I thought I’d share a humorous little anecdote that is probably indicative of what the average American knows about our legacy in space. Before I do that, though, allow me to set the scene.
Today begins a week on the calendar which reminds us that going into the black is never something to be taken for granted. On this date in 1967, a flash fire in the command module during a test on the launch pad claimed the lives of Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Tomorrow, January 28, will mark the 33rd anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded 73 seconds after launch with the loss of her entire crew: Dick Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe. And Friday, February 1, will mark the anniversary of the 2003 loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members: Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon.
Over the years, I have written fairly extensively about these events and the astronauts whose lives they claimed, since I believe very strongly that it is indeed a rough road that leads to the stars, and if we do not continue to dare to push farther into the black, then these brave, extraordinary men and women will have died in vain. If you’d like to read any of my previous posts, just search the January and February archives on this site.
This year, however, I’d like to discuss, however briefly, this week of somber anniversaries within the context of our larger mission here at Take Back the Sky, which is to convince Elon Musk’s commercial space company SpaceX to name its first Crew Dragon after Serenity, the ship in Joss Whedon’s sci-fi television series Firefly and subsequent motion picture Serenity.
While it is true that we want SpaceX to name the first Crew Dragon Serenity after a ship from science-fiction, in much the same fashion that the first space shuttle was named Enterprise after the starship from Star Trek and SpaceX’s workhorse booster rocket the Falcon 9 was named after the Millenium Falcon of Star Wars fame, there is more to the name Serenity than a reference to a space western with a cult following, and at times like this, that becomes apparent.
If you google the noun “serenity,” you will find that it means “a state of being calm, peaceful and untroubled.” The word itself suggests balance and harmony, with no hint of turmoil or conflict. This is, of course, precisely the state of being we hope the late astronauts of the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia have now found. Though the phrase “rest in peace” may have become almost cliché in this era of social media tweets and soundbites, when I hear the word “serenity,” I can’t help but be reminded of the words of Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for the Canadian rock group Rush, who wrote in the song Presto, “I am made from the dust of the stars, and the oceans flow in my veins” or the words of the English poet Sarah Williams, who wrote, “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” I believe that if the next spaceship to carry US astronauts into space from American soil were to bear the name Serenity, its name would, among other things, serve as a living, working memorial to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to further our understanding of the stars. And as the first privately built, privately owned spaceship to carry US astronauts into space as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, it would send a message that we not only hope they are at peace, but that we, the people, fully intend to carry on their mission– that they can rest knowing we have the watch now.
SpaceX completed its static fire of the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon on January 24, and the ship’s unmanned demonstration flight is expected to take place next month. If you agree with me that Serenity would be a good name for the Crew Dragon, to honor those astronauts we’ve lost or for any reason, now is the time to write a letter or postcard to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell to let them know you want to see the ship bear that name. You can find the address for SpaceX as well as some tips for contacting them on the “Take Action” page of this site.
And whether you choose to contact SpaceX or not, don’t forget to say a prayer, light a candle, lift a glass or do whatever you personally find to be appropriate this week to honor the memory of the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia.
Ad astra, per aspera.
“Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand. I don’t care, I’m still free. You can’t take the sky from me. Take me out to the black, tell ’em I ain’t comin’ back. Burn the land and boil the sea, you can’t take the sky from me. There’s no place I can be, since I found serenity. You can’t take the sky from me.”– Joss Whedon, The Ballad of Serenity
The first SpaceX launch of the New Year is scheduled to take place (NET) Friday, January 11 at 10:31 AM EST (15:31 UTC). SpaceX completed the static fire for the Iridium-8 mission at Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg AFB in California on January 6, and will launch 10 satellites of the Iridium NEXT constellation aboard a Falcon 9 from the same pad this weekend.
The relationship between SpaceX and Iridium traces back to 2010, when Iridium contracted Elon Musk’s private space company to launch its entire NEXT satellite constellation shortly after the very first successful flight of a Falcon 9. It would be seven years before SpaceX would be able to start fulfilling that contract, but since the first of seven previous Iridium NEXT missions was completed in 2017, SpaceX has been able to launch and deploy each subsequent group of satellites every few months with little interruption. This month’s launch will be the eighth and final launch of the Iridium NEXT constellation of satellites, and upon its completion, SpaceX will have launched a total of 75 satellites for Iridium in just two years.
The Falcon 9 for this mission will be a previously-flown booster that was launched and recovered in September of 2018 during the Telstar 18V mission. This final group of ten Iridium NEXT satellites will be inserted into a Low Polar Orbit, and the first stage of the Falcon 9 will land once again, this time at sea aboard SpaceX’s Pacific drone barge Just Read the Instructions.
Peace, love and rockets…
Tuesday’s launch of a Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station will carry the GPS III SVO1 satellite into orbit for the United States Air Force. Once deployed, the satellite will join existing global positioning systems (GPS) to assist in providing navigation, positioning and timing services for the United States. This particular satellite, which was built by Lockheed Martin, is nicknamed “Vespucci” after Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer from whose name the word “America” is derived.
SpaceX will also have a special guest on hand for its first national security mission, as US Vice-President Mike Pence will be in attendance to view the launch. The Vice-President called SpaceX’s launch of GPS III SVO1 “… an important step forward as we seek to secure American leadership in space.”
SpaceX will use a brand new Falcon 9 for this mission, and will not attempt to land the first stage after launch. Liftoff is scheduled for NET December 18 at 9:10AM EST (14:10 UTC). Weather conditions are currently 90% favorable.
Those who wish to view the launch can watch live at spacex.com and on SpaceX’s YouTube channel. The webcast will commence approximately 20 minutes before liftoff, but since this is a national security launch we may not be able to watch the mission in its entirety.
Peace, love and rockets…
If we didn’t know better, we’d think SpaceX is celebrating Hanukkah in grand style. After all, it seems like they’re lighting a very big candle every day now!
With today’s launch of the SSO-A SmallSat Express, which was originally scheduled to launch from Vandenberg AFB in California on November 19, SpaceX is now on the verge of back-to-back launches on two consecutive days from two opposite coasts. That’s because the 16th resupply mission to the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Resupply Services contract that SpaceX has with NASA is scheduled to lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday, December 4 at 1:38 PM EST (18:38 UTC).
At this time the weather appears to be favorable for the mission, which will have an instantaneous launch window. The Falcon 9 booster that will be used for this mission is a brand new Block 5 rocket. Its first stage will land at Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral.
The Falcon 9 will carry a Dragon spacecraft loaded with 5,673 lbs. (2,573 kg) of supplies, scientific research equipment, experimental hardware and scientific investigations (a.k.a. experiments) that will aid the crews of Expeditions 57 and 58 in their work aboard the ISS. The timing of the launch is especially interesting since the Expedition 58 crew also launched earlier today aboard a Soyuz rocket. If all goes well, they will be aboard the ISS in time to assist the crew of Expedition 57 with the capture and unloading of the Dragon when it arrives at the station on December 6. Operating the Canadarm2 to grapple the Dragon and guide it to the station will be Expedition 57 Commander Alexander Gerst of Germany, who will surely feel like he’s receiving the biggest St. Nikolaus’ Day gift ever!
The Dragon is expected to remain berthed at the ISS for approximately five weeks. After the crew unpacks its current cargo and loads it full of completed experiments and other materials that are to be sent back to Earth, it will undock (if everything remains on schedule) on January 13, 2019, at which time it will return to Earth and splash down for recovery in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja, California.
Peace, love and rockets…
When SpaceX sends the SSO-A SmallSat Express into the black from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Monday, Elon Musk’s private space company will achieve a number of milestones simultaneously.
The launch will be SpaceX’s 19th launch of 2018, and will break the company’s record for the most launches in a single year. It will also mark the first time that the same Falcon 9 first stage booster will have launched three times. (The booster will be recovered a third time as well, this time on the drone ship Just Read the Instructions in the Pacific.)
The payload will also be record breaking. Spaceflight’s SmallSat Express, which is comprised of 71 spacecraft (15 microsats and 56 cubesats) from 34 different organizations (both government and commercial) that will be “ridesharing” their way into a Sun-Synchronous Low Earth Orbit aboard the same Falcon 9, represents the largest single rideshare mission ever by a US-based launch vehicle. All in all, 18 countries will be involved in this mission, including the United States, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, Germany, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Poland, Canada, Brazil, India and South Africa.
SSO-A’s Falcon 9 is scheduled to lift off into the California sky Monday, November 19 at 1:32pm EST. SpaceX’s live webcast of the mission will begin approximately 20 minutes before liftoff at spacex.com and on the company’s YouTube channel.
Peace, love and rockets…
SpaceX’s next launch is slated for Thursday, November 15 at 3:46 PM EST from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, when a Falcon 9 will send the Es’hail-2 communications satellite into geostationary orbit.
According to the Kennedy Space Center website, the satellite is designed to assist with broadband connectivity and broadcast capability for Qatar and its neighbors, but it will also boost the signal of ham radio operators from Brazil to Thailand. The satellite is owned by Qatar’s national satellite communications company, Es’hailSat, but was built in Japan by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation.
Thursday’s launch, SpaceX’s 18th of the year, will be the 63rd flight of a Falcon 9 rocket to date. The Falcon 9 that will launch Es’hail-2 is a previously-flown booster that was last used for the July 22 launch of the Telstar 19 VANTAGE communications satellite.
SpaceX is expected to attempt to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 aboard the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You a few hundred miles off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Es’hail-2 mission will also be the first time in several months that SpaceX has launched a Falcon 9 during the day, so those on the East Coast who want to view the launch won’t have to stay up late to do it this time around. A live webcast of the launch should begin approximately 20 minutes before liftoff at spacex.com and on the company’s YouTube channel.
Peace, love and rockets…