Hubble Space Telescope

Stephan’s Quintet, interacting galaxies. Courtesy Hubble.

When life on earth gets impossibly complicated, I often look to the skies for solace. On clear nights, I have a galaxy of stars above to embrace me. At other times, it’s Hubble’s photographs.


The Hubble Space Telescope (“Hubble”)  is situated above Earth’s atmosphere–340 miles (540 km) up. At this altitude, it is able to avoid the atmospheric distortion that terrestrial-bound telescopes and observatories encounter, resulting in pristine images.


Pillars of Creation, interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula. Courtesy Hubble.


The information gathered from Hubble’s 30 years of images have led to breakthroughs in astrophysics.


With a very large mirror (see photo at end) and four main instruments, Hubble can observe in ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.


“If your eye were as sensitive as Hubble’s, you could look from New York City and see the glow of a pair of fireflies in Tokyo.”

(Hubble’s Universe, Greatest Discoveries and Latest Images [2014] by Terence Dickinson.)


Hubble Space Telescope in space being serviced by Astronauts Smith and Grunsfeld (center), Dec. 1999. Courtesy NASA.


The only telescope designed to be maintained in space by astronauts, Hubble was launched into space in 1990. Since then it has been serviced, repaired and upgraded by NASA space shuttle missions in 1993, 1997, 1999, 2002, and 2009.

NASA:  Hubble Servicing Missions


Inside the Orion Nebula. Courtesy Hubble.


Due to these upgrades, Hubble is equipped with cutting-edge mirrors, computers and navigational equipment. It remains in space to this day, fully functioning.


Multi-layered insulation on the outside protects it from the harsh environment of space. Large solar panels turn the sun’s light into usable energy.


The Hubble Space Telescope in orbit

Hubble Space Telescope in orbit. Courtesy Wikipedia.


Over the years, space shuttle missions to Hubble have been cancelled and re-scheduled due to funding and safety issues.


The fifth and final upgrade mission was serviced by the space shuttle Atlantis crew in 2009. Upgrades and servicing are over now, but Hubble could last until 2030-2040.


This is the Atlantis shuttle craft, below, now displayed in Kennedy Space Center.


Atlantis Space Shuttle on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida


Engineering support for Hubble is provided by NASA and personnel at Goddard Flight Center in Maryland. Four teams of flight controllers monitor Hubble 24 hours a day.


Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is currently being developed by NASA with significant contributions from European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency.


NASA is generous with sharing data and Hubble images, and also provides numerous websites for anyone to visit, here are a few:

Online brochure:  Highlights of Hubble’s Explorations of the Universe.

NASA Website:  Hubble Space Telescope

This NASA link invites you to enter your birthday to see the photo Hubble took on your birthday. What Did Hubble See on Your Birthday.

Wikipedia Hubble Space Telescope


Crab Nebula. Courtesy Hubble.


Horsehead Nebula. Courtesy Hubble.


Carina Nebula. Courtesy Hubble.



Jupiter. Courtesy Hubble.


The triumphs and discoveries gleaned from Hubble are a testament to the profound abilities of humans from all over the world.


While we work on sorting through problems on our planet, we have the skies and space to dazzle our imagination, and open the universe to future generations.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Hubble photos courtesy NASA.

Atlantis Space Shuttle photo by Athena Alexander.

Hubble’s primary mirror measuring 7.9 feet (2.4 m), March 1979. Courtesy Wikipedia

Whirlpool Galaxy. Courtesy Hubble.


Kennedy Space Center — Part 2 of 2

Atlantis Space Shuttle on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida

As we continue our virtual space voyage with Part 2, please join me for a look inside the expansive Atlantis Space Shuttle building, located in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center. Part 1 can be viewed here.


All 135 Space Shuttle missions were launched from the U.S. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) between 1981 and 2011. These were crewed spacecraft that launched into space, orbited Earth, and returned to Earth. Each Space Shuttle flight performed a specified space mission, and most have returned to space numerous times. There were 133 successes and 2 failures.


NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis was first launched in 1985 and completed its final space mission in 2011. In all, it orbited the Earth 4,848 times.


The building where the Atlantis now lives is 64,000 square foot  (5,900 m2) and showcases the spacecraft on three different levels. It opened in 2013.

Atlantis from underneath


The spacecraft is raised 30 feet (9 m) off the ground and rotated 43 degrees, displayed as if it were in space. The many burn marks and marrings are visual proof of its many orbits into space.


Close-up of underside


It has over 2.5 million parts.


Visitors can see Atlantis’ opened payload bay doors and the robotic arm.

Open payload door


Atlantis’ robotic arm

This space shuttle charged in and out of space for 26 years, completing 33 missions. It transported 207 astronauts, flew 126 million miles, and spent 307 days in space.


It has three types of engines and an impressive array of rocket thrusters.

Atlantis’ rocket thrusters

Here is a photo of Atlantis leaving Earth. For the initial thrust into orbit, it is attached to an external fuel tank (orange) and twin solid rocket boosters (white).

Atlantis leaving Earth. Courtesy Wikipedia.

This is Atlantis as it transits the sun (small black dot near center of photo).

Courtesy Wikipedia

For more in-flight photos of the Atlantis, click on Space Shuttle Atlantis Wikipedia.


Atlantis Logo


The Atlantis building, one of many at the KSC, has over 60 interactive exhibits. In addition to Atlantis, which dominates, there is a full-size replica of the Hubble Space Telescope, the original still being in space.


There are displays highlighting the mission of each of the space shuttles. Most of them did work on the International Space Station and/or the Hubble Telescope.

Display of the Discovery Shuttle’s Mission


This is a walkway highlighting each of the 33 missions of Atlantis.



There are also many displays of the International Space Station (ISS), including an active countdown of how long it has been in space (over 20 years).

Countdown of the ISS days in orbit

Film delineating each part of the ISS


Kids can climb in tunnels that lead to spacecraft; many people were stimulated by several different simulators. The space toilet display was also popular.

Space Shuttle Toilet

There were other space shuttles in the American space program. Out of the five fully functional orbiters, three remain on display, open to the public. Aside from Atlantis, the other two are: Discovery in Washington D.C. and Endeavour in Los Angeles.


The Atlantis performed NASA’s last Space Shuttle mission.


Space Shuttle program Wikipedia


Thanks for launching into space with us.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.

Dear friends, I am taking a break for the rest of December,  will resume posting in January. Wishing you happy holidays, and many thanks for another sweet and adventurous year together.

Astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Stn, 2016


Kennedy Space Center–Part 1 of 2

Entrance Gate to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Visitors first entering Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex are greeted by several authentic rockets towering above. Heads looking up to the sky, each person is handed a brochure with a map and exhibit information, and off we go, launched into the world of space.


This rocket below, the Atlas-Agena, was launched 109 times between 1960 and 1978.


Atlas-Agena Rocket

NASA Kennedy Space Center entrance

The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is comprised of 700 facilities on 144,000 acres (580 km2); and has the distinction of being the launch site for every United States human space flight since 1968.


This shuttle stack is a 184-foot (56 m) full-scale replica of what is needed for a space shuttle to be shot into space: external fuel tank (orange) with twin solid rocket boosters (white).

Shuttle “stack”

Kennedy Space Center Wikipedia for visitor information


Historic space programs like Apollo, Skylab, and the Space Shuttles were carried out here at KSC, while other space programs, like Gemini flights, were launched from adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.


Today this area, on the Atlantic coast of Florida, is bustling with robotic and commercial crew missions, and other missions dedicated to future off-Earth exploration. Launches occur regularly.


Much of it is a restricted area, but there is a large Visitor Complex open to the public.


The KSC Visitor Complex has numerous large buildings filled with exhibits and displays featuring the activities of the Hubble Telescope, International Space Station, Space Shuttle voyages, and more. Visitors can walk the grounds, or take a bus tour.


Mural of International Space Station and flags of all the countries who participate in the program


They also have space-ride simulators and other simulator rides, interactive exhibits, and daily presentations with veteran NASA astronauts. Numerous multimedia cinematic productions give in-depth information on various space projects from visiting Mars to how the Atlantis Space Shuttle was built.


Films can be seen in several different theaters, two of which are IMAX, as well as stand-alone videos, like this one below.

Photo of Earth with ISS in center


This Saturn 1B rocket made nine launches between 1966 and 1975.

Saturn 1B Rocket


Inspiration is the word that came to me most often on the day we visited the KSC. All the courage and genius of thousands of men and women, some who gave their lives, is embodied in this Complex.


This building, below, recently opened in 2016, has the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Heroes and Legends Exhibit

My favorite exhibit houses the entire space shuttle Atlantis, a retired space orbiter that made 33 space missions in the course of 26 years, before it was retired in 2011.


Countdown for that: seven days.


Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.


Traveling into Space

International Space Stn and Planet Earth

International Space Stn and Planet Earth

Earthlings celebrated a remarkable milestone this month:  two astronauts returned safely to earth after spending an entire year in space.


They resided at the International Space Station (ISS), a microgravity laboratory in space.


Astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Stn, 2016

Astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Stn, 2016

American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko returned to earth on March 1, 2016.  It was the longest ever continued episode in space.



ISS during Aurora borealis

ISS during Aurora Borealis

In the course of their year on ISS, Kelly and Kornienko were joined by 13 astronauts representing seven different nations.  They performed three spacewalks for various tasks of station upgrade and maintenance.


More info here about their year in space.


Crews of men and women from numerous countries have occupied this station since November of 2000.  Often it is a crew of six who live and work here for months at a time.


Coleman discussing Astronaut Coleman describing the robotic arm she operated on ISS at NASA, Houston

Astronaut Coleman describing the robotic arm she operated on ISS; NASA, Houston

The International Space Station is 357 feet (108m) long, about the size of a football field.  It weighs almost one million pounds, about the equivalent of 320 cars.


ISS interior

ISS interior



It travels at five miles per second and orbits the earth every 90 minutes.


In some places on earth we can see the ISS in the sky, apparently it looks like a very fast airplane or bright star.  Click here to learn if you can spot the ISS from where you live.


Our local PBS station televised “Year in Space” and many of the photos here were captured from our television.  (The other photos are from a NASA tour I enjoyed in 2014.)  This program is a collaboration between PBS and Time, and is a two-part series; the second part will air in 2017.  More program info here.


ISS over Earth

ISS over Earth

For images from space taken by Scott Kelly click here.  Take a look at our amazing planet, captured from above.


Foods served on the ISS. Courtesy Wikipedia

ISS residents get fresh food only when new supplies arrive.  This, as you can imagine, is a big deal.


On the one year mission there was some food rationing that occurred when two consecutive ships carrying supplies met with disaster.  But the third try, a spaceship launched from Japan, was a success.  It safely arrived with 4.5 tons of supplies.


NASA Houston, Mission Control Center

NASA Houston, Mission Control Center

Kelly described the smell of space as “burning metal.”


There is an enormous physical impact that the human body endures in space.  Extended weightlessness and increased radiation (to name a few) can cause many health problems for individuals who have lived in space. More info here.


Although there have been extensive studies done on the health hazards over the years, a unique aspect of Astronaut Scott Kelly’s year in space will be to follow the effects of his body in comparison to his identical twin brother’s body, Mark Kelly, a now-retired astronaut.


When it was time to return to earth, Kelly said entering Earth’s orbit was “like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel while you’re on fire.”


NASA Training Ctr, Houston

NASA Training Ctr, Houston

I am happy to live on earth and spend every glorious day here.  But I find it a fascinating exploration and am grateful to our space pioneers.



Photo credit:  Athena Alexander except where noted

Statistics from

NASA Space Suit, Houston

NASA Space Suit, Houston


Houston’s Mission Control Center

NASA Space Suit, Houston

NASA Space Suit, Houston

I had the absolute thrill of a private tour in Houston last month of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.  Dr. Catherine “Cady” Coleman, a United States astronaut with three space flight missions, showed us some of the highlights of this impressive American facility.  My favorite part was being in the Mission Control Center, so that is what I will focus on here.


A friend of my sister’s, Cady walked our family group of eight through Houston’s Mission Control Center.  Here they manage flight control for the human space program.  The current primary focus is directing activity on the International Space Stations (ISS).


NASA Houston, Mission Control Center

NASA Houston, Mission Control Center

Cady led us through a labyrinth of no-nonsense government hallways lined with photos of space teams, the Space Station, and earth.  When she looked at her watch she explained it was nearly 3:00 and the shifts were changing.  This was an important time, she said, because flight controllers on the departing shift were informing the new shift workers about the events of the past few hours, so we paused in the back corner until the shift change was settled.  That was when my writer’s imagination clicked in and my heart sped up; flight engineers talking to astronauts in space, and yet they had a shift change, families at home, Cheerios in the cupboard.


A few minutes later we walked onto the main floor.  The commanding visual was the multiple screens at the front:  a large map of the world, complicated graphics, flight patterns in various bright colors.  The room was filled with long rows of computer panels and flight controllers monitoring the ISS.  Each headphoned person sat at a console quietly communicating with space professionals on this planet as well as astronauts in space.  It was all so quiet and subdued.


NASA Astronaut Cady Coleman

NASA Astronaut Cady Coleman

A fast-walking and sprightly veteran of the space program, Cady whisked us through more hallways to get to the now defunct Mission Control Center where historical space shuttle missions like Gemini and Apollo were once commandeered.  Our last stop was at the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, a warehouse the size of a football field filled with space equipment and simulators.


With two flights aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and an expedition to the International Space Station, Coleman has logged more than 4,330 hours in space.  Personable and enthusiastic, when we climbed into a space shuttle capsule she commented how much easier it was to get around in space without the drag of gravity, yet her nimble and petite body seemed very light and fluid.


Coleman discussing the ISS including the robotic arm she operated while there

Coleman discussing the ISS including the robotic arm she operated while there

On a Hollywood note, Cady counseled Sandra Bullock, communicating from the ISS, when Bullock was filming “Gravity.”


Inside NASA Space Shuttle console (notice handles for gravity-free holding)

Inside NASA Space Shuttle console (notice handles and blue velcro for gravity-free living)

Countries around the world are not only invested in the same International Space Station, but they are communicating and working together for the sake of these missions regardless of the tension that militarily exists.  It is a remarkable array of dedicated aeronautic professionals paving the way for a better understanding of life outside our planet, while exhibiting cooperative codes of conduct right here on planet Earth.


If you are ever in Houston, Texas, set aside a few hours to visit this incredible center of aeronautics where history continues to be shaped.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander


NASA Houston Space Vehicle Mockup Facility

NASA Houston Space Vehicle Mockup Facility