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Success! Astronaut Don Pettit successfully captured SpaceX’s Dragon capsule today at 9:56am EDT with the space station’s robotic arm. They will now bring the Dragon capsule in and dock it with the ISS. This is an historic moment- the first time a commercial spacecraft has ever docked with the ISS. Hopefully within a few years, these amazing private spaceflight companies such as SpaceX can fully take over the duties of ferrying cargo and people to and from the ISS. More at NASA.gov.

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(Fast forward to about 2:30 to get to the actual launch.)

SpaceX successfully launched their Falcon 9 rocket, carrying a Dragon capsule filled with supplies and experiments bound for the International Space Station this morning at 3:44am EDT. This mission is far from complete, however, and with the capsule now in orbit the company must also prove their capsule can be docked with space station, unloaded, reloaded with used experiments, and splash back down safely in the pacific ocean. This flight is historic because it will be the first private, non-NASA rocket to complete a full mission to the ISS.

SpaceX has thus far been the leader among the various private companies vying for the top NASA contract to ferry cargo and astronauts to the ISS. The Dragon capsule will catch up to the ISS and perform a few maneuvers before slowly and incrementally approaching until the crew of the ISS can latch onto the capsule with the station’s robotic arm. They will then bring it in for docking using that arm this Friday May 25th. I really hope this mission is successful because as I’ve said all along, I’m a big fan of private companies taking over the low earth orbit duties for NASA. Keep your eye on the NASA website for updates. (Video via Universe Today)

Credit: Planetary Habitability Laboratory at UPR Arecibo, NASA, EUMETSAT, NERC Satellite Receiving Station, University of Dundee.

As you probably already know, there was an annular solar eclipse that was visible to parts of the Pacific rim last night/this morning. Because of the international dateline, I had the days mixed up and thought it was happening today (Monday May 21st) for the western U.S., when in fact for us it was at sunset last night. But it was Monday May 21st when it began for areas like Japan, because for them it happened early in the morning. Confusing right? It’s like the eclipse time-traveled. Anyway, the above photograph gives you a different perspective on it. The dark dot over the northern Pacific Ocean is the shadow of the moon! (Photo via Universe Today)

In other space-related news: SpaceX scrubbed the launch of their Falcon 9 rocket early Saturday morning due to a faulty check valve in one of the nine Merlin main engines. Their system has a computer that runs a full diagnostic check on everything right as the engines fire, and if even the slightest problem is detected the system shuts off everything immediately. Engineers are working diligently to get the valve replaced and run diagnostics with the rocket still on the launch pad. The new target launch date is May 22nd at 3:44am Eastern Daylight Time. I hope this all works out- I’m a fan of commercial spaceflight and feel that it is essential that NASA be able to rely on private companies to handle all their low-Earth orbit operations so that it can focus its main efforts on exploring asteroids and Mars. For more info see SpaceX’s website, and NASA.

Playing guitar in space

February 23, 2012

I’m always happy when the worlds of music and science collide in cool ways, as should be quite evident by the name of this blog. In reality science IS music, just like science is everything, but this is one instance where it’s especially cool. Astronaut Chris Hadfield is scheduled to be commander of the International Space Station, and he also happens to be a musician. It turns out music is actually an integral part of maintaining the psychological health of the astronauts, and so NASA decided to put an acoustic guitar on the station. This video from Space.com shows Hadfield explaining the guitar design itself, as well as the challenges and adaptations one has to make when playing in zero gravity. Very cool.

On a side note, I’m well aware of collective facepalm the science community is doing right now since the story broke yesterday that the apparent faster-than-light neutrinos discovered last fall may actually be due to a simple bad GPS cable connection. This is still, as far as I can tell, unconfirmed, so I’m holding off on posting anything in-depth. But I will say that I almost expected it to be something so trivial… We’ll see how it pans out.

This post needs very few words. Just sit back and enjoy these gorgeous timelapse videos shot from the International Space Station. They’re of the Aurora Borealis and/or Aurora Australis. Be sure to click on the resolution and choose the HD version, and make that shit fullscreen! (All via Universe Today)

If all goes as planned, tomorrow’s scheduled launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis will be the beginning of the end for the shuttle program. And when it touches down, the shuttle era will officially be over. With the program literally being almost exactly as old as I am (the first shuttle flight was on April 12, 1981, and I was born on Nov. 20th, 1981), it just seems surreal to know that the shuttles will no longer be operating. They were the face of NASA as I was growing up- they were “it.” But it is time for NASA to move on, let the private spaceflight industry take over the now routine task of ferrying astronauts to the ISS, and focus on exploring beyond low earth orbit.

The last I read, weather is going to be a big concern for the launch tomorrow, so there’s a decent chance it’ll get pushed back days or even weeks. But when it does happen, you should watch it. Especially if you’ve never seen one before. It’ll be all over the media so it’ll be hard to miss.

I decided to gather a few of the more interesting shuttle-related links I’ve come across over the past few days in my various science and space-related RSS feeds:

I’ve been waiting since the end of May for this:

(Click to enlarge) Credit: NASA/Paolo Nespoli

THAT is something that has never been captured on film before. It may not seem like a big deal, but the opportunity to to photograph a space shuttle docked to the ISS from space has never happened before, and never will again. The schedules happened to line up so that a Russian Soyuz capsule undocked from the ISS carrying three astronauts home while Endeavour was still docked. This gave astronaut Paolo Nespoli the opportunity to take photos of the shuttle/ISS combo from the window of the Soyuz capsule as they floated away. They paused the Soyuz some distance away and the space station actually performed a “flip” maneuver to allow for more angles. Please click through to the NASA image gallery and see the rest of these amazing images.

Think the idea of humans boarding a massive spaceship headed into the cosmos for 100’s or even 1,000’s of years (a.k.a. real-life Star Trek) is completely in the realm of science fiction? Think again. Last fall DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the highly secretive experimental arm of the Department of Defense who happened to invent the internet, released an official Request for Information regarding a “100-year starship plan.” Basically, they want people to come up with a fully thought-out plan for forming a team of researchers/engineers/scientists to investigate the technology necessary to build such a spaceship. Needless to say, this is one tiny baby step in a project that could cost many billions of dollars and require decades of advances in propulsion technology, but it’s still rather amazing that there is real, serious effort being put into something that has always seemed so far out of reach for humankind. As pointed out in their RFI, there will no doubt be unanticipated discoveries and technological advances as a “side-effect” of this research. So the actual spaceship itself is not the only purpose of this initiative. It really makes me happy to see something like this happening because I think manned space exploration has been quite stagnant for the last couple of decades. We need this kind of spark to really push forward the technology needed to extend our presence beyond low-Earth orbit. (Via Universe Today)

Ok, that’s really it for this week. Probably. I can’t fathom any more posts because tomorrow morning I will be heading to Manchester with the rest of the Scene/Cream team to photograph Bonnaroo. Keep your eyes on the Nashville Cream for updates on our shenanigans, and to see some of my photos.

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