Saturday, November 15, 2008



— The space shuttle Endeavour lighted the evening skies over Florida on Friday, rising beneath a brilliant moon as it raced toward the International Space Station.

The shuttle thundered off the launching pad at 7:55 p.m., hurtling through a high, thin bank of clouds that rippled and dispersed with its passing.

Its 15-day mission is devoted to construction on the $100 billion orbiting outpost. But while previous missions have often focused on adding modules or solar panels to the station, much of the equipment for this trip will transform the inside so that crew size can be doubled to six.

Shuttle missions are often delayed by technical problems or weather, but the preparations for this launching were smooth and relatively free of glitches.

Some two hours into the flight, mission managers reported to the crew that bits of debris were seen at 33 seconds and 127 seconds after liftoff, but said they saw no evidence of impact on the Endeavour. The crew will conduct a thorough examination of the shuttle’s delicate tiles and panels during its approach to the station.

Equipment headed to the station includes new sleeping quarters, a second toilet, a new exercise machine and equipment for generating oxygen. The 32,000-pound payload also includes a system to recycle water on the station, including urine, to produce purified water for drinking. The $250 million system is designed to recycle 93 percent of the water used on the station.

Sandra H. Magnus, who will begin a stay of several months on the station, said that while many people expressed revulsion at the recycling system, she laughed about the “yuck factor” because the purification would exceed that of most municipal water systems. “I don’t anticipate any problems with the purity of the water once we get this up and running correctly,” she said.

Donald R. Pettit, another of the Endeavour’s astronauts, lived on the station for five and a half months in 2002 and 2003. Dr. Pettit said equipment like the water recycling system was critical to long-term space exploration, since getting new water to an outpost on the Moon or Mars would be expensive and arduous. “I really think this is a key steppingstone for human beings to leave planet Earth,” he said.

The commander of this mission is Capt. Christopher J. Ferguson of the Navy, who is on his second shuttle mission. The pilot, Col. Eric A. Boe of the Air Force, will be on his first mission.

While some of the astronauts work to transfer cargo from shuttle to station, three members of the crew will engage in four spacewalks. Much of the work will be devoted to lubricating a balky rotary joint that helps keep the station’s solar arrays pointed at the sun. Two of the 10-foot-diameter joints turn the arrays.

Last year, mission managers noticed that the joint on the right side was vibrating and required greater-than-expected power to turn it. During this mission, the spacewalkers — Capt. Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper of the Navy, Capt. Steve Bowen of the Navy and Lt. Col. Shane Kimbrough of the Army — will clean metal shavings from the joint and lubricate it thoroughly. They will lubricate the left-hand joint as well as a protective measure.

The shuttle program will end in 2010. But for now, the launchings still provide the thrumming excitement of millions of pounds of hardware being muscled into the sky by millions of pounds of thrust. Forty minutes after the launching, Michael D. Griffin, the normally reserved administrator of NASA, walked through the Kennedy Space Center press room, paused briefly and exclaimed, “Was that great, or what?”


NEW DELHI — Indian newspapers Saturday were euphoric about the landing of an Indian probe on the moon, marking a milestone for the country's 45-year-old space program.

"The tricolour has landed," trumpeted the Hindustan Times daily in a banner headline, referring to India's green, orange and white flag.

"India touches the moon," said the Indian Express newspaper.

The probe made a textbook-perfect landing on the lunar surface late Friday after being released from the unmanned Chandrayaan-1 orbiter circling the moon, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced.

India now joins Russia, the United States, Japan and the European Space Agency in successfully landing moon probes. India's first lunar mission began October 22 when a rocket transported Chandrayaan-1 into space.

"We have now successfully put our national flag on the lunar surface," ISRO chairman Madhavan Nair announced late Friday to scientists' cheers.

"We have also emerged as a low-cost travel agency to space," he added, referring to the mission's 80 million dollar price tag which is less than half spent on similar expeditions by other countries.

Buoyed by its success, ISRO plans to send a second unmanned spacecraft to the moon in 2012 and separately launch satellites to study Mars and Venus. Chandrayaan-1 - the Sanskrit word for moon craft -- is on a two-year orbital mission to provide a detailed map of the mineral, chemical and topographical characteristics of the moon's surface.

India started its space programme in 1963, developing its own satellites and launch vehicles to cut dependence on overseas agencies. It first staked its claim for a share of the global commercial launch market by sending an Italian satellite into orbit in 2007. In January, it launched an Israeli spy satellite.

India is also hoping the mission will boost its space programme into the same league as regional powerhouses Japan and China. But India still has a long way to go to catch up with China which, together with the United States, Russia and the European Space Agency, is already well established in the commercial launch sector.

Congrats to Endeavour and the Chandrayaan-1 orbiter!


Indian Express, ISRO, NASA

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