Just before midnight on Friday night, SpaceX launched a Dragon cargo spacecraft towards the International Space Station. This launch marked several significant milestones in the democratization of space: Continue Reading
At 7:10 PM EST tomorrow, the 16th of December, SpaceX will attempt to launch a Falcon 9 rocket bearing two Boeing-built communications satellites, one for Japanese JCSAT Corporation of Japan and Kacific of Singapore. The most recent weather projections as of this writing suggest a 90% chance of favorable launch conditions. Should the launch be delayed for other reasons, it will be delayed to the following evening, when weather will only have a 50% chance of cooperating.
Though the mission will target a geostationary orbit, the first stage will attempt a landing and recovery aboard Of Course I Still Love You.
Live coverage of the launch will be streamed from SpaceX’s YouTube channel, and from SpaceFlightNow.com.
For nearly six years now, our Twitter account (@TakeBacktheSky) has been participating in that Twitter tradition known as “Follow Friday.” It’s really not clear to us where the practice originated, but the idea of recommending accounts that others should follow (and perhaps having others recommend yours) was one that seemed like a valuable tool back when we first started Take Back the Sky. After all, the more times a Twitter handle shows up in the Twitterverse, the more likely folk will be to check out who’s behind it and what they’re all about. In the early days of our campaign, it’s likely that Follow Friday tweets actually did give us some valuable exposure, especially when we still had active online petitions asking Elon Musk and SpaceX to name their first Crew Dragon after Serenity.
But after careful consideration, we believe the time has come for us to end our participation in Follow Friday.
With all of the recent goings-on, we nearly neglected to tell you about the fourth and final remaining test pilot announced as one of NASA’s first astronauts to fly a by-the-people, for-the-people spacecraft.
Robert Behnken was born and raised in Missouri, where he also earned his Bachelor’s degrees in both Physics and Mechanical Engineering and entered the U.S. Air Force ROTC. From there, he went on to Cal Tech, where he developed non-linear control algorithms and hardware for flexible robotic manipulators, dedicating his thesis to applying these same algorithms to stabilizing rotating stall and surge in axial-flow compressors (yes, our heads are spinning after reading that, too).
After finishing his schooling, Behnken was assigned to Eglin AFB in Florida as a technical manager, where he also did some R&D for new weapons systems. Then, like many astronauts before him, he entered the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB in California, and joined the F-22 program after graduating as lead flight test engineer for Raptor 4004 (that is, the 4th Raptor built) and a special projects test director.
In 2000, “Bob” made the cut as a NASA astronaut, and was assigned for several years to the Astronaut Office Shuttle Operations Branch supporting launch and landing operations at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Along the way in 2006, he found time to serve on a different kind of science station, and stayed aboard the Aquarius Reef Station off of Key Largo, where NASA occasionally sends astronaut crews to practice living and working under hostile and alien conditions.
In 2008, Behnken finally got his first shuttle mission assignment aboard Endeavour on STS-123. As a mission specialist, he took three spacewalks, as he and his crew installed the Japanese Experiment Module and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (DEXTRE) to the International Space Station. Two years later, he returned aboard the same ship to conduct another three spacewalks and install the Tranquility node, with its kick-awesome cupola window, to the station.
One bit of trivia: Shannon Lucid, who once held the record for the most time in space for an American woman, served as CAPCOM for part of the flight, and as such chose the “wake-up call” songs that have been NASA tradition since the Gemini program. It turns out that Bob Behnken is a huge fan of a certain cult classic TV show, so she had this catchy little tune piped through the shuttle’s speakers to play it in space:
When you wake up to this in your ears, and this view out your window,
you know it’s going to be a shiny day!
Following his return to Earth, he held the position of Chief of the Astronaut Office for a few years, right until he was selected as one of the Dragon Four, where he may just come full circle and literally get that “little piece of serenity” in the form of a ship so named.
Robert Behnken also is the recipient of the United States Air Force Meritorious Service, the Defense Meritorious Service and Defense Superior Service Medals, and the NASA Space Flight Medal.
If there’s one thing SpaceX has become very good at, it’s making history. And in just a couple of hours, they’ll do it again.
Elon Musk and company will launch their tenth resupply mission to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral this morning at 10:01 am, EST. A Falcon 9 will break atmo with a Dragon capsule that’s ISS bound, and shortly thereafter, if all goes according to plan, SpaceX will once again land the first stage of the rocket– this time at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral. The Dragon will then rendezvous with the International Space Station on February 20.
It’s not the cargo of this 10th of 14 planned resupply missions to the ISS that’s particularly historic, nor is it SpaceX’s recovery of the Falcon’s first stage– something that the world used to watch for in anticipation during launches but is now practically taking for granted (a real credit to SpaceX). What makes this launch so special is where it’s taking place.
SpaceX will send CRS-10 into the black from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center. This particular launch site last saw action in 2011, during the waning days of the Space Shuttle program. Prior to that, though, it was the site from which America went to the Moon. In fact, every manned Apollo flight except for one (Apollo 10) was launched from LC-39A, and the Skylab space station was sent into orbit from there as well. In 1981, LC-39A ushered in a new era of American spaceflight with the launch of Space Shuttle Columbia, and the pad supported the shuttle program all the way through the final shuttle mission of Atlantis in 2011.
SpaceX is now leasing LC-39A from NASA, and this morning it will once again be the site from which we witness the next step in American spaceflight. This time around the future takes the shape of a privately-built, privately-owned rocket that will be carrying a privately built, privately-owned space capsule into the black in support of a space station that is internationally manned and operated by the joint efforts of several of the world’s government space agencies, after which that same rocket will return to Earth to land and be reused for future missions. And as if that’s not enough, within the year SpaceX may be ready use LC-39A to launch American astronauts into space in a manned version of that very same capsule. (If you agree with us that that first Crew Dragon should be named Serenity, be sure to write to SpaceX and let them know.) If a launch complex could talk, we bet LC-39A would find it appropriate to quote Firefly’s Malcolm Reynolds:
“I’m thinking we’ll rise again.”
You can watch SpaceX’s historic launch online this morning on NASA TV starting at 8:30am. SpaceX’s coverage of the launch should begin around 9:30am at spacex.com. Should the launch be postponed for any reason, the backup launch window is Sunday, February 19 at 9:38 am EST. Here’s to history.
Peace, love and rockets…
Every year, we observe a week of very rough anniversaries in the space community. It begins on January 27, the anniversary of the flash fire that killed three Apollo 1 astronauts in the cockpit of their capsule during a launch pad test in 1967. The following day, January 28, is the date on which the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded during launch in 1986, killing all seven crew members aboard. The week of remembrance concludes today– February 1, the date on which the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during reentry in 2003, again claiming the lives of all seven crew members.
This year, the brave astronauts who were lost in all three of these accidents were remembered at a special ceremony at Cape Canaveral on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 tragedy, at which the original hatch from that Apollo 1 capsule, long kept in storage and out of the public eye, was unveiled for the first time as part of a new display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex designed to honor America’s fallen astronauts and remind all of us that it is indeed a rough road that leads to the stars.
Over the past four years, we at Take Back the Sky have written at length about these tragedies and the brave men and women who lost their lives as a result of them. (You can find those posts by searching the January/February archives on the home page.) As we honor their memory again this year, it’s both appropriate and important that we recognize that their bravery went beyond a mere willingness to risk their lives, and was instead a willingness to die trying on behalf of the whole human race.
Of course, a large part of the legacy of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia is that they led to improvements in the vehicles and techniques used to send people into the black, which in turn made subsequent missions both safer and more efficient. But their legacy also serves as a reminder to us that if we are to become a multi-planet species, then going to space has to be something for which we’re willing to pay the ultimate price. We will always mourn the loss of brave, intelligent men and women, but if we as human beings truly wish to live among the stars, then we must believe that doing so is important enough that we are also willing to die there. Fortunately for us, and especially for future generations, the men and women of NASA’s Astronaut Corps understand that and still hold to it with every fiber of their being. That’s just one of the many things that makes them the “Big Damn Heroes” that they are.
So, as we honor the memory of Roger Chaffee, Gus Grissom, Ed White, Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judy Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe, Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Ilan Ramon, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Clark, let us be thankful that their are still men and women like them, heroes whose mettle is summed up so eloquently in the words of the English poet Sarah Williams:
Ni hao, travelers! Jeff here, back from a lengthy, profession-induced hiatus, on the air once more. We’ve discussed at length here and in person at cons how real-life voyages out into the black have been inspired by the art of science-fiction. Recent events, however, have opened my eyes to a subtle phenomenon in sci-fi that’s been going on in plain sight, yet has gone unnoticed. Continue Reading