We Have Lift Off Antares Carries The Last CRS1 To Space

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Cygnus Spacecraft sitting on top of the Antares at the pad.

Wednesday at NASA’s Wallops Island flight facility (WFF) the Antares vehicle carried the NG-11 Cygnus Spacecraft into space to deliver cargo and experiments to the International Space Station.  If you haven’t had the chance to see this rocket launch you need to get down to Wallops Island and watch.  It is a bit surreal watching that much weight lift off a pad and head skyward.  By the time you realize you just saw a rocket lift off it is miles above the planet.  By the time the sound hits us at the media viewing area, she is well underway.  For me this is something that feeds my inner nerd, I love anything space related.  Being able to go to the pad and see the rocket up close and personal was a real treat. 

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The Antares Launch vehicle and Cygnus spacecraft at the launch pad

This is the last CRS1 craft launch, which will be replaced by the CRS-2. The new craft will have more load capacity and some other features NASA is working on. Those folks are always forward thinking for the next step. What can we do better, how can we improve our technology, because that is what NASA does.

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Photographer setting up a remote camera near the launch pad. Sound triggers are used to wake up the camera and they start firing off pictures.

I have friends that were setting up remote cameras near the pad to get those up close and personal shots of the launch. I can not wait to see what they captured.   Now I have to spend some money and get my own remote set up for future launches.  These folks are serious about getting these shots, setting up multiple cameras for each phase of the launch.  They spend days deciding where to place the cameras based on wind.  That big blast cloud will fog out any pictures if the cameras are in that area.  You should see some of these set ups, all combined there was enough gear out there to buy a house.

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AWAC pilots practicing landing on aircraft carriers

    Northrop Grunman named the NG-11 Cygnus spacecraft after Astronaut Roger Chaffee.  All spacecrafts are named after individuals that have made significant impacts on the aerospace Industry.  Roger Chaffee was a member of the Apollo I mission crew.  He and his crew’s job was to test and evaluate the system. tracking, and control facilities.  When the crew performed a test launch sequence a fire broke out in the command module.  The crew was lost in the fire.  Roger Chaffee was inducted into the US Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1997.     

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The media lined up for the launch a little over a mile away

    Wednesday was a beautiful day for a launch, there was a less than a five percent chance the launch would be scrubbed.  I have seen many a launch and when they get scrubbed it can take days to have a successful one.  There is only a short window for the launch time sometimes it is only minutes.  NASA has to coordinate the launch so the craft can rendezvous with the space station.  Yesterday there was a six minute window.  When we got down to a minute to go we knew there was no turning back, unless something went south in sixty seconds.  I have attended launches scrubbed due to boats in the area, duck hunters twice, and system failures.  One launch took five days too finally light the fire and send her up.  

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NASA’s Assembly hanger

    The craft will rendezvous with the space station Friday morning and astronauts on the station will capture the craft and dock.  There are only supplies and experiments on the craft.  Except this time around there are some live passengers, mice.  These are being used for an experiment.  If you want to see something really wild look up the International Space Station on You tube and check out the videos of the mice.  They really seem to like their zero G environment.  There were a lot of jokes at the press conference about Space Mice. 

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The spacecraft is lowered at the pad and the cargo is loaded up, a new technique NASA has started for sensitive cargo

    Antares is the launch vehicle or rocket and the Cygnus Spacecraft carries the payload.  7,700 pounds of cargo to be exact.  For this launch after the spacecraft was upright at the pad, it was lowered so the cargo could be loaded.  This is something new NASA is doing for timely cargo that needs to be kept to temperature.  They literally use the same equipment used to put people on planes, that was very interesting to watch.  Again my inner nerd went all schoolgirl over this visit.  We get to tour the facility where the spacecraft is assembled before it is taken to the launch pad.  You are not allowed to have phones or key fobs in that building, apparently a signal could set off the live booster rocket on site, in the room with you.   NASA does not fool around when it comes to their equipment.  I’m not a fan of sitting next to a booster rocket that fires up in a very large room, or any room for that matter.

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ThinSat a mini satellite used by students for experiments in space.

     One of the experiment sets on the spacecraft are the ThinSats.  Small satellites that are used by students to conduct their own experiments in space.  Data is transferred to directly to the classroom in real time by our communication satellites.  Seventy schools in the commonwealth of Virginia participate in this program, students in grades 4 -12 send up these Thinsats to conduct their own experiments.  This is an amazing way to introduce kids to the space program and much more.   This is part of the STEM education program.  Within a school year students can design, build, and fly their satellite.   

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First stage booster in the assembly hanger

    There are a metric ton, literally, of experiments conducted on the International Space Station.  Astronauts are studying everything you could probably think of that will benefit the space programs in the future as well as here on earth.  Medicine is a big deal in space as far as the affects on Astronauts and the benefits learned that can be applied here on earth.  That is one phrase I hear a lot in the press conferences, “Here on Earth”.  I dunno that just excites me to no end.  Astronauts are experimenting with growing food up there for long term stays in space, they have to eat.  Self sustaining systems are very important for long term space travel and even colonizing moon or planet.  The Cygnus craft will be loaded with any trash that needs to return to earth and then sent back.  Trash created in space is returned to earth.  Space is a carry in carry out environment. 

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Astro B, an autonomous robot that will do maintenance and chores n the ISS. the beta version of R2D2

NASA is adding to the crew and introducing some new robots to help them do “chore” or maintenance. These will allow them to spend more time on experiments and less time working on the station. The “Astro B” is the name of the “robots” one of them is named Honey. These are being tested out in space once they get them settled in to see how they will do to help with maintenance. Think of them like the beta version of R2-D2.

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Antares Launches off the pad

   If you want to learn more about the Cygnus program, Wallops and all of the experiments.  Get online and search the Google.  There is a wealth of information out there, about up there. Every time I go to Wallops I can’t help thinking, I’ve seen this movie before.   I could spend hours just telling you about the launch, but there isn’t enough space.

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Empty pad after the launch

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