“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.”

– Helen Keller (1880 – 1968)

WhiteKnightTwo ready

Virgin Galactic Breaks Own Altitude Record

Now that 2014 is finally here, Virgin Galactic‘s first commercial flight with its WhiteKnightTwo / SpaceShipTwo combo edges ever so closer to reality with every day that goes past. A few days ago, they launched SpaceShipTwo 71,000ft up in the sky and tested several critical features in the process, as Virgin Galactic’s Chief Pilot Dave Mackay was at the helm. One of the features being tested were the newly designed thrusters (RCS) which are used by the pilots to maneuver the vehicle in space. The other feature on trial was the tail section’s new coating which reflects heat produced by that massive rocket engine sitting just behind the passenger’s cabin as it were. SS2’s unique feather re-entry system was also tested during today’s flight.

As the company was gathering a ton of transonic and supersonic data, Sir Richard Branson said the following of the successful flight (the third supersonic, rocket-powered test flight of Virgin Galactic): “I couldn’t be happier to start the New Year with all the pieces visibly in place for the start of full space flights. 2014 will be the year when we will finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space. Today, we had our own Chief Pilot flying another flawless supersonic flight and proving the various systems required to take us safely to space, as well as providing the very best experience while we’re up there.”

For the full article, head over to the Virgin Galactic website but be sure to check out the video below. What an AMAZING way to get 2014 going!

John W. Young

John W. Young (1930)

Across the years, only a few humans have had the honor of being able to say that they walked on the moon – and John Watts Young is one of them. In 1972, he became the ninth man to walk on the Moon as the Commander of the Apollo 16 mission. However, his life has spanned much more than even this, and he truly is one of the most fascinating people within the entire history of NASA’s Astronauts Corps.

Born on September 24, 1930, he grew up in both San Francisco and Orlando. He stayed in Orlando until he graduated from the Orlando High School in 1948. Four years later, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering, and joined the Scabbard & Blade national military honor society.

It was this degree that would help John Young become one of the most decorated engineers of his time. Having enlisted in the United States Navy, he completed a tour in the Sea of Japan during the Korean War. It was during this time in the Navy that Young would initiate his flight training. He showed immense adaptation in his flight training and in 1962, he actually set the record for time-to-climb in a F-4 Phantom II fighter jet. He retired from the Navy as a decorated Captain in 1976, with 25 years of military service behind him.

File:Astronaut John Young gemini 3.jpg

Having joined NASA in 1962, he was the first of the Astronaut Group 2 to actually fly in space when he replaced Thomas Stafford as the pilot of Gemini 3. Young caused controversy when he snuck a corned beef sandwich – Mission Commander Grissom’s favorite – onto the Gemini flight in 1965, which was the first manned flight of the craft. He presented the sandwich to a pleased crewmate but NASA was furious about the “contraband” and ordered Chief Astronaut Donald “Deke” Slayton to control his troops. While the Appropriations Committee meeting following the mission showed the seriousness of the incident, it didn’t seem to have damaged Young’s career as he came off with a reprimand and was in command of the Gemini 10 mission a year later, where he was joined by Michael Collins (whose second spaceflight took him to the Moon on Apollo 11 with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin).

Originally assigned as part of the backup crew for the second manned Apollo mission, both crews took part in the Apollo 7 mission in October 1968 after the fire of Apollo 1. That Apollo 7 mission, where Young was the backup Command Module Pilot, was commanded by no one less than Walter M. Schirra, who was the provider of that notorious sandwich mentioned earlier. Young went on to fly the Command Module himself as part of the Apollo 10 crew, the first crew to fly to the Moon. He also played a key role in the Apollo 13 problems, helping the team develop a procedure which eventually re-activated the Command Module.

Arguably his greatest achievement, though, was to be the commander of the Apollo 16 crew who landed on the Moon. He made three separate moon walks on April 21st, 22nd and 23rd, in 1972. He became the ninth person to ever walk on the Moon, and the first person to have been in space six times as he later was also Commander of STS-1 (the first space shuttle mission) and STS-9.

John Young worked with NASA in a wide variety of capacities until his retirement in December 2004, retiring at the age of 74. He published his autobiography, Forever Young, in 2012 and today still stands as one of the most inspirational figures space has ever seen.


Happy 2014 everyone!

“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”

– Anaïs Nin (1903 – 1977)

Today In History – November 20

Today In History – December 21

NASA‘s second manned mission launched exactly 45 years ago, in 1968. Apollo 8, its crew being made up of Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders, was the first manned mission orbiting the Moon. A pivotal milestone in U.S. President JFK’s plans to have a man walk on the surface of the Moon before the end of the decade (which was accomplished with Apollo 11 only seven months later), it took the crew three days to travel there. They orbited it ten times (each orbit taking around two hours) and came as close as 70 miles from its surface, before setting on a course for Earth. It was also the first time manned mission using the enormous Saturn V rocket as you can see in below’s video.

Nearly two decades later, another notable event took place… On December 21, 1987, three Soviet cosmonauts started their record-long space trip on board the Mir space station. Captain Vladimir Titov, Onboard Engineer Musa Manarov and researcher Anatoly Levchenko were taken to the Mir by the Soyuz TM-4 space craft. While Levchenko returned earlier, both Titov and Manarov spent just shy of 366 days (365 days, 22 hours and 39 minutes) onboard of the Mir space station. It was only upon the couple’s return that they were informed of Levchenko’s passing away in the meantime. Titov was later awarded the Order of Lenin, and the Golden Star Order for successfully completing the mission he was in command of.

Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin (1930)

Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. was born on January 20th, 1930 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. The son of an Air Force Colonel, he followed in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in West Point and joining the United State Air Force – ending up being a decorated Air Force pilot with 66 combat missions in the Korean War under his belt. Shortly after the war, Buzz enrolled to earn his doctorate degree in astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He applied to join the astronaut corps shortly after but believe it or not, was initially rejected for not being a test pilot. Luckily NASA altered the program’s requirements and so in October 1963 Buzz joined the third astronaut group.

It wasn’t just Buzz who was lucky by the way because three years later, during the Gemini 12 mission of which he was the pilot, a broken radar connection threatened Gemini’s docking maneuvers with Agena, the vehicle it was scheduled to rendezvous with in orbit. Buzz got the chance (see 6:20 in the video) to prove his theories on orbital rendezvous using the strategies he’d outlined at MIT (hear the commentator at 7:10 in the video talking about the coincidence!), and ended up programming the computer to complete the docking successfully. He pulled of another feat on that mission when he spent over five hours outside of the craft, setting the record for longest EVA (extravehicular activity, basically a space walk) so far.

Check out the awesome video below, from 1966, showing not only parts of his EVA but also how he trained for it using underwater simulation. By the time of the mission he already had 9 years of diving experience – a hobby he got into after someone made a comment about how similar underwater and space are when it comes to the freedom of weightlessness.

And then there was obviously that milestone in human history called Apollo 11, where he became the second man to walk on the surface of the Moon. Although he was superseded in that task by Neil Armstrong, Buzz was the first man to hold a religious ceremony on the moon when he took communion.  A legend in his own right, he rescued probably the most complex thing mankind ever did up until that point, with a felt-tip pen from his flight suit’s pocket. Move over MacGuyer! If you want to read about this rather unbelievable fact, check out the “Low-Tech Trick” section about 2/3rds down this buzzaldrin.com page.

After returning from his mission to the moon, Aldrin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American peacetime award. This was followed by a goodwill tour around the globe with his fellow astronauts, where he was awarded with numerous other awards and medals from various countries of origin. Upon retiring from NASA and the space program, Buzz Aldrin became Commandant of the US Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base and he retired from military service in 1972. He devised a plan for future space missions, including his mission to Mars plan known as the “Aldrin Mars Cycler” – more on that another time – and also received several patents that will hopefully contribute to future developments in space exploration.

In 2011, Buzz Aldrin, along with the entire Apollo 11 crew, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their significant contributions to country’s space program and scientific discoveries. He is an author of eight books including his New York Times best selling autobiography entitled, “Magnificent Desolation”, and in recent years has used his influence and experience to lobby for the expansion of the current US Space Program. May he live long and prosper!


Orbital's Antarest rocket

Orbital Sciences Corporation

Orbital Sciences Corporation (registered on the New York Stock Exchange as ORB, though commonly referred to as Orbital) is an American company which specializes in the manufacturing and launch of small- and medium-class space and rocket systems. Their client base includes the likes of the US Department of Defense and NASA. A pretty sizeable company, counting around 3800 employees of which half are engineers and scientists, Orbital was founded in 1982. The company conducted their 500th mission back in 2006 already and are currently projected to do more than a billion dollars in annual revenue.

Analysing the company very top-level, it consists of three segments. Launch Vehicles is where they develop rockets and engines of all sorts for different purposes, military and civilian. Satellite and Space Systems is where their geosynchronous Earth orbit communication satellites and other space-based communications service come from. Perhaps the most interesting – definitely for our focus here – is the Advanced Space Program where they besides developing small and medium class satellites for national security space systems also keep themselves busy with working on projects for human space flight and planetary exploration.

Orbital is involved with two prominent NASA programs: the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS)/Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) programs and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). More on those another time but the long story short, NASA started using private companies (both SpaceX and Orbital are contracted) recently for cost-effective supply missions to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. The Obama Administration is looking to expand this approach with partnerships to send NASA astronauts to the space station as soon as 2017.

Orbital launched its new Antares® rocket (a two-stage launch vehicle) for the first time in 2013 – see above for a fascinating time lapse video of its preparation for launch – and its Cygnus™ cargo logistics spacecraft is next scheduled to travel to the ISS mid December. They are pretty active on social media, and it is definitely worth checking out their YouTube channel as well where you can find gems like below’s highlights of their Cygnus demo mission – electronic dance tunes included. Definitely a company we will be following closely!

Space 51 Team

December 8, 2013

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