space Registry Search Details
You can also search by functions, such as which crafts are engaged in research, atmospheric conditions, communications, exploration, space flight techniques, and so on. Hours of fun for the geek set.

If you are truly hardcore (and have a few clicks to spare), go instead to the searchable Index at the United Nations Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space. There you will find everything ever launched from Earth by 48 different nations.