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STS-80 Mission Highlights: Nov.-Dec. 1996 November 21, 2016

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Columbia‘s launch on Nov. 19, 1996

Mission Highlights STS-80

November 1996

(Published by NASA Johnson Space Center in early 1997, and transcribed by me for posting here. Credit NASA)

Double deploys Highlight  Mission

An early morning landing of the Space Shuttle Columbia ended a more than 17-day mission to deploy and retrieve two science satellites, one that studied stars and another that made thin film wafers. Pilot Kent Rominger recounted how impressive it was to see the trailing satellites at sunrise. “It was incredible having two satellites out there at the same time. In the morning when the sun would rise, they were just tremendously bright stars, trailing along behind us.”

Mission Specialist Tamara Jernigan reflected on how a stuck hatch would give the space program an advantage in future flights. ”This flight offered all of us a bit of everything the space program has to offer,” Jernigan said. “It offered the excitement of two deploys, rendezvous and retrievals, and also the frustration of a hatch that wouldn’t open and EVAs left undone. I bet it is a long, long time before we ever have another hatch problem. NASA will make the most of the lesson it has learned.”

Mission Specialist Story Musgrave recounted that the long mission gave him a sense of what space is all about. ”This mission was long enough so you had some time to stop and think about what space was about,” Musgrave said. “Time to have an experience of space to explore the heavens, to explore the Earth and think about what that is all about and get a feel for space.”

In addition to setting a record for the longest shuttle flight to date, Astronaut Musgrave reached a few milestones for himself. His sixth shuttle flight tied him with John Young for the most space flights by any human being. In addition, at age 61, Musgrave became the oldest person ever to fly in space.

Mission Events

The Space Shuttle Columbia returned to space for the 21st time at 1:55 p.m. CST, November 19, 1996. Its scientific mission was to study stars, produce improved semiconductor films and practice building the International Space Station.

Mission specialist Tammy Jernigan released the Orbiting Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer (ORFEUS) from Columbia’ s robot arm November 20, about 10:11 p.m. CST. Three hours later, ground controllers observed the telescope door opening and noted that the instrument appeared to be working properly, beginning two weeks of gathering data on the origin and makeup of stars.


ORFEUS SPAS begins its free-flight after release from the arm on Flight Day 1.

While Columbia led the ORFEUS­ SPAS spacecraft, the five astronauts concentrated their attention on other activities aboard the orbiter including testing the Space Vision System, conducting a visual checkout of the Wake Shield Facility (WSF) and working with middeck experiments. Other experiments conducted by the crew included VIEW-CPL, an investigation of capillary pumped loop equipment in weightlessness designed by University of Maryland students. Such technology may be used in cooling systems for future spacecraft, allowing fluids to be pumped without the use of moving parts.

Astronaut Tom Jones unberthed the WSF from its latched position in the shuttle cargo bay Friday, November 22, at 2:56 p.m.  Jones positioned the satellite over the left-hand edge of the cargo bay with the WSF underside facing into the direction of travel. This position allows atomic oxygen to “cleanse” the satellite’s underside in preparation for its experiment operations. The crew released the WSF at 7:38 p.m. CST.

The first growth of thin films on the back side of the WSF began Saturday, November 23, at 6:37 p.m. CST. The film growths continued while the WSF flew free of the Orbiter.

Commander Ken Cockrell took the shuttle to within 35 feet of the WSF Monday, November 25, and Astronaut Tom Jones latched the mechanical arm onto it about 8:01 p.m. CST. The satellite’s scientists reported they completed seven thin film growths of semiconductor materials, the maximum capability for the satellite.


Release of the WakeShield Facility-3

The WSF again was unberthed at 6:06 p.m. CST November the 27, for 3.5 hours of work with the Atomic Oxygen Processing experiment. With work to produce aluminum oxide films using the atomic oxygen available in low-Earth orbit going well, scientists were granted an extra 3 hours to finish their work and test the Orbiter Space Vision System’s ability to provide precise information on the WSF’s position in the cargo bay.

Plans for a spacewalk by astronauts Tammy Jernigan and Tom Jones were abandoned after the airlock outer hatch failed to open. A post flight analysis of the hatch revealed a loose screw was the problem.

Although the planned space walks were canceled, crew members took advantage of the micro­gravity environment of space to evaluate the Pistol Grip Tool in the cabin. Jernigan, Jones and Musgrave evaluated the tool while tightening and loosening a bolt on the middeck floor to evaluate the tool’s operation in weightlessness.

Scientists were given an extra day of science gathering with the extension of the STS-80 mission. The ORFEUS­ SPAS satellite was captured from its orbit using the robotic arm about 2:26 a.m. CST, Wednesday December 3. Jernigan, Jones and Musgrave performed about four hours of robot arm operations with ORFEUS-SPAS prior to locking the satellite in the payload bay at 7:14 a.m.

A second extra day in space was granted to the five astronauts aboard Columbia when fog prevented a landing at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center and high winds on the Mojave Desert meant that Edwards Air Force Base also was not available. NASA’s final shuttle mission of 1996 concluded at 5:49 a.m. CST, December 7, with a landing at Kennedy Space Center.


Jones goes after the Wake Shield for grappling after its 3-day flight.

Payload Descriptions

ORFEUS-SPAS II:  The Orbiting and Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrograph-Shuttle Pallet Satellite IT (ORFEUS-SPAS II) mission was the third flight to use the German-built ASTRO-SPAS science satellite. The ASTRO-SPAS program is a cooperative endeavor between NASA and the German Space Agency, DARA. ORFEUS-SPAS II, a free-flying satellite, was deployed and retrieved using Columbia’ s Remote Manipulator System (RMS). The goal of this astrophysics mission was to investigate the rarely explored far- and extreme-ultraviolet regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, and study the very hot and very cold matter in the universe.

ORFEUS-SPAS II attempted a large number of observing programs. Among the many areas in which scientists hoped to gain new insights during this mission was the evolution of stars, the structure of galaxies, and the nature of the interstellar medium, and others. Many of the objects they looked at had never before been observed in the far-ultraviolet.

ASTRO-SPAS is a carrier designed for launch, deployment and retrieval by the space shuttle. Once deployed from the shuttle’s RMS, ASTRO-SPAS operated quasi-autonomously for 14 days in the vicinity of the shuttle. After completion of the free flight phase, the satellite was retrieved by the RMS, returned to the shuttle cargo bay and returned to Earth.

The one-meter diameter ORFEUS telescope with the Far Ultraviolet (FUV) Spectrograph and the Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) Spectrograph comprised the main payload. A secondary, but highly complementary, payload was the Interstellar Medium Absorption Profile Spectrograph (IMAPS). In addition to the astronomy payloads, ORFEUS-SPAS II carried the Surface Effects Sample Monitor (SESAM), the ATV Rendezvous Pre-Development Project (ARP), and the Student Experiment on ASTRO-SPAS (SEAS).

The ORFEUS-SPAS II mission was dedicated to astronomical observations at very short wavelengths, specifically the two spectral ranges Far Ultraviolet and Extreme Ultraviolet. This part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is obscured by the Earth’s atmosphere and not observed by the Hubble Space Telescope, includes a high density of spectral lines (especially from various states of hydrogen and oxygen), which are emitted or absorbed by matter covering a wide range of temperatures.

The primary scientific objectives were:

  • Investigation of the nature of hot stellar atmospheres
  • Investigation of cooling mechanisms of white dwarf stars
  • Investigation of supernova remnants
  • Investigation of the interstellar medium and potential star forming regions

The Interstellar Medium Absorption Profile Spectrograph (IMAPS) was a separate instrument, attached to the ASTRO-SPAS framework. IMAPS operated independently of the ORFEUS telescope. IMAPS operated for more than two days of free flight and during that time observed the brightest galactic objects at extremely high resolutions. This resolution allows study of fine structure in interstellar gas lines. The individual motions of interstellar gas clouds can be determined to an accuracy of 1.6 kilometers per second.


Story Musgrave on Columbia’s flight deck, monitoring Wake Shield Facility trailing the orbiter.

Another science payload was the Surface Effects Sample Monitor (SESAM), a passive carrier for state­ of-the-art optical surfaces and potential future detector materials. SESAM investigated the impact of the space environment on materials and surfaces in different phases of a space shuttle mission, from launch, orbit phase to re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Among the SESAM samples were witness samples to the telescope mirror, allowing for accurate calibration measurements after landing. Sample spaces were available to scientific and industrial users.

The ATV Rendezvous Pre­Development Project (ARP), part of the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), was an element of the European manned space transportation program. Among the objectives of the ARP were to develop and validate ground simulation facilities; develop and demonstrate on-board control software and in­orbit relative GPS capabilities; and to demonstrate the operation of the optical rendezvous sensor in orbit.

The Student Experiment on ASTRO-SPAS (SEAS) was an electrolysis experiment built by students of the German high school of Ottobrunn. It consisted of eight experiment chambers containing various metal salt solutions and two electrodes. Metal “trees” of different shapes were grown on one electrode. Photographs taken of this process during the mission were compared to those of identical experiments conducted on the ground under the full influence of Earth’s gravity.


Columbia about to touch down at KSC on Dec. 7, 1996, after a record-breaking stay in space, the longest for any shuttle mission (nearly 18 days).

DARA SCHOOL PROJECT:  For this second ORFEUS-SPAS mission, DARA developed an innovative educational program designed to reach students in 170 German schools teaching astronomy, physics and computer science. The classes were tailored to prepare the students to use ORFEUS­ SPAS data in the study of general astronomy, the life and death of stars, stellar spectral analysis, as well as how to work with the data on computers via the Internet. DARA supplied the necessary written course information and developed an ORFEUS-SPAS Internet home page, where students received and worked directly with the data obtained during the mission.

WAKE SHIELD FACILITY-3 (WSF-3):  The WSF-3 was a 12-foot diameter, free-flying, stainless steel disk designed to generate an “ultra­ vacuum” environment in space in which to grow semiconductor thin films for use in advanced electronics. The STS-80 crew deployed and retrieved the WSF during the 17-day mission using Columbia’s “robot arm,” or Remote Manipulator System.

Wake Shield was sponsored by the Space Processing Division in NASA’s Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications. It was designed, built and operated by the Space Vacuum Epitaxy Center at the University of Houston-a NASA Commercial  Space Center, in conjunction with its industrial partner, Space Industries, Inc., also in Houston.

Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) space has only a moderate natural vacuum, one that can be greatly improved through the generation of an “ultra vacuum” wake behind an object moving through orbit. The unique ultra vacuum produced in the wake of the WSF has been shown in past flights to be 100 to 1,000 times better than the best operating ground-based laboratory chamber vacuums. Using this ultra­vacuum in space, the WSF had already grown the highest purity aluminum gallium arsenide thin films, and holds the promise of producing the next generation of semiconductor materials along with the devices they make possible.

The major objective of this third flight of WSF is to grow thin “epitaxial” films which could have a significant impact on the micro-electronics industry because the use of advanced semiconducting thin film materials in electronic components holds a very promising economic advantage. The commercial applications for high quality semiconductor devices are most critical in the consumer technology areas of personal communications systems, fiber optic communications, high-speed transistors and processors, and opto­electronic devices.

The Space Experiment Module (SEM) was a NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Shuttle Small Payloads Project education initiative that provided increased educational access to space. The program targeted kindergarten through university level participants. SEM stimulated and encouraged direct student participation in the creation, development, and flight of zero-gravity and microgravity experiments on the space shuttle.

SEM’s first flight included a number of experiments sponsored by the Charleston, SC, school district (CAN­DO). Their experiments included Gravity & Acceleration Readings, Bacteria-Agar Research Instrument, Crystal Research in Space, Magnetic Attraction Viewed in Space, and numerous passive items such as algae, bones, yeast, and photographic film.

Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, also sponsored a number of experiments:  Fluid Thermal Convection, NADH Oxidase Absorbence in Shrimp, and a Passive Particle Detector experiment.

Hampton Elementary School in Lutherville, MD, experimented with seeds, soil, chalk, crayon, calcite, Silly Putty, bubble solution, popcorn, mosquito eggs, and other organic compounds.

Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, IL, had a Surface Tension experiment. Albion Jr. High in Strongville, OH, flew a heat transfer experiment and studied the heating properties of copper tubes and pennies. Poquoson Middle School in Poquoson; VA, conducted a Bacteria Inoculation in Space experiment and NORSTAR (Norfolk Public Schools Science and Technology Advanced Research) in Norfolk, VA, observed the behavior of immiscible fluids.

NIH-R4 was the fourth in a series of collaborative experiments developed by NASA and the National Institutes of Health. NASA’s Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA, was the experiment developer.

Principal investigator of the NIH­R4 experiment, “Calcium, Metabolism and Vascular Function After Space Flight,” was the Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland. For many years, they investigated the role of calcium in blood pressure regulation. Calcium has long been recognized as a critical mineral in the nor­ mal development and function of bone and muscle. These researchers were among the first to demonstrate that calcium also is essential for normal cardiovascular function.

This study added to the body of knowledge necessary to maintain the health of astronauts during space flight. In addition, it added new and exciting data to a growing body of evidence that calcium is a mineral with myriad functions critical to the normal function of human life on Earth.


Kent Rominger and Tammy Jernigan change lithium hydroxide canisters (for CO2 removal) on the orbiter middeck.

NASA/CCM-A is one in a series of bone cell experiments conducted aboard the space shuttle. Results from a previous shuttle flight, NIH.C4 on STS-69, indicate that bone is affected by microgravity at the cellular level. The investigators participating in the STS-80 CCM-A mission hope to confirm their previous findings, and further test the hypothesis that the absence of gravity has a negative effect on bone formation.

Weightlessness results in bone loss in astronauts, similar to what occurs in people who undergo prolonged bed rest or, in some cases, lose the use of one of their limbs due to injury or disease. The exact cause of the bone loss is not yet clear, but it is at least partially due to decreased activity of osteoblasts, the cells which produce the matrix which mineralizes to become bone. Weightlessness results in similar decreased bone formation in both rodents and humans. Results from this experiment help scientists determine the usefulness of cultured bone cells in understanding how the acceleration due to gravity functions to maintain bone cell activity. The Principal Investigator for this study was the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN.

Osteoblast adhesion and phenotype in microgravity:  Among the unanswered questions of bone loss during space flight are the direct effects that microgravity exerts on bone cells, and the mechanisms by which these cells recognize changes in gravity. This study focused on bone cells of the osteoblast family, which synthesize bone matrix and also may participate in its breakdown (resorption) by regulating the formation and activity of bone-resorbing cells, osteoblasts.

The investigators of this study were the Departments of Orthopedics, and Ophthalmology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, NY. The project was sponsored by NASA’s Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications Small Payloads Program, and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases.

BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH IN CANISTER (BRIC):  Although various effects of microgravity on plants have been observed, little is known about the underlying mechanisms involved. BRlC-09 studied the influence of microgravity on genetically altered tomato and tobacco seedlings that had been modified to contain elements of soybean genes. This study provided information about plants’ molecular biology and insight into the transport and distribution mechanisms for hormones within plants. The research provides crucial information on how to improve growth rates and biomass production of space-grown plants as well as information on how to enhance crop productivity on the Earth. The improvement of growth rate and biomass production of space­ grown plants is particularly useful for the development of life support systems to support crews over long­ duration flights. The improvement of growth and biomass production of space-grown plants also is an important step toward commercial application of space using plants as bioreactors for pharmaceutical products and for other commercial purposes. The principal investigator was, Kansas State University, Division of Biology, Manhattan, KS.


Ken Cockrell and Tammy Jernigan award Story  Musgrave his “Master of Space” patch for exceeding 1000 hours in space during 6 flights to orbit. The ceremony took place on Columbia’s middeck with the four sleep stations in the background.

COMMERCIAL MDA ITA EXPERIMENT (CMIX-5): CMIX-5 was the last in a series of five shuttle flights linking NASA and the University of Alabama/Huntsville (UAH) Consortium for Materials Development in Space, with flight hardware privately developed by Instrumentation Technology Associates (ITA) of Exton, PA.

UAH research included diabetes treatment; cell reaction in microgravity that may lead to tissue replacement techniques; the development of gene combinations that are toxic to insect pests but not harmful to other species, thus creating a natural pesticide; and an environmental monitoring model using mysid shrimp.

A key activity for ITA was the ongoing effort to grow large protein crystals of urokinase for research linked to breast cancer inhibitors. There was also an ITA materials analysis study to see if the use of sealants in microgravity can lead to better protection of ntional monuments against acid rain. ITA also sponsored seven elementary and high school research activities as well as experiments linked to the National Space Society and the International Space University.

VISUALIZATION IN AN EXPERIMENTAL WATER CAPILLARY PUMPED LOOP (VIEW­CPL):  This technology was an option for spacecraft thermal management. A CPL collects and transports excess heat generated by spacecraft instruments. The heat is transported to a spacecraft radiator for rejection into space. Requiring no mechanical pump, a CPL can transport more energy for longer distances than heat pipes currently used today.

The purpose of the STS-80 experiment was to help develop a complete understanding of CPL physics in a microgravity environment by viewing the fluid flow inside the evaporator. VIEW-CPL was developed by the Department of Mechanical Engineering of the University of Maryland at College Park, as part of NASA’s In-Space Technology Experiment Program (IN­ STEP).


The STS-80 crew on Columbia’s middeck: Cockrell, Jernigan, Rominger in back row; Jones and Musgrave up front.


Commander: Kenneth D. Cockrell. Cockrell, 46, was born, in Austin, TX. He received a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas and a master of science degree in aeronautical systems from the University of West Florida.

Cockrell was selected as an astronaut by NASA in January 1990 and became qualified for a flight assignment July 1991. A veteran of three space flights, including STS-56 in 1993 and STS-69 in 1995, he has logged more than 906 hours in space.

Pilot: Kent V. Rominger (CMDR, USN). Rominger, 40, was born in Del Norte, CO. He received a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from Colorado State University and a master of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. Rominger reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1992 and after completing the one year of required training became qualified for future flight assignment. He made his first space flight from Oct. 20 to Nov. 5, 1995, on STS-73 during which Rominger served as pilot. With the completion of STS-80, Rominger has logged more than 806 hours in space.


Ken Cockrell on Columbia‘s flight deck after landing.

Mission Specialist:  Tamara  E. Jernigan (Ph.D.). Jernigan, 37, was born in Chattanooga, TN. She received a bachelor of science degree in physics (with honors) and a master of science degree in engineering science from Stanford University. Jernigan also earned a master of science degree in astronomy from the University of California-Berkeley and a doctorate in space physics and astronomy from Rice University. Jernigan was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in June 1985 and became an astronaut in July 1986. A veteran of four space flights, Jernigan was a mission specialist on STS-40 in 1991 and STS-52 in October 1992. She was the payload commander on STS- 67 in March 1995 and with the completion of STS-80 has logged more than 1,278 hours in space.

Mission Specialist: Thomas D. Jones (Ph.D.). Jones, 41, was born in Baltimore, MD. He received a bachelor of science degree in basic sciences from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO, and a doctorate in planetary science from the University of Arizona in Tucson. After a year of training following his selection by NASA in January 1990, Jones became an astronaut in July 1991. In 1994, he flew as a mission specialist on successive flights of Space Shuttle Endeavour and the Space Radar Laboratory payload. His first flight was in April 1994 on STS-59 and then in October 1994 on STS-68, he served as payload commander for Space Radar Lab 2. With the completion of STS-80, Jones has logged more than 963 hours in space.

Mission Specialist:   Story Musgrave (MD). Musgrave, 61, was born in Boston, MA, but considers Lexington, KY, to be his hometown. He received a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and statistics from Syracuse University, a master of business administration degree in operations analysis and computer programming from the University of California at Los Angeles, a bachelor of arts degree in chemistry from Marietta College, a doctorate in medicine from Columbia University, New York, NY, a master of science in physiology and biophysics from the University of Kentucky, and a master of arts in literature from the University of Houston. Musgrave was selected as a scientist-astronaut by NASA in August 1967. A veteran of six space flights, Musgrave was a mission specialist on STS-6 in 1983, STS-51 F in 1985, STS-33 in 1989 and STS-44 in 1991. He was the payload commander on STS-61 in 1993 and with the completion of STS-80 has logged more than 1,282 hours in space. His sixth flight tied him with John Young’s record for most number of space flights by any human being and, at age 61, made him the oldest person ever to fly in space.sts-80-patch

The STS-80 mission patch depicts Space Shuttle Columbia and the two research satellites its crew deployed into the blue field of space. The uppermost satellite is ORFEUS-SPAS (Orbiting Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrograph-Shuttle Pallet Satellite), a telescope aimed at unraveling the life cycles of stars and understanding the gases that drift between them. The lower satellite is the Wake Shield Facility, flying for the third time. It used the vacuum of space to create advanced semiconductors for the nation’s electronics industry. ORFEUS and Wake Shield are joined by the symbol of the Astronaut Corps, representing the human contribution to scientific progress in space. The two bright blue stars represent the mission’s space walks, final rehearsals for techniques and tools to be used in assembly of the International Space Station. Surrounding Columbia is a constellation of 16 stars, one for each day of the mission, representing the stellar talents of the ground and flight team that share the goal of expanding knowledge through a permanent human presence in space.



Launching an Annual Asteroid Day March 2, 2016

Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space, Uncategorized.
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In late February, the Association of Space Explorers, working with the United Nations in Vienna, proposed that the UN declare that Asteroid Day be held as an annual, global event. Asteroid Day, first held in 2015, heightens public awareness of the asteroid impact hazard, educates society on what we humans can do with space technology to prevent a future disaster, and calls for stepping up the discovery rate of possibly hazardous asteroids. 



Association of Space Explorers member (and Romanian cosmonaut) Dorin Prunariu delivers the ASE statement on Asteroid Day to the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in Feb. 2016.(credit Dorin Prunariu)

At the Vienna session of the UN’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (through its Science and Technical Subcommittee), our ASE representative Dorin Prunariu delivered our statement on the importance of Asteroid Day as a global, UN-recognized event. His presentation to the member state delegates was well-received. The Association of Space Explorers submitted a Conference Room Paper to the member state delegates calling for recognition of Asteroid Day, and it’s posted here

Here is one excerpt from our Paper:

In view of the successful results of last year’s Asteroid Day, and the goals and
plans for Asteroid Day 2016 and beyond, the Association of Space Explorers asks
the member States of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to support
Asteroid Day’s goals, and to propose that the United Nations General Assembly at
its 71st session in 2016 declare the International Asteroid Day as [an] annual global
observance. The purpose of such an Asteroid Day declaration is to promote and
raise each year at the international level the awareness of NEO hazards, the
potential for space science and technology to protect humanity against future
damaging impacts, and the need to act together to end the threat of an asteroid
collision with Earth. Because 30 June was the date of the largest impact of an
asteroid on Earth in historical times, we propose that the United Nations General
Assembly resolve that the International Asteroid Day be celebrated and promoted
annually on that date.

We anticipate that the full Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, meeting in June, will adopt the report of its Committee. If so, October’s gathering of the General Assembly in New York should see the approval of the document, and thus UN recognition of Asteroid Day as an annual, global event. 

The Association of Space Explorers Committee on Near-Earth Objects thanks Dorin (celebrating the 35th anniversary of the first Romanian space mission (his) this year) and the Asteroid Day organizers Grig Richter and Danica Remy for making the work in Vienna possible. So this June 30, check with AsteroidDay.org to see and attend the closest Asteroid Day event, or better yet, plan to organize and hold one of your own. We’re sure to continue our ASE support of this year’s events with astronauts attending many of the Asteroid Day gatherings. See you on June 30. 

#Apollo45: Moon Memories December 14, 2015

Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space, Uncategorized.
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July 2014 marked the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the first time astronauts visited and walked on another celestial body. I recorded my memories of that event, and the inspiration it brought to me, at the #Apollo45 YouTube channel.

Here is my video link.

What do you remember seeing–and feeling–on July 20, 1969?


apollo 11 crew NASM 7-19-09

The Apollo 11 crew on July 20, 2009, at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Aldrin (left), Armstrong, and Collins. (NASM)


Food for Thought…Just Before Liftoff September 10, 2015

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Launch Morning Breakfast, STS-68: Aug. 18, 1994 (NASA)

Launch Morning Breakfast, STS-68: Aug. 18, 1994 (NASA)

In a tradition dating back to Alan Shepard’s first U.S. spaceflight in 1961, astronauts are served a favorite meal before suiting up and heading to the launch pad–and space. On STS-68, scheduled for an Aug. 18, 1994 launch, I asked the dietitians at the NASA Astronaut Crew Quarters at Kennedy Space Center (my favorite was Dotti Kunde) to prepare a mushroom and cheese omelet with bacon, toast, fresh fruit, coffee, and orange juice. My crew gathered in the dining room of crew quarters for a ceremonial photo and a wave at the TV cameras, and a formal acceptance of our “mission cake,” a giant sheet cake with our SRL-2/STS-68 patch decorating the top. After the photos, the cake immediately went into the freezer and was delivered to Houston. We’d eat the cake when–and if–we actually returned from a successful mission.

Breakfast was served between five and six hours before liftoff, so there was no possibility that any of this delicious food was going to still be in my stomach when I arrived in free fall. Hence, I needn’t worry about seeing any of it if I experienced a bout of space sickness on arrival in orbit. (Besides, I took anti-nausea meds on the launch pad, eliminating any possibility of “space adaptation syndrome” that might require me to deploy my space sickness bag.)

Of course, this was just the first launch morning breakfast I’d enjoy on STS-68. I came back six weeks later for another one, following our pad abort on August 18 and Endeavour’s return to the pad for our next attempt. But that’s another story….

Thank you, Dot and friends, for a delicious breakfast. It was plenty tasty enough to make one intent on returning to Earth.

Read more about STS-68 in “Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir.”


Did UFOs Visit STS-80 Columbia? September 8, 2014

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Astronaut Tom Jones: Flight Notes

During the week of April 11, 2011, the FBI released some of its investigation records on UFOs. The reports reflect the reality that people do see unexplained phenomena in the sky. Are these sightings evidence for intelligent life elsewhere, or some secret flight testing program?

Much UFO speculation in the past has focused on one of my shuttle missions, STS-80, flown in late 1996. Some have maintained that video shot during this Columbia space shuttle flight provides evidence for unknown objects moving in the night sky. I have reviewed this video (for the first time in 1997), and conclude that it shows commonplace and well-known objects near the shuttle, all of them observed on every shuttle flight. These videos show low-light television camera images of ice particles or man-made debris drifting out of Columbia’s cargo bay, and floating in the vicinity of the shuttle, likely within a few…

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Homecoming 2/6 Marines, Fox Company February 19, 2011

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I’m pleased to reprint the account below by Elaine Swierszcz Gaither, recounting her son’s recent return from Afghanistan (with permission):


To understand the ending of the story, I have to begin at the beginning.  In June, our family made a marathon round-trip to Camp LeJeune, NC to bid farewell to our son Josh, a Lance Corporal with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, who was deploying to Afghanistan.  We arrived a scant 90 minutes before departure, barely enough time to hug him one last time, tell him how proud we were of him, to reassure him (and ourselves) that he would be back before too long.  I think it was the first time I truly realized how scared he was, how terrified I was.  As hard as it was to say goodbye to him, it was almost harder to see the Marines saying goodbye to their children, their pregnant wives, the babies who would be celebrating their first Christmas without their dad.  One Marine dad sat on the ground and played one last time with his young son. The families stood in the parking lot as the buses pulled out, waving until they were out of sight. And then a new family formed…a family of those left behind. We hugged, we cried, we gave words of encouragement and strength, we exchanged names, email addresses, and phone numbers.  After a bit we were able to tear ourselves away and head home.

As the months crept by we heard infrequently from our Marines, but as soon as one of us did, the word was passed. It didn’t matter that they were in different companies, different parts of Marjah, different jobs. One of our own was heard from, and we celebrated. Facebook became a lifeline for us. Like all families, we mourned each combat loss, celebrated each new member of the 2/6 family added by birth, consoled those whose Marine was injured, shared news about travels and illness.  Life went on here in the States, and the family formed in that parking lot was there for support.

In November we were given tentative arrival dates. Each company was assigned a three to five day window; Fox Company was due January 4 – 7. Excitement began to build, a flurry of information about travel arrangements and hotels was exchanged, welcome home banners ordered, and the countdown began. The days dragged on, the holidays came and went without too much celebration. On January 2, we got our 48 hour confirmed notice; Fox Company was due to arrive onboard Camp LeJeune Tuesday, 4  January at 1930 hours.  It was time to head back to North Carolina.  It was time to welcome our Marine home.   I think that Monday was 100 hours long! The students in my classes kept asking me what was wrong…I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t concentrate…I now have a better understanding of ADHD!

We left home at five in the morning on the fourth, seven hours later we were at the hotel in Jacksonville. We headed over to the base mid-afternoon; I had seven cases of Girl Scout Cookies and a huge carton of donated candy to deliver for the reception. We grabbed something to eat at the Commissary, found the rest of our family and friends who had made the trip, and headed over to the Field House. It was time to meet all those wonderful people I had met via the internet, and to say hello again to those I had met in June.  Welcome Home signs hung from the bleachers, and the excitement and anticipation was almost palpable.  Little ones played on the gym floor, wives clustered together, parents found each other and chatted, other Marines came in, many of them wounded, and waited with us for word that Fox Company was on the ground at Cherry Point, and enroute back to LeJeune.  Around 6, cell phones began to ring, word began to spread as more and more of the Marines were calling their wives, their dads, moms, girlfriends…they were on the ground and headed back. Except they were still a good 90 minutes away, and they would first have to go to the Armory to turn in their serialized gear and weapons. The Marines would then march from the Armory to the Field House. The excitement continued to build and the wait became more and more unbearable.

Finally, after hours of waiting, we heard they were at the Armory and then the announcement we were waiting for was made. If quite could be loud, it was. A silence fell over the Field House as the moments of waiting drew to a close.  But it was a loud silence…maybe it was all the excited breathing, maybe it was the pounding of all our hearts, maybe it was the sound of joy. The doors swung open and in single file Fox Company began to march in. The roar of the crowd, the applause, all suddenly faded as I glimpsed Joshua coming through the door. I remember saying to someone the next day that it was like giving birth as he emerged into the Field House. I remember bursting into tears. I remember jumping up and down and whispering his name.  As the Marines continued to come through the door, I again became aware of the noise, but I could not take my eyes from Josh. As the last Marine entered and stood in formation, the Company Commander (I think) made some brief remarks (I think it had something to do with the mission) and then, I swear, he dismissed the company. I bolted for Josh only to be stopped, because they had not been dismissed. Instead, all the members of Fox gathered around their leader, and they toasted the Marines who were not going to be coming home. Each of them popped open a beer they had been handed just before coming in to the Field House, and drank in memory of their fallen brothers. If there had been a dry eye in that building up until that point, there wasn’t any longer.

The Marines were then dismissed, and I took off again. I got to Josh first, followed by other members of the family, and then his friends. I could not stop touching him. After Josh checked in to his new quarters, and I realized that none of the “civvies” we brought him would fit (he said they had nothing else to do but work out), we went out to dinner…it was, by now, 11pm.  At the restaurant, following a Marine tradition, the family presented the now Corporal Gaither with his new NCO Ceremonial Sword. Eventually we found our way back to the hotel and ended what had been a very long, very emotional day.

Almost three weeks later, I find myself still moved to tears by different things. We had delayed fully enjoying the secular aspect of Christmas until Josh began leave. I ordered a Welcome Home Cake with the Marine Corps logo on it. When I went to pick it up, I placed the cake in the bottom of the cart and went about shopping. One man passed me by and said “Semper Fi”. I was too stunned to respond. Another man stopped and asked about the cake. I explained and he said “tell your son thank you. Not many are willing to make that sacrifice so I can live in this wonderful country, and enjoy what we have here. And thank you for giving your son to us.” Then, as I was leaving the store, the guy who checks your cart and receipt asked me if my son had just gotten out of the Marines. I again explained that he had just returned from Afghanistan. The man reached over, hugged me and said “tell him a Vietnam Veteran says I’m glad he made it back and thank you.” After thanking him, I left the store in tears. I hide my tears from Josh when he offers up a short recounting of what he’s been through, what he’s seen. He has talked about bullets hitting the ground near his feet, about a buddy hit in the neck, a child who was shot. He talks about how they killed an animal purchased from a local farmer so the Marines could have something fresh to eat, how they couldn’t drink the water, how the children begged for food. He mentions the school that the Marines built and opened and how the girls wouldn’t go in to it, he talks about the irrigation ditches they had to jump over, how their feet were always wet. And he pulls out of his belongings a pile of small stuffed animals that people sent, and that he kept them to remind him of what he’d done, where he’d been, and how great it was that strangers remembered them.

Our journey with the Marine Corps will probably end in June, unless Josh decides to re-enlist. For many reasons I think it would be a good thing for him to stay in, but I know that would, most likely, mean another combat deployment. I don’t know if I want to go through that again, I do know I will miss being part of a unique family. Semper Fi.

By Elaine Swierszcz  Gaither


I’m so glad that Josh and his colleagues are “watching our six”! Thank you for sharing this story, Elaine.

2010 in review January 3, 2011

Posted by skywalking1 in Uncategorized.
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The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 21,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 5 fully loaded ships.


In 2010, there were 17 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 99 posts. There were 22 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 16mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was February 2nd with 598 views. The most popular post that day was The President’s Take on NASA’s Future: Mission to Nowhere.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com, twitter.com, home.comcast.net, and stumbleupon.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for earth, panzer, p-47, space shuttle, and itokawa.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


The President’s Take on NASA’s Future: Mission to Nowhere February 2010


In the Thunderbolt on D-Day — a Hell Hawks! Excerpt in Air Force Times June 2009


An in-depth look at “Planetology” on “The Space Show” December 2008
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Where’s the Vision? – Letter from Carpenter, Cernan, Duke, Buckbee February 2010


William Farrell’s “Thunderbolt Patriot” December 2008


Thank you to all my visitors in 2010, and best wishes for a Happy and Successful 2011!

Tom Jones



Astronaut Speaker Tom Jones — Appearances Summer 2009 June 24, 2009

Posted by skywalking1 in History, Space, Uncategorized.
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Here are a few upcoming events where I’ll be signing Planetology, Hell Hawks!, and other books:

Tom Jones speaks at the Maryland Science Center, June 2009 (APL)

Tom Jones speaks at the Maryland Science Center, June 2009 (APL)

For more details about a speaking event with astronaut Tom Jones, contact his speakers bureau, or visit www.AstronautTomJones.com

Why We Built the Space Station April 2, 2009

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Check out this new film from United Space Alliance. A beautiful view of our foothold in space, discovering a better life on Earth.

STS-119 drank in this view as they departed the Space Station, March 25, 2009 (NASA)

STS-119 drank in this view as they departed the Space Station, March 25, 2009 (NASA)

Here, the departing STS-119 crew looks back at the nearly complete ISS. Compare it to the view I had in 2001. (read about how we built the ISS in “Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir“)

My STS-98 crew said good-bye to the Station, with new lab Destiny, on Feb. 16, 2001. (NASA)

My STS-98 crew said good-bye to the Station, with new lab Destiny, on Feb. 16, 2001. (NASA)

And the Space Station is just a stepping stone…to the Moon, the asteroids, and Mars!


Going Live with Orion at NASA JSC April 2, 2009

Posted by skywalking1 in Uncategorized.
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I appeared on Fox News Channel this morning, April 2, 2009, on America’s Newsroom, to discuss the new Orion crew exploration vehicle. Host Bill Hemmer conducted the inteview with me in Bldg. 9, the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (SVMF) at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. Watch the 5-minute segment here.

The Orion mockup in Bldg. 9 in Houston is used for crew seat arrangement tests, installation of proposed instrument panels and avionics, and fit checks of cargo container designs. Other mockups of the Orion crew module are involved in water handling and recovery tests (next week at the Cape), the Ares I-X flight test launch from Pad 39B in late summer, and in the upcoming pad abort tests at White Sands Missile Range, NM.

Orion is the shuttle’s replacement. It’s time to get on with building and flying it. We will miss the shuttle. But it can’t go to deep space. America needs Orion to continue to lead in space exploration.


Orion crew module mockup at Naval Surface Warfare Center near Washington, DC, on April 1, 2009 (NASA)

Orion crew module mockup at Naval Surface Warfare Center near Washington, DC, on April 1, 2009 (NASA)