What do Mark Kelly, a trio of tiny satellites and a piece of a Tudor-era ship have in common?
They'll all be headed to space as part of the final space shuttle Endeavour mission. Mark Kelly is the commander of the mission, the 25th and final one for the spacecraft. The satellites were made by Cornell researchers. The wooden ball is more than 500 years old and is from the Mary Rose, the flagship of King Henry VIII.
The satellites, codenamed Sprite, are designed to blow in the solar wind and collect data. The satellites will be mounted to the International Space Station Experiment (MISSE-8) pallet, which will be attached to the space station, exposing them to the harsh conditions of space to see how they hold up and transmit data. They are designed to be picked up by the solar wind, which is a stream of charged particles that the Sun emits continuously. Mounting them on the Space Station is being done to see if they would survive long exposure to outer space conditions before launching them on their own.
Their small size allows them to travel like space dust, Peck said to the Cornell Chronicle. Blown by solar winds, they can 'sail' to distant locations without fuel. ... We're actually trying to create a new capability and build it from the ground up. ... We want to learn what's the bare minimum we can design for communication from space.
Cornell worked with commercial partner Draper Lab, of Boston, to get the satellites made. He said the components are high performance and as a result the satellites can far outstrip what has been put in space before. Down the line, when the MISSE-8 panel is removed and returned to Earth, the survival of the prototypes will be assessed.
The three-inch wooden ball is called a parrel, which helped raise sails up the masts. The ball, which belonged to the Mary Rose Trust in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, was given to NASA as a gift to send up on a future mission.
It was really tremendous to have the opportunity to present this little piece of the Mary Rose to the visiting Shuttle crew to take back to Houston, and we are thrilled that she will be making history once more on the final mission for Endeavour, John Lippiett, chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust, said in a statement.
The Mary Rose was as revolutionary in technological advances 500 years ago as the space shuttle was in the early 1980s. Both have helped pioneer exploration and advance the sciences. It is most appropriate to mark their place in history in this manner.
Besides being an astronaut, Kelly is also known as the husband of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was nearly shot to death earlier this year. Both Giffords and the President Barack Obama will be in attendance as Endeavour makes its final journey into space. It will be Giffords first public appearance since being shot.
The 14-day mission will see the crew of the Endeavour deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) and spare parts including two S-band communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank, additional spare parts for Dextre to the International Space Station. After it finishes up, NASA will conclude the space shuttle program with the Atlantis. Following that, the three remaining space shuttles and a fourth prototype will head to museums across the country.
Follow Gabriel Perna on Twitter at @GabrielSPerna