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Tag Archive: Space shuttle Discovery


Astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent 340 days aboard the International Space Station in 2015, has been in the news this month as scientists learn more about his health after such an extended stay in space.  NASA admitted Scott and his identical twin brother Mark into its elite astronaut program in 1996, and after many years the brothers’ back and forth missions resulted in Scott accepting a Russian mission to test human reaction to extended space travel, in part contemplating a trip to Mars one day.  At the end of his 2015 mission not only did his body change, but he encountered what travelers to Mars will encounter: living in weightlessness, relying on the tools, food, and oxygen processing technology, and experiencing work stress for a similar period of time as a voyage to Mars.  Although readers of his recently published memoir will learn the selection of the brothers into NASA and the selection of Scott for his record-breaking ISS mission initially did not contemplate use of the twin brothers as comparative test subjects, NASA soon realized the knowledge they could gain from such an endeavor.  Although scientists have since backed off on early claims that Mark and Scott now have different DNA, their analysis continues, and Scott said he and his brother will continue to be tested and observed as part of the study for the rest of their lives.

In his book Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, Scott Kelly recounts his life story and the details of his four trips into outer space: via the space shuttles Discovery (STS-103) in 1999 and Endeavour (STS-118) in 2007 and later via Soyuz TMA-19 in Expeditions 25/26 in 2010 and Soyuz TMA-18M in Expeditions 43/44/45/46 in 2015 with a record-breaking mission The Endurance in the title reflects both the ship captained by Sir Ernest Shackleton in the 1901 expedition to Antarctica (and Shackleton’s book Kelly took on his journey into space for inspiration and reflection) as well as the mettle and resolve required to push his mind and body to the limits to survive his many journeys off-planet.  Readers learn through his experiences the detail, perfection, and self-discipline that makes up “the right stuff” for the military fighter pilot turned test pilot, Navy captain, and astronaut commander are the same things that seem to make him so focused that he was perceived as less communicative and responsive to those closest to him.  Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery is very much another chapter in a continuing history of books by astronauts recounting their circuitous and unlikely paths to NASA, yet Kelly’s account reveals less of a superman and more of a flawed but committed adventurer, and his flaws will no doubt engage any reader and fan of real-life adventure stories.  The personal details, openness to discuss his own reservations, concerns, and mistakes, make this unlike any other of the more famous accounts of human travels in space.  Kelly is most likeable when he’d seem unlikeable to us back on Earth–when he shows his frustrations, when at the end of a year in space little comments from his peers simply annoy him.  He seems preoccupied with the ISS toilets and carbon dioxide levels throughout his year on the ISS, both of which he knows could mean the end of any Mars mission if they can’t become more reliable.  And it’s these kinds of details he hopes will drive NASA to improve these components of space travel to hope to make a mission around the moon, around an asteroid, and ultimately a mission to Mars, a reality one day for mankind.

That’s Commander Scott Kelly (bottom right) in the crew photo sporting Jedi robes for Expedition 45.

Kelly credits another book, Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, as his inspiration for taking on a career as jet pilot and astronaut–he even called Wolfe from space to thank him at the end of his ISS mission.  Kelly’s descriptions of several of his experiences, especially his three harrowing spacewalks while aboard the ISS, provide for a riveting read, and readers shouldn’t be surprised if they find themselves breathless as they follow along with him as he floats 254 miles above Earth orbiting at 17,000 miles per hour.  Some sections of Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery are as nailbiting as Jon Krakauer’s extraordinary account of his ill-fated Mt. Everest climb, Into Thin Air.  Some of Kelly’s more minor details are the most startling, like his description of hand rails outside the station that are riddled with bullet-sized holes, caused by space debris.  Any new arriving piece of debris could poke a hole in him, too, as he floated in space.  In one mission he encounters the same tile problem that caused the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia.  A chunk of an old satellite careening in the vicinity of the ISS provides another dangerous condition for the crew that illustrates another theme of life on the ISS–international relations.  Kelly speaks nothing but admiration for Russia, its space program and its cosmonauts, but their processes and procedures sometimes vary widely.  When the satellite approached, the Russians kept on working just as he and his team hunkered down.  The Russians figured any collision likely would kill them all instantly, so why worry about it?  Readers will learn a lot about those less exciting parts of being a 21st century astronaut, especially about the required extended stays required these days in Russia, the departure point for American astronauts in the post-Space Shuttle world.  In between flights, Kelly served as NASA’s Director of Operations in the legendary town of Star City, Russia, and we learn much about his many encounters with other astronauts and ground crew.

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A collection of hundreds of digitized video clips of unique research aircraft from the 1940s until this past decade is making its way to YouTube.  The collection contains footage of many of the vehicles flown at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, previously known as the Dryden Flight Research Center, at Edwards, California.  It only takes a few minutes to get sucked into this visual history of modern aviation and spaceflight.  Every few days more video resource materials are being uploaded to YouTube by the Center, and the result is a superb educational tool.  For decades much of this footage was limited to access by the public via still images in World Book Encyclopedia, and now anyone can observe and compare NASA’s aerial test vehicles at their own pace.

Want to revisit the liftoff and landing of the space shuttle Columbia?  Check it out here from April 1981.  How about flights of the Enterprise, Endeavour, and Discovery, and a beautiful landing of the Atlantis?  Much footage has been made available for everyone in the past few years by NASA, but not in such a complete collection as is happening this summer.  NASA has even uploaded footage of a visit by Nichelle Nichols to the Flight Research Center’s page, as well as a 1969 training flight of the lunar landing vehicle by the Center’s namesake, Neil Armstrong.

You’ll find a full history of experimental flight–views of the rocket-powered supersonic research aircraft X-1 from the 1940s and 1950s to Boeing’s present day flying wing, the X-48.  Some of the videos are mere curiosities, like painting the first Orion crew module and various earthbound Mars Rover tests.

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NASA released some interesting information this week for fans of all things space related.

First off, the space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to fly its final mission April 17, 2012 on the back of a Boeing 747 to land at Washington Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC.  The transfer of the shuttle’s title to the Smithsonian Institution will include a four-day celebration by the National Air and Space Museum, although the Discovery will end up not on the National Mall at the National Air and Space Museum building but instead at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia (useful to know in scheduling future vacation trips to DC).  The Udvar-Hazy Center currently houses the prototype space shuttle Enterprise, which will be flown to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City at a later date.  The Museum expects that Discovery will be available for public viewing but the final display will not be finished until approximately two weeks after arrival of the shuttle.

In the “truth is stranger than fiction” category (a maxim that usually proves not to be true if you hang around with creative people) this week NASA also released some great video footage of Earth from space.  Check out this video of Earth taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station:

Despite all the efforts in movies and TV to show what it would be like to travel in outer space, Hollywood has yet to create footage that matches the real thing seen above.  They’ve come close for sure, but think of how much it would cost to mock-up this type of visual for a motion picture.

This video is a great reminder that despite the fact that we have no current space shuttle program, thankfully scientific research continues with humans in outer space.  Check out more updates on what’s happening with research by NASA at www.space.com.

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