Thursday, May 28, 2020

Photos of the Day #2: Launch Preps for the Perseverance Mars Rover Continue at Cape Canaveral in Florida...

The Atlas V booster that will send NASA's Perseverance rover to Mars this summer is transported to the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 in Florida...on May 28, 2020.
United Launch Alliance

While the launch of American astronauts from American soil for the first time since 2011 won't take place for another two days (even though there's a 60% chance that there'll be another weather-related scrub this Saturday, and possibly on Sunday as well), preparations are being conducted at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for the lift-off of NASA's Perseverance Mars rover this summer. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) has installed the Atlas V rocket (that will send the Mars 2020 rover to the Red Planet no sooner than July 17) on its mobile platform inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41. The Centaur upper stage and four solid rocket boosters that will complete the Atlas V's 541 configuration (the Atlas V that sent NASA's New Horizons spacecraft to Pluto and Kuiper Belt Object Arrokoth in 2006, by comparison, used the 551 configuration—meaning that it had five solid rocket boosters strapped on) will be installed by next week.

The Atlas V booster is removed from its delivery truck prior to being installed inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's SLC-41...on May 28, 2020.
United Launch Alliance

Even though SpaceX will be getting all of the launch-related attention due to the Demo-2 mission over the next few days, space enthusiasts should also be delighted that ULA is prepping to send another high-powered NASA mission to Mars in less than two months. Happy Thursday!

The Atlas V booster is lifted up prior to being installed inside the Verticial Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's SLC-41...on May 28, 2020.
United Launch Alliance

The Atlas V booster is about to be installed on its mobile launch platform inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's SLC-41...on May 28, 2020.
United Launch Alliance

Friday, May 22, 2020

Photos of the Day: Marking 20 Years Since I Went to Maui!

Molokai beckons in the distance in this photo that I took during my trip to Maui on May 22-29, 2000.

On this day in 2000, my family and I departed from Los Angeles International Airport on a 6-hour flight to Maui...where we stayed for 7 days! It was such an awesome trip—with this beautiful Hawaiian island having so many amazing locales. The Haleakala volcanic summit... The Iao Needle... The Seven Pools in the Hana Rain Forest... And the beach where I had an amazing glimpse of the islands of Lanai and Molokai in the distance. Such a great vacation! We'll overlook the fact that I was preoccupied with how the L.A. Lakers were doing against the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA Western Conference Finals during that time, heheh.

Posing with Molokai behind me in this photo taken at Maui 20 years ago.

Would I go back to Maui, you ask? You betcha! I wanna take more pics of the locales that I mentioned above—this time with my Nikon D3300 DSLR camera. But first, I want to head to the Big Island of Hawaii to take photos of the Kilauea lava flows and the giant telescopes atop Mauna Kea with said camera. Happy Friday!

Chillin' at a Maui beach resort with the island of Lanai visible in the distance.

Posing with a U.S. Air Force observatory behind me on the Haleakala volcanic summit.

Getting my shorts wet while posing with Lanai in the distance.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Mars 2020 Update: Launch Preps Continue to Proceed in Florida for America's Next Red Planet Rover...

5,000 pounds (2,270 kilograms) of flight hardware devoted to the Mars 2020 mission are unloaded from a NASA Wallops C-130 aircraft at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on May 11, 2020.

Air Deliveries Bring NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover Closer to Launch (News Release)

A NASA Wallops Flight Facility cargo plane transported more than two tons of equipment - including the rover's sample collection tubes - to Florida for this summer's liftoff.

Progress continues to speed along as NASA's Perseverance rover readies for its launch this summer. On May 11, the rover team at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida received the tubes tasked with holding the first samples collected at Mars for eventual return to Earth. A week later, the Atlas V launch vehicle that will hurl Perseverance to the Red Planet arrived at the launch site. Working together, personnel from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and United Launch Alliance in Centennial, Colorado, were also able to extend the rover's launch period by six days, from Jul. 17-Aug. 5 to Jul. 17-Aug. 11.

The sample tubes will be filled with Martian rock and sediment and deposited on the planet for a future mission to return to Earth to be studied. They're part of the rover's Sample Caching System, the most complex and capable mechanism of its kind to be sent into space to address the question of potential life beyond Earth.

The tubes and their seals were among the nearly 5,000 pounds (2,270 kilograms) of mission flight hardware, test gear and equipment that traveled from JPL to NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California. On May 10, the equipment was loaded onto a C-130 cargo plane from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The following day, the crew set out for Florida, touching down on Kennedy Space Center's Launch and Landing Facility a little before 3 p.m. local time. They were back at Wallops that evening.

A week later, on May 18, a giant Antonov cargo plane delivered the first stage of the mission's Atlas V launch vehicle, arriving at Kennedy Space Center just after 4 p.m. local time. The following day the booster was transported to the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Once final testing is complete, the Atlas will be moved to the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41, where preparations for the launch of Perseverance have begun following the successful Atlas V launch of the USSF-7 mission on May 17. Next, the Centaur upper stage and the payload fairing, which protects the spacecraft during launch, will be stacked on top of it.

Perseverance's Launch Period

Along with welcoming these key deliveries, Perseverance's team recently extended the mission's launch period - the range of days they can launch in order to reach Mars. Navigators calculated the original launch period, July 17-Aug. 5, over four years ago - long before the final weight of the spacecraft (the rover, the protective aeroshell in which it will travel to Mars, the descent stage, and the cruise stage that will take them there) could be well defined. With the new spacecraft data in hand, as well as an update on Atlas V performance margins from United Launch Alliance, the navigation team has expanded the period to Aug. 11.

"Vehicle design maturity is the space navigator's friend," said Fernando Abilleira, design and navigation manager for the mission. "We now have a 26-day launch period to get Perseverance on its way."

No matter what day Perseverance lifts off during its launch period, it will land in Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. Targeting landing for one specific date and time helps mission planners better understand lighting and temperature at the landing site, as well as the location of Mars-orbiting satellites tasked with recording and relaying spacecraft data during its descent and landing.

About the Mission

The Perseverance rover's astrobiology mission will search for signs of ancient microbial life. It will also characterize the planet's climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. The mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory


The core stage booster for the Atlas V rocket that will launch the Perseverance rover to Mars this summer is unloaded from an Antonov cargo plane at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on May 19, 2020.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Is Set To Obtain Samples From Bennu's Surface Around This Halloween...

An artist's concept of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approaching asteroid Bennu's surface to obtain soil samples.
NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Ready for Touchdown on Asteroid Bennu (News Release)

NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission is officially prepared for its long-awaited touchdown on asteroid Bennu’s surface. The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has targeted Oct. 20 for its first sample collection attempt.

“The OSIRIS-REx mission has been demonstrating the very essence of exploration by persevering through unexpected challenges,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science. “That spirit has led them to the cusp of the prize we all are waiting for – securing a sample of an asteroid to bring home to Earth, and I’m very excited to follow them through the home stretch.”

From discovering Bennu’s surprisingly rugged and active surface, to entering the closest-ever orbit around a planetary body, OSIRIS-REx has overcome several challenges since arriving at the asteroid in December 2018. Last month, the mission brought the spacecraft 213 ft (65 m) from the asteroid’s surface during its first sample collection rehearsal — successfully completing a practice run of the activities leading up to the sampling event.

Now that the mission is ready to collect a sample, the team is facing a different kind of challenge here on Earth. In response to COVID-19 constraints and after the intense preparation for the first rehearsal, the OSIRIS-REx mission has decided to provide its team with additional preparation time for both the final rehearsal and the sample collection event. Spacecraft activities require significant lead time for the development and testing of operations, and given the current requirements that limit in-person participation at the mission support area, the mission would benefit from giving the team additional time to complete these preparations in the new environment. As a result, both the second rehearsal and first sample collection attempt will have two extra months for planning.

“In planning the mission, we included robust schedule margin while at Bennu to provide the flexibility to address unexpected challenges,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “This flexibility has allowed us to adapt to the surprises that Bennu has thrown at us. It’s now time to prioritize the health and safety of both team members and the spacecraft.”

The mission had originally planned to perform the first Touch-and-Go (TAG) sample collection event on Aug. 25 after completing a second rehearsal in June. This rehearsal, now scheduled for Aug. 11, will bring the spacecraft through the first three maneuvers of the sample collection sequence to an approximate altitude of 131 ft (40 m) over the surface of Bennu. The first sample collection attempt is now scheduled for Oct. 20, during which the spacecraft will descend to Bennu’s surface and collect material from sample site Nightingale.

“This mission’s incredible performance so far is a testament to the extraordinary skill and dedication of the OSIRIS-REx team,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “I am confident that even in the face of the current challenge, this team will be successful in collecting our sample from Bennu.”

During the TAG event, OSIRIS-REx’s sampling mechanism will touch Bennu’s surface for approximately five seconds, fire a charge of pressurized nitrogen to disturb the surface, and collect a sample before the spacecraft backs away. The mission has resources onboard for three sample collection opportunities. If the spacecraft successfully collects a sufficient sample on Oct. 20, no additional sampling attempts will be made. The spacecraft is scheduled to depart Bennu in mid-2021, and will return the sample to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and provides flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.


Monday, May 18, 2020

Artwork of the Day: Celebrating SUPER FORCE...

A screenshot from the sci-fi TV show SUPER FORCE.

Happy Monday, everyone! Just thought I'd share this artwork that I drew of Super Force...the titular character of my favorite sci-fi TV show from 1990 to '92. After Darkwing Duck (and his arch-nemesis Negaduck), Super Force is the latest hero from my childhood to be illustrated as I stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic. And along with the recent drawing I made that's inspired by Ridley Scott's epic film Gladiator, and the latest artwork I did of the Dragon Ball Z villain Cell, I am obviously in the mood to create art that celebrates a blast from my past! Carry on.

My drawing of SUPER FORCE.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Orbital Test Vehicle Is Back in Space...

An Atlas V rocket carrying the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on May 17, 2020.

Boeing-built X-37B Launches in Second Mission for U.S. Space Force (Press Release)

Record-setting autonomous spaceplane begins sixth mission

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. — The Boeing-built X-37B autonomous spaceplane today launched on top of a uniquely configured United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

Boeing is the prime contractor for the X-37B spaceplane and facilitates the integration of all experiments into the vehicle ensuring they receive the correct power, thermal and data services required. Boeing also works to identify future reusable platform experiment opportunities on each mission.

The X-37B’s sixth mission is the first to use a service module with additional payload capability to support a variety of experiments for multiple government partners. The mission will deploy FalconSAT-8, a small satellite developed by the U.S. Air Force Academy and sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, to conduct experiments on orbit. Further, two NASA experiments will study the impact of radiation and other space effects on certain materials and seeds used to grow food. Another experiment by the Naval Research Laboratory will transform solar power into radio frequency microwave energy which could then be transmitted to the ground. In addition, the mission will test reusable space vehicle technologies.

The X-37B first launched in April 2010. Originally designed for missions of 270 days duration, the X-37B has set endurance records during each of its five previous flights. Most recently, X-37B spent 780 days on orbit before returning to Earth in October 2019.

“The X-37B has shifted the paradigm and redefined efficiency in space development, said Jim Chilton, Boeing Space and Launch senior vice president. “The rapid technology advancements enabled by the program will benefit the entire space community and influence the next generation of spacecraft design.”

The X-37B program is a partnership between the Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and the United States Space Force. Boeing program management, engineering, test and mission support functions for the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) program are conducted at Boeing sites in Southern California and Florida.

Source: The Boeing Company


The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is about to be encapsulated by the payload fairing of the Atlas V rocket that launched it into space on May 17, 2020.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Hubble's Successor Is (Temporarily) Placed in Its Launch Configuration...

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is placed in its launch configuration at the Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach, California.
Northrop Grumman

First Look: NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Fully Stowed (News Release - May 14)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has been successfully folded and stowed into the same configuration it will have when loaded onto an Ariane 5 rocket for launch next year.

Webb is NASA’s largest and most complex space science telescope ever built. Too big for any rocket available in its fully expanded form, the entire observatory was designed to fold in on itself to achieve a much smaller configuration. Once in space, the observatory will unfold and stretch itself out in a carefully practiced series of steps before beginning to make groundbreaking observations of the cosmos.

“The James Webb Space Telescope achieved another significant milestone with the entire observatory in its launch configuration for the first time, in preparation for environmental testing,” said Bill Ochs, Webb project manager for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “I am very proud of the entire Northrop Grumman and NASA integration and test team. This accomplishment demonstrates the outstanding dedication and diligence of the team in such trying times due to COVID-19.”

The testing team’s charter is to make sure every piece of hardware and every piece of software that comprise Webb will work not only individually, but as a full observatory. Now that Webb is completely assembled, technicians and engineers have seized the unique opportunity to command the entire spacecraft and carry out the various stages of movement and deployment it will perform when in space. By folding and stowing the spacecraft into the same configuration when it launches from French Guiana, the engineering team can confidently move forward with final environmental testing (acoustics and vibration). After completing the series of tests, Webb will be deployed one last time on Earth for testing prior to preparing for launch.

“While operating under augmented personal safety measures because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the project continues to make good progress and achieve significant milestones in preparation for upcoming environmental testing,” said Gregory L. Robinson, the Webb program director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “Team member safety continues to be our highest priority as the project takes precautions to protect Webb’s hardware and continue with integration and testing. NASA will continually assess the project’s schedule and adjust decisions as the situation evolves.”

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of how the James Webb Space Telescope will look inside the payload fairing of the Ariane 5 rocket that will launch it sometime next year.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Photos of the Day: The Thunderbirds Salute Our Frontline Heroes...

A snapshot of the U.S. Air Force's Thunderbirds as they flew over the City of Industry in California...on May 15, 2020.

A few hours ago, I drove down to the Fry's Electronics store in the City of Industry to watch the U.S. Air Force's Thunderbirds do a part of their SoCal tribute to our courageous frontline workers who are battling the coronavirus in hospitals nationwide and providing essential supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Keep in mind that I was outside in the parking lot the whole time (with my face mask on, of course), practicing social distancing even though there were some folks also waiting for the Thunderbirds' appearance who didn't have masks on. Oh well. Needless to say, it was still a cool experience! Thank God for my Nikon D3300 DSLR camera with its 300mm telephoto lens. Happy Friday!

Another snapshot of the Thunderbirds as they flew over the City of Industry in California...on May 15, 2020.

A snapshot of the Thunderbirds as they prepared to head towards downtown Los Angeles after flying over the City of Industry in California...on May 15, 2020.

A lone F-16 follows its fellow Thunderbirds as they head towards downtown Los Angeles after flying over the City of Industry in California...on May 15, 2020.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Wacky Dream of the Week...

Last night, I had a messed-up dream where I punched the director of Road to Perdition (he looked nothing like Sam Mendes, who actually helmed the 2002 film) a few times in the face for acting rude to Jenna Fischer (who played Pam Beesly in NBC's The Office) at a film screening.

Fischer then complained to me that she got a ticket earlier because the cop thought she was eating an In-N-Out burger while driving. And she also got a flat tire. Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Image of the Day: Perfecting Cell...

My drawing of 'Perfect Cell' from DRAGON BALL Z.

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Just thought I'd share this drawing that I completed today of Cell ("Perfect Cell" to be exact, as he had three variations during the show) of the coolest-looking villains in Dragon Ball Z (DBZ)! Much like how I finished that gladiator drawing a week ago to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Gladiator's theatrical release, I completed this latest artwork to recall that later this year will mark 20 years since Super Saiyan Gohan defeated Cell (the YouTube video clip of this is featured below) in the season finale of DBZ when it aired on The Cartoon Network. I was in the Fall Semester of my third year at Cal State Long Beach at the time.

Yup— There are so many other things about the year 2000 to be nostalgic about for me...most of them good, one of them eventually bad. I'll blog about these too if I'm in the mood, or if I have time. Hah! The 'Stay-At-Home' orders for Los Angeles County due to the coronavirus pandemic will be extended through July, so of course I'll have time! Um, knock on wood. Carry on.