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The View from Space: 'Facing' the facts?

By John Holliman

April 15, 1998
Web posted at: 5:20 PM EDT (1720 GMT)

The interest in the face on Mars has generated more e-mail (300 pieces this week) than I have time to answer personally, so I'm going to try to tell you what I know here. I talked to NASA administrator Daniel Goldin last Thursday and he tells me the Mars Global Surveyor will continue to take pictures of the Cydonia region, where the face is located, until everyone is satisfied.

Many of you are writing telling me of a NASA conspiracy to hide information about the face, and I asked Goldin to provide all the information possible about the region where the "face" is located. He says he will, and I believe him. Let's see what happens as Surveyor continues its mission.

I'm sorry that I'm not going to be able to respond to all your e-mails personally but I hope this will suffice for the present. I really appreciate the fact that so many of you are interested in space exploration, my thoughts on the topic, and the face in particular. I'll keep you posted.

A menagerie in orbit

The shuttle is going up this week for one of the longest missions ever. Columbia will be in orbit for at least 16 days, and perhaps 17. There are 120 rats on board along with four fish, and various other animals.

Dr. Arnold Nicogosian of NASA's science office points out that there are 26 major experiments that will be conducted on the Spacelab module in Columbia's cargo bay. The brain, he says, is the most complex and least understood parts of the human body and studying the way it works in weightlessness will be the focus for the entire mission. The idea is to find out how the brain works in weightlessness and how we can use that knowledge to help people on with various neurological problems.

The shuttle will go up in the 2 p.m. EDT hour on Thursday and you can watch it on CNN or here on the Net.

An interesting event for all of us will happen Sunday night at 6 p.m. EDT, I'll be talking with Rick Linehan, a veterinarian astronaut who will be taking care of all the critters aboard Columbia. He and six others make up Columbia's crew. Joining us will be Jean-Michel Costeau, who continues the work of his father Jacques in exploring the world. We'll be talking about the world's oceans, a topic of research for both Costeau and Linehan. I talked to both of them in advance of the flight and everybody's excited about our TV chat.

Two Mir residents will join CNN on Thursday. Dr. Dave Wolf who has been home from Mir for about two months will be with us in the early morning, followed at 11 a.m. EDT by Mir's current astronaut, Andy Thomas. It should be interesting for the two astronauts to compare notes with our viewers about life on the Russian space station.

Commercial aerospace update

I promised to update you on the future of space work by commercial contractors, the military and NASA this week. I came back from the U.S. Space symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with 60 pages of notes. I'll try to hit the highlights now and give you more of what I learned in weeks to come.

First, there are new rocket launchers coming to market. The Lockheed-Martin Co. announced a much bigger Atlas 3 rocket to put 10,000-pound payloads into orbit. It has the ability to lift twice as much into orbit as the older Atlas 2. The first flight of Atlas 3 will probably be in December from Cape Canaveral. This rocket could reduce the cost of putting a pound of satellite into orbit to about $10,000. That's good news if you're trying to launch a new communications satellite.

Also, I listened to a panel discussion by the various companies competing to improve the way we talk to each other using space. The Iridium company has already launched scores of communications satellites into low earth orbit, and by this summer, there will be more than 70 small satellites in orbit to allow you to make a phone call with a cell phone-sized transmitter from any spot on the globe. Another contractor is planning to compete with Iridium and have phones capable of sending computer messages as well as voice calls to and from any spot on the planet. It should be ready by next year.

CNN wants to bring you better satellite pictures from space. There are about a half dozen major companies offering pictures from about 200 miles away to bring news events to you almost as they happen. I think you'll see the results of this commercial use of space in the near future here.

Glenn runs the gauntlet

Sen. John Glenn got another two weeks of shuttle training under his belt this week. He had to take time out for a VIP tour by President Clinton and for a talk with CNN. The senator likes the shrimp cocktail better than any of the other space food items in his kit for the October shuttle launch. I watched as he was hoisted more than 15 feet in the air in Houston and then allowed to drop into the swimming pool used for astronaut training. He seemed fine. It was a test of emergency bail out of the shuttle over water. He also says he's having as much fun as possible getting ready for his second space flight. The senator says his physical conditioning, which is excellent, will help him get though the mission.

Things to look for in the next couple of weeks: NASA will probably announce that the current shuttle mission, Neurolab, will get to fly again to conduct additional experiments. If the decision is made to do this, mid-August would be the most likely launch date. The decision on doing this will probably be announced before Columbia comes home the first of next month.

The other big thing to look for is the rescheduling of the construction of the international space station. The U.S. space station team will be leaving for Russia next week to find out just how far behind the Russians are in constructing their pieces of the station. As we've reported earlier, it's become obvious that station construction won't start this summer. The first space station shuttle flight will almost certainly not happen until fall. A decision on when the various station assembly flights will actually be conducted will be coming in the next few weeks as well.

See you on TV launch day and here next week.


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