Launched: STS 135—To Infinity & Beyond

NASA’s STS-135 mission of the Space Shuttle lifted off its pad in Florida successfully, today, July 8, 2011. More than a million people were there to witness the liftoff.

Liftoff Space Shuttle Atlantis, July 8, 2011

Here is a video I made of the launch and commentary.

STS 135 Eve of Last Launch of the Space Shuttle

Four astronauts will board the Space Shuttle tomorrow morning for the last ride on America’s Space Shuttle program. More than one million people will view the launch of STS-135 at the NASA Kennedy Center, and millions more on the Web and TV.   You follow the mission on the NASA blog here, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

The Shuttle sits on the launch pad ready to make a journey to the Space Station, carrying about 10,000 pounds of supplies that NASA estimates will get the Space Station through 2012. It’s an important mission, but it means that future NASA astronauts will need to hitch a ride on the Russain Soyuz spacecraft, which is not able to carry very much into space. America’s Space Shuttle Program has come to an end, at one time employing about 135,000 people; it now employs about 6500, and all of them will lose their jobs in two weeks.

But this end also brings with it reflection on what is next for NASA, and how the decision to scrap the Moon/Mars mission in short term, and to invest in new technologies for space travel will affect a new generation of astronauts and scientists who will guide human exploration of space. NASA still has a robust program of space exploration, and earth research studies, but the champion of bringing NASA to the publics attention has been the human space programs including Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, the Space Station, and the Space Shuttle.

As a result of this last mission, there will be discussions about NASA’s future, and the goals that NASA hopes to achieve.  You can see some of NASA’s future missions here.

Whatever your opinion is about the Space Program, listening to an astronaut talk about the experience of space and exploration is sure to impact your personal view.  I was very fortunate years ago to be in Florida for one of the launches of the Space Shuttle.  I’ll never forget the experience.   Here is a Rex Walheim, in his own words.

Water on the Moon

NASA has reported that if astronauts heated lunar soil, it would yield water that could be purified and used for drinking, or separated into Oxygen and Hydrogen and used for rocket fuel.

NASA scientists, of  Project LCROSS, have reported that there is water in one of the moon’s craters, and that there is more water in this crater than there is in the Sahara Desert.  The water, in the form of ice crystals, makes up about 5 – 8% of the crater’s mixture.  According to NASA, 8 wheelbarrows of soil could yield 10 to 13 gallons of water.

This was an unexpected result, as many have thought that the moon was barren of water.  Although there are no plans to go back to the moon, this discovery certainly certainly throws new light on NASA’s previous plan to go back to the moon, and use it as a staging ground for missions to Mars.  According to NASA, the water on moon could be used be broken apart into Hydrogen and Oxygen and used as rocket fuel.

In an article in the New York Times, the moon exploration was set in motion as follows:

Lcross and the lunar orbiter are part of NASA’s Constellation program, started five years ago by the Bush administration to send astronauts back to the Moon. Arguing that it is too expensive and that the United States has already been there, President Obama has pushed for its cancellation. A compromise on the space agency’s future, passed by Congress and signed into law by Mr. Obama last week, sets aside Moon ambitions for now, at least for the return of human explorers.

NASA’s Role in Inspiring Teachers and Youth

NASA, created by Congress and President Eisenhower on October 1, 1958, has played an important role in the hearts and minds teachers and their students. Although originally created as a national defense strategy, NASA’s space exploration missions have effectively inspired generations of people, not only in the U.S., but around the world.

I wanted to write about the recent announcements from NASA and the White House about the effect of the fiscal 2010 Federal Budget, and the implications for NASA. At a NASA budget press conference, NASA’s administrator & former astronaut, Charles Bolden, outlined the implications for the budget recommendations for NASA. The brief report is very interesting and you can read it here.

In one sense, the budget recommendations chart a new and dynamic course for NASA. Charles Bolden, NASA’s new director, starts off by saying:

I’m here today to tell you that this budget gives us a roadmap to even more historic achievements as it spurs innovation, employs Americans in exciting jobs, and engages people around the world.
Bolden outlined a number of directions that NASA will take in the years ahead that will invest in one of the most important aspects of the space program, and that is in innovation and inspiration. Here are some of the areas that were identified in the report.
1. Commitment to extend the life of the International Space Station beyond 2020.
2. Invest in critical and transformative technologies that will enable a path beyond low Earth orbit through development of new launch and space transportation technologies. Bolden says:
Imagine trips to Mars that take weeks instead of nearly a year; people fanning out across the inner solar system, exploring the Moon, asteroids and Mars nearly simultaneously in a steady stream of “firsts;” and imagine all of this being done collaboratively with nations around the world.
3. Enhance support for the commercial spaceflight industry. NASA hopes that this will alter the way astronauts are shuttled to and from the International Space Station.
4. Investment in new technology programs including new and novel approaches to spaceflight, development of new heavy lift research focusing on new engines, propellants, and materials, and the development of a broad space technology program.
5. Robotic exploration precursor missions that will pave the way for later human exploration of the moon, Mars and nearby asteroids.
6. Continued support of planned missions to study the planets and
7. Development of new satellites to be used to improve forecasting of climate change, and continuation of NASA’s Earth science program.
8. Ignition of student’s passion and interest in science. Bolden put it this way:
Our Summer of Innovation initiative this year will begin a massive collaboration with thousands of middle school teachers and students to engage in stimulating, hands-on math and science programs that draw on the best and most exciting NASA resources.

Images from NASA for Science Teaching

I received note from Jake Johnson, outreach coordinator, the Internet Archive Outreach, NASA images asking to mention a resource for teaching at the NASA Images website.

I think you will find this site a powerful aid for teaching.
Here are some examples: