I spent last week speaking at Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex, meeting guests from all over our home planet, from Australia to Lithuania and everywhere in-between. One beautiful evening produced this sunset over the Rocket Garden. The tallest rocket is the Martin Marietta Titan II, which launched the Gemini astronauts; a dozen of these boosters were built for NASA at the factory a mile from my boyhood home in Middle River, MD. The silvery rocket at far left is a replica of the Mercury-Atlas, the type that launched John Glenn and the other Mercury astronaut into orbit in 1962-63. At far right on its side is the NASA Saturn IB, built by Chrysler and McDonnell-Douglas. Saturn IBs (developed by Wernher von Braun’s team at Marshall Spaceflight Center in AL) launched the Apollo 7 mission (first Apollo piloted flight in 1968), the three Skylab crews, and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project flight in 1975. Rockets and temps in the low 70s–a combo hard to beat. Looking forward to my next speaking trip there.
I’m compiling here a few of my favorite Earth images from my second mission, STS-68, flown on Endeavour, carrying Space Radar Lab 2. This Earth-imaging radar sensor package, combined with a carbon monoxide pollution sensor, was a joint project of NASA and the German and Italian space agencies.
The Bay of Naples, Italy. Oct. 10, 1994: We’re on Endeavour (STS-68) over the Tyrrhenian Sea, west of Italy, looking down on the Bay of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius. That’s Isla Ischia on the left, and Capri, the smaller island, on the lower right. Naples and its 3 million people lie on the left of the bay, to the northwest of Vesuvius. Herculaneum is almost directly below Vesuvius on the coast (where the town was buried by a pyroclastic flow in AD 79). Pompeii lies farther along the bay shore to the right. The circular depressions to the far left of the bay, near the sea, are the Phlegrean Fields, part of the caldera that makes up the bay region, near the town of Pozzuoli. All of the Bay of Naples is part of this half-drowned caldera; Vesuvius is just one active region on the rim. On the peninsula to the right, in the circular bay, is Sorrento (full of lemon trees!). Sorrento has superb views of Vesuvius and the Bay.
Naples is built on layers of history, and the towns buried by Vesuvius are a treasure trove of ancient Roman life. Take the Circumvesuviano commuter rail from Naples over to Herculaneum and Pompeii–it’s a memorable visit.
And here is our complementary radar view of Vesuvius and Naples:
Mt. Vesuvius, one of the best known volcanoes in the world primarily for the eruption that buried the Roman city of Pompeii, is shown in the lower center of this radar image. North is to the left. The central cone of Vesuvius is the dark purple feature in the center of the volcano. This cone is surrounded on the northern and eastern sides by the old crater rim, called Mt. Somma. Recent lava flows are the pale yellow areas on the southern and western sides of the cone. Vesuvius is part of a large volcanic zone which includes the Phalagrean Fields, the cluster of craters seen along the lower left center of the image. The Bay of Naples, on the bottom of the image, is separated from the Gulf of Salerno, in the lower right, by the Sorrento Peninsula. Dense urban settlement can be seen around the volcano. The city of Naples is below and to the left of Vesuvius; the seaport of the city can be seen in the north half of the bay. Pompeii is located just to the right of the volcano on this image. The rapid eruption in 79 A.D. buried the victims and buildings of Pompeii under several meters of debris and killed more than 2,000 people. Due to the violent eruptive style and proximity to populated areas, Vesuvius has been named by the international scientific community as one of fifteen Decade Volcanoes which are being intensively studied during the 1990s. The image is centered at 40.83 degrees North latitude, 14.53 degrees East longitude. It shows an area 100 kilometers by 55 kilometers (62 miles by 34 miles.) This image was acquired on April 15, 1994 by the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR- C/X-SAR) aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. SIR-C/X-SAR, a joint mission of the German, Italian and the United States space agencies, is part of NASA’s
P-45742 July 13, 1995
Endeavour and her STS-68 crew were 118 nautical miles above the Sahara, looking north, when we took this image of the Tifernine dune field on Oct. 3, 1994, using a 40mm lens on a Hasselblad film camera. Except for a few too many clouds, you’d think we were over the ruddy sands of Mars. The orange, arrowhead-shaped Tifernine dunes are one of the major Sahara landmarks visible to orbiting astronauts.
NASA writes: The Tifernine Dune Field is located at the southernmost tip of the Grand Erg Oriental, a “dune sea” that occupies a large portion of the Sahara Desert in eastern Algeria. This astronaut photograph illustrates the interface between the yellow-orange sand dunes of the field and dark brown consolidated rocks of the Tinrhert Plateau to the south and east. The Tifernine at the center of this image is about 800 miles south-southeast of Algiers, the capital of Algeria. The dunes are in excess of 1,000 feet in height.
The oldest landform is represented by the rocks of the Tinrhert Plateau, where numerous channels incise the bedrock; these channels were eroded during a wet and cool climate period, most probably by glacial meltwater streams. As the dry and hot climate that characterizes the Sahara today became established, water ceased to flow in these channels. Winds eroded and moved large amounts of drying sediment (sand, silt, and clay), which piled up in large, linear dunes that roughly parallel the direction of the prevailing winds of the time (image center).
The present climate is still hot and dry, but current wind directions are more variable. The variable winds are modifying the older, linear dunes, creating star dunes, recognizable by a starfish-like pattern when seen from above.
See more Earth views from STS-68 as I add to my blog, at www.AstronautTomJones.com.
The Front Range of the Rockies from orbit. Here’s the Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, and Denver, seen from STS-68 Endeavour on Oct. 10, 1994. My crew was over the Colorado plains east of Denver when we looked south (toward upper left) and grabbed this shot. Denver is at lower right, with both the old Stapleton International Airport (near town) and the new Denver International airport runways visible at bottom right. Colorado Springs is just to the east of the white blaze of Pikes Peak at center left. The dark green comma east of the Front Range is the Black Forest, and if you look closely you can see the cadet area at USAFA, as well as Falcon Stadium in this 250mm Hasselblad shot (70mm film). The runways at Peterson Field (AFB) are easily visible east of C. Springs. The Arkansas River runs west to east from Canon City to Pueblo, to the left of Pikes Peak. I learned to fly in 1974 at the Academy airfield, barely visible near Falcon Stadium. This area’s population growth has greatly expanded both Colorado Springs and Denver.
Flying over Hawaii was always a highlight, as the island chain is an oasis in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Because of their volcanic origins, the Hawaiian landscapes are dramatic, beautiful, and dynamic–the volcanoes on Hawaii Island are still building those mountains ever higher above the sea.
In this radar image from our SIR-C instrument of the Space Radar Lab, between Hickam AFB (the Honolulu Airport) at lower left, and Diamond Head at lower right is Waikiki. The crater above Waikiki at the foot of the mountains is Punchbowl, now the National Cemetery of the Pacific, with superb views of Honolulu and the graves of so many servicemen and women.
Kaneohe Bay is at top, a Marine Corps air station (see the dark blue runways on the left of the Kaneohe peninsula). Runway traces of Bellows Field, one of the WWII airfields attacked in the Pearl Harbor raid, are on the coast at upper right. Pearl Harbor is just out of view on the left, west of Hickam. Having worked on the Big Island for my asteroid telescope observations back in the 1980s, I have a long-standing affinity for our 50th state. Looking forward to our next visit to welcoming Hawaii.
JPL caption: This spaceborne radar image shows the city of Honolulu, Hawaii and adjacent areas on the island of Oahu. Honolulu lies on the south shore of the island, along the bottom of this image. Diamond Head, an extinct volcanic crater, is seen in the lower right. The bright white strip left of Diamond Head is the Waikiki Beach area. Further west are the downtown area and harbor. Runways of the airport can be seen in the lower left. The Koolau mountain range runs through the center of the image. The steep cliffs on the north side of the range are thought to be remnants of massive landslides that ripped apart the volcanic mountains that built the island thousands of years ago. On the north shore of the island are the Mokapu peninsula and Kaneohe Bay. Densely vegetated areas appear green in this radar image, while urban areas generally appear orange, red or white. Images such as this can be used by land use planners to monitor urban development and its effect on the tropical environment. The image was acquired by the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) onboard the space shuttle Endeavour on October 6, 1994.
Here’s another STS-68 favorite as we approach the 25th anniversary of the Space Radar Lab 2 mission. We’re over Russia somewhere, early morning there, Oct. 2, 1994, looking down from Endeavour. From the aft flight deck we spotted these mountain peaks riding above a low cloud deck. Earth is such a varied and beautiful world. The location is in the Vitim Highlands, in far eastern Russia. Of course, our radar images cut right through these clouds to capture the terrain and biosphere data below, but radar cannot capture the ever-changing beauty of our home planet.
On the third day of the STS-68 mission, 10/2/94, our crew looked down from Endeavour on Indonesia and captured a rare, nearly clear view of the Tambora volcano, on the island of Sumbawa. North is to the top of our image.
NASA: On April 10, 1815, the Tambora Volcano produced the largest eruption in recorded history. An estimated 150 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of tephra—exploded rock and ash—resulted, with ash from the eruption recognized at least 1,300 kilometers (808 miles) away to the northwest. While the April 10 eruption was catastrophic, historical records and geological analysis of eruption deposits indicate that the volcano had been active between 1812 and 1815. Enough ash was put into the atmosphere from the April 10 eruption to reduce incident sunlight on the Earth’s surface, causing global cooling, which resulted in the 1816 “year without a summer.”
The huge caldera—6 kilometers (3.7 miles) in diameter and 1,100 meters (3,609 feet) deep—formed when Tambora’s estimated 4,000-meter- (13,123-foot) high peak was removed, and the magma chamber below emptied during the April 10 eruption. Today the crater floor is occupied by an ephemeral freshwater lake, recent sedimentary deposits, and minor lava flows and domes from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Active fumaroles, or steam vents, still exist in the caldera.
In 2004, scientists discovered the remains of a village, and two adults buried under approximately 3 meters (nearly 10 feet) of ash in a gully on Tambora’s flank—remnants of the former Kingdom of Tambora preserved by the 1815 eruption that destroyed it. The similarity of the Tambora remains to those associated with the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius has led to the Tambora site’s description as “the Pompeii of the East.”
NASA: Kliuchevskoi Volcano’s major eruption began September 30, 1994 (launch day) for STS-68. It got almost immediate coverage by the astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The eruption cloud reached 60,000 feet above sea level, and the winds carried ash as far as 640 miles southeast from the volcano into the North Pacific air routes. This picture was made with a large format Linhof camera. While astronauts used handheld camera’s to keep up with the Kamchatka event, instruments in the cargo bay of Endeavour recorded data to support the Space Radar Laboratory (SRL-2) mission.
Our wide-angle 90mm lens on the Linhof camera captured the view above. The Linhof produced a 4×5-inch film negative, with incredible detail. Each magazine held 100 frames, and we refilled magazines with fresh film inside a light-tight bag, stowing the exposed film in canisters and manually spooling a new roll into the magazine. The film reloading was part of our nightly housekeeping routine. But it was hard to tear ourselves away from the windows!
Mt. Rainier, Washington (NASA caption)
This is a radar image of Mount Rainier in Washington state. The volcano last erupted about 150 years ago and numerous large floods and debris flows have originated on its slopes during the last century. Today the volcano is heavily mantled with glaciers and snowfields. More than 100,000 people live on young volcanic mudflows less than 10,000 years old and, consequently, are within the range of future, devastating mudslides. This image was acquired by the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C and X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) aboard the space shuttle Endeavour on its 20th orbit on October 1, 1994. The area shown in the image is approximately 59 kilometers by 60 kilometers (36.5 miles by 37 miles). North is toward the top left of the image, which was composed by assigning red and green colors to the L-band, horizontally transmitted and vertically, and the L- band, horizontally transmitted and vertically received. Blue indicates the C-band, horizontally transmitted and vertically received. In addition to highlighting topographic slopes facing the space shuttle, SIR-C records rugged areas as brighter and smooth areas as darker. The scene was illuminated by the shuttle’s radar from the northwest so that northwest-facing slopes are brighter and southeast-facing slopes are dark. Forested regions are pale green in color; clear cuts and bare ground are bluish or purple; ice is dark green and white. The round cone at the center of the image is the 14,435-foot (4,399- meter) active volcano, Mount Rainier. On the lower slopes is a zone of rock ridges and rubble (purple to reddish) above coniferous forests (in yellow/green). The western boundary of Mount Rainier National Park is seen as a transition from protected, old-growth forest to heavily logged private land, a mosaic of recent clear cuts (bright purple/blue) and partially regrown timber plantations (pale blue). The prominent river seen curving away from the mountain at the top of the image (to the northwest) is the White River, and the river leaving the mountain at the bottom right of the image (south) is the Nisqually River, which flows out of the Nisqually glacier on the mountain. The river leaving to the left of the mountain is the Carbon River, leading west and north toward heavily populated regions near Tacoma. The dark patch at the top right of the image is Bumping Lake. Other dark areas seen to the right of ridges throughout the image are radar shadow zones. Radar images can be used to study the volcanic structure and the surrounding regions with linear rock boundaries and faults. In addition, the recovery of forested lands from natural disasters and the success of reforestation programs can also be monitored. Ultimately this data may be used to study the advance and retreat of glaciers and other forces of global change. (P-44703 October 3, 1994)
added Aug. 20, 2019
My Endeavour crew was awed by our night-time flights through the shifting curtains of the Aurora Australis, off the southern coasts of Australia and New Zealand. We felt like we were riding on the tip of a needle, piercing the vertical curtains of glowing green light. Our low altitude of 120 nm meant the auroral curtains rose high above us as we soared through one after another. NASA: This time exposure of the Southern Lights was photographed with a 35mm camera from 115 nautical miles above Earth by the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour during the Space Radar Laboratory 2 (SRL-2) mission. Due to the long exposure time, stars in the background appear smeared or elongated.
For more of my mission information, see www.AstronautTomJones.com
This month is the 23rd anniversary of the Space Radar Lab 2 mission, STS-68. I was the payload commander, flying with my crewmates Mike Baker (CDR), Dan Bursch (MS2), Steve Smith (MS1), Terry Wilcutt (PLT), and Jeff Wisoff (MS3). An ambitious follow up to the successful STS-59, Space Radar Lab 1, SRL-2 was aimed at flying the multi-frequency, multi-polarized Shuttle Imaging Radar-C, X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar, and the Measurement of Air Pollution from Satellites sensors in the northern hemisphere late summer, to compare SRL-1’s spring mapping results to those from a contrasting season of the year. STS-68 would also test radar interferometry, a technique to create highly accurate, three-dimensional maps of Earth’s topography. (More info at www.AstronautTomJones.com)
My crewmates and I rehearsed our countdown procedures at Kennedy Space Center on August 1, 1994.
Jeff Wisoff was seated to my left, close to the galley and side hatch. Note my clear helmet visor, indicating a “practice” helmet. We kept the dark visors for the real launch day, to avoid scratching them during our practice sessions like this one.
Our launch was planned on August 18, 1994, but at dawn on that date, when Endeavour’s main engines (SSMEs) ignited, the #3 engine violated a redline constraint, and the GPCs ordered an abort and engine shutdown. They automatically called for a shutdown when the discharge temperature on MPSSSME Main Engine #3 High Pressure Oxidizer Turbopump (HPOT) exceeded its redline value. The HPOT typically operates at 28,120 rpm and boosts the liquid oxygen pressure from 422 psia to 4,300 psia. There are 2 sensor channels measuring temperature on the HPOT. The B channel indicated a redline condition while the other was near redline conditions. The temperature at shutdown was at 1563 degrees R. while a normal HPOT discharge temperature is around 1403 degrees R. The redline limit to initiate a shutdown is at 1560 degrees R. This limit increases to 1760 degrees R. at T-1.3 sec (5.3 sec after Main Engine Start). Main Engine #3 (SN 2032) has been used on 2 previous flights with 2,412 seconds of hot-fire time and a total of 8 starts. This was the first flight for the HPOT on Main Engine (SSME) #3.
What all of this meant to me on the middeck (sitting next to Jeff Wisoff), was that as I felt the SSMEs rumble to life, I began mentally counting down the six seconds til booster ignition at T-minus-zero. Braced against the massive jolt of those SRBs exploding into life, I instead felt the engine vibration die away just as Terry Wilcutt shouted “Right engine down!”, accompanied by the blare of the master alarm. This meant serious trouble.
Out the hatch window to my left, I noted the gantry structure seeming to sway left and right under the vanished shove from Endeavour’s main engines–that was US swaying back and forth. Jeff and I hurriedly threw off our parachute straps and prepared to scoot across the middeck to open the hatch; we might all have to make a beeline to the escape slides on the far side of the gantry’s 190 foot level. We stayed on intercom, waiting for the word to egress.
Within the first minute, Launch Control had our pilots executing the pad abort checklist, entering computer commands that would stop the backup flight software from jettisoning our solid rocket boosters at T+2 minutes (embarrassing and deadly). As Jeff and I cleared our seats in the middeck and stood by to open the hatch, we heard reassuring words from Launch Director Bob Sieck’s team that the computers had executed an orderly shutdown, and no fire or explosion risk was evident.
“Damn! We’re scrubbed!” Jeff opined that we’d be set back at least three weeks by the necessary engine changeout. In fact it would take six weeks for our rollback, engine change, and rollout. STS-64 would slip ahead of us and fly in early September with its LITE laser sensor payload. Our new launch date would be Sept. 30, 1994.
The launch team did a superb job on our abort–the last pad abort in the space shuttle program, and the one that came hair-raisingly close to leaping off the pad with one engine down. That would have meant an immediate scramble to perform a Return To Launch Site (RTLS) abort, flying backward through our Mach 5 exhaust plume to attempt a dicey landing back on Merritt Island. If anyone could pull it off, it would have been Bakes, Terry, Dan, and Steve. Assuredly, no one wanted to be the first to try an RTLS.
September 30 was set as our new launch date. STS-64 in the meantime had flown its successful LITE Earth-science mission, with the additional milestone of Mark Lee and Carl Meade test-flying the SAFER EVA jetpack. Our crew had taken a week-long vacation, then got back into simulations and recurring training to polish our space radar abilities. I thought we used the extra time to good effect, and we proceeded to the Cape even better prepared than we were in August. We were certainly more rested than on our first attempt.
One piece of bad luck befell us: on the day we entered quarantine, five of us came down with cold symptoms. We suffered through four days in Houston of runny noses, aches and pains, and sore throats, but with constant flight surgeon attention we slowly improved. Our flight to the Cape was on the Shuttle Training Aircraft, the Gulfstream jet, to spare our sinuses the drastic cabin altitude changes experienced in a T-38.
When we arrived at the Cape, Dan Bursch stepped off the jet in his Groucho Marx disguise, telling reporters that our chances of avoiding a launch abort were better if Endeavour didn’t know he was in the launch area. Our spirits were certainly on the upswing as our three days in Florida at crew quarters drew to a close.
Our launch was timed for dawn on September 30, with Endeavour taking us into a 57-degree inclination, circular orbit, about 120 nm up. At that altitude our orbit would drift west at such a rate that we could image each of our science targets three times each day, from slightly different radar incidence angles.
The liftoff was exhilarating–this time I knew what to expect! I occupied the same seat as on SRL-1, with Jeff Wisoff to my left. No abort this time–the boosters came alive with a punch to the gut and we soared aloft. Much of the cabin dialogue we exchanged during launch is in my book, Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir. I’d asked that the side hatch window cover again be removed, so I had a terrific view of the gantry turning from gray, to red, to white-hot as the boosters lit. The following eight and a half minutes were punctuated by pyros firing to sever the boosters at two minutes, and then the attention-getting 3 g’s during the final minute of the ascent. During those final seconds I truly experienced the power of the space shuttle’s three main engines, just hurling our 100-ton orbiter toward the injection altitude and velocity. A miracle of technology and physics.
Below, another beautiful view of our dawn liftoff, as Endeavour jolts off the pad. During my second ascent to orbit, I was able to enjoy the physical and mental impressions a bit more methodically, recording my comments on a microcassette recorder during the eight-and-a-half minute climb to our 120 nm mapping orbit.
After MECO, it was off to the races, with Steve Smith and I teaming up on video and still photography of the external tank as it drifted away, below us. Then Jeff and I threw ourselves into converting the middeck into its orbit configuration, and getting the rest of the crew out of their suits and on into their orbital jobs. We had only about 5 hours until my bedtime; the Blue Shift of Steve, Dan and I were due for our first sleep period while Jeff, Mike, and Terry activated SRL-2.
Before launch, our crew had a chance to examine the Space Radar Lab and its SIR-C/X-SAR radars up close, nestled in Endeavour’s payload bay. C-band panels line the left edge, and the larger L-band panels cover most of the 12-m-long antenna. Along the port edge, next to the robot Canadarm, the German/Italian X-SAR antenna is folded downward toward the sill of the payload bay.
Below, SRL-2 is in orbit. Space Radar Lab 2 had some new wrinkles, added since our April flight of SRL-1. The JPL folks had added a gold decal that matched one the Germans and Italians had placed on the X-band antenna. And the Langley Research Center also added a label to their Measurement of Air Pollution from Satellites (MAPS) instrument, positioned right in front of the radar antennae. It all made for a spectacular view out the back windows of the cabin:
We also had about 160 radar imagery recording cassettes aboard, up from the hundred or so we took aloft on SRL-1. The radar imaging schedule was even more ambitious than in April–and I’d thought that was intense!
I had thought I was over my cold, but upon arrival in orbit and a night’s sleep, I ran into its aftereffects. My sinuses were clogged, and without gravity, NOTHING was coming “down” out of my nose. My head felt like a balloon, and my face was reddened as if by a sunburn. I took to the medical locker to find the decongestants, and over a week or so, I slowly improved. The rest of my crewmates also dealt with the congestion lingering from our colds, and the natural stuffiness from the fluid shift headward, caused by our transition to free fall.
Jeff Wisoff, assisted by the pilots and coordinating with Mission Control (MCC), got SRL-2 up and running on his long first shift in orbit. When I woke from my quick 6 hours of sleep and talked to Jeff, I found he’d been “running” flat out with the activation for his entire shift, barely having time to grab a drink or a quick snack. I got cleaned up in a hurry and took over with Dan and Steve as quickly as we could, to spell the Red Shift from their labors. Having been up more than 18 hours, they were understandably tired. We tucked them into bed and ran with our Science Timeline, our program of observations.
We discovered the tile damage on the first day of the flight, after opening the payload bay doors and inspecting the cargo bay. MCC determined that the heat loads on the upper half of the OMS pod were mild enough that the tile damage would not be dangerous. That greatly eased our minds. It was several days later that we discovered the source of the damage, looking up through the window and noticing a missing piece of tile just outside the outer pane. The tile tore loose during ascent and flew back to strike the OMS pod.
The radar imagery returned resulted in wonderful images, like the one below, all across the disciplines of the Earth sciences. As we woke for our first work shift, Jeff, Terry, and Bakes called us upstairs to see a spectacular volcanic eruption in Kamchatka. Everyone grabbed a camera to capture images out the windows, while the radar lab obtained thousands of detailed images, revealing details obscured by the eruption plume.
The eruption was a true serendipitous gift from nature. If we had launched in August as planned, we would have missed this rare geological event. Now we had a ringside seat.
Our wide-angle 90mm lens on the Linhof camera captured the view below. The Linhof produced a 4×5-inch film negative, with incredible detail. Each magazine held 100 frames, and we refilled magazines with fresh film inside a light-tight bag, stowing the exposed film in canisters and manually spooling a new roll into the magazine. The film reloading was part of our nightly housekeeping routine. But it was hard to tear ourselves away from the windows!
We were able to monitor Kliuchevskoi’s eruption for a solid week, using the SRL to track eruptive phases as weather fronts came and went across Kamchatka. During a TV downlink to MCC, I described how the radar beams interacted with lavas of varying roughness, using three samples from Hawaii to illustrate the viewing geometry. I had chunks of aa, pahoehoe, and andesite lava aboard–in free fall, I had to take care to not release rock dust or slivers of lava into the cabin from their ziploc bags. The andesite sample was a more viscous, stiff lava, erupted from some of the more recent cinder cones on Mauna Kea.
Our shift work was 12 hours on, an 8-hour sleep shift, plus 4 hours for “post-sleep” and “pre-sleep”. In those periods, we talked things over with the Red Shift guys, had breakfast, dinner, and exercise, and took care of necessary housekeeping. One of the challenges was giving Jeff, Terry, and Bakes a good night’s sleep by keeping quiet in the middeck. Even opening a locker could wake up that crew in their sleeping bags, inside their bunks, so we tried to get our lunch like church mice, then eat on the flight deck. Once I dumped a chunk of scrambled eggs that I’d insecurely anchored to a tortilla–it went flying all over the flight deck, and Dan had to help me gobble up the floating egg debris. Dan’s homemade chocolate chip cookies crumbled in their ziploc–getting them out without crumbs floating everywhere required true astronaut skill. From home, with the help of the JSC Space Food Lab, I’d brought TastyKake chocolate cupcakes and Butterscotch Krimpets, enough snacks to carry me through the 11-day mission.
In the test above, Steve had a laser on his headstrap, and his job was to rotate his head to put the laser dot on a series of targets about 6 feet away on the middeck lockers, forward. The sequence of pointing was random, and the package Steve was wearing recorded his eye motions as well as his response and pointing time. Looks a little like The Terminator if you ask me. Mike Baker helps with the checklist. Note the tortillas in the ziploc bag on the Middeck Equipment Rack (MER) behind Baker, with the galley to the right.
When I enlarge the photo, I see my crew notebook also velcroed to the lockers above Mike’s left shoulder. And I’m actually visible behind Mike, taking a look out the side hatch window (or scrubbing the bathroom!).
The recorders were adapted from digital tape machines that flew in recon aircraft to record digital imagery data. One of the three on our flight deck failed about 8 days into the mission, so Jeff and Steve removed it and replaced it with a spare recorder that’d been flown up underneath our middeck floor. Pretty handy mechanics. Within 4 hours they had the new machine up and running again.
All too soon, our 11 days in orbit were coming to a close. We remained an extra day in orbit hoping for added science, and to await improving weather at Kennedy Space Center, but Mission Control directed us home to a landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Oct. 11, 1994. Commander Mike Baker, assisted by pilot Terry Wilcutt, brought Endeavour to a gentle landing on Runway 22 at Edwards. Our orbiter performed superbly from start to finish of this successful mission to Planet Earth.
Just after wheels stop on Endeavour, I was to unstrap from my middeck seat and stand up. The blood pressure measurement gear would record my response to standing erect in 1-g, once again. I knew when the equipment was working when my left arm’s pressure cuff inflated, but it never recovered after touchdown. The taped data from entry, however, were good, and so was the audio tape I made as we rode back through the atmosphere. I have to give credit to the designers for creating a rig that would work inside our pressure suits, and yet still be easy enough to don and operate. After return to Houston, I sent the investigators an apology for the verbal tirade I recorded, grousing about the troubles I had getting the batteries replaced and activating the system. My only excuse was being up for a very long day…around 18 hours by the time we landed, and we still had postflight medical tests to endure.
STS-68 is a highlight of my speech, “Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Journey” — contact me here at my speaking information page.
Space Shuttle Endeavour Mission Highlights, STS-68
September 30 – October 11, 1994
(published by National Aeronautics and Space Administration as MH – 030/11-94; reformatted by author)
Commander: Michael A. Baker (CPT, USN)
Pilot: Terrence Wilcutt (Lt.Col., USMC)
Payload Commander: Thomas D. Jones (Ph.D.)
Mission Specialist: Daniel W. Bursch (Cdr., USN)
Mission Specialist: Steven L. Smith
Mission Specialist: Peter “Jeff” J. K. Wisoff (Ph.D.)
MAJOR MISSION ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Second successful flight of the Space Radar Laboratory (SRL) payload studying the Earth’s land surface, oceans, and atmosphere as a key element in NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth.
Successful testing of a new radar technique called “interferometry.” Endeavour obtained topographic information of unprecedented clarity by using slightly different shuttle positions to provide 3 dimensional images of the terrain.
Gathered global air pollution data with the Measurement of Air Pollution from Satellites (MAPS) instrument. MAPS measures atmospheric carbon monoxide, monitoring its production and transport around the globe.
Compared radar imaging results with those from SRL-1 (STS-59, in April ’94), determining the impact of natural and human change on Earth’s ecology, hydrology, oceanography, and geology. Operating around-the-clock and unaffected by weather, SRL-2’s radar instruments mapped 9% of Earth’s surface.
Demonstrated the ability of an advanced, multi-frequency, multi-polarized radar to assess the state of Earth’s surface over a full seasonal cycle, laying the groundwork for a permanent environmental monitoring platform.
Scanned large areas of the Southern Ocean with an on-board radar processor to reveal important information on wave and storm dynamics in this antarctic sea.
Conducted investigations into plant reproduction under microgravity conditions, and produced large, high-quality protein crystals for analysis of the molecular structure of alpha-interferon, a cancer fighting drug.
Forged international scientific links with the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C and the X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) experiments. The SIR-C/X-SAR science team included 49 science investigators and 3 associates representing a total of thirteen nations.
Flew the first in a new series of life sciences experiments, “Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC), which subjects small organisms to microgravity in search of subtle effects on reproduction and growth.
Space Radar Laboratory-2
The goal of the 65th space shuttle mission was to demonstrate again the potential of new technology in observing the home planet from space. Endeavour’s vantage point, offering near-global access and a broad view of Earth below, provided a superb test of the Space Radar Laboratory’s capabilities for surface and atmospheric monitoring. As they did on the first Radar Lab flight on STS-59 in April, SRL’s imaging radars (SIR-C/X-SAR) again made surface measurements without regard to darkness or the weather below, providing the kind of access necessary for permanent monitoring of the global environment. Complementing the radar experiments, Endeavour’s atmospheric pollution sensor (MAPS) tracked global production and distribution of carbon monoxide, an important combustion-produced trace gas that plays a role in the chemical pathways leading to air pollution and possible global warming.
Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR)
SIR-C/X-SAR is the most advanced civil radar flown in space. The system was designed and built by NASA, the German Space Agency (DARA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Jet Propulsion Lab developed the SIR-C (C and L-band radars) for NASA, and DARA and ASI developed the X-band system; all three helped integrate the system into a single, flexible Earth-sensing tool. Radar waves can penetrate clouds, and under certain conditions, can also see through vegetation, dry snow and extremely dry sand. In many cases, radar is the only way scientists can explore inaccessible regions of Earth’s surface.
SIR-C/X-SAR transmits pulses of radio energy at three different frequencies, creating detailed images of the surface that are tailored to detect soil and rocks (geology) , ocean waves and currents (oceanography), vegetation density and type (ecology), and water in the form of soil moisture, snow, ice, and rivers and lakes (hydrology). SIR-C/X-SAR first flew on STS-59 (SRL-1) in April of 1994. Repeating the environmental measurements in a different season would prove radar’s ability to serve eventually as a permanent monitor of Earth’s environment, tracking both natural and man-made changes on the planet.
Measurement of Air Pollution from Satellites (MAPS)
The Measurement of Air Pollution from Satellites (MAPS) experiment flew for the fourth time aboard STS-68. MAPS operated around the clock, measuring concentrations of carbon monoxide (CO) around the globe. CO plays a key role in the chemical reaction pathways of the troposphere (the lowest, weather-filled layer of the atmosphere). It combines with hydroxyl radical (OH) and forms carbon dioxide (CO2). OH has a prime role in the breakdown and removal of greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4). If increasing CO, released from combustion processes, reduces the amount of hydroxyl radical in the air, then the breakdown of greenhouse gases will also slow down.Thus measuring CO’s global abundance is important in understanding how human-caused and natural combustion sources are affecting the global warming process.
On SRL-2, MAPS again worked flawlessly, and recorded a markedly different pattern of CO abundance than seen on SRL-1 in April ’94.The SRL-2 results showed heavy concentrations of CO from biomass (vegetation) burning in the tropics, with the greatest amounts over southeast Asia and the tropics of Africa and South America. Industrial sources of CO in the northern hemisphere were still present, but at lower levels than seen in April. As on SRL-1, the crew’s reports of fires, smoke, and the storms that loft CO to high altitude were used to confirm MAPS readings, and correlate MAPS and ground measurements.
Earth Science from Space
Once the STS-68 crew was in orbit, they powered up the SRL-2 payloads and checked out the radar and MAPS systems. The ground science team began uplinking commands to begin radar observations for the 11-day flight. The crew worked in two shifts around the clock to operate Endeavour as a science platform. They maneuvered Endeavour some 470 times to precisely track the radar targets, reducing uncertainties in the imagery caused by Earth’s rotation. They recorded the digital radar images on tape, and conducted Earth photography and ”field observations”
at the hundreds of science sites around the globe. The crew provided needed “ground truth” to prove the accuracy of the radar data by taking over 13,000 images of the Earth with 14 different cameras.
SRL-2 examined Earth at over 400 specific sites, chosen for their environmental significance. Nineteen were “supersites;’ high priority focal points for data collection, where each science discipline ecology, hydrology, oceanography, geology, and radar calibration-concentrated their experiments. Intensive field work occurred at these sites before, during, and after the mission.
SRL-2 joined SRL-1 in acquiring 100% of the mission’s planned science observations. In addition, the science team redirected the radars during the flight to take advantage of rapidly changing conditions on the ground. The best example of this retargeting was the reaction to the spectacular eruption of Kliuchevskoi volcano, which exploded into life just hours after STS-68’s launch on 30 September. The SIR-C/X-SAR team was able to replan upcoming passes over the Kamchatka Peninsula to study the entire course of the week-long eruption. Not only was the crew among the first witnesses to the eruption, but they tracked its progress daily, providing the most detailed documentation of a large eruption ever obtained from space.
The radar and MAPS data provide information about how many of Earth’s complex “systems” work together to make the planet livable. Some early results include:
- Tree classification and vegetation biomass (amount of plant material) maps of the Raco, MI, supersite.
- A map of river flooding near Manaus, Brazil–the first step toward improving models of both flooding and wetlands under dense rain forest canopies.
- Snow wetness maps (showing free liquid water content of the snow pack) of Oetztal, Austria, and accurate estimates of the amount of water stored in the snowpack there.
- Extensive wave-energy measurements over the Southern Ocean that show the dominant sea states in the stormiest ocean region on the planet.
- Detection of oil spills in the North Sea. SIR-C/X-SAR detected industrial and natural oils in spill amounts as small as 10 liters, demonstrating another advantage of environmental monitoring from space.
- Monitoring of changes in the shape and extent of glaciers in the Patagonian Andes, at the far southern tip of South America. These remote glaciers are among the most rapidly advancing in the world, and may serve as sensitive indicators of global climate change.
SRL-2 demonstrated a powerful new use of radar, called interferometry, that produces three-dimensional maps of Earth’s surface. Mission Control and the crew combined to perform the most precise orbital maneuvers of the shuttle program, putting Endeavour in an orbit for the first 6 days that nearly matched SRL-1’s flight path in April. At times the two orbits differed by only 10 meters. For days 7-10, the crew lowered the orbit to a height of 200 km, an altitude that put Endeavour on a path matching its previous day’s ground track. This exacting navigation (where the crew trimmed orbital velocity to an accuracy of 1 part in 2 million) produced long swaths of interferometric data. The resulting digital elevation maps can show not only the ground’s elevation, but changes in height of just a few centimeters–actual shifts in Earth’s crust. The technique should prove to be a powerful tool for detecting stress building up on or under Earth’s surface, warning, for example, of imminent volcanic activity.
SRL-2’s space radar also examined several areas of cultural interest, including the mountain gorilla habitat in central Africa, the ancient trade route called the Silk Road in China’s northwestern desert, the lost city of Ubar on the Arabian Peninsula, and buried river channels under the Sahara.
Experiments to benefit Earth took place inside the crew module as well. Commercial Protein Growth (CPCG), flown “downstairs” on Endeavour’s middeck, grew and preserved high quality protein crystals of sufficient size and purity to permit analysis of their structure back on Earth. This structural information will be put to use in the manufacture of alpha-interferon, a cancer-fighting drug. Early in the mission, the crew solved an overheating problem in the experiment by rigging a temporary cooling duct to its fan inlets, assuring the proper conditions for crystal growth.
The crew also operated the Chromosome and Plant Cell Division in Space (CMIX) experiment, investigating the effects of microgravity on plant reproduction. Small, rapidly growing plants called mouse-eared cress grew to maturity in their 11 days in free-fall, giving insight not only into cell reproduction in space, but also into practical methods for growing plants for food and waste recycling on long-duration space missions.
In another middeck locker experiment-Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC)-hundreds of dormant gypsy moth larvae underwent exposure to free fall to see if microgravity would affect their metamorphosis into adults. Identifying gravity’s effect on the process may lead to efficient production of sterile moths to combat this forest pest. The crew also systematically measured cabin radiation levels to assess long-term hazards of living in space, and photographed ships’ wakes from orbit to assess how cloud formation is affected by exhaust emissions.
The crew took on another job, serving as laboratory subjects in a series of space medical experiments. They examined how coordination of head and eye movements degrades as the brain adapts to microgravity; recorded how free-fall affects the body’s sleep-wake cycle and hormone levels; and measured the heart’s response as Endeavour returned to the full force of gravity during re-entry and landing. These investigations will help prepare for the long stays in microgravity planned aboard the Space Station.
Endeavour’s landing at Edwards AFB capped a superb mission to Planet Earth. SIR-C/X-SAR imaged 83 million square kilometers of the Earth’s surface, about 9% of the globe. The radar experiments filled 199 magnetic tape cassettes, which held over 60 terabits (60 trillion bits) of imagery data–the equivalent of 25,000 encyclopedia volumes. MAPS created a series of global carbon monoxide maps, tracing the path of pollutants through Earth’s dynamic atmosphere. Endeavour’s crew brought back the largest complement of Earth photography of the Shuttle program to date, a record of Earth’s environmental changes that will aid greatly the interpretation of the radar and MAPS results. STS-68 completed the proof test of spaceborne radar as a tool for permanent, long-term monitoring of our planet’s health.
Mission Dates: September 30-0ctober 11, 1994
Commander: Michael A. Baker (CPT, USN)
Pilot: Terrence Wilcutt (Lt. Col., USMC)
Payload Commander: Thomas D. Jones (Ph.D.)
Mission Specialist: Steven L. Smith
Mission Specialist: Daniel W. Bursch (Cdr., USN)
Mission Specialist: Peter “Jeff” J. K. Wisoff (Ph..D.)
Mission Duration: 11 days, 5 hours, 47 minutes
Kilometers Traveled: 8,710,360 km
Orbit Inclination: 57 degrees
Orbits of Earth: 183
Orbital Altitude: 222 km
Payload Weight Up: 12,511 kg
Orbiter Landing Weight: 101,169 kg
Landed: Edwards Air Force Base, California
Payloads and Experiments:
Cargo Bay Payloads:
SRL-2 – Space Radar Laboratory-2
GAS – Get Away Special canisters
CPCG – Commercial Protein Crystal Growth
BRIC – Biological Research in Canisters
CREAM – Cosmic Radiation Effects and Activation Monitor
CHROMEX – Chromosomes and Plant Cell Division in Space Experiment
MAST – Military Applications of Ship Tracks
Commander: Michael A. Baker (Capt., USN)
Michael Baker was born in Memphis, Tennessee, but considers Lemoore, California, to be his hometown. He received a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas. After completing flight training, he flew the A-7E aircraft aboard the USS Midway. He conducted A-7 aircraft-related tests on the various aircraft carriers in the Navy’s fleet. Baker served as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School before assignment as the U.S. Navy Exchange Instructor at the Empire Test Pilots’ School in Boscombe Down, England. He has logged over 4,200 hours flying time in some 50 different types of aircraft, and has completed over 300 carrier landings. He was named an astronaut in 1985, and was pilot of the STS-43 and STS-52 missions.
Pilot: Terrence W. Wilcutt (Lt. Col., USMC)
Terrence Wilcutt was born in Russellville, Kentucky. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics from Western Kentucky University. Upon graduation, Wilcutt taught high school math for two years and then entered the U.S. Marine Corps. He earned his wings in 1978 and served on various assignments in Hawaii and overseas in aircraft such as the F-4 Phantom, FA- 18 Hornet, and the A-7 Corsair II. Wilcutt attended the Naval Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun) and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. He has over 3,000 flight hours in more than 30 different kinds of aircraft. Wilcutt was selected as an astronaut in 1990 and has served in a variety of responsibilities including Space Shuttle main engine and external tank issues and launch support. This was his first space flight.
Payload Commander: Thomas D. Jones (Ph.D.)
Thomas David Jones was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He earned a bachelor of science degree in basic sciences from the U. S. Air Force Academy and a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the University of Arizona. As an Air Force officer, he served as a B-52 strategic bomber pilot and aircraft commander, accumulating over 2,000 hours of flight experience.After leaving the Air Force, Jones worked toward his doctorate, using remote sensing to investigate the composition of asteroids and meteorites, and researching the utility of asteroid resources in space exploration. He was a program management engineer for the CIA’s Office of Development and Engineering and later a senior scientist at Science Applications International Corporation, analyzing future missions to Mars, asteroids, and the outer solar system. He was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 1990. Jones flew in space on the STS-59 mission; this was his second flight on Endeavour.
Mission Specialist: Steven L. Smith
Steven Smith was born in Phoenix, Arizona, but considers San Jose, California, to be his hometown. Smith received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering, master of science degree in electrical engineering, and a master’s degree in business administration, all from Stanford University.He worked for IBM in the Large Scale Integration (semiconductor) Technology Group as a technical group lead. Smith joined NASA in 1989 in the Payload Operation Branch, Mission Operations Directorate. As a payload officer, his duties included payload integration and mission support. He was selected as an astronaut in 1992 and has provided Space Shuttle support in the areas of main engines, solid rocket boosters, and the external tank. This was his first space flight.
Mission Specialist: Peter J. K. “Jeff”Wisoff (Ph.D.)
Peter J. K. Wisoff was born in Norfolk,Virginia. He received a bachelor of science degree in physics from the University of Virginia and a master of science degree and doctorate in applied physics from Stanford University. Upon graduation, he joined the faculty of .Rice University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. His research focused on the development of new vacuum ultraviolet and high intensity laser sources. He also worked with researchers from regional Texas medical centers on the use of lasers in rebuilding damaged nerves. Wisoff has contributed numerous papers at technical conferences and in journals in the areas of lasers and laser applications. He was named an astronaut in 1990 and was a mission specialist aboard STS-57 as well as STS-68.
Mission Specialist: Daniel W. Bursch (Cdr., USN)
Daniel Bursch was born in Bristol, Pennsylvania, but considers Vestal, New York, his hometown. He earned a bachelor of science degree in physics from the U.S. Naval Academy, and a master of science degree in engineering science from the Naval Postgraduate School. After training as an A-6E Intruder bombardier/navigator, he served aboard the USS John F. Kennedy and USS America. After working as a project test flight officer for the A-6 Intruder, he served as a flight instructor at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. Bursch worked as Strike Operations Officer for Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Group 1, making deployments to the Indian Ocean aboard the USS Long Beach and USS Midway. He has over 2,100 flight hours in more than 35 different aircraft. Bursch was selected as an astronaut in 1990 and flew as a mission specialist aboard STS-51 and STS-68.
Exploration of Earth from space is the focus of the design of the insignia, the second flight of the Space Radar Laboratory (SRL-2). SRL-2 is part of NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) project. The world’s land masses and oceans dominate the center field, with the Space Shuttle Endeavour circling the globe. The SRL-2 letters span the width and breadth of planet Earth, symbolizing worldwide coverage of the two prime experiments of STS-68–The Shuttle Imaging Radar-C and X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) instruments, and the Measurement of Air Pollution from Satellites (MAPS) sensor. The red, blue and black colors of the insignia represent the three operating wavelengths of SIR-C/X-SAR, and the gold band surrounding the globe symbolizes the atmospheric envelope examined by MAPS. The flags of international partners Germany and Italy are shown opposite Endeavour. The relationship of the Orbiter to Earth highlights the usefulness of human space flight in understanding Earth’s environment, and monitoring its changing surface and atmosphere. In the words of the crewmembers, “the soaring Orbiter also typifies the excellence of the NASA team in exploring our own world, using the tools which the Space Program developed to explore the other planets in the solar system.” The STS-68 patch was designed by artist Sean Collins. (NASA STS068-s-001)
Read about the STS-68 mission and its highlights in my memoir, “Sky Walking,” available at this website, www.AstronautTomJones.com. To book a speech about these and my other spaceflight experiences, please contact the WorldWide Speakers Group, here.
The Great American Total Solar Eclipse turned out to be well worth the journey, and my family enjoyed this spectacular demonstration of the solar system in operation from Oregon’s central desert near the small town of Madras, just east of the Deschutes River gorge. Understanding the space requires training from a young age, here are 4 Ways To Introduce Toddlers To Tech And Science. We were blessed with clear skies (a bare trace of forest fire smoke) for this awe-inspiring event. I’ll post a series of photos of our eclipse experience here.
We were guests of our friend, Rhonda Coleman, an “umbraphile,” or seeker of total eclipses. Her RV group graciously invited us to share with us their eclipse observing location. Sunrise occurred at 0731, with the Sun peeking over the basalt lava rim of the surrounding plateau.
Using a solar filter, I watched the sun rise above, as the solar disc cleared the canyon rim. Eclipse start was just 90 minutes or so away.
High cirrus clouds and some wisps of forest fire smoke moved off to the east during the morning, and we had clear skies throughout the eclipse. Our setting was in a scattered pine grove in desert terrain carved out of hundreds of feet of ancient basalt lava flows, incised by the Deschutes River. Cool morning air, low humidity, and the solar spectacle warming us comfortably.
Many of the observers were experts with their personal telescopes, and I believe Brian Bellis used his scope and the funnel to cleverly project the Sun’s image, above.
Our hiking group from Virginia was the core of our group headed to Oregon for the eclipse, so this message was a natural when I drilled out our thin section of wood for our pinhole projector. Note the mini-eclipses projected from each 1/8″ hole.
Excitement built among the 300-or-so observers at Lake Simtustus as the moon drove steadily across the Sun’s face. Still, at this point we could see no noticeable drop in brightness outdoors, above.
For the above shot, I was still shooting zoomed in through a solar filter over the optics of the Canon digital (SX280 HS), using its “auto” setting to meter for proper exposure. (T. Jones).
When I took the above shot, two minutes before totality, the ambient light was dropping rapidly, bathing the desert landscape in a weak, watery, orange-yellow illumination. Everyone noticed this, murmuring about the unfamiliar, weird light levels of the scene. By this point I was getting my settings ready for totality, but there was almost too much going on with the waning Sun to focus on camera set-up.
The waning light is obvious in the above photo, both on the ground and in those hundreds of thin solar crescents. Our daughter Annie noticed the ground crescents and grabbed our white poster board to best see these mini-eclipses.
Wow! Didn’t see the prominences until looking at the photos, but some in our group with binoculars spotted these immense arcs of incandescent gas above the Sun’s limb. The fine structure of the inner corona also impressed.
As my exposure time increased, we started to capture more of the corona stretching above those amazing prominences (above). Temperature along the lake front dropped noticeably. One friend, Dan Adamo in Salem, OR, recorded a drop of over 6 degrees F during totality.
Longer exposure time gets more of the structure of the corona. I was whirling through the shutter speed dial, and using a 2-second delay on the shutter timer to damp vibration on the tripod. And the clock was ticking on me observing the eclipse with my own eyeballs. (I did take long glimpses between these shots).
The photo above appears much like the scene we saw of the moon and Sun during the last minute of totality. How incredibly lovely.
Totality was almost over. The crowd’s murmur rose noticeably as we all anticipated the Sun’s reappearance; emotions ran from exultant to sadness that this vision was about to end. But we were all eager to see what the Sun would show us at eclipse conclusion.
The Sun is just about to emerge from behind the Moon, outshining the chromosphere here (above). Good-bye to the corona, perhaps until 2024.
Whoops and cheers swelled as the Sun emerged from eclipse, exhibiting this blazing diamond ring above the Oregon desert. On go the solar glasses again!
The Sun drenches the viewing area, and out come the eclipse glasses and the cold drinks.
With the totality tension gone, all of us could catch up on the eclipse experiences we missed on the way in to blackout. Above are the miniatures of the waning eclipse cast by our pinhole projector onto the poster board.
Most of us enjoyed a cold swallow of our iced Coronas at this point, talking excitedly with friends and family about what we’d witnessed.
What a success this was for all involved. Note all the telescopes brought by the Blackout Ralliers in background.
Sunspots make their reappearance as the Moon exits the Sun’s neighborhood. We followed the eclipse’s finish with a picnic lunch, and plotted plans to avoid the traffic heading south out of Madras. I enjoyed giving a talk under the big tent, and met with eclipse-goers at a book signing under the shade of our big juniper at the viewing area, autographing Ask the Astronaut and Sky Walking.
We’ll close this eclipse album out with a view of the Moon’s shadow, seen from the International Space Station. For the U.S., so long to totality until 2024. See you in the umbra!
The last day of June is an international recognition of Asteroid Day, a global, public discussion of the hazards posed to Earth and our civilization by asteroid and comet impacts. June 30, 2017 marks the 109th anniversary of the 40-meter-wide asteroid impact over Tunguska, Siberia, that flattened 2000 square km (800 square miles) of conifer forest. That 3- to 5-megaton explosion, generated by an asteroid impact that occurs on average every millennium, is a reminder of the devastation that awaits our society if we fail to act to prevent a future impact.
Last year the United Nations recognized Asteroid Day as a global education event, aimed at raising awareness of cosmic impacts and the need for nations to work together to head off a future impact event. The professional society of astronauts and cosmonauts, the Association of Space Explorers, introduced the United Nations measure that recognized Asteroid Day. We space fliers have seen the cosmic scars on Earth created by past impacts, and our international collaboration in space is an example of how we should apply our joint skills in space technology to find rogue asteroids and divert them from a collision with Earth.
Asteroid Day is a 24-hour global conversation kicking off on the eve of June 30, and features a day-long live broadcast from this year’s Asteroid Day headquarters in Luxembourg. Check out the program at AsteroidDay.org. The broadcast features asteroid science documentaries, interviews with scientists, astronauts, and policy makers, and interactive conversations with asteroid experts around the globe. In addition, close to a thousand events celebrating Asteroid Day will take place around the globe; you can see the map online at AsteroidDay.org. You can also participate on Twitter at #AsteroidDayLive.
During my astronaut training, I explored the depths of Arizona’s Meteor Crater, hiked the floor of Texas’ Odessa impact crater, and took in the view from the rim of the Henbury Crater complex in Australia’s great red Outback. From orbit, I observed a dozen or more impact scars scattered across the globe, some of the ~190 craters showing how our home planet has endured billions of years of cosmic bombardment.
We humans will endure another devastating asteroid or comet impact—one that could wipe out a city, a region of a continent, or our global civilization–unless we work together at finding dangerous asteroids and demonstrate our ability to change the orbit of one headed our way. Support efforts to launch an infrared space telescope to hunt for the million or so objects that could threaten us, and ask your lawmakers to fund a deflection demonstration, like the joint NASA-ESA “AIDA” mission to nudge the orbit of a harmless asteroid with a high-speed spacecraft collision. We’re all piloting this spaceship Earth together, and Asteroid Day is a wonderful opportunity to learn how to protect it.
On behalf of the Association of Space Explorers, I’ll be speaking about Asteroid Day and the asteroid hazard at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on June 30. Let’s talk asteroids!
(Author’s note: I retrieved this STS-59 highlights summary, and scanned and reformatted it for this blog.)
A Publication of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration–MH-027/5-94
Space Shuttle Endeavour
April 9 – 20, 1994
Commander: Sidney M. Gutierrez (Col., USAF)
Pilot: Kevin P. Chilton (Col., USAF)
Payload Commander: Linda M. Godwin (Ph.D.)
Jerome Apt (Ph.D.)
Michael R. Clifford (Lt. Col., USA)
Thomas D. Jones (Ph.D.)
Major Mission Accomplishments
- Completed the first flight of the Space Radar Laboratory (SRL) payload, mapping 12% of the total Earth’s surface as part of NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth.
- Conducted investigations in ecology, hydrology, oceanography, geology, and radar calibration, providing researchers with data to distinguish human- induced environmental changes from other natural forms of change.
- Demonstrated the use of advanced multi-frequency, multi-polarized radar as a tool for all-weather, around the-clock monitoring of Earth’s environment and surface.
- Conducted special processing of radar data to extract information on the dynamics of the Southern Ocean.
- Successfully conducted global atmospheric measurements of carbon monoxide concentrations, important to global warming studies.
- Conducted the first joint experiment between NASA and the National Institutes of Health, examining muscle and bone cell biology in space.
- Completed nine direct school contacts with students around the world using the Shuttle Amateur Radio EXperiment (SAREX).
- Conducted the growth of twelve Non-Linear Optical (NLO) organic crystals in the Consortium for materials Development in Space Complex Autonomous Payload (CONCAP) experiment.
Out in the woods, lost hikers may try to find some high ground in order to regain their bearings. The high perspective gives hikers a larger field of view to scan the surrounding terrain for points of interest. This is an effective method, unless the hiker’s vision is reduced by clouds, fog, or darkness.
Likewise, scientific researchers, policy makers, and military operations require information about specific regions of Earth that may be difficult to obtain due to blocked views or remote locations. The ability to “see” and gather information about objects hidden from optical observation is the driving motivation behind radar imaging from space. One of the most useful feature of imaging radar is its ability to make measurements over virtually any region at any time, regardless of weather or sunlight conditions. At some frequencies, radar waves can also penetrate through vegetation, some types of snow, and extremely dry sand.
The STS-59 mission lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on the 62nd Space Shuttle flight carrying to space the Space Radar Laboratory-1 (SRL-1) payload as part of NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth program. SRL consists of the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) and a sensor to measure carbon monoxide distribution in the lower atmosphere. SIR-C / X-SAR (actually five separate radars) also contained the Data Processing Assembly to provide direct readout of ocean surface data. SIR-C / X-SAR was jointly developed by NASA, the German Space Agency (DARA), and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). NASA developed the SIR-C (L- and C-band radars). DARA and ASI developed the X-band system and all three participated in the integration of these radars into a single instrument, the SIR-C/X-SAR. Also carried in the cargo bay of Endeavour with SIR-C / X-SAR was the Measurement of Air Pollution from Satellites (MAPS) developed by the NASA Langley Research Center. NASA will distribute the data and findings of these experiments to assist the international scientific community in essential research for protecting the environment.
Once the crew was on orbit, they powered up the SRL-1 payloads and conducted a checkout of the experiment systems. Ground controllers began uplinking commands to begin radar observations during the eleven day flight. The crew worked in two shifts around the clock to conduct Earth photography and personal observation of weather and environmental conditions to compare to the SRL data after the flight. To aid in postflight data interpretation, the crew documented site conditions by maintaining a written log and taking nearly 14,000 photographs with several cameras and lenses. The crew also performed 412 attitude maneuvers, the most of any Shuttle mission, to reduce radar ambiguities, particularly in the X-band frequency radar. The mission returned approximately 47 terabits (47 trillion bits) of data–the equivalent of 20,000 encyclopedia volumes.
The SRL examined over 400 sites on Earth — 19 of which were designated as “supersites.” These sites were high priority focal points for data collection. Each supersite represented different environments within the scientific disciplines of ecology, hydrology, oceanography, geology, and radar calibration. As such, these are areas where intensive field work has occurred before, during, and after the mission. The supersite locations for ecology included: Manaus, Brazil; Raco, MI.; Duke Forest, NC.; and Central Europe. The supersite locations for hydrology included: Chickasha, OK.; Otztal, Austria; Bebedouro, Brazil; and Montespertoli, Italy. Sites for oceanography included: the Gulf Stream, mid-Atlantic; Northeast Atlantic Ocean; and Southern Ocean. The Galapagos Islands, Sahara Desert, Death Valley, CA, Andes Mountains, and Hawaii were the sites for geology. Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany; Kerang, Australia; and Flevoland, The Netherlands were the calibration sites.
Ecologists will use the radar images of the tropical rain and temperate forests to study land use, the volume, types, and extent of vegetation, and the effects of fires, floods , and clear cutting. Hydrologists will use the data to study wetlands and snow cover to estimate the soil moisture. “Hidden” water plays a major role in determining whether a region is wet or dry and influences the global distribution of energy. Oceanographers will use the data to study how the Earth’s climate is moderated by the ocean, particularly heat-transporting currents like the Gulf Stream. Geologists will use the data to map geological structures and rock formations over large areas. They can also use the data to continue studies of features that record past climate changes. On a previous shuttle flight, SIR-A demonstrated the ability to penetrate extremely dry sand, and discovered ancient river channels in portions of the Sahara Desert. The calibration team will use their results to both test calibration methods and provide calibrated data to the rest of the team.
From the vantage point of space, the SIR-C / X SAR experiments could record a 15- to 60-km wide strip of Earth. Several of the observations by SIR-C /X-SAR were processed into images in real time at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and shown during the mission. Even with high-speed computer technology, it will still take five months to produce a complete set of survey images from the large volume of data returned.
The MAPS experiment also conducted operations throughout the mission. MAPS measured concentrations of carbon monoxide (CO) around the world. Carbon monoxide plays a key role in the chemical reactions in the atmosphere. Carbon monoxide combines with the hydroxyl (OH) radical and forms carbon dioxide. OH is a key participant in the breakdown and removal of greenhouse gases such as methane, which in turn is important in the chemistry of stratospheric ozone. If the availability of hydroxyl is reduced, the breakdown and removal of greenhouse gases will also be reduced. MAPS’ primary goal was to measure CO distribution between the altitudes of 4 and 15 kilometers. Two previous shuttle flights of MAPS confirmed that forest and grassland burning in the tropics were a major source of carbon monoxide, greater than previously thought. Preliminary results from STS-59 showed unexpected high concentrations in the Northern Hemisphere and correlation with crew observations of fire.
The crew not only examined Earth, but inside the crew compartment, they operated two experiments studying the growth of bone and muscle tissues in microgravity. The Space Tissue Loss/National Institutes of Health (STLNIH) experiments were the first joint venture between NASA and the NIH. The two separate experiments in middeck lockers both provided nutrients to the cells for growth, while one of the experiments allowed the crew to use a video camera to view the cell growth and downlink the video to investigators from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. The research will help scientists understand, on a cellular level, the mechanisms involved in bone loss and muscle atrophy of astronauts during spaceflight and contribute to our understanding of similar problems on Earth.
The crew also continued research on how the human body adapts to microgravity by conducting the Visual Function Tester-4 (VFT-4) experiment. Much like an electronic eye chart, the VFT measures an astronaut’s eyes for near and far points of clear vision as well as the ability to change focus within the range of clear vision.
The crew conducted nine educational contacts with students around the world using the Shuttle Amateur Radio EXperiment (SAREX). The SAREX program provides students with the opportunity to talk directly with astronauts in space via amateur radio. The technical aspect of SAREX provides the incentive for students to study math, science, and technology.
In the payload bay, the Consortium for Materials Development in Space Complex Autonomous Payload-IV (CONCAP-IV), developed by the University of Alabama-Huntsville, conducted research into the growth of Non-Linear Optical thin films and crystals through physical vapor transportation. Optical crystals are of primary importance in the Optoelectronics and Photonics industry, especially for optical computing. Also in the payload bay were three Get-Away Special (GAS) experiments by students and private researchers examining everything from thermal conductivity measurements of liquids to cellular slime mold growth in microgravity.
Mission Dates: April 9 – 20, 1994
Commander: Sidney M. Gutierrez (Col., USAF)
Pilot: Kevin P. Chilton (Col., USAF)
Payload Commander: Linda M. Godwin (Ph.D.)
Mission Specialist: Jerome Apt (Ph.D)
Mission Specialist: Michael R. Clifford (Lt.Col., USA)
Mission Specialist: Thomas D. Jones (Ph.D.)
Mission Duration: 11 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes
Kilometers Traveled: 7,574,784
Orbit Inclination: 57 degrees
Orbits of Earth: 183
Orbital Altitude: 222 km
Payload Mass Up: 9,717 kg
Orbiter Landing Mass: 100,776 kg
Landed: Shuttle Landing Facility (KSC)
Payloads and Experiments:
Space Radar Lab I (SRL- 1)
STLNIH – Space Tissue Loss/National Institute of Health–Cells
VFT-4 – Visual Function Tester
SAREX – Shuttle Amateur Radio EXperiment
CONCAP-IV – Consortium for Materials Development in Space Complex Autonomous Payload
Commander: Sidney M. Gutierrez (Col.,USAF). Sid Gutierrez was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He received a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1973 and a master’s degree in management ·from Webster College in 1977. He served as a T-38 instructor pilot and flew the F-15 Eagle with the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing. After graduating from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, Gutierrez served as primary test pilot for airframe and propulsion testing on the F-16 Falcon. He has over 500 parachute jumps and more than 4,000 flying hours in approximately 30 different types of vehicles. Gutierrez was named an astronaut in 1984 and flew as pilot on STS-40 in 1991.
Pilot: Kevin P. Chilton (Col., USAF), Kevin Chilton was born in Los Angeles, California. He earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering sciences from the U.S. Air Force Academy and a master of science degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University. He served as a combat-ready pilot and instructor in the RF-4 Phantom II and the F-15 Eagle. Following graduation from the USAF Test Pilot school, he conducted weapons and systems tests in all .models of the F-15 and F-4. He has logged over 4,000 hours of flight time in more than 20 different types of aircraft. Chilton became an astronaut in 1988 and flew as the pilot of Mission STS-49.
Mission Specialist: Linda M. Godwin (Ph.D.), Linda Godwin was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, but considers Jackson, Missouri, to be her hometown. She earned a bachelor of science degree from Southeast Missouri State University in physics and mathematics and an MA and Ph.D. in physics from the University of Missouri, Columbia. While at the University of Missouri, she conducted research in low-temperature condensed matter physics, where she authored and coauthored several scientific papers. She is an instrument-rated private pilot. She joined NASA in 1980 and served as a flight controller and payloads officer in Mission Control for several Shuttle flights. Godwin was selected as an astronaut in 1985 and is currently Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office. She previously flew as a mission specialist on STS-37.
Mission Specialist: Thomas D. Jones (Ph.D.). Thomas David Jones was born in 1955 in Baltimore, Maryland. He earned a bachelor of science degree in basic sciences from the U.S. Air Force Academy and a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the University of Arizona. He served as a B-52 strategic bomber pilot and aircraft commander, accumulating over 2,000 hours of flight experience. After leaving the Air Force, Jones worked toward his doctorate, using remote sensing to investigate the composition of asteroids and meteorites, and researching the utility of asteroid resources in space exploration. He was a program management engineer for the CIA’s Office of Development and Engineering and later a senior scientist at Science Applications International Corporation, analyzing future missions to Mars, asteroids, and the outer solar system. He was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 1990. This was his first shuttle flight.
Mission Specialist: Jay Apt (Ph.D.). Jay Apt was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, but considers Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to be his hometown. He received a bachelor of arts degree, magna cum laude, in physics from Harvard College, and a doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a staff member of Harvard’s Center for Earth and Planetary Physics, he supported NASA’s Pioneer Venus Mission. While at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Apt studied Venus, Mars, and the outer solar system and was Science Manager of the Table Mountain Observatory. From 1982 until his selection as an astronaut in 1985, he was a flight controller responsible for Shuttle payload operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. He has logged over 3,000 hours flying time in some 30 different types of vehicles. Apt served as a mission specialist on the STS- 37 and 47 missions.
Mission Specialist: Michael Richard Clifford (Lt Col, USA). Rich Clifford was born in San Bernardino, California, but considers Ogden, Utah, to be his hometown. He earned a bachelor of science degree from the United States Military Academy and a master of science degree in aerospace engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Clifford served with the 10th Cavalry and then completed pilot training as the top graduate of his class. He served in a variety of positions with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Germany and was an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at West Point. Clifford became an experimental test pilot following graduation from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1986. He has flown over 3,000 hours in more than 50 types of aircraft. Clifford became an astronaut in 1990. He flew as a mission specialist on STS-53 aboard Discovery in December 1992.
— Flight Crew Operations Directorate, NASA Johnson Space Center, May, 1994
To read the inside story of STS-59, pick up a copy of “Sky Walking” via my website. To bring my vivid retelling of an astronaut’s journey to your audience, visit:
From my ReliablePlant2017 keynote audience: “Dr. Tom Jones was magnificent. He was inspiring. And he told us things I hadn’t heard before.” Thank you to Noria Corporation for their sponsorship of my address. www.AstronautTomJones.com
23 years ago on STS-59, Endeavour, we were 114 nautical miles up on April 14 when we snapped this 90mm Linhoff image of the Valley of the Lakes in western Mongolia. One of our Space Radar Lab 1 science targets was that snowcapped range of the Altai Mountains at lower left (for geological faulting and glacier studies). North is toward the upper right. These lakes always appeared to us as a string of aquamarine gems strung delicately together, and weather permitting, we saw them as often as three orbits each day on my “Blue Shift” (nighttime in Houston). A good photo for Earth Day.
Here’s the NASA caption: STS059-L17-031 Valley of The Lakes, Western Mongolia April 1994
The snow-covered Altai Mountain system, trending northwest-southeast, straddles the border between western Mongolia and extreme northwest China. The Altai Mountains separate two very large, desert, sparsely inhabited regions—the Valley of the Lakes in western Mongolia and the Dzungarian Basin in northwestern China. The brownish intermontane basin of the Valley of the Lakes region shows an assortment of desert landforms—alluvial fans, inland river deltas, intermittently flowing streams, and dry lakebeds. The four larger lakes captured in this photograph are Uvs (the northernmost lake partially obscured by cirrus clouds); Hyargas (immediately south of Uvs); Hara and Doroo (south of Hyagas); and Har Us (west of Hara). Each of these lakes is fed by the runoff from glaciers and snowmelt from mountains. When this photograph was taken, most of these lakes were partially covered with ice. The intermittently flowing Dzavhan River, which runs generally east to west toward three of these lakes, is a very narrow watercourse that dramatically stands out against an otherwise barren landscape. Two sizable Chinese lakes are visible southwest of the Altai Mountains.
Ireland seen from STS-59, Endeavour: 4-17-94 (NASA STS059-L13-5)
Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, we look down on west central Ireland from the flight deck of shuttle Endeavour, STS-59, the Space Radar Lab 1 mission. In this 90mm lens, Linhoff camera image taken from 113 nautical miles up, we see the coast of west central Ireland. North is to the upper left. Galway Bay is the straight-edged bay at left center, with the Aran Islands at its mouth. North of Galway Bay is the curved shoreline of Lough Corrib. Lough Mask is just to the north, shaped like a snowboard. At bottom center in this image is the valley of the Shannon River, and at right center, the forked southwestern end of Lough Derg. Lough Ree is at upper right.
The peninsula at the center left is Connemara. The north coast of Ireland is at upper left. The city of Galway is visible at northern, inland edge of Galway Bay. Limerick is seen as a gray patch at the upstream end of the Shannon River estuary. Shannon Airport is nestled on the north bank of the Shannon River, on the peninsula just left of bottom center.
If you look carefully, you can just see a four-leaf clover.
NASA Image Caption: STS059-L13-005 West-Central Ireland April 1994
The west-central region of Ireland is presented in this low-oblique, north-looking photograph. Numerous lakes are scattered across the landscape as reminders of the continental glaciers that once covered the entire region. Glaciation resulted in much of Ireland having thin soil that will not support significant vegetation growth despite 40 to 80 inches (100 to 200 centimeters) of annual precipitation. The western coastal area is classified as humid temperate with cool summers and no specific dry season. The higher elevations of 1000 to 2000 feet (300 to 600 meters) usually appear tan or light brown, which indicates a lack of forested vegetation. Pastoralism is the dominant agricultural pursuit in west-central Ireland. This photograph shows a representative section of the west coast of Ireland, which contains peninsulas, bays, and islands. Viewing clockwise from north of Galway Bay are several large lakes—Corrib and Mask immediately north of the bay, Ree to the northeast, and elongated Derg south of Ree. Several cities are barely visible—Galway at the northeast end of Galway Bay and, to the south, Shannon on the north bank of the Shannon River; and Limerick on the south bank of the Shannon River.