The View from Space: Big preps for solar eclipse
By John Holliman
February 24, 1998
Web posted at: 4:27 PM EST (1627 GMT)
(CNN) -- So much going on ... so little time to talk about it.
Lets start with the eclipse. CNN will provide live coverage of the
solar eclipse all day Thursday, February 26, both on TV and on the Web
site. NASA has sent teams around the world to Curacao and The Galapagos.
There are lots of places to get ready for
the eclipse. NASA has a great page with lots of links if you
want to get prepared. The address is
I've already been there and can tell you we'll see this
eclipse live from the ground on Curacao, live from space via
a new GOES weather satellite that's being tested this week,
from other weather satellites that look down at the
Caribbean region, and from SOHO, the international satellite
that's a million miles out in space and looks at the sun all
The raw data from many of the satellites will be available on
the Web before anywhere else, so during eclipse time 1500 GMT
to 1900 GMT (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST) we'll have a lot to look
at and talk about on TV and on the Web.
I'm sometimes amazed at what we get from space. For example,
NASA has been looking at El Nino for months and says the news
from space is that the warm water pool that drives the
weather system is getting thinner.
Last week we
talked about my travels to U.S. space command, one point made
by Gen. Howell Estis, who runs the command, is that we know a
lot more than we used to about the
world around us, and much of what we know comes from space.
But for the military and many of us in civilian life, we
don't know that lots of new information we use every day
comes from space. Estis says one of his
biggest jobs is convincing the military that space can do
amazing things for it.
I did a TV story this week about spy satellites and how they
have been used in the past to monitor compliance with
international agreements in the
past. In the story I reported that with additional U.S.
attention being paid to the Middle East right now, it would
be easier than ever for U.N. weapons inspectors to know if
Iraq was moving suspicious items from place to place.
Spy satellites are wonderful tools, and they're getting
better and better with each new launch.
One of the more interesting stories from the Mir space
station this week was a group of events that happened last
Friday. Mir turned 12 years old and
mission controllers in Moscow called up to the station to
remind the three-person crew that their home in space had
passed another milestone.
Moments later the two cosmonauts and astronaut Andy Thomas
got into the Soyuz rescue ship and left Mir. Nope, they
weren't bailing out; they were moving the Soyuz
from one end of Mir to another. For the past couple of
months, an almost empty Progress supply ship has been
orbiting next to the space station. The crew has
accumulated more garbage to load into Progress and for them
to do that the Progress had to redock. With Soyuz plugged in
at one end, the Progress could dock at the other.
You may remember that a Progress docking last June went
terribly wrong and caused a leak in Mir's Spekter module.
Monday's docking was described by Russian controllers as "an
ordinary event for us as well as for the Mir crew."
Astronaut Andy Thomas reports he's set up a series of
experiments on Mir that may make a difference to us on Earth.
One of the downsides of flying in space is that your
likelihood of getting a kidney stone goes way up. It has
something to do with concentration of urine because you lose
much of your body's water volume during
the first few days of weightlessness.
Andy is taking urine samples from everybody on Mir to see how
that process is working. There are various things
you can do to avoid the stone problem, and several of these
countermeasures are being tested on this flight.
A story we've been working on for several months involves the
cost of building the international space station. When the
latest version of the station was approved in 1993, Congress
insisted that NASA not spend more than
17.4 billion U.S. tax dollars on the project. The rest of the
station's funding had to come from other countries. Now NASA
is projecting that the station's cost
to U.S. taxpayers will be 3.6 billion more than promised.
Congress is complaining about the cost overruns but can't do
anything about them, without canceling the station
altogether. That's not going to happen.
How do you spend an unexpected $3.6 billion? First the
Russians get into much deeper financial trouble than
expected, and NASA and its contractor Boeing decide to pay
Russian-built station segment. Then Boeing
itself runs into major cost overruns with the station
elements that are being built in this country.
Sen. John McCain, who heads the Senate commerce
committee, has asked the General Accounting Office to
investigate and report back within a few weeks. I'll let you
know what the GAO report says, but don't expect much in the
way of major change in the station program. The first piece
will still be launched in June from Baikonur, Khazakstan,
with the second piece going up on a shuttle in July.
Jerry Ross is a veteran NASA spacewalker, and he'll lead the
team of astronauts that will put the first two pieces
together. He's been training in a spacesuit in the underwater
tank in Houston for the past months. He says it's
hard work to get the spacewalk choreographed in the water,
and he knows if he doesn't get the first two big pieces
connected in July, the future of the
project will be delayed.
Been to Mars lately? Almost every day, somebody comes up to me to
talk about the Mars rover landing last July. The next spacecraft to
go to Mars, Global Surveyor, is still looking at the Martian surface
and sending back fabulous pictures of the red planet's surface. Most
of what Surveyor is sending is black and white, but the surface of Mars
is obviously very different from the surface of Earth and you can see
it in these
While we look at these pictures, consider what's going to happen next
on Mars. The next lander to travel to Mars is being built at the Lockheed
Martin Astronautics factory in Denver. The new lander will touch down
near the south pole, and the next Martian orbiter will study the climate
of Mars from above, something like a weather satellite above the Earth.
We'll talk more about the next series of Mars missions that will be
launched by the end of this year.
Finally, I'm going to try to take next week off. I'll
probably check in from the road, but if the news in this
column seems very old to you, its probably because I've been
off the case for a week.
John Holliman's column appears on Wednesdays.