Tag Archives: Birthday

Happy 15th birthday Space Station!

19 Nov

Sing it with me: Happy birthday, ISS!

On November 20, 1998 the International Space Station (ISS) was born with the launch of the Zarya module from Baikonur Cosmodrome Site 81 in Kazakhstan. Zarya is Russian for ‘dawn’ and it was given this name to signify the dawn of new international cooperation on the ISS project.

A couple short days later on December 4, 1998 the Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from Florida on mission STS-88 with the primary goal of connecting its cargo – the Unity module (Node 1) – to Zarya. On December 5 Unity and Zarya were connected, using the Shuttle’s Canadarm. On December 10, 1998 the hatch between Unity and Zarya was opened, and for the first time astronauts floated aboard the ISS. STS-88 also included three spacewalks to connect power systems between the two modules.

This first piece of construction was historically significant, though it was only the beginning of ISS construction. And it would be nearly two years before anyone could live up there.

In all, ISS construction required more than 25 Space Shuttle flights, some 150 spacewalks – adding up to more than 1000 hours of spacewalking!

In July 2000 the third component of the ISS launched from Russia, the Zvezda (Russian for ‘star’) Service Module. It was controlled remotely and docked with the ISS without any human presence aboard. On September 11, 2000 during Space Shuttle flight STS-106 astronauts on a spacewalk made the final connections to activate the module.

ISS construction during STS-116 in December 2006

ISS construction during STS-116 in December 2006

With Zvezda in place, the first crew on Expedition 1 arrived on November 2, 2000 and humans have been living aboard ever since – a record 13+ years. The previous record, held by Russian cosmonauts aboard Mir, was just less than 10 years (3,634 days).

STS-100 in April 2001 saw the installation of the ISS Robotic Arm – Canadarm2 – by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. This marked the major contribution to the ISS by the Canadian Space Agency, and I have since heard Hadfield brag that ‘Canadians built the ISS’, as Canadarm2 was vital to ISS construction as modules arrived from Earth.

Major construction of the ISS continued until STS-133 in March 2011, when NASA installed their last “room” – the Permanent Multipurpose Module, which is generally used for storage. Though additional components are continually being added or upgraded on the ISS, and this is expected to continue for years to come, the ISS is generally considered to have been ‘completed’ in 2011.

The ISS is currently funded up until 2020, though there are discussions it could remain functional and useful (and funded) up until 2028. Considering some of the historical hurdles that the ISS had to overcome (least of which was the Columbia disaster in 2003) just to make it this far, I am optimistic it still has a bright future.

Besides the unique research being done aboard the ISS everyday – it is after all the only laboratory that enjoys the perk of microgravity – there is speculation that the ISS could be used as a launching point for future missions to the Moon, asteroids, or even Mars.

It’s a remarkable example of human ingenuity and cooperation, as the ISS is generally considered the largest and most complicated piece of equipment humanity has ever built. Weighing in at 450,000 kg (just less than one million pounds), travelling 27,600 km/h, 400 km straight up, and the size of a football field, it is an amazing accomplishment.

Join in the worldwide celebration of the ISS 15th birthday by “waving” to the ISS and using the Twitter hashtag #ISS15.

I look forward to writing about the ISS, and its story of cooperation, achievement, and success for many years to come.

A brief photo history of the ISS:

Zarya Module (1998)

Zarya Module (1998)

Zarya (left) and Unity (1998)

Zarya (left) and Unity (1998)

Top to bottom: Unity, Zarya, Zvezda (2000)

Top to bottom: Unity, Zarya, Zvezda (2000)

US Solar Panels installed in 2000

US Solar Panels installed in 2000

Canadarm2 (2001)

Canadarm2 (2001)

The ISS in August 2005

The ISS in August 2005

The ISS in February 2008

The ISS in February 2008

The 'complete' ISS in 2011

The ‘complete’ ISS in 2011

Happy birthday to me

29 Aug

Well it’s August 29, so that means I’m a year older. Though at least I’m not as old as the Voyagers (space geeks – contain your laughter!).

I try not to get overly worked up over birthdays, however I do always have a night out with friends. I’m a social person to begin with, so it seems like a reasonable excuse to have some fun. My birthday is also at the end of the summer and usually close to a long weekend, making a get-together a little easier to plan.

One thing hit me this year though: I have been complaining for a few years now that I’m going through a quarter-life crisis. One of my friends pointed out though that unless I am going to live to be 108, I am more realistically at this point going through a one third-life crisis. That was a depressing moment. I have since realised though that I do plan to live longer than 81….so let’s split the difference and call it a two-sevenths life crisis.

Also of note, I share my birthday with two astronauts: Chris Hadfield and Thomas Marshburn. Oh and you may also have heard of this guy: Michael Jackson, who was born August 29, 1958.

Happy 35th birthday Voyager 2!

20 Aug

Voyager 2 launched on August 20, 1977. It was built (along with its identical twin Voyager 1) to explore the outer planets of our solar system – namely Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. It did all that, and to this day is the only spacecraft to visit Uranus and Neptune. On top of that, as of a week ago (August 13, 2012) Voyager 2 became the longest operating spacecraft in human history. It surpassed Pioneer 6, which launched on December 16, 1965, and sent its last signal back to NASA’s Deep Space Network a cool 12,758 days later on December 8, 2000.

Voyager 2 is nearly 15 billion kilometers from the Earth today. At the speed of light, it would take you about 14 hours to get there.

Voyager 1’s 35th birthday is coming up in 16 days, on September 5, 2012 – and in spite of launching a couple weeks after Voyager 2, Voyager 1 is even further away: Voyager 1 is over 18 billion kilometers away from Earth, or nearly 17 hours of light-travel time.

The Voyager mission was planned when it was because of an uncommon alignment of the four outer planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune – which allowed all the planets to be visited in a single mission. Voyager 1 visited Jupiter and Saturn and then used a gravity assist/slingshot from Saturn and headed north – directly towards the edge of the solar system. Voyager 2 took a less direct route to the edge (which explains why it isn’t as far away) visiting Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and finally Neptune before using a gravity assist/slingshot to head towards the edge of the solar system in a southerly direction.

Both Voyagers are currently in a region of space called the Heliosheath, which is the outermost layer of the Heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas. They’re right on the very edge of our solar system, and based on the current readings and data that the spacecraft are sending back to us, it is suspected that they will “break through” into interstellar space in the very near future (“near future” meaning it could be months or a few years). Both spacecraft are travelling about 60,000km/h, though Voyager 1 is travelling slightly faster than Voyager 2. Their radioisotope thermoelectric generators will be able to sustain sufficient electrical output to operate until 2020, or possibly until 2025.

It’s so incredible to me that these two spacecraft still function 35 years after their launch, using 1970s technology, and on a daily basis continue to answer questions about the universe we live in.

The cooler thing to me about these spacecraft is that they are truly about exploration. The Voyagers were launched because we didn’t know what we didn’t know. They intended not only to answer questions, but to find new questions that we hadn’t thought of asking yet – and they continue to be successful on all accounts. This is true exploration.

To read more about the 35th birthday of Voyager 2, click here. To read more about the Voyagers and their ongoing mission in general, click here.

And a great mission overview/update video (though it is from 2011) –

Some key dates for Voyager 1:

Launch: September 5, 1977
Closest approach to Jupiter (349,000km): March 5, 1979
Closest approach to Saturn (124,000km): November 12, 1979
Took the famous “family portrait” and “pale blue dot” images (6 billion + km): February-June 1990

Some key dates for Voyager 2:

Launch: August 20, 1977
Closest approach to Jupiter (570,000km): July 9, 1979
Closest approach to Saturn (100,800km): August 26, 1981
Closest approach to Uranus (81,500km): January 24, 1986
Closest approach to Neptune (4,800km): August 25, 1989 – yes you read that correctly…Voyager 2 passed a mere 4,800km above Neptune’s north pole!