Today in Space History: Buran

Today’s space anniversary marks the first and only flight of the Soviet Union’s space shuttle “Buran” — November 15th, 1988. It lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a modified Energia booster, and returned to the launch site a few hours later.

When I was at Baikonur in 2002, the Buran facility was pointed out to me as we drove by it. Part of it had collapsed earlier in the year, damaging the remaining orbiter. What was left of it looked to be in sad shape — Baikonur is an unforgiving environment.

More about the Buran program is here and here.

Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

What’s NASA Going to Announce Today?

This afternoon’s NASA “Science Update” is supposed to include an announcement about a “major extrasolar planet discovery” made by the Hubble Space Telescope. See this link for more information.

In today’s space history, a seeming disrepancy: one NASA site says today is the 30th anniversary of the launch of the “Einstein Observatory,” the second High Energy Astrophysical Observatory (HEAO-2), but this page gives the mission start date as yesterday. Since I found the 13th noted in more places than the 12th — not that I did any kind of exhaustive search — I’m comfortable posting this as today’s space anniversary. (It’s not as if I can go back and post it yesterday.)

Now, I wonder if blogging counts as reporting in terms of getting a spot in that NASA press teleconference this afternoon. 😉 It’s all research, isn’t it? It may not show up in the novel I’m writing now — unless they’ve discovered a planet with a moon like ours — but who knows what novel I might write next?

Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

A Little Nuclear Detection History, and a Big Gripe

Forty-five years ago today, the first nuclear detonation detection satellites, Vela-1 and Vela-2, were launched from the Eastern Space & Missile Center. Considering the possible proliferation of nuclear weapons, NUDET is as vital today as it ever was, and those spacecraft paved the way for the capabilities we have now. Just thought you’d like to know.

Now for my gripe.

It’s really not that big a gripe, despite the title above. It’s based on the trials of the write-submit-receive rejection-submit again cycle. I can’t gripe about the cycle itself; it’s part and parcel of the business of writing. But sometimes ….

Here’s the story: Back on August 23rd, I submitted for the first time an essay entitled, “An Unsolicited Proposal for the Next Secretary of Education.” It was rejected, and since then it’s been submitted and rejected two more times and is currently in review at a fourth venue. With every submission, I’ve tried to tell the editorial staff that this is a timely piece, and last night’s Presidential debate proved me right.

Referring to education, both candidates pointed out the difficult situation in the Washington, DC, school system. That’s great, but it irritated me because one of the central tenets of my essay had to do with establishing a model school in DC.

😡 Timing is everything, and once again it’s something I don’t have.

Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Blog Action, Space History, Whatnot

I’m typing this while I try to watch the debate, which I now know from new research is really impossible (as I wrote about in this blog post) … but anyway:

This year’s Blog Action Day topic is “Poverty.” All the blog-savvy readers undoubtedly already know that Blog Action Day “is an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, to post about the same issue on the same day. Our aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion.”

Hmmm, what do I post about poverty? As a science fiction writer and editor, I like this quote from Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long” (in Time Enough For Love):

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as ‘bad luck.’

Something to think about in this political season.

Moving on, we have two space history anniversaries today.

First, 50 years ago today the X-15 rolled out from the North American plant in Los Angeles, CA. When we were stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, I was on the Pegasus Flight Readiness Review Committee with Bill Dana, one of the X-15 test pilots. That was pretty cool.

And five years ago today, the Chinese launched their first manned mission with taikonaut Yang Liwei aboard Shenzhou-5 (“Divine Vessel 5”).

Finally, the “whatnot” … it looks as if this post is long enough already, so I’ll leave off the whatnot.

Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Shuttle Return to Flight — 20 Years Ago Today

On September 29, 1988, Space Shuttle Discovery launched on mission STS-26, the first mission after the loss of the Challenger two years earlier. Astronauts Fred Hauck, Dick Covey, John Lounge, David Hilmers, and George Nelson successfully deployed Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS)-3. You can read more about the mission here.

In more recent space news, yesterday the SpaceX company had the first successful launch of their Falcon-1 booster. Congratulations!

Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

25 Years Ago, in Space

On August 30, 1983, the Space Shuttle Challenger launched on mission STS-8. Astronauts Richard Truly, Daniel Brandenstein, Dale Gardner, Guion Bluford (first U.S. black man in space), and William Thornton made up the crew. The mission launched the Insat-1B satellite (a multipurpose satellite for India) and was the first shuttle launch in the dark and the first shuttle landing in the dark.

Other mission highlights (edited into bullet format),

– the nose of orbiter was held away from the sun for 14 hours to test the flight deck area in extreme cold
– the crew filmed performance of an experimental heat pipe mounted in the cargo bay
– the orbiter dropped to 139 miles altitude to perform tests on thin atomic oxygen to identify the cause of glow that surrounds parts of the orbiter at night
– the remote manipulator system was tested to evaluate joint reactions to higher loads
– six rats were flown in the Animal Enclosure Module to observe animal reactions in space
– testing was conducted between the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-I (TDRS-1) and the orbiter using a Ku-band antenna
– investigations continued on the Space Adaptation Syndrome


In other news, Dragon*Con is going fine. I got to visit with several of my writing friends at supper last night, and I’ll be leaving in a little while for Day 2 (featuring the ever-popular Baen slide show).

Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Yesterday in Space History

Ever suddenly realize you don’t know what day it is? Me, too.

I have a wide range of excuses as to why I didn’t post this yesterday–good excuses, too, I assure you–but rather than enumerate them I’ll just post it now.

Fifty (50!) years ago yesterday the U.S. launched Explorer 5 from the Eastern Space & Missile Center. Or, rather, attempted to launch. It didn’t achieve orbit because parts of the rocket and the spacecraft collided in flight.

Why is that significant? Not just because it was a half-century ago, but because it’s so similar to the failure that hit the Falcon-1 program earlier this month. That launch, back on August 2nd, failed because the first and second stages collided in flight.

Spaceflight, contrary to our best wishes, is still hard.

Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Space History, August 9, 1973: Soviet Launch to Mars

Another “day in space history” tidbit: thirty-five years ago today, the Soviets launched Mars-7 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Proton rocket.

(When I was in the service, I monitored several technical exchanges between U.S. and Russian engineers getting ready to launch U.S. satellites on Proton rockets, something that would never have happened during the Cold War. And I watched the Canadian-owned [but U.S.-built] Nimiq-2 satellite get mated to a Proton rocket at Baikonur in 2002. I adapted some of what I saw during that operation into my story “The Rocket Seamstress.”)

According to, the Mars-7 probe was supposed to soft-land on Mars. As it happened,

Mars 7 reached Mars on 9 March 1974. Due to a problem in the operation of one of the onboard systems (attitude control or retro-rockets) the landing probe separated prematurely and missed the planet by 1,300 km. The early separation was probably due to a computer chip error which resulted in degradation of the systems during the trip to Mars.

Spaceflight is hard, no matter how much we’d like it to be easy.

Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Congrats, Sea Launch

Going out on a Sea Launch mission was one of the highlights of my Air Force career — my e-mail updates to folks at the time were entitled, “Join the Air Force, go to sea” — so when I saw on Spaceflight Now that Sea Launch put up a new satellite for DISH Network, I thought congratulations were in order.

If only I’d had the blog going then. Just goes to show, timing is everything.

Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Congrats to Vandenberg Launch Team

According to Spaceflight Now, “The inaugural launch of an Atlas 5 rocket from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base occurred as scheduled this morning, thundering skyward at 3:02 a.m. local time (6:02 a.m. EDT) carrying a classified national security satellite.”

That’s good news to wake up to. Congratulations to the launch team and the NRO! Keep up the good work, and thanks for keeping us safe and secure.

Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmailby feather