Paolo’s pictures have arrived!

Here they are, the pictures @astro_paolo took while departing from the International Space Station have finally been released.

These are quite historically significant and will be the pictures that end up in books about (what im calling) the second space age for years to come.

Enjoy them in all their glory (if you want to download them they’re available here) and well done to @astro_paolo for a steady hand at 17,500mph.

Update 11/06/11: Purhaps even more amazing than the pictures is the video that’s been released…

Meanwhile… in Russia

A few days post landing and NASA and others have been posting up videos and pictures galore…

The time-lapse of STS-135′s rollout to the launch pad is also available…

and this video is particularly amazing, it’s the shuttle landing viewed from the ground in Mexico…

Annoyingly there’s still no sign of the pictures astro_paolo took before he landed (I hope they survived reentry/he remembered to take the lens cap off/NASA might be saving them for the end of the whole space shuttle programme).

but meanwhile in a car park in Russia this happened…

(yes I know it happened the other day but this blog appears to have a bit of a tradition of posting about anniversaries a bit late. The Mars500 project is one of those projects that sounds (and looks) completely crazy but is scientifically quite useful. In case you haven’t heard about it the russians has essentially locked a group of guys up for a simulated mars mission in the car park of one of their universities.

The project’s website is full of videos of the experiments (pranks) the team looking after the guys have performed (here) and the final results of all this could have a real effect on the way we treat the first humans to head to the red planet or beyond.

Back in the real world and the second half of Expedition 28 moved a step closer to launching as its Soyuz rocket was dragged to the launch pad. It wont be long before the European Space Agency has the ability to launch some of these on their own, as they finished building a Soyuz launch centre in French Guiana not long ago. Once that happens we might finally see the one Brit in the ESA’s astronaut corps getting his feet off the ground.

Mission Day 17: Endeavour wheel stop

Very very busy morning at Kennedy Space Center. I cheekily had my iPad streaming NASA TV while at work this morning to catch the moment when Endeavour touched down. I also grabbed a series of screen shots that I thought I’d share with you in case you missed out.

(good to see even NASA can’t resist a bit of wordart)

And while all this was going on Atlantis made its way to Launch Complex 39a

So a successful morning all round I’d say, the video of which can be found here (will embed when by a computer)

Mission Day 16: One in, one out

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Kennedy Space Center will be busy tonight. As Space Shuttle Endeavour glides in through the earth’s atmosphere, Space Shuttle Atlantis will be rolling out to it’s launch pad. It’s fairly rare for these two events to occur at the same time but it’s fairly fitting/lucky that it should happen for the final two Shuttles.

If you’re planning on watching either, Atlantis’ rollout it starts at 0100 BST and will take approximately 8 hours and Endeavour’s first landing attempt is planned for 0736 BST. So if you’re bored at breakfast flick over to NASA TV to see some beasty machinery being put thought it’s paces I’m hoping NASA has cameras lined up to catch the view of them both in shot.

Once Endeavour’s on the ground it will go through largely the same process that Discovery has already gone though. After being ‘safed’ engineers will slowly begin to drain pipes, pull out engines and make the shuttle ready for public display.

After tonight there will never be another space shuttle in the Vehicle Assembly Building (provided Atlantis doesn’t suffer any major set backs). The fourth largest building in the world (by volume) will be empty for at least a couple of years while NASA takes it’s time to move on from the Shuttle era.

I got the chance to walk round the building a couple of months ago and I honestly think it will be a funny old place when it’s without a purpose, a bit like when a large shop closes and you catch a glimpse of the remains from the inside. But i have no doubt it will be used again, it’s been converted before (the image below shows one of the smaller hangers used to store stage 2 of the old Saturn V rockets before stacking), it will be converted again.

If you’re too busy to watch it live you’ll find the video of the landing and the no doubt amazing time-lapse of the final rollout to the launch pad on the blog tomorrow. And don’t forget…

There’ll be a post about that too.

Mission Day 15: Time to go home

I dont think I could ever get tired of pictures of our planet from space, especially ones that show it’s general hugeness. Endeavour undocked this morning for the final time (and included a minor win for UK space flight, pilot Greg Johnson was born in Middlesex. Whoever said the UK doesn’t do space?). The Shuttle that first kited out the station all those years ago has one last appointment with the earth’s atmosphere that needs to be kept.

Not before they performed the STORRM fly around though, a procedure that brought about this particularly funny (well i think it’s funny) bit of banter between station shuttle crew…

Would love to find the video/audio of that actually being said (job for a later day I feel) but I have it on good authority that it was, probably at a similar point that this photo was taken…

The Shuttle crew leave behind three men who must now be in an almost ‘post christmas vibe’ (that moment when the festivities are over and everyone’s going back to their normal lives, after all they’ve just seen 9 people leave them in the past couple of days. Not to worry though, at least they’ve got some LEGO to play with…

One of the more important pieces of cargo that the shuttle delivered to the station in my opinion. Now that the station is complete i thought it was worth linking to an excellently detailed page on Space.com going through the various parts of the station, what does what, who’s responsible for it etc. This things going to be in orbit for at least another ten years so there’s never a bad time to find out what it does. Remember, it’s the single most expensive object ever built and there’s a good chance that at some point you paid for it.

Landing for the shuttle is scheduled for Wednesday morning (about 7:35 UK time) if you were planning on catching it. It’s a nighttime landing which means it might not be quite as spectacular as Discovery’s final ‘wheel stop’, but it’s still worth watching while you’re going through your breakfast. As normal NASA TV will have full coverage, and you never know a couple of the British news channels might pick it up as well. If you’ve never seen a landing before, just remember, it doesn’t have a second chance. The shuttle lands completely unpowered, so it’s coming down whether we’re ready for it or not.

Mission Day 14: Did you lock the door?

Well that’s that then….

The doors are being locked as I blog and Endeavour will depart within 24 hours. Beth Beck from NASA pointed out a wonderful bit of symmetry given that it’s the Shuttle that completed the station.

The Farewell ceremony happened a little while ago and if you want to watch it i’ve embedded it below…

Bit of an update on the planned testing of the STORRM rendezvous system, essentially a large chunk of it failed this morning and they’re a little worried about checking the status of the remaining bits in case this makes the problem worse. Spaceflight 101 has a decent little blurb on what’s going to happen, that can be found here.

So Endeavour’s adventure’s in space are slowly coming to an end, one last controlled glide through the earth’s atmosphere and it’s a lifetime as a museum exhibition to look forward to.

NASA posted up a brilliant video of the highlights of this final launch this morning, if you’ve got a spare quarter of an hour I would highly recommend you watch it.

Mission Day 12+13: The final trip outside and time to pack the bags

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Bit of a late blog but yesterday’s EVA was officially the final adventure outside for any astronauts that arrive at the space station using the shuttle. The spacewalk largely involved the odd bit of maintenance but more importantly transferred the space shuttle’s Orbiter Boom Sensor to the International Space Station to act as an extension to the Canadarms already in use, a move not completely dissimilar to taking the cooker when you move house.

In photo news it looks like Nasa is frustratingly holding onto the photos of the shuttle and station in orbit that @astro_paolo took just before returning to earth in a Soyuz capsule. Choosing instead to tease the world with some taken by @astro_taz just before he got back in the airlock.

I can’t actually decide which of those is my favourite. The fourth one had me for quite some time because of the glimpse of the European Space Agency’s ATV in the top right corner, but then the third is such a magnificent close up of a Soyuz. The first and second are good, but can’t compare to this picture of the shuttle in orbit…

A picture that will be upstaged as soon as Endeavour lands (i’m guessing Nasa are waiting for their staff to be safely on the ground before they make a song and dance about a photo).

That will happen in a couple of days time. Hatch closure is set for Sunday, undocking for Monday and reentry for Wednesday, after a bit of testing of the Orion capsule’s rendezvous system brilliantly titled ‘STORRM’ (no spelling error, it’s meant to be like that).

Before all that we got a bit of an update from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer last night, they were having a few connection problems at first…

but after that they told the world how many ‘events’ they had monitored, and it’s quite a few!

There are scientists across the world rubbing their hands with anticipation and firing up super-computers as you read.

Mission Day 9: Space is a bit emptier today

That photo could well have been taken at any time between now and the 60′s because however flashy the space shuttle or Branson’s spaceplane looks, this is how the majority of our adventures in space end at the moment. By being crashing back to reality a field in Kazakhstan. The European Space Agency have posted up some amazing photos…
and if you want to see more of them their flickr stream can be found here. I’ve also posted up the highlights video of the landing and the moment when it actually hits the ground can be seen in the video below that.
While up on the station ESA’s Paolo Nespoli took part in dozens of microgravity experiments, oversaw the arrival of Europe’s second Automated Transfer Vehicle to the ISS, and filmed an entire orbit of the space station for ‘first orbit’, a film marking 50 years of humans in space. He was also a prolific tweeter and from this I gather, a genuinely good guy. Unfortunately he returns to earth with the news that his mother died while he was in space fresh on his mind, and that alone means that he is owed a well earned break, however great it would be to see him at the UK Space Conference later this year.
Back in Space though…
And the Shuttle astronauts have been enjoying a bit of a day off ready for the third spacewalk scheduled for tomorrow. Must be a bit weird up there though, as the space station is a little emptier than it was 24 hours ago.

Update: @nasa sent a quick tweet about a press conference scheduled for later today about the agency’s new plans for human spaceflight. For more details you can go here

Mission Day 6,7 and 8: They aren’t half busy up there

Bit of a post-weekend post to round-up all what happened. And believe me there’s quite a lot to get through.

Saturday saw quite a big ceremonial event, ring ring…ring ring, who was that on the phone?….. oh it’s the Pope!

It was a fairly big moment, and a bit of a celebration of the fact that for the first time in its history there are two Italian astronauts aboard the station at one time. If you want to see the call again you can go here.

Away from the various bits of pomp and circumstance that crop up from time to time there was the more serious business of checking Space Shuttle Endeavour’s heat shield for damage…

The astronauts broke out the high res cameras and laser sensors and after a bit of deliberation the bods on the ground have cleared the shuttle for reentry.

Outside the station and there was also a bit of trouble with loose bolts on thermal covers that needed to be temporarily removed. A couple appeared to have a bit of a habit of floating away which caused mission control to have to slightly change their plans for the spacewalk.

Finally the space station crew have been preparing for the departure of half their crew. Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratiev, NASA’s Catherine Coleman and the legendary European Space Agency’s Paolo Nespoli will leave the space station after 6 months up in space. But not before they take a picture that looks like this…

That’s the shuttle when it was docked to Russia’s Mir space station and the departure of the Soyuz capsule provides the opportunity for a similar picture to be taken while a shuttle is docked to the ISS. An extremely important cultural moment created by the delay to Endeavour’s launch. You can guarantee i’ll post the picture up as soon as it’s on the ground.

Quick final thought for the day, NASA announced this…

If you do nothing else on that day I urge you to fill that form in on that day. It’s quick, easy, and could well change your life.