"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dawn of the Commercial Space Age (Updated)

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 - Updated below, with more pictures. I love pictures.
Mon, 08 Oct 2012 - Updated at end. The second mission is now underway.

Yesterday (Friday, 25 May 2012) was my 70th birthday and, as an avid believer in our future in space, consider that day's news as the best present imaginable.

A commercial space vehicle has not just taken baby steps into space, but delivered cargo to the International Space Station.

See Dragon Docks and the commercial space era begins, by Jerry Pournelle.

Wordwise, there's nothing I can add to Dr. Pournelle's post, but I'm fond of pictures.

So, I scrounged up a couple ...
SpaceX's Falcon 9 launcher lifts off carrying the Dragon capsule,
early morning 22 May 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida,
to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. 
Photo from a.scpr.org

From www.SPACE.com

I truly believe we are on the right path, and on our way.

Update - Friday, 01 Jun 2012 - It's back. Here's some more pictures.
Yesterday (Thursday, 31 May 2012), the Dragon capsule successfully returned to earth.

So, I found these to add to the post:

It was launched Tuesday AM, 22 May 2012.  On Friday, 25 May 2012 ...
Photo from redorbit.com

... here it is closing in the the ISS (International Space Station). Three days to match orbits?  Well, it can be done faster (and has), but when it's just cargo that ain't whining, "Are we there yet?", you're apt to go for a more leisurely and energy-efficient path. Also, some of that time was used for various tests in orbit.

In space ...
From news.nationalgeographic.com

... there ain't no "up" or "down". It's all relative. At the bottom of this photo is part of the ISS. Rising up from it is one of the specialized robotic manipulator arms the Canadians appear to have a lock on. It's used to grab this (or any other) spacecraft and pull it down to the docking hatch.

After docking ...
From gizmag.com

... two of the ISS astronauts went inside to check things out (later followed by others).  The protective masks and goggles are routine when entering any spacecraft that has arrived (I'm guessing because of the combination of zero gravity and possible exposure to vacuum resulting in particulate matter, from cargo and God knows what else, being suspended in the air when it is opened up. That's a pure guess on my part. I've got a lot of things on my plate right now, and haven't had a chance to research that yet.).

I had to do a double check of the diagram of the capsule, as that appeared to be a big damned door, but it really is the docking hatch that you are looking at there, with the capsule interior behind them. We've come a looong way since the Mercury capsule. :-)

On Thursday, 31 May 2012 ...
Photo from mashable,com

... after its nine-day odyssey, Dragon returns, to land in the Pacific about 500 miles west of Baja California.  The photo is supposed to be from a video provided by NASA. I say "supposed" because I'm not at all sure what I'm seeing in the background. But, they could have caught it very high up, using a very long lens - they have some dandies!

From cheapcurts.com

From parabolicarc.com

Recovered, and by now probably on its way to the Port of Los Angeles, from whence it will be sent to a processing plant SpaceX has in McGregor, Texas (between Waco and Ft. Hood), for a final inspection.

Future missions are planned to come down on land, using retro rockets to soften the landing, and (hopefully) will be able to do it with "helicopter-like" precision.

So far, so good.

Addendum - Saturday, 02 Jun 2012 - The Astronomy Picture of the Day site put up a video the day after launch.  It's a Flash video, just under two minutes, and might take awhile to load on a slow connection (like mine).  As there's a delay of five or six seconds between ignition and hearing the sound, the video was shot around a mile from the pad.

See SpaceX's Falcon 9 Launches to the Space Station .

Update, 0115 CDT, Mon, 08 Oct 2012 - The second of these missions is now underway. About six hours ago, it lifted off at Cape Canaveral, Florida at 2035 EDT (1935 CDT), Sunday, 07 Oct 2012 in what was described on NASA TV as a picture perfect launch. It is now in low Earth orbit.

Once again, so far, so good. :-)


Foxfier said...

Beats trusting the Russians to run supplies up.

Millyb said...

Hey Paul - Happy Birthday! Nice post. I like the pics too ;-).

Paul Gordon said...

Hey, Kid.


My site meter (you DO know I look at that thing now and then :-) suggests that you currently aren't very far from where they launched the thing.

If you have time, and get the chance, you should go by the Cape and take the tour.

So great to hear from you.

Millyb said...

Hey - you're good! in fact I'm just a little south of there now. And I have taken the tour. Another cool thing is that from the roof of my office building in the dc area I saw the shuttle on the back of the 747 as it made it's final approach into Washington Dulles.

Paul Gordon said...

Of COURSE I'm good!!!

Did I neglect to tell you guys?

I'm SO sorry. :-)

Busy getting ready to go to work. I'll put up a much longer reply this afternoon or evening.

Paul Gordon said...

Ok, then.

Here's that longer reply I promised.

I found you by checking my site meter for a visit to that post at the time of your comment. It showed Melbourne Beach as the location, but I couldn't take that to the bank. As I noted in ...
HOW do spambots evade my site meter?

... the location shown is that of the server the session is being routed through. It could be close, or it could be on the other side of the state. Probably depends on traffic.

I'm glad you took the tour. I think the early eighties (when I had that red pickup I drove when I first joined you) was probably the last time I made it out there.

The first time was when I went to watch the launch of Apollo 16 ...
Adventure of a Lifetime

That was followed by the events in ...
The Adventure - Continued

... which involved witnessing Apollo 17, leading to a (failed) attempt to watch a night shuttle launch in 1983. That failure (to be able to go to the launching - the shuttle went up just fine) directly led to my moving to Michigan and eventually joining you guys. Serendipity!

That picture at the top of this post looks a bit like a small scale version of the Apollo 17 night launch. The Falcon9/Dragon is listed at 53 meters high, about 174 feet, making it a bit less than half the 363 feet of the Saturn V.

For the best feel of what watching a liftoff would be like (a daylight one, anyway), rent the 1995 Tom Hanks movie "Apollo 13". They absolutely nail it.

If it was recently when you watched that shuttle on top of the 747, it was probably the "Enterprise". I saw the same one, in the late seventies or early eighties, when the combo stopped off at Ellington Field just south of Houston, and it was on display. Did I go? You betcha!

That was the first shuttle, only a prototype for testing, and never went into orbit. Because is was a prototype, it didn't have any engines installed, nor any of the heat shielding. Its only flights (separate from the 747) were when it was released in midair to test its handling characteristics.

There had been a couple of considerations of making it usable (as an orbiter) but the tests resulted in enough changes to the design that it would require disassembly and major rebuilding, at various places across the country. They probably decided it wasn't really practical (although I'll always wonder, "What If ...?"). I suspect that all the testing probably took too much of a toll on the airframe.

That shuttle was originally to be named "Constitution", but a campaign from the fans of "Star Trek" resulting its renaming to "Enterprise".

In "Star Trek" lore, the "Enterprise" is a "Constitution" class starship.

FYI - :-)

Millyb said...

Roger that (as they are fond of saying where I work ;=) ), but it was the Shuttle Discovery that came up to Dulles last month aboard the 747 and then we sent the Enterprise up to New York. Anyway when they flew the shuttle up, they flew really low so everybody could get a good view and they even flew around the monuments. I don't think I had quite the commitment to seeing the shuttle take off that you did ;=), but I did see one take off from the balcony of my aunt and uncle's condo in Cape Canaveral and it was pretty impressive. And BTW, you nailed my location last weekend exactly - Melbourne Beach.

Paul Gordon said...

Launch Complex 39 (from whence the Apollos, and the shuttles rose) is about 12 miles due east of Titusville (where I watched the launches that my "Adventure" posts were about).

Cape Canaveral appears about 20 miles due south, but even from there a shuttle launch should be pretty awesome to the naked eye.

Even more so with binoculars.

I suspect you understand my feelings in a way that could never be grasped by people who haven't experienced it.



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