Discovery Final Fly By
How ironic is it that it was Discovery that did the flyby today over Washington DC, amidst the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and the Capitol? Atop a Boeing 747, it soared over the Nation’s Capital at 1500 ft waving a final goodbye before gliding to a landing at it’s final resting place: National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center in Dulles, VA.
After a sweeping low flyby past the Washington Monument, it looped over the National Mall not once but twice, slow, silent yet graceful. Past the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the Capitol, The White House, Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorial. After two graceful loops over the mall, she finally bid adieu headed up the Potomac River past the SW Waterfront, Reagan National Airport and finally Dulles International Airport. Crowds thronged the mall and other lookout areas taking a break from school, work and other activities to catch a glimpse of history, anxious to snap a photo and discuss the times they had watched a shuttle launch out in Titusville.
When NASA announced the end of the Space Shuttle Missions in 2010, it was finally now or never. It was STS 133 launch that I was scheduled to watch. After several failed attempts to procure KSC launch tickets, my friends and I managed to buy the Dolphin Tours Causeway launch package for STS-133 which was scheduled to liftoff on Nov 1st, 2010. As fate willed it, after waiting almost a week in Florida with daily postponements to the next day, STS-133 launch got scrubbed and re-scheduled for Feb 24th, 2011 when Discovery accomplished it’s final mission before being retired from service.
It was to be never for me since I have never watched a Shuttle launch or landing. So it is especially a bitter sweet moment to finally see Discovery not on a launchpad strapped to solid rocket boosters 10 miles away blasting off gracefully to space on a crimson and pristine predawn Florida sky but 1500 ft above Washington DC, piggybacked on a Boeing 747.
Discovery … and so we finally meet 🙂
The powered flight took a total of about eight and a half minutes. It seemed to me it had gone by in a lash. We had gone from sitting still on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center to traveling at 17,500 miles an hour in that eight and a half minutes. It is still mind-boggling to me. I recall making some statement on the air-to-ground radio for the benefit of my fellow astronauts, who had also been in the program a long time, that it was well worth the wait.
— Bob Crippen, STS-1 astronaut, regards first flight of the Space Shuttle, 12 April 1981.
Source: This day in Aviation
On 14th, April 1981, Space Shuttle Columbia touchdown at Edwards Air Force Base completing the first space flight of the United States.
THE SKY CALLS TO US
— Carl Sagan
Last June, when NASA finally retired Atlantis, it found it’s home at Kennedy Space Center. There is a fun and interactive Atlantis exhibit at KSC. The exhibit is entered in layers. After watching a video on the origin and history of the Space Shuttle Program, visitors finally come face to face with Atlantis, suspended high above the ground, portrayed as if suspended in orbit with payload bay windows open as if in mid mission. Atlantis, dominates the multi-story complex providing views from different angles. The exhibit also includes a motion flight simulator experience, and many hands-on exhibits for kids.
This past week left a sad blow to the commercial space industry.
Friday was a busy day at work, and I didn’t hear about the crash of SpaceShipTwo until I got home in the evening. It was disheartening to hear about the loss of one of the pilots.
When rumors of SpaceShipOne originally surfaced back in 2003, I kept my ears open and followed its progress in earnest. Living in California at that time, it was easy. Burt Rutan is a giant in the space industry. And by competing and finally winning the X-Prize he opened the doors to Commercial Space Flight. Not only did SpaceShipOne complete two successful flights into outer space, but also irrevocably proved the feasibility of a commercial space program.
Manned space flight in the U.S came to a standstill on July 21, 2011 when STS-135 completed it’s mission and landed. Since then, NASA has retired all Space Shuttles and they are hangered in museums across the country. But this not a harbinger of the end of Space Flight. In fact, it brought forth many commercial adventurers and entrepreneurs who are fascinated with space.
Since 2004, when Rutan of Scaled Composites, proved it is possible to launch a non-NASA spaceflight, there has been considerable progress in that arena. Virgin Galactic was formed with an emphasis on Space Tourism and promises to provide the experience of weightlessness to those that can afford it. The biggest success story is SpaceX, a company owned by Elon Musk, which continues to service NASA’s need to transport supplies to the International Space Station. There are other contenders such as Blue Origin, founded by Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos.
The space program has never been easy. The first human spaceflight on April 1961 by Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin made one orbit around the Earth on Vostok 1, followed a few weeks later by U.S. astronaut, Alan Sheppard aboard Freedom 7. Since then, there have been many successful manned missions to suborbital space, the Moon and man-made space stations. Since then there have been many unmanned flights to other planets and beyond. The causalities have been few and far in between. Safety has always been the strongest determinant.
On Tuesday evening, this past week, the Antares Rocket exploded a few seconds after launch, over the coast of Virginia. A malfunction in the rocket, necessitated a sequence which resulted in the self-destruction of the rocket. It was supposed to carry supplies to the International Space Station. It was an unmanned rocket operated by Orbital Sciences.
A little over two days later, on Friday morning of the same week, SpaceShipTwo on a test flight crashed, a few minutes after it disengaged from it’s mother-ship and fired its rockets. It was unfortunate that there were causalities on this flight. One of the pilots Michael Alsbury perished, while Peter Seibold was injured.
But this is the price we pay sometimes, to achieve our goals.
Two events during the same week, signal a terrible loss to the Commercial Space Industry. But the human race is resilient. True this will set us back a few years, but are we to give up now? As I have said before, when Columbia disintegrated on reentry, NASA, and other commercial operators need our support now, if we are ever to realize our aspirations of making it to space!
Matt Kowalski: What do you like about being here, other than the view?
Ryan Stone: <Pause> I like the silence…
The popular story we learn in school is that, Newton discovered the Universal law of Gravitation when an apple fell on his head, while he was sitting under an apple tree. And hence the adage: what goes up, must come down.
What happens when you defy gravity, leave the pull of the center of the earth and are suspended in space and time?
Weightlessness is something astronauts have experienced since the beginning of manned spaceflight.
Gravity is a different kind of movie. If you love space, this is for you. Granted it might not satisfy all the laws of physics associated with space travel. Still it is one incredible movie.
If you love Clooney, he is as usual at his best. Albeit briefly.
Gravity is one hell of a movie. Of loss and triumph. If you craved to be in space and failed, this will put you there. If you are a space fanatic, it is a must see. When was the last time you saw a movie of two people in spacesuits and the immenseness of space?
End of an Era
Tomorrow marks the end of an era: the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the 135th and last mission of the NASA space shuttle program.
A lot of us grew up with the space shuttle program, yearning and dreaming to reach the stars. The space shuttle and the space science programs inspired many a student to pursue higher education in aeronautical and aerospace sciences. There was the HABET (high altitude balloon experiments in technology) program at Iowa State University in the Space Systems and Controls Lab or the CUBESAT program at CalPoly: an innovative program wholly run by students to design, construct, test, launch, and operate miniature satellites for space research. It was a time of great inspiration. I still remember all those years of getting the applications for the astronaut program that never made it to NASA.