A lot has happened since the last posting. In late August I ended the main phase of gathering photographic material for the book, acquired a used dual quad core server for photo editing, and have been hard at work editing and organizing the book. With 8 logical cores of 2.23ghz plus a very high end graphics processor, this former server turned gaming system turned editing station is a MONSTER at crunching large images in Photoshop and I have already assembled some HUGE photos, the largest being a 270 degree HDR panorama of NASA's gigantic test plane hangar at Langley Research center in Virginia. The final picture totaled nearly 10 gigabytes!
Several pictures have been finalized already but I spend a large portion of time narrowing down possibilities of which picture to finally edit. So many amazing choices and so few pages. As I'm gearing up for the final phase of editing pics I even got new glasses so I can get into really fine detail :) My particular editing process focuses on that fine detail and as such I spent a very long time editing each one to perfection rather than the usual quick once over most photographers do. It's a slow, tedious process that is well worth it when the final product comes out. The pictures that have been completed so far are not online so that the world will see them for the first time when the book releases. Backers will see them before then in order to choose your rewards. For the most part, when you don't hear an update it is because there is nothing to say. I'm on the grind cranking out images for the book and constantly working on deals to make it bigger.
I have just returned from more than a month long trip (mostly working 24/7 without sleep) where I was photographing Wallops Island Flight Facility in northern Virginia, Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and NASA Langley Research Center in southeastern VA.
At Wallops Island, just before sunrise April 6, a major milestone was reached by one of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) partners, Orbital Sciences Corporation. For the first time ever, their Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft was rolled out of their Horizontal Integration Facility to the launch pad and stood vertical in anticipation of launch.
From there I went to Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland to cover a NASA Tweetup where some of Twitter's heavy hitters who cover science and space had personal access to scientists from NASA and JAXA, Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency, about their upcoming GPM weather satellite, a firetruck sized radiometer that will provide 3D and 4D rain and snow atmospheric data while keeping several other existing weather satellites in calibration and providing better storm prediction data. http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/GPM/main/index.html We spent about 3 hours in lectures and Q&A before heading to lunch where we ate lunch as we picked the brains of the whichever project scientist we were sitting with.
From there I went to the building where the Hubble Space telescope was built to see its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, being assembled in several different cleanroom areas. I photographed he largest centrifuge on the east coast, the large acoustic test chamber, their shaker table for vibration testing, parts for the international Magnetosphere MultiScale MMS, thermal vacuum chamber where spacecraft are tested in flight conditions, a smaller thermal vac units for instruments and their giant "Chamber of Horrors" vacuum chamber where satellites are tested in space vacuum conditions and temperatures. I also got a demonstration of the Hyperwall, an array of fifteen 47" flatscreen TVs combined into one large wall of HD used to go over test data.
After leaving there I headed to Goddard's astrochemistry/astrobiology lab then to the robotic refueling lab where the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) zero G refueling missions are simulated as NASA figures out how to capture, refuel and repair satellites in orbit which were never designed to be docked with.
Back to Wallops Island, I photographed their sounding rocket facility which inexpensively launches payloads into quick up and down suborbital flights, their weather balloon facility, and Orbital Science's Horizontal Integration facility where the rocket was assembled and rolled out. Inside the HIF, the A-TWO and A-THREE mission Antares rockets were in pieces being assembled and I got up close and personal with them, their upper stage ATK Castor 30A solid rocket engine and the 50 year old Russian engine powering the first stage. I shot inside many of the interstage couplings and even went up in a scissor lift and drove around the facility to get high angle shots.
I also photographed the first of NASA's CubeSats, small 4 inch cube satellites that launched on the A-ONE Antares mission. These are the lowest cost satellites NASA has ever flown, and these particular ones, called PhoneSats, will determine if an off-the-shelf consumer-grade smartphone can be used as the main flight avionics of a capable, yet very inexpensive, satellite. The satellites are a simple open frame cube with a Google-HTC Nexus One smartphone running the Android operating system. Only minor upgrades were made such as a more powerful radio, extended antenna and external lithium-ion battery bank. While proving the off-the-shelf computing power of these phones can successfully operate a space satellite they will also take pictures of the Earth with their factory installed cameras. The phones' ability to send and receive calls & text messages has been disabled. Each smartphone acts as the satellite's onboard computer, its sensors used for attitude determination. Amateur radio operators around the world can participate in the mission by monitoring transmissions and retrieving image data from the three satellites "Alexander", "Graham" and "Bell " Check out more on these CellSats at http://www.phonesat.org and http://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/small_spacecraft/phonesat.html
Modern smartphones already have many of the systems needed for a satellite including fast processors, a versatile operating system, multiple miniature sensors, high-resolution cameras, GPS receivers and several radios. As one of the heads of the project from NASA HQ passed around one of the flight spares from this mission I quickly set up an impromptu photo studio using the back of a poster we were given earlier that morning. I waited to be the last of the reporters to see the satellite as it was passed around then jumped into action. Suddenly all the TV cameras were pointed at me. There was no way I was going to let this pass with nothing more than a snapshot. Once I started doing it everyone else realized they hadn't taken any pictures and jumped into my shoot.
I attended, recorded, photographed and participated in numerous televised and untelevised press conferences in auditoriums and at the launch pad. Finally, after 2 launch scrubs, 1 due to weather and the other to the premature umbilical separation at the launch tower, Antares' A-ONE demonstration flight successfully launched, making Orbital the second COTS company to demonstrate this ability and adding Orbital Sciences' Antares and Cygnus to the list with SpaceX's Falcon 9/Dragon to provide cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station on their next flight. This is easily the most beautiful daytime launch I have ever seen with weather so clear I could see easily the rocket the entire way through the flight arc as it entered orbit. To everyone's surprise, Antares burned a gorgeous purple flame. The launch did set off a small brush fire near the pad Wallops' fire dept quickly dispatched it. Naturally I got pictures of it.
Throughout this entire process I had access to high level NASA scientists, top Orbital Sciences & ATK engineers, people from NASA Wallops &Goddard, the heads of the Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority who owns and operates the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) located at NASA Wallops Flight Center and even NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. I got to pick their brains for several days, getting all kinds of great little bits of information to accompany the pictures in the book that may not be found anywhere else.
I also hit the Virginia Air & Space Museum where the full sized replica of the Mars rover Curiosity was being taken down from display, crated and shipped back to JPL (CalTech Jet Propulsion Laboratory which built the real Mars rover) for restoration. It was damaged at the Presidential Inaugural Parade when they failed to follow JPL's instructions and ran it down the highway outside of its crate, breaking pieces off. While I was there I shot some one of the full scale Orion test articles on display next to the Apollo 12 spacecraft.
From there I went to NASA's Langley Research Center in southeastern VA to see a former Coast Guard Dassault HU-25C Guardian turbofan jet used to test a new biofuel.
The Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions (ACCESS) experiment involved flying a NASA Dryden Flight Research Center DC-8 airplane as high as 39,000 feet while the customized HU-25C Guardian aircraft, based at NASA's Langley Research Center, trailed behind at distances ranging from 300 feet to more than 10 miles. The team measured exhaust composition and contrail characteristics depending on fuel type, plume duration and atmospheric conditions. During the flights, the DC-8's four CFM56 engines were powered by conventional JP-8 jet fuel, or a 50-50 blend of JP-8 and an alternative fuel of hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) produced from camelina plant oil. More than a dozen instruments mounted on the Guardian jet characterized the soot, gases and ice particles streaming from the DC-8 and I spent over an hour inside photographing them all in detail and another hour interviewing the missions scientists and photographing the outside.
After that I went to the University of Maryland's Space Systems Laboratory to photograph their Neutral Buoyancy Research Laboratory, the only other facility of its type in the country after the one at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston used to train astronauts underwater, and the only one in the world at a college. I shot a couple different NASA vehicles and the operator controlling them in the water. After that I went over to their Advanced Robotics Development Lab to photograph a few different robotic arms including one that was in line to fly on the shuttle but was bumped from the flight manifest because of the Columbia disaster. In this same lab they build new space suit prototypes and I photographed one of their designs at the sewing machine as well as in their vacuum test chamber. I also got to shoot a Russian space suit glove andgot to use a space shuttle program EVA suit arm under space vacuum conditions, practicing moving around pegs from one hole to another to get a feel for what a challenge dexterity really is in those suits. There is a short video of that online on my FB page.
As always you can keep up with me as things happen on my Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chris-Haber-Photography/126322097409341?ref=ts&fref=ts and lots of the behind the scenes shots from my cell phone are already there with more details.