Dragon Breathes Fire

The new era of spaceflight has officially begun. SpaceX have launched its Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule to drop supplies off at the International Space Station. It launched, got berthed (note not docked…yet) to the space station and has returned. Remember, this is a private company. This is the future.

One of the unique things with Dragon is that it’s the only vehicle capable of bringing things back from the space station, such as science experiments. Scientists are now able to launch tests, leave them to work on the ISS for a few months and then have them come back for detailed analysis. Brilliant!

It’s all at a significantly cheaper cost too, plus they’re going to be shipping astronauts to and fro as well. Double brilliant! And then there’s the Falcon 9 Heavy, capable of lofting gargantuan satellites into space, again at significantly cheaper prices.

And the best thing of all? This is only the beginning!

Here are some great photos from launch, berthing and landing.

Falcon 9 launches to the ISS with Dragon. Credit: SpaceX

The ISS robotic arm grapples Dragon for berthing. Credit: NASA

Dragon being unberthed. Credit: NASA

Dragon safely back on Earth. Credit: SpaceX

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Smooth Moves at 17,500mph

This is a beautiful image of ATV-3 ‘Edoardo Arnaldi’ docking at the International Space Station the other day. You can see the green haze of the atmosphere, the great stars of the galaxy and the bright lights of ATV-3. I think this will be my new desktop wallpaper!

ATV-3 Docking at the ISS

ATV-3 is the third ‘Automated Transfer Vehicle‘, an unmanned supply capsule, created by the European Space Agency, used to deliver food, water, clothes and experiments to the space station. It holds a lot more than the more regular Russian Progress resupply ships. After a few months docked to the station the astronauts will fill it with rubbish and it will burn up in the atmosphere.

Science off the Sphere

My favourite astronaut is back in space. That’s right, the legendary Don Pettit (@astro_Pettit) is up on the International Space Station on Expedition 30. He previously was one of the engineers on Expedition 6 in 2002/03.

Don Pettit is a pretty incredible guy, he has so much enthusiasm for science, more than Brian Cox! It’s what he does in his spare time on the station though that’s most impressive. As can be seen in videos, he’s constantly pondering experiments and things to test in the zero-g of space. In the short amount of time off the astronauts have he films videos showing and explaining amazing scientific phenomena. Back on Expedition 6 he did ‘Science Friday’s‘, and now on Expedition 30 he’s doing ‘Science off the Sphere‘.

It’s truly is amazing the things we’re missing out on down here. In his first video of this expedition he demonstrates some interesting facts about knittin’ needles and water. And what’s best, he gets you involved too. He leaves a question to be answered at the end and you get to contact him with your answer.

Not many astronauts have done anything similar to Don, which is a shame, because it’s really important. It gets not only interesting facts across but gets younger people interested in science, gets them asking themselves questions and so on. This is something that should be continually encouraged.

I’ll leave you with two of his latest videos. First, the knittin’ needle experiment (watch it just to hear how he says knittin’ needle, it’s amazing!) and then his latest video on how astronauts can drink from cups (something previously not possible, it had to all be done through straws). Enjoy.

When We Left Earth – What the Shuttle Meant to Me

I was reading through the Radio Times to see if there was anything cool on the telly soon. It was a warm, sunny day in July 2002 and I found a programme that had caught my eye. I highlighted it and said to my dad “can we record this please?” I was 11 and cable had yet to be introduced to our lonely corner of the village. A good friend and neighbor however had more money than the rest of us in the cul-de-sac and had this thing called Sky along with a funny dish stuck to his house. He could record it for me, and he did!

The programme was called ‘Rocket Men of Mission 105’ and the description in the Radio Times had read something like ‘the story of a mission to space’. The next day the neighbor bought up the programme recorded onto VHS for me (Yes VHS) and I sat down to watch it with an un-blinked glaze in my eyes for just under and hour. Here, I think, my obsession with space began.

Since then I’ve missed maybe only two or three launches. I managed to persuade my parents to let me wake up in the early hours to see some night launches. I recall one time getting up at something like 3am to see the launch of Endeavour. In the time before YouTube existed I recorded the launches onto VHS so I could watch them again and again.
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Discovery Returns to Earth Tomorrow

Well it’s been a truly great mission. I’ll show some of the mission photos below. Discovery’s never looked so beautiful! A few photos of the magnificent ISS as she leave it too.

I tried to find Discovery’s ISS fly around footage, but can’t find it. If anyone can direct me, I’ll drop the video in. Eitherway here’s a superb video on what Discovery has done this mission. Complete the assembly of the International Space Station!

Meanwhile, the landing. It’s tomorrow. She ignites for the deorbit burn at 1552 GMT tomorrow, hits the top of the atmosphere at 1625 GMT and lands on runway 15 at the KSC at 1657 GMT. Then that’ll be it. She’ll spend the rest of her life in a museum. What a beauty though. The landing tomorrow will be truly beautiful! :)

All photos from NASA Human Spaceflight and ISS Astronaut Paolo Nespoli’s Flickrstream