Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Space Stories of 2009

In case you missed it in Wednesday's paper, Florida Today's Todd Halvorson reviewed the year's top space stories.

Click here to link to the article, or read it below. Do you agree with the selections? Feel free to comment.

NASA marks year of triumph, tension

CAPE CANAVERAL -- NASA's shuttle program wound down in 2009, International Space Station research revved up and the nation took steps toward exploration beyond Earth orbit.

Amid uncertainty about the future direction of U.S. human spaceflight, NASA, its international partners and the U.S. aerospace industry chalked up some impressive achievements from the daring repair of the Hubble Space Telescope to the first test flight of a new rocket.

"This is a tremendous time in spaceflight," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations. "We've had a very successful year, and we need to cherish that."

Here's our list of the most important space stories of 2009:

Presidential panel pushes commercial crew taxi services.
A White House panel found NASA's current return-to-the-moon project is financially on an "unsustainable trajectory" and "is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources."

The panel suggested NASA's budget should be increased by $1 billion in 2011, $2 billion in 2012 and $3 billion in 2013 and beyond.

It also favored the development of commercial space taxi services for U.S. astronauts, a move that would be a major change in longstanding national space policy.

NASA for 50 years has developed rockets and spacecraft to fly U.S. astronauts. It already has invested four years and $9 billion in Project Constellation, which is developing Ares I rockets and Orion spacecraft for crew transportation.

President Barack Obama, who ordered the panel's review, is expected to weigh in and chart the course for future U.S. human space expeditions by early February.

Former astronaut tapped to lead NASA.
Obama selected veteran shuttle commander Charlie Bolden for the NASA administrator post vacated by Mike Griffin, a chief proponent of NASA's Ares I and Ares V rockets as well as Orion spacecraft.

Raised in the segregated south, Bolden overcame a bias against appointing a black American to the Naval Academy and ultimately served 34 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

During confirmation hearings, Bolden said he wants to build upon the nation's investment in the International Space Station.

Bolden said he also wants to "accelerate with a sense of urgency the development of a next-generation launch system and human carrier" to explore beyond Earth orbit again.

"Today we have to choose," Bolden said. "Either we can invest in building upon our hard-earned world technological leadership or we can abandon this commitment, ceding it to others who are working vigilantly to push the frontiers of space."

Ares rocket project scores back-to-back successes.
A first-stage ground test firing and the Ares I-X flight test yielded data that showed concerns about a phenomenon called "thrust oscillation" -- launch-induced vibrations -- are vastly overstated.

The tests showed the slender rocket would not generate vibrations that might injure or kill astronauts.

"A year ago, it was kind of doom-and-gloom for thrust oscillation," NASA Ares I-X Program Manager Bob Ess said. "We've instrumented shuttle flights. We've done ground tests, and now we've done this (Ares I-X) test. And we're just not seeing these (high) numbers in thrust oscillation."

Astronauts equip Hubble for long haul.
NASA astronauts equipped the Hubble Space Telescope with two new science instruments, fixed two others and outfitted the observatory to operate through at least 2014.

The mission was the fifth and final flight to service the 19-year-old observatory, which has returned some of the most iconic images of the universe.

NASA shoots moon, finds lunar water.
NASA crashed a rocket stage into a crater near the moon's south pole, kicking up a plume that contained gallons and gallons of water.

That's a boon for future lunar explorers. Water on the moon could be used to drink. It also could be used to generate oxygen and rocket fuel, providing explorers a way to live off the lunar land.

Station crew expands after decade of construction.
NASA launched five shuttle missions, tallying the highest flight rate since returning the fleet to service after the 2003 Columbia accident.

Astronauts finished assembling the station's central truss and the outpost's Japanese segment. They also started stocking the station in advance of shuttle retirement.

Said Gerstenmaier: "What you saw this last year is nothing short of amazing."

Shuttle production lines shut down.
NASA shut down a shuttle external tank production line in New Orleans, cast its last shuttle solid rocket motor in Utah and wound down main engine production in West Palm Beach.

Some 900 jobs were cut in those states and Texas.

"We've already started ramping down the program, and you can even see the layoffs of some of our workers on the production side," Gerstenmaier said. "So we're in this phase-out situation."

NASA's shuttle program now employs 10,300 contractors and 1,500 civil servants. About 7,000 contractor jobs at Kennedy Space Center are expected to be lost after the five final shuttle flights.

Launch alliance tallies 37 flights in 36 months.
A joint venture partnership that merged Atlas and Delta rocket families tallied its 37th successful satellite-delivery mission in 36 months.

Launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, those missions included 11 flights for Atlas V rockets, 22 for Delta IIs and four Delta IVs.

NASA launches explorer on hunt for E.T.'s home.
NASA in March launched a telescope that is searching a field of 100,000 stars for Earth-sized planets circling suns in habitable zones where water could pool on their surfaces.

Named for a key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution, the Kepler mission won't find extraterrestrial life. But it could find Earth-like planets where intelligent life could exist.

Another big event celebrated in 2009: the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, which launched July 16, 1969, from Kennedy Space Center and first landed men on the moon on July 20, 1969.

IMAGE NOTE: The first stage ignites on NASA's Ares I-X test rocket at Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center at 11:30 a.m. EDT on Oct. 28. The rocket produced 2.96 million pounds of thrust at liftoff and reached a speed of 100 mph in eight seconds. This was the first launch from Kennedy's pads of a vehicle other than the space shuttle since the Apollo Program's Saturn rockets were retired. The data returned from more than 700 sensors throughout the rocket will be used to refine the design of future launch vehicles. Credit: NASA/ Sandra Joseph and Kevin O'Connell.


Mike said...

One story that was missed was Obamas pandering lie to the Unions about the need for NASA at the same time he was promising a 5 year hiatus from the Constellation program.

Only die-hard partisans and Union hacks supported this politician who lacks vision for Americas continued leadership in manned flight.

The Unions partisan support along with the money they stole from their members to get Obama elected sealed their own doom at KSC.

Anonymous said...

I would be cautious about making such wild political accusations now. KSC remains on the course that was set during the past administration when it was decided to bring both the Shuttle and ISS programs to an end approximately 10 years earlier than planned, without a new system in place or even a clear strategic objective. It has been apparent from the start that ending the Shuttle program now would be extremely disruptive, and the rationale for doing so was always unclear.