All set for Paolo Nespoli launch tomorrow – The next spaceflight by a European astronaut is about to begin: ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli and his crewmates will be launched aboard a Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome on 15 December at 19:09 GMT to the International Space Station. –ESA
Meteors and the Geminids Peak – The Geminids did not dissapoint! Though the IMO ZHR Live page doesn’t seem to be updating observations made by myself and Salvador show ZHRs that equaled or even exceeded the expected value of 120. Over the course of about 3.33 hours I averaged about 1 meteor per minute under skies that range from a limiting magnitude of +5.0 (when the Moon was still up) to +5.7 (before the break of dawn).-Carl Hergenrother / Transient Sky
Qatar Led Team Discovers Exoplanet – When listing the major scientific powers, the tiny nation of Qatar is not one that generally comes to mind. However, a Qatar astronomer, partnered with teams from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) as well as other institutions has just discovered a new exoplanet, dubbed Qatar-1b. -Jon Voisey / Universe Today
Total Lunar Eclipse – December 21, 2010 – Both lunar and solar eclipses can only occur when the Earth, Sun and Moon are directly aligned… and that alignment is about to happen just four days before Christmas! While the winter treat of totality will lend itself to North America, many other parts of the world will be able to enjoy a partial eclipse as well. -Tammy Plotner / Universe Today
Timelapse: the last shuttle main engines are installed - The last set of space shuttle main engines is installed in Atlantis in this timelapse video recorded in Orbiter Processing Facility Bay 1 at the Kennedy Space Center.
Lunar hole in one
Wham! Asteroids collide in space!
Sunset of the Shuttle
Gallery Pick of the Day
Every space mission from the last 50 years on one map
10 Years of SOHO - (Dec. 1995 - Dec 2005) - Courtesy of SOHO consortium. SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.
NASA's Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (or SOFIA) completed its first science flight on Dec. 1, demonstrating the airborne observatory's ability to make observations not possible from ground-based telescopes. Five more flights are planned over the coming months in the observatory's Short Science series.
Solar Observation Mission Celebrates 15 Years – On December 2, 1995, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory or SOHO was launched into space from Cape Canaveral aboard an Atlas IIAS rocket. The joint ESA/NASA project began its work observing the sun at a time when the term “solar weather” was almost never used. –NASA
NASA Aids in Characterizing Super-Earth Atmosphere – A team of astronomers, including two NASA Sagan Fellows, has made the first characterizations of a super-Earth’s atmosphere, by using a ground-based telescope. A super-Earth is a planet up to three times the size of Earth and weighing up to 10 times as much. The findings, reported in the Dec. 2 issue of the journal Nature, are a significant milestone toward eventually being able to probe the atmospheres of Earth-like planets for signs of life. –NASA / JPL
Red Dwarf Discovery Changes Everything! – Its often said that the number of grains of sand on Earth equals the number of stars in the Universe. Well it looks like a recent study by astronomers working at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii have found that its more like three times the number of grains of sand on Earth! Working with some of the most sophisticated equipment available, astronomers from Yale University have been counting the number of dim red dwarf stars in nearby galaxies which has led to a dramatic rethink of the number of stars in the Universe. -Mark Thompson / Universe Today
Secret Mini Space Shuttle Could Land on Friday – The US Air Force announced that the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, a miniature, unmanned space shuttle could return to Earth as soon as this Friday, December 3. It has been in Earth orbit for about nine months on a classified mission for the military. It will land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Los Angeles sometime between Friday and Monday, Air Force officials said in a statement. –Nancy Atkinson / Universe Today
What’s up in the solar system in December 2010 – The year is racing to a close — I can’t believe December is here already! This month will see Japan’s Akatsuki join Venus Express at Venus; that happens on December 6 at 23:49 UT (December 7, Japan time). Cassini will perform a second of a pair of 50-kilometer Enceladus flybys (the first happened early today). Opportunity should, if she keeps up her current pace, arrive within spitting distance of Santa Maria crater. And, closer to home, there’ll be a total lunar eclipse over the night of December 20-21. –Emily Lakdawalla / Planetary Society
NASA Offers Space Shuttle Tiles To Schools And Universities – As the Space Shuttle Program nears retirement, NASA is looking for ways to preserve the program’s history and inspire the next generation of space explorers, scientists and engineers. Beginning Wednesday, NASA is offering 7,000 shuttle heat shield tiles to schools and universities that want to share technology and a piece of space history with their students. –NASA
Celestron’s Capture the Universe 2010 Astrophoto winners! – Last month, Discover Magazine and Celestron telescopes partnered for the second annual Capture the Universe astrophotography contest. Astronomers submitted about a hundred images made using Celestron optics for the contest, and I was chosen to pick my favorite two; a third was picked as Viewers’ Choice by the members of the Celestron website. All of the photos submitted are available at the CelestronImages site. –Phil Plait / Bad Astronomy
This coronal mass ejection -- observed by SOHO's EIT 195 instrument on April 7, 1997 -- was the first visual image of such an ejection headed for Earth. It appeared as the lead story on the national news. Credit: SOHO/ESA/NASA
The seven-member STS-131 crew headed to the International Space Station aboard space shuttle Discovery after its launch from NASA
Update 3: STS-131 another view of launch
Up close photo of #STS131 Launch - Credit: NASA/MOCOP
Update 2: STS-131 Launch Plume
STS-131 launch plume - Credit: Jen Scheer
Update 1: Visit the STS-131 gallery for an extensive collection of photos from the launch.
April 4, 2010 at 10:21:25 UTC, NASA successfully launched the Space Shuttle Discovery on its 38th flight – the 33rd shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Six crew members of STS-131, commanded by NASA astronaut Alan Poindexter (STS-122), will stay in space 13 Days 2 Hours 4 Minutes and land at the Kennedy Space Center on April 18, 12:29 (UTC time). Mission specialists Clayton C. Anderson and Rick Mastracchio will combine for 19.5 hours during 3 planed spacewalks (EVA) on flight days 5, 7 and 9.
Lift-off of the Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-131 mission to the International Space Station - Credit: NASA TV
As the last round-trip for the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, this mission will provide the International Space Station with not only some 8 tons of science equipment and cargo, but also one last opportunity to send a large load of cargo back to the ground (Leonardo will be permanently added to the ISS during the STS-133 mission).
Discovery is scheduled to dock with the station on Wednesday, April 7.
The STS-131 crew is commanded by Alan G. Poindexter (seated, right) and piloted by James P. Dutton Jr. (seated, left). Standing from the left are Mission Specialists Rick Mastracchio, Stephanie Wilson, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Naoko Yamazaki and Clayton Anderson - Credit: NASA
STS-131 will be the first spaceflight for the shuttle pilot James P. Dutton, Jr. Veteran astronaut Rick Mastracchio (STS-106, STS-118) will serve as mission specialist 1 on STS-131, marking his third trip to space. Veteran of one long-duration spaceflight, Clayton Anderson will serve as mission specialist 5 for STS-131. He previously flew on STS-117 and STS-120 and served as the ISS crew member of Expedition 15 and Expedition 16. A former teacher, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, on her first trip to space, will serve as mission specialist 2. Stephanie Wilson is assigned as mission specialist 3 for STS-131, marking her third spaceflight (STS-121, STS-120). Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Naoko Yamazaki will serve as mission specialist 4 on STS-131, her first spaceflight.
After rollback of the rotating service structure, or RSS, on Launch Pad 39A, space shuttle Discovery is one step closer to launch on its STS-131 mission - Credit: NASA
STS-130 will be the second spaceflight also for Nicholas Patrick (STS-116) and Robert Behnken (STS-123). Veteran astronaut Stephen Robinson flew on STS-85 in 1997, STS-95 in 1998 and STS-114 in 2005. He has logged more than 831 hours in space, including more than 20 hours of spacewalking time. He has also held various technical assignments within the Astronaut Office including testing space shuttle control software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory and helping to develop the space station robot arm.
Space shuttle Discovery’s STS-131/19A payload includes the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) and the Lightweight Multi-Purpose Experiment Support Structure Carrier (LMC).
The next mission to the ISS will be STS-131 (ISS assembly flight ULF4) currently planned to launch on at 18:28 UTC on May 14, 2010. STS-132 is scheduled to carry the Russian Mini-Research Module 1 (MRM 1).
Discovery’s last flight (STS-133) scheduled to launch on September 16, 2010, will, most likely, mark the end of the space shuttle era.