The Space Age
A space-shuttle on the back of a booster
The booster carrying space shuttle Endeavor blasted off into space
On July 21, 2011
Space Shuttle Atlantis’ re-entry Earth’s Atmosphere seen from ISS on 7-21-2011
Marking the end of space-shuttle program after 30 years in operation (1981-2011)
Top of The Ticket
Behind the scenes at the last Atlantis launch: What to watch for as the shuttle program ends
The scheduled launch of Atlantis space shuttle, with a reduced crew of four, will be all over television today. It’s the 135th and final flight in the fabled 30-year history of America’s space shuttle adventure.
We are participating in the NASA Tweetup this week with unique access to the space center and NASA experts. So in anticipation of the launch we decided to gather gobs of details about what you won’t hear or see on TV, courtesy of numerous interviews at the Kennedy Space Center, most especially with the veteran and patient American astronaut Doug Wheelock. Plus we have some inside NASA launch videos below:
While you were sleeping, technicians fueled the amazing mechanical monster. Flight managers made that decision at 2 a.m. Eastern, hoping to find a clear spot of weather between today’s predicted storms.
The rockets are so huge, they will take more than a half-million gallons of liquid oxygen and nitrogen.
If you laid Atlantis and its rockets down on a football field, they would reach from one goal line beyond the far 30-yard line.
And these engines have a voracious appetite. At T-minus three hours, technicians will have loaded 150,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and 345,000 gallons of liquid nitrogen. The LOX alone weighs 10 pounds per gallon. So there’s 1,500,000 pounds right there.
Most of this fuel volume will be consumed in the 8.5 minutes it takes to reach orbit.
Attached to the huge rust-colored tank (the color is thermal protection, no longer painted white, which saves 600 pounds) are those twin solid rocket boosters. Each of those long white cannons weighs 1.5 million pounds. They are reusable. (See video below for a rocket’s eye view of the last launch.)
Altogether depending on payload, the rocket-shuttle combo weigh just under five million pounds, even more than the combined weight of Congress after lunch. Did you know that together the package is called the shuttle. When Atlantis returns home alone, weighing less than 250,000 pounds, it’s called the orbiter.
There are several holds or planned pauses built into the countdown. The main reason for these: To let human minds catch up with the monitoring and analysis of their computers.
At T-minus 15 seconds, 350,000 gallons of water flood the area beneath the shuttle. But not just, as you might think, for the heat. It’s to subdue a sound pulse created by the engines’ beyond deafening roar.
Those sparks you might see beneath the main engine nozzles are intentional to burn off any hydrogen fumes. At T-minus 6.6 seconds the main engines ignite. But the entire assembly remains bolted to the pad.
As the thrust from the three shuttle engines builds, it actually moves the tip of Atlantis three feet over and then, in slow motion, back to vertical. If all is well with the main engines, eight explosive bolts tethering the machine to earth are blown. (Watch for small puffs of white smoke at the rocket base in the bottom video here.)
And the solid fuel boosters ignite.
These twin towers of power have no throttle. No controls. They know nothing but full blast. It’s basically a pair of two-minute controlled explosions out the rear.
As Wheelock puts it, “Once you light those babies, you’re going somewhere.”
Together at liftoff the engines provide in excess of six million pounds of thrust and the burning fuel reduces the weight it’s carrying by thousands of pounds per second.
Watch this cockpit view video of a launch and see how even the tightly-tethered crew is firmly jostled. (More text below)
Ever wonder why shortly after launch as it starts its flight up the East coast, the shuttle always turns on its back? “Houston, Atlantis roll program.” One, that movement aligns rooftop antennas with the myriad of tracking stations below.
But since the shuttle has wings with lift, it wants to fly on its own. Not a good thing when tethered to rockets, or until journey’s end. Turning upside down transforms that wing lift into negative force, saving strain on connections.
You’re likely to hear a myriad of other terms in the radio chatter. “Go at throttle up,” meaning all is well and the engines can be returned to full thrust after passing through the sound barrier.
“CDR” is the flight commander, Chris Ferguson. “PTL” is the pilot, Doug Hurley. “MS1” and “MS2” are the mission spoecialists, Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim.
At two minutes-five second comes “BECO,” booster engine cutoff. Those twin rockets that have been burning 11,000 pounds of fuel per second are discarded by explosive bolts. However, since their burning fuel will carry them four miles higher, mini-rockets steer the spent engines away from the shuttle.
In the nose of these rockets is a trio of parachute packages that open, first, to right and steady the falling cylinders, then slow them more and finally take them to a splash landing in the Atlantic, where two recovery ships are already waiting 120 miles off Jacksonville.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to fall about 14 miles, check out this video from NASA booster cameras and then read more below:
You might also hear “Negative return,” meaning Atlantis is too high and too far away to return to the Cape if something went wrong. NASA has emergency landing fields around the globe.
“MECO,” main engine cutoff, meaning they’ve made it into orbit. Shortly after the boosters fall away, the shuttle is traveling 4,000 miles an hour. Less than two minutes later it’s going Mach 8, about 5,700 miles an hour. Thirty-five seconds later it’s increased to 6,600 miles an hour.
Before six minutes of flight it’s hustling along at Mach 13, 9,000 miles an hour. A minute later 13,000 miles an hour. One more minute and they’re doing 17,500 miles an hour, Mach 25. (And, yes, during launch all astronauts wear diapers.)
Here’s another sense of space speed. In orbit, they have a sunrise or a sunset every 45 minutes. In its 293 days in space Atlantis has seen 4,648 of each with temperature swings of several hundred degrees.
Wheelock recalls casually while returning to Earth one time, he looked down and saw Seattle. Nineteen minutes later he was in Florida — just one mile from where Atlantis now sits for her next — and last — adventure.
The Florida’s Keys
Kiev’s Topless Protestors
‘The Entire Ukraine Is a Brothel’
By Benjamin Bidder in Kiev, Ukraine
The Rock is New Zealand’s most beloved radio station, although not necessarily the country’s most sophisticated. “Music is the ONLY thing we take seriously,” is the station’s fitting motto. Recently, The Rock offered its male listeners the chance to win a trip to an exotic vacation spot in eastern Ukraine. In addition to 12 paid nights, the prize includes 2,000 New Zealand dollars (€1,000) in pocket money. The grand prize, however, has to be chosen on location by the winner himself: a wife.
“Win a trip to beautiful Ukraine,” announces the contest title, “And Meet Eastern European Hot Lady Who Maybe One Day You Marry.”
The contest logo shows the pixelated face of a bleach-blonde beauty. Her hair is adorned by a red headband, with a gift tag hanging from it as if she were a Christmas present.
A beefy man in his mid-30s, Greg, won the trip. In a questionaire about himself, Greg said that he is looking for a partner, “someone to share everything with, and enjoy intimacy with.” He also revealed that he showers daily.
The New Zealander is set to fly via Moscow to Donetsk, the regional capital of eastern Ukraine. Coal mines and heavy industry have made some of the region’s oligarchs very wealthy, but the majority of the population lives in poverty. Many women here dream of a better life in Kiev or the West, and many fall prey to false promises and end up as prostitutes in brothels.
Topless Protest against Sex Tourism and Prostitution
Some travel agencies offer “Romantic Tours,” in German and English, of eastern Ukraine. In Kiev, meanwhile, pimps will call the hotel rooms of foreign guests and offer to sell them “a good time with a girl.” According to a survey, 70 percent of students in the capital have been approached at least one time by a foreigner offering them money for sex.
Inna gets dolled up to greet Greg, the bachelor from New Zealand. The blonde slips into her crocodile-skin high heels and shiny leather pants, and places a crown of flowers in her hair. Waiting in the arrival hall at Donetsk airport, she has a sign in hand with “Greg, come here” scrawled across it.
But it’s unlikely Greg would be able to overlook her: Her breasts are bare.
Inna Shevchenko, 20, a student from Kiev, is a “Topless Fighter,” as activists with the women’s rights group Femen call themselves. For two years, the organization has been fighting against sex tourism and prostitution in Ukraine, a country that even Google automatically associates with “dating agencies” and “women.” The advertisements to the right of a Google search for “Ukraine” are for “Single Ukrainian Ladies,” “Women From Ukraine,” or “Partner Search Ukraine.” Although the group has only a few dozen activists like Inna and around 300 supporters, the topless protests have established a global reputation for Femen.
One year ago, half-naked activists warning against the “Rape of Democracy” stormed the polling station where presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovich was casting his vote. After winning, Yanukovich curbed freedom of speech and the press, and even imprisoned members of his opposition.
Since Yanukovich came to office, the SBU, Ukraine’s top secret service, has attempted to intimidate the Femen activists. They claim that SBU officials even threatened to “break the legs” of the group’s leader if she didn’t cease her attacks on the government.
“The state fears Femen because they are increasingly targeting Yanukovich’s government,” said Taras Chornovil, an independent member of the Ukrainian national parliament.
Commanding the Shirtless Troops
“We understand that the root causes for many of the problems in Ukraine run very deep,” says Victor, one of Femen’s few male members. “That’s why we take the concept of prostitution one step further: The entire Ukraine is a brothel.”
The heart of Femen beats in a dimly lit cellar bar in the center of Kiev. The Café Cupidon is named for the Roman god of desire, son of the goddess of love, Venus, and the god of war, Mars. It’s a fitting headquarters for the feminist guerrillas: It provides free Internet access, a mailbox for Femen and a 10 percent discount on coffee for members.
Anna Hutsol, a petite figure with red-dyed hair, is the head of the movement. The 26-year-old economist sits in front of her laptop, directing her topless fighters with the help of two mobile phones. She has positioned Olga, a fellow fighter, in front of the Prosecutor General’s Office, where she is awaiting Leonid Kuchma. The Ukrainian courts have opened a case against the former president for his alleged involvement in the death of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Gongadze’s decapitated body was found in the woods outside Kiev in November 2000. Kuchma has long been suspected of having given instructions for the murder, and he is now expected to be questioned in the context of investigation into the slaying.
Femen activist Olga bares her breasts for the lenses of the dozens of photographers who have gathered to see Kuchma. She holds up a poster: “Walk away, Lyonya, I will shield you,'” alluding to the fears that the Yanukovich-controlled courts only opened the case for PR purposes. “It’s a farce: the statute of limitations has expired,” Hutsol, sitting in Cupidon says. “In truth, they just want to close the file.”
‘We Want a Real Women’s Revolution’
Since Yanukovich took over the helm, the Ukrainian security forces have become increasingly interested in Femen. In summer 2010, men from the Ukrainian intelligence service SBU forced their way into Anna’s apartment at night. They held “preventative talks” and threatened to “break the arms and legs” of the Femen chief.
The leaders of a Kiev university recently sent summonses to several students because they were engaged in Femen activities. Then, in the rector’s office, SBU staff interrogated them. The men asked students “where the money for your campaign comes from” and “for whom you work.” Rumors about Femen have long been circulating in Kiev’s government district. One day, the word is that the organization was commissioned by the ex-prime minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko; the next, it’s Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin himself who is supposedly supporting the project in order to ridicule Ukrainian policy.
In truth, Femen survives on modest contributions from a handful of donors. German Helmut Josef Geier, better known as DJ Hell, supports the group. They also sell fan items on the Internet and auction small pieces of art. To produce the latter, the activists first paint their breasts yellow and blue, and then they make prints on cloth or canvas. What would feminists, like Germany’s Alice Schwarzer or America’s Gloria Steinem, have to say about that?
Old school feminists find the topless troops strange. “They dress like prostitutes,” criticizes gender researcher Maria Dmitrieva wrote of Femen in a Russian magazine. “The display of bare breasts, with or without cause, is certainly not conducive to social discourse.”
“Yes,” sighs Anna Hutsol im Café Cupidon. “We’re different from classic feminists. In order to gain a voice, they had to become like men. But we want a real women’s revolution. Our naked protests are part of the fight for women’s liberation. We have the right to use our bodies as weapons. It was men who made breasts into a secret.”
“I think men like women’s breasts,” says activist Inna Shevchenko, “but they don’t like it when a woman has something to say as well.” It’s not just other feminists who have expressed concerns about Femen’s exhibitionism. Facebook blocked the Femen page because officials there suspected it was pornographic. Inna’s mother no longer wants to have anything to do with her — she recently told her not to call her ever again.
On the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in late April, a photographer snapped a shot of the Femen activists, wearing only boots, underwear and gas masks, in the Chernobyl Dead Zone. The photos are supposed to appear in the Italian edition of Gentlemen’s Quarterly, a men’s magazine that, at least in Italy, likes to splash its pages with naked photos and confessions from female celebrities.
For Femen, it’s not an issue: “We want to show the entire world our neo-feminism,” says Anna, as she makes travel plans on her PC. In the coming months, she wants to travel to Switzerland and Italy to establish contacts. She raises her mug in a toast: “To the Femen in all countries,” she says ceremonially. “To our plans to conquer the entire world.”
Using a woman’s weapons: Ukrainian women’s rights group Femen fights sex tourism and prostitution with breasts bared.
Femen’s activities have struck a nerve with Ukrainian authorities. The Ukrainian security service SBU has investigated members and threatened to “break the legs” of Femen’s leader if she didn’t stop anti-government attacks. Femen protesters often end up behind bars.
Even Facebook took a shot at Femen, deleting the group’s Facebook page for suspected pornographic activity
Bare-breasted protests are common.
As is lots of leg.
Femen protests take to the streets in Kiev’s Independence Square.
Femen activists don’t consider their eye-catching protesting to be problematic: “We have the right to use our bodies as weapons. It was men who made breasts into a secret.”
State authorities have gone to great measures to suppress Femen’s actions in the Ukraine.
Security guards also keep their eyes peeled for Femen protesters. Here, a guard attempts to remove a protestor from a cultural event in Kiev.
Despite government threats, Femen carries on with its activities. Although the organization remains small, the topless protests have given it a global reputation.