Space Travel Update: What NASA Is Up To These Days

space travelWith the Space Shuttle program coming to an end and commercial space flight organizations providing service to the International Space Station, one might wonder what the people at NASA are doing these days. While we’re not sure about other NASA facilities, Kennedy Space Center is keeping busy with a variety of activities.

The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) has been the launch site used for every NASA human space travel flight since 1968. KSC is also a major Florida tourist attraction hosting attractions that include the Shuttle Launch Experience, a simulated journey of launching into space and orbiting Earth, as well as the Astronaut Training Experience, Rocket Garden, two IMAX theaters, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and more. Now, KSC is adding yet another attraction, Angry Birds.

The new Angry Birds Space Encounter will be the first comprehensive, interactive Angry Birds attraction in the United States. Designed for people of all ages, the new attraction promises to “brings to life the space adventures of the Angry Birds as they follow their kidnapped eggs into an inter-galactic wormhole, come face to face with Space Pigs and gear up with heroic superpowers,” said KSC in a press release.Set to open at the KSC Visitor Complex on March 22, NASA has a serious reason behind the Angry Birds fun. Collaborating with Angry Birds creator Rovio Entertainment, the idea is to teach players about physics and space exploration, energizing young people regarding future careers in science and technology.

But it’s not all work on the Space Coast of Florida as we see in this video:


[Photo credit – NASA]

Canadian Space Agency Video: How To Cut Your Nails In Space And Other Tips For Living With Zero Gravity


What’s daily life like on the International Space Station? The public has lots of questions, so the Canadian Space Agency, with the help of their astronaut Chris Hadfield, is giving out some answers. Hadfield is currently on the ISS and in this video shows how to clip your nails in zero gravity without them floating all over the cabin.

Hadfield is becoming an Internet sensation with his trademark bushy mustache and his clear, humorous explanations of the minutiae of space travel. He has videos about everything from operating the robotic Canadarm2 to making a sandwich in space, so check out the Canadian Space Agency’s Youtube channel for more insights into life aboard the coolest science laboratory ever made.

Go Canada!

Space Travel Robots Take Tiny Steps Toward Future

rocket for space travelStill fascinated by space travel, Americans can’t seem to get enough of the romantic side of it all. But in the day-to-day business of space exploration, scientists and those who make a living in space have little time to be sentimental. NASA planning and implementation people are looking to get there in a realistic, cost-conscious way, one step at a time.

“Space and space exploration have always been romanticized. I think this is because space is inherently impossible for most everyone to get to, and because space is so far away, we wonder what it’s like,” said Patrick Pattamanuch, Materials and Processes Engineer, Boeing Satellite Systems on future-thinking Curiosity.com.

NASA’s Mars Program Planning Group, the people charged with developing a new strategy for exploration of Mars, is looking at future robotic missions that can help meet a call for sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.

“We’re moving quickly to develop options for future Mars exploration missions and pathways,” said five-time space shuttle astronaut John Grunsfeld, an astrophysicist in a NASA news release.

NASA’s robots are actually a work in progress now, being tested to re-fuel satellites.

A challenge that engineering teams face when designing satellites is how much fuel they can carry to operate throughout their lifetime. NASA hopes to refuel satellites rather than letting them become space debris.

Significant results from work being conducted in on-orbit robotics servicing will position Canadian and American exploration missions to come, but will also open doors for commercial applications driven by industry.Coming up in August, NASA will land the robotic Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity on the planet’s surface. This roving science laboratory will assess whether Mars is or was able to support life. Next year, NASA will launch the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution orbiter to help assess the Martian upper atmosphere.

NASA’s strategy is focused on maintaining America’s critical technical skills and to achieve the highest priority science and exploration objectives, now with far less funding and more cuts on the way in 2013 as we see in this video.

NASA: Big Cuts to Mars Missions

[Flickr photo via Flying Jenny]

Second-to-last Space Shuttle launch is big tourism draw

Space Shuttle, Space Shuttle Endeavour
Tomorrow’s launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour has turned into a major tourist event, the Associated Press reports. NASA estimates half a million people will show up for their second-to-last chance to see a shuttle launch. Other estimates vary from 250,000 to a whopping 700,000. That could rival the crowds that came to see the first Moon mission.

Hotels are sold out and homeowners near John F. Kennedy Space Center are reaping the benefits by renting out spare rooms. Local businesses are also seeing a boom. The AP estimates the launch could pump $15 million into the local economy.

Let’s hope so, because when the last shuttle goes into space this summer, there won’t be any more launches for quite some time. NASA hasn’t finished developing anything to replace the aging shuttle fleet and transport to the International Space Station will be the job of the Russians for the time being.

The Endeavour launch is scheduled for 3:47 EDT tomorrow. It will be mission number 134 for the fleet. The final mission will take place June 28 or later and the honor will go to the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

I’m not surprised this is getting so much attention. I grew up with the Space Shuttle and I’ve always wanted to go to a launch. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll make it. I’ll be cheering, though, especially for mission commander Mark Kelly, husband of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot by a crazed gunman in January. She’s recovered enough to be present when Kelly heads for the stars.

I’ve never met Kelly, but I have met Gabrielle Giffords. She’s the younger sister of a college friend and I met her twenty years ago when she was a bright young Fulbright scholar. While I only chatted with her a few times I always had the impression she’d go far. My friend and I drifted apart, as college friends often do, but over the years I always paid attention to Gabrielle’s career. I wasn’t surprised in the least when she became a Congresswoman. And I won’t be surprised if I see her back in Congress one day.

Have a speedy recovery, Gabrielle, and enjoy the launch for me.

[Image courtesy NASA]