Tag Archives: NASA

End of Russian space flights on tap?

Holy crap! I hadn’t thought of this, but one of the casualties of the Russian invasion of Ukraine might be the Russian space program that ferries astronauts from other countries — including the United States — to the International Space Station.

You see, many nations are pulling far away from Russia as it seeks to conquer Ukraine in a senseless and seemingly pointless — but bloody — invasion. That means U.S. astronauts, who have no way to fly into space, given our nation’s ending of its manned space program, will have no way to rocket into orbit.

I am an avid follower of the space effort and I want to see Americans orbiting our good Earth. I also want the war in Ukraine to cease, ending the bloodshed and heartache.

Former astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a year aboard the ISS after being flown there aboard a Russian rocket, predicts the Russian space program could collapse if the Russians have no one else to take into space. Hey, we pay ’em good money to fly our people into orbit; so do other nations.

Vladimir Putin has yet another reason to call a halt to this brain-dead invasion.


‘One American legend …’

I am going to divulge a little secret, which isn’t really a secret, even though I have heard no mention of this date in the media, which is not to say that it has been ignored completely. I just haven’t heard anything said about it

On this day 60 years ago, a young Marine Corps pilot took off aboard an Atlas rocket and became the first American to orbit Earth. John Glenn was a 40-year-old member of the first team of astronauts chosen by the space agency to lead this country into space. Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom flew the first two sub-orbital flights. This one was different. It fell to Glenn to become the first American to take three 90-minute spins around the globe and, thus, become part of American lore.

My mother and I were addicted to the space program in those days. I was not quite 13 years old. We had awakened several previous mornings waiting for Glenn to blast off aboard Friendship 7, the tiny Mercury space capsule into which he squeezed his body.

Mission Control gave him the go-ahead — finally! — on Feb. 20, 1962. Off he flew. Three orbits. That’s all, man. Then he came home and rode into instant fame and glory. The young pilot from Ohio, who flew combat missions during the Korean War, was hailed as a hero with ticker-tape parades and audiences with the president and royalty around a planet he had seen from a couple hundred miles in space.

Ah, but his public service didn’t end there. He resigned from NASA. Glenn entered politics and became a U.S. senator from Ohio. Glenn ran for president in1984, but unlike his Friendship 7 ship, his effort never left the ground.

Then came another thrill for Sen. Glenn and for those of us who followed the space program. NASA had gone through the Mercury, Gemini, Skylab and Apollo space programs. It had a fleet of space shuttles, those reusable ships that flew into orbit many times. One of them was named Discovery. In 1998, Sen. Glenn got the call to suit up once more. He trained along with his shuttle crewmates for a lengthy mission. NASA wanted to test the effects of zero gravity on old folks; Glenn qualified, as he was 77 years of age, making him the oldest individual to fly into space.

Ahh, but the Discovery launch a moment I never will forget. The controllers counted down the time, the booster rockets ignited, and the ship lifted off the Florida launch pad. The public address announcer told the world that Discovery had launched, carrying “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

And so … I recall the day 60 years ago that a young man — and please pardon the reference — with the right stuff flew into the sky and carved into stone his prominent place in our nation’s glorious history.


Are they astronauts? No!

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have flown to the edge of space.

I have heard a bit of chatter in recent days over whether these two zillionaire business moguls are astronauts now that they have “slipped the surly bonds of Earth,” if only for a few minutes.

I’ll go with “no.” They are not astronauts. They are rich guys who hired space professionals to do the heavy lifting. They were merely passengers aboard their respective ships.

The others? I’ll give Wally Funk — the 82-year-old female test pilot — a pass on the astronaut claim. She flew on Bezos’s mission alongside Bezos and two others. She had trained to fly as an astronaut in the early 1960s; then NASA killed the woman in space program, denying Funk the chance to actually fly into space.

I once got into a snit (one of many) with a critic of this blog, the late Andrew Ryan, over my dismissal of U.S. Sens. Jake Garn and Bill Nelson, who flew aboard two shuttle missions. I declined to consider them astronauts, even though they trained alongside the space pros with whom they flew. I’ll concede that Andy Ryan was right and I was wrong about Garn, a Utah Republican and Nelson, a Florida Democrat.

Oh, and what about the third U.S. senator to fly on a shuttle mission? You’ve heard of this guy: John Glenn, an Ohio Democrat. He flew as a Mercury astronaut in February 1962, the first American to orbit Earth. Thirty-six years later, he took part in a Discovery shuttle mission.

Two very cool things about Glenn’s shuttle flight need mentioning. One is that NASA’s other astronauts did not need to translate the language they spoke while training with Glenn; the great man was fluent in astronaut-speak. The second aspect of the launch was when the shuttle’s engines ignited and the ship lifted off, the public address announcer declared the launch of Discovery carrying “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

Bezos and Branson may be legends in their own minds. Neither of them is an astronaut.

We just didn’t know about this

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Mary Wallace Funk is my newest hero.

She goes these days by the name of Wally Funk. She became a household name this morning when she rocketed for a few moments into space aboard Jeff Bezos’s rocket that took off from the Trans-Pecos region Texas.

Why is she my hero? Because as a boy I was keenly interested in the space program created during the Eisenhower administration, developed later during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. However, there appears to have been huge gap in my knowledge of the early years.

I did not know a thing about the women who took part in those early developmental years. Wally Funk was one of them. She trained right along with the Mercury Seven astronauts selected to be the space pioneers. Then the National Aeronautics and Space Administration canceled the women’s program. So help me I do not recall ever hearing about this program as I was being taught in public school way back then in Portland, Ore.

Wally Funk becomes oldest person to fly to space 60 years after she was denied the opportunity (nbcnews.com)

Wally Funk never got to fly into space.

Until this morning a little after 8. She and Bezos and his brother Mark and Oliver Daemen, a teenager from The Netherlands rocketed off the desert floor near Van Horn. They zoomed to the edge of space. They were weightless for a few moments. Then they returned.

She trained right along with the Bezos brothers and Daemen. Jeff Bezos joked that just as Wally Funk outperformed her male colleagues in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she did the same while training for the rocket ride aboard the Blue Origin ship named New Shepard.

What’s important to note here is that Funk now is the oldest person to fly to space. She broke a 23-year-old record held by a fellow who flew as part of the Mercury program in 1962 and then took part in 1998 as a crew member aboard the shuttle Discovery. You’ve heard of this guy: the late John Glenn. As an aside, I still get chills when I watch the shuttle blast off with Sen. Glenn aboard and the NASA communicator announces the launch of the ship carrying “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

Well, Wally Funk likely won’t ascend to legendary status.

However, as of this morning this intrepid pioneer is my newest hero.

Well done, Wally Funk.

This is no ‘space race’

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

This is what passes for a “space race” these days?

Two insanely rich business moguls — Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos — vying to see who between them can be the first to fly into the lower reaches of outer space?

Branson got there first. He did so today flying aboard his Virgin Galactic ship that he launched from an airborne vehicle that had taken off from a site near Truth or Consequences, N.M.

Branson and Bezos haven’t been calling it a “space race,” even though they both made a good bit out of the fact that Branson was going to get there first.

I damn near LOLed when I saw Branson chortling and chuckling about how the minutes-long suborbital flight was the greatest thrill of his life. It made me want to mutter: big fu***** deal!

I am still trying to fathom what tangible, meaningful use is going to come from the flight or the one that Bezos is going to take in just a few days. I hear things about development of a vehicle that could make space travel more, um, practical and affordable for the run-of-the-mill shmuck who wants to fly into space. As for the cost of flying aboard the Virgin Galactic vehicle or the Bezos rocket, if you have a spare quarter-million bucks laying around, then you can be among the first.

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t always been this, um, cynical about shmucks in space. I applied to NASA to be the first “journalist in space.” That was in the 1980s. Then the Challenger exploded in January 1986 and all that went away as the nation grieved the loss of those seven astronauts — including the teacher picked to fly with them.

But this so-called “space race” bears no resemblance to the real space race that occurred after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957 and then sent Yuri Gagarin around the world in the first manned mission in 1961. The finish line for that race was the moon.

Spoiler alert: We got there first … in July 1969!

I suppose the next real space race will commence once we get serious about sending human beings to Mars. I want to be around to watch that one unfold.

Earth is even more fragile

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Astronaut Bill Anders pointed his camera out the window of Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve, 1968 and captured this never before seen image.

The astronauts aboard the first manned lunar mission then read from the Book of Genesis and wished us good tidings on “the Good Earth.”

This picture is worth looking at once again as the world celebrates Earth Day. Anders, along with crewmates Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, all told us upon their return from deep space that our planet looked so “fragile” to their eyes as it rose from the lunar horizon.

In the more than 52 years since this iconic photo was created, Earth has become even more fragile. Humankind has damaged our “Good Earth” through a number of environmental vices: too much carbon emission and deforestation has destroyed natural habitat and caused the gradual year over year warming of our planet. The effect of that warming, of course, has damaged our polar ice caps and put more of our wildlife in peril.

Bill Anders captured a wondrous moment to share with his fellow human beings. Only these men and those who followed them to the moon can understand fully just how fragile our planet was then and has become.

Our “Good Earth” needs to be strengthened.

Fan of private space missions

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I never thought I ever would say what I am about to say.

Which is that I have become a fan of privately financed space travel.

You see, I am a huge fan of NASA, the government’s space agency. NASA has been front and center of the nation’s space program. It led the nation in its race with the Soviet Union to see which of the two superpowers would be the first to put human beings on the moon.

We won that race, thanks to NASA.

The United States isn’t sending astronauts into space these days aboard U.S.-government-financed rockets. We are relying on the Russians to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.

We also are flying astronauts into orbit aboard Space X rockets, developed and financed by a fellow named Elon Musk, the guy whose company makes Tesla automobiles.

I am thrilled to the max watching the Space X rockets blast off from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Space X this week sent another crew to the ISS. The launch was perfect. The docking of the ship with the ISS also was done to perfection.

Make no mistake that I still hope for a return of U.S. government-sponsored space missions. I am awaiting development of a ship that will take Americans to Mars. I hope to live long enough to watch that mission unfold.

Until then, I will continue to cheer the feats of the crews launched into space by Elon Musk’s rockets.

Man, space travel continues to amaze me, even in this age of private sponsorship of rockets that send American astronauts into space.

Happy birthday, Mom

My mother once told me that she thinks of her late father “every single day.”

I don’t remember precisely when Mom said that; I think I was a teenager, which means that like most pearls of wisdom I got from Mom or Dad, it went in ear and out the other.

She lost her father in January 1950. He was in early 60s. Mom was not quite 27 when my grandfather died. Mom was 61 when she died in 1984 and I was not quite 34 years of age when I lost her. So there’s a certain symmetry, I suppose, between those two events.

But now that I am a whole lot older and perhaps a bit wiser (although that’s surely a debatable point) I understand more fully Mom’s notion that she thought of her father daily even all those years after his passing.

It’s been nearly 36 years since Mom died. Today she would have turned 97 years of age.

I think of her every single day. It’s usually a fleeting thought. I might conjure up a quip she would offer. For example, our older son was visiting us recently. We were chatting about the space program. I told my son that his grandmother hated the name “Cape Canaveral,” the place where NASA launches rocket ships, because it sounded like “Cape Cadaver.” We had a nice laugh over that gem from my son’s grandmother. She had a million of ’em.

I have thought often about how Mom would have grown old. I believe in my heart she would have done so with grace and good humor had she not been robbed of her essence by the killer disease known as Alzheimer’s. I no longer dwell on it. Time has soothed much of the pain of losing her. But not all of it.

I think of her daily. Today I want to wish her a happy birthday and to tell her: Mom, I now understand why the memory of those you love never leaves you.

There he goes again … taking undue credit

There he was yet again, Donald John “Braggart in Chief” Trump taking credit he doesn’t deserve for the return of the U.S. manned space program.

Trump slathered himself with praise over the successful launch Saturday of the SpaceX rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., saying that only on his watch could this effort have become a reality.

Actually, it was the result of an effort began a decade ago during the Barack H. Obama administration, which in fact was a continuation of an effort started during the George W. Bush administration.

According to National Public Radio: “Today is the culmination of three and a half years of renewed leadership in space,” said Vice President Pence, who called the launch “a tribute to the vision and leadership of a president who, from the very first days of this administration, was determined to revive NASA and American leadership in human space exploration.”

C’mon, man! Get real!

Yes, I have lamented the end of the space shuttle program, even with its two disastrous missions — Challenger’s explosion in 1986 and Columbia’s disintegration in 2003. However, the SpaceX program initiated by Elon Musk now holds a huge new promise of manned space flight for the United States, as it was demonstrated Saturday with the launch and the successful docking today with the International Space Station.

It has been many years in the making, long before Donald Trump soiled the presidency with his presence in the Oval Office.

But that wouldn’t dissuade Trump and Pence from taking undue credit. Hey, it’s an election year … so I’ll presume that everything now becomes fair campaign game.


Finally, something to cheer!

Amid all the gloom and grief, and all the mayhem and misery associated with a global pandemic and the death of a man at the hands of brutal cops in Minneapolis, Minn., I found time today to cheer an event for which I have been waiting.

At around 2:30 p.m., Central Daylight Time, a rocket launched from Pad 39A at Cape Canaveral, Fla. It carried two American astronauts into orbit. It was the first launch of Americans from a U.S. launching pad in nearly a decade.

Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are orbiting Earth and will dock sometime tomorrow with the International Space Station.

I could not believe the flutter in my heart this afternoon as they counted down the final seconds before the launch. Then the Space X rocket lit up and burst off the pad toward Earth orbit.

NASA and Space X have teamed up for a historic event and this one was worth cheering … loudly, in fact. I was thrilled in a way I hadn’t been thrilled since I was a whole lot younger watching the early launches of the American space program with my mother.

Indeed, I thought of Mom today as I watched Space X roar into space, wondering how she would have reacted to the sight of Americans zooming into the heavens aboard an American-made rocket, from a U.S. launch pad. Mom would be proud, too.

Space X is the product of a company owned by Elon Musk, the zillionaire owner of Tesla. His company has designed a fantastic space vehicle. I noticed how they first-stage rocket was able to soft-land on a drone ship at sea in good enough shape to be used again on a subsequent space flight.

This is really cool stuff, man. It’s cool for those of us old enough to remember the excitement and romance that used to be associated with space travel.

I am no Pollyanna. I know this is expensive, even with a privately ownership taking the lead on this kind of exploration. However, I have long believed — and always will believe — that humanity was put on this good Earth to venture as far as possible to explore.

I am just glad to see American technology being brought back into the picture once again to take that next “giant leap for mankind.”

Given the troubling context of the times, it was a welcome sight to this old man’s eyes.