Entries in Space Shuttle (38)


Space Shuttle Columbia Crew Remembered 10 Years Later

NASA/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Ten years ago on Friday, space shuttle Columbia exploded while re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, killing everyone on board.

On Friday, at 9:16 a.m. ET, the time Columbia would have landed at the Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 1, 2003, there will be a minute of silence. 

A bell will toll seven times at the Johnson Space Center for the seven astronauts who died on Columbia's final mission, STS 107: Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Mission Specialists Michael Anderson, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla and Ilan Ramon.

NASA's Mission Control suspected that something might have been wrong with the shuttle before it made its descent, but opted not to say anything.

Wayne Hale, who later became space shuttle program manager, struggled with whether or not to tell the astronauts.  He recently wrote about the debate in his blog, recalling a meeting to discuss the dilemma:

"After one of the MMTs (Mission Management Team) when possible damage to the orbiter was discussed, he (Flight Director Jon Harpold) gave me his opinion: 'You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS (Thermal Protection System).  If it has been damaged it's probably better not to know.  I think the crew would rather not know.  Don't you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?"

The dilemma for mission managers was that they simply did not know if the space shuttle was damaged.  The doomed astronauts were not told of the risk.

One of the most dramatic moments after Columbia crashed came when entry Flight Director Leroy Cain ordered the doors locked and computer data saved.

There were tears in his eyes and stunned silence in Mission Control.  The space shuttle had disintegrated over Texas, killing the seven astronauts on board and scattering debris across hundreds of miles.

While no one knew for sure what caused Columbia's accident, there were engineers at the Johnson Space Center who were pretty sure they knew what happened, who had tried to alert senior management, and who were ignored.

Rodney Rocha was one of them, and on that sunny Saturday morning in Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center, when data from the orbiter stopped coming in, and the position display froze over Texas, he was concentrating on the unusual buildup of sensor telemetry on the crippled orbiter.

Several engineers at the space agency suspected something was wrong.  Fuzzy video showed foam breaking off the orbiter's external fuel tank and hitting its left wing during blast off.  But no one knew if there was damage.  

At that time, NASA had no options for repair.  The crew was on a science mission, nowhere near the International Space Station.  They had no robotic arm to look at the wing, no way to repair the wing if they had damage, and it would take much too long to send up another space shuttle to rescue the crew.

It was agonizing for Rocha, who had begged the Mission Management Team to ask the Department of Defense to use whatever it had to take high resolution photos.  He was turned down.  In an exclusive interview with ABC News in 2003, he detailed how his requests were repeatedly denied.

"I made a phone call to the manager of the shuttle engineering office, the same person that had relayed the 'No' message to me from orbiter management.  I was still pretty agitated and upset.  Had he spoken to our engineering director about this?  I wanted the director of JSC engineering to be informed.  Had he been informed?  And he said no.  I was thunderstruck and astonished again," Rocha said.

About three minutes after all data stopped, astronaut Charlie Hobaugh, who was the capcom in Mission Control, began transmitting in the blind to Columbia on the UHF backup radio system.

"Columbia, Houston, UHF comm.  Check," he repeated every 15 to 30 seconds, but with no response.  

In central Texas, thousands of people at that moment were observing the orbiter break up at Mach 18.3 and 207,000 feet.

A few minutes later is when Cain ordered the doors locked and the computer data saved.

The painful investigation in the year that followed determined foam was the physical cause of the accident.  A piece of foam the size of a briefcase -- weighing 1.67 pounds -- slammed into Columbia's left wing during blast off, gouged a hole in the protective tiles, which left the shuttle vulnerable to the brutal temperatures of re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

But investigators soon found more than foam was to blame.  For years foam had been coming off the external tank and hitting the shuttle, and for years NASA had come to accept foam debris as normal.

Hale is the only person at NASA who publicly accepted blame for the "normalization of the abnormal."  He went on to lead NASA's return to flight for the space shuttle program.  And he vowed that the space agency would never again leave anyone behind.

"After the accident, when we were reconstituting the Mission Management Team, my words to them were 'We are never ever going to say that there is nothing we can do,'" Hale said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Air Force’s Secret Space Plane Back in Orbit

US Air Force(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) -- The X-37B, the Air Force’s unmanned “mini-space shuttle,” has launched into orbit for a third time and once again what it actually does in space remains a big mystery.

One of the few things known about the space plane’s classified missions is that it can stay in orbit for extended periods of time: On its previous mission, a sister craft stayed in orbit for 469 days.

The unmanned space plane lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla.,  Tuesday at 1:03 p.m. atop an Atlas V rocket.   The curious could watch the launch on a live webcast that was allowed to broadcast for only 17 minutes into the mission as the space plane began its classified mission.

Officially known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, the reusable aircraft is often referred to as a mini-space shuttle, because it looks like a smaller version of  NASA’s now-retired space shuttles.  Measuring 29 feet in length and with a wingspan of 15 feet, the X-37B is a quarter the size of the shuttles and could easily fit into two long car parking spaces.

Like the space shuttle, the X-37B lands on runways, though it does so without pilots at the helm.

The launch Tuesday marked the first time since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet that a spacecraft has gone into space more than once.

Both X-37Bs in the Air Force’s inventory have been to space, but the one launched Tuesday was the original craft launched into space in April 2010 that remained in orbit for 224 days.

The space plane’s orbits are often tracked by space enthusiasts who speculate as to what it might be doing on its classified missions. In the lead-up to the first launch, Air Force officials said the craft offered a platform for testing new technologies in space.

When the X-37B will return to Earth is an open guess, the robotic vehicle is designed to stay in orbit for at least 270 days.

The robotic space planes have previously landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base and it may land there again, though there has been speculation the Air Force might want to have it land at the runways built for the NASA shuttles at the Kennedy Space Center.

But when it will return to Earth remains an open question.  If previous missions are any indicator it could be in space for quite a long time.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Space Shuttle Endeavour Hits Los Angeles for Final Journey

NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis(LOS ANGELES) -- Space shuttle Endeavour embarked on its final mission Friday, traveling through the streets of South Los Angeles to reach its new home at the California Science Center.

The 165,000-pound shuttle will be on the road for two days as it makes the 12-mile trip from Los Angeles International Airport, where it had been since late September.  Once it arrives at the CSC, it will be put on permanent display.

Endeavour was built after the loss of the shuttle Challenger in 1986 and became NASA’s fifth space shuttle orbiter.  It made its first flight in 1992 and in its 25 missions, it orbited the Earth more than 4,600 times and spent 299 days in space.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Los Angeles Wants Space Shuttle Endeavour, But Must 400 Trees Be Cut?

NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis(LOS ANGELES) -- It was supposed to be a spectacular event including a two-day parade, but the space shuttle Endeavour’s final 12-mile journey through the streets of South Los Angeles has some residents protesting, because 400 trees would have to be chopped down to clear the shuttle’s intended path from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center.

Although the science center, or CSC, where Endeavour is to go on display, said it would plant twice as many trees in their place, tree lovers are still not convinced.

Claudine Jasmin, a resident of South Los Angeles, said she goes to the CSC all the time and loves having it in the neighborhood, but does not think it’s worth losing the trees. She said they bring squirrels and a variety of birds.

“My parents have lived in this neighborhood since before I was born, and we have these big pine trees on our street, and I’m sure it took forever for them to grow. They are beautiful,” Jasmin said.  “It would be really, really horrendous to see all these years of a tree’s growth completely diminished for one parade.”

Eddie North-Hager, publisher of, a local online news and social network, said despite the loss of trees, Endeavour’s arrival will be a good thing for the neighborhood.

“There is a lot of concern over street trees and everyone wants to work to make sure they are replaced and taken care of and have the same caretaking as there is now,” North-Hager said. “Everyone is concerned that baby trees will replace trees that have been there forever … I do hope they put in more than saplings and do expect they will take care of them until they reach a maturity where they can take care of themselves.”

Endeavour, built after the loss of the shuttle Challenger in 1986, became NASA’s fifth space shuttle orbiter. It made its first flight in 1992 and in its 25 missions, it orbited the Earth more than 4,600 times and spent 299 days in space.

Endeavour needs to be towed from the airport to the museum. Planners said they chose wide streets and minimized obstacles, because power lines will be extended and traffic signals cleared from the shuttle’s path.

But according to an estimate in the Los Angeles Times, 128 trees will be removed in the city of Inglewood and South Los Angeles will lose approximately 265 trees.  Pine, ficus and other trees in Inglewood have already been chopped down by construction crews.

“I think our neighborhood loves the CSC and owes a great deal of our children’s education to that institution and it’s free to go there,” North-Hager said. “It’s one of the five shuttles in the country and it’s amazing that we are getting that and that it’s going to our neighborhood. We love our street trees and it’s one of the things that makes Leimert Park so special. It’s my understanding that CSC is going to remove the least possible.”

In total, the CSC said it plans to spend $500,000 to improve the city streets. Replanting of trees is expected to begin a few weeks after Endeavour’s final journey.

But some residents are still not convinced.

“I don’t think replanting is enough to cover up the void that would be around after these trees are cut down,” Jasmin said. “There are kids and families in this neighborhood that are used to seeing these trees every day, and waiting years for them to grow back the way they were would be too disheartening.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Space Shuttle Enterprise Readies for Trip to NY Museum

New Yorkers seen taking pictures of the Enterprise as it flies over the Hudson River. ABC NewsUPDATE: Space shuttle Enterprise landed at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport just after 11:20 a.m. EDT on Friday.

(WASHINGTON) -- Space shuttle Enterprise will be flown into New York City on Friday morning as it makes it way towards its new home: the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

The shuttle is scheduled to depart from Dulles International Airport at 9:30 EDT, weather permitting, atop NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a modified Boeing 747.  As it flies into John F. Kennedy International Airport, Enterprise will pass by the Statue of Liberty and other nearby landmarks, allowing people to catch a glimpse of the shuttle in flight.

Once it lands, it will remain at the airport for several weeks before it is unmounted from the jumbo jet.  Enterprise will then be placed on a barge and moved by tugboat up the Hudson River to the museum, where it will be on public display this summer.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


50th Anniversary of John Glenn's Earth Orbit

Chris Cohen/NASA(WASHINGTON) -- For John Glenn, who 50 years ago became the first U.S. astronaut to orbit Earth in his Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft, today is a bittersweet anniversary.

Twelve astronauts have since walked on the moon. Robot space probes have visited every planet from Mercury to Neptune, and another is on its way to Pluto. And there has been at least one American living in space at any given time for the past dozen years; six men -- two Americans, three Russians and a Dutchman -- are today orbiting on the International Space Station.

But the United States, having retired its aging fleet of space shuttles last year, has no way at the moment to launch its own astronauts. NASA has plans for a new Space Launch System (SLS for short), and hopes private industry will take on the job of ferrying astronauts to the space station. But, for now, when the United States needs to launch an astronaut, it rents a seat on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

"It's unseemly to me that here we are, supposedly the world's greatest space-faring nation, and we don't even have a way to get back and forth to our own International Space Station," Glenn said during the celebrations marking the anniversary of Friendship 7.

The world was a very different place when Glenn made his five-hour flight. The Cold War was at its most chilling.The United States had been embarrassed by the first Soviet satellite and the first Soviet cosmonaut. President John F. Kennedy asked his aides if there was something -- anything -- America could do to beat the Russians in space. NASA tried, but the Atlantic floor off Cape Canaveral was littered with the wreckage of failed rockets.

America did not just need better boosters, it needed bigger heroes. It found seven: the original Mercury astronauts. And the one with whom it most fell in love was Glenn.

Fifty years ago, on Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn squeezed into his Friendship 7 capsule, circled the earth three times in five hours and became a national hero.

"Zero-G and I feel fine," he said from his spacecraft. "Man, that view is tremendous."

Historians' descriptions of the time describe a mood that seems almost alien now: a nation of people fearful of Soviet attack (the Cuban missile crisis would happen eight months later), glued to their black-and-white TV sets, watching a man in a silver spacesuit climb into a tiny capsule and disappear into the sky.

It was likened to single combat. The Soviets were Goliath. Glenn was David.

"We hadn't really thought that any nation could even touch us technically," Glenn said in a 1998 interview with ABC News. "And all at once, here was this bunch of Soviets over there, for heaven's sake, outdoing the United States of America in technical and scientific things."

After the flight of the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in May 1961, Kennedy had committed the United States to landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Glenn later said he wondered at the time how NASA would pull it off.

The Atlas rocket that would launch his Mercury capsule was famously unreliable; it had blown up on several test flights.

Glenn named his spacecraft Friendship 7, honoring his fellow astronauts. He would make three orbits of the earth. His launch was scheduled and scrubbed no fewer than 10 times in four months.

And then it was launch day -- Feb. 20, 1962. Glenn woke early, had breakfast, put on his pressure suit and climbed into Friendship 7 before dawn. The countdown moved toward zero. In the control center, Glenn's backup pilot, Scott Carpenter, keyed a microphone and said, "Godspeed, John Glenn."

Glenn did not hear him; Carpenter was not on his radio link. Instead, he felt a jolt as the rocket left the launch pad.

"Roger, liftoff, and the clock is running. We're under way."

The Atlas did not fail. Five minutes later, he was in orbit.

The nation hung on every moment of his flight, one man, alone in the void, in a capsule so small (6 feet in diameter at the base) that he could not stretch out his arms. He reported that weightlessness was pleasant. He marveled at the "fireflies" -- later determined to be flecks of frost -- that drifted away from Friendship 7 when he rapped on the hull of the spacecraft.

Glenn was having a wonderful time. But then, trouble. As he began his second orbit, Mission Control received a signal suggesting that the heat shield, designed to prevent the capsule from burning up during reentry, had come loose. Worried controllers feared they might lose Glenn. They ordered him not to jettison the capsule's retro rockets, strapped on over the heat shield, after he fired them to descend from orbit.

The outside of the capsule heated to 3,000 degrees as the atmosphere slowed it. Glenn watched as chunks of debris flew past the window and wondered whether it was the retro pack breaking up, or the heat shield.

It held. He splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean. America had probably seen nothing so daring since the transatlantic flight of Charles Lindbergh.

Crowds mobbed him at a ticker-tape parade in New York. Kennedy, who saw Glenn's star power, welcomed him at the White House. He returned to work at NASA and lobbied for another flight, but the Kennedy administration had quietly let his bosses know he was too much of a national icon to risk in space again.

The Americans would gradually overtake the Soviets in space. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969. But we no longer live in the space age. Glenn has complained publicly that since the space shuttles were retired last year, America has not had a way to launch its own astronauts into orbit. And Glenn's mantle as hero has only taken him so far; a run for president in 1984 left him in debt for years.

John Glenn is 90 now, dividing his time between Washington and Ohio after a long career in the U.S. Senate. He and his wife Annie have been married for 69 years, slowed only by the inevitable maladies of age.

He did, after years of lobbying, get to fly on a space shuttle mission in 1998. He was 77 by then, arguing that some effects of weightlessness -- bone and muscle loss -- are similar to the effects of aging. While he was in orbit he said he was having such a good time that he might like another flight after that, but Annie, visibly angry, put a quick stop to that.

Glenn and Scott Carpenter, the two surviving members of the original Mercury 7 group, have been celebrated this weekend at events near Cape Canaveral, in Washington, and in Glenn's native Ohio. They have repeatedly said they hope the nation's space effort is only in a lull.

"John, thank you for your heroic effort and all of you for your heroic effort," said Carpenter in Florida. "But we stand here waiting to be outdone."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Space Shuttles Discovery, Endeavour Swap Places at Space Center

Space shuttle Discovery pictured on right. NASA/Frankie Martin(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) -- In a rare sight, two of NASA's now-retired space shuttles were seen being moved late Thursday from one building to another at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Space shuttle Discovery was removed from the Vehicle Assembly Building and transported into the Orbiter Processing Facility, where Endeavour formerly resided.  Endeavour, in turn, swapped places with Discovery, moving into the assembly building.

Both orbiters have already been stripped of their engines and thrusters so that they can be shipped off to museums where they will spend the rest of their days.

Discovery will be sent to the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport in Virginia, while Endeavour is scheduled to go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.  The other surviving space shuttle, Atlantis, will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center visitors' center.

NASA's 30-year space shuttle program came to an end on July 21 when Atlantis returned from the International Space Station after a 13-day mission -- the final one for the program.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Possible Space Shuttle Debris Found in Lake Nacogdoches in Texas

NASA TV(ORLANDO) -- The Kennedy Space Center is leading the investigation into the newly discovered debris found in Texas' Lake Nacogdoches. The low water levels due to lack of rain in the region exposed what many believe is a piece of wreckage from the doomed February, 2003 flight of Space Shuttle Columbia.

Columbia's crew of seven was on their return to earth when the shuttle broke apart upon re-entry, killing all on board and sending pieces of the spacecraft falling to Earth, much of it landing Nacogdoches.

The object measuring about four feet in diameter has been found in the lake there, and space agency officials say they believe it's a tank that provided power and water to Columbia.

NASA, which intends to recover the tank, is warning "that the rules are the same as they were back in 2003. If this object is indeed a part of the shuttle, it is government property, and it is a criminal offense to tamper with it."

What remains of Columbia is stored in a vault in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. Only 40 percent of Columbia was recovered after months of an exhaustive search of the east Texas woods.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Space Shuttle Atlantis Lands for the Last Time

NASA/Bill Ingalls(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) -- For the last time, space shuttle Atlantis returned back to Earth early Thursday morning after embarking on a 13-day mission to the International Space Station.

Atlantis and its four-man crew -- Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim -- landed safely at 5:57 a.m. EDT at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"Reaching for the ground ... shuttle Atlantis headed for the runway," ABC's Vic Ratner, who called the landing, said as the shuttle was approaching the space center.

"Main gear touch down," announced Mission Control.

"Main gear touch down tells you it's home safe, home after more than 5 million miles in space on this mission," Ratner continued.  "Rolling out on the runway in front of me to the cheers and applause of the crowds around me. ... The final landing of the space shuttle program after 30 years of history."

With Thursday's landing, NASA's space shuttle program has officially come to an end.

After 135 flights in 30 years, the space shuttles are now history.  NASA said before landing that with Atlantis' flight over, the five shuttle orbiters would together have traveled 537,114,016 miles in orbit.  Three hundred and thirty-five astronauts have flown on them; 14 died when the shuttles Columbia and Challenger were lost.

Atlantis alone made 33 flights, carried 191 space fliers, spent 307 days in orbit, circled Earth 4,848 times and put 125,935,769 miles on its odometer.

The three surviving shuttles will now become museum pieces.  Atlantis will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center visitors' center.  Its seniormost sister ship, Discovery, goes to the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia, and Endeavour will be sent to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Space Shuttle Atlantis Undocks from Space Station

NASA TV(HOUSTON) -- Space shuttle Atlantis and its four-man crew successfully undocked from the International Space Station early Tuesday morning and is now preparing to make its way back to Earth.

The shuttle detached from the orbiting outpost at 2:28 a.m. EDT, marking the last undocking in NASA's culminating space shuttle program. Atlantis' 13-day mission to the space station is the final one for the space agency.

Less than two hours later, Pilot Doug Hurley performed a final separation burn, firing Atlantis' jets to leave the vicinity of the ISS.

Hurley and the three other astronauts on board -- Commander Chris Ferguson, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim -- are scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Thursday at 5:56 a.m. EDT.

Copyright 2011 ABC New Radio

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