Due to inclement weather today in Florida the Space Shuttle Endeavour (Orbiter Vehicle Designation OV-105), returning from mission STS-126, was diverted to the backup landing option at Edwards Air Force Base near Rosamond, CA (approximately 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles in the Antelope Valley).

sts-126_patch-svgIn total, the shuttle’s journey spanned 6.6 million miles and 250 orbits of Earth. Endeavour landed on temporary runway 22L at Edwards, while the main runway, 4R, is undergoing repairs — making it the first and last shuttle to do so.

This was the 124th space shuttle mission, the 22nd flight for the shuttle Endeavour and the 27th shuttle visit to the station. It was also the 52nd time a shuttle has landed at Edwards Air Force Base.

It will take approximately one week to prepare the shuttle for its return flight to Florida atop a modified 747 (called the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft) and will cost approximately $1.8 million.

Another unexpected item to add to the cost of this mission: a bag of tools valued at $100,000 dropped and forever lost by Astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper during the first space walk of the mission. The crew will be flown back to Johnson Space Center in Houston tomorrow.

I was able to record the double sonic booms the shuttle made upon re-entry with my Palm Centro and have embeded the file below — they sound like a cross between a shotgun and car backfiring, but were so loud in person that my entire house shook!

Below is an MP3 of the two sonic booms that occured during the shuttle’s re-entry (click the arrow to play the file).

Finally, here is video of the actual landing from the Associated Press:

Welcome back, Endeavour, and congratulations on a safe return from space!

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In a November 13, 2008 article on the Inside Higher Ed website, “As Economy Wavers, Online Enrollments Climb,” writer Andy Guess highlights the tremendous growth of enrollment in online education programs. The article provides insight into the results of a report, “Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008,” prepared by the Sloan Consortium, an organization which tracks online learning trends. Summarizing the findings in the report, Guess makes the following observations:

In fall 2007, the study reports, some 3.94 million students enrolled in at least one online course, an increase of 12.9 percent over the previous year. That falls between the 9.7 percent growth for fall 2006 and the 19.7 compound annual rate since fall 2002. In comparison, total student enrollments increased 1.2 percent in the year leading up to last fall, while the compound annual rate for all enrollments since 2002 was 1.6 percent.

Clearly, with changing demographics, fluctuating gas prices and an unstable economy, people are looking to online education as a means of improving themselves while keeping their out-of-pocket costs low and their potential for success high.

I visited Wal-Mart on Friday, November 7 and was shocked to discover that even though Halloween just ended and we haven’t even yet overdosed on turkey, apparently it is already Christmas! I actually went into two separate stores in Santa Clarita, California:

Both stores had associates setting up the Christmas displays and making related preparations.  Photos from each store are provided below; the first photo is from the store on Kelly Johnson Parkway and the second is from the store on The Old Road:

Wal-Mart 2008 Christmas Decorations

Apparently, I am a bit late in realizing Wal-Mart’s early push: An October 1, 2008  story that aired on the CBS station in Los Angeles highlighted the retailer’s plans to get a head start on the Christmas shopping season.

I suppose I was more surprised than shocked to see Christmas trees already. The first week of November seems a bit early for Christmas, but I recall seeing Valentine’s Day items in my local Rite Aide just after Christmas last year. It seems every year the time betwen each major holiday shopping periods grows shorter as retailers try to capitalize on early-birds and those easily influenced by holiday “sales.”

Given the current state of the economy I’m curious to see what happens this holiday season. The Friday after Thanksgiving is referred to as “Black Friday” meaning that on that day retailers finally transition from operating at a loss (in the red) to operating at a profit (in the black). Yet, given the tremendous economic upheaval and uncertainty going on, I wonder if this day will ever come for any retailer?

Still, there are reports of Wal-Mart experiencing a surge in sales, even as other retailers struggle.  Wal-Mart reported that same-store sales in October were up 2.4 percent as compared with October 2007, not including fuel sales. Including fuel sales the increase was 2.5 percent. Comparatively, Target reported sales of 0.7 percent lower for this October 2008 compared with 2007.

A Los Angeles news station even featured a segment in which a reporter interviewed shoppers at al-Mart demonstrated that even those who drive a Mercedes were driven to save money at the popular discounter. All were focused on saving money and getting the best possible deal.

I wonder how many people are getting coal in their stockings this year — assuming coal is still affordable!