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STS-6: Challenger debut
The space shuttle program became a two-orbiter fleet on April 4, 1983 when Challenger launched on its maiden voyage from Kennedy Space Center. The STS-6 mission featured the first ever spacewalk from a space shuttle and the deployment of NASA's first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite. The four astronauts narrate a movie of highlights from their five-day mission in this post-flight presentation.

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STS-5: Commercial era
With the four test flights complete, NASA declared the space shuttle a fully operational program. The crews were expanded, commercial payloads were welcomed aboard and the mission plans became much more hectic. This new era began with Columbia's STS-5 flight that launched the ANIK-C3 and SBS-C commercial communications satellites from the shuttle's payload bay. Commander Vance Brand, pilot Bob Overmyer and mission specialists Joe Allen and Bill Lenoir narrate highlights from their November 1982 mission in this post-flight presentation.

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STS-4: Last test flight
The developmental test flights of the space shuttle concluded with Columbia's STS-4 mission. Commander Ken Mattingly and pilot Henry Hartsfield spent a week in space examining orbiter systems and running science experiments. The 1982 flight ended on the Fourth of July with President Reagan at the landing site to witness Columbia's return and the new orbiter Challenger leaving for Kennedy Space Center. Watch this STS-4 post-flight crew presentation film.

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STS-3: Unique landing
Columbia's STS-3 mission is best remembered in the history books for its conclusion -- the first and so far only landing at the picturesque Northrup Strip at White Sands, New Mexico. In this post-flight presentation film, the crew describes the highlights of the March 1982 mission and shows some of the fun they had in orbit. The commander also tells how he accidentally "popped a wheelie" before bringing the nose gear down to the runway surface.

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STS-2: Columbia is a reusable spaceship
Seven months after the successful maiden voyage of space shuttle Columbia, astronauts Joe Engle and Richard Truly took the orbiter back into space on mission STS-2. The November 12, 1981 launch demonstrated that the space shuttle was the world's first reusable manned spacecraft. Although their mission would be cut short, Engle and Truly performed the first tests of the shuttle's Canadian-made robotic arm. The crew tells the story of the mission in this post-flight presentation.

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STS-1: America's first space shuttle mission
The space shuttle era was born on April 12, 1981 when astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen rode Columbia into Earth orbit from Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A. The two-day flight proved the shuttle could get into space as a rocket and return safely with a runway landing. Following the voyage of STS-1, the two astronauts narrated this film of the mission highlights and told some of their personal thoughts on the flight.

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NASA's 2007 budget
NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, along with his science, spaceflight, exploration and aeronautics chiefs, hold this news conference in Washington on February 6 to discuss the agency's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2007. The budget would give NASA a slight increase in funding over 2006, but it features cuts in some projects to pay for funding shortfalls in the shuttle program.

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Suit tossed overboard
The Expedition 12 crew tosses overboard an old Russian spacesuit loaded with ham radio gear during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station. The eery view of the lifeless suit tumbling into the darkness of space was captured by station cameras.

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STS-95: John Glenn's return to space
The flight of shuttle Discovery in October 1998 captured the public's attention with the triumphant return to space by John Glenn. The legendary astronaut became the first American to orbit the Earth some 36 years earlier. His 9-day shuttle mission focused on science experiments about aging. This post-flight presentation of highlights from the STS-95 mission is narrated by the astronauts.

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Launch of New Horizons
The New Horizons spacecraft begins a voyage across the solar system to explore Pluto and beyond with its successful launch January 19 aboard a Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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Japanese infrared space observatory goes into orbit

Posted: February 21, 2006

The M-5 rocket blasts off with ASTRO-F. Credit: JAXA
A new infrared telescope was put in orbit by Japan today to begin an 18-month mission to conduct a comprehensive all-sky survey that should detect light from up to ten million objects scattered throughout the Universe.

The ASTRO-F observatory lifted off at 2128 GMT (6:28 a.m. local time Wednesday). The spacecraft was flown into orbit using a three-stage solid-fueled M-5 rocket that launched from the Uchinoura Space Center near Kagoshima, Japan, on the southern tip of Kyushu Island.

The 2,100-pound, twelve-foot tall satellite was deployed from the third stage of the M-5 booster just eight-and-a-half minutes after its speedy pre-dawn blastoff. Early indications are that the craft was placed in the planned initial 98-degree inclination Sun-synchronous orbit around Earth with a maximum altitude of about 455 miles and a low point of 189 miles. ASTRO-F will later use an apogee kick motor to circularize its orbit.

Renamed "Akari" after its on-orbit delivery, the ASTRO-F observatory will spend an anticipated one-and-a-half years performing an all-sky survey at infrared wavelengths. Akari, which means "light," will attempt to build upon work done by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite over 20 years ago.

That mission - led by the United States, United Kingdom, and the Netherlands - carried out the first comprehensive infrared survey, allowing scientists to create a group of detailed atlases including many of the targets detected by IRAS.

ASTRO-F will attempt to improve upon the results obtained by IRAS by at least one order of magnitude, and officials expect an upgrade in resolution will also paint a better picture of the Universe for astronomers.

Plans are to split the ASTRO-F mission into three distinct phases after the two-month checkout period is completed. The first phase will concentrate on accomplishing the all-sky survey during the first six months of the operations. Following will be another ten months of primarily targeted pointing observations of specific areas of interest as determined by a team of scientists from around the world.

The lifetime of the prime mission is determined by the availability of liquid helium stored in a cryostat aboard the satellite. The nearly 45 gallons of cryogenics are necessary to chill the 27-inch aperture telescope and science instruments to near absolute zero at six degrees Kelvin (-450 degrees Fahrenheit). Calculations show the helium will last for around 550 days before being exhausted.

The super-cold temperatures are needed to increase the sensitivity of the observatory's instruments to detect miniscule disparities in light emissions across the sky. Mechanical coolers are also carried aboard ASTRO-F to continue limited observations using the near-infrared camera for up to five years.

An artist's concept shows the ASTRO-F spacecraft deployed in orbit. Credit: JAXA
Astronomers will use ASTRO-F to study a variety of objects across the Universe, including active star-forming galaxies that can only be spotted using infrared telescopes. Up to ten million galaxies should be seen by the craft's cameras by essentially looking back in time to the early history of the Universe.

ASTRO-F will also look through thick veils of cosmic dust that hide newborn stars from Earth-based telescopes that rely on visible wavelengths. The study of elusive brown dwarf stars are also on the laundry list of scientific aims for the mission. Such objects are not massive enough to begin fusion to be officially classified as a true star, and ASTRO-F scientists hope to be able to pin down accurate masses and numbers for brown dwarves in our galaxy.

Another goal of the mission is to find forming extra-solar planetary systems by detecting infrared radiation from dust disks surrounding stars within 1,000 light years of Earth. Also, up to 50 new comets will be detected by ASTRO-F, scientists say.

Two additional secondary payloads were also trucked into space by the M-5 rocket. However, the outcome was not immediately announced for either project.

A tiny CubeSat known as CUTE-1.7 is supposed to work in orbit for several months before being manually disposed. The diminutive eight-pound satellite carries amateur radio equipment, and is being used as a training tool for students at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

CUTE-1.7 utilizes a handheld personal digital assistant as the principal on-board computer, and carries three small magnetic torque devices for three-axis attitude control. At the end of its mission, the nanosatellite will deploy a 300-foot electrically charged tether to for a de-orbit test.

Another apparatus catching a ride to space aboard the M-5 rocket was a deployment test mechanism containing a solar sail made of aluminized polymer film that was supposed to deploy a maximum diameter of around 35 feet beginning just over eighteen minutes after liftoff. Two cameras positioned near the device would capture images of the critical unfurling of the solar sail for downlink to the ground. The experiment is a follow-up to a sub-orbital test conducted in 2004.

The launch was the second successful orbital mission for Japan in four days after Saturday's flight of the larger H-2A rocket that carried the multi-purpose MTSAT-2 satellite into space. Three out of five space launches thus far in 2006 have originated from Japan.