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The ISS is watching you June 27, 2009

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This week the Big Picture ran a series of pictures taken from the ISS looking down at Earth. It’s a great reminder that the Earth is in fact a very beautiful place and we should be honoured to be able to live here and experience it. Seeing the variety of colours and landscapes from the sky is a solitary consolation prize for spending so much time in airplanes. Being a total volcano nut, of course the pictures of the recent eruption of the Sarychev Peak volcano in the Russian Kuril Islands are my favourites. (more…)

Big Picture homage to MESSENGER June 12, 2009

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MESSENGER launches

The wonderful Big Picture series at the Boston Globe devoted a photo series this week to the MESSENGER probe and the fantastic images it has sent us from the tiny enigmatic planet Mercury.

Hop on over there and take a look!

Image: NASA

Welcome back Atlantis, good luck Frank! May 26, 2009

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Welcome back Atlantis

After a fascinating 13-day mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, Space Shuttle Atlantis and its crew touched down safely at Edwards Air Force Base on Sunday 24 May. Welcome home Atlantis! The mission to repair and upgrade Hubble was closely followed by space and astronomy enthusiasts around the world (yup that includes me), thanks to the great coverage on NASA TV.

A welcoming ceremony is taking place today at 4 pm Central Time, watch it live here.

I’m delighted the astronauts got the job done and Hubble is ready for its final stint. Unfortunately I had to miss the landing as I was on a little jaunt around Britain to attend some meetings and catch up with friends and family.

Great also to have Mike Massimino back on live twitter, telling us all about the weirdness of being back on Earth.

Good luck Frank!

Frank-De-WinneThree astronauts will take off from the Baikonur cosmodrome tomorrow for the International Space Station. Representing the European Space Agency is Belgian Frank De Winne, who will also become the first European commander of the ISS during his 6-month stay. Good luck Frank!

Read more about the mission here. Watch a Q&A session with him on ESA’s YouTube channel here.

Image: G. Blevins/LA Daily News

Hugs for Hubble May 16, 2009

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Astronaut Andrew Feustel trying to find hole F and bolt C. I wonder what it feels like to have your feet strapped in for 8 hours?

Astronaut Andrew Feustel trying to find hole F and bolt C. I wonder what it feels like to have your feet strapped in for 8 hours?

The Hubble Space Telescope has been receiving some astronaut love this week as part of its 4th servicing mission, NASA’s final upgrade for the 19-year old observatory. The Atlantis crew have already carried out some crucial repairs in two lengthy space walks on Thursday and Friday: the famed WFPC2 camera was decommissioned and replaced by the shiny new wide field camera, WFC3, and new batteries and gyros have been installed to power up the telescope for a further 5 years of operations.

Following the demise of Columbia in 2003 the future of the servicing mission was thrown into serious doubt. Many considered the cost and risk of sending astronauts to Hubble too high in view of the safety concerns surrounding the Shuttle, and suggested NASA design a robotic servicing mission to Hubble. But the astronauts have well proven their worth this week, with several problems cropping up during the space walk that perhaps a robot would not have been able to deal with so easily. Julianne discusses the same point on Cosmic Variance.

The spacewalks can be followed live on the internet and, while the spacewalks last many hours, the coverage makes for fascinating viewing (at NASA TV). Spaceflight Now has excellent coverage on the whole mission, follow them on twitter to stay up to date.

A full schedule of the mission is here. The NY Times have a really cool interactive feature on Hubble and the repairs. Some amazing pictures have appared online, like today’s APOD (also on Bad Astronomy, here).

Image: NASA

APOD: Shuttle magic May 13, 2009

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In keeping with this week’s Launchtastic theme, today’s APOD is a beatiful picture of Space Shuttle Atlantis on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. Atlantis is currently under way to rendez-vous with the Hubble Space Telescope to carry out essential repairs to ready the telescope for 5 more years of science operation.

Click to enlarge.

Image credit: Charles Danforth (CASA, U. Colorado)