And with that, we conclude launch week! I’m kinda sad to see it go. I sure hope you all have enjoyed the posts this week, and I hope you all have learned something. Most of all, I hope you are more excited now than you would have been otherwise. If you missed any of the posts this week, I put together a compilation of them for you in this post. Exciting topics this week included:
- DEMO-1 (the uncrewed demonstration flight)
- The Space Shuttle Program
- Launch Pad 39A
- The Veggie Lab
- Meet the Astronauts
- The ISS
- Ascent/Abort Capabilities
- The 45th Weather Squadron
- The Oven
- The Loss
- 3D Printing
- The Vehicle Assembly Building & The Clock
- NASA Fun Facts
- Worth the Cost
- The Worm
Launch Week Kick-off!
The countdown is on!!! The launch is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at 3:33 pm. For the first time since the last space shuttle went up in 2011, astronauts will be leaving for space from American soil! What a great new chapter for American’s space program….and ultimately the world’s!
The mission this week is called DEMO-2. I think it’s very appropriate for us to kick off Launch Week by reminiscing on DEMO-1, of which I was there to see and so excitedly shared with you all here and on my personal Facebook page! Like DEMO-1, this mission’s goal is to travel safely to and from the International Space Station.
Not only was I there, but I was able to participate in my first NASA Social event. I wrote an article for the local papers and they graciously published my story. I hope you enjoy it as much now as you did then, and that you remember how so very exciting this all is! What an amazing time we live in!
DEMO-1: The Test Flight
For the first time since 2011, the U.S. is poised to send astronauts back into space, from American soil, as early as this summer. The ultimate goal is to get humans to Mars.
NASA hosts events called NASA Socials, where they invite members of the social media community to cover certain events. With a social media following of over 65,000 people, weatherTAP was chosen to cover the launch of DEMO-1 on March 2nd.
DEMO-1 was a test flight to see if the commercially built rocket and cargo ship, built primarily by SpaceX, could carry astronauts into space.
This event allowed me to walk on the launch pad that shuttles flew from. This is also the same launchpad we will leave from Mars on. I was in awe!
We visited the Veggie Lab, where agriculture researchers grow food in zero gravity. We will need to grow our own food as we travel deeper into space. One of the many challenges that I found intriguing dealt with plants and they oxygen they produce. Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. Fans have to be used to blow the oxygen that plants produce away from the leaves, or the zero gravity environment will cause pure oxygen to build up around the plant, making it explosive.
There’s also the challenge of preventing water from pooling around the plants’ roots. In zero gravity, there’s nothing to pull the water downward into the ground.
We learned of experimental communications methods being tested that may use x-rays to help us communicate faster in space, since those rays travel quickly through most any substance.
We left the Veggie Lab and headed to the launch pad where our rocket stood so proudly. As we stood in awe of that Falcon rocket we noticed a car pulling up. To our surprise, an astronaut decided to come out and talk with us! He was so inspiring, telling us of how amazing the space program is and all the incredible opportunities that are coming. I shook his hand so proudly and I’m still feeling honored to have stood in his presence. Not surprisingly, he had one of the firmest handshakes I have ever felt.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine also met with us. He told us of all the new possibilities for space exploration. He told us of how the NASA-SpaceX relationship is a good one. We no longer rely 100% on the government for funding; private companies are getting on board. Another change is that if we lose astronauts on our missions we will no longer shut down the program for a period of time. We will memorialize those fine men and women, and then we will quickly move on.
Emotions were high the night of the launch. In order to safely dock with the International Space Station, the launch would have to take place at 2:48 in the morning. As we were bused to the viewing sight, we anxiously wondered what we would see. For many of us on that bus, the experience of a night launch was completely new!
Then, as the clock counted down, we noticed a distant thunderstorm. Its lightning flashes were beautiful in the night sky, but it made us nervous that it might somehow affect the launch. Thankfully, the storm was moving slowly away, giving us quite the light show in the meantime.
The clock continued counting and then we all noticed a beautiful shooting star. It streaked right across the sky right over the launch sight. It had to mean good luck!
The flame ignited under the Falcon rocket and she light up the sky like a small atomic bomb. Liftoff! She lifted off that pad with such ease and lifted into the sky. Seconds later, the sound waves hit us and jarred us to our core; the ground even shook.
As we watched the rocket rise higher and higher into the sky, the light became dimmer and dimmer. Then, we saw the booster that had carried the capsule into space refire and begin coming back to earth. Using the best space-age technology, SpaceX has figured out how to get rockets to return, which creates an enormous savings to the program.
As we watched the booster return and head to its landing platform out at sea, I marveled at how far we’ve come over the past few decades. Think about how far we have come since those fateful days of the Wright Brothers flying their plane for 59 seconds and 852 feet. That was just a little over 100 years ago.
Can you imagine where the next 100 years are taking us?
The Dragon capsule successfully docked with the ISS and then safely undocked several days later. The splashdown occurred on March 8 and all went perfectly.
This mission’s success proves that we’re ready to go back to space from American soil. The space program is being restored and the depressing days of when the shuttle program was shut down are over.
The future of space exploration is exciting! Already, we have NASA to thank for cell phones, satellite TV, the Jaws of Life, home insulation, CAT scans…. I could go on and on. With a federal budget that is less than one half of one percent, we can certainly say we’ve gotten our money’s worth from NASA!
The future of space exploration is exciting. We’ll soon be going back to the Moon and this time we intend to stay. Then, when we’re comfortable with living on the Moon, we’ll be off to Mars.
If you’re not already excited about the new direction our space program is going you need to be! The sky is literally the limit these days, and I can’t wait to see what we discover next!
This morning’s Launch Week topic is the space shuttle program! The launch of Wednesday’s DEMO-2 will mark the first time astronauts have left for space from American soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011 . I thought it would be fitting that we spend just a bit of time talking about that shuttle program.
It was as it sounds….a shuttle into space. It was almost like a big bus that could carry you far from our beautiful planet. What a view it offered from way up there! The seven-passenger craft would carry astronauts to space, where they would do such things as release satellites, carry out experiments, takes lots of pictures, and so on. It was quite the vessel for a great many scientific activities!
The shuttle would leave Earth like a rocket, but return to Earth by gliding. That’s right, it became a giant glider, sort of like a giant, heavy paper airplane, only the shuttles aim and angling was much more precise! (ha)
The space shuttle program began with its first flight in April of 1981 and would end with a final flight in July 2011. In all, there were 135 shuttle missions! The missions would last one to two weeks. Of those, two missions ended in the loss of the shuttle and crew. The first was the Challenger, which suffered catastrophic failure 73 seconds into flight. The second was Columbia, which was lost upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
For many of us, the fact that we only lost two (which is certainly too many) is a bit of a wonder. Considering the dangers with those missions, coupled with the flaws of the shuttles, it is quite impressive that only two shuttles were lost of the 135 missions. Don’t get me wrong, it was an impressive craft, but it was certainly not flawless.
One of the great thing about shuttles is that they were re-usable. Once a mission was complete, the craft would be inspected and repaired and was then ready for fly again. This made the program economically friendly to the US government…for the most part.
The shuttle consisted of the orbiter (which housed the astronauts), an external fuel tank (that big red tank on the shuttle’s belly) and two side rocket boosters. The external fuel tank was the only part of the craft that was not reusable. Those boosters would burn up the fuel they had within them in the first two minutes after launch. They would then fall back to earth and land in the oceans. They were re-usable once they were recovered, though that recovery was quite challenging! Their purpose was to provide the extra lift needed to overcome gravity (gravity decreases with height). Today’s boosters are much easier to recover, since they can now land on platforms at sea.
Like I mentioned before, space shuttles were not flawless and they were lacking a component that Wednesday’s mission has. What’s that, you ask? I’ll tell you all about it in a special Launch Week post Tuesday night!
Launch Pad 39A
We’re exactly 48 hours away from the launch! That launch will take place on the historic launch pad 39A.
Few places on earth are as unique and intriguing as launch pad 39A. I’ll never forget my first visit to this place. It was when I was invited to see the GOES-17 weather satellite in its holding facility in January of 2018. I purchased a ticket at the Kennedy Space Center for a bus tour that went to all the launch sites. I remember the bus pulling up to pad 39A and thinking how crazy cool it would be to walk on that pad.
When I was there for my first NASA Social a little over a year later, one of the first things on the agenda was getting to walk on pad 39A! I thought I would faint.
So, what’s the big deal about this humongous slab of concrete? Well, it’s our gateway to space! It’s where Apollo flew us to the Moon. It’s where space shuttles set off for space. If aliens wanted to stop us from space traveling, pad 39A would be first on their targets to destroy! (haha)
The pad itself is 3,000 feet across and nearly 50 feet tall! It was constructed in the 1960s for the purpose of launches that would take humans to the Moon. The view from atop the pad is actually quite nice.
The first launch from the pad was an uncrewed Saturn V rocket on November 9, 1967. That massive rocket, the most powerful to date, would be the one to take us to the Moon. Just a little over a year later, the first crewed rocket launch would take place there. That mission’s intent was to orbit the moon and then return to Earth. It was a success!
July 16, 1969….man left this Earth with the intent of stepping onto the Moon’s surface. Man, was that a step! For the first time in human history, man left his home planet and stepped onto another planetary body! Imagine opening the hatch on that vehicle and stepping onto the dusty surface of the Moon. I just can’t.
The last Saturn V rocket to be launched on pad 39A took Slylab up into orbit. Skylab was our first US space station. That launch took place on May 14, 1973. In all, there were a dozen Saturn V rocket launches from this pad.
Later on, the pad would be modified to suit space shuttle launches.
Pictured below is the Columbia space shuttle on the launch pad, preparing to be the first space shuttle launched into space.
After the first two shuttle missions, the external fuel tank would be a rusty red color. That’s the huge fuel tank you see strapped to the belly of the shuttle in the photo above. They painted it white to keep it cooler in the sunlight. It was later determined that the cooling effect of white paint was unnecessary. Plus, painting that huge tank added 600 pounds of paint! They decided it would be better to have that extra weight for extra payload or performance. Thus, from then on the tank would be the rust color of its insulating foam.
On July 8, 2011 the last space shuttle launched from pad 39A. It would mark the beginning of the end of human spaceflight from American soil….at least for some time. This marked the 82nd space shuttle to launch from this pad.
We’re back! After being modified by SpaceX, the pad is once again ready to send astronauts to space from American soil. The wait has been too long but here we are! This week!
Pictured below is a diagram of pad 39A. I’ll point out some major features. The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) is at the top of the picture. Next, you’ll see the Crawlerway along the left of the picture. That’s where rockets that are going to launch roll out and along on their way to the launch pad (at a whopping 3-4 mph. These things are heavy!). They roll across Tennessee River rock because it’s the only rock they’ve found that doesn’t make sparks. Notice the flame trench. That’s literally where the flames are directed down and out and away from whatever is launching from the pad. The Holding pond (lower right) is for the 300,000 gallons of water used during launches. The water is used to suppress sound, keeping sound waves from destroying the launch vehicle. All the water is released in only 41 seconds.
Incidentally, there are two other pads associated with launch complex 39. Launch pad 39B is being modified for the Artemis missions that will take us to the Moon. Pad 39C is for smaller craft. Only pad 39A is leased by SpaceX.
On Wednesday, God willing, two astronauts will be taken to launch pad 39A to leave a virus-ridden planet for the International Space Station. We wish them all the success in the world!
I could talk all day about this launch pad but you’d be reading this for the next hour or so (ha). I do hope I’ve peaked your interest, though.
If you get a chance to visit Kennedy Space Center be sure and get the bus tour of the pads. When you get to 39A just crawl out the bus window and run for the pad! It’s worth getting arrested for. LOL Also, you never read this paragraph.
Seriously, we wish these astronauts Godspeed and an enjoyable ride on DEMO-2.
Tune in tonight when I give you a LAUNCH WEEK update on the Veggie Lab I had the opportunity to tour during my DEMO-1 NASA Social! I’ve got some cool stuff to share!
Pictured below is DEMO-2, standing as proud as can be atop Launch Pad 39A on this Memorial Day. What a sight…..what a sight….
The Veggie Lab
While on the NASA Social for the DEMO-1 launch, we were taken for a tour of the Veggie Lab. For those of us who grew up in homes where gardens were always raised, it was very intriguing!
As we plan for long-duration trips to the Moon, Mars, and beyond we have to be able to have enough food to survive. It’s impossible to transport enough food for multi-month missions, so there has to be a way to grow food in space. Simply taking a multi-vitamin has been proven ineffective. Astronauts must have fresh produce.
When was the last time you tried to raise a garden without gravity? How about without sunlight? Yeah, it’s not easy and it offers up a whole series of problems that really smart people have to come up with answers to.
First, the gravity problem….
Just watering the plants would be tricky! You would pour your water onto the soil, only to have it float upward. Little good that does to a plant that has roots beneath the soil. This means the plants must be watered through a spongy soil that absorbs moisture and then holds it for the roots to have access to.
Plants “breathe” in carbon dioxide and convert that to oxygen. That’s awesome for the astronauts but there’s one little problem. That oxygen, due to lack of gravity, just pools around the plant. The next thing you know there’s 100% oxygen pooling around the plant. By the way, oxygen is extremely flammable/explosive!
Astronauts may be forced to go extended periods of time without sunlight to help grow the plants. That’s where the use of lights must be tested. Which ones work best? Which plants grow better with certain lights? The list of testing goes on and on and on……
Many of the lights in the lab glowed a magenta color. I assume that means many of the plants grow best in that light. Thankfully, even without gravity plants tend to grow toward the light. That makes it easier to get them grow “normally” and upright toward the light overhead them.
Foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries, will be added later on. The added antioxidants will offer added protection from harmful radiation in space.
But, how wonderful to be millions of miles from home and be able to bite into a fresh carrot. Or go pick a beautiful red tomato and put a little salt on it and have a treat. Maybe pick some lettuce for that ham sandwich you just fixed. Sounds pretty good, right?
There was something else on this tour that surprised me. I saw all kinds of beautiful flowers. NASA felt that it was necessary to not only grow plants for nourishment, but for beauty. How nice to be able to pick some fresh flowers while drifting through the darkness of space! Or to have some flowers to come home to after a day of exploring on the Moon’s desolate surface. How cool to be able to take some pics of those flowers with the earth in the backdrop of the picture. You all would really lose your minds on my Facebook pictures then! (haha)
As we venture farther and farther away, the last problem the astronauts should face is starvation. That’s where the Veggie Lab comes in. And not only will you be able to put some lettuce on that sandwich, but you’ll be able to eat it at a table with a bouquet of fresh cut Daisies.
As of now, the astronauts on the International Space Station rely on resupply missions from Earth to keep them stocked with food and supplies. I was honored to be a part of a NASA Social at Wallops Island, Virginia last November to see one of those resupply missions. The vegetables and fruit were loaded onto the payload the evening before the launch, to ensure sending the freshest produce possible.
The Veggie Lab was one of the most intriguing places to me at NASA. They experiment with all the different ways of getting plants to grow and thrive in an environment quite unlike anything we have here on our own planet.
The cool thing about this, as with all things NASA, is that things learned in the Veggie Lab will eventually make their way into your garden and/or store shelves!
Anyone else craving garden-fresh veggies now? (ha)
Meet the Astronauts
We are now just a day away from the big launch! I thought it would be nice to introduce you all to the two astronauts who will be making history with this launch.
Robert L. Behnken is from St. Ann, Missouri and has been an astronaut since 2000. He’s flown two space shuttle missions and has logged 708 hours in space. He’s logged 37 hours doing spacewalks. He’s actually completed six of those walks. Behnken is 49 years old.
Behnken’s education portfolio is impressive. He earned a B.S. in both physics and mechanical engineering from Washington University (two B.S. degrees!). He then earned an M.S. and PhD in mechanical engineering from California Institute of Technology.
Behnken was in the Air Force ROTC program while he was an undergrad. He then entered active duty in the Air Force while in grad school.
From July 2012- July 2015 he was NASA’s Chief Astronaut. As Chief Astronaut, he was responsible for flight assignments, mission preparation, and on-orbit support of international space station crews as well as organizing astronaut office support for future launch vehicles.
Behnken is married to astronaut Megan McArthur.
The list of honors and awards for Behnken is, understandably, impressive. He will now serve on the test flight of SpaceX’s DEMO-2 on Wednesday. We wish him all the best!
Douglas Hurley is from Endicott, New York and has also been an astronaut since 2000. He, too, has flown two space shuttle missions, including the final one in 2011. So, he flew on the last flight that took astronauts up from American soil and he will fly the first one to do that since! Hurley is 53 years old.
Hurley earned his B.S. in civil engineering from Tulane. Before entering college, he was a fighter pilot and test pilot for the U.S. Marine Corps.
He is married to astronaut Karen Nyberg. They have one son.
As you might expect, Hurley has an array of awards and honors. We wish him all the best as he returns to spaceflight!
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine reminded us this morning that this week’s launch is a test flight. The main purpose of this trip is to test the Crew Dragon capsule for space flight. The capsule can hold four astronauts, but there will be only two on this test flight. The flight will take them to the International Space Station (ISS), and then return them safely back to Earth after one to four months (the exact length of time on the ISS is yet to be determined).
So, what exactly is the International Space Station?
You all have seen me remind you of the ISS flyovers many times. It looks like a really bright star that moves across the sky. It’s quite the sight to see, especially when you know people are on board! It comes over from time to time.
Humans have occupied the ISS for 20 years. That means that for the past 20 years the Earth has not held every human that is alive. There have always been a few of us out in space. That is unlikely to change in our lifetimes. The ISS can comfortably accommodate as many as six people. Normally, astronauts stay on the ISS for about six months at a time.
The ISS is the largest man-made structure ever put into space. It flies at an altitude of about 250 miles and travels at 17,500 mph. It circles the earth every 90 minutes. That’s a lot of sunrises and sunsets every day! To be exact, that’s 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets every day.
The ISS is slightly larger than a football field and weighs a little over 925,000 pounds. So, it’s practically the size of a football field and weighs nearly a million pounds. That’s impressive! It is powered by solar panels that convert solar energy into electricity, much like solar panes do here on earth.
Remember the space shuttle program we’ve talked about? Well, some of those missions took supplies up to build the station. Construction began in 1998 and was completed in 2011. Remember, 2011 was the last space shuttle mission and a part of that mission’s goal was to complete the construction of the ISS. Construction of the ISS took 30 missions to complete!
The ISS is the most unique scientific laboratory in the universe. Astronauts stay busy carrying out experiments. They even perform experiments that are sent to them from scientists and students here on Earth. Sometimes even grade-school students send experiments up. The experiment gets sent to the ISS with detailed instructions and the astronauts carry out the experiment.
Should the astronauts need to suddenly evacuate the ISS, there are two vehicles attached to it for them to get into and fall back to earth. Without being powered, any vehicle at that altitude will fall back to earth. If the ISS didn’t maintain a speed of 17,500 mph, it too would fall to earth. They are not beyond the pull of gravity.
Think about this… When you throw a ball it falls to the ground. If you throw it really, really hard it just falls farther away. Imagine throwing it so hard and fast that it went over the edge of the world! That’s some arm you go there! (ha). That’s how the ISS stays in orbit. It’s literally in constant free-fall. To maintain that free fall, the ISS must travel at 17,500 mph. Any slower, and it will start to descend and eventually fall to earth.
Technically, the ISS is in the upper-most parts of Earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere ends 300 miles up. Remember, the ISS is 250 miles up. The only time we have left the atmosphere is when we went to the moon.
Much of the ISS’s operation is managed by the folks at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. As the name implies, however, the space station is an international effort, with multiple countries participating.
The ISS is not the first space station. By definition, a station is, “an artificial structure placed in orbit and having the pressurized enclosure, power, supplies, and environmental systems necessary to support human habitation for extended periods.” The first occupied space station was the Russian Salyut in 1971. That was followed by the first US space station, Skylab, which ran from 1973-1979. The Russian Space Station MIR existed from 1986-2001 and was quite successful. The Chinese had the station Tiangong from 2011-2016. Now, there’s the most successful of them all, the ISS, which has been occupied since 2000. The stations I’ve talked about above are the ones that have been occupied. There have been others that were unoccupied for various reasons.
The ISS has some unique “problems”. Going to the restroom can be a challenge. You better not miss the vacuum! (ha) Sleeping is interesting. There’s no sense in laying in a bed because you’ll just float back up! Exercise is performed with resistance bands and unique exercise equipment. Taking a shower is impossible. You just wash off, basically.
In the video below, you can see how astronauts use the restroom on the ISS.
The purpose of the ISS is three-fold:
- conducting research that can serve as a springboard for exploration and benefit people on Earth,
- helping people learn to live in the hostile environment of space, and
- promoting peace in the world.
Some of the experiments on the ISS are absolutely mind boggling. For instance, beginning in 2013 the ISS National Lab’s protein crystal growth series began. Proteins can be grown as crystals in space with nearly perfect three-dimensional structures useful for the development of new drugs. This allows for unique experimentation that leads to medical breakthroughs for us here on earth. A big focus to date is the study of drugs that can help those suffering from muscular dystrophy.
Otherwise inoperable brain surgeries have become operable, thanks to robotic technology discovered for use on the ISS. Laser eye surgery has NASA connections, too. In fact, such surgeries would likely be impossible without technology developed by NASA.
The study of bone loss in microgravity has led to a better understanding of osteoporosis here on earth. That research continues to provide more clues into bone loss that may someday lead to the elimination of osteoporosis.
Water filtration and purification is vital to sustaining habitation on the ISS. Using the technology developed for that, NASA has revolutionized water purification methods around the world, especially in under-developed countries. This has no doubt saved countless lives and improved the lives of countless others.
I could go on and on. Cancer research, virus research, vaccine research, Alzheimer research and on and on…. Research on the ISS has led to medical breakthroughs here on Earth that we may have never known had it not been for the research lab in a microgravity environment.
Even without all the medical breakthroughs and knowledge, just giving the kids something to dream about is worth it all. The astronauts on board the ISS frequently speak with school kids, sometimes even from the ISS! They inspire the young minds to shoot for the stars…literally. What a wonderful thing to give kids….hope.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the climate change research that has taken place onboard the ISS. NASA understands better than anyone else how important it is to take care of our planet. And despite what you may have seen on the ever-reliable social media, NASA never “admitted that climate change was caused by changes in earth’s orbit, not people.” Yes, there are natural forces at play but we simply cannot dismiss the human toll on our planet. The research is always ongoing and we need that climate research more now than ever.
These journeys into space change a person. Astronaut Michael Collins once commented that he didn’t think there would ever be another war if everyone could the earth from space just one time. We could learn something from the changed perspectives of astronauts. “Since that time, I have not complained about the weather one single time. I’m glad there is weather. I’ve not complained about traffic, I’m glad there’s people around… boy we’re lucky to be here. Why do people complain about the earth? We are living in the Garden of Eden.”– Alan Bean – In the Shadow of the Moon
The ISS is an incredible asset to the world and I can’t wait to see what comes next. There are plans for an even bigger and better space station to come! What an interesting time we live in. What an inspirational and exciting time, indeed!
Later this evening, I’ll give you a quick update on something this mission and future missions will have that space shuttles didn’t. Stay tuned to find out what is later this evening!
NOTE: Be sure and “Follow” the blog to get updates sent right to your inbox! Just look for the “Follow” button in the lower right corner of your screen. Thank you!
When I was accepted to the Falcon Heavy NASA Social launch last summer, I was so excited I could hardly type to tell everyone on Facebook how excited I was (ha). In fact, I had to walk around the yard for a while just to compose myself. It couldn’t get any better than this.
Then, it did.
Just days later I was accepted to the NASA Social for the Ascent/Abort test that was to take place just days after the Falcon Heavy launch. I thought the excitement might kill me (haha).
So after the Falcon Heavy launch took place I just stayed at the Space Coast until the Ascent/Abort test could take place.
So, what is the Ascent/Abort test that I’m talking about? Well, I’m glad you asked!
One of the greatest flaws (in my opinion) of the space shuttles was that they had no escape mechanism. Should anything go wrong, there was no way to eject away from whatever was going wrong. Granted, there’s not much time to make that decision after lift-off but, like with flying on a plane, the most dangerous part is taking off and coming back. But, engineers couldn’t figure out a way to create an escape system. Besides, was it really needed that badly?
Then, the Challenger disaster happened.
While spectators looked on at the explosion overhead, certain the astronauts were immediately lost, the crew was still alive. They would likely be alive for at least another two minutes (hopefully not conscious for that entire time), continuing to ascend upward, but without power and alongside the side rocket boosters that were out of control. There was nothing they could do. There was no escape.
And so their ascent slowed….and then they fell from the sky.
Pictured below is the Challenger disaster. The two side rocket boosters can be seen flying off to the upper right.
The dangers of being an astronaut are great and astronauts understand that. Still, seven lives were lost and that’s never acceptable. Would an escape plan have made a difference? We’ll never truly know but we know enough to think it could have made a difference. If they could have jetted away from the explosion…who knows…
Now, there’s an escape plan! That’s why the ascent/abort test was so necessary last summer. We watched in awe as the capsule lifted up to 30,000 feet or so. Then, the ejection. What a sight! We watched with jaws dropped as the capsule free fell from the sky. During this test, a parachute was not used because of the expense of those shoots.
Then…..SPLASH DOWN….right in the ocean. It was so far away, yet up went the wave! It was beautiful. I thought of how amazing it was that as a kid I watched the Challenger disaster unfold and now I was watching something that may prevent such a tragedy from happening in the future.
The test was a total success! It’s so good to know that, should anything go wrong in the minutes after lift-off, there’s a safe way back home. The capsule was covered in sensors and the data from them showed just how successful this test was.
Interestingly, the smoke trail left behind by the ascent/abort test looked eerily similar to the Challenger’s smoke trail. Eerie, indeed.
Nothing can take away all the dangers of being an astronaut and nothing can take away all the dangers associated with liftoff. There will always be risks. There will always be a million things that can go wrong. That’s a risk that is understood.
We’re human. We explore. We take risks. That’s never going away, no matter what. It’s a part of our creation. We just want to make sure we do it safely.
Consider this quote from Edgar Mitchell, “So, we’ve gone from covered wagons to going to the moon in just under 100 years. For all the centuries and thousands of years before us, people walked or rode horses, cows, camels or whatever. This so-called modern era, from the late 19th century through now, has been the period of the most amazing development, discovery, innovation and acceleration of change that humans have ever experienced. And it hasn’t slowed down yet.”
It hasn’t slowed down one bit. And you haven’t seen anything yet.
45th Weather Squadron
Weather. It’s all about the weather.
As you learned earlier this week, the number one reason for launch delays is the weather. You can complain about it all you want, but we can’t do a darn thing about it (ha).
Lightning, clouds, rainfall, visibility, humidity, winds, temperature, and so on. It’s a lot to keep up with! That’s why the 45th Weather Squadron of Cape Canaveral has their work cut out for them.
I had a wonderful opportunity to tour their facilities this past summer. It was mind blowing! There’s so much going on and so much to keep up with. If they make a mistake….well, let’s just say we ain’t got no time for that (ha).
Normally, the NWS sends up weather balloons from certain NWS offices across the country twice a day….once in the morning and once in the evening. On rocket launch days/nights the 45th releases a balloon four hours before a launch, and then every 20 minutes leading up to and during a launch. They then analyze that data for every 100 feet of altitude. They have to get it right and they have to get it right from here at the surface to alllllllll the way up there. Well, at least as high as we can forecast for.
The 45th Weather Squadron of Patrick Air Force Base has been in operation since 1991. Their mission is to, ” Exploit the weather to assure safe access to air and space.” Safe travel ideally requires calm winds and clear skies, or as close to each of those as possible!
Keep in mind that Florida is the lightning capital of the U.S. This part of Florida is some of the hardest hit by that lightning. The 45th has to make sure there’s no chance for lightning. Even if there’s no lightning in the area, sending a craft up into a cloud deck can generate enough charge difference between the craft and the cloud to generate a spark. That’s not good. But don’t worry, the 45th has us covered.
The 45th provided forecasts for at least 35 space launch countdowns per year for the Department of Defense (DOD), NASA, USAF, and commercial launch customers.
During my tour of the 45th, I was taken to the original grounds of NASA by 45th Launch Weather Officer Mike McAleenan. It was one of the most amazing days of my entire life and I will never forget it. But, that’s a big story for another day!
You probably had something to eat today that required the use of an oven. You may have even used the oven for supper tonight. They’re nice to have and certainly something many of us take for granted.
Before last fall, astronauts had never used an oven in space. That’s right…never. In fact, it was a mystery as to how an oven would even work in a microgravity environment, such as that on the International Space Station (ISS).
Last November, I was invited to be a part of a NASA Social at Wallops Island, Virginia. They usually send up two ISS resupply missions a year from that location and this was one of them. Among the cargo was the first oven to go into space.
As you can see, it’s kinda small and a bit funny looking, but it can get the job done….in time. The first thing baked was chocolate chip cookies. Imagine the smell of freshly baked cookies wafting through the space station. It’s kinda cool that the first thing EVER baked in space was a chocolate chip cookie. I can get onboard with that! (ha) The cookies were sponsored by DoubleTree hotel.
The cookie dough went up with the rocket’s cargo in November and the astronauts baked them on Christmas Eve, just in time for Santa.
Surprisingly, the cookies took about two hours to bake! It’s unclear if there’s an issue with the oven or if that’s just how it is in space. Better get that turkey in there now for Thanksgiving dinner! (haha)
The oven heats by using electric heating elements, much like a toaster does.
Here on earth we just put cookie dough on a tray and then slide it in the oven. How do you do that without gravity? Well, that’s complicated. The pan must be secured inside and then the cookies must be fastened down somehow. Otherwise, everything would just float around inside the oven.
The cookies were confined to a flattened container. If not for the confinement, the cookies would have baked into spheres. Oh yeah, for those of us who enjoy dunking our cookies in milk…forget about it. NASA still hasn’t decided how you would do that with nothing to hold the milk down in the glass.
This oven really is a game changer. Now, astronauts can take some of those veggies they grew in the Veggie Lab and bake them in the oven! That’s a nice treat. This will be especially nice on long duration missions that take astronauts far, far away from home.
So, when astronauts Behnken and Hurley finally arrive at the ISS they’ll find something in the space “kitchen” they’ve never seen before….a brand new oven!
So, yesterday’s launch was scrubbed, which is what many of us were concerned would happen. But, you’ll hear few complaints from any of us familiar with NASA history. I can deal with a delay a heck of a lot better than I can a memorial.
It’s always better to be on the launch pad and wishing you were in space, rather than being in space and wishing you were still on the launch pad. There’s little room for error and any error can send you straight to the grave…and that exit might not be pleasant.
Space history is not without disaster. I’ll talk briefly about five here, beginning with Apollo 1. In that disaster, three American astronauts died during a simulation flight inside their spacecraft. One problem after another led to a fire in the cockpit and that cockpit was full of pure oxygen. There was nothing anyone could do. That was January 27, 1967. Keep in mind this was Apollo 1, the first of the Apollo flights. We wouldn’t go to the Moon until Apollo 11. Can you imagine everyone’s reservations after the Apollo 1 disaster?
“From the ashes of the Apollo 1 fire came the hard lessons NASA had to learn in order to have successful flights to the moon and for further exploration of space,” Sheryl Chaffee.
The next one comes just three months later. The Russians, eager to be first to the moon, sent cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov into space in a very ill-equipped vehicle. He was plagued with problems from the start. As he started to return, he realized his parachutes weren’t working. He crashed into the earth at full speed. Komarov became the first fatality in space flight.
Anxious to be the first to have an occupied space station in space, the Russians then sent three cosmonauts to the Soyuz-11 space station. The cosmonauts spent three weeks onboard the station. As they returned to earth, their cabin decompressed and suffocated the three men. Autopsies showed the men died no less than 30 minutes after being rescued back here on earth. As a result of their deaths, all astronauts are required to wear their spacesuits during re-entry, when decompression is possible.
On January 28, 1986 the Challenger was lost just 73 seconds after lift-off. Extremely cold temperatures for the Space Coast compromised the O-rings on one of the side rocket boosters. The failure of that ring led to a catastrophic failure of the craft. Autopsies showed that the astronauts likely died due to asphyxiation and impact of falling. Initially it was believed (and hoped) that the explosion was powerful enough to kill the astronauts instantly. That turned out to be false. Certain switches had been flipped and certain actions were made for several seconds (and maybe longer) after that explosion.
“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,” President Reagan, while addressing the nation on the loss of the Challenger.
On February 1, 2003 we would lose the Columbia space shuttle upon re-entry. As the space shuttle lifted off days earlier, a heat tile on the belly of the shuttle had been damaged. This was enough to allow heat from re-entry to cause a catastrophic failure of the shuttle. There is no evidence that has ever indicated that the astronauts ever realized anything was wrong. One second they’re gliding through the atmosphere, and the next second they were gone.
“To leave behind Earth and air and gravity is an ancient dream of humanity. For these seven, it was a dream fulfilled. Each of these astronauts had the daring and discipline required of their calling. Each of them knew that great endeavors are inseparable from great risks. And each of them accepted those risks willingly, even joyfully, in the cause of discovery,” President George W. Bush, at the memorial ceremony for the Columbia crew.
Interestingly, all three of our worst American disasters happened only days apart on the calendar. January 27 (Apollo 1), January 28 (Challenger) and Feb 1 (Columbia).
Yes, we’ll take a delay. We’ll take a delay, any day.
“These men and women laid down their lives in the most noble of goals: the pursuit of truth and understanding. To expand our knowledge of the cosmos is to pursue a better life on Earth for our children, and future generations to come. Although their quest for knowledge was peaceful, fate ripped them from us, never to be returned. We mourn their tragic loss, and we pledge to recommit ourselves to the cause for which they gave their lives,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
A wreath is placed at the memorial for lost astronauts at Kennedy Space Center.
I know, I know…I said there wouldn’t be a NASA post this evening because there are storms around. The good news is that the severe threat has been greatly diminished. We could see a strong storm or two overnight, but it’s pretty typical summer-like stuff.
So, I thought I would briefly share one more Launch Week post! You know you love this stuff! (ha)
When I had the opportunity to participate in a NASA social at Marshal Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama this past summer, I had the opportunity to see a 3-D printer.
The purpose of these printers for NASA is for missions that take astronauts far, far from home. Should they need to replace something, they will have the 3-D printer onboard that can print what they need! Got a broken screw? Print one. Lost the screwdriver while out on a spacewalk? Print another one. That’s right, you can print just about anything!
So, how does this work? The one I saw in Huntsville used little grains of metal that reminded me of BB bullets. Those grains cover a tray and then a laser runs over the metal grains in the pattern of what you need. It keeps doing this for layer after layer until what you need has been made. It can take a long time to print something complicated but that’s better than not being able to get it all.
The video below was shot by me. We all watched it for far too long! (ha)
There has been a 3D plastics printer onboard the International Space Station since 2014. It’s printed spare parts and even printed a wrench!
If I were you, I’d expect to this technology available more and more in your life. I wouldn’t be surprised if the day comes when you need a screwdriver….or a screw…or even a hinge…that you’ll just fire up the printer in the garage and print one off. Or, maybe someday stores won’t carry things that can be custom printed for you. You just go inside and tell them what you need and they print it off. No overstock. No extra inventory. No waiting on it to be shipped. Am I dreaming too big? We will see!
You all have a great evening and be sure and check out tomorrow’s Launch Week posts! I think they may be the best yet!
Launch is scheduled for 2:22 CDT Saturday afternoon. Chances for launch not being affected by weather are currently at 40%.
Vehicle Assembly Building & Clock
We are now just a day away from the big launch! We’ll try it again tomorrow at 2:22 CDT. Unfortunately, there is a 60% of weather being a problem again.
Today’s topic is a bit two-fold, as I’ll talk a bit about both the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and the countdown clock.
The VAB is one of the most iconic structures on NASA’s campus. In fact, it probably is the most iconic structure. It’s not a small building, that’s for sure, and the first time you go in it you can’t help but strain your neck looking all around.
It is the largest buildings in the world and, if I’m not mistaken, the largest single story building in the world. Believe me when I say this….it’s HUGE! How huge is it, you ask? Well, it would hold nearly four Empire State Buildings! It is more than 200 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. Get my drift? It’s HUGE! (ha)
The building was constructed for the housing of the Apollo missions but was then modified for the space shuttle program. A space shuttle can fit into this building. It’s big, I tell ya!
It’s so big that clouds sometimes form near the ceiling on humid days, causing this building to have one of the largest air conditioning units in the world. I just blew your mind, didn’t I? You should have seen my face when they told me this for the first time (haha).
The building covers 8 acres and is 525 feet tall. Construction required the use of over 95,000 tons of steel (this building ain’t going anywhere!) and 65,000 cubic yards of concrete. There are 71 cranes housed here for use of heavy lifting.
The doors to the VAB are over 450 feet tall and require hours to open and close. This place is impressive, to say the least. I never get tired of going there!
The American Flag on the side is nearly 210 x 110 feet! The stripes are nine feet wide! The stars on the flag are six feet across.
The building also houses the reconstructed Columbia space shuttle. It was reconstructed from the debris found after the shuttle was lost during re-entry. The public is not allowed in that part but family members and friends of the astronauts lost on that mission are allowed there. In addition, every engineer who works for NASA is required to visit that room. It is to remind them of the consequences of mistakes.
I have actually been on the roof of that building! I was there covering the launch with a press pass on behalf of weatherTAP and was selected from all the reporters to be one of only a handful allowed to watch it from the top.
Most. Amazing. View. Of. A. Rocket. Launch.Ever. And…..that was my first rocket launch! I was there to see the GOES-S satellite sent into space.
It was surprisingly windy up there! I was actually very, very surprised at that. Cameras kept blowing over, we could hardly hear ourselves talk from time to time. On the ground, there had been hardly a breeze! It was all unforgettable, for sure.
Now, the countdown clock is just down the road from the VAB. It is just as iconic as the VAB building, come to think of it. It has been said that it is only second in popularity to London’s Big Ben clock! The clock was built the same year as the Moon landing (not coincidental) and always begins 43 hours before a scheduled launch, with many holds along the way. There’s no such thing as a countdown without some time delays of some sort on the countdown clock.
The clock is 26 by 3 feet and six feet tall. There are humidifiers inside to try to protect the inside of the clock from Florida’s unforgiving humidity. Each number is four feet tall and two feet wide. It uses 56 40-watt bulbs.
There is a flag pole just 34 feet away and the press box is just across the street from the clock. In 2001 the clock, flag pole, and press site were listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.
It’s so very cool to stand next to that clock, and I have been honored to be able to do that several times. I’ve even stood there as NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and astronaut Bob Cabanna spoke to my group about NASA. I was awestruck.
NASA Fun Facts
So, since it’s Friday I figured I would share some NASA Friday Fun Facts. Buckle up, some of these may bLoW your mInD!
NASA has an Office of Planetary Protection that will protect any life we find in space. Any threat to that life will have to go through this office. Am I the only one who REALLY wants to work in this office?!
We have landed on the Moon six times. Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17. There was always a superstitious reservation about Apollo 13. Superstitions are so silly, though…..right? (haha)
Apollo 12 was struck by lightning twice. The lightning was sparked from a cloud deck the rocket flew through. Prior to launch, there was no lightning in the area.
Snoopy (from Peanuts) is the astronaut safety-protocol mascot.
Neil Armstrong turned his astronaut application in a week late. A friend of his slipped it into the pile so that it would look like it arrived on time. Procrastinators unite! (ha)
The Apollo astronauts didn’t qualify for life insurance. If that doesn’t tell you your job is dangerous nothing will! (ha) So, they signed “insurance photographs” prior to launch. The hope was that by selling those unique photographs enough money would be raised to take care of the astronaut’s families.
The Russians onboard the ISS don’t drink from the same water system as the Americans. The Americans recycle their urine to drink (as well as the Russians’ urine). The Russians refuse. I’ll have more on this in a later post sometime (ha). And yes, I’m cringing just typing this nonsense (ha). All for science, right?
You must travel 50 miles up above the earth to earn your astronaut “wings”. Otherwise, your just an “astronaut candidate”. This is not without controversy, as the space shuttle Challenger passengers who had never been to space before that mission are technically not astronauts, since the Challenger never made it that high up.
Bill Nye the Science Guy has repeatedly applied to be an astronaut. He has been rejected every time. I like Bill Nye but never ever listen to him try to teach meteorology. It’s painful to watch and just so wrong. He is the butt of many a jokes in our field.
The “good luck” breakfast of astronauts is scrambled eggs and steak. Thank Alan Shepard for this! Who could eat, though, right?
Before a shuttle launch the shuttle crews played a hand of cards. Every time. They always finished the hand before the flight. The game was either Blackjack or 5 card poker. The flight can’t happen until the commander loses.
The first man in spaceflight, Yuri Gagarin, had to make a pit stop before being taken to the launch pad…he peed on the back wheel of the van. Even today, it’s tradition (and expected) that male cosmonauts (Russian astronauts) pee on the back wheel of the vehicle that is taking them to the launch pad. Female cosmonauts are not obliged to participate but they have been known to bring a vial of their own urine to throw on that same tire. What? You thought you were the only one who didn’t just kick the tires?
Space is really weird but I’m pretty sure we humans are much, much weirder! (haha)
It may disturb you to know I could go on and on with NASA oddities. I’m sure SpaceX has as many, too.
So, the next time you see that penny on the ground that is heads up, don’t be embarrassed to pick it up. If anyone says anything just tell them that even the geniuses at NASA would have probably picked that darn thing up! (ha)
Please be looking for my LAUNCH WEEK post tonight. It’s about the cost of NASA and whether or not the cost outweighs the benefits. This is the number one criticism I hear and I always enjoy addressing that concern.
Is NASA Worth the Cost?
“Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination,” Mae Jemison.
NASA requires imagination….scratch that…NASA demands imagination. That, I often wonder, is why some people fall short of appreciating that agency? If you don’t appreciate something, you’re not going to be excited about paying for it.
It’s the criticism I hear most often; NASA cost too much money. I’m not saying there isn’t waste within NASA. There is in every government agency. Just keep in mind that NASA’s budget is less than one half of one percent of the federal budget. That’s right…half of one percent. Keep that in mind when you hear that NASA spends billions of dollars. They sure do, but the federal budget is trillions of dollars.
If you want to tackle government waste in spending I promise you’ll easily find other things you wish your taxpayer dollars didn’t support……
“I wish the money that was spent on NASA was spent on education. Kids could go to college for free with that money.” “I wish that money was spent on healthcare.”
So many things to spend money on.
Directly and/or indirectly, NASA does so much work for education and healthcare. They bring clean water to the poor, they help with medical breakthroughs, and on and on.
So, what has NASA done for you? That’s a good question!
First and foremost, NASA’s work on putting satellites in orbit aught to be enough to convince anyone of their importance. The use of those satellites in weather alone has made NASA worth every penny, in my opinion.
Inventions stemming from NASA technology include the jaws of life, laser eye surgery, GPS in your car/phone, digital photography, robotic surgeries, artificial limbs, scratch resistant lenses, insulin pumps, flame-retardant suits for firefighters, the Dustbuster, shock absorbers that help make buildings earthquake resistant (first developed to reduce the shock from shuttle launches to nearby structures), solar cells (big time!), and on and on.
Better commercial vehicle tires are coming, thanks to NASA technology, too. Tired of flat tires? NASA has us covered. Coming to you by 2024.
Nearly everything wireless and cordless came from NASA technology.
Camera phones, CAT scans, improved baby formula and air purifiers.
Grooved pavement. Yes, they’re a pain to drive off the road onto but blame/thank NASA for that one too. That was originally developed to prevent hydroplaning on NASA runways, as the water settled into the grooves. Now, we use them on airport runways, highways, and to warn you that you’re about to drive off the road. I’m pretty sure I still have a mom because of those warnings (ha). Keep it ‘tween the ditches, Ma.
Home insulation, deicing methods for airplanes, ear thermometers, LED lights, portable computers (big time!), computer mouse, and on and on.
The shock-absorbing rubber in my running shoes. Thank you so much, NASA! I think about that every time I go for a run.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the water filtration system on the International Space Station has made such improvements to those systems that people all over the world in remote areas have benefited from cleaner water.
Remember that 3-D printing I wrote about earlier? Our very own Dr. Reb Ivey reminded me that 3-D technology is being looked at for human organs, too. Imagine being told by a doctor that you need a new kidney. Today, you’d be put on an organ donor list and you may end up waiting all your life for that kidney. Imagine the doctor telling you to come back tomorrow because your new kidney should be printed by then. This just blows my mind! Imagine how wonderful this would be for a sick astronaut on Mars, too!
Self-driving cars will benefit from the technology in DEMO-2. If the geniuses of NASA can fly that thing to the International Space Station all by itself surely to goodness they can figure out how to get you to Walmart and back (ha). Ok, so our roads are little more trivial than going up but still! Mark my word, the inside of your car will look like the inside of a spacecraft before you know it. And don’t worry, it’s actually quite simple!
The international effort of space projects brings countries together. The unity that NASA extends to the world is quite powerful. Countries that politically are at odds with each other have scientists and students who work beautifully together on space projects.
For me, the greatest contribution is the fuel they throw on the passion within those of us who just love this stuff! It’s all just so amazing and incredible and inspiring and….on and on I could go. But you know what’s the best of all? The best of all is when a kid comes up to me and tells me how cool all this is. It gives them hope. It gives them a dream. It gives them something to work toward. Something that benefits all humanity and is quite possibly the coolest job in the whole world.
We’re human. We’re explorers. We’ve been exploring since our creation. Some of you look out. Some of us look up. Some even look down. We’re all looking and exploring. It’s just who we are. It’s just that some of us are looking harder than others and some of us are more excited than others to look (ha). Don’t worry. Hang around me long enough and the passion will rub off on ya. My passion for meteorology made me look up to the clouds. My passion for NASA made me look to the stars.
In recent years, more and more of NASA’s projects are becoming privatized. That is a good thing. I’m 100% for government funding of NASA, but I also applaud some privatization. SpaceX is a private company and the DEMO-2 vehicle is the first privately owned space vehicle to go to space with astronauts onboard. Folks, this is a big step for our country. Privatization removes some of the government responsibility and frees the government from some of the funding. Again, I think this is a good thing and this should appeal to those who question the size of NASA’s budget.
Finally, if you doubt NASA is “worth it” just remember those who have willingly given their lives for it. And remember the thousands of us who apply every time the opportunity comes up for being an astronaut. It’s worth it. Or, as Andy Weir put it, “Astronauts are inherently insane. And really noble.”
Let’s just hope and pray the words of President Kennedy always ring true.
“Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.”
The NASA Worm
Well, the worm is back!
NASA’s now retro logo from the ’70s has been resurrected! You can see it on the Falcon 9 rocket that will carry the astronauts on DEMO-2 away from our planet on their way to the International Space Station today (hopefully!). Looks sleek, right?
The worm was officially introduced in 1975 and honored by President Reagan in 1985 for its simplistic and innovative design.
The worm largely disappeared in the early ’90s but it is back now!
Many people still prefer the image of NASA introduced in the ’50s. It is referred to as the “meatball.” Don’t worry, the meatball isn’t going anywhere, but neither is the worm, according to NASA.
Hopefully, the launch will take place today at 2:22 this afternoon. We sure do wish them the best and godspeed on their trip! I found a quote by a former astronaut I thought you might enjoy. It kinda sums it all up (ha).
“Anyone who sits on top of the largest hydrogen-oxygen fueled system in the world, knowing they’re going to light the bottom, and doesn’t get a little worried, does not fully understand the situation.”
And finally, a successful launch! Thank you all so much for following along! All this wouldn’t be worth a dime if I didn’t have you folks reading and following along. I sure do appreciate you and I sure have enjoyed sharing Launch Week with you all! It’s been a BLAST! (ha) We’ll hopefully do it all again the end of August, when a crew of 4 will go up! Hopefully, I will get to be there for that!