22 Jan

NASA’s Space Shuttle – From Top to Bottom (Infographic)

I found this pretty cool Infographic below about the Space Shuttle (via Space.com).

I like to remember and share the special time I spent working in the Space Shuttle program. It was an awesome program, people, and manned-space transportation system. One of the coolest areas of the whole system is the Launch Pad, and the little room called the White Room; scroll down towards the middle of the Infographic and you will see where it is located. Back in STS-60 I had the chance to spend time up there in the White Room (Launch Pad 39A) while Discovery was being prepared for the following day’s launch — a cool February morning.

A good summary of my time in the space program is documented here: Looking back at the Space Shuttle Program. And a short video that I took of the last Space Shuttle launch is here: Launch of STS-135 Atlantis (final mission of the Space Shuttle); you can see/listen and feel everyone’s excitement. Some of my last contributions to the Space Shuttle included the I/O profile design in support of GPS (which displaced TACANs) and preliminary work towards the very cool Glass Cockpit, photographed below.

My brother (who still works at NASA) was chief engineer for the heat tiles (thermal protection system or TPS). We both are Silver Snoopy recipients for our contributions to the manned space program; I am not sure how many brothers are there who have received a Silver Snoopy and/or who have worked together on the same space mission (I bet very few!).

Awesome times, and great memories… there is nothing like the space program (private or not).

Godspeed to the next generation of Astronauts, and to the private and government-funded space programs. And I may sound biased here, but I cannot wait to see Blue Origin (which I almost joined back in 2005) and its New Shepard make it to space.

A graphical representative of NASA’s space shuttle.

Source Space.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration


18 May

Historic launch of SpaceX to the International Space Station (May 2012)

(Image source: NASA)

Update #2 – The space race is on, and this time it is to be led by Entrepreneurs

Wonderful to see the successful SpaceX mission — from launch, to docking, to return and splashdown! This is the future of nearby-space travel. Entrepreneurs such as Elon and their teams are the future of space flight, including manned space flight. Expect private commercial companies taking the lead on space missions to low-orbit for research, including medical research, and for mining, as well as travel to space stations, while NASA continues helping such private companies with research and funding, while continuing their work on inter-planetary space flight. Yes, two totally different beasts: low-orbit or nearby-space flight (to be led by private/commercial companies) and inter-planetary flight (government/NASA led) both require different kind of research and budgets. I am once again super excited and have hope for the USA space program. Godspeed.

Update #1 – Launch has been Scrubbed; try again in a few days

May 19. Launching rockets is a risky business. The launch was scrubbed apparently after ALL (9) engines fired and just .5 seconds before actual liftoff. The software detected a malfunction on one of the engines, and decided to shutdown the engines. First, this is pretty awesome; the software did what it was designed to do. Note that you cannot scrub a launch like that if using Solid Rocket Engines (SRBs) – once lit, rocket must go, like it or not, engine failure or not. SRBs are powerful but can be dangerous. For man-rated vehicles I rather stay away from SRBs.

Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and CEO, wrote on Twitter:

“Launch aborted: slightly high combustion chamber pressure on engine 5. Will adjust limits for countdown in a few days.”

I wonder the rate of execution of the software that checks the engine status. On the Space Shuttle it was around 25 times a second but with today’s much faster and powerful processing capabilities, it can be many times more.

The launch scrub seems to related to “pressure limit values” used by the software vs. actual engine problems. In any case, in the space business there is no room for failure, and everything must be checked and rechecked (and redundant).

The next launch window to the space station is May 22 at 3:44 a.m. EDT.

Below is Elon’s view of the mission control consoles at SpaceX HQ in California (very cool!):

Original Post

Tomorrow May 19, 2012 at 4:55 AM EDT, SpaceX launches its Falcon 9 rocket carrying their Dragon space capsule on its first trip to the International Space Station (ISS).

This is a historic event as it is the first time a *private commercial company* launches a rocket to the ISS.

The private space sector with companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, Armadillo Aerospace and the others, are the future and saviors of the USA manned space program.

Rocket launches are super exciting, especially these “first” launches, and especially for those involved. I was lucky to have a similar experience back in 1995 when I was in Houston working on the Space Shuttle (avionics onboard software), and on the mission / first trip of a Space Shuttle (STS-71) to the Russian space station MIR.

Launching a rocket into orbit, safely, is one of the hardest things to do; and launching a man-rated vehicle is even harder. Very few attempt such endeavor, and even fewer are able to accomplish such magnificent feast of successfully bringing together such a complex mix of specialized hardware and software.

Today on my G+ I read this quote by Mark Stone, which I found very appropriate:

“Forget the silly FB IPO; SpaceX launch is the most significant tech event of this week!”



13 Jul

Launch of STS-135 Atlantis (final mission of the Space Shuttle)

Video of the last Space Shuttle launch (Atlantis , STS-135) as I saw it on July 8th, 2011…

(thanks to James Daniels for the video editing/rotation effects)

This is from 7 miles way. If you listen carefully, you can hear the double-boom as the vehicle breaks the sound barrier.

This is the last time my code gets to fly to space, so it was pretty special for me to go see this launch happening…

Related to this see Looking back at the Space Shuttle Program.

06 Jul

Looking back at the Space Shuttle Program

Related to this see Launch of STS-135 Atlantis (final mission of the Space Shuttle).

Tomorrow I leave to the Cape Canaveral (Kennedy Space Center) to see the last launch of the Space Shuttle, STS-135.

(I hope it doesn’t get delayed).

I am very excited about this. I was able to get some tickets at the last minute to see this launch from ‘up close’ (~7 miles away) from the KSC Visitor’s Center. Back in 1994 when I used to work on the Shuttle, I was able to see the launch of STS-60 from really up-close (~3 miles); and there is nothing like seeing a Shuttle launch.

Below is a post I made to the Illlist group on my Shuttle story, which I am posting here on my blog as well. Some aspects of it are a bit technical. I am sharing this here so that everyone who reads this understand the awesomeness of the Space Shuttle and of our Manned-space program.


Looking back at the Space Shuttle Program
C. Enrique Ortiz | July 4, 2011

For months I have been looking to get tickets to see the last Shuttle mission from up-close. I was lucky to get the tickets to go see the launch of Atlantis thanks to @hugs (Jason) and the Illlist.

I mentioned to Jason that going to see this last mission of the Space Shuttle was a special event for me, and he asked me to post to the Illlist my story. It has been a very long time since I worked on the Shuttle program, so bear with me, but here it goes…

This last Shuttle mission has a lot of meaning to me because it is the last flight on which my contributions to the Space Shuttle onboard system software (SSW) will be flying on. As with many thousands of others, STS-135 and Atlantis is the last flight that will carry to space all of our contributions to the USA manned space program.

I grew up loving Space (and Astronomy). Movies like Space Odyssey 2001 changed the way I saw the future, space exploration and learned about that cool thing call computers, which later on turned out to be how I made my living. After I graduated from college my first job was in computers (software) and the space program, specifically the manned space program. Awesome. And to Houston I went. It was so exciting — the environment, the history, the astronauts, the vehicles and writing software for it.

This was back in the 1990s. I worked on the Shuttle program for ~5 years. My job was as a SW engineer on the Flight Computer OS (FCOS). I “quickly” learned the codebase, which was very complex and took me a year to master, or at least I thought I did. Then I began supporting flight missions (~20 in total) from launch to landing, and writing code in support of new CPU capabilities and/or new features, some small, some very large and all very critical.

The team I worked with was the best, and I miss them all. A bunch of great people, smart people, very passionate people. The space program was in our veins. We were all so proud of the space program and contributing to the mission’s success. There was nothing like getting the vehicle ready for flight (from our software point of view), and seeing that bird roaring up to space.

The Space Shuttle computer systems are *old*, very old. The drivers or requirements for it much came from the lessons learned from the Apollo missions; things like screen refresh rates, the redundancy and fail-operational/fail-safe requirements, the fly-by-wire and digital control and other. The SW implements a number of very important concepts that at the time, and still today, are very awesome and unique.

First, it probably still is the most complex real-time system out there. There are 5 general purpose computers (GPC). Each GPC has one processor the AP101/S and about 1MB of main memory. All ran in less than that. For storage, it relies on magnetic tape! (not sure if that got upgraded after I left, but those tapes gave us grief as it aged and I had to code to take into consideration changes in spinning start/stop & read/write times). There are 24 I/O buses for commanding/controlling different subsystems of the vehicle. Of the 24 buses, 8 are considered critical, for example, controlling critical sensors and/or controlling the main engines. Access to each subsystem is redundant via two different paths. A given GPC is assigned a String which consist of two critical I/O buses to command (one flight-forward and one flight-aft bus) and it listens to all the critical buses (to so maintain redundancy). That means a given GPC commands a set of 2 buses while it is listening and ready to take over others in case the other commanding GPC fails.

Four of the GPCs run the Primary Avionics software system (PASS) written by IBM (I was an IBMer at the time); GPC 1-4 run that exact same software image. The 5th computer runs the Backup Flight System (BFS) written by a different vendor, totally independent, given the same requirements given to IBM for the PASS. The idea of PASS vs. BFS is that no single bug should affect all of the computers. The idea is that if the primary systems fail because a common issue on that version of the software, the astronauts can engage the backup system. Note that the BFS has never been engaged during an actual mission.

(As a side note, it typically takes around one year for a new version of the software from completion to actual flight, due all the testing, then astronaut training).

The idea behind this fail-operational/fail-safe modus operandi is a common theme across the Shuttle. Everything is redundant. The system must handle failures such that a single system failure should keep the mission and its crew operational (fail-operational) and two system failures should keep the vehicle and its crew safe and able to land (fail-safe). This is the reason there are five GPCs, and four of those are primary ones and one is a separate, backup one. In addition, for this the PASS GPCs run in a Redundant Set during the critical phases of the mission (lift-off, on-orbit and re-entry/landing). In a redundant set, each of the primary GPCs, as previously mentioned, command two (of the eight) critical I/O buses at a given time, while listening to other buses. The idea is that if all computers are running the same software, and are receiving all the same inputs, then all execution should be the same (and all outputs should be the same as well). All computers in the redundant set, which again are running the same SW, sync-up at every interrupt (I/O , timer). If a computer fails to sync (not show up on time) twice in a row, it is voted out from the redundant set by the rest of the computers, and the designated bus-listener now takes command of those critical buses. The failed computer is halted as soon as possible by the astronauts. (while all this is happening, a number of audible alarms are going off). The computers also form what is called a Common Set, which can include redundant computers (in a redundant set of their own) and non-redundant computers; these sync-up every 160 ms. And example of a redundant set are when the computers are in guidance and navigation and control mode for launch, orbit or re-entry, and an example of a common set is having two computers in a redundant set in orbit, while having a 3rd computer doing system’s management dedicated to the robotic arm or the payload. (the 4th computer is in stand-by conserving power). It is uncommon for GPCs to fail to sync from a redundant set and is even more uncommon to fail-to-sync from a common set.

During my Shuttle days I was exposed to a number of great concepts that today are common. There I was first exposed to vector graphics used in the Shuttle UI/displays units. To Heads-up display (HUD) which I see it as my first exposure to “augmenting the reality”. I was exposed to deep embedded real-time programming and hard-core scheduling and redundant systems (as any manned-rated software should be) where computers can vote each other out to maintain safety. And I was also exposed to what probably was one of the first real uses of Metaprogramming and self-modifying code. Many people don’t know that the Space Shuttle OS implements self-modifying code for the purpose of “fault-tolerance” where the I/O code will at runtime overwrite itself for the purpose of bypassing faulty I/O elements and taking control of I/O buses when needed.

Back then I contributed in many ways. We were put under a lot of pressure to find “answers” to issues before we could go for launch or re-enter for landing.

One example was a ‘random’ issue that was showing up where blocks of memory were getting zeroed. It took me 3 weeks to figure that one out. Management was impatient, everyone was. But I finally nailed it when I was able to identify the issue to a *single* instruction of Assembler code. But how could this be? The answer -> microcode bug. The HW folks at first couldn’t believe it; microcode issues are almost unheard of. This was an issue related to how the Move-HalfWord (MHV) instruction behaved when the destination and source addresses overlapped, which was a ‘trick’ used to clear out memory (here 0xdeadbeef helped my find the source of the issue). Once found, code audits where done, and the code was patched and we were Go.

Another experience was when one of the computers actually failed to sync in orbit during the STS-51 mission. GPC2 was voted out of the redundant set. This particular issue was of extreme pressure as our Astronauts were in orbit and it was imperative to know if this is a problem that would affect re-entry. Because the fail-to-sync had occurred on the first or second day of a 2 week mission, we had some time to figure out this one. Using downlink data (every 160ms) and memory dumps and the knowledge of the code and the help of other experts, we all got to work. A lot of detective work. At the end, I could come up with only a one answer to the issue, which up to this date, has remained. After lots of careful analysis was able to identify the fail to sync to a single If-statement or ‘branch out’ instruction which seem has taken this particular GPC2 a different route thus didn’t show up to sync when it was supposed to. It happened at the DEU UI code (which is coded using the HAL/S programming language). It is as if the contents of the variable being tested was different on this particular computer. This was hard to prove as I could not see the actual value on the downlink, as it was loaded into registers for the actual branch-out/test. But how could that be? The Space Shuttle computers are space radiation hardened, but are susceptible to soft-errors or single-event memory upsets. In space, cosmic radiation will flip bits in memory all the time, specially when over the South Atlantic Anomaly (when entering the anomaly region, you can see the bit-flip count going up like crazy in the monitor screens during mission support). As a side note, the GPCs memory can sustain and will self-correct during memory scrubs 1-bit flip on a given word (32 bits), but 2+ bit flips will crash the computer. Back to the fail to sync story, the only part of the processor that is NOT radiation hardened are the registers themselves; so my only possible answer was that when the branch instruction executed, which uses registers (R2 in this case), the value of the register itself must have flipped. Everyone is like uhg? But there we were, I was, with the analysis, and dumps and explanation. That was the only explanation, everyone agreed, some had doubts, and the go ahead, and all went well.

BTW, one of the reasons memory dump analysis as above was possible is because the memory model used by FCOS is static. A very deterministic model from the rate monotonic process scheduling, to the I/O profile at any given time, and the memory layout: the I/O and process queues, the interrupt vectors, every piece of code, the patch areas, all — you knew the exact layout and location of everything. I could take a memory dump, read it (manually), and tell you exactly what was going on with that particular computer. Today I still believe that for any manned-rated software system, static-deterministic models are best; you need to be able to see, explain and saves lives by reading a memory dump. I then wrote tools in OS/2 that would take a given a dump, tell you what was going on.

Before I left the program, I helped in the analysis in preparation for GPS I/O support and the new Glass-Cockpit, but I didn’t get to work on their implementation.

And there are other stories like the above, not only from me, but from many others; amazing stories.

I enjoyed working with the Astronauts themselves, and it was very cool to meet in person John Young, first Shuttle astronaut and who walked on the moon (visited the moon twice!). And I enjoyed working with the other amazing individuals, super sharp, super smart. It was super cool listening to the astronauts as they used the code I have written, specially when it was used the first time in orbit, and all worked well; was great. And I always had a blast during mission support. Behind the big room where the flight controllers are (the one you see on the TV) there is another room, called the back-room or Mission Evaluation Room, where all the engineers for each subsystem of the vehicle are located. Typically a flight-controller consults with the back-room engineers when making decisions; in my case I was one of the engineers on anything related to the flight computer operating system.

I loved my time at the manned space program. I am very proud to have received the Silver Snoopy. While it didn’t pay$ a whole lot, it was the best job I have ever had; the people I worked with, the missions, the space program, the pride.

(A cool ‘family fact’ is that my brother also worked in the Shuttle program at the same time I did; he worked on the Thermal Protection System (the tiles). At a number of missions we both saw each other at the back-room/Mission Evaluation Room while giving mission support. I am not sure how many brothers have worked together at the same mission giving mission support; but that is pretty cool. My brother is also a recipient of the Silver Snoopy Award.)

And with this last mission of the space shuttle, an era of the manned space program ends, and a new one begins, I hope. I am thankful of such experiences and proud of the USA space program, and specifically the manned space program, what it has accomplished in its 50 years (and 30 years of Space Shuttle program).

It is of great importance that we as a Nation and as soon as possible get back into the manned space program. Otherwise we are going to lose lots of experience and expertise; gone. The manned space program requires practice and it is not like riding a bicycle which you can pick up back easily with few practice. On the manned space program if you do not practice, if you forget, people will die. Unacceptable. For the next five years we are going to be relying on our friends the Russians to get to space, but we really need to get back to it by ourselves. The research that comes out if this, the jobs, and the independence (and status) when it comes from space exploration of our nation nation depends on it.

Today I dedicate my time working on mobile and wireless technologies and software, but I always look back at my days at the Space Shuttle program, and remember…

Godspeed to the crew of STS-135 Atlantis…


/C. Enrique Ortiz (CEO)

The photo below is of Hoot Gibson handing and congratulating me on the Silver Snoopy Award:
Enrique Silver Snoopy

Space Shuttle Computers and Avionics

7/16/2011 STS-135 Fail-to-Sync
Source: Huffington Post

NASA declared all five of Atlantis’ primary computers to be working, pending evaluation of the latest shutdown.

Computer failures like this are extremely rare in orbit, said lead flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho. The two problems appear to be quite different, he noted. The first was caused by a bad switch throw; the second possibly by cosmic radiation.

09 Feb

Last Space Shuttle night launch and the end of the USA manned space program in 2010

Space Shuttle Endeavor lists off from laucn pad 39A

Yesterday Feb 8, 2010 was the last scheduled Space Shuttle night launch. STS-130 on board Endeavour. Night launches are spectacular. I should have made plans to go see that. My brother did.

Next there are only 5 3 missions left for the space shuttle fleet.

And not only the space shuttle program has been canceled, our moon program has been canceled as well, without any real plan behind it except ideas. In short, it seems the USA administration has cancelled/killed the manned program completely while military spending has been increased; what is wrong with that picture? Plenty.

And to keep others from saying the manned space program hasn’t been really killed, the president has thrown 2 bones at NASA: 1) increased NASA budget (but no real plan behind it) and 2) extended the operational life of the space station, except there is a problem with that.

Yes, the space station operations have been expanded to 2020, but our astronauts won’t have any capability to reach the space station, except by hitchhiking with the Russians or other. Not that I have anything against the Russians with their great minds and who have been leaders in the space program, but having no answer on how the USA will get to space except depending on other countries is just sad.

And ironically, while the USA has canceled the moon program, the Iranians are claiming they are planning to go after it…

The Russians and Chinese and now the Iranians, seem will rule the space program — at least they have the vision (and it all starts with vision). The USA manned space program seems to be more and more on the hands of the private sector-lead endeavors; maybe, I hope.

So there goes, the aerospace engineering minds of the USA, “no place” to go — and I wonder if they will end up on other countries building their national space programs? I hope some of those engineers have entrepreneurship spirit and go start their own aerospace firms.

I’m proud of my time working in the Space Shuttle program, the awesome people that I worked with, the software that I wrote that flew and still flies, the twenty-something missions that I supported at the Mission Evaluation Room, my Silver Snoopy, and each time the bird flew was/is so exciting, and together with other thousands of people helped keep the manned space program going, flying and leading the way… There is NOTHING like working in the space program.

If am very concerned for the next generation of aerospace engineers, many going to school right now, my nephew being one and the son of a good friend of mine another, and I bet are confused, asking to themselves “…what the hell; should I really continue to follow my dreams? What should I do?”. That concerns me a whole lot…

Let’s see what will happen next…


Image source: NASA via the EPOCH Times

01 Apr

Witnessing a supernova explosion from start to finish, including the black hole ending

For the first time ever, pictures of a massive star (50-100 times more massive than our own Sun) exploding and becoming a black hole (Science Daily).

Supernova SN 2005gl: explosion from start to finish, including the black hole ending

This is so impressive (and so cool) – you can see the star’s Solar Filaments and Prominences, just as in our own Sun. The star exploding, and most of the material going inward as the star collapses…

Dr. Avishay Gal-Yam of the Weizmann Institute’s Faculty of Physics and Prof. Douglas Leonard of San Diego State University, saw the star before going supernovae, calculated its mass… then were lucky enough to capture the photos (using the Keck Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii and the Hubble Space Telescope) of the star going supernovae and becoming a black hole.

…only a small part of the star’s mass was flung off in the explosion. Most of the material, says Gal-Yam, was drawn into the collapsing core as its gravitational pull mounted. Indeed, in subsequent telescope images of that section of the sky, the star seems to have disappeared. In other words, the star has now become a black hole – so dense that light can’t escape.

Note that when an exploding star is 20 times the mass of our sun or more, its gravitational pull becomes so great that it wins over the energy of outburst itself (inward energy beats outward energy), resulting in a black hole, with gravity forces so powerful that not even light waves can’t escape – becoming “invisible”.


14 Nov

Endeavour / STS-126 night launch

A beautiful night launch of the Shuttle Shuttle Endeavour and the STS-126 mission (PDF)… See the launch in High Definition, or in standard definition version on Spacevidcast.com‘s YouTube channel.

In Endeavour’s payload bay, the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module Leonardo is packed full of about 14,500 pounds of equipment and supplies, making it one of the heaviest modules in shuttle history.

Also included in the payload, are additional sleeping quarters, a second toilet, an exercise device and other household-type equipment.

The prime objective of the 15-day mission is to prepare the International Space Station to accommodate six members for long-duration stays.

Four planned spacewalks will focus on servicing the station’s two Solar Alpha Rotary Joints, or SARJ, which are needed to track the sun for electric power.

Endeavour and its crew are set to land at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after more than two weeks in space.

Follow the mission on NASA TV.


13 Oct

Richard Garriot: Austinite, Game Designer, 2nd-Generation Space Traveler

Richard Garriot, a big name in Austin tech and gaming community, and gaming industry worldwide, founder of Origin Systems and other gaming companies, and creator of titles such as Ultima Online and many others, British citizen by birth, who is son of Owen Garriot, former US Astronaut (Skylab, Space Shuttle), a self-made millionaire, and now second-generation space traveler, made it safe to space on October 12, 2008 together with his crew mates on board a Soyuz-FG rocket. The mission is the Soyuz TMA-13 and they’ll dock with the International Space Station on October 14, and return to Earth on October 24, 2008.

Very cool and Godspeed!


11 Oct

Video of the successful SpaceX Falcon 1 Launch #4

Pretty awesome video of SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket Launch #4.

As I understand it, SpaceX is the first private company (non-government involvement), to reach true orbital flight.

Listen to the team cheering in the background as each major phase of the launch occurs… very exciting… Congrats to the SpaceX team…

A am a true believer that The future of the USA space program is the private sector

Video via SpaceVidcast.


08 Sep

The future of the USA space program is the private sector

During the 1990s when I used to work on the space program, the US lawmakers (president Reagan and Congress at that time) made the worst decision on the future of the space station: they canceled the USA-space station in favor of an international version of it. Some of the consequences of that decision included: 1) it pushed back the space station by more than a decade (i.e. we still haven’t finished it!), 2) it created dependencies on countries, particularly Russia, 3) it has cost much more to build than it would have if original plans had remained, and 4) it affected (eliminated?) thousands US engineering jobs.

The current administration have made the decision to retire the Space Shuttle by 2011 i.e. *before* the next generation manned spacecraft (Orion/Ares) will be ready, thus, leaving a gap for the US and the US presence in the space station. This is totally stupid — remember, the US has carried the bulk of the cost, work, *risk*, and technology building the space station, including losing crewmen in the process.

Political incompetence and bad decisions is the reason why the future of the USA space program is the private (commercial) sector.

Russia and China and others will push forward… and they should.

Global relationships are important, but business is business and there are things that you can’t just delegate to others especially when we all know the thing call “political climate” is always in a state of flux.

I will say it again, the future of the USA space travel is the private (commercial) sector.

See NASA chief blasts US space policy in leaked email (The Register).


08 Jul

Final Space Shuttle Manifest – 10 more missions before fleet is decommissioned


NASA has published the remaining shuttle flights manifest. Ten more space shuttle missions before the fleet is decommissioned; that’s it:

The manifest includes one flight to the Hubble Space Telescope, seven assembly flights to the International Space Station, and two station contingency flights, planned to be completed before the end of fiscal year 2010. The agency previously selected Oct. 8 and Nov. 10 as launch dates for Atlantis’ STS-125 mission to service Hubble and Endeavour’s STS-126 / ULF-2 mission to supply the space station and service both Solar Alpha Rotary Joints on the port and starboard end of its truss backbone that supports equipment and solar arrays.

This is emotional for those of us who have worked on such awesome Bird… but it time for the next phase of the space program… If all goes as planned, the future of the U.S. manned space program will be based on the Ares Launch Vehicles and the Orion Crew Vehicles.

…and then, to the Moon!

NASA Constellation

See NASA Constellation Multimedia.



06 Jul

The C. Enrique Ortiz Phenomenon

CEO for President

What began as a colorful Internet fluke has blossomed into a full-fledged political movement – one that Republicans and Democrats alike are reluctantly having to acknowledge.

See The C. Enrique Ortiz Phenomenon:


(P.S. Thanks to my brother Carlos)

14 Jun

Successful STS-124 Space Shuttle mission

 Karen Nyberg

What a great photo, isn’t it? Mission Specialist Karen Nyberg looking out the space station window…

If I had $20MM to spare, I would be right up there, as a space tourist.

Discovery and her crew landed safely earlier today… after a successful mission installing the Japanese lab on the International Space Station.

…and it doesn’t matter what people say, the Space Shuttle is an amazing piece, an amazing bird.

See the STS-124 photo gallery.


27 May

100 Explosions on the Moon

If you see a flashing light while looking at the moon, it might not be an optical illusion but an meteoroid impact; from 100 Explosions on the Moon (NASA):

Over the past two and a half years, NASA astronomers have observed the Moon flashing at them not just once but one hundred times.


“Even when no meteor shower is active, we still see flashes,” says Cooke.

Below is an impact near crater Gauss on January 4, 2008 (NASA):

…explosions don’t require oxygen or combustion. Meteoroids hit the moon with tremendous kinetic energy, traveling 30,000 mph or faster. “At that speed, even a pebble can blast a crater several feet wide. The impact heats up rocks and soil on the lunar surface hot enough to glow like molten lava–hence the flash.”


26 May

The Phoenix has Landed

The Phoenix Mars Lander has landed. Perfect landing. Congrats to the Phoenix Lander team…

Phoenix touched down on the Red Planet at 4:53 p.m. Pacific Time (7:53 Eastern Time), May 25, 2008, in an arctic region called Vastitas Borealis, at 68 degrees north latitude, 234 degrees east longitude.

…and the Children of the Earth continue moving forward towards the inevitable; them leaving their home Planet. It will happen, someday.

Below is one of the first pictures taken by the Phoenix Lander — Click to enlarge (NASA):

Mars Phoenix

I’ve always said that “space probes” are the coolest embedded application ever to work on; talk about creativity, challenges and rewards at the end…


03 Apr

ATV Jules Verne, Europe’s automated ship docks to the ISS

ATV First ISS docking

Very neat… Europe’s ATV first automated docking.

3 April 2008 ESA PR 20-2008. ATV Jules Verne, the European Space Agency’s first resupply and reboost vehicle, has successfully performed a fully automated docking with the International Space Station (ISS). This docking marks the beginning of Jules Verne’s main servicing mission to deliver cargo, propellant, water, oxygen and propulsion capacity to the Station, as well as ESA’s entry into the restricted club of the partners able to access the orbital facility by their own means.

This is the very first time in Europe that an automated docking is performed in due respect of the very tight safety constraints imposed by manned spaceflight operations. All the approach and docking phase was piloted by the ATV’s onboard computers under close monitoring by the teams of ESA, CNES (the French Space agency) and Astrium (the prime contractor) at the ATV Control Centre at CNES Toulouse, France, as well as the ISS crew inside the Zvezda module. In case of anomaly, both ends could trigger pre-programmed manoeuvres to hold position, retreat to the previous reference point or escape to a safe distance.


[Image source: ESA]

29 Mar

Two cool videos of STS-123 Night Launch

I found two very cool videos (YouTube) of STS-123 night launch. Night launches are the coolest, with literally night becoming day.

The two videos are from different point of views and distances of/from the launch pad. The cracking sound from the solid rocket boosters (and main engines) is one of the cool things to experience; but just imagine that loud sound (and vibrations) but x10 as loud passing through your body — that is how I felt when I saw the STS-60 launch from less than 3 miles away. The first video is great, as you can listen the reaction of the people watching the launch. The second video is just 2.5 miles away from the launch pad (must have been taken by a NASA employee to be that close).

(Added on Mar 31 2008) This video shows the power of the space shuttle at liftoff. It was taken with a remote camera at close range (people are not allowed that close to the launch pad during liftoff).


25 Mar

Space Shuttle and Station Sighting Opportunities for March 2008

By coincidence today I saw the Space Shuttle and Station flying just over, at 12 o’clock. I immediately recognized then as potentially the Shuttle and Station; because of the inclination, they were as bright as I can remember seeing them, for a long time. Back to back flying over, close together. What an awesome sight. After they were gone, I went inside the house and hit the NASA page for sighting opportunities. Yes, I was right.

There is another sighting opportunity tomorrow. Check it out. Below is the sighting opportunities for Austin:


Tue Mar 25/08:33 PM
12 above SW 12 above NE
Wed Mar 26/08:57 PM
25 above NW 11 above NNE
Fri Mar 28/08:08 PM
23 above N 10 above NNE


Mon Mar 24/08:08 PM
10 above SSE 10 above E
Mon Mar 24/09:41 PM
10 above WSW 17 above W
Tue Mar 25/08:28 PM
11 above SSW 12 above NE
Wed Mar 26/08:53 PM
28 above NW 10 above NNE
Fri Mar 28/08:09 PM
24 above NW 10 above NNE


Tue Mar 25/08:33 PM
10 above SW 12 above NE
Wed Mar 26/08:59 PM
24 above NW 11 above NNE
Fri Mar 28/08:10 PM
24 above NW 11 above NNE