Shuttle launches tonight at 19:43 Eastern time

By Phil Plait | March 15, 2009 2:45 pm

[Update: The Shuttle launched right on time in a picture-perfect lift-off. It’s on its way to the space station, and is scheduled to dock on Tuesday.]

The Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch at 19:43 tonight Eastern time (23:43 UT). It will go to the space station and, among other things, install solar panels which are expected to make the ISS the third brightest object in the sky, after the Sun and Moon, brighter even than Venus.

STS 119

I’ll be covering the launch on Twitter as usual, except that I’m trying something new: I’ve created a new account called BANews that is just for breaking astronomy and space news. It’s just an experiment to see how people like it; this way people who follow my regular feed don’t have to see 40 updates in an hour from me. I’ll post a handful of times from my regular feed so people know to sign on to the other one. You can also follow NASA and Miles O’Brien for more Shuttle info. You can also watch online at NASA TV.

Anyway, as I write this, the external tank has been filled and there’s no sign of any dangerous leaks. The crew is filing on board, and they’re prepping for tonight’s launch of STS-119.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, NASA, Space

Comments (87)

  1. “I’ve created a new account called BANews that is just for breaking astronomy and space news”

    Dude, that’s great! The thought of reading that your dog just farted and similar stuff hadn’t really appealed to me before.

    Maybe you could do something like that with your blog posts too. You post way too much stuff daily, maybe some readers stop reading because they can’t keep up and filter the really good stuff from your “Blah” posts…

    I still love you tho… :)

  2. I personally enjoyed your live tweeting of the near miss with the ISS earlier this week, but I also think that @BANews is a good idea for those of us who enjoy such tweets. In either case keep up with the news it has been really exciting to get such instant updates when all I can do is access twitter from my phone at work.

  3. The link for NASA’s Twitter page doesn’t work. I got it to work by replacing “htts” with “http”. The other Twitter addresses work fine.

  4. mk

    And precisely what good comes from this mission?

  5. Belgarath

    Excellent! Thanks for doing that Phil!

  6. R.W. Thomas

    Nothing, MK.


    Good thing you’re here to remind us of how useless it is to again, again, and again achieve the dream that so many before us have only fantasized about in thought and fiction.

    I’m -very- certain we’ll not learn one useful thing during this next foray into space–and it most certainly won’t serve as a stepping stone for future missions into space.

    derpa derpa

  7. mk

    Well, thanks for that honest assessment there, R.W.

  8. R.W. Thomas

    No problem!

    Glad someone is here to ask all the tough, dumb questions.

  9. Scott Belyea

    “…Glad someone is here to ask all the tough, dumb questions.”

    And of course someone to give the easy dumb answers …

  10. hhEb09'1

    It’s postponed due to a hydrogen leak?

  11. R.W. Thomas

    However, for a more serious response, as far as I can tell, this latest flight is, for the most part, to finish work on the solar array, to help power the station, support the larger station crew, and allow for continued scientific experiments. There’s also work to be done on a urine-to-water converter thingie-ma-doo.

    So I’m reading, they’re also replacing one of the station inhabitants with a fellow from Japan which, I think, is a first for Japan.

  12. I’m being told that people on the East Coast of the U.S. should be able to see the shuttle separation. I’ll be outside with my binoculars, looking in the general direction of Florida!

    mk: From the STS-119 Mission Overview – in case you’re genuinely interested, and not just being a jerk:

    STS-119: A Final Station Power Up

    If the International Space Station crew wants to invite three more people to join them in living full time in space, the space shuttle Discovery crew says more power to ’em – literally.

    The STS-119 mission will deliver to the station the final set of solar arrays needed to complete the station’s complement of electricity-generating solar panels, and through them support the station’s expanded crew of six in 2009.

    “More crew means that we’ll have to run more life support equipment, more crew support equipment – toilet facilities, water processing equipment and all of that stuff,” said Kwatsi Alibaruho, the lead space station flight director for the mission. “We’ll have to run more of all of that, so we need additional power.”

    And that’s not even counting the science.

    Over the past year, one new connecting node – Harmony – and two new international partner laboratories – the European Columbus and the Japanese Kibo – have been added to the space station, expanding its capacity for science experiments. And one of the reasons the crew is being expanded is to have more hands aboard performing those experiments. The additional electricity provided by the new solar arrays will help power those experiments.

    The set of solar arrays that the STS-119 crew will be bringing up includes two solar array wings, each of which has two 115-foot-long arrays, for a total wing span of 240 feet, including the equipment that connects the two halves and allows them to twist as they track the sun. Altogether, the four sets of arrays can generate 84 to 120 kilowatts of electricity – enough to provide power for more than 40 average homes. Since the three existing arrays can handle the majority of the station’s day-to-day operational and life support needs, the newest solar array will double the amount of power available for scientific research.

    “We’re able to do a lot of things in our current configuration, and we’re not too power limited,” Alibaruho said. “But we still have some other things to get on orbit. We don’t have the Columbus module and the Kibo module completely full of experiments, the way we expect to have it in coming years. So we need the additional power capability to be able to expand the science capability.”

    Adding the additional power may prove a bit tricky, however. This will be the fourth truss segment sporting solar array wings to be installed on the station, but only the second that’s quite this far out on the station’s truss. The segment is called the S6 truss – “S” for starboard, the right side of the station, and “6” for its place at the very end of the starboard truss.

    To install it, the station’s robotic arm must extend its reach just about as far as it will go, leaving it with very little room to maneuver. The same was true of its mirror image on the port side of the station – the P6 truss segment – so the crew expects to be able to pull it off without a hitch. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

    “We’ve done it before, but we haven’t done it with these exact same people,” Discovery’s commander, Lee Archambault, said. “But there are some very good lessons learned out there, and we’ll certainly capitalize on those.”

    With Archambault, Discovery’s crew includes Pilot Tony Antonelli and Mission Specialists Richard Arnold, Joseph Acaba, John Phillips, Steve Swanson and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Wakata will stay aboard the station after Discovery docks — becoming the first JAXA station crew member — while astronaut Sandy Magnus, who arrived at the station on mission STS-126, will return home.

    More lessons learned for Discovery’s mission will come, in particular, from previous experience unfolding the solar arrays. When the first set of the station’s solar arrays was unfolded during the STS-97 mission, the crew ran into a problem called “stiction” – the plastics and polymers that coat the panels of the solar arrays stuck together. Then later, when those same solar arrays were folded up, moved and redeployed, the wires that guide the panels got snagged, causing one of the arrays to tear.

    These arrays aren’t likely to ever need to be folded up and moved to a new location, and by the time the second set of arrays was ready for installation, engineers had come up with a way around the stiction problem. So neither of those issues is expected to crop up this time around. Still, lead shuttle flight director Paul Dye said that doesn’t mean you can expect it to go smoothly.

    “It’s always the thing that you think you have down, that’s routine, that comes back and bites you,” Dye said. “It’ll either be routine or it will be heart stopping, like always.”

    If some new problem does present itself, there should be plenty of time to troubleshoot it. The STS-119 mission includes four spacewalks, but has only one and a quarter spacewalks worth of work that has to be done before the next mission. The first spacewalk will be devoted to installing the new solar arrays, and during the third, the crew will move the CETA – crew and equipment translation aid – carts from the port side of the station’s truss to the starboard to clear a path on the port side of the truss that will be needed for STS-127.

    Besides that, there are a lot of get-ahead tasks that Discovery’s crew will have the opportunity to check off — everything from deploying cargo attachment systems on the starboard truss to installing a GPS antenna that will help guide the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle to the station later in the year. Those are important tasks, but there’s no immediate need for them. So, if necessary, they can be put off until a later flight.

    “There’s a great potential to have some issues that we may need some additional spacewalking time to go alleviate,” Alibaruho said. “This mission is structured in such a way that we could conceivably go address them without necessarily having to extend the mission or add a spacewalk.”

    One way or another, the crew plans to get the last truss segment and its two solar array wings installed. And at the end of the mission, when the shuttle undocks from the space station, Archambault said he can’t wait to get his first look at them during the flyaround, when the two arrays on the port side of the station will for the first time be balanced out by a matching set on the starboard side.

    “This will be the first time we get a flyaround with imagery of the space station looking about what it’s going to look like in its final configuration,” Archambault said. “We’ve still got to install Kibo’s external facility and Node 3 with its cupola further on. But for all intents and purposes, 99 percent of it is going to look just like the plans after we get out of there.”

  13. Mchl

    So.. BA now stands for Breaking Astronomy? 😛

  14. Ruth

    Woah.. the third brightest object in the night sky! Will it be only visible from specific places or will it be easy to spot?

  15. mk

    Thanks Harold.

    Forgive me if I missed it but could you tell me what specific “science experiments” will be conducted? As I read it this only highlights the things they plan to do to keep astronauts alive and well and keep the ISS aloft so that it can receive more astronauts so that they too can add nifty new stuff so they can keep the ISS aloft to receive more astronauts so that they too can add more stuff so that… etc.

  16. mk, you can satisfy your curiosity by looking this stuff up yourself. If specific information is not available, you may direct your inquiries to the proper channels. It sounds like you’re just trying to pick a fight.

  17. R.W. Thomas

    You’ll find the various experiments–past and present–there.

    Regardless, right now, I think a reason for keeping the ISS aloft -is- to keep the ISS aloft so we -can- keep the ISS aloft.

    We -need- forward movement into space. We -need- to be up there, making baby steps into the cosmos.

    If NASA and company decided to drop another wad of cash to make more room so the they could receive more astronauts so they could receive more nifty items so they could make more room–then, hell, I’d be all for it.

  18. mk

    I realize most folks in here find it seriously bad form to dare ask questions about the manned space program… especially when there are no answers forthcoming… and I appreciate–genuinely!–your response above. But my original question, a sincere one, remains.

    What good is going to come from this mission?

  19. R.W. Thomas


    What Harold said.

    This stuff is easily accessible from the NASA site.

  20. R.W. Thomas

    I’ve said it once–and I’ll say it again.

    It’s a friggin’ maintenance run, MK.

    There’s no cures for cancer loaded on that shuttle. There’s nothing about to change the way we live. They’re simply heading up there to drop off a new astronaut, return an old one, install a bigger energy-making-thingie, and fix the piss-to-water converter.

    Baby steps, MK.

  21. R.W. Thomas


    It’s not “bad form” so much as we’re used to people insisting “wasting money on space exploration is stupid because we’re not spending it on cures for cancer” or something.

    You can ask all you want.

    However, the truth remains is that we are baby-stepping into space, and we need to continue to baby-step into space, and as we continue to baby-step into space, not only will it become easier, cheaper, and more efficient, but we’ll also see dividends in the form of advances of technology, not to mention what we’ll see to the ISS and space exploration itself.

  22. R.W. Thomas

    That was beautiful. :)

  23. LSandman24

    Just watched it take-off from Englewood, FL. Simply amazing. Had my binoculars out and could make out some detail and engine separation. This was my first. Too bad I couldn’t have been closer.

  24. mk


    All interesting nothing you are saying. Absolutely nothing.

    And I will continue to ask, until I get an answer.


  25. Just watched from my back yard a few hundred miles away. It was spectacular!

  26. Mena

    mk, considering how much money people waste on sports (just why are the cities that the stadiums are in responsible for paying for it?) maybe we shouldn’t bother with that either?

    Is anyone else watching this on NASA tv? That woman constantly telling us how they can be safe in the case of losing an engine or two is kinda disconcerting.

  27. mk

    And I’ve never said anything remotely close to “wasting money on space exploration is stupid because we’re not spending it on cures for cancer”. Space exploration is wonderful… and necessary. But the ISS and the Shuttle are a huge waste. They do nothing more than support each other. It’s a circle of waste that nobody is willing to bring to an end.

  28. Belgarath

    I think MK hasn’t read Phil’s book. Eventually if we want to survive as a species, we need to figure out how to live somewhere other than Earth.

    Additionally, the things we learn ANCILLARY to going into space more than make up for the cost.

  29. mk

    Sorry… “cycle” of waste.

  30. I think mk is saying that any answer anyone gives him will not satisfy him until everyone admits that the shuttle and ISS are complete wastes of resources, and aby argumennts to the contrary will be dismissed out of hand. I do not believe any dialogue is possible along those lines.

  31. mk

    I think Harold is saying he has no answers.

  32. mk

    From Jan. 2005…

    “Last Friday, the reach of man extended 900 million miles to the surface of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. It stands as one of the most notable voyages of exploration in history. Carried piggyback on Cassini since 1997, the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe parachuted 789 miles to reach Titan’s smoggy surface. Huygens had the good fortune to land on solid ground, within sight of the shoreline of a hydrocarbon sea. Over the next several hours, until its batteries finally died, Huygens transmitted everything it had learned back to Cassini, which relayed it to Darmstadt. The data will keep researchers busy for years. Cassini will continue studying Saturn for another four years. Meanwhile, only 90 miles from the surface of Earth, the NASA On-Orbit Status Report notes that the ISS crew checked gear for a 26 Jan space walk, performed periodic microbial air sampling, did routine maintenance on the toilet facilities, performed a 2.5 hour exercise program, had an interview with USA Today and recorded a video message in observance of the 250th anniversary of Moscow State University. Today’s quiz: Which cost the most, Cassini/Huygens or the ISS?”

  33. thanks phil – great idea. btw, i don’t know if it was me you were responding to, but if so i appreciate it.

    all the best,

  34. Bert

    Any chance of publishing times in GMT please all all times are based on this, Eastern Time and UT mean nothing to most of the world,

  35. I always enjoy these launches: it gives me a chance to feel that the human race is not just about stupidity and hurt but also about co-operation and achievement, expressed in a physical and visual form. The political issues are entirely separate to that, and I prefer to think about them separately.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that BANews tweeting worked a treat for me Phil – Tweetdeck is a most useful app, and I was able to set up a temporary group just for the launch info, including your BANews and the NASA one. Excellent stuff – please continue with it!

  36. mk

    From the Apollo program to today, manned space fight has fallen remarkably short of anything resembling what we’ve learned from robots and probes.

    Manned space flight has done nothing in the way of discovering or learning or teaching that comes remotely close to Cassini/Huygens, Mars rovers, Deep Impact, Viking, Magellan, Galileo, telescopes (ground and space) and I’m sure many, many more I’m not remembering.

    And survival of the species? Don’t make me laugh! ;^}

  37. mk

    Oh… and “baby steps”? That’s an outrageously generous description of what’s happening with the Shuttle and ISS. Try infant floundering.

  38. How is the ISS a waste? It’s the ISS! Many people have heard of it (I want to say everyone, but it’s statistically unlikely that every single one of the ~6.7 billion humans in the world have heard of it); far more than have heard of Cassini/Huygens. It inspires lots of people to get into scientific professions, or to just take an interest in the sky, astronomy, and space! Even if no major scientific accomplishments are made, it’s still a huge inspiration to people all over.
    Besides, the ISS will do scientific research, just not immediately. This is just a maintenance run, as R.W. Thomas has pointed out several times. We can’t just fly up into space and start doing research and curing cancer.
    Also, every second that humans are living in the ISS, research is being conducted. We’re seeing the physiological effects of living in free-fall, and the psychological effects of living in effectively a small metal box surrounded by an extremely hostile environment, with no practical way of being rescued quickly if something goes wrong.

  39. mk:
    Can you actually see beyond the nose on your face? As has been stated, this mission is to expand the ISS capability to host 3 extra astronauts. The crew of Discovery will be installing the final set of solar panels. They will add to the knowledge that NASA has already gained in working in construction in space. Granted, they may not have their beakers and bunsen burners and petri dishes, but they are preparing the ISS for greater functionality, which means that future crews will be able to perform many more experiments than they do now.

    Most people can figure that out. Unfortunately there are some…

  40. mk:
    Apollo was a sprint. It could never have been sustained for any length of time. We need to learn how to live and work in space. That is what we are doing with the ISS

  41. mk

    Why, exactly, do we “need to learn how to live and work in space”? Other than to go to the ISS and install cool stuff that doesn’t do anything more than support the ISS… which does nothing of any human worth. Nothing close to the above mentioned programs. How much longer must we wait for them to, you know, actually DO something?

  42. Grand Lunar

    Saw the launch from my home, as well as NASA TV. Glad to see it finally got up.

    And to think that the next mission is for Hubble. I wonder how that will effect the viewing in Fort Lauderdale, as the trajectory will be different than a course for the ISS.

    I’ll have to keep a watch for the ISS after this set of panels. I can hardly imagine seeing the ISS as bright as Venus going across the sky!
    True, there are fireballs that rival that (I’ve only seen one so far). But those are quick moving.

    I believe Harold put the situation in the right light, MK. It sounds as if you’re just trying to pick a fight.

  43. I got a couple of pix of the launch from near my house. Only 2 came out well, but you can see them by clicking my name. Not too bad from clear across the state on a humid, hazy evening.

  44. Beautiful shots, MikeG!

    And…very touching stuff in the entries below them. Been there, too many times. Will be there again.

  45. QUESTION: What is the apparent magnitude of the ISS expected to be after installation?

  46. @Canadian Skeptic: says it could get as bright as mag. -3, and possibly brighter than Venus, which is at -4.5 at its brightest.

  47. mosse

    mk — did you click the link that R.W. posted?

    You asked: “and precisely what good comes from this mission”, and the answer is that this launch is necessary to expand the ability of the ISS to support future personnel and experiments.

    You said: “They do nothing more than support each other”, which is almost half true since one of the purposes of the shuttle launches is to support the ISS (although the shuttles have served and continue to serve many different purposes — repairing the hubble, for example).

    You said: “the ISS … does nothing of human worth”, but did you click the link that R.W. posted? The list of experiments and research is huge — and while some of those experiments are solely for the purpose of understand how people can live in space, there are so many more, with real, practical implications for us humans.

    Before you ask me to name them, show some intellectual curiosity and click the link, and then read through some of the experiments. Pay extra attention to the “Earth Applications” section of each experiment.

    The question you’re trying to have answered on this site, is more than answered on the other site.


  48. Jon

    “It will go to the space station and, among other things, install solar panels which are expected to make the ISS the third brightest object in the sky, after the Sun and Moon, brighter even than Venus.”

    This, combined with how quickly the ISS orbits the Earth, should be expecting UFO reports to suddenly increase? :/

  49. Shuttle launch photos from Gainesville, FL.

    It was spectacular!

  50. mk,
    You do realize that NASA has plans beyond the ISS, right? The Moon. Mars. Try to think of this in the long term. Or, you could stop being ignorant and read up on it.

  51. MikeInLondon

    I just can’t work out why you want to ban ewes?

  52. I agree with Petrucio, I come here for astronomy news, not anti-antivaxers or anti-religious junk. Just the astronomy.

  53. owlbear1

    Just watching NASA TV and it sounds like they are going to have to move ISS to avoid more debris.

  54. DLC

    And eventually we will start pushing away from the shore.
    One day, about a half century from now, 3 or 5 ships will push off and actually move out of sight of land. Maybe they will find nothing of value, and maybe they will find the new world.
    But until that Columbus of Space sets sail and comes back, we won’t know.
    But the search itself is worth doing.

  55. owlbear1

    Ok, an update. A burn is being planned for 8:50pm Houston time Monday (3/16)to avoid debris scheduled to pass by Tuesday.

  56. Gary Ansorge

    Some folk believe humans don’t belong in space however,,,,I am NOT one of those. I belive humans don’t belong on earth,,,

    GAry 7

  57. Fleegman

    How long do they have to sit strapped into their chairs before lift-off? I have a hard time sitting through an average length film without having to spend a penny, so what gives there?

    Come to think of it, have you ever seen anyone take a toilet break in 24?

  58. T_U_T

    mk do you object against ISS only, or manned flight in general, or, space exploration in general ?

  59. Didac

    mk is right. If you really want to go to outer space, you need first to change your animal flesh to some other material. Humanity or mankind is not only the aggreggate of past, present and future human beings, but also of their tools and thoughts. So, Voyager 1 is part of humanity.

  60. T_U_T

    If you really want to go to outer space, you need first to change your animal flesh to some other material.

    crap. There are organisms that can survive orders of magnitude higher radiation than our computers can ( and it gets only worse as computer power approaches power of biological brains ).
    There are also organisms that can survive ( not only survive, actively hunt !) hours w/o breathing. And organisms that reach stratosphere solely by their muscle power ( vultures at 14000 m, aircraft swan collisions at 12000 m etc ).
    Just a ‘little’ bit of genetic tinkering and we can do spacewalks by simply holding our breath. There is no need to replace humans with robots, and thus there is no need to not to try right now.

  61. Gary Ansorge

    This for mk, who apparently is unable to click on an embedded link:

    From NASA:

    Expedition 20 Dock Date: Undock Date:

    3D-Space (Mental Representation of Spatial Cues During Space Flight)
    AgCam (Agricultural Camera)
    ANDE-2 (Atmospheric Neutral Density Experiment – 2)
    BCAT-3-4-CP (Binary Colloidal Alloy Test – 3 and 4: Critical Point)
    BCAT-4-Poly (Binodal Colloidal Aggregation Test – 4: Polydispersion)
    BCAT-5-3D-Melt (Binary Colloidal Alloy Test – 5: Three-Dimensional Melt)
    BCAT-5-Compete (Binary Colloidal Alloy Test – 5: Compete)
    BCAT-5-PhaseSep (Binary Colloidal Alloy Test-5: Phase Separation)
    BCAT-5-SeededGrowth (Binary Colloidal Alloy Test – 5: Seeded Growth )
    Bisphosphonates (Bisphosphonates as a Countermeasure to Space Flight Induced Bone Loss)
    Cambium (Cambium)
    CCISS (Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Control on Return from ISS)
    CEO (Crew Earth Observations)
    CSI-03 (Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus Science Insert – 03)
    DEBIE-2 (DEBris In Orbit Evaluator – 2)
    DOSTEL (DOSimetry TELescopes)
    DRAGONSat (Dual RF Astrodynamic GPS Orbital Navigator Satellite)
    EarthKAM (Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle School Students)
    Energy (Astronaut’s Energy Requirements for Long-Term Space Flight)
    ENose (JPL Electronic Nose)
    Environmental_Monitoring (Environmental Monitoring of the International Space Station)
    EPO-Demos (Education Payload Operation – Demonstrations)
    EPO-Kit_D (Education Payload Operation – Kit D)
    EuTemp (EuTEF Thermometer)
    Expose (Exposure Experiment)
    FASES (Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability)
    FIPEX (Flux (Phi) Probe EXperiment – Time resolved Measurement of Atomic Oxygen)
    Genara (Gravity Related Genes in Arabidopsis)
    Gravi (Threshold Acceleration for Gravisensing)
    HQPC (High Quality Protein Crystallization Experiment Onboard JEM)
    HREP-HICO (HICO and RAIDS Experiment Payload – Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean)
    HREP-RAIDS (HICO and RAIDS Experiment Payload – Remote Atmospheric and Ionospheric Detection System (RAIDS))
    Immuno (Neuroendocrine and Immune Responses in Humans During and After Long Term Stay at ISS)
    Inflight_Education_Downlinks (International Space Station Inflight Education Downlinks)
    InSPACE-2 (Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates from Colloidal Emulsions – 2)
    Integrated_Cardiovascular (Cardiac Atrophy and Diastolic Dysfunction During and After Long Duration Spaceflight: Functional Consequences for Orthostatic Intolerance, Exercise Capability and Risk for Cardiac Arrhythmias)
    Integrated_Immune (Validation of Procedures for Monitoring Crewmember Immune Function )
    Integrated_Immune-SDBI (Validation of Procedures for Monitoring Crewmember Immune Function – Short Duration Biological Investigation)
    ISS_Acoustics (International Space Station Acoustic Measurement Program)
    JAXA-EPO (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency – Education Payload Observation)
    JAXA-HDTV (Activation and Test Downlink of HDTV System)
    Lada-VPU-P3R (Validating Vegetable Production Unit (VPU) Plants, Protocols, Procedures and Requirements (P3R) Using Currently Existing Flight Resources)
    MAMS (Microgravity Acceleration Measurement System)
    Marangoni (Chaos, Turbulence and its Transition Process in Marangoni Convection)
    MAUI (Maui Analysis of Upper Atmospheric Injections)
    MDCA-FLEX (Multi-User Droplet Combustion Apparatus – Flame Extinguishment Experiment)
    MISSE-6A_and_6B (Materials International Space Station Experiment – 6A and 6B)
    MOP (Motion Perception: Vestibular Adaptation to G-Transitions)
    MSL-CETSOL_and_MICAST (Materials Science Laboratory – Columnar-to-Equiaxed Transition in Solidification Processing and Microstructure Formation in Casting of Technical Alloys under Diffusive and Magnetically Controlled Convective Conditions)
    Mus (Study of Low Back Pain in Crewmembers During Space Flight)
    Nutrition (Nutritional Status Assessment)
    Otolith (Otolith Assessment During Postflight Re-adaptation)
    PADIAC (PAthway DIfferent ACtivators)
    Repository (National Aeronautics and Space Administration Biological Specimen Repository)
    SAMS-II (Space Acceleration Measurement System-II)
    SEITE (Shuttle Exhaust Ion Turbulence Experiments)
    SIMPLEX (Shuttle Ionospheric Modification with Pulsed Localized Exhaust Experiments)
    Sleep-Long (Sleep-Wake Actigraphy and Light Exposure During Spaceflight-Long)
    Sleep-Short (Sleep-Wake Actigraphy and Light Exposure During Spaceflight-Short)
    SNFM (Serial Network Flow Monitor)
    SOLACES (SOLar Auto-Calibrating EUV/UV Spectrophotometers)
    SOLO (SOdium LOading in Microgravity)
    SOLSPEC (SOLar SPECtral Irradiance Measurements )
    SOVIM (SOlar Variable and Irradiance Monitor)
    SpaceDRUMS (Space-Dynamically Responding Ultrasonic Matrix System)
    SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites)
    SPICE (Smoke Point In Co-flow Experiment)
    Spin (Validation of Centrifugation as a Countermeasure for Otolith Deconditioning During Spaceflight)
    Spinal_Elongation (Spinal Elongation and its Effects on Seated Height in a Microgravity Environment)
    SWAB (Surface, Water and Air Biocharacterization – A Comprehensive Characterization of Microorganisms and Allergens in Spacecraft Environment)
    TAGES (Transgenic Arabidopsis Gene Expression System)
    TriboLab (Tribology Laboratory)
    VCAM (Vehicle Cabin Atmosphere Monitor)
    Visual_Performance (Human Factors Assessment of Vibration Effects on Visual Performance During Launch)
    VO2max (Evaluation of Maximal Oxygen Uptake and Submaximal Estimates of VO2max Before, During, and After Long Duration International Space Station Missions)
    Zag (Ambiguous Tilt and Translation Motion Cues After Space Flight)

    GAry 7

  62. MadScientist

    Awesome. :) I’m always happy to hear about another successful launch and it’s even better when everyone comes back safe too. I should check up on the ISS activities – I don’t recall any of the promised benefits of the ISS ever being fulfilled; the news that does come to mind gives me the impression that everyone is working frantically to keep the bird flying and has no time for science.

  63. Peter B

    A few words if I may…

    mk asked: “And precisely what good comes from this mission?”

    Installation of a final set of solar panels for generating electricity, and the installation of a device to convert urine into drinking water. So, by the sounds of it, nothing directly. Instead it’s a mission which improves the endurance of the ISS.

    “As I read it this only highlights the things they plan to do to keep astronauts alive and well and keep the ISS aloft so that it can receive more astronauts so that they too can add nifty new stuff so they can keep the ISS aloft to receive more astronauts so that they too can add more stuff so that… etc.”

    That’s it at the moment, but not so on ad infinitum. The ISS is close to completion, and soon to be in a position to really ramp up the science. Having said that, it’ll be interesting to see whether the value of the science performed is considered to have repaid the cost of the ISS.

    “From the Apollo program to today, manned space fight has fallen remarkably short of anything resembling what we’ve learned from robots and probes.”

    I’ll disagree with you here. I think the Apollo missions answered the question of the Moon’s origin far more efficiently than unmanned spacecraft could have – particularly that astronauts could be trained to look for particular rocks which helped resolve aspects of the Moon’s geology. Likewise the Mercury and Gemini projects added considerably to our knowledge of space.

    Having said that, there’s no doubt that unmanned spacecraft are much cheaper than manned spacecraft, and the repercussions of something going wrong are somewhat less. There are good reasons why many planetary scientists bemoan the idea of sending humans off the planet.

    Senethior459 said: “How is the ISS a waste? It’s the ISS! Many people have heard of it…far more than have heard of Cassini/Huygens. It inspires lots of people to get into scientific professions, or to just take an interest in the sky, astronomy, and space! Even if no major scientific accomplishments are made, it’s still a huge inspiration to people all over…Also, every second that humans are living in the ISS, research is being conducted. We’re seeing the physiological effects of living in free-fall, and the psychological effects of living in effectively a small metal box surrounded by an extremely hostile environment, with no practical way of being rescued quickly if something goes wrong.”

    With respect, these are fairly trifling returns on the cost of the ISS. With regards to inspiration, is there any clear evidence to back this claim? And with regards to the physiological effects of living long-term in free-fall, what will the ISS teach us that hasn’t already been learned from the various Salyut, Skylab and Mir space stations?

  64. Jeff

    Good riddens to the shuttle. What a bore, what a let down after we experienced Apollo moon landings. This program wasted time and resources for 40 years, and it’s time to finally do the real space travel onto the Moon and Mars. BTW, why the heck didn’t they just build a moon colony in 1969? If they had, we’d have a colony on Mars by now.

    Carl Sagan in the 1990’s expressed his boredom with the shuttle .

  65. Peter B

    Jeff asked: “BTW, why the heck didn’t they just build a moon colony in 1969?”

    No money and no directive. Public support for manned missions to the Moon evaporated after Apollo 11. With little public support, it was easy for President Nixon and Congress to cut NASA’s budget. Without the money and the directive, NASA could do nothing.

  66. Cheyenne

    @MK – Very reasonable questions you are asking. And I for one agree that manned spaceflight today is not just a waste of money but a huge drag on NASA’s ability to accomplish much greater things.

    The ISS isn’t about science. Even the National Academy of Science says that the ISS “is no better than Skylab”. Phil Plait said “NASA has a space station which is doing precious little if no science at all.”.

    Popular Mechanics made the quip that in terms of scientific discovery we could have chosen to create one million new PhD’s working on science on Earth instead of building the ISS (this was back when the ISS “only” wasted $100 frakkin’ billion). Of their list of the 10 most important missions undergone by NASA all of them were robotic except for Apollo.

    Everybody knows the Hubble and Mars rovers. Virtually nobody knows the name of a single astronaut because they aren’t doing anything in low earth orbit except waste money that could have been invested in much more brilliant missions that could actually discover new wonders of this extraordinary universe.

    Let’s give Steve Squyres and Carolyn Porco “genius” grants to come up with the next round of amazing missions (their track records are amazing). Let’s get the money from culling back on the floating turkey in the sky.

  67. T_U_T

    Was it really the public support ? Or just political support ?

  68. mk


    Indeed. There is much to be learned and to be gained for the good of humanity in exploring the solar system… and beyond. And it would probably surprise many in here to know that I genuinely wish the ISS and the Shuttle and various other forms of manned space flight were doing more. Were capable of doing more. But it just isn’t happening. And it’s not simple, straight-up cost that is the problem. Some things cost a lot of freakin’ money… no problem. Really. But what are we getting in return? With the ISS and the Shuttle, not a great deal.

    To senethior 459…

    Yes, the Shuttle and ISS have great entertainment value. But compared to most all other space endeavors that’s about it.

    And @ all the others who keep referencing the link provided earlier and think they’ve found some grand argument stopping information… please. I have looked at all that before. Many times. Big deal.

    How many of those “experiments” could not have been done here on earth? How many were for anything other than perpetuating an already outdated manned program? What did we learn beyond the obvious or beyond what could have been learned without wasting roughly 400 million dollars per launch? In my view, it’s all pretty ridiculous.

  69. Cheyenne

    @MK – Yes I’m totally in agreement with you. I think NASA is awesome and investments in science and exploration are fantastic. But we have to do them right. And manned spaceflight is high-cost/high-risk with a low payout on science. It doesn’t make any sense and every year our robotics get better (and the justification for launching humans up into LEO is less sane).

    I hope Obama has the stones to appoint somebody in charge of NASA that has the guts and the vision to change the direction of the agency. Somebody who can stop this insipidly stupid circular logic they are locked into right now with the ISS and putting people up there in it. Let’s let real science and exploration guide us moving forward.

  70. owlbear1

    ISS = Practice getting humans and payloads into orbit.
    ISS = Practice maintaining life-supports systems
    ISS = Practice in Space construction techniques
    ISS = Practice in cooperation and improved communications among the member nations.

    ISS = Just lots of practice.

  71. Peter B

    T_U_T asked: “Was it really the public support? Or just political support?”

    A bit of both, probably. Yes, I probably over-simplified things in my previous post.

    NASA apparently got a lot of its Apollo funding in the 1960s thanks to the fact that NASA Administrator Jim Webb knew the details of a lot of Congressmen’s skeletons in closets. This lobbying technique presumably only had a limited lifespan. So there were plenty of people in Congress who were happy to cut NASA’s funding.

    But on top of that, after Apollo 11, ordinary people began to ask why NASA kept going back to the Moon – after all, NASA had met Kennedy’s challenge, so why not put the money to some other use? When Congressmen heard talk like that, they could see there wouldn’t be much of a backlash against their own plans.

    On top of that, Nixon was happy to gut a program which was the brainchild of his Democrat opponents.

  72. Robert Carnegie

    I assume the new solar panels are to increase power to the death ray projector. What’s it for indeed. Right now they can only give Hugo Chavez a hotfoot or light Fidel Castro’s cigar. MINIMUM acceptable mission goal was to set his beard on fire.

    (Speaking of death rays, isn’t [Girl Genius] – Agatha Heterodyne – getting interesting?)

    I came in late, is Miles O’Brien the character from Star Trek? So how does that work?

  73. T_U_T

    ordinary people began to ask why NASA kept going back to the Moon – after all, NASA had met Kennedy’s challenge, so why not put the money to some other use?

    I would bet that the other use they meant was something like permanent colony/ mars mission, not the thing nixon used it at.
    I am more inclined to think that no one really wanted the nasa to give up moon besides republican politicians with their deeply anti-science agenda.

  74. Ray

    Peter B,

    “No money and no directive. Public support for manned missions to the Moon evaporated after Apollo 11. With little public support, it was easy for President Nixon and Congress to cut NASA’s budget. Without the money and the directive, NASA could do nothing.”

    The real reason is that NASA was too honest in 1969. All they had to do was fudge things a little and tell people that the Moon had cold beer on tap and naked moon chicks serving it. Guaranteed they would have stopped the Vietnam War and funded NASA for the next 40 years. But nooooooooooo, NASA has to be all honest and stuff. Thanks for nothing NASA!

  75. Peter B

    T_U_T said: “I would bet that the other use they meant was something like permanent colony/ mars mission, not the thing nixon used it at.”

    Nope. People wanted it spent on solving problems here on Earth. They got bored of space because NASA made it look simple. It didn’t help that Apollo 11’s TV was ghosty, Apollo 12’s TV was ruined a couple of minutes into the first moonwalk and Apollo 13 didn’t even land on the Moon. By the time Apollo was providing good TV coverage, the public had already lost interest.

    “I am more inclined to think that no one really wanted the nasa to give up moon besides republican politicians with their deeply anti-science agenda.”

    You can think what you like, but if you read the newspapers of the day, it’s clear that ordinary people were happy to see government money diverted from NASA to social welfare and similar programs. Nixon himself seems to have wanted to cut spending as much as possible to help cover the cost of the Vietnam War.

    As for Republicans being the only anti-science people, remember that NASA’s most vocal critic in Congress was Democrat Walter Mondale.

  76. mk

    Being a vocal critic of NASA doesn’t necessarily translate into “anti-science.”

  77. Gary Ansorge

    I’ll be really glad when we have anti gravity, inertial-less space drives and thermonuclear power. Until we do, we’re kinda stuck with high mass flow chemically powered rocket engines and primitive space stations.
    Is the ISS expensive?
    Could it have been done cheaper?
    Should we then cease our human presence in space?

    We need to know how humans and other critters react to micro gravity environments and the ONLY way to learn that is in a micro-G environment. Someday we will be growing food in space(because viable land is no longer available on earth). How will that environment affect such production?
    Can we sustain mono-cultured, hydroponically grown plants in orbit? Will it be cost effective to return food to earth?
    What resources can we acquire and return in a cost effective manner? Can humans and other critters even reproduce in a micro-G environment?
    Are we stuck on this old ball of mud,,,forever(or until we eat every other life form to extinction)?

    Investment in space colonization is driven by available resources. Too few and the cost becomes prohibitive. Too many and people loose any incentive to acquire more.

    The oceans are rising. Billions will be adversely affected. Resources are declining. Hunger will be a specter on the land. MAke the highway to the high frontier cost effective and many will rise to the challenge. Those who do will become filthy rich. So rich that saving earths myriad species will be child’s play.

    Do it now, before it becomes impossible to do,,,(see Macro Scope by Piers Anthony)

    GAry 7

  78. Cheyenne

    I actually think being a critic of manned space flight is a very pro-science position.

    My entire beef with it is that it isn’t driven by science and we get very little from it compared to what we get from robots and space telescopes, etc.

    NASA isn’t going to find the answer to anything truly fundamental by launching people up into an orbiting outpost in LEO. If we re-directed that money and time of the engineers we could have three or four times as many probes going out into the solar system and telescopes looking out to the universe. We could speed up the schedule of sample return missions and do some really kick butt science.

    Goodness let’s at least fund another OCO. That’s really important science as one example.

  79. Cheyenne

    @Gary – I just would humbly submit that maybe you’re getting a little too bit ahead of yourself. If we want to save the Earth from the problems that you are worried about I think it would make much more sense to spend money on agricultural research, climate change mitigation, etc. down here. I’m sorry but growing food in space is not going to be a technically feasible thing to do to feed the soon to be coming 10 billion people on this planet.

    But using space smartly can tell extraordinary things about the universe. Dark energy, dark matter, The Big Bang – space-based telescopes contribute immensely to these studies (and obviously way more) I think we would all agree. So let’s build more of them! Let’s have another Hubble, another gamma scope, another…..whatever – to launch right after Webb goes up. I think that 95% of people that read this blog would like the idea of more money going to astronomy and more telescopes in space.

    So how do we fund that? Realistically, cut the manned program as much as possible to re-direct money and time to much more worthwhile projects. It’s all about finding the most kick out of a dollar. And a dollar going to the ISS is a just a sad waste compared to what it could be doing.

    I’m sorry but I don’t think that NASA has justified the ISS, has managed it well, or has a good idea of what to do with it in the future (for Pete’s sake, we aren’t even going to have our own access to it soon but will have to rely on the Ruskies. Who I am quite certain are going to try to renegotiate launch fees once the shuttle is gone and they hold all the cards. NASA management gets a truckload of The Stupid delivered to their doors for that fact alone).

    And I can’t even imagine where we will be if the Russians lose a Soyuz or the station gets hit by orbital debris one of these years. Unlikely (thank goodness) but we have a lot of eggs in one basket up there. It’s not smart. Unmanned missions have proven track record of doing amazing work. They should be the focus. Judging by NASA’s budget they clearly are of secondary importance.

  80. Gary Ansorge


    This link references world wheat, rice and corn production for 2007:

    Following is my back of the envelope calculation:

    A rotating ring, 10 km in diameter by 10 km in length, divided into 500 concentric rings, each 10 meters apart has a surface area of about 19,625 km^2 or 7,850,000 acres(at approx. 400 acres/km^2) which could grow, with only two crops/year and 45 bushels/acre about 706 million bushels of wheat, which is currently 32% of the worlds wheat production, with NO pesticides required. That could increase by 50% if hydroponically forcing to three crops/year.

    At least 32 %(of current world production) for a single wheat colony and all that needs to be returned to a starving population is the refined grain.

    Granted, we are currently unable to capture asteroids and use them for construction material, we don’t know if wheat CAN be grown under such conditions, we don’t know if production could be increased beyond 45 bushels/acre/crop (here I am referencing a wheat farmer I knew in Montana in the ’70s) but constructing such habitats is possible with current technology.

    (We may even be able to gene engineer wheat to spend less of its metabolic energy growing lignin and focus more on seed production. Thus the ring may have only minimal rotational stress)
    At $ 4.50/bushel times 706 million bushels that’s about $ 3 billion/year in gross sales and the (filled) delivery system only needs to go downhill.

    Anyway, those are minimum numbers. I expect they could only go up,,,but first we need knowledge of biological performance in low G environments and cheaper launch tech.

    The ISS may return such bio data. The launch tech is still up for grabs,,,

    Gary 7

  81. T_U_T

    My entire beef with it is that it isn’t driven by science and we get very little from it compared to what we get from robots and space telescopes, etc.

    everything we could get by robotic probes only is just an insignificant fraction of what we could get if we became a truly space faring species.
    Robots are a blind alley. We should not take that route just because it is the easier one right now.

  82. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    On the larger issue, manned exploration use, it seems to me manned space exploration is what engages more people outside the science and photo ops. Or in other words, would a large operation like NASA have existed without the space race? (ISS may or may not be a proper way forward, but it seems to me the intended cooperation between agencies is there, except that China was excluded for political reasons so will lift their own stations.)

    On the smaller issue, I believe this mission will double the available power for science experiments, so enable work for the 6 rotation crew members in May?!

    @ Robert:

    While Agatha is a spunky spark (and has a lovely hair!), she hasn’t lofted anything into orbit. Yet.

    [Hmm. I guess “Spunky Spark” isn’t as catching as “Girl Genius”. And while a spark can twist 5 physical laws and as many arms before breakfast, I assume “genius” is as close as you can get.]

  83. Harold,
    Sorry I’m so late with the reply, but I’m glad you liked the pix.

    As for the other stuff, well, it’s the price we pay, isn’t it? Still worth every penny.

  84. Grand Lunar

    It does seem at times that the ISS is really a pet project by NASA.
    But doesn’t the potential for it to do good science still exist?
    It seems illogical to complain of it not accomplishing good science yet, as it’s not even complete.
    The real waste, to me anyway (and perhaps others) is the loss of the Saturn rockets and the Apollo spacecraft. To think what might have been if these had still been used instead of switching to the shuttle! I’ve heard that with a Saturn V, the ISS might have been completed in half the time.

    The mentioning of most people today not knowing one astronaut’s name on the ISS brings something to mind as well.
    How many people know the names of the men that were in the Trieste when it accomplished it’s historic dive to Challenger Deep? How many know the names of those in the deep sea submerisibles that explore the mysteries of the ocean? Who could name those that are at work at the LHC?

    The point is, space exploration shouldn’t be about popularity. It’s extra, to be sure, but it shouldn’t be the driving force behind what projects take place. It shouldn’t even be an issue at all. Yet, it seems to me that people do make it to be one.


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