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‘International Space Station, Space Shuttle, NASA’

International Space Station, Space Shuttle, NASA

NASA Flight Readiness Review sets April 5 for Shuttle Discovery’s Lift Off

March 27th, 2010

NASA formally established April 5 as the launching date for the shuttle Discovery on a 13-day re-supply mission to the International Space Station, following a Flight Readiness Review at the Kennedy Space Center on Friday.

The lift off is scheduled for 6:21 a.m., EST.

Discovey’s crew of seven astronauts has trained to deliver research gear and other supplies intended to sustain the 220 mile high orbiting laboratory long after NASA’s space shuttle fleet is retired, currently scheduled for late September.

The astronauts plan three spacewalks to replace an external ammonia coolant tank and a gyroscope used to manage the internal temperatures of the station and keep the one million pound outpost oriented as it orbits the Earth.

The flight is the second of five missions planned by NASA in 2010 to complete the assembly of the International Space Station, while bringing the near three decade long shuttle program to a close. President Obama has asked Congress to extend station operations from 2016 until at least 2020, a measure that has the support of NASA’s 14 international partners as well as many U.S. lawmakers.

During Friday’s readiness review, top space agency managers were briefed on mission preparations and plans. The agenda included an assessment of a leaky helium valve in the system that pressurizes Discovery’s aft, right orbital steering system.

The small leak was discovered earlier this month and caused by a valve unexplicably stuck in the open position. During the flight, the helium pressures will be managed using a pair of downstream regulators to compensate.

“We understand the failure well enough to go fly,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, who chaired the readiness review. “We reviewed that in detail. We’re ready to go fly.”

Managers were not influenced by pressure to meet the shuttle’s scheduled retirement date, John Shannon, NASA’s shuttle program manager, told a news briefing.

If shuttle managers had decided to repair the valve, Discovery would have been rolled from the launch pad to a hangar. The flight would have been re-scheduled for July and NASA would have proceded with a mission now set for mid-May.

Even with the juggling of the schedule, the agency could retire the shuttle fleet by the end of December, using funds from the NASA’s fiscal 2011 budget, Shanned added.

The 2011 fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and the proposed spending plan includes $600 million for another three months of shuttle operations.

Veteran astronaut Alan Poindexter will lead Discovery’s mission.

His crew includes pilot Jim Dutton; flight engineer Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger; lead robotics officer Stephanie Wilson; spacewalkers Rick Mastracchio and Clay Anderson. Naoko Yamazaki of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will supervise an ambitious cargo exchange.

The cargo includes three major pieces of scientific equipment:

1. The Window Observational Research Facility, or WORF, which includes cameras, spectral sensors and camcorders for Earth observations. The assembly will surround a high quality optical window in the station’s U. S. Destiny laboratory module for studies of climate change, land and sea formations as well as weather-related crop damage.

2. The Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise system rack, or MARES, will provide a means of assessing which exercise regimes are the most effective in countering the loss of muscle mass experienced by astronauts during their lengthy exposures to weightlessness.

3. The Minus Eighty Laboratory Freezer for ISS, or MELFI, will preserve blood, urine and saliva specimens gathered as part of astronaut medical experiments. The freezer will store samples of plants and microbes collected as part other biological experiments as well.

Discovery will also deliver a new water generating device, called Sabatier. The device mixes carbon dioxide gathered from the breathing air of the space station with hydrogen to produce drinking water and methane that is vented outside the station.

As time permits, the Discovery astronauts intend to focus on educational activities that illustrate advances in robotics.

Metcalf-Lindenberger, a former high school Earth science and astronomy teacher as well as a cross-country coach, will lead the effort, which is expected to include question and answer sessions with students at the Naval Post Graduate School of Monterey, Calif., and the Eastern Guilford High School of Gibsonville, N. C.

She joined NASA in 2004 as the agency’s fourth educator astronaut.

Currently, NASA scheduling shows the shuttle program’s final missions scheduled for launching on May 14, July 29and Sept. 16.

Each of the final missions is intended to equip the orbital laboratory with scientific equipment and other supplies needed to sustain station operations well beyond the shuttle’s retirement.

A 32-page study released this week by NASA Inspector General Paul Martin predicted a high probability the final mission would not be launched until January 2011.

The space agency has budgeted $54 million in workforce overtime to help meet the internal September 2010 projection.

The Inspector General’s projections are based on historical averages for days between shuttle launches, both for the entire history of the program as well as the historical record since missions resumed in the aftermath of the 2003 shuttle Columbia accident.

An additional extension beyond December could force NASA to take funding from other agency activities.

 

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Augustine Committee

NASA Encounters More Questions Over Constellation’s Cancellation From House Panel

March 25th, 2010

President Obama’s proposal to cancel NASA’s Constellation Program encountered another round of stiff, bi-partisan opposition from a House oversight panel on Wednesday, as an agency official and an outside aerospace expert painted an uncertain picture of what will take the place of the six-year-old lunar exploration initiative.

In the nearly three hours of testimony, it was clear the space agency is still in the earliest stages of defining a new direction.

That was especially the case with the White House proposal to follow the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle later this year with a $6 billion initiative to foster a commercial space transportation industry to carry astronauts as well as cargo to the International Space Station. The spending plan has met opposition from Democrats as well as Republicans at hearings before House and Senate policy and appropriations committees since it was unveiled early last month.

Thomas Young, a retired Lockheed Martin executive who has advised the Pentagon as well as the space agency on major policy issues, urged the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee to reject the changes outlined in NASA’s 2011 budget proposal.

“I believe we are a long way from having a commercial industry capable of satisfying human space transportation needs,” Young told the panel. “In my view, this is a risk too high and not a responsible course. The commercial crew option should not be approved.”

He urged the panel to stick with the under funded and behind schedule Constellation Program. Constellation’s Ares 1 rocket and Orion crew exploration vehicle offer the most promising means of transporting astronauts to the space station and making journeys to the moon with the larger Ares V rocket, Young said.

Instead, the White House strategy would invest billions of dollars in a wide range of new technologies intended to lower the cost of future human space exploration. The new strategy calls for a flexible path that includes missions to asteroids, the moons of Mars and Mars as well as the Earth’s moon without establishing clear goals and times lines.

“A detailed exploration plan with destinations, dates and implementation plans is needed,” said Young. “A technology program without focus and identified mission uses can result in wasteful, nonproductive, hobby shop activities.”

All but one member of the House panel seemed to agree. Doug Cooke, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration, attempted but was unable to provide many of the specifics the lawmakers sought to answers about job losses, flight risks, financial terms and operational dates for a new fleet of commercial space taxis.

The cost of establishing Constellation in response to a directive from President Bush and then dismantling the initiative was estimated at $14 billion by the subcommittee. More than $9 billion has been spend so far on Ares 1 and Orion.

“We have very serious issues to address, the future of America’s human space flight program,” said U. S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat who chairs the subcommittee. “The Congress and the President need to get this one right. The clock is ticking.”

The panel expressed hope Obama will address many of their questions during a space policy summit he plans to host at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 15.

“There are many questions to be asked and information yet to be provided about such a major re-direction,” said U. S. Rep. Pete Olson, of Texas, the panel’s ranking Republican. “Frankly, too many people are behaving like this is a fait accompli. That is far from the truth. There are still too many unknowns and too many issues that must be evaluated before Congress can make an informed decision.”

U. S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher found himself largely alone arguing the merits of the Obama plan, which the California Republican compared to past policies that awarded the fledgling airlines contracts to carry the mail in the early 20th century and offered land to expanding railroad companies in the 19th century.

“Today, we are on the verge of a huge step forward into space, where a huge number of people can be engaged in enterprise in space,” he complained. “And we have the argument instead that this must be a government-based operation.”

The president’s policy initiative followed a lengthy re-assessment of the Constellation Program last year by the Augustine Committee a panel of experts chartered by the White House. It found the program so under funded that it was more than a decade behind President Bush’s goal of reaching the moon with American explorers by 2020. It urged the Obama administration to consider an annual increase of $3 billion in NASA’s budget in order to establish sustained global lead in future human exploration.

U. S. Rep. Donna Edwards, a Maryland Democrat, seemed to express the sentiments of many colleagues Wednesday, when she urged NASA not to move too quickly in the dismantling of Constellation.

“This is a work in progress,” said Edwards.

 

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