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Atlantis rollover
Space shuttle Atlantis emerges from its processing hangar at dawn February 7 for the short trip to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center's Complex 39.

 Leaving hangar | To VAB

Time-lapse movies:
 Pulling in | Sling

Microgravity laboratory
Shuttle Columbia carried the first United States Microgravity Laboratory during its summer 1992 flight to orbit. The Spacelab science expedition was the longest shuttle mission to date, thanks to the new Extended Duration Orbiter equipment flown for the first time. The crew of STS-50 narrate the highlights in this post-flight film.


Research Project: X-15
The documentary "Research Project: X-15" looks at the rocketplane program that flew to the edge of space in the effort to learn about the human ability to fly at great speeds and aircraft design to sustain such flights.


Apollo 1 service
On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire that took the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, a remembrance service was held January 27 at the Kennedy Space Center's memorial Space Mirror.

 Part 1 | Part 2

Technical look at
Project Mercury

This documentary takes a look at the technical aspects of Project Mercury, including development of the capsule and the pioneering first manned flights of America's space program.


Apollo 15: In the Mountains of the Moon
The voyage of Apollo 15 took man to the Hadley Rille area of the moon. Astronauts Dave Scott and Jim Irwin explored the region using a lunar rover, while Al Worden remained in orbit conducting observations. "Apollo 15: In the Mountains of the Moon" is a NASA film looking back at the 1971 flight.


Skylab's first 40 days
Skylab, America's first space station, began with crippling problems created by an incident during its May 1973 launch. High temperatures and low power conditions aboard the orbital workshop forced engineers to devise corrective measures quickly. Astronauts Pete Conrad, Paul Weitz and Joe Kerwin flew to the station and implemented the repairs, rescuing the spacecraft's mission. This film tells the story of Skylab's first 40 days in space.


Jupiter flyby preview
NASA's New Horizons space probe will fly past Jupiter in late February, using the giant planet's gravity as a sling-shot to bend the craft's trajectory and accelerate toward Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Mission officials describe the science to be collected during the Jupiter encounter during this briefing.


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Asteroid sampler spacecraft could attempt trip home

Posted: February 11, 2007

The star-crossed probe that attempted to retrieve the first samples from an asteroid in 2005 will soon embark on a three-year journey back to Earth, according to a senior mission official.

An artist's concept shows Hayabusa during its planned touchdown to collect samples of the asteroid. Credit: JAXA
Japan's $100 million Hayabusa spacecraft could return to Earth as early as June 2010 if controllers can safely fire the craft's ion engines.

The voyage is currently expected to begin in late March, said Hayabusa project manager Junichiro Kawaguchi.

Tests are underway this month before controllers commit to the return, and officials are expressing caution since the probe has already suffered from several problems in its nearly four-year history.

At least two of Hayabusa's four ion engines are required for the journey, and engineers last tested the propulsion system in May 2006, Kawaguchi said.

"This is not an optimistic operation, but a very tough operation," Kawaguchi said. "The spacecraft is not in a very healthy state."

Hayabusa is believed to still be in the vicinity of asteroid Itokawa about 50 million miles from Earth.

"The biggest challenge in this mission is to demonstrate that we humans can make a round trip voyage to other celestial bodies," Kawaguchi said.

If successful, Hayabusa would usher in a new era in planetary exploration, he said.

"We lost chemical fuels and thrusters aboard. We had lost two (reaction) wheels already. The spacecraft lost the battery as well. But the operation team made a great effort to restore the spacecraft," Kawaguchi said.

After a series of problems struck the mission in late 2005, engineers were forced to postpone the start of the trip back to Earth by a year. Those issues included a fuel leak, a loss of communications and a botched sample recovery attempt.

Hayabusa spent three months near the potato-shaped asteroid in an attempt to study the space rock and then gather small samples from the surface during a series of daring close approaches.

Officials still don't know if bits of rock and dust are housed inside a protective chamber designed to plummet through Earth's atmosphere to a parachuted landing, but that is not stopping teams from trying to bring the craft home safely.

A pellet was supposed to be fired into the surface of Itokawa to force the rocks through a funnel to guide the precious samples into a container for the voyage back to Earth.

Those plans did not materialize in November 2005 and Hayabusa spent up to 30 minutes on the asteroid's surface during a failed retrieval attempt. Officials later reviewed telemetry data from a subsequent attempt and determined the pellet likely did not fire because the system was disarmed.

A sudden disturbance several weeks later cut off communications with the probe for more than six weeks and forced managers to postpone the start of the trip to Earth by a year.

Officials blamed the loss of communications on a chemical fuel leak, and ground stations later established contact with Hayabusa.

Since regaining communications with the spacecraft, controllers have worked to bake off leaked fuel believed to have been deposited on the exterior of the probe. Ground stations also uplinked new attitude control software to help save xenon propellant used by the ion propulsion system.

Ground teams also recently reconditioned Hayabusa's lithium batteries and closed the lid of the return capsule.