September 19th, 2012
12:47 PM ET

NASA's last space shuttle on nostalgic flight to retirement home

The space shuttle Endeavour began its final aerial show on Wednesday, thrilling spectators across the southern United States before completing the first stage of its transcontinental voyage in Houston.

After a two-day delay due to unfavorable weather, Endeavour began its flight from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Los Angeles, where the now-retired spacecraft will be displayed.
Endeavour, along with Discovery, Enterprise and Atlantis, became museum pieces after NASA ended its 30-year shuttle program in July 2011.

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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • News
September 18th, 2012
04:04 PM ET

Astronaut marks first triathlon in space

The CNN Fit Nation Lucky 7 get major props for finishing the Nautica Malibu Triathlon this weekend, and so does NASA astronaut Sunita Williams.

Williams did the swimming, biking and running events aboard the International Space Station using exercise equipment specialized for space. This makes her the first person ever to complete a triathlon in space.

“I’m happy to be done," she said after finishing her activities. "It wasn’t easy, and I’m sure everyone out in California is excited to be done, too.”

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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space
July 21st, 2012
02:11 PM ET

'Muscle guys' who brought Apollo 11 home

By Thom Patterson, CNN

(CNN) - As he stood on the floating Apollo 11 capsule, Navy SEAL John Wolfram was very aware that the safety of the first men to walk on the moon was in his hands. The whole world was watching.

Amazing circumstances - for a guy just two years out of high school.

It was July 24, 1969 - four days after the historic landing - and millions were anxious to know whether the astronauts had survived their fiery fall into the Pacific about a thousand miles off Hawaii. Minutes before he stepped onto the tiny capsule, it had been plummeting from space into the atmosphere at thousands of miles per hour. Parts of the spacecraft's shell were blackened. Wolfram could see steam still rising from it.

"I looked in the hatch window to see if the astronauts were OK," recalls Wolfram. "They smiled and gave me a thumbs up. Being the first to look them in the eye and see that they're OK - it's quite a rush."

On this 43rd anniversary of the well-known mission, here's an Apollo 11 story that's told less often.

It's the story of a handpicked four-man team of tough Navy SEALs who played a key role in what may be mankind's greatest technological achievement.

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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • On this Day
July 9th, 2012
10:28 AM ET

Earth as you've never seen it before

Happy Monday! Check out This is Our Planet from Tomislav Safundžić on Vimeo (the music is "Intro" by The XX):

This time-lapse video was compiled from photos from the International Space Station.

Safundžić is an 18-year-old from Croatia, according to his Vimeo page. The photography came from the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory at NASA Johnson Space Center.

The video has become a sensation on the Web.

Astronaut Col. Ron Garan, who spent part of last year aboard the International Space Station, posted the video to his Google+ page last week with the endorsement "Well worth the 2 minutes!"

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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • News
Telescope aims to head off asteroids' impact on Earth
The nonprofit B612 Foundation announced plans to raise money to build an infrared space telescope that would orbit the sun.
June 29th, 2012
10:56 AM ET

Telescope aims to head off asteroids' impact on Earth

With the space shuttle program over and private companies launching their own spaceships, it’s clear that nongovernment organizations are making a stir in America’s space race.

Now the private sector is getting into the space telescope business, too. The first official entrant into this arena wants humanity to locate and avoid asteroids, helping us dodge the fate of the dinosaurs.

The nonprofit B612 Foundation announced Thursday plans to raise money to build an infrared space telescope that would go around the sun, with an orbit similar to that of Venus. It would be about 170 million miles from Earth at its farthest.

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June 14th, 2012
04:32 PM ET

Solving the mystery of black holes

Editor's note: Meg Urry is the Israel Munson professor of physics and astronomy and chairwoman of the department of physics at Yale University, where she is the director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. This article was written in association with the Op-Ed Project.

Anchorage, Alaska (CNN) - In Ballroom E of the Den'aina conference center here Wednesday, a small group of astronomers and journalists listened to the NASA feed from Kwajalein island, between Hawaii and Australia, where a Pegasus rocket aboard an L1011 plane was about to launch the NuSTAR space telescope. I was there as a member of the science team for NuSTAR, which is part of NASA's Small Explorer program

Many years in the making, NuSTAR carries an important scientific instrument designed to look for energetic X-rays from cosmic sources like black holes and exploded stars.

Most of us know about X-rays used for diagnostic imaging of broken limbs or for security scans at the airport. They are a high-energy form of light, energetic enough to penetrate clothing or flesh.

June 13th, 2012
10:34 AM ET

Telescope launches to explore black holes

A powerful telescope array is headed for space today. Its starting point wasn't a Cape Canaveral launch pad, but rather a plane that took off from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific Ocean.

NuSTAR began its launch process today just after 12 p.m. EST. NuSTAR stands for Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array.

NuSTAR, with its specialized "X-ray eyes," has 10 times the resolution and 100 times the sensitivity of similar telescopes. It has the capability to study black holes and explore how exploding stars form the elements from which the universe is composed.

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Overheard on CNN.com: New shuttle needs space plane 'coolness'
Designed by UK-based engineers Reaction Engines Ltd, the Skylon project is a radical idea for future space travel.
June 8th, 2012
07:20 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: New shuttle needs space plane 'coolness'

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

CNN commenters - clearly energized about the promise of a new, privately developed space shuttle - are buzzing about winged spacecraft versus capsule-based vehicles like Dragon, which SpaceX used for its historic visit to the space station last month.

A commenter called "gregory" points out the Skylon space plane project in the UK. The theory behind space planes is they would be able to take off from a runway, rocket into low orbit, and then fly to a landing on a runway.

Gregory suggests that space planes are preferable because their engines would be designed to "breathe air like a jet at lower speeds" and then "switch to rocket mode in the high atmosphere." CNN reported on Skylon last year and one insider estimated development cost to be around $10 billion. NASA's program to fund private spacecraft development offers only a fraction of that amount - less than $400 million awarded so far.

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June 8th, 2012
08:01 AM ET

Is Dream Chaser the new space shuttle?

Will we ever get a space plane? Read our responses to some of the comments this story received.

Have you been listening to all the kvetching and tooth-gnashing about America paying Russia $65-to-$70 million for each astronaut to ride to the space station?

You should hear what people at NASA and elsewhere in the U.S. aerospace industry are telling their friends:  They're embarrassed - even angry - that the guys who won the Cold War space race are no longer in the driver's seat.

Why, oh, why, they moan, did Washington end the shuttle program before building a replacement? How fast can the United States develop a new machine to deliver Americans into orbit so they can make scientific and technological breakthroughs?

How fast? Last month, less than a year after the final space shuttle mission, a SpaceX unmanned Dragon became the first private spacecraft to reach the orbiting space station.

But you probably knew that. Here's what you may have missed: A few days after SpaceX's triumph, a winged mini-space shuttle took to the air in its first flight test.

Wait. What? There's a new space shuttle in development?

Yep, it's called Dream Chaser. And it's made to fly on laughing gas.

But more on that in a second.

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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • News
May 31st, 2012
08:55 AM ET

First private capsule to dock at space station begins return flight to Earth

The first private capsule to dock at the International Space Station will return to Earth Thursday, nine days after it took off on its historic mission.

The capsule, known as Dragon, was released by the space station's robotic arm at 5:35 a.m. ET. A thruster burn a minute later pushed the spacecraft away from its host, according to SpaceX, the private company that built and operates the Dragon.

On Sunday, Dragon delivered to the space station more than 1,000 pounds of cargo, including food, clothing, computer equipment and supplies for science experiments and has been reloaded with everything from trash to scientific research and experimental samples.

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