____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA's newest rocket blasted off on a brief test flight Wednesday, taking the first step in a back-to-the-moon program that could be shelved by the White House.The 327-foot Ares I-X rocket resembled a giant white pencil as it shot into the sky, delayed a day by poor weather.Nearly twice the height of the spaceship it's supposed to replace — the shuttle — the experimental rocket carried no passengers or payload, only throwaway ballast and hundreds of sensors. The flight cost $445 million.It was the first time in nearly 30 years that a new rocket took off from Kennedy Space Center. Columbia made the maiden voyage for the shuttle fleet back in 1981.Liftoff, in fact, occurred 48 years and one day after the first launch of a Saturn rocket, a precursor to what carried astronauts to the moon during the Apollo program. The Saturn V moon rockets were the tallest ever built, an impressive 363 feet.Wednesday's launch, years in the making, attracted a large crowd.The prototype moon rocket took off from a former shuttle launch pad at 11:30 a.m., three and a half hours late because of bad weather. Launch controllers had to retest the rocket systems after more than 150 lightning strikes were reported around the pad overnight. Then they had to wait out interfering clouds.The ballistic flight did not come close to reaching space and, as expected, lasted a mere two minutes. That's how long it took for the first-stage solid-fuel booster to burn out. But it will take months to analyze all the data from the approximately 725 pressure, strain and acceleration sensors.The maximum altitude of the rocket was not immediately known, but had been expected to be 28 miles. Parachutes popped open to drop the booster into the Atlantic, where recovery ships waited.The upper portion of the rocket — all fake parts — fell uncontrolled into the ocean. Those pieces were never meant to be retrieved.Wednesday's launch represented the first step in NASA's effort to return astronauts to the moon. The White House, though, is re-evaluating the human spaceflight program and may dump the Ares I in favor of another type of rocket and possibly another destination.NASA contends the Ares I will be ready to carry astronauts to the International Space Station in 2015, four to five years after the shuttles are retired. But a panel of experts said in a report to President Barack Obama last week that it will be more like 2017, and stressed that the entire effort is underfunded.The first Ares moon trip would be years beyond that under the current plan, known as Constellation.No matter what happens, NASA managers said they will learn a lot from this experimental flight, even if it's for another type of rocket."A lot of the gold that we had to mine in doing this Ares I-X test flight, we've already realized in the people," Constellation program manager Jeff Hanley said earlier this week. "The investment that we've made and the people and the learning is preparing us to do whatever the nation asks this team to do in the months and years ahead."
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – After two months of delay, shuttle Atlantis blasted off Thursday with Europe’s gift to the international space station, a $2 billion science lab named Columbus that spent years waiting to set sail.\nAtlantis and its seven-man crew roared away from their seaside launch pad at 2:45 p.m., overcoming fuel gauge problems that thwarted back-to-back launch attempts \nin December.\nThe same cold front that spawned killer tornadoes across the South earlier in the week stayed far enough away and, in the end, cut NASA a break. All week, bad weather had threatened to delay the flight, making liftoff all the sweeter for the shuttle team. The sky was cloudy at launch time, but rain and thunderstorms remained off to the west.\n“All systems are go,” launch director Doug Lyons told the astronauts. “I’d like to wish you a successful mission and safe return.”\nReplied shuttle commander Stephen Frick: “Looks like today’s a good day, and we’re ready to go fly.”\nProbably no one was happier than the 300 Europeans who gathered at the launch site to see Atlantis take off with their beloved Columbus lab.\nTwenty-three years in the making, Columbus is the European Space Agency’s primary contribution to the space station. The lab has endured space station redesigns and slowdowns, as well as a number of shuttle postponements and two shuttle accidents.\nIt will join the U.S. lab, Destiny, in orbit for seven years. The much bigger Japanese lab Kibo, or Hope, will require three shuttle flights to get off the ground, beginning in March.\nFrick, and his U.S., German and French crew will reach the space station on Saturday and begin installing Columbus the very next day. Three spacewalks are planned during the flight, scheduled to last 11 or, more likely, 12 days.\nBesides Columbus, Atlantis will drop off a new space station resident, French Air Force Gen. Leopold Eyharts, who will swap places with NASA astronaut Daniel Tani and get Columbus working. Tani will return to Earth aboard the shuttle, ending a mission of nearly \nfour months.\nTo NASA’s relief, all four fuel gauges in Atlantis’ external fuel tank worked properly during the final stage of the countdown. The gauges failed back in December because of a faulty connector, and NASA redesigned the part to fix the problem, which had been plaguing the shuttles for \nthree years.\nNASA was anxious to get Atlantis flying as soon as possible to keep alive its hopes of achieving six launches this year. The space agency faces a 2010 deadline for finishing the station and retiring the shuttles. That equates to four or five shuttle flights a year between now and then, something NASA Administrator Michael Griffin considers achievable.\n“We’re coming back, and I think we are back, from some pretty severe technical problems that led to the loss of Columbia. We understand the foam now,” NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said, referring to the chunks of insulating foam that kept breaking off the fuel tanks.\nBarring any more major mechanical trouble or freak hailstorms like the one that battered Atlantis’s fuel tank one year ago, “this should be like some of those earlier times when we had some fairly interrupted stretches with no technical problems where we could just fly,” Griffin said in an interview with The Associated Press. “That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – \nNASA on Sunday delayed the launch of space shuttle Atlantis until January after a gauge in the fuel tank failed for the second time in four days.\nWith only a few days remaining in the launch window for the shuttle’s mission to the international space station, senior managers decided to stand down until next month in hopes of better understanding the perplexing and persistent fuel gauge problem.\nThe trouble with the fuel gauge resurfaced just before sunrise Sunday, about an hour after the launch team began filling Atlantis’ big external tank for an afternoon liftoff.\nShuttle managers had said they would halt the countdown and call everything off if any of the four hydrogen fuel gauges acted up. Three failed during Thursday’s launch attempt; no one knows why.\nLaunch director Doug Lyons said Sunday’s failure was similar to what happened before, except only one gauge malfunctioned this time.\n“This could all be good news because it may give us some data points that we did not have as to what may be behind this problem,” said NASA spokesman George Diller.\n“So essentially our launch attempt this morning has turned into a tanking test,” he added.\nNASA had until Thursday to launch Atlantis with the European Space Agency’s space station laboratory, Columbus. After that, unfavorable sun angles and computer concerns would make it impossible for the shuttle to fly to the international space station until January.\nOfficials previously have said Jan. 2 would be the earliest try.\nDespite objections from some engineers, NASA tightened up its launch rules for Sunday’s attempt in hopes of getting Atlantis off the ground by the week’s end.\nNot only did all four of Atlantis’ fuel gauges have to work on Sunday – until now, only three good gauges were required – a new instrumentation system for monitoring these gauges also had to check out. NASA also shrank its launch window from five minutes to a single minute for added safety.\nThe troublesome gauges, called engine cutoff sensors, are part of a backup system to prevent the shuttle’s main engines from shutting down too late and running without fuel, a potentially catastrophic situation. They have been a source of sporadic trouble ever since flights resumed in 2005 following the Columbia tragedy.\nTwo groups of NASA engineers recommended that the flight be postponed and the fuel gauge system tested, to figure out what might be going on. But they did not oppose a Sunday launch attempt when it came time for the final vote.\nShuttle commander Stephen Frick was deeply involved with the decisions that were made, officials said.\nBoth the astronauts and flight controllers would have an added burden if multiple fuel sensors were to fail once the shuttle lifted off and a leak or some other serious trouble cropped up during the 8½-minute climb to orbit. They would have to override the system, and hobble to orbit or make an emergency landing.\nFrick and his six crewmates – \none of them French, another German – are set to deliver and install the $2 billion Columbus laboratory at the space station. It will be the second lab added to the orbiting outpost and Europe’s entree to daily, round-the-clock scientific operations with astronauts in space.\nIt was another frustrating delay for the European Space Agency, which has been waiting for years for Columbus to fly. NASA space station design problems in the 1980s and early 1990s slowed everything down, then Russian troubles and, most recently, the 2003 Columbia tragedy stalled the project.\nAssociated Press writer Brian Skoloff contributed to this report.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Space shuttle Endeavour returned to Earth on Tuesday, ending a nearly two-week orbital drama that centered on a deep gouge in the shuttle’s belly and an early homecoming prompted by a hurricane.\nThe space shuttle swooped out of the partly cloudy sky and touched down on the runway at 12:32 p.m.\n“Congratulations. Welcome home. You’ve given a new meaning to higher education,” Mission Control told commander Scott Kelly and his crew, which included teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara \nMorgan.\nThe main concern for much of the mission was the gouge to Endeavour’s protective tiles. NASA did not want the shuttle to suffer any structural damage that, while not catastrophic, might require lengthy postflight repairs.\nOver the past few days and up until the landing, NASA had stressed that the 3 1/2-inch-long gouge in Endeavour’s belly would not endanger the shuttle during its landing. In 2003, a damaged wing on shuttle Columbia allowed hot gases to seep in during the re-entry, tearing the shuttle apart.\nThere was zero chance of a Columbia-style catastrophe this time, NASA managers insisted, although they acknowledged re-entry was always risky.\nThe damaged area on Endeavour was subjected to 2,000-degree temperatures during the hottest part of atmospheric re-entry, but engineers were convinced after a week of thermal analyses and tests that the spacecraft would hold up.\nWith its pilots reporting no problems, Endeavour zoomed over the South Pacific, crossed Central America and Cuba, then headed up the Florida peninsula into Kennedy Space Center. Its trip spanned 13 days and 5.3 million miles.
SPACE CENTER, Houston -- A couple of short strips of filler material dangling from Discovery's belly had NASA scrambling Sunday to determine whether the protrusions might endanger the space shuttle during re-entry and whether the astronauts might need to attempt a repair.\nThe potential trouble has nothing to do with launch debris -- for a change -- but rather material used to fill the spaces between thermal tiles, a common problem in the past although not necessarily to this extent.\nFlight director Paul Hill said engineers will spend the next day analyzing the situation and decide Monday whether to have the crew's two spacewalkers cut, pull out or shove back in the hanging material.\nIt could be that it's perfectly safe for Discovery and its crew of seven to fly back with the two drooping pieces, Hill stressed, as shuttles have done on many previous flights.\nOne is sticking out an inch between thermal tiles, the other six-tenths of an inch. The longest protruding gap filler seen on a returning shuttle before was a quarter-inch, but Hill cautioned that measurement was taken following re-entry, and the intense heat could have burned some of it off. The extremely thin gap fillers are made of a felt-like material and ceramic, and are held in place with glue and by the tight fit.\nAny repair, if deemed necessary, could be performed during the third spacewalk of the mission, now set for Wednesday or a fourth unplanned spacewalk might be required, Hill said. The astronaut would have to stand on a long robotic arm in order to reach the two areas, located on the shuttle's belly near the nose.\nOne extreme option under consideration is to put an astronaut on the end of the brand new 100-foot inspection crane, but it could be a bouncy ride and that makes lots of experts "understandably nervous," Hill said.\nHe said there are strong arguments for and against most of the options.\nAnything dangling from the bottom of the shuttle during re-entry will overheat the area, as well as downstream locations. The ongoing analysis is to decide whether that overheating will be within safety limits.\nA hole in Columbia's left wing, left there by a large chunk of flyaway fuel-tank foam, led to the spacecraft's destruction during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. All seven astronauts were killed.\nNASA has cleared all of Discovery's thermal tiles for landing on Aug. 8. The only remaining issues, before the final go-ahead can be given for descent, are the reinforced carbon panels that line the wings and nose cap, and the two hanging gap fillers.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A NASA spacecraft with a Hollywood name -- Deep Impact -- blasted off Wednesday on a mission to smash a hole in a comet and give scientists a glimpse of the frozen primordial ingredients of the solar system.\nWith a launch window only one second long, Deep Impact rocketed away at the designated moment on a six-month, 268-million-mile journey to Comet Tempel 1. It will be a one-way trip that NASA hopes will reach a cataclysmic end on the Fourth of July.\n"We are on our way," said an excited Michael A'Hearn of the University of Maryland, the mission's chief scientist. Minutes later, the spacecraft shot out of Earth's orbit and onto its collision course.\n"We'll be there July Fourth," NASA launch director Omar Baez said.\nIt was not until later in the afternoon -- much later than expected -- that scientists learned that Deep Impact's energy-producing solar panel had deployed properly. Although the spacecraft appeared to be healthy, it placed itself in a protective "sleep" mode because of an unknown problem, and flight controllers were reviewing strange sensor data, NASA said. The problem was not believed to be critical.\nScientists are counting on Deep Impact to carve out a crater in Comet Tempel 1 that could swallow the Roman Coliseum. It will be humans' first look into the heart of a comet, a celestial snowball still containing the original building blocks of the sun and the planets.\nBecause of the relative speed of the two objects at the moment of impact -- 23,000 mph -- no explosives are needed for the job. The force of the smashup will be equivalent to 4 1/2 tons of TNT, creating a flash that just might be visible in the dark sky by the naked eye in one spectacular Fourth of July fireworks display.\nNothing like this has ever been attempted before.\nLittle is known about Comet Tempel 1, other than that it is an icy, rocky body about nine miles long and three miles wide. Scientists do not even know whether the crust will be as hard as concrete or as flimsy as corn flakes.\n"One of the scary things is that we won't actually know the shape and what it looks like until after we do the encounter," said Jay Melosh, a planetary geologist at the University of Arizona.\nThe comet will be more than 80 million miles from Earth when the collision takes place -- on the sunlit side of the comet, NASA hopes, in order to ensure good viewing by spacecraft cameras and observatories. The resulting crater is expected to be two to 14 stories deep, and perhaps 300 feet in diameter.\nScientists stress that Deep Impact will barely alter the comet's orbital path around the sun and will not put either the comet or a chunk of it on a collision course with Earth. In the 1998 movie "Deep Impact," astronauts try to blow up a comet in hopes of saving the Earth, but the comet winds up being split in two and one section slams into the Atlantic, creating a huge tsunami on the East Coast.
HOUSTON -- An attempt might have been made to override Columbia's autopilot in the final few seconds of its doomed flight, according to information received Sunday by the space shuttle's accident investigation board.\nBut as an official close to the investigation stressed, "The data are really suspect. They can't ensure the integrity of any of the data, and some of the stuff that they're saying may be inaccurate or misinterpreted."\nA NASA spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, said the possible attempted override could have been unintentional; in other words, one of the pilots may have bumped the stick.\nABC News reported Sunday evening that data showed one of the crew may have tried to take over the space shuttle before its destruction above Texas on Feb. 1.\nFor weeks, in an attempt to reconstruct what went wrong during Columbia's re-entry, NASA and other experts have been analyzing data that were transmitted in the final 32 seconds of flight. The last two seconds of data, which follow 25 seconds of nothing, indicate that there was an input to disengage the autopilot system, the official said.\nThe data also suggest that the four steering jets that automatically began firing to try to compensate for the increased drag on the left side of the spacecraft were no longer able to counteract the forces, the official said. A breach in the left wing, which allowed hot gases to penetrate, is suspected for the cascade of catastrophic events.\n"It kind of indicates the orbiter was out of control, basically," the official said.
HOUSTON -- Molten aluminum was found on Columbia's thermal tiles and inside the leading edge of the left wing, bolstering the theory that the shuttle was destroyed by hot gases that penetrated a damaged spot on the wing, the accident investigation board said Tuesday.\nRoger Tetrault, a board member, said he suspects the melting of the spaceship's aluminum framework occurred because of the piercing gases and also because of the intense heat of falling through the atmosphere.\n"My best guess would be that eventually we'll probably find both," Tetrault said. The melted aluminum, or slag, looks like black soot, and is present on both the right and left sides of the spacecraft, especially the left, he said.\n"Many of the tiles on the left side have a thin, black deposit on them, and that deposit has never been seen on any previous flight," he said.\nTetrault said both tires from the left main landing gear also show evidence of extreme trauma from the Feb. 1 disaster: They are flat with torn fabric, possibly from a rupture in the final seconds of the spaceship's flight, Tetrault said.\nHe said the damage to the tires could also have been caused by heat penetrating the wing. That heat may have set off the small explosives that are used to free the landing gear if it gets stuck right before touchdown. The tire fibers may have been pulled apart by the heat of re-entry, he said.\n"I would not speculate that it blew out the door or blew down the landing gear and that caused the accident. It is the result, not the initiating event," said Tetrault, a retired corporate executive with experience in nuclear submarines. He noted that rupturing tires "could have been the ultimate breakup event -- but we don't know that."\nInvestigators have theorized that foam or other debris that broke off the shuttle's big external fuel tank during liftoff Jan. 16 damaged the wing -- perhaps the leading edge, perhaps the area around the wheel well -- and allowed hot gases to penetrate the wing and destroy the shuttle. All seven astronauts were killed when their ship shattered over Texas, just minutes short of their planned Florida landing.\nTetrault would not speculate whether the wing's leading edge or wheel well was the location of that breach, but said both options were "equally alive."\n"Everybody on the board has their own theory. I'm going to be patient and not express my theory at this time," he said.\nWhat is particularly intriguing, Tetrault said, is that deposits of stainless steel were found along with molten aluminum on the inside of one of the carbon panels that protected the leading edge of the left wing. "How do you get that stainless steel and the aluminum up onto the back edge ... when in fact that stainless steel is behind the area," he said, adding that maybe it had something to do with the tires rupturing.\nA sizable hole -- 4 inches by 2 inches -- was found burned into a left inboard elevon actuator, likely the result of the heat from re-entry, Tetrault said. Traces of hydraulic fluid that leaked from that hole surprisingly showed no significant overheating, he added.\nMore than 32,000 pounds of Columbia wreckage has been collected so far, representing about 13.7 percent of the returning spaceship. It is crucial to discover identical pieces from both sides of the ship for comparison, said the board's chairman, retired Navy Adm. Harold Gehman Jr.\n"That's why the tires are so important," he said.\nInvestigators have recovered most of the pieces of the right landing gear door, for instance, but only three pieces of the frame of the left door and nothing from the door itself.\n"We have more questions than answers right now. But we're getting smarter fast and I believe that there's a very good chance that we will, in fact, be able to localize the breach that occurred in the left wing," Tetrault said. "Until we have determined that location of the breach, every postulated cause of the accident is really just a theory."\nGehman, meanwhile, said the board will delve into what role NASA management and the agency's institutional culture played in the tragedy. But he said it is more important, for now, to find out what caused the accident.\nHe was referring to the flurry of e-mails among flight controllers and other engineers in the last few days of Columbia's flight, in which they discussed the possibility that the launch debris severely damaged the left wing. They said they were merely "what-iffing" and did not suspect any serious problems, even though some of them accurately predicted what might happen if a breach occurred.\n"You've got to remember that at this point in the Challenger investigation, they knew what went wrong and so the review of who did what to whom and who did his job well and who didn't do a job well was relatively fairly focused," Gehman said. "I'm really not interested ... without any particular focus or without any particular reason, for just casting about and casting some big chill over NASA."\nFor the first time, the board's weekly news conference was not held at Johnson Space Center, but rather a few miles away, off NASA property. The panel wants to distance itself from the space agency and, in fact, has asked NASA's chief, Sean O'Keefe, to remove some top shuttle program officials from the investigation.\nGehman said he is satisfied that O'Keefe will comply with his request. He refused to name which NASA officials he wanted off the investigation.
SPACE CENTER, Houston -- After three days of uncertainty, NASA said Monday a piece of broken wing found last week was from space shuttle Columbia's left side -- where all the problems appear to have begun in the final minutes of the doomed flight.\nThe fragment includes a 2-foot piece of carbon-composite panel, a dense material that covered the leading edge of the wing, and a 1 1/2-foot piece of the wing itself. Engineers are not yet certain where the piece fits.\nIt could be extremely important, given that the trouble apparently originated in the left wing during the final minutes before the Feb. 1 flight broke up above Texas, killing all seven astronauts aboard.\nBarely a minute after liftoff on Jan. 16, a piece of insulating foam from Columbia's external fuel tank broke off and slammed into the ship's left wing. The impact by the flyaway foam -- exonerated by NASA during the flight as to having caused any serious damage -- remains a central part of the accident investigation. In the final minutes of flight, some sensors in the left wing and in the left wheel will showed unusual spikes in temperature.\nAfter the wing fragment was found last Friday, NASA's deputy associate administrator for spaceflight, Michael Kostelnik, called it "a significant recovery."\nNASA originally said the piece was found west of Fort Worth. On Monday, the agency said satellite coordinates indicated it had actually been found near Corsicana, 66 miles southeast of Fort Worth.\nThe condition of the wing fragment wasn't immediately disclosed. NASA was checking the carbon panel and the silica glass-fiber thermal tiles for evidence of burning, either from the intense heat of re-entry or from something else.\n"That's something that the engineers would be looking for," Kostelnik said.\nNASA said it also has found the cover of one of the two landing gear compartments, another potentially critical piece because a temperature surge inside the left wheel well was the first sign of trouble. But officials do not yet know whether it is from the right or left side of Columbia.\nAnother incident highlighted the confusion even among top NASA officials as to what wreckage is being found -- and where.\nBill Readdy, NASA's top spaceflight official, told reporters in Washington that one of the shuttle's main computers had been found in a Texas field "apparently in fairly good condition."\nHe later said he was informed by a Johnson Space Center manager that it was an avionics box, not a general purpose computer.\n"When he had a chance to look at it, sorry, wrong, not a general purpose computer," Readdy said. "That was our hope, maybe we were hoping too much."\nAn avionics box monitors and controls most of the systems on the shuttle. There are more than 300 of the boxes in the spacecraft.\nNASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said debris would be taken this week to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will be cataloged and assembled.\nEngineers there will reassemble as much of the shuttle as they can in a hangar. An independent board investigating the disaster will have offices in the hangar.\nKostelnik said engineers are still looking at high-resolution photographs of Columbia taken by a powerful Air Force telescope camera, but said "no engineering judgment" has been made on the images.\nOne photo, taken a minute or two before Columbia broke up, is drawing special interest. A dark gray streak can be seen trailing the left wing, and the leading edge of that wing appears to be jagged. Kostelnik said resolution on the photos was no better than what was released to the public Friday.\nReaddy said the space agency is also looking at data collected by weather and Federal Aviation Administration radar to see if they can help pinpoint the locations of any undiscovered debris.\nThe Columbia investigation board held a series of meetings Monday in an office near Johnson Space Center, as its pace picked up. The chairman, Harold German Jr. -- a retired admiral who investigated the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole -- said two to three teams of experts would analyze all the pictures and video taken of Columbia as it flew over California, Arizona, New Mexico and, finally, Texas.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Space shuttle Columbia apparently disintegrated in flames over Texas minutes before it was to land Saturday in Florida. TV video showed what appeared to be falling debris, as NASA declared an emergency and sent search teams to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.\nIn north Texas, several residents reported hearing "a big bang" at about 9 a.m., the same time all radio and data communication with the shuttle and its crew of seven was lost.\nOfficials in Washington said that there was no immediate indication of terrorism, and that President Bush was informed and awaiting more information from NASA.\nJust over an hour after the shuttle had been expected to land, officials at Kennedy Space Center announced over loud speakers that a statement on the fate of the shuttle would be issued shortly. NASA warned people on the ground in Texas to stay away from any fallen debris.\nIt was the 113th flight in the shuttle program's 22 years and the 28th flight for Columbia, NASA oldest shuttle. Six Americans and Israel's first astronaut were on board.\nInside Mission Control, flight controllers hovered in front of their computers, staring at the screens after contact was lost. The wives, husbands and children of the astronauts who had been waiting at the landing strip were gathered together by NASA and taken to a secluded place.\n"A contingency for the space shuttle has been declared," Mission Control somberly repeated over and over as no word or any data came from Columbia.\nIn 42 years of U.S. human space flight, there had never been an accident during the descent to Earth or landing. On Jan. 28, 1986, space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff.\nShortly after Columbia lifted off Jan. 16, a piece of insulating foam on its external fuel tank came off and was believed to have hit the left wing of the shuttle. Leroy Cain, the lead flight director in Mission Control, assured reporters Friday that engineers had concluded that any damage to the wing was considered minor and posed no safety hazard.\nColumbia had been aiming for a landing at 9:16 a.m. Saturday.\nIt was at an altitude of 207,000 feet over north-central Texas at a 9 a.m., traveling at 12,500 mph, when Mission Control lost all contact and tracking data.\nGary Hunziker in Plano said he saw the shuttle flying overhead. "I could see two bright objects flying off each side of it," he told The Associated Press. "I just assumed they were chase jets."\n"The barn started shaking and we ran out and started looking around," said Benjamin Laster of Kemp, Texas. "I saw a puff of vapor and smoke and saw big chunk of material fall."\nTelevision footage showed a bright light followed by smoke plumes streaking diagonally through the sky. Debris appeared to break off into separate balls of light as it continued downward.\nSecurity had been extraordinarily tight for Columbia's 16-day scientific research mission because of the presence of Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut.\nRamon, 48, a colonel in Israel's air force and former fighter pilot, had survived two wars. He became the first man from his country to fly in space, and his presence resulted in an increase in security, not only for Columbia's launch, but also for its planned landing. Space agency officials feared his presence might make the shuttle more of a terrorist target.\nA senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Saturday there was no threat made against the flight and that the shuttle was out of range of a surface-to-air missile.\n"The government of Israel and the people of Israel are praying together with the entire world for the safety of the astronauts on the shuttle Columbia," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said in a statement.\nColumbia's crew had completed 80-plus scientific research experiments during their time in orbit.\nOnly two of the seven astronauts had flown in space before, the shuttle's commander, Rick Husband, and Kalpana Chawla. The other five were rookies: pilot William McCool and Michael Anderson, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Ramon.\nJust in the past week, NASA observed the anniversary of its only two other space tragedies, the Challenger explosion, which killed all seven astronauts on board, and the Apollo spacecraft fire that killed three on Jan. 27, 1967.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, said Wednesday from shuttle Columbia that he wishes his homeland -- in fact, all of the Middle East -- were as quiet and peaceful as it looks from space. "The world looks marvelous from up here, so peaceful, so wonderful and fragile," he said.\nThe 48-year-old Israeli air force colonel is aboard Columbia for a 16-day scientific research mission that ends on Saturday.\nWatching a rose bloom in orbit and a silkworm cocoon blossoming into a moth, crewmate Laurel Clark described the work as "magical." The rose and moth are among more than 80 experiments flying aboard Columbia.\nThe fragrance industry hopes to develop new space scents with the miniature rose plant and a jasmine-scented Asian rice flower growing in the shuttle's greenhouse, while Chinese students want to see how silkworms develop and produce silk in weightlessness.\n"Science-wise, the flight's been absolutely fantastic," said astronaut Michael Anderson.\n"We had a flame ball burning for over 1 1/2 hours, which is just a new world record and just something that we really didn't expect to see. We've also got a very large cancer cell growing back there that's probably 100 times larger than we could have predicted, and it will go a long way in the area of prostate cancer research"
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Space shuttle Columbia rocketed into orbit with Israel's first astronaut Thursday on a scientific research flight surrounded by unprecedented security -- and with religious and political overtones.\nColumbia shot off its oceanside launch pad and into a clear sky at 10:39 a.m. On board were seven astronauts, including Ilan Ramon, a colonel in Israel's air force and a former fighter pilot.\nRamon's wife and their four children were among the approximately 300 Israelis who traveled to Cape Canaveral to cheer him on.\n"This is such an exciting time for us…he makes us so proud," Israel's ambassador to the United States, Danny Ayalon, said at a reception Wednesday at a heavily guarded hotel. He had this message for Ramon and his six U.S. shuttle crewmates: "God bless you and may you go in peace. Shalom."\nAyalon -- tailed by seven sheriff's department cars -- met with reporters following liftoff and marveled at the sight of the white exhaust plume against the blue sky. "These are our national colors," he said. "It was very, very moving."\nSecurity was at an all-time high for the launch, which had been in the planning for years, and fighter jets thundered nearby just before liftoff.\nAir Force officials said there were no security breaches.\nEarlier in the morning, Ramon and his six U.S. crewmates rode to the pad under heavy police escort. A space center worker waved an Israeli flag as the "astrovan" passed in front of the launch control center.\nDespite the presence of a large SWAT team, the entire shuttle crew looked relaxed. Ramon waved and gave a thumbs-up.\nOnce Columbia was safely settled in orbit, Mission Control radioed up "a big welcome to Ilan as you join the international community of human spaceflight."\nRamon's wife, Rona, admitted to some nervousness and said she can't wait for the 16-day mission to end.\n"I don't want to talk about fear. We're not talking about fear. I'm sure NASA is doing everything that is possible not to take any risk and any chances," she said, adding, "The most calm and relaxed person is Ilan."\nAs has been the custom for shuttle launches since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Air Force patrolled the site for any stray planes or other intruders. The no-fly zone extended the usual 35 miles, but took effect three hours earlier to accommodate the loading of explosive hydrogen fuel into Columbia. Offshore, boats were ordered to stay away.\n"Our antennas are up more than usual," said David Saleeba, NASA's top security official. He said the agency was aware of the threat potential posed by Ramon's presence and had been in close contact for months with the Homeland Security Department.\nRamon, 48, the son of a Holocaust survivor, was among the Israeli pilots who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, according to a senior Israeli government official speaking Thursday on condition of anonymity. The Israel Space Agency wanted a military pilot for its first astronaut and, with the Israeli air force's help, picked him for the job in 1997.\nColumbia's flight initially was targeted for mid-2001 but was repeatedly delayed, most recently by the grounding of the entire space shuttle fleet last summer.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Space shuttle Columbia rocketed into orbit with Israel's first astronaut Thursday on a scientific research flight surrounded by unprecedented security - and with religious and political overtones.\nColumbia shot off its oceanside launch pad and into a clear sky at 10:39 a.m. On board were seven astronauts, including Ilan Ramon, a colonel in Israel's air force and a former fighter pilot.\nRamon's wife and their four children were among the approximately 300 Israelis who traveled to Cape Canaveral to cheer him on.\n"This is such an exciting time for us ... he makes us so proud," Israel's ambassador to the United States, Danny Ayalon, said at a reception Wednesday at a heavily guarded hotel. He had this message for Ramon and his six U.S. shuttle crewmates: "God bless you and may you go in peace. Shalom."\nAyalon - tailed by seven sheriff's department cars - met with reporters following liftoff and marveled at the sight of the white exhaust plume against the blue sky. "These are our national colors," he said. "It was very, very moving."\nSecurity was at an all-time high for the launch, which had been in the planning for years, and fighter jets thundered nearby just before liftoff.\nAir Force officials said there were no security breaches.\nEarlier in the morning, Ramon and his six U.S. crewmates rode to the pad under heavy police escort. A space center worker waved an Israeli flag as the "astrovan" passed in front of the launch control center.\nDespite the presence of a large SWAT team, the entire shuttle crew looked relaxed. Ramon waved and gave a thumbs-up.\nOnce Columbia was safely settled in orbit, Mission Control radioed up "a big welcome to Ilan as you join the international community of human spaceflight."\nRamon's wife, Rona, admitted to some nervousness and said she can't wait for the 16-day mission to end.\nI don't want to talk about fear. We're not talking about fear. I'm sure NASA is doing everything that is possible not to take any risk and any chances," she said, adding, "The most calm and relaxed person is Ilan."\nAs has been the custom for shuttle launches since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Air Force patrolled the site for any stray planes or other intruders. The no-fly zone extended the usual 35 miles, but took effect three hours earlier to accommodate the loading of explosive hydrogen fuel into Columbia. Offshore, boats were ordered to stay away.\n"Our antennas are up more than usual," said David Saleeba, NASA's top security official. He said the agency was aware of the threat potential posed by Ramon's presence and had been in close contact for months with the Homeland Security Department.\nRamon, 48, the son of a Holocaust survivor, was among the Israeli pilots who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, according to a senior Israeli government official speaking Thursday on condition of anonymity. The Israel Space Agency wanted a military pilot for its first astronaut and, with the Israeli air force's help, picked him for the job in 1997.\nColumbia's flight initially was targeted for mid-2001 but was repeatedly delayed, most recently by the grounding of the entire space shuttle fleet last summer.\n"If there was ever a time to use the phrase 'all good things come to people who wait,' this is the one time," launch director Mike Leinbach told the astronauts just before liftoff. "Good luck and Godspeed."\nReplied shuttle commander Rick Husband: "The Lord has blessed us with a beautiful day here, and we're going to have a great mission."\nIt is the first time in three years that NASA launched a shuttle that was not going to the international space station or working on the Hubble Space Telescope.\nOne of the primary experiments is sponsored by the Israel Space Agency. Onboard cameras will measure desert dust in the atmosphere to gauge the effect on climate change.\nAn odd assortment of animals also is aboard Columbia, mostly from student experimenters. The menagerie includes spiders, ants, silkworms, mealworms, carpenter bees, fish embryos and rats. Altogether, more than 80 experiments from around the world are planned.\nColumbia is due back at Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 1.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Making the third and final spacewalk of their mission, shuttle Atlantis' astronauts finished installing a $390 million girder on the international space station Monday.\n"We're over the hill," spacewalker David Wolf said midway through the 250-mile-high construction job. "I mean, over the hill on the station."\n"No comment," his partner, Piers Sellers, jokingly replied. Both men are in their mid to late 40s.\nThe two astronauts arrived with the 14-ton girder aboard space shuttle Atlantis last week.\nWolf and Sellers hooked up the last of the ammonia lines for the elaborate air-conditioning system that came with the girder. The men also attached more pressure-relief clamps to the coolant lines. They were so far ahead of schedule they even took on a little extra work.\n"You guys are doing a great job," Mission Control said as they jumped ahead. "Our only concern is that you're making it look too easy for us."\nTo NASA's delight, the astronauts managed to retract a stuck bolt in some of the equipment that was installed last spring.\nEarlier Monday, the six shuttle astronauts and the three fliers aboard the space station enjoyed a close-up view of the unfolding of one of the three radiators on the new girder.\nAs soon as the radiator reached its full 75 feet in length, the shuttle crew played a recording of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus."\n"That's very appropriate music," Mission Control said.\nThe middle radiator was supposed to be extended by flight controllers Sunday, but the operation was delayed because of a minor electrical problem. The two other radiators will not be opened until next year; the heat-shedding system will not be activated until then.\nAtlantis and its crew will leave the space station on Wednesday and return to Earth on Friday. The three station residents have another month to go before coming home.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Atlantis blasted off on the first shuttle flight in four months Monday, with a side-mounted video camera showing the fast-receding coastline and brilliant blue ocean as the spaceship climbed toward orbit.\nThe shuttle rose from its seaside pad under tight post-Sept. 11 security, carrying six astronauts and a 14-ton girder that will be installed on the international space station later this week.\nIt was the first shuttle launch since early June, a delay caused by cracked fuel lines that the grounded the entire fleet.\nThe launch marked the debut of the shuttlecam, a color video camera mounted near the top of Atlantis' external fuel tank. The camera beamed down live images as the shuttle soared out over the Atlantic.\nHurricane Lili added to the delays last week, with the first-ever shutdown of Mission Control and a five-day launch postponement.\nEarlier in the day, engineers managed to work around a heater problem in a water-drainage line aboard Atlantis. The trouble cropped up Sunday in one of three lines used to discharge water produced by Atlantis' electricity-producing fuel cells.\nNASA also had to scramble late in the countdown to replace a couple fuses in a backup power supply on the aging launch platform.\nAlthough it was raining and lightning advisories were in effect as the astronauts headed to the pad early in the afternoon, the sky quickly cleared.\n"Atlantis is ready for you," launch director Mike Leinbach told the astronauts just before liftoff. "The weather is beautiful, and you guys have been in Florida far too long. So we wish you luck."\nNASA activated the camera 15 minutes before liftoff and televised a picture of the shuttle on the pad, ready to go.\nThe Air Force chased after at least six stray planes. Fighter jets patrolled the wide no-fly zone around the pad, to guard against a possible terrorist attack.\nAtlantis should have flown in August but was sidelined by hairline cracks in the pipes that carry hydrogen fuel to the main engines. Similar damage turned up in all four space shuttles, and NASA ordered unprecedented welding repairs.\nThen cracks showed up in the Apollo-era platforms needed to haul the shuttles from the hangar to the pad. The marred bearings had to be replaced before Atlantis could make the four-mile trip.\nThe space station and its three occupants were soaring 240 miles above the Pacific, west of the Galapagos Islands, when Atlantis finally took off at 3:46 p.m. The shuttle should reach the orbiting outpost on Wednesday with goodie bags of apples, oranges, grapefruit, garlic, onions, hot sauce and a pecan pie.\nAstronaut Peggy Whitson, the lone American aboard the space station, is tired of eating out of cans after four months in orbit and put in an order for fresh and spicy food. She has one month remaining in her mission.\nDuring their week at the space station, Atlantis' astronauts will conduct three spacewalks to hook up the $390 million girder. It measures 45 feet long and 15 feet wide and is crammed with wiring, plumbing, three radiators and a railroad cart.\nThe structure will be attached to a girder that was delivered by another shuttle crew earlier this year. Yet another girder will be launched next month.\nThis aluminum framework eventually will stretch longer than a football field and support giant solar wings and other equipment. Extra solar power will be needed to run European and Japanese laboratories, once they are launched.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Rain clouds over the launch pad forced NASA to call off Tuesday's liftoff of space shuttle Endeavour on a flight to deliver a new crew to the international space station.\nIt was the latest delay for Endeavour and its seven astronauts, held up last week by space station trouble. Launch managers said they would try again Wednesday.\nSecurity was at an all-time high, especially during the final hours of the countdown. The clocks were halted at the five-minute mark once it became clear that weather would not cooperate.\nEndeavour was supposed to blast off last Thursday, but had to wait for the space station's residents to clear a jammed docking mechanism. Monday's spacewalking repairs allowed an unmanned Russian supply ship to finally latch itself firmly to the orbiting outpost.\nBesides the dynamic weather, the launch team also had to contend with a set of hand rails inadvertently left at the launch pad.\nWith time running out, NASA rushed a three-person red team to the pad to remove the temporary rails, which should have been taken down Monday. A quick visual sweep turned up no other stray equipment, and the countdown proceeded -- until the clouds and rain moved in.\nEngineers feared the hand rails, located near Endeavour's engines, would blow away at liftoff and possibly damage the shuttle.\nLaunch director Mike Leinbach urged his team to \"stay focused\" and not be distracted by the last-minute flurry of activity.\nTo guard against terrorist attacks, fighter jets and helicopters kept watch over the launch pad, catching at least one violator, a helicopter pilot who strayed into the no-fly zone surrounding Kennedy Space Center.\nThe patrols increased -- and included at least one Humvee with a .50-caliber machine gun -- after Endeavour's tank was filled with more than 500,000 gallons of fuel.\nSigns of patriotism were everywhere for NASA's first wartime shuttle launch. Space center workers waved small flags as the astronauts headed to the launch pad, and some wore neckties with flag designs.\nFor the first time in 20 years of space shuttle flight, journalists were kept away when the crew left for the launch pad. Even space center employees had to stand a few hundred feet away behind a barricade.\nSpace center roads, normally filled with spectators during launches, were closed. The no-fly zone extended 35 miles around the launch pad, much farther than usual, and boats had to stay at least three miles offshore.\nAs a high-flying salute to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Endeavour was carrying 6,000 small U.S. flags for the families of all those killed. Also on board: a Marine Corps flag from the assaulted Pentagon, New York police badges and patches, and a New York fire department banner.\nAboard the space station, commander Frank Culbertson and his two Russian crewmates had already pulled out their cameras to record the liftoff of Endeavour, their ride home. Culbertson and cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin have been living aboard the space station since August.\nTheir replacements, two Americans and one Russian, will stay until May.\nDuring Endeavour's 11-day flight, the shuttle crew will drop off thousands of pounds of supplies, perform a spacewalk and help the new station crew move in and the old one move out.