Saturday, September 20, 2014

Meeting a Man Who Went to the Moon and Back

On September 16 2014, former NASA astronaut and Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot, Al Worden, gave a lecture in Limerick IT's Millenium Theatre in Limerick City.

The lecture was organised as part of the Share Learn Inspire event in which Worden gave fascinating insights into his early career as an Air Force pilot, as well as his experiences on his voyage to the Moon and back in 1971. The stage was set for a magnificent night, and I think I speak for everyone in attendance in saying that we got value for money for sure!

The doors of the Millenium Theatre in LIT's state of the art campus opened at 6:45 p.m. In an effort to make the most out of this Apollo 15 Astronaut Experience, I arrived there pretty early with my father so that I could get the opportunity to shake the hand and meet the man who guided the Apollo 15 Command Module to the Moon and back.

I had only ever met one astronaut before- when I was lucky enough to interview ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli in Dublin three years ago. However, for some reason, this encounter felt that bit different. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was about to have my picture taken with a man who spent three days orbiting the Moon by himself, and the first man conduct a spacewalk, or Extra-Vehicular Activity(EVA) on the journey home from the Moon, forty three years ago, Either way I have to admit I was kind of nervous!

However, these nerves were soon put to rest when Al greeted me and my dad with a great big smile and a handshake- how cool was that! So we had our photos taken. Al was wearing a suit and tie, with the NASA Astronaut Pin stuck onto his blazer. And here I was, wearing a black sports jacket with a space shuttle mission patch stuck onto the chest. In an effort to look as much like a wannabe astronaut as possible, I also brought along my lucky NASA lapel pin for the added touch!

Apollo 15 CMP Al Worden and I before the lecture.
Before the rest of the audience showed up and things got busy, I went back over to Al to ask him a question. At the moment there are divided opinions regarding the next move NASA will take in its efforts to some day fulfill the goal of landing a man on Mars. I asked if he thought going back to the Moon to practice things such as landing, rendezvous and docking, all key elements of a journey to another heavenly body, would be a good idea. He looked up at me, smiled and slowly shook his head. What seemed like a good idea to me, didn't seem like such a good idea to him.

"I think the Moon is nearly acting as an obstacle on our route to Mars", he told me.

I then asked if he thought the International Space Station was providing a sufficient platform that would allow us to take the next step and explore other planets in our solar system. This time thankfully, he agreed! He said the best thing we could do is to turn the space station from the orbiting laboratory it is today, into an inter-planetary gas station, which would certainly make things a whole lot easier for spacecraft making the long journey to the red planet in years to come.

It was fast approaching eight o'clock, and it was time to take out seats.

The lecture kicked off with a short speech from Paul Ryan, founder of the Apollo 15 Experience, and without whom this evening would not have been possible. Paul introduced Dr Norah Patten, Communications and Outreach Manager with the Irish Centre for Composites Research. Norah told us about the links between Ireland and science on the ISS. We learned of the St Nessan's community college in Limerick, and their experiment which flew to the station earlier this year aboard the Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo craft. The experiment examined the effects of microgravity on reinforced concrete using Irish Cement.

Now for the main event- a speech from Al Worden, Apollo 15 CMP.
Al began by saying what a privilege it was for him to be invited to Ireland, and how impressed he was with the places he had visited during his tour of Limerick.
Worden visiting local schools. credit:

Worden described his training as a test pilot, in particular at the Empire Test Pilot's School in Farnborough, England and how it gave him a great launch pad that enabled him to join the astronaut corps in 1966. Al made an effort to get the youngsters in the audience to dream big, by telling them that when he was a kid growing up, there were no such thing as astronauts!

He moved on to describe his voyage into space as the Command Module Pilot for Apollo 15, as well as all the hardships, training, and funny stories that went along with it. He lauded Apollo 15 as man's most daring mission to the Moon, and told his experiences about his own spacewalk to retrieve film from a camera that he got to do while on the way home from the Moon.

He joked that while he was alone in lunar orbit, mission commander Dave Scott and Lunar Module Pilot Jim Irwin explored the surface below, he though about leaving them behind, which was greeted with roars of laughter from the audience. He treated us with fabulous images and video of his mission to the Moon, but there was one image in particular he showed that really had an affect on me personally.

Al showed us a picture of a magnificent shot of the crescent Earth that he took while in lunar orbit. Here we see just how small and fragile our home planet really is. He put it simply- "That's home."

Of course everyone in the room was amazed by such a photo because it shows the Earth as it really is. Out there in the blackness of space. Alone. I guess it had such an impact on me because here was a man who had seen the fragile oasis on which we live, from a distance of a quarter of a million miles away. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the audience who felt that extra sense of responsibility for taking care of our planet that bit more. You can see what Al had to say about the matter for himself in the above video.

The Apollo 15 mission was a success in every sense of the word. The only failure being that one of the three parachutes didn't deploy after atmospheric re-entry(This didn't make any real difference, because the CM was designed to be able to land with only two chutes), and also the fact that Al couldn't grow much of a beard, having spent two weeks in space!

The event came to a close when Al answered a few audience questions on the subject of the Apollo 1 fire, the Space Shuttle as well as the future of the manned space programme. 

On behalf of everyone in attendance that night, I would like to sincerely thank the organisers of this magnificent event, Dr Norah Patten of ICOMP, and of course, Mr Al Worden, for coming to Ireland to tell his stories of his adventure to the Moon and back.

On a sidenote, 

I had learned about a week before the event at LIT, that ESA astronaut Leopold Eyharts was coming to Dublin to give a lecture in Dublin's Science Gallery. What a shame that the two events were on the same day! I guess astronauts coming to Ireland are like buses. They rarely come along, and then two show up at the exact same time!

 Thank you for reading Irish Space Blog!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

ISS Monthly Recap for July 2014

The six person Expedition 40 crew aboard the International Space Station have wrapped up a very busy month conducting various robotics operations, and a record amount of science and research aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Humans have been living on the ISS for over 5,000 consecutive days
The month began with astronauts in the US segment of the station carrying out maintenance on the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly(CDRA). CDRA is responsible for taking unwanted carbon dioxide in the station's atmosphere out of air circulation. This is important in developing systems for removing CO2 from astronauts' breathing air on missions to Mars and beyond in future spacecraft like NASA's Orion Capsule, which will make its first test flight later this year.

July 12 marked the historic milestone of 5,000 days of humans living aboard the International Space Station. Since the first launch of the Expedition 1 crew back in November 2000, over 24,000 hours of science have been conducted aboard the orbiting lab over 40 expeditions. Coincidentally, the current crew aboard the station set a record in July for the amount of science conducted during a week. The six astronauts and cosmonauts completed 82 hours worth of science and research, which will benefit people back on Earth, as well astronauts living in space.

July was a busy month also for the arrival and departures of cargo spacecraft.
On July 16, the Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo craft arrived at the International Space Station. After launching from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on July 13. Expedition 40 commander Steve Swanson and Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst supervised the rendezvous and docking procedures three days later on the 16th. Hatches between the ISS and Cygnus were opened on the following morning.

The arrival of Cygnus was followed up by the departure of the Russian Progress 55 resupply ship, which undocked from the station's Pirs Docking Compartment on July 21. 
Cygnus is captured by the station's robotic arm on July 16.

And we all know that things just wouldn't be the same at the ISS if there wasn't a Progress attached. So that's why just a couple of days later the Progress 56 resupply ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, arriving at station on July 24- just six hours after launch.

Finally, in the wee hours of the morning of July 30, the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle launched from the Kourou Space Center in French Guiana on the final mission of the ATV programme. 

ATV-5, which is named after Belgian astronomer George Lemaitre, will spend the next two weeks making its way to the station before it's automated docking to the Zvezda Service Module on August 12.

In summary, July was a very eventful, busy and successful month aboard the International Space Station. With all this new cargo aboard, August has all the makings of being yet another very busy and exciting month aboard the ISS with a series of spacewalks planned for mid-August, along with the arrival of George Lemaitre to the International Space Station.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cygnus Cargo Craft Arrives at International Space Station

The Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo craft has arrived at the International Space Station.

On just its second official resupply mission to the orbiting outpost(Orb-2), and traveling at 5 miles a second, Cygnus was captured by Expedition 40 crew members Steve Swanson of NASA and Alexander Gerst of ESA.

Working from the robotics workstation in the Cupola, the pair slowly moved the station's 57 foot long robot arm, Canadarm2, into position before capturing and grappling Cygnus at 11:36 a.m. Irish Time.

Once Cygnus was now in the capable hands of Canadarm2, robotics teams on the ground turned their attention to berthing Cygnus to the Earth facing port of the Harmony Module. Berthing of Cygnus to Harmony occurred at 1:53 p.m.

Expedition 40 crew members running test captures ahead of Cygnus' arrival

Just some of Orbital-2's cargo include 28 Cubesats, which are small, inexpensive satellites that can be used for Earth imaging and disaster monitoring. Also on board is a satellite related investigation, and some student experiments that will be unpacked by the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, further enhancing the station's scientific and technological capabilities.

Cygnus is expected to remain docked to the station for around a month, before being unberthed and released by Canadarm2, destined for a fiery demise by burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.

This is Irish Space Blog.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Cygnus Launches on Second Mission to ISS

The Orbital Sciences' Cygnus spacecraft has launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, destined for the International Space Station.

Orb-2 or Cygnus, which is just after launching atop an Antares rocket on its second official resupply mission to the orbital laboratory, lifted off of Launch Pad 0A at 5:52 p.m. Irish Time today(July 13). The cargo craft is carrying a little under 1.500 kilograms of cargo, supplies and spare parts to the ISS.
Orbital Sciences Cygnus launches from Wallops on its Orb-2 mission to the ISS.

Launch of Orb-2 was originally scheduled for July 11. However, poor weather conditions at Wallops delayed the scheduled rollout of the Antares rocket, with launch scheduled for Saturday(July 12). However, the launch was postponed once again by one day due to further adverse weather conditions at the launch site.

Provided all goes according to plan, Cygnus will carry out a series of orbital maneuvers and burns, adjusting its orbit so that it can rendezvous with the station on July 16.

Traveling at 5 miles a second and working from the station's robotics workstation in the Cupola, Expedition 40 commander Steve Swanson, assisted by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, will be in charge of grappling the spacecraft using the station's 57 foot-long robotic arm, Canadarm2. Cygnus is expected to be grappled at 11:37 a.m. Robotics teams on the ground will then berth Cygnus to the Earth facing port of the Harmony Module a few hours later.

Expedition 40 crew members running test captures ahead of Cygnus' arrival
Just some of Orbital-2's cargo include 28 Cubesats, which are small, inexpensive satellites that can be used for Earth imaging and disaster monitoring. Also on board is a satellite related investigation, and some student experiments that will be unpacked by the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, further enhancing the station's scientific and technological capabilities.

Cygnus is expected to remain docked to the station for around a month, before being unberthed and released by Canadarm2, destined for a fiery demise by burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.

This is Irish Space Blog.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Progress Resupply Ship Redocks With ISS After 2 Days of Tests

The Russian Progress 53 resupply cargo craft, which departed the International Space Station on April 23, has re-docked with the orbiting laboratory after conducting tests on a new automated rendezvous system.

A view of the International Space Station taken from Progress external cameras
The Progress cargo ship, which undocked from the aft end of the station's Zvezda Service Module on Wednesday April 23, completed important tests and evaluations of its automated rendezvous and docking system, before re-docking with the station's Russian segment at 13:13 Irish Time this afternoon, as the ISS flew 260 miles high over eastern Kazakhstan.

During testing, teams on the ground in the Russian Mission Control Room near Moscow commanded the Progress to back away to a distance of 500km(311 miles) from the ISS.

The Progress completed today's automated docking using the new KURS-NA rendezvous system, which uses just a single antenna, allowing four others to be removed. It is hoped that if these tests are satisfactory, then future Progress vehicles will be lighter, use less power, and possess updated electronics. This will in turn allow more cargo to be transported to the International Space Station.

Today's redocking comes just two days after NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson successfully completed a spacewalk which lasted just over an hour and a half to replace a faulty computer outside of the station.

As for the Progress, the Expedition 39 crew will open the hatches between the craft and the station, then fill it with trash and other unwanted items no longer needed, before it undocks from the station for a final time on June 9 to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

This is Irish Space Blog.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Astronauts Complete Spacewalk to Replace Faulty Space Station Computer

NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson have successfully completed a short spacewalk to replace a faulty computer aboard the International Space Station.
Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson
credit: NASA

The station's backup computer, or Multiplexer/Demultiplexer(MDM) failed during routine testing on April 11, prompting teams on the ground to plan for today's contingency Extra-Vehicular Activity(EVA) by Mastracchio and Swanson.

Even though the second computer is still functioning normally, the faulty MDM, which is responsible for sending commands to some of the space station's systems including the cooling system, solar alpha rotary joints and mobile transporter rail car, needed to be replaced.

The spacewalking duo, with nearly eighty spacewalking hours between them, began their excursion at 14:26 Irish Time and exited the station's Quest Airlock soon afterwards. The pair soon got to work on the task in hand, as they made their way over to the work site on the station's S0 Truss.

Working harmoniously together, Mastracchio, who now ranks sixth on the all time list of cumulative hours spent on an Extra Vehicular Activity, made light work of removing and replacing the faulty MDM with Swanson. Upon its removal from S0, Mastracchio reported that he had in his possession, "An MDM, slightly used."
After today's EVA, Mastracchio tweeted this picture saying:
"In front of the Japanese modules on today's EVA. Not a selfie."

The pair swiflty began the installation of the replacement MDM, which has been stowed inside the Destiny Module of the ISS since April 2001. Altogether there are 45 MDMs aboard the orbiting complex.

With the new MDM installed, teams back on Earth in the Mission Control Center in Houston began conducting preliminary tests of the computer, and not long after, Mastracchio and Swanson were given the good news that the installation had been successful and that everything was working fine.

Just over two hours after beginning today's spacewalk, the pair began to head back to the Quest Airlock, wrapping up today's contingency spacewalk, which lasted just over two hours.

Today's spacewalk comes just hours after the Progress M-21M cargo ship un-docked from the aft end of the Zvezda Service Module to test its KURS automated docking system. The Progress will back away to a distance of 311 miles from the space station, before it redocks with Zvezda early on Friday morning.

This is Irish Space Blog.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cygnus Completes its First Mission to ISS

The Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo craft has completed its first resupply mission to the International Space Station, burning up in the Earth's atmosphere on February 19 after spending over a month docked to the station.
Cygnus was released by Canadarm2 at 11:41 a.m. Irish Time

Expedition 38 flight engineers Koichi Wakata and Mike Hopkins, working from the Cupola, used the station's 57 foot-long Canadarm2 robotic arm to detach Cygnus from the Earth facing port of the Harmony Module and manipulate it into a position for release.

Hopkins, who is making his first space flight, took control of Canadarm2, before releasing Cygnus at 11:41 a.m. Irish Time, as the station flew 260 miles above the Atlantic Ocean.

Now loaded with trash and other unwanted items the crew no longer needed, Wakata and Hopkins commanded Cygnus to perform a 90 second departure burn to move a safe distance away from the ISS.

Cygnus, which is named after the late Gordon C. Fullerton, performed a series of orbital maneuvers and de-orbit burns on Wednesday, before burning up in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean later that evening.

With the departure of Cygnus, attention turns to the next launch of a cargo ship from US soil. The Space X Dragon capsule will make its third resupply flight to the International Space Station, with the launch of Space X-3 from Cape Canaveral on March 16.

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