Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Space history created at 9 p.m. (IST) on December 8 2010

       On Wednesday, the countdown progressed at Cape Canaveral in Florida.On account of a telemetry error the mission was aborted just three minutes before lift off in the first attempt. The problem was rectified and the countdown restarted. The mood was a mixture of nervous apprehension and excitement.

       T-20 minutes: The countdown clocked picks up, Space X launch director gives `go' to enter the terminal countdown.

       T-14 minutes: The rocket known as Falcon-9 goes on internal power.

       T-12 minutes: The launch director verifies ``we are go for launch.''

       T-11 minutes:  Range officer verifies ``we are go for launch.''

       It was a flight of significance heralding a new era in space travel.

       As the moment nears, more events follow and then a minute before 9 p.m. (IST) the Falcon rocket lifts with a roar carrying the unmanned Dragon spacecraft. Space history has just been created. A few minutes later the spacecraft separated from the rocket initiated its propulsion.

       It was a historical moment because it was the first full test of what is known as the Commercial Orbital Transportion Service (COTS). The flight assumes significance in the context of  Nasa's space shuttles being phased out in 2011 and Nasa having to depend solely on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry its crew and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).

       It is nearing 10 30 p.m. (IST) on Wednesday and as ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM) writes this blog, the Dragon spacecraft would have initiated its reentry and perhaps would have already splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after circling the earth twice at an altitude of 160 miles in low earth orbit.

       Earlier in the evening my friend Pradeep Mohandas who is also secy of the India Chapter of Moon Society, was monitoring the first countdown on the twitter on his mobile. While he was about to board a bus to his Chedda Nagar residence, he told me that the launch was temporarily scrubbed. Then he called me from the bus to say that it was resked for 8,45 p.m. (IST). Jaydeep Mukherjee, director, Nasa Florida Space Grant Consortium and interim director, Florida Space Institute, Kennedy Space Centre, who gave a presentation at the Nehru Planetarium in the evening told BMM that his organisation could even consider sending an educational payload on such future missions.

     The rocket built by Space Exploration Technologies Corporation of Space X was on its full first test flight. The Dragon spacecraft will eventually ferry cargo and humans to the ISS. The flight is important for the Obama adminstration because it hopes to launch commercial space missions to the low earth orbit. This is expected to free Nasa funds for missions to send astronauts to deeper space and later to Mars.

     According to Nasa, the mission will help the private sector to develop and demonstrate its own cargo space transportation capabilities. While the industry directs its own efforts, Nasa provides technical and financial assistance. The space agency is investing five hundred million dollars between 2006 and 2011 for the project.

    Elon Musk ceo of Space X said: ``When Dragon returns, whether on this mission or a future one it will herald the dawn of an incredibly exciting new era in space travel.''

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