May 19th, 2012
10:19 AM ET

Commercial space vehicle launch aborted

SpaceX aborted the historic launch of its Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station on Saturday at the last second because of a rocket engine glitch.

The launch would the first attempt to send a private spacecraft to the space station. SpaceX and NASA officials say the next launch attempts could come Tuesday or Wednesday in the early morning hours at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

As the countdown reached zero, the engines began firing - but then shut down, NASA and SpaceX officials said.


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Filed under: In Space
May 18th, 2012
10:22 AM ET

SpaceX Dragon to launch Saturday

Elon Musk has a lot on his mind these days. “I’m simultaneously excited and nervous,” says the CEO and founder of commercial rocket company SpaceX.

If all goes as planned, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon capsule on top will lift off from Cape Canaveral on Saturday on a mission never before attempted by a private rocket company.

From the moment the engines ignite, there will be high drama, quite literally.


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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space
Rocket maker enters spaceflight race
ATK joined a European company called Astrium to create a launch vehicle called Liberty, illustrated above.
May 9th, 2012
07:45 PM ET

Rocket maker enters spaceflight race

If this were a horse race - and in many ways it is - you would say the field just got a little more crowded.

ATK, the company that built the space shuttle solid rocket boosters, has announced it is jumping into the competition to build a spacecraft to take astronauts to the International Space Station. It’s called the Liberty system.

Kent Rominger, a former NASA astronaut who now heads ATK’s Liberty program, said, “It’s more capable than any other option out there.”


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Filed under: In Space • News • Politics and Policy
April 17th, 2012
01:10 PM ET

Space Shuttle Discovery arrives in Washington

Space Shuttle Discovery landed at Dulles International Airport outside Washington Tuesday after a series of nostalgic fly-bys on the back of a NASA Boeing 747, bringing whoops of pride and tears to the eyes of space fans and astronauts alike.

The 747's flight crew popped a hatch atop the aircraft and waved an American flag as it taxied off the runway.

The flight - the last time Discovery would be aloft - took it from Florida's Kennedy Space Center to the Washington area, where it will spend retirement as a museum piece at an annex to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia, near Dulles.

The shuttle will be removed from the specially modified 747 and star as the guest of honor at a four-day celebration punctuated by a ceremony Thursday formally welcoming Discovery to the Smithsonian collection.

Space Shuttle Enterprise, which has been on display at the museum since 1985, will be moved to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.

"It's a very emotional experience, and I'm sorry this nation is out of the space exploration business for a while," Discovery veteran astronaut Joseph Allen said. FULL POST

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Filed under: On Earth
March 7th, 2012
05:16 PM ET

Rare look inside the shuttle Endeavour

Editor's note: CNN's John Zarrella brings us this insider's view of Endeavour: 

From the outside, you can’t see much. The engines have been removed. The vehicle is encased in scaffolding. But it’s still unmistakable.

In between the steel and ramps and stairs, you can make out the word "Endeavour" down the side. This space shuttle, which flew 122 million miles on 25 flights now sits in a building called the Orbiter Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. Here, workers are preparing the orbiter for life after flying, life in a museum.

NASA on Wednesday gave members of the news media the opportunity to get up close, kick the tires. In fact, the tires were worn right down to the cords, nearly bald in spots. If Endeavour had been scheduled to fly again, they would have been replaced. Shuttles never flew with the same tires twice. One landing chewed them up.


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Filed under: News
CNN chats with Glenn and Carpenter 50 years after historic orbit
John Glenn, left, lifted off on February 20, 1962 -- the first American to orbit the Earth. Scott Carpenter, right, followed in May.
February 20th, 2012
07:47 AM ET

CNN chats with Glenn and Carpenter 50 years after historic orbit

“It seems like it was two weeks ago,” former Sen. John Glenn told me. Glenn and I stood a few feet from a buffet table in a reception room at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

It was about 30 minutes before the start of a NASA celebration marking his and Scott Carpenter’s historic first U.S. orbital flights.

“Hardly a day goes by, Glenn said, “that someone doesn’t ask me about it.”

For me, this was an amazing moment.

There we were on Saturday night, just the two of us. John Glenn, who 50 years ago today became the first American to sit alone atop a 125-ton rocket and shoot around the world three times at more than 17,000 miles an hour.

Glenn's mission made him a national hero who eventually left NASA and later served four terms as a U.S. senator from Ohio.

But he couldn't stay away. Fourteen years ago, at age 77, he returned to orbit - on a much heralded shuttle mission aboard Discovery that put him in the history books again as the oldest person to travel to space.

Now, at 90, Glenn is still lean and fit.

Would he go again?  “I’d go tomorrow if I could,” he said.

Of course, the shuttle program is over, which Glenn told me he’s not happy about.

Watch fascinating video highlights of Glenn's mission aboard Discovery

The space race

I asked Glenn what was going through his head while he sat in that Mercury capsule waiting to lift off. It seemed like the whole world was talking about the race with Moscow to dominate space and rising Cold War tensions.

No, he said. He didn't feel any pressure from the space race or the Cold War. The Soviet Union had already orbited a man around the world, Glenn told me.

He was absorbed in the task at hand.

“You just wanted to do the best job you could do,” he said.

There was no time then to think about the bigger picture.

Everything was a “change of status,” Glenn said.  “Check the pressures. Change of status. It lights and you’re going, 'Change of status.  Do I have orbital speed?  Change of status.' ”

'Godspeed, John Glenn': 'I didn't hear it'

Gaining orbital speed was a big deal.  Scott Carpenter knew it.

Carpenter - who was Glenn’s back-up for the flight - sat in Mission Control on that day 50 years ago. Three months later, Carpenter would become the second American to orbit the Earth.

In fact, it was Carpenter who uttered those famous words as Glenn lifted off: “Godspeed, John Glenn.”

I asked Carpenter, who was now sitting just a few feet away from where Glenn and I had been chatting, if he'd thought about those words beforehand.

“I never thought about it,” Carpenter told me.  “What John needed that no American had before was speed."  The previous Mercury flights - piloted by Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom - had been suborbital.  They didn’t need the velocity Glenn needed to make it to orbit.

What I didn’t know was that Glenn was on a different communications channel when Carpenter said those historic words.

“I didn’t hear it at the time,” Glenn said.

Watch rare archival highlight film of Glenn's liftoff, orbits and splash down

But 36 years later aboard Discovery, Carpenter was back in Mission Control and said it again, “Godspeed, John Glenn.”  That time Glenn says he heard it in real time.


Carpenter, a Navy man, has a love for outer space and inner space.

When he left NASA, he explored underwater adventures as an aquanaut in the Navy’s Man in the Sea Project - at one point living and working on the ocean floor for 30 days straight. Later Carpenter served as director of the Navy’s Aquanaut Operations.

“I still can’t make up my mind whether I like outer or inner space better,” he said - adding with a smile, “But there’s a difference in glory.”

Watch Glenn and Carpenter answer questions about their historic missions

It was now time for us to leave the reception room and head to the Visitor Complex Rocket Garden.

There - alongside magnificent museum displays of the NASA rockets that conquered space –upward of a thousand people awaited their chance to honor these men.

The two heroes rode to greet the awaiting crowd in a parade of Corvettes, the road chariots of choice for 1960s astronauts.

It was a fitting nod to those fabled times at Cocoa Beach, Florida, when extraordinary men such as Carpenter and Glenn paved the way for human space exploration.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNLightYears

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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • News • On this Day • People in Orbit
Planetary exploration hit in NASA budget
The Orion deep space exporation vehicle, seen in January.
February 13th, 2012
04:49 PM ET

Planetary exploration hit in NASA budget

So, NASA’s proposed budget for 2013 is sort of a good news, bad news proposition.

The good news is that it could have been a lot worse. If it stands, the space agency will have just under $18 billion, a little less than last year.

So what’s the bad news? Planetary exploration would fall by $300 million. As expected, Mars exploration is getting hit hardest, a whopping $226 million cut, about 38%. In its budget statement the agency says, “NASA is taking a fresh look at robotic Mars exploration.”


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Filed under: News
January 27th, 2012
05:41 PM ET

Why GOP candidates are talking about space

CNN's John Zarrella shares his insights into what's going on with politics and the space program:

Newt Gingrich got a lot of mileage out of his comments on building a moon colony by 2020. Whether you think that should get him a one-way ticket to the moon on the first flight or you believe his vision is an inspiration, he did accomplish one big thing.

Gingrich got the conversation started. What kind of space program do we want? What kind can we afford? Had Gingrich not said what he said, the space program might have been totally ignored, as it has been so often in the past.

But it came up at the CNN debate Thursday night in Jacksonville. And it came up again Friday afternoon.


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Filed under: In Space • On Earth
With Dragon delayed again, ISS crew reflects
Space Station Commander Dan Burbank and Flight Engineer Don Pettit spoke with CNN's John Zarrella on Friday.
January 20th, 2012
04:13 PM ET

With Dragon delayed again, ISS crew reflects

When I spoke with international space station commander Dan Burbank and flight engineer Don Pettit on Friday, they should have been talking a lot about the upcoming arrival of the first ever commercial space craft called Dragon. But the date of that arrival is now uncertain. “I suppose on a personal level it’s maybe a little bit disappointing,” Burbank told me during our interview.

The Dragon vehicle built by SpaceX was to launch in early February. That won’t happen. The unmanned craft would have rendezvoused with the space station very much like the Japanese HTV cargo vessel does. “One of the unique things about SpaceX,” says Pettit, “is it flies up like HTV and just gets close to the space station and we kind of lasso it with the robotic arm and bring it in.”

But the launch of Dragon has run into problems. CNN has learned the launch will be in late March at the earliest. SpaceX spokeswoman Kirsten Grantham says, “we need more time to check out and test the systems.” Grantham added, “Its an incredibly challenging mission.”

“Space flight is tough,” Burbank told me. “It’s really, really hard, and to think that anybody could just roll into this and very quickly field a system that’s gonna be ready to go on the first day planned, and be absolutely reliable, is a little bit unrealistic,” he said.

Space flight can be tough on the body as well as machinery. Ten astronauts have come back from Space Station missions with changes to their eyesight, which are sometimes permanent. Burbank says, “The kinds of problems that have happened in a fairly small subsection of people that have flown here before seem to isolated. Some people have it, many people don’t have any at all.”

After a couple months into flight, some astronauts start getting far-sighted. The problem only shows up in male astronauts. NASA flight doctors say it is right now their top priority. There’s little chance that a two- or three-year Mars mission could take place without resolving the issue.

The six-member crew of the station is participating in studies to help doctors and researchers on the ground figure out the problem. They have imaged the backs of their eyes and the optic nerve. They are taking high-resolution images of the retina and measuring the pressure in their eyes. All the data is sent back to doctors on the ground. “I think we came through, and our eyes look very good,” Burbank said.

During the 10-minute interview, Burbank and Pettit discussed all the space junk flying around up there. They view it as a major concern. Burbank said the number of avoidance maneuvers they have to perform is a measure of two things: the amount of debris up there and the increased technological ability to see it.

But the commander said more needs to be done. “I think it’s really, really critical that we get the capability to monitor as best we can debris in orbit.”

While Burbank and Pettit are in space, an important anniversary will take place. February 20 will mark the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s historic flight, when he became the first American to orbit the earth. “Amazing,” said Pettit, “a short flight in a capsule he couldn’t even unstrap from. You look at what we’re doing now and it’s just amazing in terms of the orbital operations with station and the number of people flying.”

A ceremony marking the anniversary is planned for the Kennedy Space Center. It’s hoped Glenn and Scott Carpenter, the last two surviving Mercury astronauts, will attend.

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Filed under: In Space
Kepler discovers more planets
An artist's concept of Kepler-20e.
December 20th, 2011
02:13 PM ET

Kepler discovers more planets

NASA scientists today announced the discovery of two Earth sized planets, named Kepler 20E and 20F. The planets were discovered by the Kepler space telescope team. "The first of the two planets has a diameter just 3 percent larger than the Earth, which makes it the closest object to Earth, in terms of size in the known universe," said Francois Fressin, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, during a conference call to announce the major discovery.

The two planets are believed to be too close to their sun and thus too hot to be habitable with temperatures ranging from 800 to 14
hundred degrees. Scientists speculate that Kepler 20F might have had liquid water at one time in its history and could have been habitable.

The Kepler science team says this is the first time humanity has been able to detect planets of Earth size in the Universe.

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Filed under: In Space • Kepler • News
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