Today’s Tidbits: December 29, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: December 29, 2017

Here are our tidbits for December 29, 2017 — our final edition for the year: Falcon Heavy’s fit check; a reunion of women astronauts; Angosat-1 lost, but now is found. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Falcon Heavy’s Fit Check

Stephen Clark at published a great video [] of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket being raised into position at NASA’s Launch Complex 39-A for a fit check.  SpaceX leases LC 39-A from NASA.

The Falcon Heavy’s first test launch is planned for sometime in January.  A static fire test is the next step.  Presumably the exact launch date will be announced thereafter.

As we reported in our December 21 Tidbit, the rocket is designed to place 63,800 kilograms (140,600 pounds) into low Earth orbit.

So what will it carry on this first test flight?   SpaceX founder Elon Musk, also the founder of Tesla cars, says the payload will be a midnight cherry red Tesla Roadster.  The company tweeted these photos of the car inside the nose cone of the Falcon Heavy.  Musk wrote on Instagram that test launches usually carry mass simulators made of concrete or steel blocks, but that seemed “extremely boring” and he wanted to launch something “unusual.”  Earlier he had tweeted he wanted to launch “the silliest thing” imaginable and decided it would be a  Roadster playing the David Bowie hit Space Oddity. Musk’s long term goal is sending humans to Mars, the Red Planet.  He said on Instagram that it would be launched into a “billion year elliptic Mars orbit.”  Hence “Red Car for the Red Planet.”  Silly, indeed.

Reunion of Women Astronauts

Former NASA astronaut Janet Kavandi, now the Director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center, tweeted a photo of women astronauts who met at a recent reunion.  It’s a good sized group!  Unfortunately, there is no caption to identify everyone, but among those everyone will recognize are NASA’s Sandy Magnus (front row, left, red dress), Kathy Sullivan (front row, center, wearing glasses), Eilene Collins (far left, second row), Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa (back row, third from left), and Peggy Whitson (back row, center), and Canadian Space Agency’s Julie Payette (front row, right, third from end).

The first woman in space was the Soviet Union’s Valentina Tereskhova in 1963, but the USSR/Russia did not follow through with many more women after that.  Only four Russian women have flown in space in all these years: Tereshkova, Savitskaya, Kondakova and Serova.   The United States finally allowed women into the astronaut corps in 1978 — a group that included the late Sally Ride, the first American woman in space (1983), and Kathy Sullivan, the first American woman to make a spacewalk (1984).  Women have been routinely included in NASA astronaut selections since then, though men usually outnumber women.  The most recent group of 12 astronaut candidates included five women.

Other countries have chosen women as part of their astronaut corps and women have flown as “tourists,” too.  So far, 60 women have flown in space, of a total of approximately 550 people to reach Earth orbit.  While it is still unusual when a woman is among whatever 6-person crew is aboard the International Space Station at a given time, progress is being made.  Whitson just returned from her second assignment as ISS commander, the first woman to command it twice.  She also set new records for number of spacewalks by a woman (10), most time on spacewalks by a woman (60 hours and 21 minutes), and the longest cumulative time in space by a U.S. astronaut of either gender (665 days over three spaceflights).

Women also have made the ultimate sacrifice for space — NASA’s Judy Resnik and Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe died on space shuttle Challenger in 1986 and NASA’s Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark died on space shuttle Columbia in 2003.

Lost Angosat-1 is Found

Russia launched a Zenit-2SB/Fregat-SB rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Tuesday carrying Angola’s first communications satellite,  Angosat-1.  All went well with the launch, but ground controllers lost touch with the satellite soon after it reached orbit.

Russia’s RSC Energia, which built the satellite, and Russia’s space state corporation Roscosmos each posted announcements of the trouble fairly promptly.  Russia’s official news agency, TASS, later reported that the problem occurred when the solar arrays deployed.

Today brought good news — communications were reestablished with the satellite.  Neither Energia nor Roscosmos explained what had gone wrong.

The launch of Russia’s Meteor  M2-1 weather satellite and 18 small satellites from Russia’s new Vostochny (East) launch site last month failed because the navigation equipment on the Fregat upper stage was programmed incorrectly, causing the engine to fire in the wrong direction.

A second failure so soon after that one certainly would have been distressing for Roscosmos and the Russian space industry, which are still trying to overcome a series of launch failures over the past several years of their once reliable launch fleet.

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