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On This Date: 5 Anniversaries for April 20 April 20, 2016

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Looking for something to ponder or celebration today, April 20? Here you go!

1862: Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard prove that spontaneous generation doesn’t happen. If you’re still hoping that something can come from nothing, you’re more than 150 years behind the times.

MarieCurieAmHist1902: Pierre and Marie Curie radium chloride, the first compound of radium to be isolated in a pure state. In 2013, the FDA approved radium chloride as a treatment for prostate cancer. We’ve written about the Curies before; check out more info about Pasteur and Curie HERE.

CubsBoard1916: One hundred years ago on this date, the Chicago Cubs played their first game in what has become Wrigley Field on this date. While this anniversary is beside the usual topics of Lofty Ambitions, we’re lifelong Cubs fans, and we like an excuse for a celebration.

1937: George Takei was born in Los Angeles. He later played Sulu in the television show Star Trek and subsequent films. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter and not following George Takei, you’re missing out.

Lofty&CharlieDuke1972: John Young and Charlie Duke land on the Moon during the Apollo 16 mission. See our interviews with the wonderful Charlie Duke HERE and HERE.

Bonus: In April 2012, we had followed the orbiter Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the National Air and Space Museum‘s Udvar-Hazy facility. April 20th was that oribter’s first full day as a museum artifact.


From 3R’s to STEAM (Discovery Departure, Part 11) July 25, 2012

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Although it seems ages ago at this point, a little over two months ago, we were in Washington, DC, watching two space shuttles, Discovery and Enterprise, move to their permanent homes.  Discovery took up residence in the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, in a very deft and public move into the gallery that Enterprise formerly occupied. Enterprise headed for a new midtown address in the City that Never Sleeps, taking up residence at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

In our ten-hour day at Udvar-Hazy, we not only got to see Enterprise meet Discover;, the two shuttles had never been in the same place before. As members of the press, we had the opportunity to interview several of the speakers from that morning’s ceremony. We’ve already written about our interviews with astronaut and Senator John Glenn, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, and the first woman to command a space shuttle, Eileen Collins. Two of our other conversations from that day were with people directly connected to Discovery’s new home: Dr. Wayne Clough, the twelfth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and General John R. Dailey, Director of the National Air and Space Museum, which is part of the Smithsonian system. Both men were enthusiastic about what has come to be known as STEAM.

We had heard of STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—before and make that the topic of one question we usually asked astronauts we meet. What, then, was STEAM? Dailey made it clear that art is now part of thinking when it comes to educating future generations and informing the public who wander their ways through the National Air & Space Museum’s two facilities. Art is crucial in the educational configuration of subjects because it embodies creativity, imagination, and innovation. The approach of the artist is necessary for big leaps in the STEM disciplines and important for cultural development more generally.

We had, in fact, viewed an art exhibit at the facility on The Mall the day before the Discovery installation and meeting these two men. The National Air and Space Museum has a 4500-object art collection, of which they have space to display very little. Dailey’s hope is for increased visibility of that collection in its current buildings and, importantly, a new art facility that will contain exhibits and long-term storage. Having seen images from the Hubble Telescope exhibited at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and, earlier, another exhibit at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, we can understand the importance and value of making such artwork available more widely. We can imagine the hundreds of paintings of aircraft that are currently in crates and out of view and how bringing those to light would generate a conversation about the relationships between form and function, aesthetics and technological innovation.

In addition to the physical objects, the National Air and Space Museum has committed to digitizing as much of its holdings as feasible, eventually making every artifact in its collection accessible online. Dailey stated that, when an artifact is added to the collection now, it is photographed in 144 views so that it can be rendered digitally in three dimensions. This commitment fits the museum’s mission and allows millions of teachers and students to study the museum’s collection.

Clough concurred, saying that he grew up in a small country town and was unaware that such things as these artifacts existed. “That’s a shame,” he stated, clearly wanting to ensure that future generations have more access to the artifacts of the century of flight and the objects of the Space Age than he did.

The National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts are on board with STEAM, each having new grant programs to encourage connections and collaborations between the arts and sciences. Though we hadn’t heard the term STEAM before talking with these two gentlemen, Lofty Ambitions has been engaged in this combination. We are, after all, a poet and a scientist. In addition, check out the following guest posts for some other great examples of STEAM in action:

Joe Bonomo 
Dethe and Daniela Elza
Lylie Fisher
Brian Foster
Claudine Jaenichen
Leslie Adrienne Miller
Debora Rindge
Peter and Kirsten Stoltz

Is Mars the Future for NASA? (Discovery Departure, Part X) July 18, 2012

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Mike Hawes talks with Doug.

Earlier this year, we traveled to see the space shuttle Discovery transferred from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport outside of Washington, DC. (We wrote about that trip in posts HERE.) During the day of installation activities at the museum, we wandered over to a tent set up for visitors to learn about the Orion space capsule and ideas for more ambitious human space travel in the future. Mike Hawes, Director of Human Spaceflight at Lockheed Martin Space Systems and formerly Chief Engineer for the International Space Station, wants to figure out how to go to Mars.

Hawes explained that, going forward, NASA—or any other entity planning space exploration—will spacecraft that can be differently configured for different missions. A mission to Mars would require a configuration like nothing we currently have, and the specific configuration of launcher and crew vehicle will depend on the plan for how to get there. If we decide to set up an outpost on the Moon and launch a crew from there in the direction of Mars, that plan would require certain design assumptions. Those assumptions would be different if, instead of using the Moon as a stopping point, we decide an asteroid is an intermediate goal.

An Orion capsule, on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Hawes asserts, “We need to do some form of Gemini again.” We didn’t race immediately into Apollo and the Moon in the 1960s, and Hawes thinks we need a program to learn more about deeper space, in this context, a mission beyond low-Earth orbit, before we can manage the trip to Mars. What Hawes most wants to happen next is to set up outposts at a Langrangian point or two. These points out in space are the spots between two big objects—like the Earth and the Moon—where the gravitational pull on a third object like a space station (something much smaller than the International Space Station, perhaps two Orion capsules joined together) would be balanced and hold that object in place, relative to the two bodies. (This relationship is referred to as the three-body problem.) Hawes’s choice of Langrangian points for such an outpost would be L2 which is situated farther from the Sun than Earth and farther from the Earth than the Moon. There, the gravitational forces of the Sun and Earth would hold a space station in place while we figured out how to manage the long mission to Mars.

Lagrange Points (NASA)

Hawes isn’t the only one to pose this idea. Neil deGrasse Tyson has mentioned it as an option. In his book Space Chronicles, he says, “Unlike a launch from a planet’s surface, where most of your fuel goes to life you off the ground, a Lagrangian launch would be a low-energy affair and would resemble a ship leaving dry dock, cast into the sea with a minimal investment of fuel. […W]e can think of Lagrangian points as gateways to the rest of the solar system. From the Sun-Earth Lagrangian points, you are halfway to Mars—not in distance or time but in the all-important category of fuel consumption.” He goes on to imagine a future upon which we come to depend on what Hawes proposes: “In one version of our spacefaring future, imagine filling stations at every Lagrangian point in the solar system, where travelers refill their rocket gas tanks en route to visit friends and relatives living on other planets or moons.”

Hawes built on this idea, suggesting that an outpost could cycle between the L2 and L3 Langrangian points in the Earth-Moon system. As he talked, we started imagining how this sort of mission could be an end in itself, whether or not we want to go to Mars. Hawes points out that one of the most important things such a program would investigate is the psychology of deep space travel. For a crew hanging out at a Langrangian point, according to Hawes, there could be re-supply ships sent roughly every twenty-eight days, but there would be no “anytime return.” The crew would be stuck in a way no human space traveler has been stranded before.

Michael Barratt, STS-133 Mission Specialist. We had a long chat with Barratt, and he’s in our series of video interviews.

We brought up a concern that STS-133 crew member and physician Michael Barratt has brought to our attention on a couple of different occasions. (See one of Barratt’s earlier conversations with us HERE.) Barratt studies the effects of radiation on the human body, and he says deep space poses huge obstacles because the radiation to which a crew would be exposed on a trip to Mars, using current propulsion systems and the speed they can achieve, would likely kill them. Hawes responded, “Internally, we have more shielding [in the vehicle], more shielding to do that [protect the crew from radiation], but Mike’s right.” Hawes sees the problem as something engineers can solve and adds, “We need to start testing materials to those radiation levels.” In other words, we have some basic problems to solve before we can send astronauts very far at all.

“The doctors always seem behind where the crew is ready to go,” Hawes said. That echoed a conversation we had with Jim Tully, the mayor of Titusville, Florida, who said he’d go on a one-way mission to Mars if he had the chance. People are excited about the idea of going to Mars, regardless of practical issues and regardless of the fact that we’ve already sent rovers there. And active research into how a human might survive the trip is underway, with the Mars Science Lander hauling along on its voyage to Mars a radiation detector so that we can measure and better understand the deep space radiation environment.

In fact, Curiosity will join Spirit and Opportunity on that planet’s surface in August. But Hawes thinks rovers have limits. A rover moves a few feet, stops, and reports back, with a lag time in communication. Rovers are useful but tedious, according to Hawes. “If it’s just robots,” he said, “they’re [the general public] not really invested in the vision.”

Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (NASA)

Everyone seems to agree that, if we’re going to send human beings anywhere beyond Earth’s orbit, we need a vision. Without a vision, we’ll miss the chance to solve a lot of problems, including radiation effects on people, and the chance to understand the universe in new ways. “We’re really just on the verge of needing these things,” Hawes told us. But he sees a bright future, in the near and long term, if we form a vision: NASA-based long-distance space programs are “going to engender commercial opportunities.” Just this month, NASA revealed more of its deep-space vision with the unveiling of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

Discovery Departure (Part 9: Video Interview) May 7, 2012

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Last Monday, we posted the first part of our video interview with Charlie Bolden, the current head of NASA and a former shuttle astronaut. You can see that video by clicking HERE and the write-up of interviews with John Glenn, Bolden, and Eileen Collins by clicking HERE.

We couldn’t resist asking our favorite question of Bolden: Discovery, great shuttle or the greatest shuttle? And Margaret Lazarus Dean, Lofty Ambitions guest blogger and author of the novel The Time It Takes to Fall, captured Bolden’s answer on video. Note the expression of the security detail over Bolden’s shoulder, indicating that this was his favorite question that day.

Discovery Departure (Part 8: Video Interview) April 30, 2012

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Lofty Ambitions traveled to Florida, then to the Washington, DC, area to see the space shuttle Discovery transferred to the Udvar-Hazy Center for permanent display. While there, we spoke with Charlie Bolden, the head of NASA and a former shuttle astronaut. We wrote about that HERE, and now we share the video that fellow writer, Lofty Ambitions guest blogger, and space nerd Margaret Lazarus Dean shot of Bolden answering a question or two.

Discovery Departure (Part 7: More Interviews) April 25, 2012

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NOTE: We have a piece called “Nostalgia for the Small Airport” up at Airplane Reading, a venue dedicated to “a kind of storytelling that can animate, reflect on, and rejuvenate the experience of flight.” After you read our post here, check out our story there too.

John Glenn, with Discovery commanders behind

On April 19, 2012, the space shuttle Discovery was installed at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport, and Lofty Ambitions was there. To see the whole series thus far, just click on the tag “Discovery Departure” in the tag cloud in the right sidebar.

Between the outdoor ceremony of speeches in front of the nose-to-nose orbiters and the actual placement of Discovery inside the James S. MacDonnell Hangar, several museum and NASA bigwigs wended their way down a press receiving line and gave Lofty Ambitions a chance to ask a few questions one on one.

Doug chats with John Glenn.

The oldest and most recognizable of the VIPs was, of course, 90-year-old John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth and a longtime senator of yesteryear. Doug asked Glenn about his remarks during the ceremony that NASA had stopped flying the shuttle too soon. Glenn’s response was immediate and forceful: it wasn’t NASA that made the decision to stop flying the shuttle. Of course, it wasn’t; in 2004, President George W. Bush set the termination date for the space shuttle program, though Glenn didn’t name names.

Glenn went on, obviously exuding great respect for NASA and the job the agency has done. He called the shuttle “the most intricate, complex machine people have ever made.” But he is also clearly frustrated that NASA had been given marching orders to go to Mars without receiving any budget increase to fund such an effort. The shuttle program had to end in order to free up resources that can now be used to work toward manned Mars exploration.

Glenn’s responses were earnest, whole-hearted, and unexpected in the context of the day’s scripted events and positive public relations. Very few of NASA’s anointed ambassadors have been willing to say that the United States should still be flying shuttle. The most vigorous defense of shuttle by NASA’s chosen few came when it was already too late. In September 2011, four months after the last space shuttle mission ended, 82-year-old Neil Armstrong, the first man to step onto the Moon, and 77-year-old Gene Cernan, the Moon’s last human visitor, testified before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee to advocate that the shuttles be returned to flight status.

Doug chats with Charlie Bolden.

Wanting to see how NASA viewed Glenn’s frank remarks, Doug posed a variation of the same question to Charlie Bolden, the Administrator of NASA—NASA’s top guy and also a Discovery commander. Bolden flew twice in Discovery, in fact, on STS-31, which launched the Hubble Space Telescope, and STS-60, on which a Russian, Sergei Krikalev, flew as a mission specialist. In this respect, Bolden was an integral part of the space shuttle program’s  most admired accomplishments: Hubble and its scientific achievements as well as the International Space Station (ISS) and the global cooperation that made it happen.

Bolden was in a very delicate position with regard to his response to our question, with Glenn, who had also flown aboard Discovery in his return to space, just a few paces away and the nation’s capital just a few miles away, where Congress controls his agency’s purse-strings. Bolden needed to respect NASA’s past in the form of Glenn and also respect the agency’s current reality in these times of economic constraints—he has a difficult job.

Bolden indicated that he had no desire to “put words in Senator Glenn’s mouth,” but that he was certain that the former senator was fully supportive of NASA’s current program of exploration and research. Bolden then took the opportunity to reiterate some talking points that he often touches upon: namely, he’s passionate about manned space exploration and the work on the ISS. The only part of Bolden’s response that directly touched upon the shuttle’s former role was his reaffirmation of the belief that it is time for the private sector to handle low-Earth orbit.

One obvious point to make concerning Bolden’s remarks vis-à-vis those of Glenn is that the senator could easily be in complete accord with NASA’s program of exploration and research, yet still think that the shuttle fleet should not be museum artifacts. And that is, of course, exactly what the first American to orbit the earth said.

Eileen Collins ponders the question.

Aside from Charlie Bolden, Eileen Collins was one of the few Discovery commanders to make her way down the press receiving line. Several news outlets wanted her time, and it’s no wonder, since she was the first woman to pilot the shuttle and, later, the first woman to command the shuttle. After Collins finished telling one reporter that Hubble is Discovery’s greatest legacy and was waiting for a reporter to finish up with another VIP, Anna asked her favorite question once again: “Discovery—great shuttle, or the greatest shuttle?” Collins smiled, and her eyes revealed before her words did that she didn’t want to be caught playing favorites. She pointed out, “I flew Discovery for my first mission and my last mission.” Then, as we’ve heard from others, she added, “But I will say I have a special place in my heart for Columbia.” The older shuttle astronauts may remember Challenger in these terms. Many of those who weren’t in the astronaut corps before 1986, when Challenger broke apart on ascent, flew Columbia and tend to mention that lost orbiter fondly whenever they have a chance (as some did in their video interviews with Lofty Ambitions).

Charlie Bolden (lower left), Eileen Collins, and Other Discovery Commanders (with shuttle noses in background)

Our conversations at Kennedy Space Center with the last-ever Discovery crew and our Q&A with several VIPs at the Udvar-Hazy Center were great experiences and gave us a range of insider perspectives on the past and future of manned spaceflight.

Discovery Departure (Part 6: Interview with the Last Crew) April 23, 2012

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The STS-133 crew takes a first look at Discovery mated to the 747.

On Monday, we watched the coupled space shuttle and 747 back out of the mating structure at Kennedy Space Center and then spent some time talking with this orbiter’s last-ever crew. All but Commander Steve Lindsey were part of the astronaut class of 2000, and the bunch looked to have cohered over their final role together.

STS-133 Crew, all smiles in front of their orbiter

The original crew included Tim Kopra, who was injured in a bicycle accident after the original launch date but before the actual launch of STS-133. (Read our post on “Astronauts Are Human Too” HERE.) He was replaced by Steve Bowen. Mission Specialist Michael Barratt (whom we’ve interviewed before HERE) explained that most of the STS-133 crew wears two mission patches on the blue flightsuit shoulder, the new one with Bowen’s name sewn over, but just slightly askew of, the one with Kopra’s name. Barratt and Kopra had trained together closely because they had been assigned to operate the robotic arm, with Barratt maneuvering and Kopra to be on the arm itself. “It was quite an impact to our training,” Barratt said. “We understood each other.” Barratt quickly added, “Steve was very accommodating. He knew his stuff very well.”

Mission Specialist Michael Barratt

We followed up on our earlier conversation with Michael Barratt by asking again about radiation and its affects on the human body, particularly during spaceflight. Barratt was unexpectedly thrust into the role of Manager of Human Research for NASA and is a medical doctor, so he has lots to say on this topic. Zero gravity and radiation both pose significant problems, especially for longer journeys like that proposed to Mars, according to Barratt. “We can maintain bone and muscle quite nicely,” he said about progress made with shuttle astronauts. “Deep space radiation is a very different animal than we see in low-Earth orbit.” He added, “We’ve actually got a good modeling of radiation out there,” but he emphasized that we don’t understand how the human body responds to that radiation, especially give the time it would take to get to Mars. “What we want to do more than anything is fly faster.”

Mission Specialist Alvin Drew

In his current role, Barratt is out of the rotation for the International Space Station, so it sounds as if he may want to return to a role in the Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center, where he spent a few months after STS-133 concluded. Fellow STS-133 Mission Specialist Alvin Drew is hoping for just that opportunity himself. As for going farther, he admits, “Probably not.” Drew remains proud of the space shuttle program even as the orbiters become artifacts, saying “I used to dream about doing this, and now my ship is in a museum.” And he’s also positive about the current position and future: “For us engineers and scientists, it’s really exciting” to be doing “the behind the scenes things” for deep space exploration.

Mission Specialist Nicole Stott, with Alvin Drew behind

Mission Specialist Nicole Stott also put a positive spin on Discovery’s move to Udvar-Hazy, asserting that this orbiter will touch “people who didn’t know they were interested.” We, too, have found that friends who hadn’t thought about space exploration or the shuttle program just need a nudge. She is also quick to point out, “There are exciting things going on.” Specifically, she doesn’t want anyone to forget, “We have a station up there with six crew members from all across the planet.” Interestingly, Stott also mentioned that she follows space geeks online and was happy to see Discovery’s departure well covered in the blogosphere and on Twitter.

Commander Steve Lindsey

The crew’s sentiments may have been best summed up by Commander Steve Lindsey, who said, “I already said goodbye to Discovery […] when we walked off the vehicle.” This departure was epilogue. Pilot Eric Boe elaborated and put the shuttle program into a larger perspective: “I like to call it the dream machine” and by that he means the dreams of the people who made it and kept it running for thirty years. As we’ve advocated before at Lofty Ambitions, the story is ultimately about the characters. “I think it will inspire people,” Boe said. Mission Specialist Steve Bowen pointed out specifically, “The workmanship and the expertise” will be impossible to capture in a museum exhibit. “That’s that part we’re losing,” he said. “People make it special. People make it work.” And though Bowen pointed out that the lockers were askew on that last flight and needed some nudging, he said, “On that last landing, […] she was pristine.” He added of STS-133, “It was harder walking away from it after it landed.”

Mission Specialist Steve Bowen

Much of the rest of the press spent their time easily eeking out variations of bittersweet from the crew, and it’s clear that this crew thinks shuttle could have had a longer run, perhaps at last until a replacement could take over seamlessly. This crew would be happy to take another flight. But we want to conclude with comments we didn’t expect when we interviewed the STS-133 crew.

Pilot Eric Boe

Eric Boe could have talked for hours about the T-38s that the astronauts flew from Houston and use in training. These aircraft are crucial to the program, and perhaps to any future manned spaceflight in the United States, according to Lindsey. He asserted that the T-38 “gives us a chance to maintain our skills [or] step up” and that “talking between the seats” is essential training for the interplay necessary for a space-traveling crew. When you talk between T-38s, Lindsey claimed, you have to be more particular, and many skills are transferable to the space shuttle. His enthusiasm for the jets reminded us of Apollo astronaut Charle Duke’s excitement when talking about his flying days.

Lindsey also pointed out, “By having all these different backgrounds […] it gives you a fresh look.” Solving problems, as we’ve pointed out before, requires breadth as well as depth.

Commander Steve Lindsey in front of mated Discovery

Michael Barratt seemed to cover the widest range of topics. He spoke of volcanoes (the shuttle can be the first to report an eruption) and thunderstorms, noting, “Some of the biggest thunderstorms I’ve ever seen on the planet were over Australia.” We’re wondering, then, what Oklahoma looks like from space lately.

Barrat seemed most enthusiastic, though, when another reporter asked him about Bones McCoy from Star Trek. An M.D. like DeForest Kelly’s character, Barratt said, “He was my hero. Now I get to do that. I did not get to meet him, […] but he was my hero.”

Mission Specialist Nicole Stott, with Alvin Drew in background; Note the reflection of the T-38s in Stott's sunglasses.

We don’t toss around the term hero easily, but we do see that people are in awe of astronauts, that they are excited to be in an astronaut’s presence without knowing that astronaut’s name or mission. We thoroughly enjoyed interviewing the crew of STS-133 this week, in part because they seemed to thoroughly enjoy talking with people about what they did as shuttle astronauts and what might be in store for NASA.

Discovery Departure (Part 5: Photos, People, Artifacts) April 20, 2012

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First some links to photos and write-ups, then more photos (including proof we chatted with former Senator John Glenn) for your viewing pleasure.

See yesterday’s “Discovery Departure” PHOTO ESSAY HERE.

Read about the 747 that ferried Discovery from Florida to the Udvar-Hazy Center (with photos) HERE.

See our PHOTO ESSAY of the shuttle mating process, the last-ever Discovery crew, and the awesome final Discovery takeoff HERE. And the BBC picked up our photos HERE.

Take a look at Doug’s first day at the Space Coast for “Discovery Departure” HERE. It involves shuttle mating and Jim Lovell, Charlie Duke, and more.

Two Shuttles, Nose to Nose on April 19, 2012


Two Shuttles, Two Lofty Bloggers


Two Shuttles, Cheek to Cheek


Reserved for Astronauts


Two Shuttles, Three Discovery Commanders: Horowitz, Collins, Lindsey


Stephanie Stilson, Shuttle Transition & Retirement Flow Manager


Doug with Astronaut John Glenn, first American to orbit Earth


Doug with NASA Administrator and Former Shuttle Astronaut Charlie Bolden


Eileen Collins, first pilot (STS-63, Discovery) and first commander (STS-93, Columbia) of a space shuttle, answers Anna's pressing question: "Discovery, great shuttle or the greatest shuttle?" Check back at Lofty Ambitions for Collins's answer.


Johnson Space Center Director and Former Shuttle Astronaut Mike Coats (See his Lofty Ambitions video interview HERE.)


Lofty Ambitions Guest Blogger and Novelist Margaret Lazarus Dean


Lofty Ambitions at the nose of Discovery, now in place at the Udvar-Hazy Center


Discovery Departure (Part 4: MORE PHOTOS) April 19, 2012

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Anna & Doug with Space Shuttle Enterprise

Guest Blogger Margaret Lazarus Dean with Enterprise

Space Shuttle Discovery on the move toward Udvar-Hazy home

Fifteen Discovery Mission Commanders escort their orbiter to its new home.

The Shuttle Kiss

Discovery Ready for Official Transfer of Title

Discovery VIPs, including astronauts Karol Bobko (far left) and Mike Coats (behind Purdue University President in white) whom Lofty Ambitions interviewed, John Glenn (front right), and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana (over Glenn's left shoulder and on Anna's flight yesterday)

More Discovery VIPs, including NASA Director Charlie Bolden (front, middle) and Last-Ever Discovery Commander Steve Lindsey (back, third from right)

John Glenn, first American to orbit the Earth and also a former senator

Transfer of Title for Discovery

Anna with Lofty Ambitions Guest Bloggers Ken Kremer and Omar Izquierdo

Discovery moves into the museum.

Tight Squeeze

Discovery Rolls to a Permanent Stop

Anna looks the orbiter over.

Anna and Margaret wave from the shuttle.


Discovery Departure (Part 3) April 18, 2012

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The BBC has picked up some of our photos of yesterday’s Discovery departure HERE. Our Flickr Photostream also garnered some attention on its own HERE. In this post, we’re using all NEW photos. And we’ve never Photoshopped anything we’ve posted at Lofty Ambitions.

Discovery mated to 747, April 16, 2012

While we were planning for our trip back to the Space Coast to see Discovery leave Kennedy Space Center (KSC)) on its final, one-way journey to the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, we, of course, spent a fair amount of time pondering Discovery. After all, this orbiter was the only orbiter in the inventory that we hadn’t seen take flight in person. When Doug arrived in Florida on Saturday (see his recap of that day HERE), his focus remained on Discovery, as he watched NASA engineers and technicians bolt the orbiter into the Mate-Demate Device, a prelude to hoisting Discovery off the tarmac of the Shuttle Landing Facility and securing it to the back of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA). Tomorrow—in just a few hours—we’ll head to Udvar-Hazy for Discovery’s unveiling as a museum artifact.

But having seen the Florida air rip over Discovery’s skin one last time yesterday morning (See Photo Essay HERE), we turn our attention to the other vehicle involved in yesterday’s shuttle transfer: the Boeing 747 that ferried the orbiter to Dulles Airport.

During the space shuttle program, there were actually two aircraft to be used as SCA, with tail numbers N905NA and N911NA. Both SCAs started life as 747-100s. N905NA, the plane that carried the orbiter yesterday, was added to NASA’s fleet in 1974, after flying commercially for American Airlines. It was, of course, prepared for use in the testing of the non-space-worthy orbiter Enterprise, which Discovery is replacing at Udvar-Hazy. N911NA joined NASA sixteen years later, in 1990, after flying for Japan Airline.

Forward Attachment

The 747s underwent heavy structural modifications to become SCAs. Each plane had a pair of enormous vertical stabilizers added to the existing horizontal stabilizers in order to augment the SCA’s directional stability in light of the additional aerodynamic forces at work with an orbiter attached to the top. Three attachment points—one in front and two aft, just behind the SCA’s wings—are now easily identified by the bracing struts. Significant internal structural supports that correspond to the external attachment points were also added.

Aft Attachments

Some NASA press materials cheekily refer to the oribiter–SCA combination as “the world’s largest bi-plane.” The extra drag created by mounting the shuttle on the SCA gives the combination jet-age bi-plane performance: top speed is limited to just over 450 mph (140 mph slower than a standard 747-100); maximum attitude is 15,000 feet (roughly 30,000 feet lower than for a standard 747-100); and its range is 1000 nautical miles (vastly shorter than the 5300 nautical mile range of a standard 747-100).

Yesterday’s flight from KSC to Dulles was well within its range. A mated SCA requires two pilots and two flight engineers for such a trip. Yesterday’s flight had six men aboard: pilot-in-command Jeff Moultrie, co-pilot Bill Rieke, flight engineer Henry Taylor, flight engineer Larry Larose, weather engineer Arthur “Ace” Beall, and FAA representative J. J. Johnston. We’ve not seen these men mentioned, and NASA didn’t trot them out to chat with the press, but they were as much a part of yesterday’s activities and successful Discovery departure as anyone else.

N911NA has been retired to the California desert. Lofty Ambitions guest blogger Omar Izquierdo toured that SCA, and you can see his photos HERE. Once N905NA ferries Endeavour to California, it will join its twin in providing spare parts for another NASA 747, the one that flies the SOFIA telescope. NASA goes on.


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