September 12 News Items

Mystery Explained: Glow in Night Sky Was Astronaut Urine (Source:
The beautiful trail in the sky looked like a mysterious celestial event. In reality, it was urine. Some skygazers were treated to the unexpected view of a bright sparkling glow Wednesday night, created when astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery dumped the waste out into space. The water dump was a scheduled task for STS-128 pilot Kevin Ford, who poured out urine and waste water stored aboard the shuttle in preparation for a landing attempt Thursday. The light show Wednesday was aided by an unusually large amount of water being dumped all at once - about 150 pounds (68 kg), said NASA spokeswoman Kylie Clem. Discovery had just undocked from the International Space Station the day before, and had not been able to unload waste water during the 10-day visit. (9/11)

First Ares Test Sends Only Good Vibrations (Source: Florida Today)
The test firing of NASA's Ares I first stage this week yielded data indicating that the rocket won't shake apart or endanger astronauts in flight, an official with manufacturer ATK said Friday. The vibrations generated during the test were eight to 10 times less than design limits, and extra dampers or shock absorbers -- which could add millions of dollars to the final cost -- might not be needed, the official said. (9/12)

Panel’s Recommendations Would Extend JSC-Based Space Station Program (Source: Houston Chronicle)
While it casts doubt on the financial viability of current U.S. plans to return to the moon and land on Mars, a key recommendation by the Augustine Panel would extend the life of the international space station, a program based at Houston's Johnson Space Center. That should come as at least a short-term relief for the Clear Lake-area communities whose economies are tied to the space industry. Current plans would have decommissioned the $100 billion station and tanked it in the Pacific Ocean in 2015, barely five years after its completion. Panelists reasoned that since the focus of the project over the past quarter century has been assemblage, a longer life span is needed to test new technologies and research the effects on humans of prolonged living in space. (9/12)

Atlas Workers Log 80 Years on the Job (Source: Santa Maria Times)
Eldon Settlemyre signed on for two years with the Atlas program at Vandenberg Air Force Base, but the gig lasted longer. A lot longer. Settlemyre, a maintenance carpenter for United Launch Alliance, has worked 48 years on the Atlas program, joining just two years after the first Atlas launched from Vandenberg some 50 years ago this month. Vandenberg’s first Atlas flew on Sept. 9, 1959; the newest is set to fly next month. A colleague, Jerry Miears, a fabrication mechanic, has been there 32 years, after also being hired for two years.

What has kept them on the job for a combined 80 years of service? "Money,” Settlemyre, 67, said with laugh. “It’s an excellent place to work, and we take a lot of pride at working on something that’s so complicated and huge,” said Miears, 57. “Plus it does pay good. It has good benefits.” Ironic considering Miears was paid slightly more than $5 per hour when first hired. “You made it better than I did. When I hired in, it was a $1.96 (an hour),” Settlemyre said. (9/12)

Astronaut Returns to Mountain View High School (Source: Palo Alto Daily Times)
At noon on Friday a couple dozen students sat in the gym at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View. Some talked quietly as they waited for NASA astronaut Megan McArthur to arrive for a Q&A session, but several girls could barely contain themselves. "I'm really excited," said 16-year-old junior Malvika Verma, who hopes to study physics or engineering in college. "She's at a level we can only dream to be at." Rebecca Poizner, another science enthusiast sitting nearby, said she had wanted to be an astronaut since she read a book about Neil Armstrong in the third grade.

"I want to know if she knew from the beginning that this is what she wanted to do," Rebecca said, calling McArthur and other women who have excelled in science "inspirational." McArthur, 38, graduated from Saint Francis in 1989 and returned to her alma mater Friday for a rally, two talks with students and other events. At the Q&A session, she described her 14 days in space this past May as part of the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. McArthur, who holds a Ph.D in oceanography from the University of California, San Diego served as a flight engineer and the primary robotic arm operator on that mission, she said. (9/12)

Orbital Plans to Develop Cygnus-Based Crew Capsule (Source: Space News)
Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. is throwing its hat into NASA’s commercial-crew transport ring with plans to develop a crew capsule based on the company’s Cygnus cargo module. Cygnus and its Taurus 2 medium-class launcher are currently in development with help from $171 million in NASA COTS funding won in February 2008. An Orbital official said a crew variant of Orbital’s Cygnus pressurized cargo module capable of carrying three or four astronauts, along with a human-rated version of Taurus 2, could be developed at a cost of $2 billion to $3 billion.

One industry source identified Boeing as a potential partner in the effort, which would involve adding a new liquid-hydrogen second stage to the Taurus 2, giving it the thrust needed to carry around 8 metric tons to the space station. This would accommodate an Apollo-sized capsule based on the Cygnus cargo vehicle design along with a service module. Although he declined to comment on the time that will be necessary to develop a crew transport capability, one industry source estimated four years from contract award. (9/12)

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