Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2005-04-25
  A mixed bag of successes and technical difficulties for NASA
There's been quite a bit of space news this month, which is always good for those of us who thing being in space is a good thing; but its been somewhat mixed. The astronauts from the space station made it back down without getting lost in the Russian mountains, and the new crew is hanging out, hoping for the space shuttle to show up soon. The space shuttle is coming along, though NASA just changed the safety protocol, and is catching some flack for it.

hubble The Hubble continues to put out facinating pictures, while celebrating its 15th year in space, much to the consternation of the higher ups in the NASA administration that want to kill it. Fifteen years is pretty long for a satellite, though it could probably go another five with regular service. The funny thing is, that if the space shuttle hadn't blown up; the Hubble might have gotten one more fueling up, but it was destined for the scrap heap soon after that anyways. The James Webb Space Telescope is currently scheduled for deployment in 2009 with a lightweight beryllium mirror six times larger than the Hubble. Since part of its focus is more infrared observations, they're going to park this one way out at the second Lagrange point (about a million miles off). Guess the shuttle isn't going to be used to make service calls to this one.

Anyway, to top it all off, NASA also messed up the DART mission (Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology), which is especially embarrassing, because here we're not doing any new investigation, we're just playing catch-up with the Russians who can automatically dock spacecraft together on a regular basis. After a 24 hour flight out to a derilict satellite (MUBLCOM), DART was supposed to maneuver within five meters of the other object on its own. While still 100 meters away, the flight was scrubbed when officials discovered the craft was already out of gas, but that wasn't the end of the bad news. Either because they decided to go home early (having nothing to do), or maybe because they couldn't steer any more, the DART craft apparently wandered over on its own and bumped the other satellite.

To you and me, this is just one more minor screwup in a long line of screwups (space can be like that), but to the people who have worked on this thing for the last several years, this is certainly a bigger disaster. We don't think much of the people who staked their professional reputations on the design and engineering goals of the mission, fighting for the funds year after year, gathering the teams together to build and assemble the satellite, and then pack it all together in the rocket, ship it off and see it launched. As someone who has put years into various projects that have occasionally crashed and burned, I feel for those guys.

 
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