Image Credit & Copyright: NASA.

“And for the whole time I was growing up, for as long as I can remember, any time anyone asked me what I wanted to be it was, “I want to be an astronaut.” – Commander Rick Husband.

CREW (clockwise from top left). David M. Brown: U.S. Navy captain trained as an aviator and flight surgeon. Brown worked on a number of scientific experiments. This was his first spaceflight.

Laurel Blair Salton Clark: U.S. Navy captain and flight surgeon. Clark worked on a number of biological experiments. This was her first spaceflight.

Michael P. Anderson: U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and physicist who was in charge of the science mission. He also flew on STS-89 which saw Endeavour venture to MIR space station.

Ilan Ramon: Colonel in the Israeli Air Force, veteran of Operation Opera and the first Israeli astronaut. This was his first spaceflight.

William C. McCool: Mission Pilot and U.S. Navy commander. This was his first spaceflight.

Kalpana Chawla: Indian-born aerospace engineer and first Indian-American astronaut. This was her second spaceflight as she flew onboard Columbia during STS-87 .

Rick D. Husband: Commander, U.S. Air Force colonel and mechanical engineer, who piloted a Discovery during the first docking with the International Space Station (STS-96).

“This cause of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose; it is a desire written in the human heart. We are that part of creation which seeks to understand all creation. We find the best among us, send them forth into unmapped darkness, and pray they will return. They go in peace for all mankind, and all mankind is in their debt.”George W. Bush February 4, 2003 at the STS-107 Memorial Service at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston TX.

On February 1, 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew were in the process of re-entry having completed a successful 14 day mission when at 08:54:24 EST the MMACS Officer alerted the Flight Director to the first signs of a problem in Mission Controls telemetry. Four hydraulic sensors in the Space Shuttles left wing were reading “Off scale low” meaning that for some reason the sensors had failed. Experienced witnesses in California and Nevada had already been witnessing anomalies they were not used to seeing as Columbia passed high overhead. For the next few minutes Mission Control was in dialogue with Columbia as more and more sensor failures and abnormal readings came in. At 08:59:32 EST with Commander Husband in mid-sentence, all communication and telemetry to Mission Control was lost……..Space Shuttle Columbia and her Crew of 7 astronauts had been lost…….

Witnesses viewed and recorded Columbia as many of the pieces streaked through the skies leaving a debris field through Texas, Louisiana and parts of Arkansas. To this day debris is still slowly being reported, recovered and added to the collection back at the storage location in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Cape Canaveral. Initial recovery of debris was placed in a reconstruction configuration at the Reusable Launch Vehicle Hangar located at the landing strip across the lot from the shuttle Mate/De-Mate structure.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board, convened by NASA to determine the cause of the disaster came to the conclusion that at 82 seconds after launch a briefcase sized piece of foam that shed from the External Fuel Tank had struck the leading edge of the left wing, creating a hole. That hole, upon re-entry allowed the passage of super-heated gasses to enter the shuttle structure causing a catastrophic failure of the machine. This “debris shedding” as it is called was a well-known and accepted aspect to launch. The piece that had become free and struck Columbia was the “left bipod foam ramp”. There had been several instances of this exact piece coming free in previous launches.

Astronaut Dr. Sally Ride who also served on the Rogers Commission that investigated the Challenger accident noted striking similarities in the two disasters. “Since no machine is perfect, the problem comes down to identifying which known problems are an acceptable risk and which are not. In these two examples, shedding foam and failing O-rings, the organization failed to react correctly to the seriousness of the problem: in both cases, whereas engineers recognized the seriousness of the problem, NASA management dismissed both the evidence and the engineers’ expertise and ultimately decided to continue with the mission, with catastrophic results.” Richard Feynman, while serving on the Rogers Commission had submitted a personal addition to the final report that is all too relevant to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board report. In it, he wrote: “It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? … we could properly ask, ‘What is the cause of management’s fantastic faith in the machinery?” – Sally Ride.

Space Shuttle Columbia (OV-102) was the first Space Shuttle to launch (STS-1) on April 12, 1981 and had completed 27 successful missions when it catastrophically disintegrated nearing the end of its 28th mission. It’s named after the Boston, Massachusetts based sloop captained by American Robert Gray. On May 11, 1792, Gray and his crew maneuvered the Columbia past the dangerous sandbar at the mouth of a river extending more than 1,000 miles through what is today south-eastern British Columbia, Canada, and the Washington-Oregon border. The river was later named after the ship. On a more directly patriotic note, “Columbia” is considered to be the feminine personification of the United States. The name is derived from that of another famous explorer, Christopher Columbus. It was also the only orbiter with no external air lock so even had the crew known of the situation they could not have mated to the International Space Station (ISS) for safety. Even as the Shuttle program came to a close in 2011, small advances had been made in “on-mission” tile repair but there was still no way to fix a leading wing Reinforced Carbon-Carbon (RCC) section. Had the exact problem happened again to another orbiter they would have to await rescue in the ISS for there was no fix possible.

“Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on. In the skies today we saw destruction and tragedy. Yet farther than we can see, there is comfort and hope. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name.” Because of His great power, and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to earth, yet we can pray that all are safely home. May God bless the grieving families. And may God continue to bless America.” – President George W. Bush Feb 1, 3003 from the White House Cabinet Room.

Remembering Columbia STS-107 NASA History:

NASA Space Shuttle Columbia STS-107 page:

NASA STS-107 Mission Photos:

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Image Credit & Copyright: Petr Horalek.

I find this image from Petr Horalek simply astounding and even a little painful. If our eyes could collect photons into a long exposure before sending them off to the brain, it’s very likely that this is what we could see in the night sky. Fortunately, long exposure photography can make up some of what our eyes can’t do.

Let’s have a look at what we can see in this image taken from Aitutaiki Island in the Cook Islands, moving from left to right. That faint pink smudge at far left in the constellation Perseus is NGC 1499, an emission nebula known as the California nebula because of its shape when seen and imaged.

Next is the blue open star cluster of M45, the Pleiades, Seven sisters the tail of the bull and the Subaru logo in Taurus the Bull. Next, still in Taurus is the open star cluster, Melotte, the Hyades which is easily seen here as an upside down “V” which also acts as the head of the bull. You can also see red supergiant in the Hyades known as Aldebaran which represents the eye of the bull. Aldebaran isn’t actually in the Hyades but just in the line of sight with the Hyades but much closer to us.

We leave Taurus now and our next stop is the wonderful region of Orion. Let’s start with that round red nebula acting as Orion’s head, Sh2-264 or the Angelfish nebula which surrounds the star Meissa. The angelfish sits of the blue and red shoulders of Orion with that red star being the most famous star soon to die, Betelgeuse. Follow the red arc known as Barnard’s loop to blue supergiant Rigel and encompassed in the arc are the three belt stars, Flame & Horse Head nebulae and M42, the Orion nebula.

Scroll your eyes down near the horizon to the faint pink point in Monoceros (The Unicorn). That’s Caldwell 49 (C49) known as the Rosette nebula. Keep moving left into Canis Major and you find the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius the “Dog Star.”

Next we move right some more and up slightly to the constellation Carina and the next bright star, Canopus. This is the brightest star in the southern hemisphere and the second brightest star in the night sky. Here’s where it gets painful for me; there’s the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) which contains numerous night sky objects but just look how close it appears to Orion which means although I can’t see the LMC it sits just below my winter horizon, teasing me every year. The LMC and its partner the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) (not in this image) are satellite galaxies to our own Milky Way which is a treat in and of itself.

Now I know I already stated that this image was taken from Aitutaiki Island in the Cook Islands but what does that translate to for the night sky? Well for one Orion isn’t upright or quite upside down but instead, being near the equator, it’s on its side and the LMC rises and sets with the Hunter every night. Couple that with the beautiful reflections in the calm tidal waters and you have an image for the ages.

Peter Horalek photography:


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Stitched Panorama

Image Credit & Copyright: Thomas O’Brien.

Here’s one of my all-time favorite night sky images and it comes to us from Thomas O’Brien. The aurora in this image isn’t necessarily the story as it’s not the towering brilliant green curtains of light that you see in many other images. In this image it’s just a faint, glow of pink and blue on the horizon but when inserted into this frame and mixed with the yellow hue of a town beyond it takes on a life of its own. The calm waters of the seasonal pond along Taylor Pass outside of Aspen, Colorado reflect our view of the colorful sky perfectly and makes me want to grab a chair and just enjoy the show for a while.

In addition to the night sky and colorful aurora, the Milky Way galaxy can be seen standing tall near the center of the image, while just to the right of the hundred billion star pillar, is an even more massive star city, M31 Andromeda galaxy, hanging on the sky like a ghost……

This image was from the summer of 2012 and I still to this day find myself checking it out again as I try to envision where I can plan a similar view from my region. As always, I’ve posted Thomas’s links below so check them out and when the time comes go find a view like this for yourself!

Thomas O’Brien Photography:




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Image Credit & Copyright: Mikey MacKinven (Mikey Mack).

Here’s a beautiful shot from Mikey Mack of the 3151 meter (10,338 ft.) tall Mt Sefton bathed in freshly set moonlight with the Milky Way galaxy stretching high overhead. In this image you can really see some great nucleus detail in the Milky Way as the light from the core is shrouded by the thick dust lanes within it. Near top left you can clearly make out red supergiant Antares in the constellation Scorpio. This is a view I’d love to see and whether or not it ever gets checked off I can’t tell you but it will remain on the bucket list for a long time to come.

Mt Sefton resides over Mt Cook Village in New Zealand’s Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and it’s one of the country’s most beautiful sites and it affords the ability to hike a 3000 meter peak without any aid from vehicle, etc. In Maori legend, Takiroa (Mt. Sefton) is the guardian of Aoraki (Mt Cook).

Incredible image from Mikey as usual and check out more of his work in the links below.

Mikey MacKinven:





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SpaceX just this week released this great video showing the final vision for the Falcon 9 Heavy once the test flights and reusability issues are overcome. The video doesn’t have the boosters and 1st stage returning to the drone ship but instead returning back to Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Earlier this week Elon lovingly referred to the drone ship as having been renamed “Just Read the Instructions” and the new one being built on the west coast given the name “Of Course I Still Love You.”

Also, it’s worth noting that the crew rated Dragon V2. should be making its first pad abort test in the very near future so it seems that its full speed ahead in the space industry worldwide and that’s a beautiful thing!





Elon Musk Twitter:

SpaceX Webcast:

SpaceX Ustream:

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Image Credit & Copyright: NASA of Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-51-L) Crew.

“I cannot join the space program and restart my life as an astronaut, but this opportunity to connect my abilities as an educator with my interests in history and space is a unique opportunity to fulfill my early fantasies.” -Christa McAuliffe

CREW: (Clockwise from top-left).

Ellison Onizuka: Born: June 24, 1946: Air Force Veteran, first Asian American & first of Japanese ancestry to reach space as a member of STS-51-C. He held a Masters in Aerospace Engineering from U Colorado at Boulder.

Christa McAuliffe: Born: September 2, 1948: Winner of the teacher in space contest, from Concord NH. Bachelors in Education and History from Framingham State College and a Master of Arts degree from Bowie State University. This was to be her first spaceflight.

Gregory Jarvis: Born: August 24, 1944: Air Force veteran with a Masters in Electrical Engineering from Northeastern University, Boston MA. This was to be his first space flight.

Judith Resnik: Born: April 5, 1949: PHD in Electrical Engineering from U Maryland and second U.S. female astronaut in space with shuttle mission STS-41-D.

Ronald McNair: Born: October 21, 1950: Physicist from MIT, Black Belt Karate instructor and veteran of STS-41-B whose mission was delivery of two Hughes 376 communication satellites as well as the mission that saw the first use of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) and first use of the CanadaArm which was operated by McNair himself.

Dick Scobee: Born: May 19, 1939: Veteran of the Air Force, Aerospace research pilot, BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Arizona and veteran of STS-41-C.

Michael Smith: Born: April 30, 1945: NAVY Pilot, and Flight Instructor. He attended US Naval Post-Grad at Monterey CA. This was to be his 1st space flight.

“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.” Thank you. – Ronald Regan in his address to the nation.

The STS-51-L primary mission payload was the second of NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay, (TDRS) satellites. Working in concert with the first Tracking and Data Relay satellite the two were expected to provide 85 percent real time coverage of each orbit to spacecraft. Challenger Pilot Michael Smith said, “It will give us almost global coverage for Shuttle missions of the future. That’s going to be a big improvement not only for the shuttle, but also for the space station when it gets up later on.” The satellite was scheduled to be deployed on the first day of the flight.

The mission was also to include upwards of 40 hours of Halley’s Comet observations. Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics had produced a low-cost spacecraft that could measure the ultraviolet spectrum of comet Halley when it was too close to the sun for other observatories to do so. The project, named Spartan-Halley, would help scientists determine how fast water is broken down by sunlight. The data was to be saved on what was then a very robust 500 megabytes of storage.

Launching from Launch Pad 39-B this was the first launch of a Space Shuttle from that launch pad as it had not been used since the Apollo-Soyuz missions.

January 28, 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger lifted off from Kennedy Space Center FL from Launch Pad 39-B. At 11:39 EST (16:39 UTC) 73 seconds after liftoff while in view of all onlookers, visitors and those such as myself (who was in 3rd grade) watching on television from McAuliffe’s home state of NH, an O-Ring on the right Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) experienced a catastrophic failure and the Shuttle exploded……..all seven crew members were lost.

Leading up to the launch there were numerous delays and setbacks for different reasons. The ensuing Rogers Commission, appointed by Ronald Regan and aided by the great Richard Feynman, Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride and Chuck Yeager came to the conclusion that the O-Ring failed due to the extreme cold they were experiencing during that particular week. The rubber ring lost its elasticity and became brittle allowing the extremely hot gasses (5000deg F) to escape through the failed joint and then enter into the External Fuel Tank. Even more, it was determined that the Morton Thiokol, NASA decision making process as well as the culture at the time had also been a major cause as they had known about and overlooked the KNOWN risks and did not heed the warning signs. Some of those signs included evidence of the same problem happening on a previous fight but not to the same magnitude.

After the accident, NASA refrained from sending astronauts into space for more than two years as it redesigned a number of the shuttle’s features. Flights began again in September 1988 with the successful launching of Space Shuttle Discovery. There would not be another major issue for almost two decades……

Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-099), the second Space Shuttle to fly. It was also only supposed to be a test article as the Test Shuttle Enterprise (OV-101) was supposed to be re-fitted for flight and come into service as the second orbiter. As design changes occurred along the way it was determined that then, Structural Test Article (STA-099) Challenger would be fitted for flight and its designation changed to reflect that.

Challenger was named after HMS Challenger, a British Corvette that was the command ship for the Challenger Expedition, a pioneering global marine research expedition undertaken from 1872 through 1876. The Apollo 17 Lunar Module that touched down on the Moon in 1972 and the famous Challenger Deep was also named after HMS Challenger. Space Shuttle Challengers remains now lay entombed at the bottom of a retired Minuteman missile silo at Launch Complex 31B at Cape Canaveral.

“I touch the future. I teach.” -Christa McAuliffe

GREAT link to the NASA History Office regarding the Challenger disaster:

SpaceFlightNow . Com Timeline of events:

NASA History information on the crew:

McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center (Concord NH):

Richard Feynman Rogers Commission Appendix:

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Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2)

Image Credit & Copyright: ULA of the OCO-2 Delta II 7320 launch vehicle.  Look below for mission and rocket information as well as relevant links to include live stream.

LAUNCH ALERT: Thursday, January 29, 2015 at 06:20 PST (09:20 EST & 14:20 UTC) a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II 7320-10 Rocket (Delta 370) will launch the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite from Space Launch Complex-02 (SLC-02 or SLICK-02) at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB), California.

This is ULA’s 2nd of 13 scheduled flights in 2015, the 153rd launch of the legendary Delta II and the 52nd launch of the Delta II rocket for NASA.

The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite will provide the most accurate, highest-resolution global measurements of soil moisture ever obtained from space and will detect whether the ground is frozen or thawed. The data will be used to enhance scientists’ understanding of the processes that link Earth’s water, energy and carbon cycles.

DELTA II in history: The Delta rocket family traces its roots back to the Thor-Delta series that NASA used from May 1960 with the Echo 1 & 1A balloon satellites to the early 1980s.  Production was ceased at Delta 183 with the rollout of the Space Transportation System (STS) aka; the space shuttle program.   However after the STS-51-L Challenger disaster in 1986 production was restarted and on Valentine’s Day, 1989 the first Delta II (Delta 184 & USA-35) delivered GPS 14 into orbit from Space Launch Complex-17A (SLC-17A) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS).

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