space shuttle

Savouring the sight of a Space Shuttle launch

One of the things that’s always slightly frustrated me about watching Space Shuttle launches is how quickly it’s all over, once it’s started. We spend hour after hour glued to the feed from NASA TV, watching the build-up and countdown, while the Space Shuttle itself leaps off the pad in a matter of seconds. Before too long it’s a bright fleck of light in the sky, and the launch is over.

You’re probably thinking “it’s a massive rocket Will, that’s what happens!”, and yes, of course, I realise that. But, to me, it feels like there’s hardly any time to savour the incredible beauty of the event.

Imagine my happiness, then, when I found out about a spectacular YouTube video doing the rounds called ‘Ascent – commemorating Shuttle’. It’s 45 minutes of stunning slow-motion Space Shuttle launch footage, compiled by Matt Melis from NASA’s Glenn Research Center. Here it is embedded below.


Credit: Matt Melis/NASA/KSC Imaging Services

I learnt a lot from the great commentary by Melis and his colleague Kevin Burke. But, by far, the main thing I realised from watching the video, is exactly how much I’ll miss this amazing spacecraft when it’s not flying anymore.

Update 25.01.11: I’ve updated the YouTube video above, as I see NASA Television have uploaded a 720p HD version of the film. Be sure to click that option for the best quality image.

STS-131 launch – a personal view

Discovery (STS-131) sat on the pad at launch pad 39A. Credit: Will Gater

The STS-131 mission is set to launch from the Kennedy Space Center on Monday morning taking science equipment and other supplies to the International Space Station. As I’m writing this the Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled for a lift-off at 6:21am Florida time (11:21am UK time) with the latest weather forecast for the time of launch looking “very favourable” according to NASA weather officers. As always you’ll be able to watch the launch and build up live on NASA TV via this link.

A view of launch complex 39 from the LC39 observation gantry. Credit: Will Gater

Watching the launch will be a little bittersweet for me. Last month I acted on a lifelong dream and flew out to Florida in an attempt to see the STS-131 Shuttle launch which had been scheduled for 18 March. Unfortunately the stacking of the Orbiter (and thus its launch) was delayed just before I left the UK, meaning that as I landed in Florida I knew I was going to miss seeing the Shuttle fly. Nevertheless I had a wonderful time and came back with a fresh perspective and a renewed sense of awe at what is happening at Cape Canaveral. Come Monday morning I’ll be tuning into NASA TV on the web, joining thousands around the world watching and willing the Shuttle to make that spectacular leap off the launch pad. I may be a little further away from the launch than I had hoped to be, but it certainly won’t mean I’m any less excited.

SM4: peering over the shoulders of giants

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With the Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-125) and her crew now waiting for the right conditions to come home and land after repairing and upgrading Hubble, I thought now would be a good time to look back at what has happened over the past ten days or so. Servicing Mission 4, to Hubble, has been nothing short of spectacular – with risky spacewalks, dramatic repairs and a real sense of cutting edge space exploration. Spaceflight author Andrew Chaikin has recently blogged on why he felt “amazed, inspired–and grateful” watching the Hubble Servicing Mission unfold, and it’s really worth reading his thoughts here. This mission has been especially exciting and indeed has been different – both in terms of the added public interest and in how the community of space and astronomy enthusiasts has followed along.

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To me this has been largely, if not wholly, because of the constant stream of images, tweets, blogs and live video streams that NASA has been sending out on a frequent basis. With video cameras in the astronauts’ helmets we’ve been able to literally peer over their shoulders and watch live what they were doing up there on Hubble. This really hit home to me, a couple of days ago, when I saw a video that was filmed in the cockpit of the Shuttle Atlantis, as the astronauts parted ways with Hubble. The video gives a real sense of what it’s like to be working on the deck of the Shuttle and, as Phil says, there’s something about the clear audio which greatly adds to this. It’s a must see. Stuart has the story of the video here.

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For my part I’ll be remembering and reliving the exploits of this incredible mission through the many pictures taken by the astronauts. I’ve put a few of my favourites in this post, but there are hundreds out there. Click on the images, in the post, to get the NASA high res. versions. And why not let me know what your favourites are in the comments below, or on my Twitter feed.

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All images courtesy NASA.

Spectacular spin around the space station

The ISS now has its full complement of solar panels. Credit: NASA

The Space Shuttle Discovery (mission STS-119) has just touched down at the Kennedy Space Center after 202 orbits of the Earth. It’s been in space for the past 12 and a bit days visiting the International Space Station where the shuttle’s crew has installed a new set of huge solar panels; giving the orbiting structure some more power. As Discovery undocked and parted with the ISS a few days ago it flew around the station. One of the astronauts on-board captured a high-definition video of the manoeuvre. The result is amazing. I’ve embedded the YouTube video below but it’s really worth clicking the HD button to see the much sharper footage.

YouTube video credit: NASA

Tool infinity and beyond

I’m getting a few emails asking about the toolkit that an astronaut dropped from the International Space Station last week, and whether it is visible from the Earth. Well the answer, apparently, is yes it is. According to the Spaceweather.com website the bag has been spotted by amateur astronomers and should be visible from the UK this week through a good pair of binoculars, if you know where to look.

shuttlests-126A stunning view from the Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-126). Credit: NASA

If you haven’t been following the story then here’s a quick refresher: last week whilst on a spacewalk to repair part of the, now 10 year old, space station an astronaut let go one of the station’s toolbags and it gently floated away and out of reach. It’s now moving away from the space station all on its own, appearing around five minutes before the ISS as it crosses the sky. You can watch a video of the errant toolbag here on the Daily Telegraph website.

If you want to find out when the ISS (and the toolbag) will be flying over your site then have a look at the Spaceweather alerts page here. This story has been getting a lot of attention in the national media and press; but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the ISS has just passed an important milestone this month (10 years in space) and that this extended shuttle mission has already accomplished a great deal during its 12 days in orbit, including the repair of a urine-recycling unit (and other crucial upgrades) which will mean that the ISS crew can be doubled in 2009.

Successful lift-off for Space Shuttle Atlantis

The Space Shuttle Atlantis has finally lifted off from Cape Canaveral to begin its 11-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch of STS-122 has been delayed since December with fuel sensor malfunctions causing trouble for NASA. In the last few days weather worries looked as if they too might delay the launch yet again, so it is fantastic to see the shuttle riding a column of fire and smoke again! One of the main roles of STS-122 is to deliver Europe’s Columbus module to the ISS – a laboratory for doing research science on the space station built by the European Space Agency.

I had hoped to be at the Columbus mission control in Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich when I was in Germany for the original launch date in December. I was really disappointed at the delay of the launch then but now it’s great to see, some months later, Columbus finally take off into space. It’s Europe’s biggest contribution to the ISS and should see the research capabilities of the station blossom. The module will be attached to the station during the course of the mission (hopefully during the first of the three planned spacewalks). It will be interesting to see the science coming back from the ISS. If you want an idea of what research science might be possible in space Chris has an interesting post on his blog.

Image credit: NASA TV