Final Blast

Atlantis & the Last 
Flight of the Shuttles

In the end, it happened on schedule almost to the minute: despite the threatening weather, the last mission for the Space Shuttles began at 11:29am 10 years ago today. A record crowd witnessed the launch, aware that their children won’t get to see a show like that.
Four astronauts headed to the Space Station and when they came back 16 days later, it was all over: the Shuttle Program’s 135th mission, its 30-year history, and possibly NASA’s leading role in space exploration. Our hearts skipped a beat when that era drew to a close.
The future then pointed to what’s happening now: space is a mostly private and commercial enterprise, and a new toy for billionaires. Science now takes a backseat and the technology that made possible the reusable space buses is at least 50 years too old.
It’s been a long way since NASA’s glorious days. After getting us to the Moon, it seemed to have lost its plot. Public interest plunged, federal funds dried up, and criticism mounted for running expensive programs with little hard-science research breakthroughs to account for.
Not much more may be expected from corporations whose main goal may be to fly celebrities to sub-orbital hotels to engorge their bottom line. Still, routine maintenance flights to the ISS and the Hubble Space Telescope will be needed and NASA is the go-to for that.
Read Also:
* The Last Detour
* Enterprise
* Welcome Home

In this era of diminishing ambitions, grandstanding, and a general malaise that we are no longer the people who get to accomplish great things, a few sobering realities have already settled in. Among them is that we badly needed that dream then and that we badly need it now.
As the Shuttle Program ended after three decades fueling our collective imagination to fly ever higher, to dare above our limits, to seek what’s out there, we began a new, more humble journey through the far side of our starstruck dreams. It hasn’t been a happy ride.
It’ll take more than our usual drive to discover, reach out, and transcend. To go where no one has gone before we need to put down our smartphones. Otherwise, only the powerful and those they employ will ever blast off from the Earth as the shuttles did so many times.
But even if we decide to send only rich dopes, or robots, or drones, or mini-satellites, we’ll still need to put our heart into it, something a bit rare lately. Someone will need to dream of blasting into the Space Station but who’ll even don a spacesuit if they don’t know how worthwhile it is to take a shot?
To dream is a serious business and it almost never gives returns from the get go. We must find ways to inspire our kids to believe that it’s worth trying. Even if we, as far as reality and the space program are concerned, are officially giving it all up today.
(*) Originally published on July 8, 2011.

Space Lighthouse

ISS@20, Life Amid Stars
Enters Its Third Decade

Here she comes. And there she goes. 16 times a day. The International Space Station, which completed 20 years in orbit last week, is humankind’s friendliest eye in the sky, a silent witness watching over us at every turn of our home planet.
It’s been an amazing ride and view. Just the sheer technological mastery necessary to keep it afloat, and the wealth of scientific data it provides daily, are enough to fulfill its lofty dream of being the space outpost of everyone of us, Earthlings.
Built by 16 nations, temporary home to 241 rocket scientists from 19 nationalities, the ISS is almost as long as an American football field. It’s like a six-bedroom hanging aloft, where groups of gifted dwellers extend our own grasp through outer space.

The station is a
scientific research hub, from life to physical sciences, to astronomy to meteorology. Such as the yearlong study that paired and monitored twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly for a year. Mark, now a U.S. Senator-elect, remained in Houston, TX, while Scott raced overhead at five miles per second.
Above all, the ISS‘ greatest achievement is being a beacon to our best aspirations, of harmony among nations, working together to build a better future. As such a beautiful dream is far from becoming reality down here, it’s crucial that it survives in space.

Watching it sliding soundlessly above high mountains of clouds and vast water mirrors, allows us also into a truly surprising realization: all ground noise we make, tall buildings we erect, and border walls we raise, are invisible and meaningless from the air.
The ISS sees no wars, hate, hunger, tragedy. It does, however, observe the terrible ways we treat Earth as it’s easy to spot air pollution from above, just like the desertification of land and the smoke of wildfires caused by our abandon. And that’s beyond sad.
From up there, lies and climate change denials can’t be heard either, which is probably good. But not seeing rising sea levels or lines dividing people, doesn’t mean that we’re unaffected by them. All it takes is, well, an astronaut, to report their deadly impact.

Just like the dream behind its conception, the ISS is also vulnerable: a little debris the size of a quarter can disable it and risk the lives of its dwellers. And it’s also susceptible to the whims of near-sighted (more)
Read Also:
* Space Droppings
* Heavenly Palace
* Meanwhile, Up There

Continue reading

Spilled Expectations

A Site Flags the Unpunished
& the Wonders of What’s Next

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst in U.S. history, coincided with Colltales’ birth four years ago, and helped establish both the site’s green credentials and its status as a breaking news destination. A bittersweet landmark, for sure, but a landmark all the same.
Over 1,300 hundred posts later, increased readership and considerable growing pains, Colltales remains a source of constant renewal. As for the state of the environment at the gulf and BP, the corporation responsible for the spill, the news are diametrically opposed.
Despite company and official claims to the contrary, recovery of marine and marshland life, and cleanup of miles of severely impacted coastlines continues to lag. Very unlike the record profits posted by the British giant concern since the April 20, 2010 disaster.
In fact, BP has been spending a large chunk of such profits fighting claims by individuals and local businesses affected by the spill, even though the Obama administration had forced it to put up a $20 billion compensation fund for the victims of its mismanagement.
As it turned out, what happened was an accident only by definition. Long before (and, sadly, ever since) the aging equipment used to pump oil out of the gulf, that sub-contractors operate for BP and other companies, is still highly vulnerable to tragic events just likely.
The defective cement supposed to seal the well feeding the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was already under much more pressure that it could handle, a government report found out, and when it failed, it caused the rig to explode and sink, claiming the lives of 11 workers.
Far from an ‘accident,’ what happened was a tragic confluence of predictable negligence and cost-cutting measures by BP and its partners, Transocean and Halliburton, resulting in the record spill of an estimated 4.9 million barrels for three full months, until the well was capped in July of 2010.
By then, the devastation to wild life and local economies was all too apparent: massive numbers of birds perished, entire micro ecosystems went into disarray and a still unknown number of marine animals were wiped from waters washing the beaches of all five gulf states.

As it’s becoming a habit when it comes to corporate crimes and malfeasance, despite a tacit admission of guilt and heavy dollar-figure penalties, no one went to jail. It took BP less than two years to go back to profitability, while many local business simply folded.
The event also marked one of the saddest and most ironic Earth Days in its now forty four year tradition, and
Continue reading

The Red Chronicles

Mars, As Red As They Come (NASA) Click for Video

Think You Could Move
to Mars? Pack Lightly

A curious thing happened while we were mourning the Space Shuttles’ demise, and lack of a recognizable project to follow it up: NASA got busy with Mars. Thus, even if such news are breaking at least 54.6 million kilometers away, and often farther than that, we take it.
Last time we checked it, there were two rovers on the surface, and a satellite orbiting the planet named after the Roman god of war. And as we’re already researching ways of sending humans for a permanent visit up there, no one has mentioned anything about armies to follow.
It belongs to Mars, for example, the most spectacular event connected to space exploration in recent memory: last August’s landing on the planet of one of those rovers, Curiosity, through an ingenious and complex succession of stages. Or so we were told, since there’s no real-time footage of it.
But even the animation NASA prepared detailing the landing beat by a large margin the next-best thing, the docking of privately-built Dragon capsule on the International Space Station last October. While that was the promising opening salvo of a new era of commercial cargo trips, Curiosity’s pictures are way hotter.
This week, it’s supposed to crack its first Martian rock open, and astrophysicists and scientists of all stripes are beside themselves about it. In the meantime, elsewhere in the traffic-free red surface, the other Continue reading

Are We There Yet?

Billionaires’ Paradise Among Space
Debris & a Punch Heard on the Moon

For space aficionados, the good news is, here comes another age of orbital traveling. For science buffs, the bad news is that it’ll be geared towards tourism, not research. For star gazers, we’re about to resume our interrupted space adventure. For crazy wingers, that dream will cost more than an arm and a leg.
Up to now, space exploration has been the charge of rocket scientists. But what comes next is the luxury vacation extravaganza the majority will never be able to afford. It’s the trade-off of the times: either we had this less than perfect vision restored, of a future flying through galaxies, or postpone it all for generations.
If it doesn’t seem like a fair choice, and that the distance between an astronaut and a commercial pilot may be wider than the one between Earth and the moon, well, that’s just the way the world goes round.
On the other brighter and slightly radiation-exposed side, we may find that flying above the atmosphere and back, even if represents such a diminished glance of a once grand view, it still is a high-risk proposition not to be taken lightly.
And who knows? Perhaps boys and girls around the world will still dream of one day fly so high that their clock will slow down, and their hearts will race faster, and that this planet’s troubles will seem way smaller, even if for a moment.
In the meantime, commercial companies are already jockeying for Continue reading


Brief Scrapbook About
the Newest New Yorker

As the Space Shuttle Enterprise arrived at the Intrepid Museum this week, and it’s getting ready to greet the locals at its new home, let’s take a quick look at what we’ve found on our files about it and its distinguished sisters. NASA’s gift to New York may not have traveled too far out in space but it was the first to open its fleet’s storied 30-years of space flights, adventures and drama.
The Enterprise was used as a test vehicle for the other shuttles that followed it and it did fly a few times, in the late 1970s. It even went into a world tour, which introduced the then new concept of a reusable space vehicle as the next stage of human space exploration. No one can say it didn’t serve its purposes of making travel for future astronauts a lot safer.
While it lacks crucial features incorporated in all other crafts of its fleet, such as the thermal protection system and radar equipment, for example, its overall design and interior configuration are pretty close to the others. The idea of retrofitting it and preparing it for orbit was abandoned due to costs, though, and it remained an oddity once the program started rolling.
In other words, a typical New Yorker already: ‘different,’ eclectic, slightly under-achiever, but, ultimately, not really interested in being like everyone else. The Enterprise will receive its guests at first under a temporary tent, just like newcomers to the city who crash at their friends’ studio for a few months, before finding their own place.
The Intrepid Museum will eventually build a special enclosure to its new resident, but way before that it’ll hopefully have achieved what we all expect from it: to fire up the imagination of thousands of school kids who, from mid-July on, are expected to visit and get a closer look at what a real spacecraft looks and feels like.
Other cities may have gotten higher-mileage shuttles than the Enterprise. Some of those have a lot of history, and stories to tell, Continue reading

The Uninvited

2012? If Doomsday Does Come,
2040 May Be a Much Better Year

The supposed end of the Maya Calendar, said by some to be a sure bet that the world will end Dec. 21 of this year, has predictably attracted the wide array of messianic nuts and opportunistic religious leaders with but one thing in their minds: to pick your pockets.
They shouldn’t bother trying to find signs, in some flawed translation of a pre-written language era, of what they clearly revel in declaring that it’s all your fault. That’s because science has already plenty of possible (useless) explanations for the causes of our eventual doomsday.
Chief among them are asteroids, those high-speed rocks that periodically seem to get our address in space right, and grant us with a catastrophic visit. Doom, thy name is 2011 AG5, which, if astronomers’ are right, has some pretty good odds of hitting us mid-sentence.
But if it seems that they’ve been more frequent lately, that’s just an illusion. For even though our ability to detect and tract the big bad ones is still unreliable and spotted at best, we are catching more and more of them in the act of conspiring against our civilization.
Still, we have been very lucky indeed: those that have managed to trick our watch and get close, so far, have all missed us, thank goodness. Continue reading

Space Snacking

As Mars Pays a Visit, NASA
Wonders What to Eat Up There

The Red Planet is upon us this week, as it’s closest to Earth in its 2-year orbit. While backyard astronomers or simply stargazers go into their usual frenzy of Internet commentary and great photos, astrophysicists continue researching ways for our first visit to a planet other than our own. It won’t be easy.
Practical considerations such as what to wear and how to live up there assume epic proportions, as do issues of safety and comfort. Nothing is as hard, though, as to figure out what astronauts will eat during the trip, and specially, once they’re there. NASA, for example, started a four-month program to develop a healthy diet fit for astronauts.
Open to anyone, the program will also address the fact that space travelers seem to crave spicy foods and sweet and sour things. The technology of growing and recycle food in space will have to be greatly improved too if we’re to survive in such inhospitable conditions.
These are but a few of the so far insurmountable obstacles that the estimated three-year trip presents to earthlings. We still don’t even have a suitable rocket to take us there, nor the sources of renewable fuel are sufficiently up to par to supply us with the energy necessary for the journey. And never mind getting into the psychological challenges such a gruesome enterprise would represent.
So, while this is not even Mars’s closest approach to Earth, being at a mere 63 million miles from us, it’s still fun to gaze at its fuzzy surface where the rovers Spirit and Opportunity wander about and the Phoenix lander now sits silently, and at the Gale Crater where the Curiosity Continue reading

Meanwhile, Up There

Six Astronauts from Three Nations
Flying High Above Us at 17,300Mph

How easy it is for us to forget. In the time you’ll spend reading this post, Commander Dan Burbank, Anton Shkaplerov, Anatoly Ivanishin, André Kuipers, Oleg Kononenko and Don Pettit, will zip by over us a few times, busy tending to the 30th astronaut expedition to the International Space Station.
Since we’ve started the week marking the 50 years last Monday of John Glenn‘s historical flight circling the Earth aboard the Friendship 7, it’s only fitting to take a few minutes today to think about the current crew of six working 24/7 to keep his legacy, and our stardust dreams, alive.
We do forget about them, sometimes, so focused we must be on our own ant-like business of being alive. But, as flight engineer Don Pettit wrote this week, “when earthlings can see us, we cannot see them. The glare from the full sun effectively turns our windows into mirrors that return our own ghostly reflection.”
Pettit, from Oregon, along with Turkumenian Konokenko and Dutch Kuipers, arrived at the ISS two days before Christmas. Burbank, from Connecticut, was already there, and so was Russians Shkaplerov, who turned 40 last Monday too, and Ivanishin, all brought aloft on board two Soyuz rockets.
They should all be back to Earth for Easter. But make no mistake, these guys are the text-book combination of super-athletes and rocket scientists: if there’s anything humanly possible to do to avert disaster, they’re perfectly capable of doing, with honors, as most of everything they’ve done in life has been.
Up there, though, they’re but a speck of dust, racing among 500,000 other objects of different sizes, all capable of ending their adventurous lives in the time it takes us to complete this sentence. From up there, they can’t expect to get help from any of the seven billion who mostly ignore them.
That’s why this Saturday, out of the blue, we thought we should try to spot them crossing over our heads, as silently as the other heavenly bodies around them. Except that theirs carries some of our own shine and hearts. The ISS is fair game to be wished upon too, just like any other shooting star.
You can follow them on Tweeter, read their blogs or find out more about their mission. You can also talk to your friends or children about them. Or just keep them on your mind, as you go about your daily chores, usual aggravations and small miracles.
Click on the two pictures that illustrate this post for the videos that will help you picture yourself up there, watching us from above, as Pettit says, without really seeing us, but the planet as a whole, as it wakes up and goes dark several times a day.
Here’s to you, ISS and the only star in the vast wide universe to carry six beings just like us. Take good care of them.

Friendship 7

John Glenn

It was 50 years ago today. The man who would become at 77 the oldest person to ever leave Earth’s atmosphere just a few years after that, was also the first American to fly to space.
The order of the previous sentence is not reversed. For most things in life, it’s good have a perspective, a context, a place and time. Not for this fact, though, and not for John Glenn.
Every time we frame his flight into what was happening them, he and his adventure get somehow short changed. Before even taking off, he was already upstaged by Yuri Gagarin. The Mercury program was not the one that would finally get us to the moon.
And the space age making history then, was really an ongoing arms race in disguise, between two dangerous superpowers.
So let’s drop the academic, and ultimately toothless, exercise of Continue reading

Out There

Cheat Sheet & New Skills
for Prospective Astronauts

It’s been a disheartening time to be an astronaut. What, with the Space Shuttle out of commission for good, the profession that defined the term ‘rocket scientist’ may be up for a rough patch ahead.
As of right now, if you’re scheduled to fly, your seat will be on that old, cranky, and slightly terrifying Russian Soyuz rocket. No other ship is quite ready to take you aloft.
And yet, you may still need to learn some new skills. As millions of people have already been doing in these past three or four years, you may as well brush off your resume.
After all, just last month NASA announced that it has some openings for astronauts, although it’s not clear to anyone why exactly it’s hiring, since there’s simply no U.S. rocket to fly or speak of.
Whether it’s for hitching a hike on another country’s rocket, or there’s something we don’t know about being developed, you may as well be prepared.
NASA has a series of specifications to be met by prospective candidates, but even if they qualify, it’s not guaranteed that anyone Continue reading

Welcome Home

Endeavour’s Night Landing
Sets Shuttles’ Final Mission

As the Shuttle Endeavour touched down in Florida today, NASA’s 30-year space program got a bit closer to a conclusion. After 16 days, the shuttle’s mission ended in no different fashion than all her previous ones: flawlessly.
It’s a fitting finale for a storied shuttle, which delivered the first and now the last pieces of equipment for the assembling of the now completed International Space Station, the 11-year Continue reading

The Storm Before the Storm

Endeavour’s Last Mission

Postponed Till End of Week

NASA delayed the flight until at least the end of the week to replace a switch box in the engine compartment.
In the end, it wasn’t the fiery storm over the skies of Florida (pictured) what determined the postponement of Endeavour’s last mission. It was a heater for the fuel line leading to one of Continue reading

Space Landmarks

Shuttle Enterprise Comes to
New York Intrepid Museum

Maybe it’s all a coincidence. Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight, the one that Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin‘s undertook around the earth. That historical, 108-minute trip ignited a fierce competition between the Soviet Union and the U.S. to land a man on the moon and ended eight years later with American Neil Armstrong stepping on the surface of earth’s satellite.
Twenty years to the day of Gagarin‘s flight, NASA launched the first of the Space Shuttles, Columbia, which along Continue reading

Human Shuttle

Space Center Workers Mark
Program’s 30th Anniversary

Farewell Mission

Last Discovery Mission
Takes First Robot to Space

JUST IN: The Discovery is already in orbit on its way to the International Space Station. God speed.

If all goes well, NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery starts today its farewell mission to space, ending its 28 flawless years of service. Aptly named after the great era of discoveries, this shuttle has had an illustrious career, which includes the launch Continue reading

Up, Up and Away

Space Station Reaches
10 Years of Earth Watch

“The future ain’t what it used to be.” Nothing like the sage of America’s formerly favorite pastime, Yogi Berra, to convey in a few words, a world of meaning. The International Space Station that is completing its first 10 years in orbit (11/02/2000), for example, never became the home away from home its creators once envisioned. Ever since its first crew spent a few uncomfortable days in it, it got much better, but never quite the easy ride of the sci-fi stories. And, let’s face it, it never will.
Then again, perhaps we’re all better off knowing that the envisioned world of The Jetsons and even of Blade Runner was not meant to be. Imagine texting and driving a hyperspeed-flying car? Or sending an ultra intelligent robot to the past, to kill somebody else’s grandfather? And don’t even let us start with all those promised wonderful foods in a Continue reading

Final Shuttle

Atlantis May Land

on New York Intrepid

NASA is about to retire its flee of Space Shuttles and aerospace museums all over the U.S. are jockeying to display the Atlantis or the Endeavor. The Discovery is already promised to the Smithsonian Institute in DC. In New York City, the Intrepid Museum is a candidate with excellent credentials. The aircraft carrier, among Continue reading


Last Blast for
Pioneer Shuttle

JUST IN: NASA decided to postpone the launch of Discovery until at least Nov. 30. The space shuttle was to leave for his last trip tonight. Technical problems led to repeated postponements of three launch.

Just like a veteran actor after almost 30 years worth of risky performances, NASA’s oldest space shuttle, the Discovery, seems to be having the jitters about taking off one last time. The Florida weather was said to be the latest culprit for the delay. But there were gas leaks earlier in the week, an electrical glitch of some kind the other day and heaven knows what else. That’s why those close to the bird are fooled by none of it.
For them, it’s just the natural anxiety that comes from having to


Also read:
Back for Good
Up, Up and Away
Final Shuttle


perform a difficult task one last time, after so many years of a flawless record. After all, the Discovery is the fleet’s busiest Continue reading