Global Space High Altitude Balloon Challenge

A wonderful gallery of pix from the recently concluded (April) High-Altitude Balloon competition, with entrants from around the world, from young makers to university students to engineers to old DIYers.

Gallery — Global Space Balloon Challenge via Adafruit.

Mission to Mars with MAVEN Satellite


(11/02/2013) — CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, engineers and technicians prepare the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft for encapsulation inside its payload fairing. MAVEN is being prepared for its scheduled launch on Nov 18, 2013 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Positioned in an orbit above the Red Planet, MAVEN will study the upper atmosphere of Mars in unprecedented detail. For more information, visit: Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Cargo Spacecraft Through the Years



Cargo craft throughout the years: the workhorses supplying humanity with tools and resources needed for life off the Earth.

The first Cygnus Spacecraft to visit the International Space Station, the G. David Low, departed the station at 7:31 AM EST today, October 22, 2013. The Cygnus spacecraft is the latest in a long history of cargo vehicles to resupply the orbital outposts that humanity has positioned in the heavens. Built by Orbital Sciences Corporation of Virginia, it is the second vehicle built by a commercial company to visit the space station.

                When the Soviet Union began to operate long-duration missions in space aboard the Salyut 6 space station, the designers needed to figure out how to supply the outpost with the resources needed to supply both Man and machine. The manned Soyuz craft could only accommodate two suited Cosmonauts with room for little else. They designed the Progress cargo craft to replenish on-orbit supplies of oxygen, food, water, and fuel to reboost the station’s altitude. Progress was later modified for the next-generation Mir space station, and is currently in use for the International Space Station.

                The Soviet Military space station series known as Almaz brought along the development and flight of the first resupply vehicle for a space craft. The TKS spacecraft (Transportnyi Korabl’ Snabzheniia, or Transport Supply Spacecraft) had the ability to transport both crew and cargo simultaneously in one craft. Due to delays and cancellation of the Almaz program, the TKS was never used for its intended purpose, although it did make two successful unmanned test flights to the Salyut 6 and 7 space stations. The cargo portion of TKS, known as the Functional Cargo Block, became the basis for future Russian space station modules on both Mir and the International Space Station.

                The construction of the multi-national International Space Station brought about many new vehicles to visit the space station. With four nations hosting dedicated on-orbit laboratory modules, cargo vehicles from, those respective nations were designed and flown to replenish them, and the space station as a whole. To resupply the Columbus laboratory, Europe designed the Automated Transfer Vehicle. Carrying over 7,600 kilograms of cargo to the station, it is the largest resupply vehicle to visit a space station. Japan developed the H-II Transport Vehicle to service the Kibo module, including an unpressurised section to supply the external experiment platform. The HTV could carry 6,000 kilograms of pressurized cargo.

                With the retirement of the U.S. Space Shuttle, American resupply flights to the ISS took an 11-month hiatus. The commercial Dragon spacecraft, manufactured by Space Exploration Technologies Corporation of California, became the first private vehicle to visit and resupply the space station during its May 2012 test mission. Since then, it has completed two dedicated resupply missions. Additionally, the Dragon spacecraft offers a capability that the ISS has not had since the end of the shuttle program, the ability to return large experiments, and samples to Earth. The Soyuz craft could carry only small experiments back to the planet, relying on the Space Shuttle for large-scale downflight capability. Dragon also boasts the ability to bring unpressurized equipment to orbit.

                The second and final commercial space resupply vehicle, Cygnus, offers 2,000 kilograms of cargo delivery to the station. A slightly larger version capable of carrying an additional 700 kilograms is in development. Cygnus became the final dedicated service vehicle in the space station program with it’s successful five-week demonstration mission in autumn of 2013. Although not intended as a cargo vehicle, the U.S. Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle will able be able to bring supplies and crewmembers both to the space station and down to Earth when it begins its flights later in the decade.

Learn more about the cargo vehicles supplying the International Space Station:

 (Images top to bottom: Cygnus, Progress, ATV, TKS, Dragon, HTV)

Scott Carpenter RIP


Scott Carpenter, second American to orbit the earth, died earlier today, October 10, 2013. Carpenter was selected by NASA on April 9, 1959, as a part of NASA’s first Astronaut class, the Mercury 7. He became the second American to orbit the earth on May 24, 1962, on an almost five-hour flight. His spacecraft, Aurora 7, is on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

Upon taking a leave of absence from NASA following his flight, Carpenter led a team of 20 men on a 30-day expedition to the seafloor in the Navy’s SEALAB II experiment.

Carpenter was 88 years old.

The images show Carpenter, his MA-7 flight, and him in front of the SEALAB II habitat. In the last image, he is second from the left in the bottom row.

I met Carpenter as a little boy back in 2002. I have a photo with him him my office. He was very kind from what I remembered.

Another Win for Commercial Delivery to ISS


Orbital’s Cygnus Capsule Reaches Space Station

Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo ship reached the International Space Station on Sunday, the second commercial spacecraft to fly to the orbital outpost. Read more

The First American in Space

Ham the chimp after his successful flight aboard a Mercury rocket in 1961.
Ham the chimp after his successful flight aboard a Mercury rocket in 1961.


Ham the Awesome Astrochimp

On the morning of January 31, 1961, in south Florida, a 5-year-old chimpanzee — dubbed “Ham” by his handlers — ate a breakfast of baby cereal, condensed milk, vitamins and half an egg. Then the unassuming 37-pound primate went out and made aeronautic history: Aboard a NASA space capsule, traveling thousands of miles an hour almost 160 miles above the Earth, he became the first chimp in space.

The success of Ham’s flight helped ratchet up even further the already frantic contest for scientific and space supremacy between the U.S. and the Soviet Union — and briefly made Ham something of a star.

Well before the USSR launched the world’s first artificial satellite, in 1957 — effectively freaking out virtually the entire Western hemisphere — and decades before the U.S. put Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon in 1969, Americans and Soviets used animals to test the rigors and dangers that humans might face in outer space. Mice, rhesus monkeys, dogs — all sorts of creatures blasted off from the surface of the Earth strapped atop rockets and locked in test planes: many suffered injury; not a few of them died.

Ham and his cohorts were picked for the Mercury program over other hominids (gorillas and orangutans) because they’re smaller — and thus could fit in the Mercury capsule — and because, more importantly, “chimpanzees have physical and mental characteristics similar to man,” as LIFE pointed out in its Feb. 10 1961 issue.

The most famous of all the Mercury chimps, due to his landmark January 1961 flight, Ham was actually not publicly called Ham until after the flight succeeded. The name by which he’s now known — an acronym for Holloman Aerospace Medical Center at the Air Force base — was only widely used when he returned safely to earth; NASA reportedly wanted to avoid bad publicity should a named (and thus a known, publicly embraced) animal be killed; all the Mercury chimps were known by numbers.

The astrochimps were not trained to “pilot” space capsules, but instead to perform routine tasks during suborbital flights, and to act, in the most elemental way, as test subjects — facing little-known physical and psychological perils — ahead of their human counterparts in the Mercury program and beyond.

Ham lived at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C, after the flight, then the North Carolina Zoo, where he died at age 26 in 1983. His brief pop culture celebrity (he appeared in a film with Evel Knievel, for example) paled beside the significance of his achievement as NASA’s first astrochimp. A short three months after Ham’s 1961 flight, astronaut Alan Shepard piloted the Mercury capsule on his own historic, 15-minute suborbital space flight, and was feted with ticker tape parades in New York and Washington.

“Alan Shepard was a hero, no doubt about that,” Ralph Morse says today. “But whenever people call Shepard the first American in space, I like to remind them of a chimpanzee who beat him to it.”

Credit: Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of