Endeavour’s payload shipped out to launch pad 39A

STS 130

The container with Tranquility is lifted into pad 39A’s gantry this morning. Credit: NASA-KSC

The Tranquility module that’ll be a new room with a view for the International Space Station was trucked to space shuttle Endeavour’s launch pad overnight, destined for blastoff next month.

Packed in a special transport canister shaped like the shuttle’s 60-foot-long payload bay, Tranquility was moved out of Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility last week. After a layover at the rotating building, where the container was turned upright, and then a weather-related hold, the module reached pad 39A before dawn today.

Ground crews went to work hoisting the canister up the gantry to unload Tranquility into the pad’s cleanroom for its eventual insertion into the shuttle bay later this week.

The module was built in Italy by Thales Alenia Space as part of the collaboration between the European Space Agency and NASA in the space station program. It was delivered to KSC in May to undergo final testing and preps for flight.

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For £17.7m, shuttle is a gift that’s out of this world

Space Shuttle

The price of Nasa’s Space Shuttle fleet has just been slashed from £25.8m Credit: Getty

It flew faster and higher than any machine in history and was the was the ultimate boy’s toy, but at $42 million (£25.8 m) it was beyond most budgets. But now the price of Nasa’s soon-to-be redundant space shuttles has plummeted to something more down-to-earth: a new analysis of the costs of hauling the monster from the Kennedy Space Centre to a major US airport has led the space agency to slash the price to $28.2 m (£17.7m) .

Discovery, which has completed 37 missions into space and 5,247 orbits, has already been promised to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, but shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour are still available.

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Has USA hit its final frontier in human space exploration?

Still hoping for that Jetsons future?

Ruh-roh, as the Jetsons’ dog, Astro, might put it.

Just six years ago, President Bush laid out a vision of space exploration that harked back to NASA’s halcyon days built on astronauts as explorers. Bush wanted to sling them from low Earth orbit to a base on the moon and then, perhaps, on to a first manned landing on another planet, Mars.

But that was before huge federal deficits arrived, public support failed to show, and unmanned explorers scored successes — namely the Hubble telescope and Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which are still sending back signals years after they were expected to expire.

So as we look to the next decade, what sort of human space exploration will we see?

“We are on a path that will not lead to a useful, safe human exploration program,” former Lockheed Martin chief Norman Augustine said when he testified to Congress in September about the blue-ribbon space exploration panel he chaired. “The primary reason is the mismatch between the tasks to be performed and the funds that are available to support those tasks.”

But NASA’s guardians say it’s premature to end the role of the astronaut.

“I do not see this president being the president who presides over the end of human spaceflight,” said NASA chief Charles Bolden, a former space shuttle pilot, when he spoke Jan. 5 at the American Astronomical Society meeting here. In the speech, Bolden said his agency would stress missions — small ones — with other nations as partners and look to new technologies, not the big chemical rockets of the past, to propel missions.

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If you want to watch a space shuttle launch, time’s running out

Shuttle experience

This year begins a new decade, but it also will see the end of the United States’ trailblazing approach to manned spaceflight: the space shuttle program.

“In just five more flights, a chapter of history will be forever closed,” says Mike Mullane, a three-time NASA space shuttle astronaut and author of Riding Rockets. “It will be decades – perhaps generations – before humans will again see a winged vehicle launch into space and glide back to a runway landing.”Under current plans, NASA’s shuttle fleet will be retired by fall 2010. After that, there will be no more shuttle launches. But until then, travelers to Florida still have time to catch a launch.

“Watching a space shuttle launch is a dream come true for a lot of people,” said Andrea Farmer, public relations manager at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. “It’s so powerful and amazing to see this colossal machine lift off into space. All of your senses are impacted by the launch: You see the shuttle launching, you hear the engines roar and you feel the ground rumbling under your feet.”

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NASA IMAX 3D movie features astonishing Hubble repair footage

NASA IMAX movie in 3D clip

Coming to an IMAX theatre near you soon is this astonishing 3D movie film from NASA.

Served up in delicious high definition 3D, the film promises to take viewers on a, “journey through distant galaxies to explore the grandeur and mysteries of our celestial surroundings.”

NASA IMAX 3D movie features astonishing Hubble repair footageEven better, there’s some breathtaking footage capturing plucky astronauts embarking on five long spacewalks to fix the Hubble telescope.

The astronauts were trained to use the washing machine-sized IMAX camera in NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab over the course of eight months

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Space station needs ‘extension to 2020’, Europe wants a decision in 2010 on the life of the International Space Station

ISS International Space Station

At the moment, no programme for its use nor any funding has been put in place to support the platform beyond 2015.

But the European Space Agency’s (Esa) Director General, Jean-Jacques Dordain, told the BBC the uncertainty was undermining best use of the ISS.

He said he was persuaded of its worth, and expressed the desire to keep flying the station until at least 2020.

Only by guaranteeing longevity would more scientists come forward to run experiments on the orbiting laboratory, he argued.

“I am convinced that stopping the station in 2015 would be a mistake because we cannot attract the best scientists if we are telling them today ‘you are welcome on the space station but you’d better be quick because in 2015 we close the shop’,” he said.

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NASA moves forward with Mars exploration plan

NASA has big plans for its Mars Exploration Program.

As it decides the future of one of the two rovers exploring the planet, the agency is looking to the launch of the newest generation of robotic explorer next year.

In addition, NASA tells CNN Radio that the agency is close to a deal to merge its Mars program with that of the European Space Agency, a big step toward manned missions.

NASA’s Mars rover program is now heading into its sixth year. The rovers Spirit and Opportunity were launched in 2004 and landed on opposite sides of Mars for what was to be a 90-day exploration mission.

Almost six years and a wealth of information later, the rovers were still ranging across the planet until recently, sending back data to researchers on Earth.

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NASA plans for shuttle Endeavour to liftoff as per schedule

Space shuttle endeavour

Space Shuttle Endeavour rolls to launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center January 6, 2010 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Coolant hoses on board the to-be-launched Tranquility module failed pre-launch checks. Credit: Matt Stroshane / Getty Images

NASA is still hoping to launch the shuttle Endeavour in early February as engineers scramble to repair broken hoses on the new space station module set to ride aboard the orbiter.

Endeavour is slated to launch the new Tranquility module to the International Space Station on Feb. 7 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But two of the module’s four ammonia coolant hoses have failed standard pre-launch checks, forcing engineers to come up with a repair plan while others try to build new hoses from scratch, station managers said Monday.

“Folks are working really hard to get the hoses checked out, completed, certified [and] tested,” said Pete Hasbrook, NASA manager for the Expedition 22 mission aboard the space station. “We are still working toward the Feb. 7 launch date.”

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NASA discovers evidence of ancient lakes on Mars

New images taken from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show that huge lakes of melted ice may have once existed on ancient Mars. The lakes suggest a possible warm, wet period that may have occurred more recently than previously thought. Scientists hope to prove that these ancient lakes may have hosted life of some form.

Thus far, there is no firm evidence of any past or present Martian biology. But these new photos show winding channels that link several lake-like depressions in the Martian surface. NASA speculates that these channels could only have been caused by Martian lake water running between the depressions about 3 billion years ago. We already know that water once existed on Mars, based on the data collected from other satellites and the Mars rovers. Previous studies also suggest that Mars was warm and wet enough to support liquid lakes around 4 billion years ago.

But this new evidence suggests that Mars could have sustained lakes even later. Nicholas Warner is a researcher who led the study at the Imperial College of London. As Warner explains, “Excitingly, our study now shows that this middle period in Mars’ history was much more dynamic than we previously thought.”

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Unmanned aircraft may reveal detailed information about remote areas

The US Geological Survey (USGS) has announced that it is establishing a new programme for earth observation using Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), which would be able to provide more detailed and timely data about the status of natural resources and environmental conditions in remote areas.

“This exciting approach to earth observation gives scientists a way to look longer, closer, and more frequently at some of the most remote areas of the Earth, places that were previously too dangerous or too expensive to monitor in detail,” said Barbara J. Ryan, USGS associate director for Geography.

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