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By | July 16, 2007

      Space Shuttle Endeavour Moves Toward 7:02 p.m. ET Aug. 7 Launch

      Space Shuttle Endeavour rolled to launch pad 39A, where it now is poised for a 7:02 p.m. ET Aug. 7 launch on its first trip to space since 2002, NASA announced.

      The shuttle is much improved since its last ascent to the heavens, in response to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003 caused by a chunk of foam insulation that flew from the external fuel tank to punch an undetected hole in an orbiter vehicle wing.

      Endeavour will lift off from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on an 11-day STS-118 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) that might be extended to two weeks.

      Aboard Endeavour will be Barbara Morgan, who is both an astronaut and a teacher. Morgan trained decades ago with teacher Christa McAuliffe at NASA astronaut facilities. Later, McAuliffe and fellow crew members perished when Space Shuttle Challenger was torn apart shortly after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986, because of O-ring problems in the solid booster rockets.

      NASA has adopted an array of safety procedures and hardware changes in the intervening years, designed to ensure that no damage to the orbiter vehicle is undetected before it navigates the fiery hot experience of reentry.

      The STS-118 mission will be one of many needed to complete construction of the space station before the space shuttles fleet retires in 2010.

      Each scheduled ascent and addition to the ISS, plus a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, and perhaps some spare missions at the end of the manifest, are required of the shuttle fleet.

      While at the pad, Endeavour will undergo final testing, payload installation and a “hot fire” test of auxiliary power units. After final testing, the rotating service structure will be moved around the vehicle to protect it from the elements.

      Earlier this year, Space Shuttle Atlantis, while on the launch pad, was in the path of a violent thunderstorm that fired hail onto its external fuel tank, requiring thousands of repairs to damaged foam insulation.

      The crew on Endeavour includes Commander Scott Kelly, Pilot Charlie Hobaugh and mission specialists Morgan, Tracy Caldwell, Rick Mastracchio, Alvin Drew and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Dave Williams.

      The crew is due to arrive at the KSC Shuttle Landing Facility this evening to participate in the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, a launch dress rehearsal.

      Endeavour will deliver the S5 (Starboard) truss to the station.

      Phoenix Mars Lander Mission Set For Launch Next Month

      NASA is poised to launch the Phoenix Mars Lander sometime in a window beginning Aug. 3, NASA announced.

      Then, after landing on Mars next spring, the lander will use an arm to dig into the Martian ground to examine water ice under the surface.

      While the first probes sent to Mars years ago seemed to find Mars was inhospitably arid and unlikely to support life forms, NASA scientists more recently have received data and video from more sophisticated craft showing that Mars at one time had water flowing on its surface that might have been able to sustain life there.

      The question is, where did the water go? And the answer, Phoenix may confirm when it digs into northern Martian plains, could be that the water went to the Martian north and south polar regions and sank beneath the surface of the ground.

      The robot will investigate whether frozen water near the Martian surface might periodically melt enough to sustain a livable environment for microbes. To accomplish that and other key goals, Phoenix will carry a set of advanced research tools never before used on Mars.

      But before Phoenix can perform its geological duties on the Red Planet, it first must survive the descent to the surface.

      The spacecraft will use heat tiles during entry through the atmosphere to slow it down, then deploy a supersonic parachute, and then drop the lander from the spacecraft, with the lander using small jets to slow itself to about 5 mph when it touches down on the planet.

      Success is not guaranteed.

      “Landing safely on Mars is difficult no matter what method you use,” said Barry Goldstein, project manager for Phoenix at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

      With its flanking solar panels unfurled, the lander is about 18 feet wide and five feet long. A robotic arm 7.7 feet long will dig into the icy layer, which is expected to lie within a few inches of the surface. A camera and conductivity probe on the arm will examine soil and any ice there.

      The arm will lift samples to two instruments on the lander deck. One will use heating to check for volatile substances, such as water and carbon-based chemicals that are essential building blocks for life. The other will analyze the chemistry of the soil.

      A meteorology station, with a laser for assessing water and dust in the atmosphere, will monitor weather throughout the planned three-month mission during Martian spring and summer. The robot toolkit also includes a mast-mounted stereo camera to survey the landing site, a descent camera to see the site in broader context and two microscopes.

      Opportunity Idled By Dust Storm

      A major dust storm for now has halted the Mars rover vehicle Opportunity in its move to descend into Victoria Crater, a large impact-formed crater on the Martian surface.

      The dust storm decreases the amount of sunlight reaching the rover vehicle, and in addition the dust can settle on the rover solar power panels, cutting their ability to convert sunlight into electrical power required to run the vehicle.

      Opportunity is poised to descend a slope down to the crater floor, and on the way the rover will examine a bright-colored geological band of material in the crater wall that may tell something about the early composition of the surface on the Red Planet. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, July 2, 2007, page 3.)

      Launch Of Asteroid-Seeking Spacecraft Delayed To December

      NASA officials decided to delay until September the launch of Dawn, a spacecraft that will use sensors and cameras to examine the two largest asteroids in the asteroid belt, Vista and Ceres.

      That delay was prompted by limited launch opportunities in July and a crowded schedule of other liftoffs next month, when both the Phoenix Mars Lander and the Space Shuttle Endeavour are to head into space. (Please see separate stories in this issue.)

      A September launch for Dawn maintains all of the science mission goals a July launch would have provided, according to NASA.

      Ariane Progressing With Launch Plans For Satellites

      Another Ariane 5 is taking shape to support Arianespace’s sustained launch schedule during the second half of 2007, according to the company.

      It is a heavy-lift Ariane 5 ECA, which is to be used for the upcoming dual-payload mission with the Spaceway 3 and BSAT-3a satellites.

      Processing began with erection and positioning of the Ariane 5 cryogenic core stage over the mobile launch table in the Spaceport Launcher Integration Building.

      As this Ariane 5 ECA takes form, a nearly-complete Ariane 5 GS launcher is awaiting its turn in the Spaceport Final Assembly Building.

      That Ariane 5 GS underwent its build-up during May/June, and is scheduled to orbit the Intelsat-11 and Horizons-2 satellites on an Arianespace mission in mid September.

      Arianespace is targeting the launch of six Ariane 5s in 2007, with two of these flights already performed so far this year.

      The company is accelerating its Ariane 5 launch rate to a stabilized pace of eight missions annually by 2009.

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