Space Station Sunday: Fire It Up!

Good morning / afternoon / evening (depending where you are on this fine planet), space fans! Here's what's been up lately in low-earth orbit!

Lookin' good, homeworld!
 The Northern Lights were so strong this week,
Reykjavik, Iceland turned off their streetlights to watch the whole show.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins, who recently became part of the first team to sequence DNA in space, took time this week to explore how solids in microgravity dissolve into liquids. As part of a study funded by the Eli Lilly corporation, this experiment could eventually help to improve the design of pharmaceuticals, allowing them to dissolve more effectively in the human body. She’s the Chuck Yeager of the blood-brain barrier!


She's so skilled, she's got the world at her feet.
Especially on spacewalks, like this one she co-conducted in September.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Speaking of melting things in space, a new fuel-burning study will soon be underway. The Group Combustion experiment, which is currently being set up by JAXA astronaut Takuya Onishi, will monitor droplets of decane (a fuel component) as they are set aflame on thin-fiber lattice points. 

Since microgravity blocks convection, the conditions will be more amenable to studying the variance of flame and droplet positions, as well as their temperature distribution. This will help to better understand the nature of combustion in space (don’t worry, they test everything in a multi-purpose payload rack designed for these things…no extra shooting stars will appear in the night sky anytime soon.)



Fire in space does strange things...time to get some more science on that.
(Image courtesy spaceflight101.)


Newly-minted ISS commander Anatoly Ivanishin studied how charged particles behave while held in a magnetic trap in microgravity. This could impact the development of future photovoltaic cells used in space and totally has nothing to do with Russia working on solar-powered electromagnetic space gulags. Probably.

Ivanishin also studied how to assess and report back to Earth instances of natural and man-made disasters as witnessed from the orbital office, seeing as how we’re probably slated for a whole lot more of these issues thanks to the way we treat the planet and each other. Get it together, humanity! Not all of us are going to be lucky enough to expatriate to Mars!


Fortunately this is just a volcanic eruption,
but with the way we humans have been acting lately,
who knows what will follow.
(Image courtesy discovermagazine.com.)


In the meantime, the ISS residents will be able to analyze underlying disaster-affected areas of Earth using the Photospectral system (PSS) science hardware, which uses sensors to assess the reflected radiation spectrum of the afflicted area. This will ultimately not only help to deduce the depth of disasters, but also to forecast where they might naturally occur next.


Some disasters are actually visible from space with the naked eye.
(Image courtesy bbc.com.)


If you want to space out whenever you feel like it, be sure to check out the ISS livestream cameras! In the meantime, here's some select space-based shots of Earth for your enjoyment.



Over the Strait of Gibraltar.




Ciao, Italy!



Egypt...ancient aliens perusing the pyramids not included.

That's all for this week, space fans! We'll see you soon...watch this space!


A majestic moonrise...sweet dreams, spacefarers!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)






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Space Station Sunday: Soyuz Sails Home

Good afternoon, space fans!  It’s been another week of excellence from the orbital office!  Here’s what was up…


Welcome home Jeff, Anatoly, and Oleg!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

This week, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka swooped down from the heavens back into the grasp of gravity.  On Tuesday, after a 4-hour ride home from the ISS, they landed safely in Kazahkstan after 172 days in space.  Williams, the former ISS commander,  has completed one space shuttle missions and three station missions, attaining 534 cumulative days in space – the record for an American astronaut.


Through the fire:  the returning crew's Soyuz spacecraft reenters the atmosphere.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Before leaving the station, Williams examined the BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activities Module) for air and surface samples.  The expandable module was added to the station in April, and creates an inflatable extra "room" for the crew.  The samples indicated that all was well in the new digs, and it will be reassessed in coming months by the impending new crew.


They practiced by inflating their space suits.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The crew members of the upcoming Expedition 49-50 are due to launch for the ISS on September 23rd.  Shane Kimbrough, Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko are currently in Kazahkstan completing pre-launch checks.  The crew will take a 2-day ride on the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft after launching from the Baikonur cosmodrome.  Their mission is scheduled to last until February 27th, 2017.

L-R, Kimbrough, Ryzikov, and Borisenko prepare for liftoff.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Meanwhile, back way-topside, science and maintenance continued apace on the station.  NASA astronaut Kate Rubins continued her DNA sequencing work, while JAXA astronaut Takuya Onishi cleaned ventilation fans and measured air flow.  Cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin gathered data for the Pilot-T experiment, which explores how crew members adapt to the stresses of long-term spaceflight.

We'll miss the imagery from Commander Jeff Williams, but he signed off beautifully!



That's all for this week, space fans.  We'll see you next Sunday with all of the above from all of them above!  Watch this space!


"I will certainly miss this view! But it’s time to return home to the planet
and I do so with a tremendous sense of gratitude toward my crewmates,
 the ground teams, supporting friends around the globe, and my family."
-ISS Commander Jeff Williams.
Thanks for your service, Commander!

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Space Station Sunday: Three Hurricanes And A Spacewalk


Good evening, space fans!  What a week for working offshore of the world!  Here's what was up...

Sometimes the Earth acts up:
Hurricanes Lester, Madeline, and Gaston
breeze over seas.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


On Thursday, Commander Jeff Williams and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins spent 6 hours and 48 minutes conducting an E.V.A. (extravehicular activity...a.k.a. spacewalk.)  It was the pair's second spacewalk in as many weeks, and allowed them to not only finish their intended tasks, but also a few "get-ahead" jobs.  A backup thermal control radiator was retracted, bolts on a solar array were tightened, and two new HD cameras were installed to keep track of aliens incoming spacecraft and exciting visuals of Earth.  It was the 195th spacewalk conducted from the I.S.S.


Commander Williams installs a docking adapter
 during his previous spacewalk on 8/19.
He's got mad street cred, in space.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

While the spacewalk remained tranquil, a series of hurricanes squalled down below.  Hurricane Lester in the Pacific (moving at 125 miles an hour), Hurricane Madeline (130 m.p.h.), and Hurricane Gaston in the Atlantic (100 m.p.h.) were all wreaking havoc on the waters of Earth.  All toll, the three hurricanes had no impact on the station, but certainly looked cool from space.





Seriously, good get on installing the new camera.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Rubins, who is also a doctor, made history in space this week after successful operating a  biomolecule sequencing device aboard the station.  This was the first attempt at sequencing DNA in orbit, and could later prove useful for diagnosing diseases or identifying microbes aboard the station.  For longer-duration missions, this could prove useful when far from Earth, and the sequencer could even be helpful in determining the nature of other DNA-based life forms should we run across any while outside our cozy little home planet.

The cosmonauts also kept busy with science this week, examining issues like how deeply humans can feel pain on long-duration spaceflights, how the digestive system adapts to microgravity life, and how stress can affect different astronauts while on missions.


"Also, it looks kind of scary as night falls."
-some official space science report, probably.
(Image courtesy Jeff Williams / NASA.gov.

Williams, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka will be headed home on Tuesday, with Williams currently holding the record for most accrued time spent in space by an American.  We'll miss you, Commander, and especially your excellent imagery!  Let's catch a few more snaps before Commander Williams floats back down to Earth...


Perito Moreno glacier, Argentina.

Ahmar Mountains, Ethiopia.

A "sand wave" in the Bahamas.


That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with even more excellence from orbit!  Watch this space!


"Need a mental escape from the summer heat?
Try these frozen volcanoes of Kamchatka."
-Commander Jeff Williams

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Space Station Sunday: National Treasures

Good afternoon space fans!  It's been another wonderful week for our friends whipping around above the world.  Here's what was up!


The SpaceX Dragon heads back to the realm of mortals.
(Image courtesy phys.org.)


Commander Jeff Williams set a record for most accumulated time in space by an American, surpassing even the famed One-Year Crew member Scott Kelly.  As of August 21, Williams had served a total 520 days in orbit. Williams had previously served as a shuttle crew member on STS-101 in 2000, as well two previous tours on the station, in 2006 and 2009.  When he returns to Earth this September, he will have acccured 534 total days hauling around in the heavens.


Congratulations, Commander!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

SpaceX Dragon returned to Earth on Friday, stocked with some 3,000 thousand of pounds of cargo and science experiments.  It landed 326 miles off the coast of Baja, California, as part of the 9th commercial cargo mission contracted with NASA.  It will be transported to MacGregor, Texas for processing, after offloading some materials in Los Angeles.


Astronauts Kate Rubins and Commander Jeff Williams
watch the Dragon fly home.
(Image courtesy NASA..gov.)

Experiments included the heart cells study, a study on astronauts' immune systems, a study of liquid crystals in microgravity, and a group of tomato seeds that had been flown to space and will be planted on Earth to examine the differences between them and seeds that had always been bound by gravity.

NASA gave a shout-out to the 100th anniversary of the American National Parks system, and included some images that are a little different from what you'd see on your family vacation!


The Grand Canyon, looking particularly grand.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

And, since Commander Williams has spent so much time in space, he's got a great eye for the lovely nuances of our planet!  Take it away, Commander!


Turkey!

Surat, India!

Mississippi Delta!

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with more excellence from orbit!


Redwood National Park, California.
Those giant redwoods don't look so big from up here!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday: Dock Stars

Good afternoon, space fans!  It's been another week of outstanding operations in orbit!  Here's what was up...

Astronaut Rubins makes space for more spacecrafts
by installing the new International Docking Adapter.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

On Friday, Commander Jeff Williams and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins went for an E.V.A. (extravehicular activity, a.k.a spacewalk) to install an International Docking Adapter.  The adapter is a port that makes it possible to accommodate the docking of a number of different types of modern spacecraft.  The SpaceX crew Dragon, the Boeing Starliner, and other types of manned spacecraft will be able to utilize the docking adapter to gain entrance into the station.

Plenty of parking, if you can handle the drive...
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


The spacewalk took 5 hours and 58 minutes to complete (faster than the scheduled 6.5 hours projected for the installment.)  The relative speed was abetted by the fact that the adapter had been maneuvered from the "trunk" of the Dragon spacecraft into its installation position via the Canadarm-2 robotic arm.  Another similar docking adapter will be added to the station at a later date.  Wonder what spacewalking feels like?  NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock answered some questions on the topic on these spectacular strolls.


"At the edge of the world installing the Int'l Docking Adapter.
Congrats to the teams who made this possible." -Astronaut Kate Rubins
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Other science this week included making observations on a physics study of particles suspended in water.  This could be beneficial for possible materials sciences endeavors back on Earth,as the particles might find unique ways to align themselves thanks to the microgravity environment on the ISS.  JAXA astronaut Takuya Onishi studied how microgravity would affect the genetics of mice.

The cosmonauts kept busy as well, with Anatoly Ivanishin and Alexey Ovchinin working on a variety of experiments.  They worked on a system that detects micro-meteorite impacts on the station, as well as how bacteria interact with viruses in space.

Love everything about space?  NASA has made its complete archives free to the public for perusal!  Everything (except that which deals with possible issues of national security) is included, so you can expand your mind as far as the stars!

And as always, Commander Jeff Williams snagged some sweet space snaps!  Here's how we'd look from a realllllly long selfie stick...


"A place of inspiration, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
#FindYourPark #NPS100."

"The last month has gone by quickly…full Moon again!"

"Mount St. Helens looks spectacular from directly above!
#FindYourPark #NPS100."

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with even more excellence from orbit!  Watch this space!


Great job, astronaut Rubins and Commander Williams!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday: Small Satellites, Science And Spacewalks

Good afternoon, space fans!  It’s been another week of excellence in orbit.  Here’s what was up!

The sun rises on another 16 mornings (per day!) in space.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


This week, a group of Earthling middle school students competed in the Zero Robotics competition that involved programming and orienting SPHERES robots (miniature satellites) aboard the station.  The small satellites run on programs written by the students, and the competition involved maneuvering the SPHERES to different locations to complete challenges.  Inspiring young people to get involved in aiding space is a great harbinger for future exploration!
  

Can they program one to clean the space toilet?
No humans want that job.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins have been working in preparation for an upcoming spacewalk on August 19th, but both took the day off on Thursday to relax.  The spacewalk will find the two astronauts installing the first of two International Docking Adapters, which will enable new commercial crew spacecraft to easily dock with the station.  JAXA astronaut Takuya Onishi, who got the day off as well (in celebration of Japan’s new “Mountain Day” holiday) will be assisting the spacewalkers during their spin outside.

You'll be able to watch the spacewalk live on NASA TV, right here!


Formal dress for floating:  astornaut Rubins dons her spacesuit in practice.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Rubins also celebrated seeing heart cells beating in space as part of the Heart Cells investigation, which assesses how the muscle tissue of the human heart changes in microgravity.  By watching the cells expand, contract, and interact in the micro-G investigation, it could aid future diagnostic technology, drug screening, or cell replacement therapy on Earth…or maybe even on a long-distance space trip!

The cosmonauts kept busy as always, with second-time station veteran Oleg Skripochka sampling air and various surfaces in the Russian segment to search for errant microbes and ensure overall cleanliness.  Alexey Ovchinin and Anatoly Ivanishin tested communication connections interacting with various systems in the Russian modules.  

The crew also collected biological and data samples for several experiments, including taking eye exams as part of the Fluid Shifts study.  This study assesses the impact of microgravity on the human eyeball when the fluids of the body move around in micro-gravity.  Findings could help improve ocular health for long-term spaceflight.

Space does not care about your weak human flesh.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


And speaking of looking at cool things, Commander Jeff Williams captured even more spectacular space snaps this week!  Take it away, Commander!

"Elephant shape in the Namibia Sossusvlei dunes,
Namib-Naukluft National Park."

"Bighorn National Forest, Cloud Peak Wilderness area."


"Center of Badwater Death Valley National Park.
#FindYourPark #NPS100."

That’s all for this week, space fans!  Check in with us next week to hear about all the excellence involved in the extravehicular activity (that’s NASA-speak for “spacewalk”, landlubbers.)  Watch this space!


Don't you wish this was your Sunday brunch?
Gotta love the big happy space family.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday: Every Breath You Take, Every Micro-Satellite You Make

Good afternoon, space fans!  We hope you have had a stellar week…we know a few people who always seem to!  Here’s what was happening on our favorite orbital outpost…


Don't knock the noctilucent clouds.
It was another stunning spin through space this week...
(Image courtesy Jeff Williams / NASA.gov.)


 Commander Jeff Williams and astronaut Kate Rubins checked out their spacesuits in preparation for an upcoming spacewalk (“extravehicular activity” for all you space connoisseurs.)  They will make an egress for progress on August 19th, spending 6.5 hours outside the station to install a new docking adapter.  The adapter will facilitate a variety of future spacecraft connecting more efficiently with the station.


If we were mass media, we'd be saying something about
how Kate Rubins is seen here modeling all the hottest new space fashion
or something similarly dumb.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Studies on the changes and developments being made on human heart cells in space, as well as effects noted on samples of mouse DNA, were tended to by the astronauts this week.  Work also continued on the Fluid Shifts study, which assesses how the fluids of the body move to affect internal pressure while our spacefarers are undergoing their missions.


It's the ultimate high-jump in space.
Good luck to all the Olympic competitors in Rio (pictured.)
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

A European Space Agency science effort called the Airway Monitoring Experiment found the astronauts sitting in the Quest airlock, exhaling deeply into a special device that monitored the nitrogen oxide components in their breath.  While this experiment focuses specifically on lung function and capacity in space, the ability to accurately monitor these kinds of changes in the body could be extremely useful when longer-duration space missions would require astronauts to provide their own medical care.


Which might become of paramount importance, if whatever's
in that glovebox escapes.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Commander Williams and Cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka tested out some bowling-ball-sized satellites, which will be maneuvered as part of the SPHERES Zero Robotics competition.  Various high school students will be competing to see whose computer code best controls the micro-satellites aboard the station.  The ability to better maintain and manipulate satellites –even little ones- to obtain research data could someday aid in future space missions.


One of the best parts about space is commanding little robots
to do your bidding up there.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Speaking of commanding things well, congratulations to Commander Jeff Williams, who celebrated his accrued 500th day in space this week!  One August 24th, he will break famed One-Year Crew astronaut Scott Kelly's record of 520 days in space.  Keep up keeping up, Commander!

And of course, a seasoned spacefarer like the commander has got more cool pictures for us Earthlings this week!  Here's some of the space selection from the last hundred or so orbits...


"Summer storms over Cuba and Bahamas."


"Fascinating beauty from nature's intricacy.
Mountains and valley fog imitate clouds and lightning near Lake Titicaca."


"The world comes together in these photos
just like the people are coming together at the Olympics."


That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with even more of the awesomeness aloft in orbit!  Watch this space!


It must be hard to gaze over the entire South Pacific
and not get to be able to go to any beaches.
The whole "flying around the planet" thing probably evens it out, though.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


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The Bright Side Of The Moon: Speculative Moon-Mining Mission Is Go

As Led Zeppelin extols, it’s been a long time since we walked in the moonlight.  Well, at the source, at least.  Now, although humans aren’t slated to return to our shiny little satellite-rock anytime soon, a private company has been granted access to robotically rock the regolith…


Sky pioneers = sky-oneers?
(Image courtesy techcrunch.com.)


According to space.com, the Florida-based company Moon Express has been officially approved for a robotic lunar landing in 2017.  Moon Express intends to fly commercial missions to our stellar sibling for the purpose of studying and eventually gleaning its resources.  It is the first time in history that a private company has been given permission to land on the moon.

"Space travel is our only path forward to ensure our survival and create a limitless future for our children," Moon Express co-founder and Chairman Naveen Jain said.


An image of our impending robotic moon-domination.
Get it, future!
(Image courtesy pics-about-space.com.)


This approval is thought to be the first in a bevy of decisions that could regulate the burgeoning deep-space industry.  Prospective space-mining companies have thus far only been granted access to work on or around planet Earth.  The approval was granted first by the Federal Aviation Administration before going on to be cleared by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department Of Defense, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administratiion, and the Federal Communications Commission.


One small robot from man, one giant robotic leap for mankind!
(Image courtesy americaspace.com.)


Moon Express, who have already signed a multi-launch deal with Rocket Lab, plans to launch a proprietary landing craft called the MX-1 aboard a Rocket Lab Electron booster.  The initial mission objectives for the MX-1 will be to test its performance strengths and weaknesses while moving around on the moon.   

They’re also maneuvering for the Google LunarX-Prize, a competition that will award $20 million to the first company that lands a craft on the moon, mobilizes it for at least 500 meters, and beams HD evidence of their success back to Earth.  (Sixteen teams remain in the running for this particular goal, with the runner-up receiving $5 million, and an additional $5 million for meeting other moon-milestones.)


Future missions would find Moon Express landers locating and extracting resources such as water-based ice or other moon materials.  No word yet on how the cheese is.  But as Jain claims, "In 15 years, the moon will be an important part of Earth’s economy, and potentially our second home."


Artist's rendition of the MX-1 in lunar orbit.
Next stop, Moonhattan?
(Image courtesy theengineer.co.uk.)

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Space Station Sunday: Hearts And Minds (And Eyeballs)

Good afternoon, space fans!  It’s been another outstanding week in orbit!  Here’s what was up.

Grand Teton National Park,
somehow even MORE beautiful from space.
(Image courtesy NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.)


This week, astronaut Kate Rubins commenced the Heart Cells study, which assesses how the cells of the human heart might grow, change, or otherwise react to a microgravity environment.  The cells being studied are human stem cells that have been scientifically coerced into becoming heart cells specifically for this mission.  They will be analyzed for a month on the ISS and then sent back to Earth for further review.

Ya gotta have heart {cells, manipulated from human stem cells.}
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Other scientific studies aboard the station this week included gathering more data for the Fluid Shifts study, which determines the impact that microgravity has on our heads, particularly regarding our squishy, water-based human eyeballs.  Commander Jeff Williams and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin used an ultrasound scan and a tonometer to monitor the fluid pressure in their heads and eyes.  This research could help with the understanding of how the body’s fluids move to increase pressure in the head while in space, which can affect astronauts’ vision.

Williams and Rubins also resized a pair of spacesuits in preparation for their upcoming E.V.A. (extravehicular activity…code for a spacewalk.)  The pair will float outside on August 19thto install an International Docking Adapter for new types of incoming spacecraft.  The docking adapter was delivered aboard the Dragon and will be robotically maneuvered into position near the Harmony module two days before the spacewalk.  This innovative new adapter will allow for many different types of modern spacecraft to share the same docking port aboard the ISS.


No, they are not tailoring Kate's spacesuit to be
"slim-fitting" or "push-up / enhancing."
Sorry, pervy aliens.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

With 5.5 tons of gear, food, and scientific supplies to unpack from their two recent deliveries, the astronauts and cosmonauts had a busy week transferring the new cargo.  A fresh spacesuit was swapped out for an older one (to be sent back to Earth on the SpaceX Dragon’s re-arrival), and a multitude of interesting new space gear entered the station.  A portable DNA sequencer, a new type of solar cells, several small “Gumstix” computers, and a device to help more accurately regulate the station’s temperature were included.


"Do NOT miss grabbing the capsule, dammit, our fresh coffee stash is in there."
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Got an idea for ways to give the ISS some more commercial usage?  NASA wants to know!  No, sadly, we can’t open a rock ‘n roll bar up there, that’s not what they have in mind.  (Trust us, we tried.)  In the meantime, our space tourism will have to be enjoyed from the vantage point of Commander Jeff Williams, who always makes the Earth feel pretty.


Ice floes off of Newfoundland.
"Interesting manmade structures in the dunes of the Saudi peninsula,
border road between UAE and Oman."

"Northern Rockies shrouded in early morning valley fog."

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with even more from the scientific spectacularity swooping around our planet!  Watch this space!


South African agriculture.
There's something for everyone on our home planet...
(Image courtesy NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.)

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Space Station Sunday: Progress & Dragon Deliver

Hello, space fans!  It's been another wonderful week for the humans and spacecraft whipping around over the world.  Here's what was up!

"Game Of Thrones" has nothing on this beast.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft arrived safely at the station on Wednesday, after launching on Monday from Cape Canaveral aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.  The Falcon then returned to Earth, while the Dragon will remain docked at the station for several more months.


SpaceX's master plan for creating re-sable rockets
is no longer just science fiction.
This particular landing was not on a barge, but they did land vertically, successfully!
(Image courtesy SpaceX.com.)

Some 5,000 pounds of equipment, crew supplies, and scientific experiments were aboard the Dragon.  The research includes a miniature DNA sequencing device, a machine to help better control the environment aboard the station, a new form of computerized ship-tracking that could aid with maritime cargo routes or emergencies on earth, a study regarding astronauts' bone loss in space, a series of small computer chips that will undergo space-radiation exposure testing, an innovative new carbon-nanotube solar cell, and much more.


A long-exposure shot of the Dragon departing and the Falcon reentering.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The Dragon was grappled to the station using the 57.7 foot robotic arm, the Canadarm-2.  Commander Jeff Williams and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins orchestrated the capture.  It will remain attached to the ISS until August 29th, when it will return to Earth bearing important scientific data for recovery.  More details on the research aboard the station can be found here.


These fine folks at the Johnson Space Center's Mission Control
aided in the Dragon's capture.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

As the Dragon was hurtling skyward on Monday, the Progress 64 Russian cargo ship arrived at the station, bearing even more supplies, including food and fuel.


Progress, progressing.
(Image courtesy NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.)

Speaking of supplies, do you ever wonder what the ISS astronauts eat to keep their strength up, up there?  Here's a NASA blog article detailing some of the culinary choices in the cosmos!

That looks pretty tasty, on-planet or off.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Other station science activities this week included work on cell cultures, genetic expression, bone loss, and changes in heart muscle tissue.  And of course, Commander Jeff Williams found time to capture some glamour shots of the home planet.


"Glacier in northern Pakistan."


"Morning in the Canary Islands..."


Mt. Kilimanjaro.

"Using the robotic arm, we grabbed ourselves
a Dragon cargo vehicle after a successful rendezvous."
-Commander Jeff Williams, total badass.

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with more awesomeness from just outside the atmosphere...watch this space!


The Dragon basks in the sunshine after floating to its sky-home.
Great work from everyone who strove to get it there!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Standby For Space Station Sunday!

Good afternoon, space fans!  We have to swing a little bit outside our usual orbit today, but the latest news on the ISS resupply ships, the new DNA and heart muscle studies aboard, and the most interesting images from that lofty laboratory will be arriving later on today (possibly very early tomorrow, depending on your position on our planet.)  Thanks for standing by...watch this space!

Dragon, draggin' up supplies!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday: New Hearts And Spare Parts

Good afternoon, space fans!  It’s been another wonderful week aboard our favorite orbital observatory!  Here’s what was up!

It's not like there's any rest stops up there!
The Progress 64 is loaded with goodies for a special space delivery
before departing Kazahkstan.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Yesterday at 3:41 AM Baikonur time, the Progress 64 cargo craft launched to the station, bearing more than three tons of food, fuel, and supplies.  Although achieving preliminary orbit about ten minutes post-launch, the Progress will “chase” the ISS over the next two days before the astronauts connect it with the Pirs Docking Compartment aboard the station.  The Progress 64 will remain at the station for six months until it undergoes a deorbit burn in Earth’s atmosphere in January.


Meanwhile, at Cape Canaversal,
a repeat performance of this will occur...
(Image courtesy spaceflightnow.com.)

SpaceX is currently preparing for tomorrow’s projected launch to the station.  An umanned Dragon resupply craft will launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, blasting off from a launch window commencing at 12:45 AM ET.  Conditions are said to be 90% favorable for launch!  The Dragon will be snatched from space and attached to the station by Commander Jeff Williams and newbie ISS residents Kate Williams and Takuya Onishi, who have been undergoing robotics training with the commander.  They will snag the Dragon using the station’s onboard Canadarm-2 robotic grappling arm.

Astronaut Kate Rubins has only been in space for just over a week, but she has adapted to the flying life just fine!  In addition to her robotics training, she commenced setting up an experiment on heart cells inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox, and also obtained samples for various human research investigations that the station continually carries out.

She's so good, she can sequence DNA
UPSIDE DOWN.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Rubins and her fellow crewmates Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi also underwent an “ISS 101” tour led by Commander Williams, wherein they reacquainted themselves with all of the aspects of the station and got their “space legs” (space wings?)  The trio arrived at the station last Saturday morning after a flawless flight up.


Here is a list of all of the Earthlings to visit the ISS.
Many more to hopefully follow!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Ivanishin and fellow cosmonaut Alexey Ovechenin also practiced manual docking techniques were any issues to arise with capture of the delivery rockets.  The Dragon delivery will include a new type of docking adapter that will fit with many modern types of spacecraft.


Think of it as a sort of all-purpose Lego piece
to attach spaceships to the ISS.
Here's how it works!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

In addition to the hardware and heart cell experiment, the Dragon will bear equipment and supplies for an experiment concerning bone loss, as well as one that focuses on the sequencing of DNA.  An experiment dealing with the efficacy of medicine in space is also underway.

Speaking of underway, here's how pretty we looked from above during this week!  Take it away, Commander Williams!

The Grand Canyon
(partially on fire.)


A farm-friendly delta near Thessaloniki, Greece.


"Finally! We got a great view of those rarely seen noctilucent or “night-shining” clouds over the northern Pacific looking north just prior to a sunrise. Mysteriously amazing! They occur over the polar regions, are well above all other visible weather in the coldest layers of the atmosphere, and are thought to be made of extremely small ice crystals."

More information on noctilucent clouds can be found here."
(-via Commander Jeff Williams' facebook post.)


"Ending the day with reflection and appreciation.
 Good night from the International Space Station."
-Commander Jeff Williams

That's all for this week, space fans!  Tune in next week to see what's afloat in orbit!  Watch this space!


Here comes Progress!
The rocket plume of the spacecraft entering orbit
was captured with a 500mm lens.
After capturing the image, Commander Williams noted,
"No matter how long you spend here, there is always something new to see."

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Space Station Sunday: Expedition 48-49 Moves On Up

Good afternoon, space fans!  It’s been another week of spectacularity from those humans spinning around the planet!

So long, Soyuz!
From Kazahkstan to the stars...
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Yesterday, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, JAXA astronaut Takuya Onishi, and cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin officially commenced their orbital adventure on Expedition 48-49 when the hatch between their Soyuz spacecraft was opened and the crew entered the station.  They had launched with no issues from Baikonur Kosmodrome in Kazahkstan on Wednesday.

The voyage upwards, which usually takes a matter of hours rather than days, took the extra time on purpose to study upgrades made to the Soyuz.  These included new elements for the thrusters, debris shielding, power, and digital video.  This new model Soyuz MS-01 was the first of its kind to fly into space.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins shows Houston there are no problems.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The new crew joins Commander Jeff Williams (NASA) and Flight Engineers Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin  (Roscosmos).  The three new crew will remain aboard the station until late October, while the men who had already been aboard will return home in September.

Over the next several months, the crew will conduct a vast variety of experiments, including ones tailored to Rubins’ background in microbiology (she will be the first human being to sequence DNA in space.)  They will also receive several resupply shipments that include food, experiments, and even two new docking adapters to aid future spacecraft in connecting with the station.  Williams and Rubin will be installing the first of these adapters in an EVA (extravehicular activity – a.k.a. spacewalk) later this summer.


She has a doctorate in cancer biology, she's sequencing DNA in  microgravity,
and she'll be flying around outside to help install a docking adapter for spaceships...
Kate Rubins is awesome.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

SpaceX’s ninth commercial resupply mission will be among the delivery vehicles, and their payload will include not only the aforementioned docking adapters, but also experiments regarding the sequencing of DNA in space, understanding bone loss and heart changes in microgravity, and possible new means of regulating temperature inside spacecraft.

And while the three new crewmembers were declaring their independence from Earth, Commander Jeff Williams took some phenomenal photographs of America’s original colonies in tribute to Independence Day. 

Philly!

New York!

Boston!
(Harbor now sans tea.)

That’s all for this week, space fans!  We’ll be back next week with details on how the new crew are adapting to the high-flying life, as well as updates on all things scientific on the station!  Watch this space!

Full moon rising over Western China.
Inspiring more innovations for explorations...
(Image courtesy NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.)

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Space Station Sunday: Brine Times And New Climbs


Good afternoon, space fans!  It’s been another week of excellence in orbit!

The "bulls-eye" of the Richat structure, North Africa.
(Image courtesy NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.)



The Expedition 48-49 crew, comprised of NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and JAXA astronaut Takauya Onishi, are making final launch preparations in Kazahkstan.  They will launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome on July 6th (July 7th, Kazakhstan time) aboard a Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft.  The launch will be aired on NASA TV, if you want to tune in to watch them space out!

Safe spacetravels!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Rubins, who considers herself a "virus hunter" and who works with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, talked about her enthusiasm for finding out how microgravity will affect "the world of microbiology, molecular and cellular biology and human physiology" in a recent interview with ABC News.  

In other station science news this week, a contract was awarded to Paragon Space Development Corporation of Tucson, Arizona, for their water-recovery system that extracts potable water from human urine.  The Brine Processor Assembly is schedule for a test flight in 2018, and could be a major aid for astronauts bound for Mars.


Meanwhile, the so-called "Hub Of The Universe" (Boston, MA)
gets depopulated for the beaches of Cape Cod right around now...
(Image courtesy NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.)

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams used the onboard 3-D printer to create “coupons”, which are prototypes of possible tools that could be created on the station.  Identical coupons were also 3-D printed on the ground, then compared to the space-created ones to assess any differences or possible flaws in the two.  Since every ounce of gear sent into space costs money and planning-time to factor its weight into a payload, the ability to create tools or small spaceship parts in orbit (or beyond) on demand could be tremendously useful to the crew.

Williams also captured some of his spectacular space shots for us Earthlings to enjoy!  Damn, do we look good from orbit!


NASA's new SLS (Space Launch System), the most powerful booster
yet created by Orbital ATK company, is tested in Promontory, Utah.
The booster will someday launch missions to Mars.

Some stunning aurora-aura over Australia!


Glaciers in the Canadian Cascade Mountains!

That's all for this week, space fans!  See you next Sunday will all the news on our newest spacefarers, and more!  Watch this space!


Expedition 48-49, plus backup crew, and one hell of a tight ride!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday: A Lovely Landing & Fire In The Sky


Good afternoon, space fans!  It's been an informative and intriguing week, 200-odd miles above the Earth, and also back down dirtside...

Always nice to be able to continue to post images like these.
Congrats on the completed mission, gentlemen!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


On Tuesday, the Cygnus cargo spacecraft was released from the station and sent to its fiery demise in Earth's atmosphere.  The Cygnus was grappled away from the station by NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, who used the Canadarm-2 robotic arm to maneuver the spacecraft.


The Cygnus, upon approach.
It has since turned into a giant fireball...for science.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The Cygnus was equipped with the Saffire-1 experiment, which measures the impact of fires in microgravity.  Special equipment inside the spacecraft measured oxygen consumption of an intentionally-set fire, while also monitoring flame growth and other critical aspects of space arson.

This will help NASA to determine which materials are safest for spaceflight, how to curtail flammability in microgravity, and more information to thwart damage from alien lasers  prevent one of space travel's biggest threats.

To date, torching the 16 by 37-inch piece of cotton and fiberglass inside the Cygnus was the largest fire ever set in space.  You can learn more about Saffire-1 and its successors here!


So long and thanks for all the science, Cygnus!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

On Friday, shortly before the Soyuz departure, command of the spaceccraft was ceremonially handed over to NASA astronaut (now Commander) Jeff Williams by Tim Kopra.  Commander Williams remains aboard with cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin, the official crew of Expedition 48.

Three new crew members - NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, and Takuya Onishi of JAXA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) will join them on July 9th after a launch from Kazahkstan on July 7th.


Williams, top center, is now the ISS Commander,
and thus the official ambassador to aliens.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

On Friday, ESA astronaut Tim Peake, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (bottom left to right in the above image) returned safely to Earth in their Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft.  Malenchenko piloted the Soyuz to a clean landing in Kazahkstan, completing his sixth space mission and accruing a total of 828 days in space, making him the silver medalist of Russian spacefarers, just behind veteran cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.

Kopra has completed 244 days in space over the course of two missions, while Peake was on his inaugural trip as Britain's first ISS astronaut.  He served 186 days on this mission, beginning when the crew launched from Baikonur on December 15th.


And considering how much fun he seemed to have,
he probably can't wait to go back!
(Image courtesy ESA.org.)

Though it was Peake's first trip to space, he sure acclimated well!  A video of him doing scientific somersaults (EIGHTY of them) recently surfaced in which Peake (and impromptu spinning coach) Tim Kopra conduct a "provocative" and entertaining experiment.  Peake was making an attempt to get dizzy in space, which is difficult as the brain reverts to information from the eyes (rather than the inner ears) after a short while in space.




During his mission, Peake even ran the London Marathon in space!  Too bad there's no space gymnastics events in the Olympics...yet.

Peake also managed to capture some excellent images while aboard...here are some of his favorites.


A volcano on Russia's east coast.

"I'm guessing there was an impressive storm going on
under that cumulonimbus cloud!"  -Tim Peake

"This cloud looks good enough to surf!"   -Tim Peake

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you soon with more excellence from orbit!  Watch this space!


And you thought driving through fog on Earth was eerie.
How about this ethereal green aurora?
(Image courtesy Tim Peake / ESA.org.)


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Setting Sail For The Stars: Elon Musk's Martian Colonization Plan Is Serious

Earthlings, rejoice, you may not be forced to remain bound by the surly bonds of our gravity for much longer. Noted future-forward thinker and tech revolutionary Elon Musk wants to start a Martian migration A.S.A.P….are you willing to trade in the Pale Blue Dot for a chance to pioneer on the Red Planet?

Musk for Martian President, 2032!
(Image courtesy bornscientist.com.)

According to TechNewsWorld.com, Musk has ambitious plans for series of Martian missions that will culminate in colonization. His rocketry company, SpaceX, has already proven its viability by transporting supplies to the International Space Station, and they’ve even made innovative strides in advancing space technology (such as landing their returning rocket upright on a barge, which could pave the way for reusable rockets and less astronomically-expensive space flights.) Now, he seeks nothing less than an actual new world.

By Musk’s schedule, the first SpaceX Martian lander would launch in 2018, with subsequent flights leaving Earth every two years (at the point in which Earth and Mars are closest in their orbital neighborhoods to each other.) These unmanned missions, likely abetted by SpaceX Dragon capsules aboard Falcon Heavy rockets, would conduct science experiments, set up infrastructure, and canvas the terrain using rovers.

Can't stop, won't stop:  the Martian rover Opportunity,
active since 2003, continues to learn about the Red Planet
so we puny fleshlings can swoop in and conquer it.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)
 
Then, around the late 2025, a manned mission would finally head to Mars. This timeframe is extremely optimistic, beating out NASA’s own plans by several years (they have previously speculated on sending men to Mars in the 2030s, but Congress may insist for the publicly-funded space agency to focus on a nearer, less life-threatening voyage back to the moon, first.) NASA will help SpaceX logistically for the 2018 launch, but will not pay the Mars tab.

The 140-million-mile trek will be long and arduous (humans or not), but is already being compared to the voyage undertaken by the Pilgrims and other early colonists of America. The concept has been speculated on for some time, but is now within the realm of reality.


For instance, we know better than to send Matt Damon, now.
His ass is always needing to get rescued.
(Image courtesy variety.com.)

TechSavvy Global analyst Scott Steinberg explained, "The reality is that this technology has been promised for decades, but finally the technology is catching up with the promise…The question becomes how rapidly the technology is developed, and whether the costs are such this mission could be accomplished."

Those costs also include the human ones. Musk himself admits that there are significant guts that will have to be put on the line to achieve Martain glory. "Hopefully there’s enough people who are like that who are willing to go build the foundation, at great risk, for a Martian city," he told The Washington Post. "It’s dangerous and probably people will die—and they’ll know that."

OK, we’ve been warned. We’ll still sign the disclaimer and ship out (up?) the very instant the call for one-way Martian citizens goes out. In the meantime, can we try not to wreck up Earth any more than necessary? It’s going to take some time before your Martian apartment complex is 3-D printed from the regolith…


Is it worth risking everything and leaving the only planet you've ever known
just to wage conquest like no other human being ever has?
YES.  SI.  JA.  And "ABSOLUTELY" in any other Earth language.
(Image courtesy space.com.)

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Space Station Sunday: Homeward Bound And Good-Looking Ground

Good afternoon, space fans!  It's been another exciting week in space...here's what was up!

"In peace for all mankind, I declare this my new chillax room."
Astronaut Jeff Williams inspects the B.E.A.M. module
(but later closed the hatch, leaving the B.E.A.M. empty for further study.)
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)



This past week, the Bigelow Expandable Activities Module (B.E.A.M.) was opened and assessed by NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.  The inflatable structure was architecturally sound, even after being flat-packed, shipped into space, and filled with air.

Williams placed sensors inside the module to monitor its climate and other important elements.  This will help improve techniques used to identify leaks on the ISS.  The module will remain aboard for at least the next 2 years as the astronauts study its viability in the harsh climate of space.


Williams assesses the B.E.A.M.;
finds no way that alien squatters can sneak in.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The Orbital ATK spacecraft, Cygnus, will be returned to Earth on Tuesday.  It will depart the Unity module of the ISS via extraction with the Canadarm-2 robotic grappling arm, manned by astronauts Tim Peake and Tim Kopra.

However, instead of immediately crashing in a crazy fireball back down to earth, it will continue to orbit for eight more days, as scientists study the combustive properties and orbital mechanics of it crashing in a crazy fireball back down to earth.  This data will be calculated by the tragic-sounding (but interesting) ReEntry Breakup Recorder.

Peake and Kopra, along with cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, will then send themselves home on the Soyuz TMA-19M on Saturday.  Safe travels, spacefarers!


Tim's had a jolly good time in space,
but it's time to return back down dirtside after 186 days...
(Image courtesy Tim Peake.)

Space science experiments this week included studying the accelerated aging process of skin while in space, radiation's various impacts on the station,  and the nature of plant hormones' effect on their host when grown in micro-gravity.

The astronauts also continued studies on the station's various vibrations endured during dockings and also its technology for hurricane prediction.

This time next week, astronauts Jeff Williams will be COMMANDER Jeff Williams when he assumes the helm of the ISS for the official start of Expedition 48.  We hope he still has time to take his amazing photos!  Here's a few from this week...


Mt. St. Helens, in Washington.


The White Sands National Monument (and Missile Range), New Mexico.


"I feel like this picture may actually be worth 1000 words.
International Space Station floating silently over the Andes."
-Astronaut Jeff Williams

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with even more excellence from orbit.  Watch this space!


Want to learn about dizziness in space?
Tim did an experiment for you.
Safe travels home!



The magnificent Milky Way maintains...
(Image courtesy Tim Peake.)

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Space Station Sunday: B.E.A.M. Me Up!

Good afternoon, space fans!  It's been another amazing week outside the atmosphere.  Here's what was up!

Well, we know which module we want to record a space-rock album in.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Last Saturday, a historical occasion took place when the B.E.A.M. (Bigelow Expandable Activities Module) was inflated to its full size adjacent the station.  The module, which is a collapsible "spare room" that is the first of its kind in space, was inflated via a series of some two dozen bursts of air, sent in via NASA astronaut Jeff Williams from the main body of the station.

Ground teams from NASA and Bigelow Aerospace worked at NASA's Mission Control at the Johnson Spaceflight Center to aid in overseeing the operation.  Air valves were opened for a total time of 2 minutes, 27 seconds to fill the B.E.A.M., however the full operation took around seven hours (to ensure stability of the new module.)


Every hot air balloon in history has been building up to this badassery.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Tomorrow, astronaut Jeff Williams will participate in another space first, when he ventures inside the B.E.A.M. to place sensors for monitoring its environment.  The module is an important leap forward in spaceflight, as it could make launch costs significantly cheaper when flying up the relatively-lightweight inflatable modules (only around 3,000 pounds) versus dealing with heavier spacecraft parts arriving piecemeal for construction.

The B.E.A.M.'s final size is 158 inches in length and 127 inches in diameter, providing 565 cubic feet of usable interior space.  It will remain aboard the station for two years, as studied are carried out on the viability of such units in space.  For more info on the B.E.A.M., inflate your brain here!


Time-lapse video of B.E.A.M.'s deployment.
No, it didn't just go *foomp* and fill with air.
Space safety is important when making history!


Meanwhile, on the ground, the crew of Expedition 48-49 are in Star City, Russia, readying themselves for their trip to the station on June 24th.  Soyuz Commander Anatoly Ivanishin and Flight Engineers Kate Rubins and Takuya Onishi will launch from Kazahkstan and remain aboard the station until October 30th.


Onishi, Ivanishin, and Rubins ready themselves for some astro-adventure.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Want to take a spin around the station for yourself?  Check out this 3-D guided tour of the ISS!




And finally, what would another few laps around the planet be without some awesome imagery from astronaut Jeff Williams?  Throw it down for us dirt-siders!

Clouds over the Sahara Desert.


The Great Escarpment of South Africa.

An "intense light source" in Nevada, visible for over 1,000 miles...


...turns out to be not a reverse UFO, but the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project!
Check it out!


That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you soon, with more spectacularity from the stars.  Watch this space!


And they'll be watching us, right back.  Awww.
(Image courtesy NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.)

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Space Station Sunday: 100,000 Laps And Still Lofty

Good afternoon, space fans!  It's been another stellar week in space.

Satellites Lite:  two little Cubesats head out to work in the atmosphere.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

On Monday of last week, the station achieved the major milestone of having traveled for 100,000 orbits.  This means that over the past 17 years, the space station has flown some 2.6 billion miles in laps around the Earth.  That's nearly the same distance as a trip to Neptune, or 10 round trips to Mars!

During those 100,000 orbits, almost 2,000 different science experiments have been completed.  This week showed no signs of that slowing down!  A fleet of mini-satellites called Cubesats have been deployed from the Kibo module, and have entered the upper atmosphere to perform various tasks.  Some of the satellites aid communications technology (in space, as well as for landlubbers and seafarers down below), while others study weather patterns around the world.


Some are even built by students...the future is looking good!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

In other space science news, this week the astronauts conducted more research on bone density loss in space.  By examining mice who live on the station, the astronauts were able to see if a new antibody, developed on earth, could prevent future bone and muscle-density loss on long-term space missions.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams also did an ultrasound scan of his leg to see how his own bone and muscle density have been holding up in space.  The astronauts keep in excellent physical shape via the Sprint study, which has them maintain a rigorous exercise program while in orbit.

Speaking of Jeff Williams, he's keeping his photo skills in shape in space, too!  Here are some of this week's offerings...

Kazahkstan!

Southern Spain!


Northern Italy!


Patagonia!

Do you want to share your love of space with others?  Want to help fellow gravity-bound humans experience the thrill of seeing the station operating in real-time (even if it's from really far away?)  Embed this widget on your website and have folks from any region on earth know when the station will next be swooping over their heads!

That's all for this week, space fans.  We'll see you next Sunday with even more excellence from orbit.  Watch this space!

It's not every day you get to watch Mt. Etna plume into the atmosphere,
but Wednesday was one of those days!
(Image courtesy Jeff Williams / NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday: My God, It's Full Of Science

Good evening, space fans!  Here's what was up (in orbit) this week!


Special delivery!  The Dragon drops down from its planet-perusing perch.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


On Wednesday, the SpaceX Dragon capsule that had been attached to the ISS after a recent cargo delivery was released from its orbital perch and sent back down dirtside.  The capsule was packed with over three thousand pounds of scientific research and other materials.  Numerous types of experiments were included in the mission home.

Most notably, the capsule ferried back various scientific samples related to the One-Year Crew's mission, in which astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko served aboard the station for nearly a full year.  Although the pair returned to Earth earlier this March, their scientific findings had yet to be completely returned to earth, but the Dragon was recovered safely in the Pacific Ocean for further analysis.


The Dragon on arrival, a.k.a. the most expensive delivery food in history.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The astronauts got a chance to relax after the Dragon made it home safely.  Other experiments conducted this week included an experiment to optimize photographic techniques as well as a depressurization of the Kibo module so that a fleet of small "Cubesat" satellites can be deployed for earth observations.  UV spectral measurements were also made to determine the reactions of light-emitting phenomena in regards to the atmosphere and ISS.

Tomorrow, at 06:10 Greenwich Mean Time, the station will have completed 100,000 laps of planet Earth.  The milestone marks fifteen and a half years of continuous human presence in space, with some 220 astronauts and cosmonauts from 18 different nations having served aboard the levitated laboratory.


Meanwhile, we were somewhere in this picture, waving.
(Image courtesy Tim Peake / ESA.)

Last week, the station celebrated the capture of three million images from the ISS during the sojourn of the space station.  And there's no slowing the astro-artists down...astronaut Jeff Williams is well on the way to the next milestone!  Show us what's up!


Saudi Arabia / Oman.

Mozambique.



The Himalayas.

Fields near Szombathely, Hungary.


That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll be back next Sunday with more excellence from orbit...watch this space!


Welcome home, Dragon!
No offense, but we Earthlings can't wait to crack you open and steal your treasures...
for science, of course.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Indiana Drones? Canadian Teen Uses Satellite Imagery And Google Earth To Spot Possible Lost Mayan City

One of the greatest elements of modern technology is how it can inform us not just about the present (and possibly, via accrued data, the future), but also teach us more about our past.  Despite the fact that humans of even a few generations previous would be (or currently are) astonished and maybe baffled by our modern computing capabilities, there are certain instances in which the past and the future coalesce to convincingly capture important information for the present.

And who better to discover this than a relatively-new human being?


The Mayans did appreciate a good giant pyramid.
Could there be another Chichen Itza lurking here, lost in the lush jungle?
(Image courtesy smh.com.au.)


According to Business Insider, a 15-year-old from Quebec located what appears to be a previously-undiscovered ancient city, using satellite imagery from the Canadian Space Agency, Google Earth, and analysis of the ancient Mayans' predilection for astronomy.

The teen, a high schooler named William Gadoury, studied ancient Mayan architecture and discovered that much of it aligned with the constellations that would have dominated the sky during the rise of their culture.  Similar to other civilizations such as the ancient Egyptians, the night sky provided a source for folklore, agricultural timing (regarding what to plant during which season), navigation, and yes, major architecture.


When the stars align, great things happen.
Pictured here are some of Gadoury's calculations that led to his discovery
(Image courtesy cnn.com.)

When Gadoury realized that one city was "missing" to complete a match-up with a constellation of three stars, he used the popular Google Earth platform to assess satellite images gathered by the Canadian Space Agency from around the "vacant" area.  Sure enough, structural patterns that strongly hint at buildings were visible through the dense jungle canopy.

A spokesman from the Canadian Space Agency, Daniel de Lisle, explained, "There are linear features that would suggest there is something underneath that big canopy...There are enough items to suggest it could be a man-made structure."


*Please be an ancient spaceship, please be an ancient spaceship...*
(Image courtesy google.com.)

Gadoury will have his findings published in a scientific journal, and will present his discovery at Brazil's International Science Fair in 2017.  Although the area he sighted has yet to be explored thanks to the dense jungle in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, he has tentatively named the site as K'aak Chi, or "The Mouth Of Fire."

While some scientists say the claims are not credible, due to the nebulous understanding of the stars' position during that era, it seems that the only real way to deduce the truth will be to mount a jungle excursion.  And if that's not a prospect for some classic adventure, we don't know what is.  Sometimes, the most advanced technology is just the stepping stone for...well, stepping out onto the stones.

Next discovery:  a prom date?


Somebody get this kid a fedora and a whip, he has great things to accomplish.
(Image courtesy dailymail.co.uk.)


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Space Station Sunday: Science And Sending Home A Dragon

Good afternoon, space fans!  Who's up for some more excellence from orbit?

Nerd alert!  Love, NASA.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


This week, the SpaceX Dragon capsule will be sent back to earth, bearing a payload of scientific experiments to be retrieved for further analysis.  On Wednesday, the space freighter will be removed from the Harmony module by the 57.7-foot Canadarm-2, and returned to the Pacific Ocean near California.  SpaceX engineers will recover the capsule, then deliver the experiments and hardware to NASA.

Regarding hardware, this week ESA astronaut Tim Peake made adjustments to a specialized microscope which can transmit images and video from experiments directly to the ground, so more thorough collaboration on certain experiments can take place in real-time (rather than waiting for the experiment to get sent home.)


Otherwise, it's gonna take some time to do the things they never haaaaaaaad, ooh ooh.
(They bless the raaaains down in Africa.)
Oh look, there it is.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

One unique piece of space-science hardware was put into use this week as the crew continued work on the Fluid Shifts experiment.  Donning specialized suits known as Chibis Lower Body Negative Pressure devices, the astronauts measured how fluids move in transit from the lower body to the upper body in space.  The fluid shifts in and out of blood vessels and cells was also assessed, as this may help explain certain vision problems in space.

A 1970s-model Chibis Lower Body Pressure Suit.
Spacewear is definitely more about function than fashion.
(Image courtesy saga.co.uk.)

Other experiments conducted over the past week included tracking microbes aboard the station to ensure crew safety and better understand the microflora of the ISS, and the Plant Gravity Sensing study, which assesses the chemical process of how a plant's roots know which direction in which to grow in microgravity.


Grow where they wanna grow:  micro-g plants turn out a little differently.
(Image courtesy global.jaxa.jp.)

You can learn more about how plants grow in microgravity here and here.

And it wouldn't be another hundred-odd laps around the planet without some cool news pictures!  Take it away, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams!

Belize!

"Powerful Australia.  #Earth Art."

Himalayan glaciers.

That's all for this week, space fans!  If you want to keep an eye on NASA's astronauts in the meantime, you can follow them on Twitter.  We'll see you next Sunday...watch this space!


This space-selfie was taken this week in honor of the 3 MILLION images
that have been taken aboard the ISS over 15.5 years of service.
Looking good guys!  (Literally) keep up the good work!
You can see more classic astro-images at #HistoricSpace.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday: Satellites, Strides, And The Silver Screen

Happy Sunday, space fans!  Here's what was spinning through our galactic neighborhood this week!

Africa and the Mediterranean Sea, under a full moon.
Just another enchanted evening in orbit.
(Image courtesy Tim Peake / ESA.int.)


It's hard enough running a marathon in full gravity, but how about in micro-g?  Well, with a proper harness, a live TV feed of the runners, and a whole planetful of motivation, it was a job that ESA astronaut Tim Peake completed last Sunday.  The endeavor was not only a great athletic feat, but also provided data for the Energy experiment, which seeks to better understand what "fuel" astronauts must consume to offer them optimum energy for performing their space missions.

Peake ran the London Marathon on the ISS's exercise treadmill while in sync with his fellow earthlings via the RunSocial app and a live video feed, which he said was "extremely motivating."  You can read his blog on the experience here.  He completed the race in 3 hours, 35 minutes...enough time for the station itself to take about two full laps of the planet!


Staying well-hydrated thanks to an array of water pouches, Peake
weathered his tethers to finish the London Marathon in record time.
(Image courtesy collectspace.com.)


Previously, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams had run the Boston Marathon in a similar fashion aboard the ISS, completing the race from space in 2007.  However, Peake's time for the 26.2-mile  London Marathon was good enough to earn him the Guinness World Record for fastest space marathon ever.  Well done, Astronaut Peake!

In other news, this week the ISS crew prepped to send the SpaceX Dragon back home.  Experiments, gear, hardware, and other cargo will be returned when the Dragon splashes down on May 11th.  Unlike some other spacecraft, the Dragon is not designed to burn up upon reentry, and can safely deliver its scientific payload to Earthly engineers.


That's the Dragon there on the left, breathing the "fire" of a space sunrise.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The astronauts also worked on a variety of science experiments, including assessing Earth's forest coverage from space using hyperspectral and infrared equipment, and obtaining a better understanding of emissions interactions with the atmosphere during dynamic trips to orbit.  A Filipino microsatellite was launched from Japan's Kibo module, with a mission of monitoring Earth's climate for potential weather troubles.


The DIWATA-1 ("Fairy") satellite is set to help monitor
conditions surrounding natural disaster response time,
among other things.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Speaking of watching things from an orbital perspective, the film "A Beautiful Planet", shot entirely on 4K video from the vantage point of the ISS, debuted this week.  It includes amazing imagery captured by the astronauts as well as the time-lapse results of long-exposure footage from outside the station.  Earth's aurora, weather patterns, terrain features, astronaut routines, and more are showcased in spectacular form...and you can see it all in IMAX 3D!  It's almost as good as being stationed up there yourself (sorry, they can't mimic the micro-gravity in theaters...yet.)


Check out what the astronauts involved had to say about
"A Beautiful Planet."


Want to see what the station spots in real-time?  Use this live ISS HD feed to constantly spy on our beautiful blue marble.  Sure, sometimes it dark, but sometimes its glorious...just like our existences down here.

Since the Earth can't take selfies, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams has been doing the honor.  Here's how good we looked this week...

Namibian sand dunes, including one called "Big Daddy."

A fantastic fish-shaped landmass and reef in the Bahamas...

...and one glorious glacier.


That's all for this week, space fans!  We hope to entertain and educate even more Earthlings next time...watch this space!

"Caught Mt. Etna having a cheeky smoke yesterday!"  -Tim Peake
Stay healthy, Earthlings, and maybe someday
you too can set sports records IN SPACE!
(Image courtesy Tim Peake / ESA.int.)

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Space Station Sunday: 4K Scenes And Machines For Genes


Good afternoon, space fans!  It's been another great week outside of gravity.

Our spacefarers have a very special perspective on "Earth Day."
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

This week, both Earthlings and astro-adventurers celebrated Earth Day, in which we pay tribute to the spot where humanity has crashed for the last few eons.  Of course, no one is better to showcase Earth in all its glory than those perched in low-earth orbit!  Their 4K video of our home turf is soon to be released as the film "A Beautiful Planet"...but you can check out the teasers here!




"A Beautiful Planet" premieres on April 29th, and was shot in 4K resolution during six months last year aboard the ISS.  All the beauty they captured isn't just for show...images from NASA have helped assess damages and predict patterns for weather disasters and other major occurrences the world over.


And the aurora helps out by looking cool.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

In scientific news, this week the crew had a diverse set of tasks to complete, as usual.  They studied how particles act at the nanolevel, which could help to promote better filtration or drug-delivery systems on Earth.  Studying how the micro-gravity particles flow in the small scale assesses the unique ways in which the particles interact with channels and other elements around them while in space.

Astronaut Tim Kopra prepares to throw down on some science in the
ISS Microgravity Science Glovebox.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The astronauts also began work on the student-designed Genes In Space experiment, which seeks to better understand how genetics are altered in microgravity, and why that might have an effect on the human immune system.  Tracking these changes is the current focus of the experiment, which seeks to understand many aspects of DNA in space.  This research will be valuable in assessing how humans can best survive on long-distance missions, and also how DNA could affect possible immune system issues for Earthlings.

Astronaut Jeff Williams wrangles tiny genetic particles in
the ISS's WetLab-2.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Using the new WetLab-2 system, which was recently flown to the station, astronauts can isolate RNA from a biological sample inside 30 minutes, and use this data to better understand how certain genes in the organism will express themselves.  Using the Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction process (qPCR) popular on Earth for similar experiments, the WetLab-2 removes the need for many experiments to be flown back home for further assessment. The comprehensive picture it paints could enable more real-time discoveries on the operations and adaptations of genetic material in space.

Astronaut Jeff Williams also found some time to study the bigger picture (as opposed to the microscopic one), turning his photographic eye back down dirtside.  He captured several amazing images for National Parks Week and posted them to social media under the hashtag #FindYourPark.


Yosemite National Park.

The Grand Canyon.


Salt domes of the Great Salt Desert, Iran. 

Looking good, Earth!  Here's to another few billion years.

That's it for this Sunday, space fans!  Tune in next week to learn about a very special marathoner who competed...FROM SPACE.

We want to make sure we have all the awesome details intact
before reporting on astronaut Tim Peake's mighty maranthon mission...
but it happened, tied to a treadmill!
(Image courtesy mirror.co.uk.)

See you next Sunday!  Watch this space!


Someone should write a song about the Orbital Blues.
What's Chris Hadfield been up to?
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


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Space Station Sunday: A New Module And A New Movie

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's what was going on a few hundred miles over our heads this week.

In the words of esteemed space pirate Han Solo,
"She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid."
(Image courtesy nasa.gov.)



The Bigelow Expandable Activities Module (B.E.A.M.), an inflatable habitat brought to the station during the last SpaceX Dragon cargo delivery mission, was successfully installed on the Tranquility module this morning.  With E.S.A. astronaut Tim Peake on the controls, the Canadarm-2 robotic grappling arm boosted the B.E.A.M. from the Dragon module and connected it like a spacefaring Lego to the Tranquility.

Artist's rendition of how to pimp your space ride.
(Image courtesy nasa.tumblr.com.)

While it will be several weeks before the B.E.A.M.'s innovative design is inflated, the astronauts are optimistic about the expandable new space.  Such constructs would be able to cut launch costs (due to the reduced weight of the module), save room on launches for other cargo, add significant room for experiments or storage once expanded, and overall provide a durable and relatively simple set-up for creating habitats in space.

Once expanded, the B.E.A.M. will be closely monitored for how it responds to temperature, radiation, and impacts from space debris...

Can't have micro-meteorites joining the party inside.
(Image courtesy nasa.tumblr.com.)

...and barring issues with the inflation, will provide space for humans to work in - an important resource when building a shed in the backyard just isn't an option.


Conceptual cross-section of the inflated B.E.A.M.,
which will require no extra gear to access.  Astronauts can float right in.
(Image courtesy nasa.tumblr.com.)

 You can read more on B.E.A.M. right here, thanks to NASA.  Congratulations on a safe installation, station crew!

In other news, the station crew kept busy with biological science experiments, from examining skeletal muscle cells for warnings of micro-gravity muscle atrophy, to monitoring immune system stats and conducting cognitive experiments.  

NASA astronauts Jeff Williams and Tim Kopra also chatted with the Today Show to discuss some of their daily space activities and how they differ from those on Earth (everything from having coffee to going for a jog has a unique protocol, in space!)


They actually have to strap into a harness for any jogs faster than this.
(Image courtesy nbcnews.com.)

One of the astronauts' favorite activities in their spare time is, of course, staring at Earth and capturing the fascinating terrain from their unique vantage point.  For us still stuck on this ball of dirt, we can enjoy the astronauts' imagery in the upcoming IMAX film, "A Beautiful Planet."  Created by the director of the IMAX "Hubble 3D", this film showcases our amazing Earth in high-definition, immersive imagery.

The footage was shot over several months' worth of mission time last year, and marked the first time that 4K cameras were used aboard the ISS.  According to PR Newswire, "A Beautiful Planet" will feature "lightning storms, the continents, volcanoes, coral reefs and bright city lights on Earth", as well as imagery of the elusively amazing Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights.)  The film premieres in America on April 29th.

Watch our "pale blue dot" in high-def, full-color glory!
And this bit is just the Bahamas!
(Image courtesy Tim Peake.)

Until then, how about some of this week's excellent images from NASA astronaut Jeff Williams?

The Suez Canal.


The Himalayas (and space.)

Williams also posted a tribute to Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, who traveled skyward on April 12, 1961.  We salute you, storied spaceman!

That's all for this week, space fans.  We'll see you next Sunday with even more awesomeness from orbit.  Watch this space!


Nice try, Dubai, but you're not the whole rest of the planet.
(Image courtesy Tim Peake.)





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Red Picket Fences: Will Your Martian Apartment Be 3-D Printed?

Barring any massive mistakes in the next two decades or so, humanity is going to Mars.  It's very well within reason to suspect that some of the readers of this article -maybe even you, prospective pioneering Martian! - could be taking a one-way ticket off of Earth, permanently.  So, you know, you've got to start seriously planning for how cool your Martian digs are going to look.

It's actually way roomier than what's similarly priced in Manhattan.
(Image courtesy 3dprint.com.)


According to Fast Company, the RedWorks company is a space startup that doesn't build rockets or spaceplanes, but rather has focused on a crucial element that'll be required when those other entrepreneurs are ready to land on Mars: the astro-adventurers need permanent housing.  Using a special 3-D printer than works with the Martian soil to create building materials, the company hopes to be able to house the huddled masses yearning to breathe free...in another atmosphere.

"There are a lot of businesses focused on launching satellites and humans into space, but one important thing that isn't being addressed very much is the kind of infrastructure that needs to be put in place for us to be able to operate on another planet," CEO Keegan Kirkpatrick explained.


NASA and others will have the heavy-lifting handled,
but what about the place where you'll hang your hat (well, space helmet?)
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The RedWorks devices could also help build infrastructure like roads, and other elements to work in tandem with technology so all stays cool in the colony.  The RedWorks team includes a geologist who specializes in knowledge of Martian elements that could be of use, and 3-D designers who excel at creating realistic items from computerized blueprints.  This would include a crucible in which to melt the Martian soil, or "regolith."

This innovation means that we won't need to truck up any extraneous construction materials, which add lots of weight (and expense) to launches. "When you heat up the regolith, it comes out like a molten taffy," Kirkpatrick explained. "Once it cools, you can make anything you want: roads, fuel tanks, a habitat."


Better Homes & Martians, 2036.
(Image courtesy redworks3d.com.)


RedWorks software would also be used to assess natural structures, like caves or rock formations, to augment the 3-D printed architecture. The RedWorks website describes their construction plans even further.  "One efficiency is to use preexisting structures so that you are building organically," Kirkpatrick said. "The software generates a habitat using basic architectural principles of design."

Currently, some 1,000 young spacefaring companies are trying to get into aspects of the astral game, with the number set to explode as realistic Martian metropolises leave the realm of science fiction and court the consciousnesses humans from around the world.  Startups like RedWorks could very well (literally) pave the way for more innovation, at home and afar...


Twenty years from now, this could be the view out your front window.
Well, hatch-porthole, at least.
(Image courtesy hngn.com.)
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Space Station Sunday: Some Landing And Some Expanding

Good afternoon, space fans!  It’s been an amazing week for astro-adventuring.  Here’s what was up!

The SpaceX Dragon joins the ISS party, and brought one really interesting
balloon from Bigelow Aerospace...
(Image courtesy spacex.com.)


On Friday, the SpaceX corporation launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral.  Aboard was a Dragon spacecraft bearing a payload of scientific supplies, food, and other items for the station crew, but most intriguingly, it ferried up a whole new chunk of space station.  The Bigelow "B.E.A.M." inflatable habitat, an expandable module that creates a new “room” for the ISS, was one of the most significant items aboard.


No word on whether the B.E.A.M. will be the preferred area for ISS dance parties.
(Image courtesy universetoday.com.)

The B.E.A.M. (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) is a great addition to the orbital laboratory, an a first for space life.  The innovative inflatable design allows for a number of possible uses for storage and science.  The module weighs 3,086 lbs., and its skin of comprised of layers of soft fabrics instead of metal.  At peak expansion, the B.E.A.M. can hold a volume 4,227 gallons (not that they're going to fill it with space beer, though), and is 13 feet long.  




Since the technology is as of yet untested in actual space, B.E.A.M.'s first run will have it assessed for necessary standard capabilities, like radiation protection and general longevity.  If successful, habitats like B.E.A.M. could cut costs for transporting living spaces into space (due to its lighter construction) and also provide a simpler way to give the astronauts more room.  Such habitats could also be useful in a manned mission to Mars, where conventional construction may be more time-consuming and treacherous.

Boom!  More space for our spacefarers, sans all that difficult construction in micro-gravity.
(Image courtesy techcrunch.com.)

At 07:23 EDT this morning, ESA astronaut Tim Peake and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams maneuvered the Canadarm-2 robotic grappling arm to snag the Dragon from the heavens.  As of 09:57 EDT, the Dragon was safely bolted to the underside of the ISS's Harmony module.  Six spacecraft are now currently attached to the station.

CATCH!
The Dragon swoops to the station.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Other new experiments aboard the Dragon included science projects involving protein crystals grown in micro-gravity, and assessment of fluid behaviors on a nano-scale.  As usual, studies regarding the human body in space were diligently tended to.

Go team!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


And while the Dragon's arrival on the ISS was very cool...

Snag that spacecraft!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Low Earth Orbit is some unique gang turf.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

...it was what happened to the remainder of the Falcon 9 rocket back on Earth that really grabbed the world's attention.

On Friday, SpaceX was able to achieve a new first when the descending Falcon 9 rocket (the same one that launched the Dragon) was able to land upright - and stay that way - on a droneship barge off the coast of Florida.

SpaceX's initial efforts had not been without issue...

"Space is hard."   -Astronaut Scott Kelly
(Image courtesy hi-news.ru.)


...but perseverance paid off!

s
The droneship is seriously named "Of Course I  Still Love You."
And we do!
(Image courtesy mainenewsonline.com.)



Some seriously special spacefaring.  What will they attempt next?
(Image coutesy wikipedia.org.)

The landing of the Falcon 9 is critical for future spaceflight developments, as reusable rockets could cut launch costs by 30% or more.  More videos and details can be found here!  Congrats to Elon Musk and the SpaceX team!


This is what all that fire means.
(Image courtesy businessinsider.com.)

That's all for this week, space fans!  Tune in next time to see even more from the finest in flight above our atmosphere!  Watch this space!

We'll leave you with a quick world tour, from Namibian dunes...
(Image courtesy NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.)
...to the Hindu Kush!  See ya 'round, space fans!
(Image courtesy NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.)

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Space Station Sunday: From Progress To A Dragon

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's all of this week's news from low earth orbit.

Mail call!  The Progress cargo ship approaches the ISS.
(Image courtesy Jeff Williams / NASA.gov.)



This week, a Russian cargo ship called Progress arrived at the station, bearing scientific equipment, fuel, and other supplies for the crew.  It had launched on Thursday from the Baikonur kosmodrome in Kazahkstan and took two days to reach the ISS.


Just a little different than delivery food on Earth.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


NASA astronaut Jeff Williams has kept busy since his recent arrival at the station, working on a diverse variety of science experiments as well as capturing some amazing imagery and even sending a vido blog out via his social media.  One of the most important experiments that he (and a host of other station residents) have been working on involves the assessment of how difficult it is to complete detailed tasks in space.  Yet, the human body still perseveres!

Several astronauts also took part in a video-chat with The Verge.  Learn about their space life, straight from the source!

NASA astronauts Jeff Williams (left) and Tim Kopra (middle), plus ESA astronaut Tim Peake,
discuss the fascination and dedication of space life.
Fun fact:  those strips on their pants are velcro, and are used to hold various instruments
so they don't float away if set down!
(Image courtesy blogs.nasa.gov.)

Alexey Ovchinin, a cosmonaut new to space life, explored plasma features in the Earth’s ionosphere this week.  His co-cosmonauts Yuri Malenchenko and Oleg Skripochka continued their research on how the crew members interact with ground controllers all around the world.  They also studied the various effects micro-gravity has on the human heart.

Former station residents Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko were lauded by Fortune magazine this week, citing their spectacular teamwork over their One-Year Mission.  The men were referenced amoung the World's 50 Best Leaders for conducting, "a journey in which they circled the planet 5,440 times, traveled 144 million miles (nearly the distance from the earth to Mars), and conducted more than 400 scientific experiments—profoundly ­expanding our understanding of space’s effects on human ­beings and showing that, when it comes to the final frontier, there is no border between nations."


Well done, space bros!
(Image courtesy space.com.)

Meanwhile, in Florida, the SpaceX team are readying their Dragon supply ship for an April 8th launch to the ISS.  It's pretty busy up there right now, but there will be room for this delivery.  Speaking of room, this payload is particularly important, as it will include a whole new module, created with an innovative design that allows it to inflate and expand to create more space for the station.

The current station configuration.  No vacancies for extra UFOs, sorry.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Minus the micro-gravity, you too can explore the station in 3D, thanks to this panoramic photoset of the entire interior.  Remember, in micro-gravity, the ideas of up and down are subjective, and there's stuff to see at almost every angle!

As for photos that extend a little further outside the station, we'll leave you with some choice selections from astronaut Jeff Williams.

Northwestern Australia.


Eruption of the Copahue volcano, Chile.


Australia again, being all inspiring.

That's all for this week!  Check us out next Sunday for all the news on the ISS's new bouncy house inflatable module.  Watch this space!

Even the most important of Progress still has to start small.
Here, the Progress spacecraft approaches the station from afar.
(Image courtesy Jeff Williams.)


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Space Station Sunday: In Cygnus And In Health

Good evening, space fans!  It's been another fascinating week for our friends falling through space.

Later, they're going to set that whole damn spacecraft on fire.
Wait, what?
(Image courtesy Jeff Williams / NASA.gov.)


Last Tuesday, the Cygnus cargo craft launched from Cape Canaveral aboard a United Launch Systems Atlas 5 rocket.  The Cygnus, which was built by the Orbital ATK company, held a large variety of scientific experiments, equipment, and other supplies.

Packed and ready to go:  the Cygnus waits at Cape Canaveral.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The Cygnus made it to the station after a three-day transit through the atmosphere.  After a successful launch of another Cygnus craft in December, this new and improved cargo craft was built to hold 25% more material - some 3.5 tons of supplies.

The scientific stash included a cache of nanosatellites, an experiment called Gecko Gripper that reenacts how the hairs on some small lizards' feet enable them to cling to walls, the Strata-1 experiment for assessing soil behavior on foreign planets, and the Meteor experiment, for determining chemical composition of meteors that enter the earth's atmosphere.

A very important combustion experiment also arrived on the Cygnus.  The Saffire-1 experiment is unique, in that NASA intends for it to be a part of the largest intentional man-made fire in spacefaring history.  Since fire is a great deal more unpredictable in microgravity than on Earth, its essential to understand its nature to help avoid what could be a devastating threat to astronauts in orbit.  Eerie elements like invisible flames are just one part of what the experiment intends to study.

"Spark that shit."  -some space scientists.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

When the Cygnus spacecraft returns to Earth in a few months, instead of burning up in the atmosphere like other cargo crafts, it will be remotely triggered to ignite a 1'-by-3' piece of cotton and fiberglass while still in low earth orbit.  Cameras will observe the behavior of the combustion as it burns (literally) to the ground. Researchers are particularly concerned with learning if fires will continue to spread vertically (despite a lack of gravity), and also deducing what materials and fabrics are most affected by the blaze.

NASA project manager Gary Ruff extolled, “Saffire will be the biggest man-made fire ever in space...Currently, we can only conduct small combustion experiments in the microgravity environment of the space station. Saffire will allow us to safely burn larger samples of material without added risk to the station or its crew.”

But for now, the Cygnus is just chillin' at the station.  Astronauts Tim Kopra and Tim Peake used the station's robotic grappler arm, Canadarm2, to snatch the Cygnus from the void of space and haul it home to the ISS.  You can learn more specifics on the Cygnus's cargo and what purposes it will serve thanks to NASA's Tumblr, and follow its return adventures on Twitter via the hashtag #Cygnus.


The championship edition of the classic arcade claw game.
The prize?  A spaceship.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Nice catch!
The Cygnus is snagged by the Canadarm2 and docked onto the ISS.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

A solid parking job in orbit for the Cygnus spacecraft.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

ESA astronaut Tim Peake has been adjusting to his orbital perch quite well, managing to capture some amazing imagery in between his scientific ministrations.  He caught a modern-art-ish image of an iceberg...

"Granted - not the most exciting pic ever,
 but this iceberg drifting off Antarctica is about the size of London."
-Britain's first ISS crewman, astronaut Tim Peake.
(Image courtesy Tim Peake / ESA.)

...and also managed to snag some stunning snaps over Patagonia.

Lake Viedma, being fed by the Viedma glacier,
on the border of Chile and Argentina.
Space teaches you not just science, but geography as well!
(Image courtesy Tim Peake / ESA.)

The Santa Cruz river, Argentina.
(Image courtesy Tim Peake / ESA.)

Congratulations to astronaut Peake, as well as astronaut Tim Kopra and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, who all celebrated their hundredth day in space on Friday!  You can check out even more of Peake's space-shots, here on his Flickr.

Want even more space?  You can follow other recaps of station activity here.

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with news of even more awesomeness from orbit.  Watch this space!

The Earth was just one big Easter egg this morning.
We hope everyone had a lovely day, on-planet or off!
(Image courtesy Jeff Williams / NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday: New Crew, And Robot Rovers Too

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's what was up on the ISS this week.

Controlled chaos of the coolest sort.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)





Yesterday evening, the Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft bearing the new ISS crewmembers of Expedition 47/48 arrived safely at the station. NASA Astronaut Jeff Williams and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin docked to the International Space Station’s Poisk module at 11:09 p.m. EDT/3:09 a.m. UTC.

Williams, left, seems particularly psyched for some spaceflight.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The station, which was some 250 miles above the western coast of Peru at the time of docking, is now at full crew strength of six spacemen.  They join NASA astronaut (and current ISS commander) Tim Kopra, ESA astronaut Tim Peake, and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.

Tim Peake, Britain's first astronaut on the ISS, has been enthralling audiences with his reports on space life.  This week, he drove a remotely-controlled rover called the Eurobot, all while never leaving his lofty perch on the ISS.  The Eurobot was stationed in the European Space Agency's technical center in the Netherlands, and was controlled via the "space internet" that links the station with mission controllers all around the world.


Eurobot, the coolest remote-control car ever.
(Image courtesy ESA.int.)

And this was no mere rover joyride.  Peake was tasked with maneuvering Eurobot through a simulated space-base that needed solar array repairs, and to manually direct the robot to make contact with the array machinery.  He'll continue rocking the remote vehicles in April, when he will guide a rover named Bridget through a simulated Mars-like environment, in the dark, with no foreknowledge of the terrain.  These experiments will be very valuable in learning how humans and robots can interact when tasked with exploring new celestial bodies from afar.


Bridget is ready to head for the simulated Martian hills with Tim Peake.
(Image courtesy Aribus Defence and Space-E. Allouis.)

Want to see the station for yourself, but are short a few million dollars for a Soyuz of your own?  No worries!  You can use NASA's Spot The Station website to discern all current ISS flybys, including precisely when and where you can watch the station swoop past your neighborhood.  You can even have text messages sent to your phone to keep you updated on the orbits, and to look cool getting texts from NASA.

If you want something a little more up-close and personal, you can enjoy this wonderful 3D panorama walk-through (float-through?) of the station, captured by ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti shortly before she headed back to Earth last year.  Don't forget to look up and down...you never know where something interesting might be positioned in micro-gravity!

That's all for this week, space fans.  Swing by next Sunday for even more awesomeness from orbit.  Watch this space!

Started from the bottom...
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)



...now we're here!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday: Wins Of The One-Year Crew (Part Two)

Good afternoon, space fans!  We're back with another installment on all the space that's fit to chase.

One of Scott Kelly's many "Earth Art" photos taken during his time aboard the ISS.
This one was captioned, "#Goodnight #Earth!  Make me proud."


Last week, we reveled in the return of astronaut Scott Kelly, his One-Year crewmate Mikhail Kornienko, and cosmonaut Sergey Volkov from the station.  Now, Kelly has had a few days to deal with gravity's achy hug and get his Earth legs back, and although he shrank back to his original height (after growing a few inches taller in micro-gravity), it seems his time on Earth has been treasured so far.

He FINALLY got to jump into his pool...

Fully clothed, but what do you expect from a Navy guy?
(Image courtesy scoopnest.com.)


He's appreciating nature way more...

"A #YearInSpace gave me a fresh perspective of Earth
and a new appreciation for nature. Enjoying our planet today."
(Image and text courtesy Scott Kelly.)


He's re-learned how to interact with our strange and exotic earth creatures...

"Saw my first dog on Earth yesterday! Funny the things you forget
when you leave the planet for a#YearInSpace."
(Image and text courtesy Scott Kelly.)

He spent some time back at the office...

(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)


And he just enjoyed a nice "non-space breakfast" with his girlfriend.


This was seriously hashtagged ‪#‎simplejoysonEarth‬.
(Image and hashtag courtesy Scott Kelly.)


Before you go thinking the progression of space science on earth is all petting dogs and picking flowers and beers and pie from the Second Lady, Kelly also underwent an MRI and spinal tap this week (among numerous other tests, even including dental work) so that scientists could better understand all the changes his body endured while in orbit. On the more pleasant side, of course, albums of Kelly's famous "Earth Art" photographs continue to reveal glorious glimmers of life on Earth from a perfectly-perched perspective.

Just some random Tuesday in space.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

You can watch an immersive retrospective on the mission here, and read NASA's rundown of it here.




Unfortunately for the spaceman's fans, he intends to retire from the high-flying life, though he will still work to further the glory of space science.  Kelly was quoted by Reuters saying, "This year-in-space mission was a profound challenge for all involved, and it gave me a unique perspective and a lot of time to reflect on what my next step should be on our continued journey to help further our capabilities in space and on Earth."

While Kelly says his greatest challenge was missing his friends and family while in orbit, the data gleaned from his mission will doubtlessly inform future missions to space, be it the ISS or even longer-duration flights to an asteroid, the moon, or Mars.  He and his twin brother Mark will continue to work closely with NASA as they gather and assess these pieces of information.


We will toast our first drink on Mars to you, sir.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)


For those interested in the future of spaceflight but who have zero capacity for piloting or operating in any STEM subject, you can enjoy a little slice of Kelly's experience by listening to his playlist for enjoying space life.

By the way, the boys still aboard aren't slacking off, up there...this week, astronauts Tim Peake and Tim Kopra installed the C2V2 communications unit to facilitate docking and communications between new types of arriving spacecraft.  Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko worked on blood circulation and radiation experiments.  They also practiced emergency escape drills and other mission-critical routine tasks.

Still no alien viruses though, so that's clutch.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Meanwhile, in Kazahkstan, the three new ISS crewmembers of Expedition 47-48 are preparing for their launch to the station, slated to lift off this Saturday, March 19th.  NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka will travel in a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur launch facility to the ISS, where they will serve for six months.


Go team 47-48!
(Image courtesy Roscosmos.)

Williams has been enthusiastically chronicling his life leading up to launch via his Facebook, including moments of touching tranquility (you know, before all that speeding-vertically-into-space stuff.)

This image, captured at Star City's "Avenue Of The Cosmonauts", was captioned:
"This sign has "Yuri Gagarin" on it...there is a tree for everybody who has flown from here
...mine is out there somewhere. #HistoricSpace."
(Image and quote courtesy Jeff Williams.)

We'll be looking forward to their launch and sojourn in space!

That's all for this week, space fans.  Tune in next time to learn more about Expedition 47-48's launch, docking, and mission plans!  Watch this space!

Thanks again, Astronaut Scott Kelly.
You made our Earth problems not only seem small, but sometimes beautiful.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)


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Space Station Sunday: Wins Of The One-Year Crew (Part One)

Good afternoon, space fans!  It was a historic week for our friends in orbit...here's what was up!


The fun part, after all that "plummeting on fire through the atmosphere" stuff.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


On Tuesday evening, shortly before midnight, the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft that ferried astronaut Scott Kelly, cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, and cosmonaut / Soyuz pilot Sergey Volkov back to earth made a textbook landing on a barren steppe of Kazakhstan.  This concluded the "space" portion of the One-Year Mission, in which Kelly and Kornienko had lived on the ISS for 340 consecutive days.



This is your Soyuz spacecraft...
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)



...and this is your Soyuz spacecraft on drugs Earth.
(Image courtesy cctv-america.com.)

All three spacemen were healthy and in good spirits, with Kelly immediately remarking on how good the (subzero, blasting) Kazakh wind felt on his face.  After being cooped up in a tin can for a year, even a frigid breeze is a good one.


"What's with the furry hats, comrades?  It feels awesome out here!"  -Scott Kelly, probably.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)
"Shut up Kelly, furry hats kick ass.  To the med tent, Mikhail!"
Cosmonaut Kornienko, still regaining his "Earth legs", is bundled off for scientific analysis.
(Image courtesy news1130.com.)
"...and by the way, fuck bone density loss."
(Image courtesy lapatilla.com.)

"I have exactly two limbs that can currently thwart gravity,
and this is the one I can show for the news cameras."
-Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, probably.
(Image courtesy abc.net.au.)

Also on hand for the landing was a special guest, legendary Soviet cosmonaut Alexander "Sasha" Volkov...a.k.a. Sergey's dad.

"Remember when I taught you how to drive...A SPACESHIP?"
Sasha (left) and Sergey Volkov (right) share a special moment upon landing.
(Image courtesy nwcable.net.)

Meanwhile, on the station, Expedition 47 officially commenced after hearing news that the Soyuz had landed safely.  Kelly had conducted a traditional Change Of Command ceremony some hours previous on the ISS, handing over the helm to NASA astronaut Tim Kopra.


"All yours, dude.  Just keep turning left, and don't hit the big blue rock."
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Not long after his vertical descent into Kazakhstan, Kelly continued travelling, heading back to the United States to arrive at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas the following night.  He was greeted in the most American fashion possible, with a cheering crowd and the Second Lady bringing him a welcome-home gift of beer and apple pie.  Also present were Dr. John Holdren (Assistant to the President for Science and Technology), NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Kelly’s identical twin brother Mark (a former NASA astronaut and shuttle commander himself), former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (Mark's wife), and other members of Kelly’s family.

You know you've just done something legendary
when the Second Lady of the United States is making beer runs for you.
(Image courtesy washingtonpost.com.)

However, the scientific assessments inherent to the mission will still be keeping Kelly on his freshly re-gravitated, baby-soft-due-to-no-actual-walking-for-a-year toes.  The historic mission will offer a wealth of biological information regarding the human ability to live in space for extended periods of time.  Nearly every aspect of Scott's physical and mental life will be examined to better understand the similarities and changes that he underwent while up in orbit.


And of course, they check for alien microbes.
You know, just in case.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Aside from the copious scientific info, one of the most noteworthy elements of Kelly's sojourn on the station was his portfolio of "Earth Art", which fans have been assembling into albums of favorites in tribute.


This is one of our personal favorites, mostly because we were outside, waving.
Up by the bridge there.  Yeah, that's us.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The images are as magnificent as the mission itself, which has been spawning inspirational image macros for some time now.

Warp speed?  Well...we're trying.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

NASA's Flickr account has more images from behind the scenes of the return voyage.  Kelly's own accrued pictures are featured on his Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all bearing some absolutely stunning sights, and often some good advice.

"Take a leap and explore new possibilities! Good morning and Happy Leap Day
from the International Space Station! #YearInSpace."
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)



Shortly before leaving the station on Tuesday, Kelly posted this image to social media, saying,
"Thank you for following our ‪#‎YearInSpace‬! The journey isn't over.
Follow me as I rediscover Earth. See you down below!"
Thanks for your space service, sir.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

This mission was so groundbreaking, we're going to continue this next week, with even more information on how Kelly is readjusting to Earth life, what his most memorable space experiences were like, and what his mission will mean in the greater context of making human life better here and afar...because all of us Earthlings kind of need that right now.  Watch this space!


For real.
(Image courtesy the Eagle Tribune.)

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Enjoy Your HD Cat Videos, Indonesia: SpaceX Sends Up Satellite Successfully

The big story in space this week was all about the man who fell to Earth, but it's worth noting that another important mission was headed UP.  Namely, the SpaceX SES-9 payload of a communications satellite that will provide critical connectivity from its place in space...

{Space}X Gon' Give It To Ya!
(Image courtesy Ken Kremer / universetoday.com.)

According to CNN, the SpaceX company was successful in launching a 5.3 ton communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida, yesterday evening.  The mission, which had been delayed six times since the initial planned launch on February 25th, continued after no problems with the weather, fuel, boats, or alligators (hey, it's Florida) were found to pose a threat to liftoff.


"Oh, you'll send dogs and monkeys into space, but not me?
THAT'S DISCRIMINATION!
I only tried to eat one astronaut!"
(Image courtesy nbcnews.com.)

A Falcon 9 rocket launched the satellite into geosynchronous orbit, which means the satellite will appear stationary in relation to the part of the world it hovers over.  This is particularly difficult to achieve, as geosynchronous orbit requires the satellite to be placed some 22,000 miles away from the planet (over 100 times further out than the International Space Station!)  Not to mention, according to Wired, to hit its faraway target, the Falcon 9 needed to achieve speeds of up to 9,000 km/hr, as opposed to the usual 6,000 km/hr needed to reach the ISS.

Hence the cheering at 01:54 when propulsion is declared nominal.
Going supersonic is the most stressful element on the vehicle,
but the mission was accomplished! 
The huge cheers at 03:00 are in regards to the second-stage engines firing successfully.
(Video courtesy Stephen Cane.)


Since so much rocket fuel was expended to achieve this speed and distance, there was very little left over to attempt a rocket landing.  But SpaceX founder Elon Musk (he of Tesla and Hyperloop fame) didn't get his Badass Billionaire status by not attempting awesome things, so the team tried anyway.  In their ceaseless quest to create a reusable rocket, the SpaceX team made an attempt to land their returning rocket off the Florida coast, on the appropriately-named barge Of Course I Still Love You.

"Of course, I'd love you more if this could happen."
(Image courtesy gif-finder.com.)

Despite the fact that three previous attempts at landing a rocket on a barge have failed (not even including that one time where the whole damn rocket exploded), the team showed admirable effort.  Musk himself admitted that he did not expect to stick the landing, telling Twitter, "Rocket landed hard on the droneship. Didn't expect this one to work (v hot reentry), but next flight has a good chance.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk)."  The explosive landing notwithstanding, the mission's main objective was a success.


Actual onboard-camera image of the comm satellite deploying.
Enjoy your internet, remote parts of Asia!
(Image courtesy wired.com.)

As reported by Space.com, the SpaceX team explained that the SES-9 satellite "...will provide expansion and replacement capacity to serve the video, enterprise, mobility and government sectors in fast-growing markets across Northeast Asia, South Asia and Indonesia...The additional capacity on SES-9 will enable direct-to-home operators to broadcast more local content and increase their SD and HDTV channel lineup to 22 million households across Asia-Pacific, in markets such as India, Indonesia and the Philippines."  The full mission description can be viewed here.

Join us tomorrow for even more spectacularity from space as we report on the landing of a very special Soyuz, plus a retrospective on the adventures of NASA astronaut Scott Kelly during his near-yearlong mission aboard the ISS!  Watch this space...

We will never not love you, crazy spacefaring ideas.
(Image courtesy techcrunch.com.)

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Space Station Sunday: Three Cheers For The One-Year Crew!


Happy Sunday, space fans!  It's been another outstanding week in orbit, and an exciting week ahead.  Here's what was up!

The One-Year Crew enjoys a few more micro-gravity backflips
before they're much more difficult on Earth.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


On Friday, the three crewmen of Expedition 47/48 attended traditional pre-launch ceremonies in Moscow.  They laid roses on the graves of Russian space heroes, interred at St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square, among other pre-flight activities.  NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka will be launching on March 19th for the ISS.

L-R: NASA astronaut Jeff Williams, cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin, and cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka
prepare to do battle with gravity.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)  

Before they head up, however, two very special spacemen are slated to come home.  Astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko (along with cosmonaut Sergey Volkov) will be returning to Earth on March 1st.  The event will be broadcast by NASA TV and is slated to take less than 3.5 hours.  According to a final interview from space that Kelly conducted with CNN, the Soyuz return vehicle will travel at 755 feet per second through the atmosphere, and will be slowed to 25, then 5 feet per minute by four parachutes approximately 15 minutes before landing.  Two sets of three engines will fire for one second to cushion the landing.

Kelly explained in a "Space To Ground" video from the ISS this week about how much he's looking forward to the return voyage.  "It definitely gets your attention...It's so much fun, for me, that I had said that, you know, after my last flight, if I would have hated being in space for six months, I would have done it all over again just for that last twenty minutes in the Soyuz.  It's that type of an experience."

An ideal and deceptively peaceful-looking Soyuz landing.
(Image courtesy wikipedia.com.)

And when that Soyuz touches down, it's immediately back into scientific testing for the crew.  A flight surgeon will be on hand to note the astronauts' adeptness at standing upright, standing from a seated position, walking over obstacles, and other seemingly-mundane tasks that are an important assessment of the astronauts' physical functions upon returning from a micro-gravity environment.  The studies conducted upon their landing will aid with recognizing the capabilities astronauts might have when landing in a difficult environment, such as a sea landing on Earth, or on a foreign body like on an asteroid, or Mars.

Meanwhile, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly explained in this NASA video the efforts he has helped contribute to the cause of space science, all while residing comfortably here on Earth.  From blood draws to MRIs and ultrasounds, Kelly has subjected himself to the same intense scientific scrutiny that his orbiting twin brother has, and the results will be a fascinating comparison between the two biologically-identical subjects.

Mark (with moustache) helps out his bro.
(Image courtesy theodysseyonline.com.)

Kelly noted that he was ready to continue providing scientific data, whether the continued experiment took a month or ten years.  He currently has no further plans to head into space, having served on the ISS four times before retiring in 2011.  His brother Scott has served on three ISS missions (including this one) and one Hubble Telescope servicing mission.

Oh, and we have Mark to thank for aiding his brother (and chase victim astronaut Tim Peake) in the greatest space prank ever.  A very special delivery apparently showed up on the last supply flight, courtesy of Mark wanting Scott to have some fun.  That's ASTRONAUT Kong, to you.




But seriously, the countdown to touchdown is on, and the world is watching.

"Countdown: 5 days and a wake-up! Every mountain is within reach.
Keep climbing. Good night from the International Space Station! #YearInSpace"  -Scott Kelly
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

NASA noted some of the major things Kelly will have to readjust to on Earth.  They also created a related Tumblr, and noted ten highlights from the Year In Space mission.


No more pouch-cooked food is a huge bonus of returning to Earth.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

NBC featured a retrospective of some of the most striking images from Kelly's mission, and he hasn't stopped shooting!  Here's some of the final images Kelly captured in his last week in space.

"Ice!"  -Scott Kelly, brilliant scientist.

"Desert Dunes."

"Earth Art: Will be missing these sands in Africa too,
but looking forward to sandy beaches up close."



"Of all the sunrises I've seen on my #YearInSpace, this was one of the best! One of the last too.
Headed home soon."
(Kelly posted this image yesterday.)

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with all the news about the men who  fell to Earth!  Watch this space!


Space is awesome, but a nice cold beer to wash down those
730 liters of recycled urine and sweat
will probably taste really nice.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)



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The Opportunity Of Unity: Virgin Galactic Has A New Spaceplane On The Horizon

With the imminent return of NASA astronaut Scott Kelly from his near-yearlong post on the International Space Station, humanity has once again become publicly aware of how cool it is for people to exist in space.  Now, entrepreneur Richard Branson is set to up the ante by sending up a new spaceship...and anyone who can pay the price can be a passenger.

SPACE.  PLANE.
YES.
(Image courtesy arstechnica.com.)


According to the New York Post, Branson's new spaceship is called the VSS Unity, and was created by his rocketry company Virgin Galactic.  It was unveiled at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California last Friday.

“Together, we can make space accessible in a way that has only been dreamt of before now,” said Branson.

The craft itself is chic, sleek, and definitely the image of what you'd assume high-end private spaceflight would look like.  It's about the size of a private jet and can carry up to six passengers (as well as two pilots.)  According to ScienceAlert.com, Unity has a wingspan of 12.8 metres (42 feet) and a length of 18.3 metres (60 feet.)


And of course it has windows on the ceiling, because SPACE.
(Image courtesy guide2nigeria.com.)

Some 700 eager astro-adventurers have already signed up for the $250,000 flight.  Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is among their ranks.  Branson has promised the 74-year old scientist a free ride, and Hawking has already commenced training for the occasion in weightless environments.  His reasons aren't just due to the fact that his entire life has centered around studying astrophysics and all the mysteries the stars entail...Hawking also considers the co-Earthling perspective. 

“We are entering a new space age and I hope this will help to create a new unity,” a recorded message from Hawking said. “Space exploration has already been a great unifier. We seem able to cooperate between nations in space in a way we can only envy on Earth...It will help bring new meaning to our place on Earth and to our responsibilities as its stewards and it will help us to recognize our place and our future in the cosmos, which is where I believe our ultimate destiny lies."

His inspiration has been so great to Branson and his team that the Virgin Galactic pinup girl painted on the side of the spaceship brandishes a banner bearing an image of Hawking's eye.

Who says astrophyics can't be cool?
Hawking is rocking this!
(Image courtesy blastr.com.)

Despite the fatal crash of another Virgin spaceship, the Enterprise, in October of 2014, the Unity will also be launched via the same means: from a mothership that fires up the rocket's engine.  The mothership, known as White Knight II, will ferry the Unity to 50,000 feet in the air before releasing the spacecraft.  The Unity will then ignite its rocket-engine to ascend to some 62 miles above earth, where passengers will feel the embrace of space, which is to say, they'll be floating all around in micro-gravity.


The WhiteKnight II squires the Enterprise into the upper atmosphere.
A similar means of launch will be used for the Unity.
(Image courtesy arstechnica.com.)

The Unity will then glide back down to Earth like the cool futuristic private spacecraft that it is.  New updates to the descent system have improved the feather locking system, which controls the rotation of the tail and wing assembly to slow the craft by providing more surface area.  Accidental early deployment of this system had been the cause behind the 2014 crash that claimed the life of Enterprise co-pilot Michael Alsbury.

While no official schedule has yet been set for the launch, the unveiling and hype suggest that liftoff might not be too far off.  Engineers have stated that ground tests will be undertaken over the next several months.  No word yet on what payment plans might be available for Earthlings who want to slip our surly bonds, even if it took the rest of our lives to pay off that $250,000 ticket.


For now, even just staring at it is fun.
(Image courtesy venturebeat.com.)

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Space Station Sunday: Two Dropoffs Before Next Liftoff

Good afternoon, space fans!  What wonders were worked on this week, hundreds of miles above our heads?

It's all about solar:  the station's solar arrays soak up the rays.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The Cygnus spacecraft, created by Orbital ATK, was sent home for a fiery funeral this week, burning up a stash of the station's trash as it careened, self-immolating, back through the atmosphere on Saturday.  NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Tim Kopra used the station's 57.7-foot Canadarm2 robotic arm to grapple the craft away from the station and release it into the void.


They don't even need to shoot a flaming arrow at it for a Viking-style funeral...
the atmosphere takes care of that.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Cygnus, an unmanned craft, arrived at the ISS on December 9th, bearing some 7,000 pounds of cargo.  It was referred to as the "cutest" spacecraft at the ISS by Gizmodo.

The Soyuz TMA-18M craft attached to the station will also be departing soon, though bearing far more precious cargo.   The spacecraft will ferry the One Year Crew of Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko back to their gravity-embraced lives after almost a full year on the ISS (340 days, as of March 1st.)  Cosmonaut Sergey Volkov, who has served on the station since September in his third sojourn to space, will be returning with them.


Seems like it'd be tough for the Soyuz 44 to squeak out of that parking space,
but maybe not, since...space.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

In mid-March, another Soyuz craft (the TMA-20M) will arrive bearing the three new crewmembers of Expedition 47 - NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin.  Meanwhile, the current crewmembers performed experiments testing station microbes and assessing cardiac function in space.  Continued tests on the astronauts' vision were also underway.

Speaking of vision, the crew got to play experiment with Microsoft's Holo Lens, which projects holograms in 3D to facilitate visualizing all sorts of interesting things in (apparent) real-life.  The holograms could fill out gaps in a construction or design scenario, or aid in expressing the elements of other items, like an exploded diagram that can be manipulated via computer.  Sounds like just the thing for a modern spaceship!

"It was all going so well until we found the Alien Invaders game..." - Astronaut Tim Peake
(Image courtesy facebook.com.)

We're glad Scott got to have some fun this week, because today is his birthday!  You can send him a card via NASA's "Happy Birthday Scott Kelly" site (no need to pay the ~$18,000 postage that a 3-ounce card would cost to send to space!)  And, though his departure date from the stars is imminent, astronaut Scott Kelly continued to capture amazing images of Earth to add to his near-year-long collection.  From awesome aurorae...



To lovely landmasses...


As well as some magic over Macedonia...




That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with more news on the return of the world-famous One-Year Crew!  Watch this space!


Ten days left in space?  We'd spend the whole time staring out the window.
Well, and flying.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

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World Peace / Space Pieces: Russia Could Convert Missiles To Destroy Asteroid Threats


Remember that whole Cold War thing between the US and Russia, with all the missiles and arming up and whatnot?  Yeah, all those spare, fortunately-unused weapons didn't exactly vanish.  However, scientists in Russia are working to put them to another effective (if hopefully unnecessary) purpose...

Because pointing these at the sky is still better than pointing them at America.
(Image courtesy foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com.)

According to techtimes.com, Russia's stash of ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) could soon be undergoing a very interesting makeover.  Scientists from the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau, led by researcher Sabit Saitgarayev, have plans to aim the weapons not at fellow human beings, but rather at the near-Earth objects floating in space that would seek to harm all of us.

A major target is meteoroids, which are chunks of asteroids that break off and could possibly careen into Earth's orbit.  Although some burn up in a fiery atmospheric funeral pyre, others have the capacity to smash into the planet and really wreak some havoc.


Though sometimes, their apocalyptic wrath is just adorable.
(Image courtesy earthandsolarsystem.wordpress.com.)

One recent instance of meteoroid mayhem was 2013's incident near Chelyabinsk, Russia, where a slab of space debris exploded 18 miles above the planet.  The resulting shockwave blew out windows, terrified drivers, and injured some 1,500 Earthlings in the area. 

To test the feasibility of the rocket assault anti-meteoroid technology, the research team wants to blow up an asteroid called 99942 Apophis.  Despite NASA's claims that the asteroid won't connect with Earth, the team thinks it's better safe than sorry (and smashed.)


Chelyabinsk:  sure, it's pretty, and looks like a winning scene from Tetris...
(Image courtesy youtube.com)

...but it lays the smackdown like a nuke!
(Image courtesy youtube.com.)

Saitgarayev explained why the ICBMs are preferential to conventional rockets for the space dust-busting task, saying, "Most rockets work on boiling fuel...Their fueling begins 10 days before the launch and, therefore, they are unfit for destroying [meteoroids] similar to the Chelyabinsk meteorite in diameter, which are detected several hours before coming close to Earth. For this purpose, intercontinental ballistic missiles can be used, which requires their upgrade."

The upgrade would unfortunately be expensive and require numerous authorities' permissions.  But how can you put a price on being able to save the world on short notice?



It's cheaper than hiring Bruce Willis and crew.
But we're going to need another sweeping, majestic Aerosmith song, just in case.


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Space Station Sunday: Orbital Business As Usual

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's what was up on the ISS this week.


"Got to see the Super Bowl in person after all!
But at 17,500MPH, it didn't last long. #YearInSpace"
-Astronaut Scott Kelly

On Thursday, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly celebrated 500 total days in space, accrued over the course of four missions.  Kelly has currently spent 324 days on the International Space Station, and has only 19 days left on the orbital laboratory before he returns home to earth.

He's not bored with space, but some gravity and maybe steak would probably be nice for a change.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Kelly and ESA astronaut Tim Peake worked on repairing a U.S. spacesuit this week.  The two also conducted biological experiments that assessed biomarkers for space-based immune dysfunction, and also analyzed potentially harmful microbes.

The crew also did experiments on textile flammability as well as the thermophysical properties of other materials in space.  Russia's cosmonauts worked on experiments regarding digestion, crew training, and Earthling-operated photography.

The station will lose some weight on Friday, when the Cygnus cargo craft will be released into a flaming demise over the Pacific Ocean.  The craft, which station astronauts have been filling with trash for several days now, will be grappled away from the ISS via the Canadarm-2 robotic arm, then hurled back into gravity's cruel embrace.

The most expensive trashcan in the universe.
(Image courtesy Tim Peake.)

And despite his time in space winding down, Scott Kelly managed to snap a few more amazing slices of Earth art during his high-speed world tour.

Iran!


Africa!


That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with all the best from orbit.  Watch this space!

Happy Valentine's Day from the ISS!
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

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Space Station Sunday: Extremophiles, An E.V.A., and English Rugby


Good afternoon, space fans!  Get down with all the best news from orbit...

Cosmonauts Malenchenko (left) and Volkov prepare to explore the mysteries just outside their door.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)



Last Wednesday, cosmonauts Yuri Malenchenko and Sergei Volkov pulled off a textbook E.V.A. (extravehicular activity...a.k.a. spacewalk.)  In 4 hours and 45 minutes, the cosmonauts obtained various scientific samples from the station's exterior, photographed the exterior to check for any issues, swapped out research payloads, installed new handles for future spacewalkers, and tested out a new tool that uses adhesive to apply special coverings to the station's exterior.

One research payload, Europe's EXPOSE-R, contained 46 species of bacteria, fungi, and anthropods, all of which were intentionally left outside the station to see what would happen.  This experiment is part of an investigation into the origins of life on earth, and assesses the viability of the various organisms in an extreme space environment.  Some of the compartments were even designed to mimic life on Mars, so that we may better understand what will thrive effectively there when we eventually take a spin up to the red planet.

Scientific business as usual:  the cosmonauts check the station's status from the outside.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The E.V.A. was the 193rd spacewalk conducted in support of the station's maintenance and scientific progress, which has so far required 1,204 hours and 45 minutes of free-floating human efforts since its inception in 1998.

In other news, astronaut Scott Kelly worked with the prototype 3D printer aboard the station.  Should this device prove successful at printing useful parts for the ISS, a larger and more permanent version will be considered for installation.  Kelly also replaced fuel equipment in the Combustion Integrated Rack, which allows the astronauts to safely set things on fire (for science!) aboard the station.

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra stored trash in an Orbital ATK vehicle bound back for Earth, and also assessed various pistol-grip tools for their capabilities during spacewalks.  ESA astronaut Tim Peake took samples of water from various station taps.  The samples will be sent back to Earth for analysis of the station's continued capable functions.  Peake also worked on maintenance for the BioLab incubator, and even had some time to catch a rugby game.

No, seriously.
(Image courtesy facebook.com.)

And of course, astronaut Scott Kelly found some time to capture some stunning snaps of Earth from his micro-gravitational perch.


Morning in Australia, night on the ISS.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)


"Day 312. 5,000 times around Earth can seem like Groundhog Day, but it's still a privilege."
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

Don't forget, Earthlings, you can shoot pictures of the ISS right back!  Just check out NASA's Spot The Station website to learn exactly when the ISS will do a flyby of your area.  Leave your lens open for a long exposure of the station's transit, or bust out the zoom lens and see how much detail you can discern from the coolest craft in orbit!

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with even more awesomeness from orbit.  Watch this space!


This may be an image of Earthrise, but still, Happy Lunar New Year!
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

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Space Station Sunday: Texas, Tech, And A Tribute

Good afternoon, space fans!  It's been another scientifically stimulating week in space.  Here's what was up!


"The dance of the aurora", captured this week by astronaut Scott Kelly.



This week, crewmembers deployed the LONESTAR system, which contains the smaller satellites AggieSat4 and BEVO-2.  LONESTAR, which was created by students at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas, is an acronym for "Low Earth Orbiting Navigation Experiment for Spacecraft Testing Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking."  The system was deployed from the Japanese Kibo airlock on Wednesday.


ESA astronaut Tim Peake and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly
herd the LONESTAR out onto the range.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

According to NASA, the dual-satellite system would help to "perform cross-linking communications, exchange data, link to GPS, and transmit to ground radio stations" between the AggieSat4 and BEVO-2, which could help with autonomous satellite connectivity in future space missions.

This particular element of the experiment was to provide a "demonstrat{ion of} separation of two satellites, {a} platform for attitude control and translation systems, and cross-linked communication between the satellites and with ground control. It also provided data for the space application global positioning system."  It was the second of four missions, which will culminate in an autonomous docking of the LONESTAR satellites.


From the ranch to the stars!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Speaking of sending things outside, cosmonauts Sergey Volkov and Yuri Malenchenko ran checks on their Orlan spacesuits in preparation for a spacewalk they will take on February 3rd.  They will be installing scientific hardware on the station's exterior.  NASA TV will cover the spacewalk starting ot 07:30 EST on Wednesday.  Volkov will soon return home with fellow cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and astronaut Scott Kelly on March 1st.

In other news, the astronauts paid homage to a trio of tragedies that have befallen NASA over the years:  the Apollo 1 fire, the Challenger explosion, and the Columbia accident.  Astronauts Kelly, Peake, and Kopra offered a moment of silence from the station, which was reflected at mission control as well.



Astute observers may note that the astronauts, on such a somber occasion, have respectfully grounded themselves by latching their feet under the bars on the deck.  They also took a noticeable effort to maintain their folded hands, as micro-gravity has a tendency to make limbs float around of their own accord, like anything else in space.  This topic had previously been addressed during Scott Kelly's Reddit AMA ("Ask Me Anything") last week.


His gang does have some very exclusive turf.
(Image courtesy NASA.tumblr.com.)

Of course, now that Scott Kelly is a mere month from completing his one-year mission, a few more upbeat space clips have been cropping up to commemorate his incredible journey.








Think you have what it takes to help out in space?  Join the NASA challenge to create a robotic arm for the Astrobee, an ISS robot that will help the astronauts with minor tasks like finding where certain things have floated off to.  NASA will pick 30 freelancers to help design the arm.  Sign up and maybe soon, you'll be sending your skills to space!

Speaking of skills, Scott Kelly's Earth Art portfolio continues to expand, and he's even joined Tumblr.  This week's selections that he posted to facebook showed some stunning shots from over Africa:









That's all for this week, space fans.  See you next Sunday with spacewalk news and all the rest of the finest science offplanet.  Watch this space!


No matter how brutal the storms...

...you never know what still may be a-bloom...
(Images courtesy Scott Kelly.)

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Space Station Sunday: Eyes And A Storm

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's what was up on the ISS last week.

Celebrating 300 days...space style.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


image
Congratulations, astronaut Kelly and cosmonaut Kornienko!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

This week, the crew spent time this week doing ocular tests and preparing for another spacewalk.  The ocular tests are part of an ongoing analysis of how fluids and microgravity-induced cranial pressure affect human eyesight in space.  In addition to taking and studying ultrasounds of their eyeballs, the astronauts monitor their cardiac rhythms during the experiment.  More info can be found here.

Astronauts Tim Kopra and Tim Peake also assessed their airways as part of an experiment that dealt with how well the ISS astronauts breathe.  Were inflammation or other signs of illness to affect them, this experiment would be effective at recognizing many diseases in an early stage, which in turn could lead to quicker treatment - a big plus when you're so far away from home.

Peake still won't shut up about how cool his recent spacewalk was.
Fair enough though.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Speaking of far out, veteran cosmonauts Sergey Volkov and Yuri Malenchenko prepared for a spacewalk to be conducted on February 3rd.  Their stroll outside will find them installing new hardware and science experiments on the station's exterior.

The One-Year Crew team, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, have now spent over 300 consecutive days in space.  They've conducted spacewalks, grown space lettuce and flowers, participated in hundreds of experiments, and even had time for a little recreation.

Ping-pong with a water droplet and hydrophobic paddles.
Space sports for the upcoming Martian Olympics?
You can watch the full video here.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Astronaut Kelly conducted an "AMA" (Ask Me Anything) on the popular website Reddit, revealing information about both himself and life in space.  He's frequently photographed with his arms crossed because otherwise the lack of gravity would have them floating on their own.  His favorite non-space movie is "The Godfather."  He thinks space smells like burning metal when you step outside.  He's read "Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage" on two different space missions for inspiration.

He has "crazy" dreams, both regarding life on Earth and life in space.

When asked about how long it took him to adjust to space life, he replied, "The longer I am here the more normal I feel. It always seems to be getting better."

When asked if the ISS crew played pranks on each other, he simply stated, "Occasionally..."

As usual, Kelly spent time capturing some amazing "Earth Art", this time involving snowstorm Jonas as his subject.

Just a few snowdrifts incoming...
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

A rare thundersnow.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)


Don't forget to follow NASA's Tumblr for even more excellent space imagery.

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next week with more news from the future of the cosmos.  Watch this space!

This composite image from NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite
and NOAA’s GOES-East satellite show the recent storm's perilous path.
Check in with the spacemen when you're trying to spot good ski conditions!
(Image courtesy NASA.tumblr.com.)

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Trust The Thrust: SpaceX Dragon 2 Is One Step Closer To Mankind's Giant Leap Into Space

SpaceX has had many ups and downs (literally) in its quest for sustainable rocketry, but with every test flight, they are inching closer to the goal of having an updated, manned spacecraft to explore the cosmos with (or at least make manned trips to the ISS.)  Now, we've learned that this mission has continued apace...

A DragonFly test vehicle throws down with its thrusters during flight tests of the new system.
(Image courtesy nasaspaceflight.com,)

Despite SpaceX's recent failure to land a returning rocket on a barge, they were met with more considerable success in the test-firing of their Dragon 2 capsule.

Not your stereotypical-looking Dragon, but it still breathes a lot of fire!
(Image courtesy en.wikipedia.org.)

The "Crew Dragon" (as opposed to the unmanned delivery-vehicle Dragons that currently ferry supplies to the ISS) was given a "hover test", in which it was suspended over a launchpad and allowed to fire its propulsive thrusters.  These thrusters, much like in the classic game Lunar Lander, control the speed and trajectory of descent back to earth.

The Dragon 2 is designed to hold up to seven astronauts, so safety is at a paramount.  As reported by popsci.com, the tests were successfully completed last November, with the video hitting youtube yesterday.  The account of the test was as follows:

"Eight SuperDraco thrusters, positioned around the perimeter of the vehicle in pairs called “jet packs”, fired up simultaneously to raise the Crew Dragon spacecraft for a five-second hover, generating approximately 33,000 lbs of thrust before returning the vehicle to its resting position. This test was the second of a two-part milestone under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The first test—a short firing of the engines intended to verify a healthy propulsion system—was completed November 22, and the longer burn two-days later demonstrated vehicle control while hovering."

Is it weird that this elicits an "aww" of cuteness from us?


While the initial landings will likely take place via the time-tested NASA tradition of having the spacecraft plunge through the atmosphere while deploying a parachute, there's no denying that SpaceX is on the shortlist to eventually create a spacecraft where all aspects of launch and landing can be directly controlled by its attendant astronauts.


Just add astronauts:  the interior of the Dragon 2.
(Image courtesy inverse.com.)

NASA has announced their initial commercial crew, which is comprised of four veteran American astronauts.  Of the three Dragon 2's in production, one will fly unmanned to the International Space Station, while the other two will follow at later dates, bearing the crew.  Additionally, if successful, the first Dragon 2 will be assessed for damages and then re-used for an in-flight abort test to be conducted off the coast of Florida.

Depending on how effectively the program moves forward, the Dragon 2 could be transporting humans to the space station as early as next year.

Godspeed, SpaceX!

The "Crew Dragon" set loose:  a Dragon 2 succeeds in a launchpad abort test conducted last May.
(Image courtesy mynews13.com.)

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Space Station Sunday: Floating In A Most Peculiar Way

Good afternoon, space fans!  Welcome back to all the most awesome information from orbit.

Hallo, spaceboy!  Astronaut Tim Peake kept his cool during his debut spacewalk.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)



On Friday, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra and ESA astronaut Tim Peake conducted an extravehicular activity (a.k.a. a spacewalk) to replace a failed voltage regulator.  The mission was a success, restoring power to one of the station's eight channels.  However, after completion of this objective, any further space striding was called off, thanks to a rogue water bubble that was detected in Peake's space helmet.

Pictured: astronaut Peake and the inappropriately-damp space helmet.
Also, all of the rest of the water on Earth.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Neither Peake nor any of the other ISS crew were in any immediate danger, and Peake and Kopra reentered the station with no trouble.  The water was extracted from the helmet using a syringe, and will be analyzed to detect how to prevent future helmet leakage.  The E.V.A., which took 4 hours and 43 minutes, was otherwise declared a success.  It was Peake's first spacewalk, and the third for Kopra.  Not only was this the first spacewalk of 2016, but it was the first in history for a British citizen.  Cheers!


No, this isn't some gnarly new sport called spaceboarding,
it's just astronaut Kopra doing his job.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

In other news, the Veggie experiment aboard the station, which had originally grown a batch of "Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce entirely while in space, had recently been repurposed to grow zinnia flowers.  After a flooding of the roots left mold on some of the nascent flowers, astronaut Scott Kelly took over gardening duties.  By removing the mold-affected areas (and freezing them, for later study on Earth), sanitizing the seed beds, and upping the fan aeration of the chamber, the problem began to subside.  However, this left the zinnias somewhat dry, and in poor-looking condition.


Kelly tweeted, "Our plants aren't looking too good. Would be a problem on Mars.
I'm going to have to channel my inner {"The Martian" protagonist} Mark Watney."
AND HE DID.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)
Kelly remedied this by moving up the watering schedule of the plants, judging by eye when they needed a bit more juice. He explained his process simply, stating, “You know, I think if we’re going to Mars, and we were growing stuff, we would be responsible for deciding when the stuff needed water. Kind of like in my backyard, I look at it and say ‘Oh, maybe I should water the grass today.’ I think this is how this should be handled.”

This week, Kelly's efforts proved correct, when in a "The Martian"-like turn of events, the zinnias blossomed.


Life found a way!  Next up: space raptors?
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

However, despite the flowers' glorious growth, a particular absence of life was also felt on the station this week.  The sudden death of famed space-rock superstar David Bowie shook the world last Sunday, but his legacy gets to live on in one especially spectacular way:  his song "Space Oddity", the media's favorite soundtrack to the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, was performed in space by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield during Hadfield's ISS sojourn in 2013.  Does it get any more excellent than having your art elevated to its highest form IN SPACE?




Astronaut Scott Kelly offered his tribute to Bowie as well, capturing a lovely image of the blue planet Earth and posting it to facebook with the caption, "Sad to learn about the death of music legend David Bowie whose inspiration lives on "far above the world" #YearInSpace"




Kelly also continued his year-long photography project of "Earth Art", adding several lovely selections to his planetary portfolio...

"#EarthArt Color from a desert."
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)
"Andes Mountains. When you believe, you can move mountains. Or move over them."
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

"Advice from a volcano: keep your inner fire burning."
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)


That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with all the best news from this orbital cruise.  Watch this space!


"Yes, there are other life forms in space!"
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)
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Moonage Daydream: Is Audi Backing The Next Successful Moon Rover?

It's 2016 and we've only progressed a little bit more into the future, but the prospect of space travel is always pushing further forward.  For instance, one of the better car companies of past and modern times is now helping a team of scientists plot how to put a rover on the moon...you know, for the future.

It's more R2-D2 than R8, but that's still cool.
(Image courtesy theverge.com.)


According to theverge.com, the Audi automotive company is backing a team who plan to obtain the Google X Prize by landing a rover on the moon and having it traverse 500 meters of regolith.  The X Prize offers a $30 million reward to the first successful moon-mobilers, of which 5 teams are currently being considered as major contenders.  Audi intends to aid their chosen design team with many mission-critical elements, including "electronic, optical, and material issues," as well as challenges "pertaining to weight."


The complexities of such a mission are vast, and require exceptional engineering.
But we regular humans can at least cheer the contestants on,
and enjoy a nice game of Lunar Lander.


The German-based mission team, known as Part Time Scientists, intend to have their rover land on and explore the site of the Apollo 17 landing, which occurred in 1972.  Fascinatingly, the team has chosen to use 3D-printed parts made of aluminum and titanium, some of which are as small as 1 millimeter thick.  Wiring is routed through special hollow components in the structure.  And best of all, it might not be the only device that ends up up there.

The team intends to include a 3D printer that could utilize the moon's natural resources to spin out even more devices for moon missions.  Using natural aluminum, titanium, and magnesium, tools and parts could be 3D-printed ON the moon, rather than having to be shipped up at tremendous cost (hundreds of thousands of dollars per kilogram.)

Robert Böhme, CEO of PT Scientists, explained the usefulness and foresight of this idea, stating:
"If you bring the right technology back to the Moon, you can pave the way for more exploration...And not just exploration, but also to find a commercial benefit for future missions. It's really hard to justify a lunar mission now, even if you get it down to $30 million...That's why we want to focus so much on science, we want to show that there is the value. There is value that you can take away from being on the surface of the Moon. It's important to show what could be done."


This sentiment echoed JFK's famous 1962 speech stating,
"We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win...
Yes, dude, that fucking moon right there, for real, we're gonna lay the smack down up there."
(Image courtesy ampersandstrategies.com)

A major objective of the mission is to observe the remaining Apollo 17 artifacts, to assess them for damages and what the wear-and-tear of being moon-marooned has done to them. This could lead to innovations for future spacecraft, rover vehicles, or even space colonies (which Russia claims to want in on.)  As the lunar temperature fluctuates hundreds of degrees between night and day, the effects on the old-school lunar rover could be dramatic, and they deserve closer examination.

It is this contribution, drawn from the history and aimed towards the future of space exploration, that drives the team. The $30 million X Prize reward is secondary to the science. The plan, if executed properly, will require the Part Time Scientists' rover to travel some 2.3 kilometers - over five times the distance the X Prize rules require - to find the Apollo remnants.

Assuming aliens haven't carjacked that sweet ride we left up there.
(Image courtesy universetoday.com.)
The team intends to launch a pair of rovers in the third quarter of 2017, around 18 months from now. And, while NASA's Office Of The Apocalypse won't be prepared to warn us of any invading asteroids or aliens until at least 2020, any moonmen reading this transmission can be duly warned that there might be a little extra traffic headed their way soon.

As for the Part Time Scientists, they may not be physically driving this Audi, but it'll hopefully be a joyride just the same.

The Fast And The Furious 8:  Moon Mayhem?
(Image courtesy ptscientists.com.)

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Space Station Sunday: Spacewalk Specs And Science

Happy Sunday, space fans!  Here's what was up on the International Space Station this week.

New year, new gear:  astronaut Tim Kopra on a spacewalk in December.
Kopra and astronaut Tim Peake will head outside again this week for some
new gear installation and maintenance.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


This week, One Year Crew astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are set to conduct experiments concerning fluid shift to their heads.  While living in microgravity, the fluids of the body collect in its upper half, in a way quite unlike the interior flow inherent to living on Earth.  This pooling of fluids can affect many things, particularly eyesight.  The astronauts will use negative pressure and head scans to better understand how the fluid shifts affect various regions of the upper body and skull.

Kelly, incidentually, was featured on the Jimmy Fallon Show this week, as part of the "Thank You Notes" segment.  Kelly, in a video recorded from the ISS, sent a thank-you note to living in space for a year, as it has given him a good excuse to dodge one of Earth's more insidious evils.

Right?
(Image courtesy 45.media.tumbler.com.)

This Friday, astronaut Tim Kopra and ESA astronaut Tim Peake are scheduled to conduct an extravehicular activity (spacewalk) to replace a failed voltage regulator outside the ISS.  The new regulators will restore power to one of the station's eight power channels.  They will exit the station via the Quest airlock and spend some 6.5 hours outside.  Also included in their tasks is running more cable for a future International Docking Adapter, which would allow more spacecraft to be secured to the station.

A briefing on the spacewalk will be broadcast via NASA TV on Tuesday.

"Do you want the dubstep playlist or the soft jazz for the mission?  Perhaps some '90s teen-pop hits?"
"Dude, if you put Britney Spears in there again I'm gonna throw all your tea out the airlock."
Astronauts Peake and Kopra (L-R) check their spacesuits before the excursion set to commence on Friday.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

In other space science news, the cosmonauts aboard the station investigated how electromagnetic fields and microgravity can affect coulomb systems (crystals and liquids) that are created in microgravity.  The results could further the understanding both of electromagnetic effects in space and the unique growth of crystals in the microgravity environment.

It was also a good week for some haircuts, which in space require not just clippers, but a long vacuum tube (pictured below, right, in astronaut Peake's hand) to keep the hair bits from clogging up ISS gear (think about what it does to your shower, now multiply that by space.)


"No scientific data can account for the weird growth of your crazy ginger hair though, Peake."
"Shut up Sergey, or I'll shave the Union Jack into your fade."
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Regarding some of the successful research that the ISS conducted over the last year, the ISSpresso cup (a specially-designed coffee cup that allows for espresso to be drank like a normal beverage, and not from a space-pouch) was awarded an accolade as one of Wired's Most Cleverly Designed Objects of 2015.  Not bad, for an invention that astronaut Don Pettit had originally assembled from the cover of a flight manual!

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, enjoying a coffee break with ISSpresso cup
during her mission last year.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


And finally, astronaut Scott Kelly hasn't let all the space-based shifting of skull fluids mess with his art in the least.  He continued to capture some amazing imagery this week, adding to his extremely inspirational collection of "Earth art."

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with more details on the spacewalk and all things Station.  Watch this space!

"Day 282. Soyuz silhouette and sunset colors of our magnificent Earth."
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

"Day 285. South East Asia giving us the green lights tonight!"
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)


"Day 288.  Dream big."
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)






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Space Station Sunday: Happy Sixteen New Years!

Happy 2016, space fans!  It's looking like it'll be another great year for science, progress, and adventure aboard the ISS.  Let's see what's up...

The Rocky Mountains look like serene snowdrifts from space.
Fortunately no one has to worry about digging out the car in bad weather up there.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

This week, after orbiting through sixteen sunrises into 2016, astronauts Scott Kelly, Tim Kopra, and Tim Peake sent a video message to Earth, wishing us groundlings a happy new year and expressing their appreciation for all of the men and women who serve in various capacities to keep the ISS aloft.


Triple-backflip signoff!  Love these guys.


2015 involved some major milestones for the ISS and its crew, including the 15th year of continuous manned operations in space, the 50th anniversary of spacewalking, the commencement of the historic One Year Crew mission, the growth (and subsequent consumption) of the first lettuce grown in space, and much more.  On the ground, despite myriad failures, the SpaceX company was able to land a Falcon rocket upright for eventual re-use as a cargo craft, and also made plans to eventually ferry commercial crew to the station.

It's a busy place in space.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

Overall, the station saw the arrival of eight cargo ships in 2015.  Some 450 experiments were tended to over a course of 1900 man-hours, thanks to crew members ferried up in four different Soyuz launches.  Seven spacewalks occurred for maintenance and upgrades to the station (which is expected to remain operational until the mid-2020s.)


Scott Kelly has been enjoying his ride, particularly when the ISS serves as a
"glass bottom spaceship over the Bahamas"!
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

Not to be outdone, 2016 will see some significant science striding forth, including the addition of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (B.E.A.M.), a lightweight and inflatable module that will add an instant expansion in habitable space to the ISS.

The One Year Crew, comprised of Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, has continued apace with their research, which is expected to yield an amazing amount of scientific knowledge concerning human life on the station.  To add further fascination, Kelly's twin brother Mark (a former ISS astronaut himself) is undergoing many of the same challenges that Mark is, albeit within the bonds of gravity.  This week, both brothers were administered identical flu shots, to observe whether Scott's immune system was significantly altered by his lack of exposure to many Earthbound pathogens during spaceflight.  Both brothers will then undertake a series of blood tests to note what changes occurred, if any, on a molecular level.

Let's hope astronaut Kelly's immune system holds up.
Can you imagine sneezing in a space helmet?
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

And in closing this week, NASA has released a time-lapse video of Earth imagery shot from space, coupled with quotes from the ISS crew and an original Yanni score entitled "Seven Billion Dreams."  Here's to many more orbits!  We'll see you next week...watch this space!





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Space Station Sunday: Signing Off (Part II)

Welcome to Part II of our review of 2015's greatest moments on the International Space Station.

At night, the "pale blue dot" becomes a diamond.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


In July, astronaut Scott Kelly celebrated the 100th day of his One-Year Mission.  Shortly thereafter, Kelly's cosmonaut comrade Gennady Padalka celebrated his 810th day in space, making him the world-record holder for most accrued days offplanet.  Padalka had amassed his amazing orbital tour numbers thanks to a stint on the Mir space station plus four separate missions on the ISS, and took the title from fellow Russian Sergei Krikalev, who had spent a total 803 days in orbit.

NASA's first commercial spacecraft crew was named, with all four astronauts  - Robert "Bob" Behnken, Eric Boe, Doug Hurley and Sunita “Suni” Williams - slated to fly to the ISS on spaceships designed by Boeing and SpaceX. No launch date has yet been set, but we'll be the first to let you know!

No word yet on what the commercial crew's awesome promo poster will look like,
but Expedition 44-45's is pretty sweet.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

At the end of July, the Expedition 45 crew of NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, JAXA astronaut Kimiya Yui, and cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko flew to the ISS, where they began work on protein crystal experiments, vegetable growth experiments, and more.

In August, the crew sampled space-grown lettuce that had been cultivated entirely on the ISS as part of NASA's "Veggie" experiment.  This was a major spaceflight first, and could lead to many insights on how to grow crops for long-duration missions of the future.  Cosmonauts Padalka and Kornienko conducted a spacewalk in which they replaced old parts, cleaned up a bit, and brought in an experiment that had specifically been left on the station's exterior to monitor the accrued effects of space plasma.

One small snack for a man, one giant leaf for mankind.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

In September, we mere Earth-bound humans went on vacation.  The ever-vigilant ISS astronauts did not, and continued space business as usual on their orbital home.  Another massive earth-based storm, another useful spacewalk, and (as always) lots of experiments occurred in October.  One particularly interesting experiment was the Neuromapping investigation, which deals with how mental acuity and perception are altered in microgravity.  So far, all of the astronauts have proved to remain adept and focused as ever while maintaining their missions.

On November 2nd, the station celebrated its fifteenth anniversary in orbit.  Kelly and Lindgren took a second spacewalk to maintain the cooling system and ensure the ISS was still up to snuff.  Their previous space-stroll included the pair adding components that will facilitate future docking for new spacecraft.  Later last month, for his great work in the cause of orbital existence, Kelly was voted Scientist Of The Year by R&D magazine.  "I've learned that human potential is limitless, and we should never stop pushing the boundaries of exploration," he said of his research/current lifestyle. He also recognized "all of the great scientists who came before me to make life in space possible."

"Earth without art is just 'eh.'"  -Scott Kelly
The pioneering spaceman captured this "earth art" image over Australia.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

In December, an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo craft brought a Santa-worthy load of supplies to the station.  This mission was another in what will hopefully become a long line of NASA contractor companies stepping in to provide rocket trips to the ISS.  The Expedition 45 team headed home, while three new crew members headed for the stars.  NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, ESA astronaut Tim Peake, and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko arrived on December 15th, with Peake commanding much of the attention from the media, as he is Britain's first astronaut to serve aboard the ISS.

That's just a brief overview of what went down (and up, and sideways) on the ISS in 2015.  Stay tuned to Space Station Sunday for all the spectacularity, science, and surprises in 2016!  Thanks to everyone for reading...watch this space!

The Expedition 45 Soyuz heads home, but the One-Year crew remains...
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)


(Further reading on the still-continuing Twins Study can be found here.  For an in-depth tour of the ISS, photographed earlier this year by ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, have fun scrolling around here.  Happy New Year!)

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Space Station Sunday: 2015, Signing Off (Part I)

Good afternoon, space fans!  What a year it's been for manned spaceflight...

It never gets old.
(Image courtesy theguardian.com.)


In January, a SpaceX Dragon capsule resupplied the station and brought up a bevy of fruit flies for experimentation (their immune systems are similar to ours, making them perfect for experimentation.)  The astronauts also worked with a haptic system to remotely control a robot on the planet below, which could come in handy for future explorations.

In February, the first of several superstorms began popping up on the radar.  Fortunately the storms had no impact on the ISS.  As for the non-human ISS residents, astro-android Robonaut got his legs attached, while the Canadarm-2 helped a "robotic handoff" of a shipment of satellites.

Tropical Cyclone Bansi made for some interesting viewing.
(Image courtesy Samantha Cristoforetti.)

In March, astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts conducted three different spacewalks for station maintenance and improvements.  Shortly thereafter, the One-Year Crew of astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko arrived, capturing the world's attention with their massive mission.  A protein data bank of different organisms was tended to on the ISS, and science regarding radiation effects on the station was carried out thoroughly.  Plans were discussed for a new US-Russian space station starting in 2024, and the safe arrival of the One Year Crew ensured that many hundreds more experiments would be taking place before then.

In April, another SpaceX cargo craft arrived, bearing more science and supplies for the crew.  New experiments got underway, including one analyzing bone density loss in space, and another assessing fine motor skills in micro-gravity.  The ISS received a very special "ISSpresso" coffee machine, the first of its kind, to help fuel the astronauts with delicious fresh caffeine.  Supertyphoon Maysak was spotted from the station, looking somehow even scarier than the vicious weather pattern would appear on earth.

And if you gaze long enough into the supertyphoon, the supertyphoon gazes into you.
(Image courtesy dailymail.co.uk.)

In May, the Sprint study assessed how heavy exercise helped maintain bodily structures and functions in space.  The Robotic Refueling mission proved that the Canadarm-2 grappler could be used to service spacecrafts and satellites sans spacewalking from the station's inhabitants.  An unmanned SpaceX crew capsule was launched successfully from Cape Canaveral, proving that the US spaceflight industry is planning to do much more than mere milk runs to the ISS.  Upon landing, tests on a dummy inside the capsule proved that a live human would have been just fine for the ride.  As for the Russians, they experimented with the ability to detect earthquakes from space.

In June, the ISS dodged some space debris with no worry.  Astronaut Cristoforetti earned the world record for longest accrued time by a woman in space - 196 days - shortly before returning home with the other two members of the Expedition 43 crew.  Unfortunately, a resupply to the station failed when the SpaceX rocket (bearing among other things, an international docking adapter for a spacecraft port) exploded upon launch.  NASA and SpaceX both remained optimistic, with Scott Kelly simply commenting, "Space is hard."

Kelly captured the launch explosion from above, making it look surprisingly peaceful.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)


We'll have Part II of our year-in-space recap headed for your orbit shortly!  Watch this space!


More space-based spectacularity to follow!
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

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Fired Up For The Future: NASA 3D-Prints A Working Rocket Engine

As we speed full-tilt into 2016, the opportunities for new technologies to improve on old ideas seems endless.  One strong manufacturing technology, 3D printing, arose to a number of important challenges in 2015, and now may have its sights on the stars.  NASA has recently announced that their tests of conduits comprising a 3D-printed rocket engine have been a success.

To boldly go:  the 3D-printed "breadboard" engine exceeded expectations.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)




According to qz.com, NASA has successfully tested a collection of 3D printed parts that had been assembled as a rocket engine.  While the exact machining of such parts is critical to proper performance in space, the 3D elements require no inherent welding or joining, making them more amenable to operations.

The "breadboard" engine created by NASA was made from 75% 3D-printed parts, rigged together into one assembly that looked and functioned as a rocket engine should.  This could help to dramatically reduce costs involved with the creation of such engines, which in turn could make advanced spaceflight more of a tangible goal for mankind.

Serious tests for a serious job:  the "additive manufactured" 3D-printed components
 held up as well as traditional ones.
(Image courtesy qz.com.)

Furthermore, the 3D-printed parts could be easily replaced when far away, such as on a mission to the International Space Station or Mars.  With the ISS already in possession of its own 3D printer, spaceflight staples could be recreated with no trouble in case of failure.  This would also save additional time and shipping costs of replacement parts for missions, and could conceivably save lives in that process.

According to NASA, the test was successful enough to produce 20,000 pounds of thrust, burning liquid fuels of hydrogen and oxygen at over 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit.   Tests with liquid methane as a propellant will follow, due to its abundance on the planet Mars making it an optimal fuel source for missions around the Red Planet.

Already, NASA speculates that such engines could be used for various spaceflight activities including landing craft, in-space propulsion, or for furthering the power of upper stages of launched rockets.  The efficiently-created yet precisely-machined parts could be just the ticket for our future starships.

Tests continued into the evening, as it looked cooler.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

“These NASA tests drive down the costs and risks associated with using additive manufacturing, which is a relatively new process for making aerospace quality parts,” said Elizabeth Robertson, the project manager for the demonstrator engine at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  “Vendors who had never worked with NASA learned how to make parts robust enough for rocket engines. What we’ve learned through this project can now be shared with American companies and our partners.”

So, we get jobs, better rockets with more precise elements for spaceflight, the chance to expand galactic initiatives, and all in faster time and less expense than conventional rocket parts?  Looks like a serious win for the future.  Now about those 3D-printed Mars apartments...


The hottest new technology: with NASA, that's no joke.
(Image courtesy popularmechanics.com.)


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SpaceX Excellence: Falcon 9 Rocket Launches And Later LANDS In Historic Spaceflight First

Everyone enjoys watching a good rocket launch...the power, the inspiration to aim for the stars, the rejoicing at mankind's triumphs against physics.  Now, those sensations can be doubled, as SpaceX has successfully managed to not only have a rocket launch flawlessly, but to then have it return safely to Earth and make a landing.

A long exposure of the launch and landing.
Fortunately featuring no more fire than was absolutely necessary.
(Image courtesy space.com.)




It looked like this, and it was awesome.



As reported by the New York Times,  the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX for short) launched their Falcon 9 rocket yesterday from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  At 8:29 in the evening, the rocket blasted off, with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (as well as folks all along Florida's "space coast") watching intently to see if the Falcon would return safely to its nest, or lay an egg as it has done in the past.

"Egg", by the way, is a metaphor for exploding into little pieces.

Swing and a miss.
(Image courtesy cnn.com.)

After a disastrous attempt to ferry supplies to the International Space Station on a SpaceX Dragon several months ago, as well as two separate attempts to land a returning rocket on a barge (pictured above), the company revamped their rocket design and successfully stuck the landing this time.  The rocket's liquid oxygen propellant was chilled 40 degrees cooler than usual (to -340 degrees Fahrenheit), and its kerosene fuel was chilled to 20 degrees (rather than 70.)

Musk tweeted that this chilling out was what significantly improved the rocket's performance, claiming, "Deep cryo increases density and amplifies rocket performance. First time anyone has gone this low for O2."

Yes, he's literally made this the coolest rocket ever.  And it wasn't just to show off - the Falcon bore 11 mini data-relay satellites (commissioned by the Orbcomm company of New Jersey) into orbit, before doing a flip and returning to Cape Canaveral ten minutes later.  The Falcon landed six miles away from the launch site, touching down at the former Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile launch site (now leased by SpaceX.)



Fly, flip, float home.  Here comes the future!
(Image courtesy the American Institute Of Aeronautics and Astronautics.)

Such a landing had been attempted twice by SpaceX, with both rockets attempting to hit a barge serving as a landing pad.  Both rockets hit their target, but a little too hard.  One exploded after crashing due to a lack of enough hydrogen fuel, while the other rocket's booster tipped over while attempting to stick the landing.  Musk referred to these mishaps as an "RUD - rapid unscheduled disassembly" and kept at work.



Now, the prospect of reusable rockets has opened many possibilities for spaceflight, due in tremendous part to the financial savings such an invention allows.  While conventional rockets drop their fuel tanks once the supply has been expended, sending back a fireball of trash that is rarely recovered and never reused, the new rockets offer more of a round-trip approach that doesn't require a massive, expendable tank that requires replacing.

Though according to NBC News, the Falcon cost $60 million to build, fuel costs per mission are a mere $200,000 in comparison.  That's a massive margin that could lead to many more missions launching from American soil, possibly even bearing astronauts to the ISS.  As we're currently hitching rides on Russia's Soyuz spacecrafts to get to our orbital lab, this could be a major aid to America's space program.

"Cool, huh?  Oh yeah, and I'll get to the Hyperloop and those Tesla cars soon, too.
I'M TAKING THIS COUNTRY INTO THE FUTURE,
 WHETHER YOU ANTI-SCIENCE IDIOTS LIKE IT OR NOT!"
-Elon Musk, probably.
(Image courtesy universetoday.com.)

Musk explained, "If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred...A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space."


Here's what it looked like from a helicopter.
No, this is not a launch video in reverse!


SpaceX will continue to fire into the future with two more orbital deliveries in the next month (an ocean-monitoring satellite for NASA, and another commercial satellite.)  They also intend to resume supply runs to the ISS beginning in February.  If successful, SpaceX stands a strong chance of being one of the first corporations to help humans reach the planet Mars - and maybe even return them without worry.  That's one of the best reasons in history to get fired up about the Falcon.


Amazing, right?
And we're happy if we complete a successful game of Lunar Lander!
(Image courtesy SpaceX.)


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Space Station Sunday: Expedition 46 In The Mix



Good afternoon, space fans!  It's been an exciting week for entering orbit!

Driving stick-shift in a spacecraft?  No problem for Expedition 46!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Last Tuesday, a Soyuz spacecraft bore the three new ISS crewmembers to their new six-month home.  NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, ESA astronaut Tim Peake, and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazahkstan and arrived later that day on the station.  It is Kopra's second mission to the ISS, the first for Peake, and the sixth for Malanchenko, which ties him for the Russian spaceflight record to the ISS.

Six trips to the space station, but never a dull moment.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The launch and flight were a smooth one, despite the fact that manual control of the spacecraft had to be taken for docking.  This was handed without interference by Malenchenko, the module's pilot.


Malanchenko, center, remained chill about the manual override.
Like this six-time spaceman gets flustered about having to do some driving!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Peake's sojourn on Expedition 46 is a historical one, as he is the first British ESA astronaut to visit the station.  He has been congratulated by famous Britons from the Queen to Paul McCartney (no word on whether Keith Richards sent congrats, as he's already been spaced out for decades and considers it easy by now.)  You can follow Peake's adventures more closely via his Twitter, @Astro_TimPeake.  Astronaut Kopra will also be tweeting his time in space, and can be followed @Astro_Tim.


Peake bids a temporary farewell to his son on Tuesday.
(Image courtesy ESA.int.)

The astronauts began transferring cargo, conducting experiments, and generally familiarizing themselves with the ISS.  No slacking on the space science!  Peake also began a fun "experiment" where he tweets lyrics of what he is currently listening to, allowing astro-fans at home to enjoy his space soundtrack.  You can follow his orbital DJing at #spacerocks.


If you hate having blood drawn on Earth, just think about the skill it takes in microgravity.
Thanks for the donation to science, gents!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

More information on the Expedition 46 crew and their work is available here.  Experiments including radiation studies, analysis of the station's microbiome, and more will be conducted.

Yesterday, the Progress 60 module undocked from the Pirs compartment of the ISS, bound for a burn-up reentry through the Earth's atmosphere.  The module, which is filled with trash from the station, is being released not only to incinerate the trash, but to make room for a new module arriving next week.

The new arrival, Progress 62, is another resupply ship that will be docked to the Pirs compartment.  The launch will occur tomorrow afternoon, with the Progress 62 slated to arrive at the station on Wednesday.  After the Progress 62's launch, NASA astronaut (and current Expedition 46 commander) Scott Kelly and newly-arrived flight engineer Tim Kopra will conduct a spacewalk to ensure the station's mobile transporter is locked in place to ensure safe arrival of the spacecraft.  NASA TV will cover the spacewalk starting tomorrow morning at 06:30 EST, with the actual space stride occurring around 08:10.

The spacewalk was previously unplanned, but necessary to fix a stuck brake handle that has left the mobile transporter a mere four inches from where it needs to be functioning.  This will be the third spacewalk for Kelly, the second for Kopra, and the 191st for station maintenance overall.

Kelly spent the last few days doing emergency training for the spacewalk (a.k.a EVA, or extravehicular activity), but he also managed to capture some of his excellent "Earth Art" from the orbital outpost.

Mountains take on a magical look from the ISS.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

"Get over your mountains with rock and grit."  -Scott Kelly
Spoken like a true pioneer.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)










That's about it for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with more on the spacewalk, the new cargo craft, and all the adaptations Expedition 46 are getting accustomed to.  Watch this space!

Just blastoff things.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)



Three men and a 27 million horsepower, 40-meter- tall rocket.
The Expedition 46 Soyuz awaited its launch on Tuesday.
(Image courtesy ESA.int.)



The Soyuz, as spotted by an airline pilot over Frankfurt.
(Image courtrsy @Astro_TimPeake.)






Watch the whole launch, courtesy of NASA TV!
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That Time We Almost Built A Death Star

If you've been following this blog for a while, you know that we're fans of crazy weapons (especially on vehicles, from trucks to planes), stuck on "Star Wars", and definitely devoted to all sorts of stuff in space.  However, the confluence of all three is something truly spectacular...had it ever been invented...

This, except huge, and in space.  But someone had a bad feeling about it...
(Image science.howstuffworks.com.)

According to WarIsBoring.com, the United States at one point considered building an orbital railgun the size of the International Space Station.  Tentatively titled "Have Sting", a number of documents both classified and freely available testify that we once wanted some serious fire in the sky.

The autonomous cannon-esque rig would have boasted an array of technical feats from "power to attitude control, sensors to thermal control",  according to aerospace historian Scott Lowther, who has been researching how close we came to actually having Have Sting.

Do NOT try this at home:  schematics for the orbital railgun.
(Image courtesy up-ship.com.)

Sans traditional propellants, the railgun would have used a conductive projectile, which would be hurled by electromagnetic force.  The rails that conducted the force would generate more power depending on their length, hence a weapon the size of Have Sting (265 feet, based on known possible reactor sizes) would be able to chuck space-based bullets at up to 35,000 miles per hour.  That ridiculous reentry speed would be fast enough so that "a projectile as small as a can of beer could vaporize a hardened warhead."

A nuclear reactor, a cryogenic tank farm and phased-array radars would also be aboard for the facilitation of said space warfare.  The tanks would be full of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that would oxidize to drive a turbopump, which would charge the battlestation.  The reactor would generate enough energy to keep the Have Sting in orbital operational order during peacetime.

Even just the regular Earth-based railgun is pretty badass.
(Image courtesy wikipedia.com.)

So why no real-life Death Star?  Turns out, targeting something the size of, say, the planet Alderaan - that's pretty easy.  But negotiating orbital trajectories and atmosphere for an exacting strike on a significantly smaller land target?  Quite a bit more difficult.

The recently voted-in SPACE Act would probably need a lot of amending (not to mention basically all of the international rules of warfare) should a weapon like this actually come to fruition.  But you've got to applaud their ambition.  We can just see the Emperor's electric hands sparking with evil glee (gleevil?) at the thought of this battlestation.  But who knows where a railgun might show up next on Earth?  That's a real force to be reckoned with. 

If the Emperor had placed some rails and a giant conductive projectile in his lightning-stream,
the Rebels wouldn't have stood a chance.
(Image courtesy starwars.com.)


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Space Station Sunday: Christmas Cygnus & Homebound Crew All Arrive Safely

Happy Sunday, space fans!  It's time once again for an assessment of all things awesome in orbit.

The Cygnus leaves Florida for space, bearing Christmas goodies and science.
(Image courtesy NASA TV.)

This week saw the arrival of the Cygnus spacecraft at the station, as well as the return of three ISS crew.  The homebound spacefarers - NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, JAXA astronaut Kimiya Yui, and cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko - landed in Kazahkstan on Friday after having spent 141 days in space.  Their landing was the first to occur after sunset, and only the sixth to have departed the station during nighttime.  

Kononenko, having completed his third mission, has now spent an accrued 533 days in space, while Lindgren and Yui were on their maiden voyage.  


The Soyuz reentry vehicle puts a whole new spin on the phrase "tight ride."
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Last Sunday, after several launch attempts that were scrubbed, the Cygnus spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Its 7,300 pounds of science and supplies arrived at the ISS on Wednesday, where it was grappled to the station using the Canadarm-2 robotic arm.  The unmanned spacecraft, a.k.a. the S.S. Deke Slayton II, was named in honor of the late NASA astronaut Donald "Deke" Slayton, who was one of the original Mercury astronauts and a member of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project - America and Russia's first joint spaceflight mission.


The S.S. Deke Slayton escapes its earthly bonds...
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)


It's Santa's sleigh of science!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Gotcha!  The Canadarm-2, operated by Kjell Lindgren, snags the Cygnus.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

On Tuesday, three new crew plan to head up to the ISS via Baikonur, Kazahkstan.  NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, ESA astronaut Tim Peake, and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko comprise the Expedition 46 team, and will ride to the ISS in a Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft.  The event will be televised on NASA TV beginning at 5:00 AM Eastern Standard Time, with the launch slated for 6:03 AM.


What rocket?  Oh, yeah.  That rocket.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Astronaut Peake is Britain's first emissary to the ISS, and his nation's outpouring of appreciation has been profuse.  His Twitter account even includes well-wishing from the British rock band The Who, quoting one of their classics and saying, "The Who wish @astro_timpeake well on 15 Dec. #spacerocks #ICanSeeForMiles."  Other Brit rockers including Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel and Coldplay also sent their regards for Peake's safe travels, and the BBC put together a guide explaining various elements of Peake's mission.

The three astronauts will spend the next six months in space, and will see home the members of the One Year Crew, who yes, are still up there and didn't hitch a quick spin home on the Soyuz just to grab a steak or some fresh air.  Astronaut and One Year Crewman Scott Kelly put this in elegant perspective on his facebook this week, stating, "Day 256. The Milky Way births 7 new stars a year, so 2 star births to go."


Astronaut Kelly has been up there a while now, and he's acutely aware of the stars' turf.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

Speaking of stars, if you happen to be gazing at them this week, you may have some fiery surprises.  Tonight, tomorrow, and Tuesday will be the best nights to catch the Geminid meteor shower.  For greatest results, go outside around 2 AM.  Impress your friends when heading outside after last call!

That's all for this week, space fans.  We'll see you next Sunday with news on the station's new arrivals.  Watch this space!


The Expedition 45 Soyuz vanishes into the horizon after leaving the ISS.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)



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Space Station Sunday: Fourth Launch Attempt Is The Charm?

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's another round of what's going on around the world.  Well, around and above it...

So You Think You Can Go To Orbit, round 4.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Numerous attempts were made this week to launch the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo craft to the station.  On Thursday, Friday, and then Saturday, several different efforts were made, but all were ultimately scrubbed due to sub-optimal launch conditions.  The launch is an important one, with NASA's collaborator Orbital Technologies providing a lift for an array of interesting experiments.  7,000 pounds of science experiments, research material, and other station-critical supplies will be bound for the ISS in the unmanned vehicle, which will be grappled to the ISS by the Canadarm-2 robotic arm.

Numerous fascinating and innovative experiments are aboard, including two networking micro-satellites, an investigation into flame-resistant textiles for space use, an experiment dealing with the mixture of gases and liquids in micro-gravity, and even an entire temperature-controlled chamber for use in a variety of other experiments.  The launch has been rescheduled for today.  Check updates and mission info here!


The Cygnus spacecraft and Atlas rocket, standing by for launch.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui participated in various biological experiments this week, working tirelessly in their final days in space.  The astronauts, as well as cosmonaut and Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko, will return to Earth on December 11th.  This will officially conclude the Expedition 45 mission.

Astronaut Scott Kelly, still going strong on his One Year Mission, will greet another trio of astronauts on December 15th.  Launching out of Baikonur, Kazahkstan in a Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft, astronauts Tim Peake and Tim Kopra, plus cosmonaut Yuri Malachenko, will take a six-hour ride up to the station.


The next round of ISS astronauts pose with their space suits, which clearly have no oxygen flow issues.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

And as usual, One Year Crewman Scott Kelly has captured another round of stunning imagery from his perch, including a sunset from his 247th day in orbit...



...as well as an image of Portugal and Spain so beautiful, it may as well be hanging in a gallery in Madrid.

¡Qué maravilloso!

That's all for this week, space fans!  See you next week with tales of Cygnus success and more on the new crew of spacefarers.  Watch this space!


Science takes patience, particularly when explosions are involved.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Red Moonrise: Russia Shoots For Moon Base

Space exploration is always an intriguing topic, but this year, the hot new real estate seems to be the moon.  With NASA interested in the moon's natural craters for dwelling during astro-missions, and the European Space Agency eyeballing the celestial body for possible habitation, it's no surprise that Russia, the original space-race competitors, are throwing their furry hats into the ring.

Their habitation pods could feasibly be built like Matryoshka dolls for extra security.
(Image courtesy dailymail.co.uk.)

Humans love the moon.  Our weird neighbor of the solar system, its face has graced artwork in every major civilization, its influence has appeared in everything from religious lore to the ocean's tides, and its considered one of mankind's greatest achievements that we not only went up there, but took a spin around, and even played some golf.  Now, according to HNGN.com, the Russian space agency Roscosmos has shown a vested interest in setting up shop in the Siberia of space.


That's as close to onion-dome architecture as you can get, in space.
(Image courtesy pics-about-space.com.)

Russians are industrious folks, and this isn't the first time they've tried to literally reach for the moon.  Although the program was officially classified and even denied by the Russian government until the glasnost era post-1990, a major initiative called Zvezda was planned in the 1960s and '70s.  The plan was to land 9 habitation pods plus atomic batteries fed by a nuclear reactor, as well as a train-like transportation device that could move both the astronauts and the hab modules around for exploration on the moon.  The project would have worked in conjunction with Russia's rocketry program, and was intended to support a crew of 9 to 12 cosmonauts on the lunar surface.  Ultimately scrapped due to the cost (50 billion rubles), the plans were nonetheless developed and well-assessed by Russia's top scientific minds of the time.

According to the Huffington Post UK, the current plan would be similar to the Zvedza, as well as the construction of the International Space Station.  Six rockets would independently fly different parts of the base to the moon, and once these pieces were either in lunar orbit or on the regolith itself, the manned mission would commence to assemble everything.

The Angara A5V rocket, a project still in development by Roscosmos, would be the delivery vehicle.  Ideally, the manned elements of the mission would commence in the late 2020s, with actual lunar touchdown in 2030.  While one version of the rocket currently exists, Russian news agency Tass reports that a scaled-up version would be needed for the mission to be a success.  Construction on the Luna 25 lander has already commenced.

A beast from the East...the Angera rocket would be putting in some seriously heavy lifting.
(Image courtesy tass.ru.)

Is this a serious next step in mankind's development, or hot air as opposed to rocket fuel?  As Yahoo News UK reports, deputy premier Dmitry Rogozin wrote in a Rossiiskaya Gazeta government news article, "The moon is not an intermediate point in the race. Ot is a separate, even a self-contained goal...It would hardly be rational to make some ten or 20 flights to the moon, and then wind it all up and fly to the Mars or some asteroids...This process has the beginning, but has no end. We are coming to the moon forever."

So there you have it.  Give them a few extra months to grow some potatoes and distill it into vodka, and it's moon martinis at the South Moon Space Bar by the 2030s.  Take a good long gaze at the sky tonight, and wonder how many more humans might soon be enjoying it close-up.


We've said it before, and we'll say it again:  it may not sound sustainable,
but it sure is fascinating to think about.
This image, from a 1961 Russian comic, depicts a theoretical Russian moon society.
(Image courtesy pinterest.com.)


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Human-Cyborg Relations: New Google Feature Transports Your Devices To A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Alright nerds, we know you're getting excited about the new upcoming "Star Wars" movie, even if the last three were a nightmarish pile of existential terror that made you question at what point your life dispensed with the pleasantries and made your precious memories of space-based action films diffract into such a wasteful and insipid alternate hell.

Anyway, now there's a Google feature to make your stuff all "Star Wars"-y.

It's fun both for casual users or the fan that has everything...
(Image courtesy movieweb.com.)


According to techcrunch.com, the Force-ful takeover will cover a suite of Google apps, including Maps, Chromecast, Calendar, and more.  All changes will appear on versions of the apps running on iPad, Chromebook, Mac, Windows, and iOS or Android phones, except for Chrome, Gmail, and Youtube, which will only reach their full capacity on your main battle station...um, we mean computer.


"You must choose.  But choose wisely, for as the true Grail will bring you life..."
Whoops, sorry, wrong movie.
(Image courtesy fantasynscifi.com.)

Start at this website by choosing whether your path will be on the Light Side or Dark Side of the Force.  Your Google Chrome account will then be usurped by either the Jedi or the Empire, turning your email backdrop to scenes from the upcoming film, your "loading" status bar into a lightsaber, and your peg-man of Google maps into a stormtrooper if you're on the Dark Side, or a Rebellion pilot if you generally eschew fear and anger and things that lead down that path.  A TIE fighter or X-wing spacecraft will be your peg-spaceman's mode of transport when manifesting your desired directions. Sure beats that old landspeeder!

If you use the Waze app for directions, the effusive android C-3PO will be your navigator.  Along the way, you'll "find" TIE fighters, lightsabers, and stormtroopers on the map to your journey.  R2-D2 will bleep and bloop his assistance as well.  For once, these ARE the droids you're looking for.


A good protocol droid knows all the ins and outs of the bad parts of town.
(Image courtesy tinypic.com.)

Other apps like Google Calendar or Android Wear are also affected, with Calendar adding dates pertinent to "Star Wars" history.  For the really hardcore types, Google Translate will rewrite your prose in Aurabesh, the official alphabet of the "Star Wars" realm (how do you think all those different weird aliens were all able to understand each other?  Inter-species intergalactic communication standards are crucial.)

Now you can write these guys love letters!
(Image courtesy womenwriteaboutcomics.com.)

We know, much like a certain roguish smuggler pilot, you can imagine quite a bit.  So get ready for this next flight of fantasy with every element of that imagination engaged.  Like the Force, Google has surrounded and protected and bound its apps together in one simple move.  Post your choice of path with the #ChooseYourSide hashtag and see who else in the universe is your ally.  Should your path go astray, you're welcome to change sides.  More fun to follow as the release date approaches!

Enjoy, you scruffy-looking nerfherders!


We know.
(Image courtesy ew.com.)

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Space Station Sunday: Thanks And Cornbread From Orbit

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's the latest dispatches from beyond our earthly realm...


Taking "leave" of the planet, ISS style.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

This week, NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren took some time to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner, space style.




The preparation is efficient, at least.



NASA also explained the recipe for their Space Food Systems Laboratory's own cornbread dressing.  Hopefully someday soon, we'll get to use it to celebrate as pilgrims on Mars.


Gravity not excluded.
(Image courtesy scoopwhoop.com.)

Astronaut Lindgren captured another kind of pioneering pilgrimage in this image of farms in a desert.


We are our own crop circles, sometimes.
(Image courtesy @Astro_Kjell.)

Astronaut Kelly sent home well-wishes to his friends and family in New York and New Jersey, whom he swooped over just a little too far away to have the potatoes passed to him.

But what does the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade look like from space?
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

Kelly also posted an abstract "Earth Art" shot of a range of foreboding mountains, with the caption, "#EarthArt Sometimes rugged terrain is really just a worthy journey. #YearInSpace."


(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

The astronauts are facing a busy December schedule, with two resupply ship arrivals, one cargo craft departure, and the swapping of a three-man crew (Expedition 45) for another trio (Expedition 46.)  Astronaut Lindgren, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, and Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko 
are preparing to return to Earth for a December 11th landing.  Meanwhile in Russia, Expedition 46 Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko and Flight Engineers Timothy Kopra and Timothy Peake are prepared to launch for the ISS on December 15th.

That's all for this week, space fans!  Check us out next week for more on the Cygnus ship's Thursday arrival at the ISS.  Watch this space!

Even if you don't celebrate Thanksgiving, you can take a moment to appreciate this.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)



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Space Station Sunday: New Plants, New Plans, And Fresh Space Snaps

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's what was floating around this week.

Eight months up there, and still these guys are safe and hard at work.
Well done, cosmonaut Kornienko (left) and astronaut Kelly!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


On Monday, the ISS crew held a moment of silence for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris.  Scott Kelly posted a photo of the City of Lights from space, in solidarity with the French citizens.

Magnifique.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren planted zinnia seeds in the Veggie experiment, which successfully provided the astronauts with fresh space-grown lettuce not long ago.  The Veggie experiment is tremendously important research that could someday aid in long-duration travel to places such as Mars.  In this particular instance, it's just adding some color to the station with the zinnias, but a crop of space-grown tomatoes is set to follow.




Students on arth were able to join in the intrigue of the ISS, using a special remotely-controlled camera, the Sally Ride EarthKAM, to shoot images of Earth, from Earth...basically, the biggest selfies ever.  A large variety of images from the EarthKAM are available in their gallery.


(Image courtesy the Sally Ride EarthKAM.)


Astronaut Scott Kelly was awarded Scientist of the Year by R&D magazine.  Now eight months into his year-long space mission, Kelly is still operating in top shape.  In a thank-you video upon accepting the award, Kelly stated, "I've learned that human potential is limitless, and we should never stop pushing the boundaries of exploration."  He also recognized "all of the great scientists who came before me to make life in space possible."  Here's to more research and development aboard the ISS!

This week's station science included Kelly banking more blood and urine samples for the Twins study, in which he and his land-locked twin brother Mark are being studied for discrepancies in their physiology that make have been incurred by Kelly's year-long space sojourn.  Another interesting experiment included the continuance of a telerobotics study, where a joystick operated in space acts similarly to one "slaved" to it on Earth.

In the Russian segment, the cosmonauts conducted studies on atmospheric chemical reactions, digestion in space, and the psychology behind interpersonal relationships with mission control and each other (because when you're living and working in a tin can with 5 other people, it's important that you get along.)

Let's face it, the ISS is the prime location for a buddy comedy.
(Image courtesy ariss.org.)

And soon, there'll be some new faces for the spacemen to befriend! The crew members of the upcoming Expedition 46/47 (Timothy Kopra of NASA, Yuri Malenchenko of Roscosmos and Timothy Peake of the European Space Agency) conducted final qualification training in Star City, Russia on Thursday and Friday. They are slated to launch for the ISS on December 15th, and they will remain in orbit for six months.

Finally, the exceptionally-cheerful Kelly posted some great space-based "dawn" photos this week, including one with the caption, "Today is a new day with limitless possibilities to do great things. Good morning from the International Space Station!" Well, we guess it must be easier to be a morning person when you have the practice of sixteen sunrises a day!
See you next week...watch this space!


First step:  get out of pajamas.  Second step:  space?
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly/NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday: Some Downtime At 250 Miles Up

Good afternoon, space fans!  Welcome back to the week's news from outside the atmosphere.

Astronaut Scott Kelly said it best when posting this image this morning:
"Today is a new day with limitless possibilities to do great things.
Good morning from the International Space Station!"
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)



This week, the two astronauts who conducted last week's spacewalk were allowed to rest a bit, while also preparing for the arrival of a new supply ship.  NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren, as well as JAXA astronaut Kimiya Yui, worked in the Quest airlock to organize and stow gear used on the successful maintenance spacewalk.  They also scrubbed the cooling loops in the spacesuits they used for the job.


Spot the spaceman!
It's important to have a well-cooled spacesuit and all your tools in order
before you next step out the door into the void.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The astronauts then prepared for the December 3rd arrival of the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft, which will ferry the Nitrogen Oxygen Recharge System to the station.  This is a highly-pressurized supply of breathing gases critical to both the station residents and to the astronauts who must inhale pure oxygen before going on spacewalks (to avert "the bends.")

Yui and Lindgren each celebrated their 100th day in space, and contributed data on their current blood pressure levels and vision skills as a part of a long-running study that coincides with their space-stay.  They also respectively contributed work to a hardware study and the Veggie study (where nutritious food is grown in space for the astronauts.)


Lindgren, now a 2-time spacewalker in as many weeks, posted this image on Twitter,
explaining it was a favorite from his recent extravehicular activity.
(Image courtesy Kjell Lindgren (@Astro_Kjell) / NASA.gov.)



The Russian segment of the station was hard at work as well, with cosmonauts examining a number of experiments.  Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko worked on an experiment that deals with the electromagnetic effects of space on the station's hardware.  One-Year Crew member Mikhail Kornienko worked on an experiment analyzing human digestion in space.  He also examined different surfaces on the station, as well as the station atmosphere, to discern what, if any, strange microbes may exist there.  The Russians also gathered more data for an experiment regarding the maintenance and improvement of spacecraft piloting skills.

And, as part of his usual excellent photo-documentation from his year-long mission, astronaut Kelly captured Paris in a flyby, posting this image in tribute to those lost in this week's terrorist attacks.


The City of Lights.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

If only those who would commit such crimes could see how beautiful Earth is from above, where human differences can't really be noted.


A reservoir in Iraq, observed by astronaut Lindgren.
(Image courtesy @Astro_Kjell / NASA.gov.)


That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next week...watch this space!


This wasn't a physics experiment...astronaut Lindgren was paying tribute
to colleague Victor Hurst, a research scientist and astronaut trainer 
who passed away last month.  Hear the full story here.

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Mining And Shining: Updated SPACE Act Passes Congress, Bound For The Stars

Many people believe that America's space program would be greatly augmented if only we could find a space-based resource to mine for materials and subsequently sell.  Well, we haven't had a gold rush for the red planet yet, but now some new guidelines for being a space prospector are in place...

Thar's gold in them thar hills!  Well, at least, minerals in them thar asteroids.
(Image courtesy ibitimes.com.)


According to Ars Technica, the US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act was approved by Congress last night. The bill, which had strong bipartisan support, is aimed at making space a place for current and future industries to possess and accrue resources.

Known as H.R. 2262, the bill will augment the efforts of current space industries such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, and will aid in creating jobs in what could prove to be a critical new field.  With a spate of new launches set to occur over the next decade, space industries will remain sustainable for the foreseeable future, and now, the red tape involving their pursuits will hopefully be cut away.

Reach for the stars...that shit is lucrative.
(Image courtesy sciencespacerobots.com.)


Regarding the new bill, Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman of the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources said, “Many years from now, we will view this pivotal moment in time as a major step toward humanity becoming a multi-planetary species...This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and it will foster the sustained development of space."

Known by their excellently-crafted acronym of, ‘‘Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Act of 2015’’ or ‘‘SPACE Act of 2015", the bill also seeks indemnification of the FAA for human losses in spaceflight until 2025.  Prospective astronauts will know that they are flying at their own risk for this awesome shot at entering not just a new industry, but a new frontier for humanity.  A review of "orbital traffic" and issues regarding space debris will also be factored into the new, upwardly-mobile efforts.

No report yet on the legal ramifications of snorting those sweet purple space-rocks.
(Image courtesy slate.com.)

A framework for the presence of specially-identified "government astronauts" is also being put into place, to distinguish the pros from those who are just hitching a ride to the stars ("spaceflight participants.")  If you'd prefer to be one of the former, and you happen to have a STEM degree or some piloting experience, you can apply to join NASA's next astronaut corps.

Bottom line:  the stars are ours, if we can reach far enough to get them.  As the SPACE Act elucidates:

‘‘§ 51303. Asteroid resource and space resource rights  ‘‘A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.’’
It took a lot of spraypaint and some serious moon-rover driving skills to claim this one.
Now to drag it home...who's good with a lasso?
(Image courtesy cbc.ca.)

 However, that only applies to bringing the resources home.  We're not officially colonizing space...yet.  The final lines of the bill make that clear:

"SEC. 403. DISCLAIMER OF EXTRATERRITORIAL SOVEREIGNTY. It is the sense of Congress that by the enactment of this Act, the United States does not thereby assert sovereignty or sovereign or exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any celestial body." 

So, at least the aliens won't be fighting turf wars with us (even though at that point, WE'D be the aliens.)

Oh, and for all the ISS fans, don't worry...we won't give up on our existing space projects just because Congress has given the all-clear to strip-mine the stars.  The SPACE Act of 2015 clearly states, "The Administrator shall take all necessary steps to ensure that the International Space Station remains a viable and productive facility capable of potential United States utilization through at least September 30, 2024."

Shine on...

 
But just because we can't colonize doesn't mean we won't represent.
Happy Veterans' Day from space!
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)
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Space Station Sunday: Extravehicular Awesomeness And Even More ISS History

Good afternoon, space fans!  Welcome back to all the best news from 220 miles up.

There's no speed limits in space.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

This week on the ISS, another sucessfull spacewalk was conducted by NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren.  The spacewalk began on Friday at 7:10 AM EST and was the second successful space venture for Kelly and Lindgren in as many weeks.


Seasoned space veterans Kelly and Lindgren take another daring walk outside.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The astronauts spent six and a half hours on their EVA (extravehicular activity), attending to a port truss cooling system.  Ammonia levels were regulated for both the main and backup system.  The ammonia pump had been replaced in 2013 after a leak-detecting exercise in 2012 found it lacking, and the full system was now restored to its original configuration.  Two previous spacewalk missions had worked on the issue.

The proper cooling of the system is important to station life, as it gathers the heat from sources on the station and disseminates it properly.  According to NASA, "The Photovoltaic Thermal Control System dissipates heat generated at the space station from radiators attached to the truss structure."  This includes the abundance of solar heat that the station attracts.


Bust out with you truss out.
(Image courtesy Alexander Gerst/ESA.)


This was the 190th spacewalk completed on the ISS since its initial construction 15 years ago.  Want to know more about the sensations involved while spacewalking?  Astronaut Douglas Wheelock did a fascinating Q&A with National Geographic this week to describe some of the impressions his cavorting in orbit left him with.  Turns out spacesuits are smelly, itches aren't always scratchable, and temperatures can get weird...but that it's also just as awesome as it looks (and it always looks pretty awesome.)


That's a lot of strolling in the stars.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

In celebration of the station's 15-year anniversary, NASA has compiled a great archive of the space station's stunning history and growth story.  They also celebrated the milestone in a fun collection of GIFs.  Keep up keeping up!


Humanity's greatest work in progress.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)
That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with even more excellence from orbit.  Watch this space!


The Earth approved of astronaut Kelly and Lindgrens' spacewalk.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday - Halloween Edition: Dark Matter, Blood Studies, And A Spooky Specter On The Station

Good afternoon, space fans!  For those that celebrate it, we hope everyone had a fun and freaky Halloween.  Unfortunately there's no trick or treating to the ISS (yet), but it was a great week for orbital excellence just the same.

This was on Earth...unfortunately open fires on the ISS are a no-go.
(Image courtesy issabove.com.)


On Wednesday, NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren spent over six hours on an extravehicular activity (spacewalk!) for station maintenance purposes.  They lubricated the Canadarm-2 robotic grabber-arm, routed cables to eventually create a new docking port, and put a thermal blanket on the station's Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to aid in maintaining its functions past its longer-than-projected operational lifespan of three years.


Kjellin' out.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The AMS is a cosmic ray particle detector that searches for hints of dark matter.  It is theorized that up to 95% of the known universe is comprised of dark matter, which is material that cannot be observed.  However, with a device like the AMS, it can infer where these antimatter particles may exist, which will aid in understanding more about the universe and its origins, as well as learning more about the antimatter particles' mysterious behavior.  What a perfect job for Halloween week!

The spacewalk itself was executed well, with the astronauts achieving most of their desired tasks.  They had trained for the EVA not just by conventional learning methods, but also by using 3-D glasses and attendant computer programs aboard the ISS.  It was the first spacewalk for both Kelly and Lindgren.  They will undergo another EVA on November 6th.

Nice job, guys!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The station requires such meticulous upkeep to maintain its lifespan, which, as of tomorrow, will be fifteen years in orbit.  All six of the current ISS crew will be participating in a news conference starting at 10 AM, EST.  You can watch it live on NASA TV and learn more about humanity's most significant permanent spaceship.

In other ISS efforts this week, cosmonaut and One-Year Crew member Mikhail Kornienko studied how circulation is affected by microgravity, particularly regarding the force of blood expelled from the heart (though it sounds a bit like a horror movie, no humans were harmed in this study.)  Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko observed the physics of how plasma crystals and liquid crystals behave in the micro-g environment.

Finally, astronaut Scott Kelly managed to capture a rare video of this spooky Halloween specter on the station.   Well, when you float through the heavens, you're bound to catch some ghosts!



That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with another spacewalking scoop.  Watch this space!

And to anyone who dressed up as one of their astro-heroes, we salute you!
(Image courtesy pinterest.com.)

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The Reds, The Red Planet, And Some Monkeys: Russia's Plans For Mars


From Hollywood to low earth orbit, Mars is a major source of speculation for space travel.  Everyone from misguided reality TV-star wannabes to Elon Musk wants to have a part in pioneering the red planet.  Now, Russia has thrown down a space-gauntlet of their own, and recently announced that they are training monkeys for a mission to Mars.

Ground Control to Major Kong...Ground Control to Major Kong...
(Image courtesy www.dailymail.co.uk.)

The concept of sending test monkeys offplanet isn't a new one.  Ham, an American astro-chimp, led the way for NASA astronaut Alan Shepard to go into space.  The Russians have also previously used astro-critters for tests, including Laika, a cosmos-captivated canine who was the first living creature to orbit Earth (well, that we know of.)  However now, according to TechTimes.com, the spacefaring simians being trained by the Russians are going a step further than the primates of the past.

This really happened.
(Image courtesy vintageprintables.com.)

Four rhesus macaques who were specially selected for their cognitive capacities are being trained at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, where they are learning to operate joysticks in exchange for rewards of delicious juice.  When successful, the monkeys will have manipulated cursors on a screen to hit specific targets.  Eventually, simple math equations and puzzles will be added to their mental magnitude, at which point they will be ready to head for the stars.

The Russian monkey mission intends to land the creatures on Mars by 2017.  It is currently unclear on whether the monkeys will be able to return to Earth, but come on, if it was difficult for Matt Damon, it's probably not going to be a cinch for some simians.

Monkeys aren't as wicked smaht as him...will they still survive?
(Image courtesy collider.com.)

Still, the pioneering primates have been hand-selected for their exceptional learning speeds, and could theoretically help highlight the restraints of current long-distance spaceflight technology (as well as other elements of survival) from a useful baseline during their mission, even if that just extends to attempting the trip. "What we are trying to do is to make them as intelligent as possible so we can use them to explore space beyond our orbit," said Dr. Inessa Kozlovskaya, the head of the initiative.

Godspeed, Mars monkeys.

Humanity needs another Ham.
(Image courtesy pinterest.com.)

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Space Station Sunday: Eye Of The Storm, Eyes Of The Astronauts

Good afternoon, space fans!  We're back in action with news from all of the above!  Let's examine what was happening on our favorite orbital outpost this week...

When the space station astronauts warn you about a hurricane, it's time to be careful.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

NASA got the jump on keeping humanity safe by analyzing the possible effects of Hurricane Patricia, which made landfall on Friday before getting downgraded to a tropical storm.  Using the Aqua satellite, the Suomi satellite, and the Global Precipitation Measurement core satellite, they were able to track where the hurricane would hit and with what projected force.  Fortunately, the hurricane's worst wailing (an average 16 inches of rain) occurred over the Pacific Ocean, while it only accrued an average 8 inches of rain during its landfall in Mexico.

"Strongest hurricane EVER!"  -NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite.
(Image courtesy NASA - Goddard Spaceflight Center / UW/CIMSS/William Straka III.)


"That's cute."  -the high-pressure star-forming region of Messier 94 galaxy.
(Image courtesy NASA/Goddard Spaceflight Center.)

Astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren are preparing to make two spacewalks, the first of which will occur this Wednesday.  They have spent significant time over the last week ensuring that their spacesuits are trouble-free and ready to perform the microgravity dance that is an EVA (extravehicular activity.)  The first EVA, which will last six and a half hours, will have the astronauts adding a cover to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (a dark matter experiment outside the station), lubing the Canadarm-2 robotic arm, and installing cables that will aid a future docking port for the station.

"Did you modify my spacesuit radio to default to the David Bowie playlist?"
-"Maybe I made a few little ch-ch-ch-ch-changes."
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Bio-science studies were, as always, of importance this week on the ISS, with Kelly, Lindgren, and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko undergoing exams for the Ocular Health Study.  This is a critical experiment that reflects how astronauts' eyes adapt to life in microgravity.  As Kelly and Kornienko have now been in space for over 200 consecutive days (with Kelly recently breaking the American record for most days spent in space in total), significant science on their long-term ocular health, vascular and central nervous systems will continue to be compiled as part of this study.  Cosmonauts Sergey Volkov and Oleg Kononenko also performed cardiovascular and respiratory experiments while riding on the station's exercise bike.


So much spacetime, but still sharp!  Congrats to Astronaut Kelly on his record-breaking space stay.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Another interesting bit of bio-science taking place aboard the ISS is the Neuromapping study.  Operating on the observations that microgravity life is more difficult for achieving tasks both physical and mental, the experiment seeks to assess how and why the human brain takes time to adapt to not inherently knowing which direction is "up."  

“On Earth, your vestibular - or balance - system tells you how your head moves relative to gravity, but in space, the gravity reference is gone,” principal investigator Dr. Rachel Seidler said. “That causes these perceptual illusions, as well as difficulty coordinating movement of the eyes and head.


For instance, from space, humanity's rampant industrialization of its natural resources can, at times, appear beautiful.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

Thus, spacial memory and sensory-motor adaptation tests are undertaken to see how astronauts can reconfigure shapes when their orientation has been thoroughly messed with, as well as how effectively they can make critical decisions while remaining mobile in microgravity.  All of these tests will aid future space station inhabitants, as well as pioneers on long-duration missions who might need to make these diverse dynamics their new reality.  The tests may even shed light on how those with injury or illness on Earth may have had their perceptions altered, and what could be done to fix their conditions.

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with reports on the American spacewalk and more news from 220 miles up.  Watch this space!



Australia from space, or somewhere deep inside the human mind?  Only Scott Kelly knows for sure...
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)


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Space Station Sunday: Tests, Telescopes, and Twins

Good evening, space fans!  Here's what was up on the ISS this week.

Space problems:  getting photobombed by the moon.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)


Wednesday's launch of the Japanese resupply vehicle Kounotori will bring the craft into contact with the ISS tomorrow morning.


A lovely liftoff from Japan.
(Image courtesy JAXA.)

Astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui practiced using the Canadarm-2, the ISS's external grappling "arm" that will hug the Kounotori spacecraft to the station.  9,500 pounds of research supplies, food, and other amenities are aboard.  The CALET, an electron telescope that searches for dark matter, is aboard, as well as several experiments integral to the once-in-two-lifetimes Twins Study. 

The station's cosmonauts were also busy this week, working on various experiments including research on how magnetism and human digestion are affected in space.  Commander Gennady Padalka, cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and Oleg Kononenko also chatted via video with the Russian prime minister as well as undertaking routine blood pressure and ocular tests.


Commander Padalka's blood pressure is fine, regardless of how his hair looks.
(Image courtesy NASA TV.)

Another interesting experiment currently underway aboard the ISS is the Neuromapping research.  This project uses MRI and fMRI imaging to determine how astronauts' brain may change in the microgravity environment.  With a notable difference in pressure being exerted on the astronauts' bodies, particularly inside their skulls, this study will shed interesting light on how exactly we can expect to stay smart and sharp while swooping through space.

And, as always, One Year Crew champion Scott Kelly captured some exceptional imagery from the portholes of his perch...

"Sun's reflection striking gold in US heartland today. #YearInSpace"  -Astronaut Scott Kelly


A wide swath of coral reefs in the Pacific.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)



"Earth Art. Looks like Earth replicated Michelangelo's famous fresco. #YearInSpace"
-Astronaut Scott Kelly



That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you soon...watch this space!
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Martian Monday: New NASA Rocket Engine Test A Success

Humanity is becoming ever-more ready for the Red Planet, and now, NASA has taken yet another small step that could end up profoundly propelling mankind...


Mobility for Mars:  the RS-25 gets some practice.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)



The twelve-million-horsepower Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 rocket engine was tested last Thursday at the Stennis Spaceflight Center in Mississippi, a NASA report confirmed.  The engine, according to Space Launch Systems spokesman Martin Burkey, "makes a modern race car or jet engine look like a wind-up toy."

The RS-25 burned for nine minutes, with its four core engines consuming the equivalent of nine swimming pools' worth of fuel.


Power to peruse a new planet:  the RS-25 successfully soups up a classic Space Shuttle engine design.
(Image courtesy twitter.com.)

The engine, while requiring minimal weight for optimum speed, must also endure the extreme temperatures inherent to the rigors of spaceflight.  The void of space could find the engine dealing with temperatures of -400 degrees Fahrenheit, while the combustion during launch could put the heat at well over 6,000 degrees.

"The bottom line is that the RS-25 produces 512,000 pounds of thrust. That’s more than 12 million horsepower. That’s enough to push 10 giant aircraft carriers around the ocean at nearly 25 mph," Burkey explained.


This is what it looks like when it's just pushing air at Stennis.
(Image courtesy funtweak.com.)


Best of all, the engine is one of several that remain from the heyday of the Space Shuttle program, and a large enough inventory of such engines remain for four flights, with no need for extensive reinvention or expensive infrastructural investments. Five upgrades have been made to the RS-25 since its inception, and at least one further augmentation will likely follow before the rocket has transformed into a single-use engine of extraordinary thrust (moving 130 metric tons, or 143 tons!)

The RS-25 has currently completed six of seven live-fire tests, and will be next tested in full force, with four of the RS-25s firing in tandem.  When combined with two solid-fuel boosters and a fuel tank, the entire craft is known as the Space Launch System, and along with an Orion space capsule, it could be our ticket to pioneering towards a new planet.


Fire it up!  The continued tests of RS-25 have been a spectacular success.
Onward with Orion!
(Image courtesy ink361.com.)

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Space Station Sunday: Parking, Plants, And Perseids

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's all the best news from orbit this week.


Check out some rockin' space rocks hurtling through the sky during this month's
Perseid Meteor Shower.
(Image courtesy space.com.)



On Monday, three ISS astronauts made history when sampling a crop of lettuce leaves that were grown entirely onboard the station.  Astronauts Scott Kelly, Kjell Lindgren, and Kimiya Yui enjoyed a crop of red romaine lettuce grown from "Outredgeous" seeds that had been tended to by the astronauts for several months.  The seeds were grown in "plant pillows" full of nutrients, and matured beneath LED lights that used specific wavelengths to spur the lettuce's growth.  You can watch this tasty bit of space history in 4K via NASA's archive.

Astronaut Kjell Lindgren poses with the pioneering plants, which could someday fuel modern Martians.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

They were sure to leave some of the leafy greens for their comrades, ISS Commander Gennady Padalka and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, who had ventured outside the station for a spacewalk at the time.  The pair completed a series of tasks, including replacing antennae, augmenting maintenance supports, and photo-documenting the ISS exterior over the course of five and a half hours.  The spacewalk was the tenth for Padalka, the second for Kornienko, and the 188th for space station maintenance/assembly overall.

Going with the orbital flow:  business as usual outside the ISS.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Today, due to inclement weather, a Japanese launch of the Kounotori resupply vehicle was delayed until Wednesday.  The Kounotori, which is Japanese for "white stork", will bear 4.5 tons of supplies for science and sustenance to the station after a five-day trip.  A H-IIB rocket will ferry the Kounotori {a.k.a. the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV)-5} up from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

To make some more room for parking, the Russian Progress 58 cargo craft was sent away from the station on Friday morning.  The Progress 58 will eventually burn up once safely navigated back into the atmosphere by Russian ground control.

A beautiful way to go, though.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Speaking of objects shooting across the sky, the Perseid meteor shower will be visible until August 24th.  The meteors, which are known for their colorful fireball-like streaks, are best viewed at their peak plummeting time (shortly after midnight), near the constellations of Cassiopeia and Perseus.

A Perseid lights up the sky over Joshua Tree National Park in California.
(Image courtesy evosiastudios.com.)

And as usual, One Year Crew astronaut Scott Kelly managed to snag some amazing images of "Earth art" despite his busy schedule.

Manhattan, plus the rest of the world.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

"Himalayas in #EarthArt form look a bit like funnel cake.#YearInSpace." -Astronaut Scott Kelly

That's all for this week, space fans!  See you next Sunday...watch this space!


"#MilkyWay. You're old, dusty, gassy and warped. But beautiful. #YearInSpace." -Astronaut Scott Kelly
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

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Space Station Sunday: Snacks In The Stars

Good evening, space fans!  Here's what was up on the ISS this week.

Space gardening is taking off: an illustration of future advancements
for the space station's lettuce-growing lab experiment.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


This week, after years of research on space farming, a batch of red lettuce grown inside the ISS will be sampled by astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren.  While another crop of the red lettuce was previously grown and sent back to earth to check for contaminants, this crop has been entirely grown, tended to, and harvested aboard the ISS (science said it's safe.)

The seeds are sent up in plant pillows that contain nutrients and fertilizer, which are then cared for by the astronauts after being placed beneath LED lights.  Various wavelengths have proven more effective for plant production.

"Blue and red wavelengths are the minimum needed to get good plant growth," explained Dr. Ray Wheeler, lead for Advanced Life Support activities in the Exploration Research and Technology Programs Office at Kennedy Space Center. "They are probably the most efficient in terms of electrical power conversion. The green LEDs help to enhance the human visual perception of the plants, but they don't put out as much light as the reds and blues."


Space salad fixings.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The leafy greens are just the first part of a larger initiative to be able to have astronauts grow their own food for long-duration spaceflight. "There is evidence that supports fresh foods, such as tomatoes, blueberries and red lettuce are a good source of antioxidants. Having fresh food like these available in space could have a positive impact on people's moods and also could provide some protection against radiation in space," Wheeler said.

More details of the experiment are available from NASA.  Their copiously informative PDF on Space Biology has also recently been released.

Down on Earth, Typhoon Soudelor was in full force, with winds up to 160 miles.  The typhoon attacked the Pacific Ocean near China and Taiwan this week.


It's like a mosh pit for molecules.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


The typhoon did not have any effect on the station itself, except for probably distracting the astronauts for a while to look at how awesome it was.


Don't worry, it can't drag away the Soyuz spacecraft from way down there.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Recently-arrived astronaut Kjell Lindgren has been working with colleague Kimiya Yui of JAXA (the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) to practice the procedures they will use to grapple a Japanese supply craft to the station.  The HTV-5 supply ship is due up in two weeks and will be snagged from the sky using the station's exterior robotic gripper-limb, the Canadarm-2.


Lindgren, a rookie ISS crewman, has also now got the micro-gravity thing down...
...well, up...or sideways...
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Veteran cosmonauts Commander Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko prepared to conduct tomorrow's extravehicular activity (spacewalk.)  The two reviewed timelines and procedure, secured equipment to their space suits, and generally made sure everything was in good condition before they exit the Pirs airlock tomorrow just after 10 AM for the vacuum of space.  You can watch them live on NASA TV starting at 09:45 AM EST.  

Their tasks tomorrow will include installing gap-spanners on the station's exterior (to aid with mobility while conducting maintenance), installing antenna fasteners, replacing an old antenna, washing the windows, and photographing the general condition of the Russian segment of the ISS.  They will also retrieve the Obstanovka Experiment, which has been left outside the ISS since 2013 and will shed light on how plasma in low earth orbit affects the station. 


Commander Padalka is ready for space action tomorrow.
(Image courtesy en.wikipedia.org.)

Finally, while Scott Kelly was also involved in scrubbing spacesuit coils, participating in biomedical science, and preparing to ingest humanity's first space crops, he also managed to find time to take some cool images of Earth.


"The thing about abstract art: it appears not of this world. The thing about #EarthArt: it is our world."
-Scott Kelly
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

"This desert reminds me of the textured walls of the 70s. Anyone else remember this?"  -Scott Kelly
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday...watch this space!


"Tomorrow we'll eat the highly anticipated veggie harvest onboard the International Space Station!
But first, lettuce take a selfie. #YearInSpace"  -Scott Kelly
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)




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Space Station Suntory: Japanese Whisking Whiskey Up To ISS

Good afternoon, space fans!  We know it's a day after our usual ISS posts, but this one was worth an extra article.

Will whiskey sent into orbit get you spacefaced?
(Image courtesy zomgsmellsshop.com.)




According to the Wall Street Journal, Japanese whiskey giant Suntory intends to change up the natural order of things and give its booze the spins, instead of the other way around.  Also, those spins are actually orbits around the earth.

Six samples of Suntory beverages, including its lauded whiskey, will be bound for the ISS for "experiments."  Not the kind of experiments that involve mixing it with weird sodas or infusions to see if it makes a neat cocktail...the kind of experiments that study the effects that zero gravity has on aging.

A sample of 21-year-old Suntory whiskey and a freshly-distilled sample will be among the scientific sauce sent.  The variations in temperature, shaking, and fluid convection inherent to micro-gravity may make the whiskey taste "mellower."


On the rocks?  How about on the MOONrocks?
(Image courtesy tor.com.)

The ISS astronauts are also deeply involved in a similar aging experiment - astronaut Mark Kelly is now a third of the way into his One-Year Crew mission (while his twin brother Scott stays safe from the rigors of space as a "control" element of the experiment here on Earth.)  Unfortunately, the space-aged humans will not be able to sip the space-aged whiskey, as it is to return to Earth for analysis (some samples after one year, some samples after at least two.)  No word on whether spaceflight will have the same effects on its human experiment and make Astronaut Kelly more mellow (probably not...spacefaring doesn't bode well for slacking off.)

A similar experiment was previously undertaken by the Ardbeg distillery, when samples of their proprietary terpene molecules (micro-organic compounds) were studied in a maturation experiment with charred oak pieces.  The experiment took place simultaneously in Ardbeg's distillation Warehouse 3 on Earth as well as on the ISS, where the samples were stored in a Nano-Rack enclosure for three years.  The samples were returned to Earth last September, with professional tasting-results pending.

This whisking-away of the Suntory whiskey will commence on August 16th, when the JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) transfer vehicle Kounotori will serve them up to the space station.  Godspeed, good booze.  Let's hope the Russians have enough vodka stashed up there that no one feels the need to sneak in a few "test results" early.


We can taste the Marstinis already.
(Image courtesy www.fromquarkstoquasars.com.)





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Space Station Sunday: Blue Moon, Multicolored Earth

Good evening, space fans!  Here's what was up on the ISS this week.

Friday night's blue moon, as captured by astronaut Scott Kelly from the ISS.
You can learn more about blue moons here, thanks to NASA.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

This week on the ISS, the six members of Expedition 44/45 were busy as usual, with the three recently-arrived spacemen Kjell Lindgren, Kimiya Yui, and Oleg Kononenko integrating well into their new micro-gravitational positions.  They worked on various biomedical experiments, did spacesuit maintenance, and transferred cargo from the recently-arrived Soyuz spacecraft.

Astronauts Kjell Lindgren (top) and Scott Kelly conduct spacesuit maintenance.
Space fashion is so high-maintenance!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Kononenko is helping the current ISS commander, Gennady Padalka, prepare for the spacewalk that the two intend to take on August 10th.  The six-hour extravehicular activity will have the two exit via the Pirs module of the station, with the intent of taking a detailed photographic study of the exterior of the Russian segments.  They will also retrieve a science experiment positioned on the station's exterior, take samples of any buildups found outside, and even do some detailing - a window-washing to remove accrued space debris.

Want to a take a spin around the ISS for yourself?  Now, it's easy, thanks to the documentation photos captured by departing astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.  Before leaving the ISS last month, she shot 15 images inside each of the modules, and the stitched-together photo composites can now be accessed as a panoramic photo tour.  Options for explanations of different elements by Cristoforetti, or pertinent articles on items are also included.  The current tour includes the U.S. and Japanese modules, with the Russian segment imagery to follow later this year.

Later this month, a resupply mission from Japan is bound for the station no earlier than August 16th. JAXA (the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) will be sending the H-II Transfer Vehicle-5 (HTV-5) up with new science gear and other supplies for the station.


Chillin' over China - clouds and mountains form a multi-textured landscape from space.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

Astronaut Scott Kelly held a Q&A over Twitter this week, answering many questions about ISS life.
Revelations included that Kelly prefers using a Sharpie for writing in space, that he values the safety of the crew and station as his #1 objective during his #YearInSpace sojourn, and that he doesn't think his twin brother, fellow astronaut Mark Kelly, is feeling any sympathy pains in Scott's absence ("I think @ShuttleCDRKelly is probably out playing golf right now," Scott quipped.)

President Obama even jumped in, asking, "Do you ever look out the window and just freak out?"  (Kelly replied, "I don't freak out about anything, Mr. President.  Except getting a Twitter question from you.")

And finally, while scratching off yet another week in his One-Year Mission, Kelly captured some more amazing images from his orbital post.  You can read all about Kelly's fascinating mission - mirrored on Earth by his twin brother Scott - on NASA's "Twins Study" page.

That's all for this week, space fans!  See you next Sunday...watch this space!


The Andes, looking grand in a moment of diffracted sunlight.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.)


Spending a year in a tightly-packed closed environment can't ever get boring due to this view!
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.)


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Space Station Sunday: Six Men And A Spacebase

Good afternoon, space fans!  It's been another special week in space!

Another lovely liftoff...now, for some equally excellent experiments in space!
(Image courtesy @Astro_Kjell.)



On Wednesday, the Soyuz TMA-17M bearing three new ISS crew members docked at 10:45 EDT.  The hatch was opened at 12:56 AM, welcoming the astronauts into their new home for the next five months.

NASA's Kjell Lindgren, Roscosmos's Oleg Kononenko, and JAXA's Kimiya Yui were in good health after a short flight - under six hours - which launched from Baikonur, Kazahkstan. Lindgren and Yui became the 217th and 218th unique individuals to visit the ISS, while Kononenko has served there twice previously. The crew will be working alongside the current ISS residents of Commander/cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, and Kelly's "One Year Crew" partner, cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

Lindgren is a solid contender for "most amusing Twitter feed from the ISS",
having captioned this image,
"A little something to eat before liftoff.  Can't stop to pull off the road for a snack!"
(Image courtesy @Astro_Kjell.)

Twitter accounts to follow the planet-peeping perspectives of Lindgren, Yui, and Kelly can be watched for up-to-the-minute space action and images. #ISS also encompasses everything awesome in orbit.

Kelly will not be returning to Earth until March of 2016 (after spending 342 days in orbit.) His sojourn has already been significant to science, and he also takes some amazing images from orbit. His Instagram illuminates all of the intrigue of space life as well as the magnificence of Earth from on high, like this stunning image of "Earth art" from Africa captured last week.




 Now, with the ISS crew at full strength, science and progress can continue in force.  While the new crew reviewed procedures this week for the orbital outpost's operations, they also worked on experiments.  Lindgren repaired a spacesuit battery and worked on the Veggie experiment that enables gardening in space, which could be critical for future space colonies.  Yui helped with cargo transfer as well as analysis of protein-crystal growth in micro-gravity.  Kononenko also aided with the protein crystal experiment, and also assessed Russian ISS hardware as well as the effects of space radiation on viruses.

Sounds like they're off to a great start!  Good luck to the new crew, and be sure to check back here next week to hear more about their astro-adventures.  Watch this space!

The moon, Venus, Jupiter, and Earth all aligned for a photo op last Sunday.  Looking good, galaxy!
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)



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Space Station Sunday: Meet NASA's First Commercial Crew

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's some more of the best for the ISS.

Someday, when civilians are chilling in SpaceX space station pods, these pictures will be on the wall.
(Image courtesy spaceflightinsider.com.)


NASA has announced the names of the four astronauts who will comprise space's first commercially-launched crew.  Robert "Bob" Behnken, Eric Boe, Doug Hurley and Sunita “Suni” Williams will be the first pioneers to fly to the ISS on spacecrafts jointly developed between SpaceX and Boeing.  NASA's Commercial Crew Program is working with the companies to develop numerous projects, among them Boeing’s integrated CST-100 spacecraft (to be launched on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket), and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft (to be launched on a Falcon 9 rocket.)  Although no official launch date has yet been set, the technology is proceeding apace.


Nice ride!  The CTS-100 is set to make history.
(Image courtesy universetoday.com.)

The Commercial Crew will be the first Americans launched into space from U.S. soil since the demise of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.  All four have previously served as test pilots, and are working closely with the companies to help develop the groundbreaking new spacecrafts.

Bob Behnken flew to the ISS twice aboard the space shuttle, conducting a total of six spacewalks during his sojourn on the ISS.  He was thoroughly involved in the construction of the ISS, helping to install the Dextre robotic manipulator, the Japanese Experiment module, the Tranquility module, and the photographically-famous cupola.  He considers himself a "Swiss Army Knife-type" of astronaut who has a wide variety of useful spacefaring skills.


Behnken in the cupola that he helped to install.
All of your home improvement projects suck in comparison.
(Image courtesy universetoday.com.)


Eric Boe, a former F-15 combat pilot, test pilot, and Air Force colonel, piloted the space shuttle during the STS-126 and STS-133 missions.  His skill at dexterously maneuvering the spacecraft to dock with the ISS was paramount to safely achieving the rendezvous.  Previously serving as Director of Operations at Russia's Gagarin Spaceflight Center, he considers it "very important" to be at the forefront of America's independence in space.


Smile, you're going back to space!
(Image courtesy galvnews.com.)

Doug Hurley is a former Marine aviator who was the first Marine to fly the F/A-18 Super Hornet.  He also flew the space shuttle twice to the ISS on the STS-127 and STS-135 missions.  He understands it will be a "tremendous amount" of work to achieve what amounts to a second space shuttle series, but that the efforts will be worthwhile.  He has also previously worked as support for other space shuttle astronauts who launched from Cape Kennedy in Florida, and has helped with training astronauts at the Gagarin Spaceflight Center in Russia. 


Doug Hurley is the guy everyone stereotypically thinks of when they hear the word "astronaut."
(Image courtesy pathguy.com.)

Suni Williams has also traveled twice to the ISS, once on a space shuttle and once in a Soyuz.  She has accrued over 322 days in space, which had been a record for a female, and one only recently broken by Italy's Samantha Cristoforetti.  She continues to hold the record for female spacewalks, having floated extravehicularly for 50 hours and 40 minutes in total outside of the ISS.  A former Navy test pilot who worked with helicopters as well as a variety of other aircraft, Williams considers the Commercial Crew program "the next step in engineering development and research" for deep-space travel.

She also ran the Boston Marathon from space.  Wicked.
(Image courtesy merlinsilk.com.)

NASA administrator Charles Bolden agrees, stating, "These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail, a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars."

The releasing of low-earth-orbit ventures to private contractors will allow NASA to focus on its Orion spacecraft and Space Launch Systems rocket (comparable to the Apollo program's Saturn V), a formidable team that will someday ferry humans to Mars.


In the meantime, this Soyuz rocket will take the Expedition 45 crew up on Wednesday!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

In other ISS news, the current crew had an eventful week, celebrating the anniversary of the launch of the Apollo rocket that later docked with a Soyuz on July 17th, 1975.  They also celebrated the wonderful news of the New Horizons space craft making a flyby of Pluto.  Then it was right back to work, as science waits for no man, and the place needs to be in top form for the three new astro-adventurers arriving on the 22nd!

That's all for now from our favorite orbital outpost!  Beam us up next week to see how the three spacemen of Expedition 45 fared on their journey to the ISS.  Watch this space!

New images show active geology on Pluto.  So many more discoveries await us...
(Image courtesy bbc.com.)

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Rad Moon Rising: European Space Agency Chief Wants A Moon Colony

With all the notions (sometimes literally) flying around about humanity's expansion onto Mars, it can be easy to forget that we still have a lot of open real estate right in Earth's backyard.  Now, the head of the European Space Agency ponders the pros and cons of building a base on the moon...


Ok, maybe the palm trees will take a while...we still love the idea.
(Image courtesy howtogeek.com.)

According to the BBC, Johann Dietrich-Woerner has been the new Director General of the ESA for only a week, but he's already strapping on the moonboots.  Woerner unabashedly advocates for pondering the future of spaceflight beyond the International Space Station - namely, using advanced technology to set up shop on the moon.

While NASA remains tied to political issues that would likely preclude proposing such an audacious excursion, as head of the ESA, Woerner wants to make the same style strides that the American space agency made prosperous throughout the last half of last century.  As NASA continues to prepare its successfully-tested Orion spacecraft for deeper spaceflight, one wonders if taking a spin around our celestial block might be the next good test-drive.

America's Orion rocket:  next stop, Moonhattan?
(Image courtesy space.i09.com.)

It's not like such a plan wouldn't have an intensive intent behind it.  Regarding the moon mission, Woerner's not just talking about a few lead-lined pup-tents and some freeze-dried food pouches.  His vision makes for a multinational moon colony with robotic assistance, new satellites, and a telescope that would use the advantageous viewpoint to gaze even further into the cosmos.

“The far side of the Moon is very interesting because we could have telescopes looking deep into the Universe, we could do lunar science on the Moon and the international aspect is very special,” he explains. “The Americans are looking to go to Mars very soon – and I don’t see how we can do that – before going to Mars we should test what we could do on Mars on the Moon.”


We can 3D-print live organs, why shouldn't we be able to 3D-print a moonbase?
(Image courtesy futuretimeline.net.)

While the moon's natural craters have previously been considered for possible habitation, the idea of using a giant 3D printer to help create buildings and other infrastructure has gained traction.  This would also make for a great test-drive of the technology before we bring it to Mars, since the moon is only a four-day trip from Earth, as opposed to the half-year trek it takes to get to the Red Planet.  Any kinks in the system could be dealt with much more quickly (and possibly life-savingly) thanks to the proximity.

“We should have international cooperation, without any limitations, with any countries of the world,” says Woerner. “We have enough Earthly problems between different nations – space can bridge these Earthly problems and the Moon seems to be to be a good proposal."

That's "one small step" that could be the next giant leap into the future - maybe even including Mars. 

No official plans or designs for the moon colony are in place yet, but it sure is fun to speculate.
(Image courtesy space.com.)

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Space Station Sunday: Expeditions And Experiments

Good evening, space fans!  Here's what was happening in low earth orbit last week.

"Earth without art is just 'eh.'" -Astronaut Scott Kelly
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

Three new crewmembers are set to join the ISS, and have been making pre-flight preparations in Russia.  The astronauts - NASA's Kjell Lindgren, JAXA's Kimiya Yui, and Roscosmo's Oleg Kononenko, are currently in residence in Star City, Russia, near where they will blast off from the Baikonur cosmodrome at 5:02 PM EDT on June 22nd.

That's them, on the left.  The force (of science) is definitely with them.
(Image courtesy i09.com.)

While touring the Star City facility and conducting press conferences, they have also undertaken the tradition of placing flowers on a statue of Yuri Gagarin as part of their preparations.  The crew, who will comprise ISS Expedition 45, are diverse, dedicated, and definitely excited about their mission.  Here are some facts on this serving of spacemen:

Kjell Lindgren is a NASA astronaut who graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy, among other institutions.  While at the Academy, he was on the parachute team - an experience he compares to his current job of being a rocket-man, thanks to the intricacy of necessary planning and righteous rush inherent to both.




Kimiya Yui is a Japanese astronaut and former military test pilot.  After growing up in a small village in Japan and attending the national military academy, he feared his nation's separation of scientific and military endeavors might staunch his boyhood dream of spaceflight.  However, after attending test pilot school, he managed to join the JAXA program thanks to his expertise, becoming Japan's first astronaut with a military background.  He has also served on the Aquarius underwater facility's NEEMO 16 mission, earning the title of aquanaut.





Oleg Kononenko is a cosmonaut who says his "entire life is flying - flying in space."  A previous ISS resident two times over, he served as a flight engineer on Expeditions 17 and 30, and commanded the ISS during the subsequent Expedition 31.  He has a degree in mechanical engineering and worked closely in the design, testing, and fabrication of spacecraft electrical systems at the Russian Space Agency’s Central Specialized Design Bureau before continuing his space career as a cosmonaut.




The three will journey for six hours to reach the ISS via a Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft.  They will spend five months aboard the station.

Meanwhile this week, the Expedition 44 crew aboard the station were busy as usual.  Astronaut Scott Kelly readied the Japanese Kibo airlock for the deployment of a fleet of Cubesats, which are very small, cube-shaped satellites that operate both independently and as a swarm.  He also did work on the Capillary Beverage experiment, which examines how liquid stays in cups that are specially-designed for micro-gravity.  The cups' design enables the liquid to cling to the walls of the vessel, rather than float around in globs all over the place.  This experiment is also a good excuse to have a nice cup of coffee.


He's not kicking back, he's doing science!  Let the man work!
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko transferred supplies from last week's successful delivery vehicle, the ISS Progress 60.  He also worked on life-support maintenance.  Commander Gennady Padalka worked on the Russian carbon dioxide scrubbing system, the Vozdukh.  He also collected and photographed samples for the Aseptik study, which concerns sterilization of station hardware (can't have weird microbes sneaking into space.)

That's all for this week, space fans! Stay tuned next week for more pre-launch coverage of the Expedition 45 team, as well as news on the spacefarers who will comprise NASA's first commercially-launched crew!  Watch this space!

Some crazy geography on Earth looks even wilder from the stars:
gaze into the oddness of the Richat Structure in the Sahara Desert.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)



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Space Station Sunday: Supply Success!

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's what was up on the ISS this week.

No explosions, other than the ones necessary for launch, took place this time.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)



Despite the explosion of a SpaceX resupply rocket last week, Russia's Progress 60 unmanned resupply ship arrived safely at the ISS this morning.  Launched on Thursday evening from Kazahkstan, the spacecraft has brought over three tons of food, fuel, oxygen, and scientific supplies to the station.  The craft will remain docked at the Pirs module for the next four months.


Progress, living up to its name at the ISS.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The crew continued to function with no issues after the SpaceX crash.  The ISS is specifically designed for months' worth of supplies to be stowed aboard, thus the astronauts were able to keep working diligently with no lack of nutrition or hydration.


Can't run out of coffee when the nearest Dunkin' Donuts is hundreds of miles straight down.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Astronaut Scott Kelly has reached his 100th day in space, and closing in on a third of his sojourn as a "One Year Crew" member.  Kelly is in good health and remains very enthusiastic about his mission.  This week, he did research on calcium deposits and gravitational orientation in plants, as well as work on an experiment that studies rodents in space to discern changes to their musculoskeletal system.  And as usual, he found time to capture some amazing imagery from earth.


Looking good, Earth!
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)


Speaking of endurance, as of last Sunday, ISS Commander Gennady Padalka holds the record for most accrued time spent in space by any human being.  Padalka, who previously served aboard Mir and who is currently working at his fourth mission in the ISS, has now been in space for a total of 810 days.  The previous recordholder, Sergei Krikalev, had spent some 803 days spinning around the planet.

Commander Gennady Padalka: the current champion of existing in space.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next week with more news from orbit, as well as updates on the three new crew who will be joining the ISS astronauts at the end of July.  Watch this space!


Though he's doing just fine living in orbit, astronaut Scott Kelly could not help making the observation,
"Earth rocks!"
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly/NASA.gov.)

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Gliders From Mars: New Prototype Aircraft To Analyze Red Planet

While Mars One has gone suspiciously silent about their gambit to land on the Red Planet, NASA has been working all the while to plot a mission that will, you know, actually work.  Their latest plan to scan the Martian terrain to find some suitable digs for human adventurers now includes an outstandingly-observant glider plane...

Between the orbiters, rovers, and this new boomerang-drone, we'll have much of Mars mapped out.
(Image courtesy scitechdaily.com.)


According to inquisitr.com,  NASA's latest project involves a prototype plane that will be able to fly low enough to observe Martian territory while taking cartographic images and radiometric readings.  Yes, it's basically just a drone, but an important one, considering the stakes we could make on our neighboring planet.

Known in glorious NASA acronym-speak as the Prandtl-m (Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Land on Mars), the plane is a 2.6-lb. glider with a 48-inch wingspan.  A prototype is currently being designed to explore Mars sometime in the early 2020s, mostly to see if it's a nice neighborhood for humans to move into.


"Charming acreage, perfect for new families..."
(Image courtesy pravda.ru.)

The Prandtl-m will weigh only a pound in Mars' reduced gravity, and is estimated to have a range of up to 20 miles (providing it is released from an altitude of 2,000 feet.)  Tests will be made on the plane here on Earth by dropping it from 100,000 feet and allowing it to navigate itself back to its base over the course of five hours.  Should these tests prove successful, the plane will be dropped from a sounding rocket at 450,000 feet to test it in its intended deployment configuration.


The Prandtl-d, a precursor to the Prantdl-m, during a test flight in June.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

In official action, the Prandtl-m would launch from a 3U CubeSat (a stack of three small, squared satellites) that would be housed inside an updated Martian rover, also bound for the planet.  Should it be successful, the Prandtl-m will be the first aircraft on Mars (well, the first human-powered one, at least.  We can't speak for any unaccounted-for aliens.)  Though its flight time would only be around ten minutes, it could provide new data of unparalleled accuracy.

With astronauts aboard the ISS focusing on the human elements of sustained spaceflight, and rovers on the Martian ground sending daily data dispatches, our mission for Mars draws ever more plausible.  Hey, we're even working on the microbes to terraform the place.  Another few flybys, such as with the Prandtl-m, and we'll start feeling right at home...

Our grandchildren might be sand-skiing down Olympus Mons.
(Image courtesy article.wn.com.)



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Space Station Sunday: "Space Is Hard"

Good afternoon, space fans!  It's been a difficult day for spacefaring, but rocket science rocks on...

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly tweeted this image of the SpaceX rocket explosion as seen from above,
along with text including, "Space is hard."
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)


This morning, the launch of a SpaceX Dragon capsule aboard a Falcon 9 rocket was abruptly ended when the rocket detonated in midair, only two minutes and fourteen seconds after liftoff.  The SpaceX CRS-7 (Commercial Resupply #7) mission was slated to bring food, supplies, and at least one innovative invention to the ISS, but was curtailed by forces of physics beyond the operators' or creators' control.



The SpaceX CRS-7, in happier times.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

NASA's full statement on the issue maintained an optimistic tone, stating, "We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight. The commercial cargo program was designed to accommodate loss of cargo vehicles. We will continue operation of the station in a safe and effective way as we continue to use it as our test bed for preparing for longer duration missions farther into the solar system."


Depressed, but not deterred:  spacefaring will fly on...
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Had the detachment of the SpaceX Dragon been successful, SpaceX mission control would have attempted to land the reusably-designed Falcon 9 rocket on a barge.  At the time of the explosion, the rocket was travelling at a speed of approximately one kilometer per second.

The full video of the mishap is available here:




Over 250 scientific experiments and 4,000 pounds of supplies were included in the CRS-7 payload, including investigations on meteor composition, the actions of nanoparticles in microgravity, and microbial activity aboard the ISS.  

Even more frustrating is the loss of an International Docking Adapter, which would have served as the bridge between visiting commercial spacecraft and the ISS during future missions.  A major piece of hardware that was intended to enable "automatic alignment and connection" for future spacecraft, the IDA was a major breakthrough not only for space technology, but for the collaboration of commercial rocketry initiatives on the ground.

"We set the hardware up and had the folks from Boeing and SpaceX come over and do some alignment checks and testing so they would know their systems would work," said Steve Bigos, project manager at the Kennedy Spaceflight Center. "There was a lot of new technology, so it was very interesting."


The IDA was created expressly for the ability to dock more spacecraft to the ISS.
That means we WILL be sending up many more spacecraft to the ISS.  Just not today.
(Image courtesy inagist.com.)

A second, previously developed IDA will hopefully be ready to launch with one of the next commercial payloads.  

Speaking of commercial payloads, the Russian resupply mission slated for July 3rd is still a go.  The astronauts, while not worried about running out of food or supplies, will greet the ISS Progress 60 mission at the Pirs docking compartment on July 5th.  Current ISS commander Gennady Padalka, as well as One-Year Crew mission cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, will monitor the docking via the TORU telerobotically-operated rendezvous system in the ISS's Zvezda service module.

Despite the difficulty of the SpaceX non-compliance (that's NASA-speak for "unforeseen giant freaking explosion"), there is still much to celebrate and investigate in space.  Here are some amazing images of the aurora, captured last week by astronaut Scott Kelly.









While it may not be as stunning as seeing stuff from space, you too can enjoy a specific segment of starscape by signing up for Spot The Station updates.  A text will be sent to your phone (from NASA, how cool is that?), giving you a heads-up to tilt your head up and see the ISS as it passes by.  If you leave your camera lens open long enough to capture the transit, you can submit images to #SpotTheStation to share with your fellow Earthlings.


It's not a shooting star, but it is still worth making a wish on...for science.
(Image courtesy #SpotTheStation.)

That's all for this week, space fans.  Don't despair...there'll be lots more to share from up there.  Science won't stand still for the loss of one resupply mission, and more Dragons will fly on.  We'll see you next week with more updates as progress does its thing...watch this space!


The most recent, but certainly not the last, SpaceX Dragon, docked outside the ISS in May.
More to follow, because that's how progress works.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday: Eyes And The Dragon

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here’s what was up, up in orbit this week...

Just space things.
(Image courtesy Terry Virts.)

Thanks to the safe landing of a Soyuz crew ship in Kazahstan the week before last, the ISS is currently operating with only three crewmembers.  Commander Gennady Padalka took the helm shortly before NASA astronaut Terry Virts rode home with crewmates Samantha Cristoforetti and Anton Shkaplerov.  Working alongside Padalka are NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, the two men of the One Year Crew.
           
Virts did manage to capture this perfect pyramid image before he split.
(Image courtesy Terry Virts.)

Now several months into their historic mission, Kelly and Kornienko have been diligent in their scientific regimens, gathering data and maintaining their floating laboratory with scrupulous attention to detail. Over the last week, they conducted a series of eye checks for the Ocular Health study, which assesses the troubles that microgravity can exact on the ocular nerves.  Due to the extremely low gravity on the ISS, the pressure of the body’s fluids coagulating in the upper body and head can alter vision by affecting the eyes and their surrounding elements.  The Ocular Health study aims to help prevent any damage due to these factors.

Kelly also replaced a microscope lamp in the Fluids Integrated Rack, where fluid physics are studied.  These studies could eventually aid in the design of better fuel tanks and the various water systems that serve many functions aboard spacecraft.  Kelly and Padalka also prepared for an upcoming SpaceX Dragon cargo delivery by training with the Canadarm2, the robotic arm mounted on the ISS exterior.

SpaceX plans to launch a resupply craft to the ISS on June 28th, with a slated arrival on June 30th.  Kelly will operate the Canadarm2 to grapple the Dragon into its berth in the ISS’s Harmony Node.  The resupply craft will include food and scientific supplies for the astronauts.

Kelly also captured some amazing imagery from Tropical Storm Bill, sending his best wishes to any Earthlings who might have been affected.
                             

Stay safe, Texas!
(Image courtesy livescience.com.)
That’s all for this week, space fans!  Tune in next week to hear more news from 200 miles up!  Watch this space!

Happy Fathers' Day, American dads!
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

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Space Station Sunday: 84 Million Miles; Home

Good afternoon, space fans!  It was a strikingly successful week in space.

Don't mind the fire, they're fine.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov/Bill Ingalls.)


The Expedition 43 crew, comprised of NASA astronaut Terry Virts, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, returned safely to Earth on Thursday morning.  They rode home in a Soyuz TMA-15M module that parachuted them into a field in the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in southeastern Kazahkstan.

The astro-adventurers spent 199 days in space, conducting numerous experiments, maintenance, spacewalks and cargo-ship grabs, making over 3,000 laps of the planet as they worked.  That's over 84 million miles!  Cristoforetti's space sojourn allowed her to set the world record for most time spent in space by a woman, previously held by NASA's Sunita Williams.

Mission accomplished!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Before their departure of the ISS, Virts thanked their ISS ground teams worldwide, as well as their families for all of their support during the mission, then handed over command of the station to veteran cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.  Commander Padalka remains aboard with his cosmonaut comrade Mikhail Kornienko, and Kornienko's fellow One Year Crew marathon-spaceman, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.  In several days, Padalka is set to make the record for most days spent in space EVER.

The three new crew of Expedition 44 are slated to launch on June 22 from Baikonur.  Commander Oleg Kononenko will pilot a Soyuz TMA-17M bearing NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Kimiya Yui to the ISS.

The hundreds of experiments conducted during the course of Expedition 43 will have a direct impact on future ISS missions, as well as missions for humanity's colonization of Mars.  Returning with the Expedition 43 crew were various completed and continuing scientific experiments and equipment, including dosimeters used for radiation-exposure experiments, and samples for a microbiome experiment that analyzes spaceflight's effects on the human immune system.


Cruising back down Earth-side in the Soyuz.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

According to NASA, here was the timeline of the return-burn:

Thursday, June 11

EST EVENT

8:30 a.m. NASA TV: Expedition 4 Soyuz TMA-15M deorbit burn and landing
8:51 a.m. Soyuz TMA-15M deorbit burn (4 minutes, 35 seconds duration)
9:55 a.m. Soyuz deorbit burn complete
9:18 a.m. Soyuz module separation (altitude 87 miles)
9:20 a.m. Soyuz atmospheric entry (altitude 62 miles)
9:23 a.m. Command to open parachute (6.5 miles)
9:43 a.m. Expedition 43 Soyuz TMA-14M landing southeast of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan


That's a very dry version of the events that transpired...check out this video, shot by NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore on the Expedition 42 crew's reentry, to see what it's like to ride home "in a fireball"!




And finally, astronaut Scott Kelly of the One Year Crew continued to capture amazing imagery from space, in addition to his gravity-and-history-defying research work.  He posted this image to social media on Tuesday, stating, "This lake North East of the Himalayas appears to be the bluest place on Earth from the International Space Station. #YearInSpace."


They got the blues...in a really good way.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly.)

Kelly also augmented his artistic street-cred (well, space-cred) when he told NBC that he had anticipated a watercolor set as part of the gear aboard the ISS.  Though the paints were not present, NASA has vowed to send up a set in one of the next shipments.  As Kelly explained, "This is a great environment for looking out the window and painting what you see."

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll have more news on Expedition 44's upcoming mission next week...watch this space!


Congratulations, crew!  May life in space and on Earth continue to benefit from your badassery.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)





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Ad Asstra Per Aspera: Will Space-Based Pornography Blast Off?

For everyone who has ever marveled at the sight of a rocket launch, or enjoyed the victorious thrill of watching a moon landing or spacewalk, we know that the excitement of space travel is deeply ingrained in the human psyche.  Even just checking out pictures from space (or reading Space Station Sunday) can encapsulate some of that enticement.  Now, the spirit of space adventure and another popular pasttime - porn consumption - are teaming up to go where no man (and woman) have gone before.

Like it or not, these two may make some very hot history.
(Image courtesy huffingtonpost.com.)



According to the Huffington Post, the popular online erotica archive of Pornhub has commenced a crowdfunding campaign to bring sexiness into space.  Their "Sexploration" initiative is seeking to raise $3.4 million dollars to send two porn stars up towards the actual stars.


Houston, we have no problem at all with this.
(Image courtesy vice.com.)

Stars Eva Lovia and Johnny Sins will helm the mission, and much of the money raised is to cover their training and associated spacefaring costs.  The orbital orgasms will be filmed by a six-person team, who will also undergo thorough astronaut training.

According to Pornhub vice-president Corey Price, "If all goes well, the schedule will include an entire six months of training for space travel for our crew and performers before we’re comfortable with launching them into space...We need to know all participants are sufficiently prepared for the rigors of space-age coital activity (as well as filming in or past the stratosphere)."


"Uranus"-level donors get to keep a sexed-up spacesuit.  Really.

The stars intend to commence coitus the moment their launch vehicle begins ascent, culminating in a free-flying fuckfest once the bonds of gravity are broken some 68 (maybe 69) miles above earth.  While the laws of conservation of momentum (namely, banging body parts together with no atmospheric resistance) may complicate the logistics of this emission mission, the adventure would at least make for an interesting science experiment.

While no disclosure has emerged of the exact method that the asstronauts plan to use to enter space, a press representative enthused that Pornhub has been in talks with several private spaceflight companies.  NASA and the International Space Station will not be involved (much to the dismay of the sexually-sacrificial One Year Crew.)

The One Year Crew will just have to hope that these ladies make a flyby.
(Image courtesy dailygalaxy.com.)

If their campaign is successful, the anticipated release date for the movie is late 2016.  Pornhub is proud to be fucking in the final frontier, claiming this mission was born from "a love of sex and science."

That's one small schtup for a man, one giant leap for mankind!


Pioneering and pornography, two of humanity's greatest inspirational elements.
(Image courtesy outsideonline.com.)

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Space Station Sunday: A Record, A Rescue, And A Return

Good evening, space fans!  Its been another week of scientific spectacularity about the ISS.  Here's what's up!

And we all shine on...
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Yesterday, a PDAM (pre-determined avoidance maneuver) was conducted to prevent the ISS from colliding with a piece of space debris from a spent Minotaur rocket. The debris had remained in orbit since 2013 and was tracked by mission control, which prevented the ISS astronauts from being put in serious harm's way. The Progress 58 thrusters aboard the station were fired for 5 minutes, 22 seconds to raise its orbit, allowing the chunk of Minotaur to pass by a safe three miles away from the station. The ISS currently now resides at 254 x 244.8 miles above the Earth.


Earth, which at times "looks like a combination of sweet and savory,"
in the words of astronaut Scott Kelly on National Donut Day.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly/NASA.)

On Sunday, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti set the world record for longest-duration spaceflight by a female - 196 days.  She surpassed NASA's Suni Williams, who had stayed aloft for 195 days during Expeditions 14/15, which ran from December 2006 to June 2007.

Astronaut Cristoforetti celebrates her world record with a victory flight
around the ISS's Columbus laboratory.
(Image courtesy Samantha Cristoforetti.)

Cristoforetti, along with NASA astronaut Terry Virts and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, will return to Earth on Thursday morning at 9:43 AM.  In addition to their usual scientific duties this week, they have been conducting spacesuit maintenance to assure that their return will be comfortable.


The Soyuz TMA-15M (pictured) will return the astronauts back down below.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The 50th anniversary of the Gemini IV mission occurred on June 3rd.  The mission, which was the first that was monitored by mission control in Houston, also featured the first American spacewalk by astronaut Ed White.  The ISS has been the floating-off point for 187 spacewalks, all thanks to the early NASA adventurers.


Ed White, spacewalking in 1965:
"This is the greatest experience, it's just tremendous."



Our modern missions stand on the shoulders of giants, both human and technological.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Scientifically speaking, astronaut Scott Kelly took blood and saliva samples for the Cardio Ox experiment, which will assess astronauts for stress and atherosclerosis at different points in their mission.  Ultrasound scans of the carotid and brachial arteries are also obtained as part of the experiment, which requires taking samples and readings before launch, 15 and 60 days into the mission, 15 days before landing, and within days of returning to Earth.  This will eventually create a comprehensive analysis of how stress affects astronauts at different points in their journey.

Speaking of different points in the journey, a breakthrough technology that was added to the ISS now helps ships get tracked all over Earth's oceans.  The Vessel ID system can pinpoint any ship on Earth and, in this astonishing video, shows how it can save lives even in the most dire of emergency seafaring situations.  Yet another piece of technology that works in space to help humans on Earth!


This is a really amazing rescue story...from space to the sea!


That's all for this week, space fans!  Tune in next week to see how our Earthbound adventurers fared on their trip home.  Watch this space!


As three of their members get fit to split, the Expedition 43 crew tags
the ISS bulkhead with their mission patch.
Great work, team!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Countdown To Liftoff: Virgin Galactic Claims Space Tourism Will Commence In Two Years Or Less

With SpaceX successfully ferrying cargo to the International Space Station on the regular, and space tourism plans from Russia well in the works, the world's financial elite are starting to slaver over the speculation of a vacation in space.  Virgin Galactic have now thrown in their spacesuit-gauntlet, claiming they will be actively operating outside of the atmosphere in as little as two years.

These are what spacesuit gauntlets look like, BTW.
(Image courtesy fineartamerica.com.)


Despite the crash of its once-lauded Spaceship Two late last year, the company have pressed onward with their space initiatives.  According to the Register UK, although the crash cost the life of one pilot, Michael Alsbury,Virgin will press on with their plans to live the high life in low-earth-orbit.


And soon enough, maybe you'll be at all the best parties in Moonhattan.
(Image courtesy localusnews.com.)

The feathering tail-boom reentry system that was the cause of the crash will be made more difficult to accidentally deploy, as is speculated was the cause of the crash.  "It'll be made physically harder to unlock the feathering system at the wrong time," stated the BBC.

Yet even a crashing catastrophe couldn't deter aspiring astronauts. Virgin chief executive George Whitesides stated, "The vast majority of our customers, so about 98 per cent, have been really terrific, very supportive. What we are doing is not easy, it's an historic thing. What we are doing is opening up space to the rest of us. We are democratising space."

Well, the kind of democracy that $250,000 buys.  But hey, if enough people get into it, the prices will keep coming down as the rockets keep going up, right?


FREEDOM!
(Image courtesy huffingtonpost.uk.)


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Space Station Sunday: Remodeling A Module

Good afternoon, space fans!  It was another inspiring week of science and progress aboard the ISS.

Remodeling the house needs a little extra attention in space...
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)



This week, the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) was relocated from the Unity module to the Tranquility module.  Using the station's robotic external arm, the Canadarm2, the PMM was moved on Wednesday morning to its new home.  The Canadarm was manipulated by ground teams in Houston and Quebec, then was bolted into place by astronauts Scott Kelly and Terry Virts.

The module, which stores extra cargo for the ISS, was re-situated to allow for two new international docking adapters (IDAs) to be mounted to the modules' pressurized mating adapters #2 and #3, which will enable future spacecraft to dock with the ISS.  The IDAs will be arriving later this year on the 7th and 9th NASA-contracted SpaceX cargo resupply missions.


ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti captured the docking of the PMM
by peeking through a window in the Node 1 hatch.
(Image courtesy Samantha Cristoforetti.)

Science aboard the station included some interesting experiments this week.  Members of the Russian crew worked on the Seismoprognoz experiment, which deals with analyzing and someday possibly predicting earthquakes from space.  They also continued work on ways to acoustically determine if and where the station is hit my micro-meteoroids.

The American crew worked on, among other things, the Fluid Physics Experiment, which deals with the nexus of where liquid and gas meet.  Temperature differences compel the surface tension between the two elements to react in different ways, known as the Maragoni convection.  Due to the ability to study such mash-ups in microgravity on the space station, the experiment offered unprecedented ability to gather more information on this scientific phenomenon.  This could aid in the construction of better semiconductors, industrial processes, and biological or optical materials on Earth.

Back on Earth, as Memorial Day was honored in America, Astronaut Scott Kelly took a touching tribute photo from his perch in the stars.  The image of Arlington National Cemetery, where fallen U.S. soldiers are interred, may seem small in comparison from space, but is vastly important to America's heritage and heroism.

A beautiful memorial from someone living in the heavens.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next Sunday with more science and starlight.  Watch this space!


Interesting elements of Brazilian topography.  Do the aliens like what we've done with the place?
(Image courtesy Samantha Cristoforetti.)






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Space Station Sunday: Worms And A Dragon

Good evening, space fans!  Here's all the latest from our neighbors in orbit.


The Dragon, draggin' things home.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

This week, the SpaceX Dragon capsule that arrived on April 17th was sent back down dirt-side, bearing 3,100 lbs. of research equipment and completed scientific experiments.  It splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, about 155 miles southwest of Long Beach, California, and was recovered without incident.


The Dragon, on approach to the ISS in April.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

On June 26th, the SpaceX Dragon will make its seventh cargo delivery to the ISS.  Among other important cargo, it will carry up two International Docking Adapters.  These adapters are critical for readying the station for the new commercial spacecraft that will be visiting in the coming years.

Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, the Russian member of the famous "One Year Crew" duo (also comprised of NASA astronaut Scott Kelly) continued research as usual, gathering data for the Fluid Shifts investigation.  The study is to help determine how intracranial pressure can affect eyesight and other elements of perception in micro-gravity.

Scott Kelly took a great photo of the island of Manhattan, possibly in celebration for New York City's Fleet Week.  And the Thunderbird pilots who buzzed up the Hudson River on Friday thought they were so cool!

Ahoy!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov/ Scott Kelly.)

Other interesting scientific endeavors that returned home aboard the Dragon included the astronauts' work on the Space Aging study, which monitors roundworms throughout their growth cycle to determine how growing older in orbit can affect various systems in the body.  The roundworms are small stand-ins to determine the possible effects that long-duration spaceflight can have on the human body.

Data from the SpinSat, a 22-inch satellite deployed from the ISS, was also returned aboard the Dragon.  The SpinSat uses new thruster technology to regulate its position, and its purpose is to study the thermosphere.  One of the upper layers of the atmosphere, the thermosphere is an important element to monitor and research to allow for better maneuverability of satellites and more thorough connection with telecommunications elements in orbit.

That's all for this week, space fans!  Check us out next Sunday for more spectacular science...watch this space!


The Dragon rides past the fire of the sun, headed homeward.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Secret Space Plane Mission REVEALED! (Sorry, No Aliens Involved...Yet.)

Of all the cool top-secret schwag that the United States government keeps under wraps, it's the ones we occasionally get glimpses or hints of that seem to be the most intriguing (we're looking at you, SR-71 Blackbird.)  Since "top secret" generally means stuff gets hidden, it's often only the reports of funky, flagrant aircraft that allow for speculation on sweet secrets.  However, now the US has allowed at least a little bit of insight into the operations of one of its coolest "secrets" in space...


The secret is out (well, up):  the X-37B preps for launch.
(Image courtesy foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com.)


The X-37B is the United States Air Force's semi-secret space plane.  According to gizmodo.co.uk, two of these spacecraft exist, resembling miniature versions of the former space shuttles.  While no civilians (and probably not a lot of the military) are aware of what the space plane is up to, it is known that they can spend a significant, self-sustained amount of time in orbit, with the last X-37B mission enduring 674 consecutive days circling the planet.


Here's an infra-red image of it, because it looks more secret and cool that way.
(Image courtesy space.com.)

The space planes are currently not designed for manned missions, although it would be kind of awesome to think there was a secret astronaut program designed to act like NASA's version of the CIA in orbit.  However, the space planes will be testing a new type of orbital thruster, which is critical for difficult tasks like satellite realignment.  Known as the Hall thruster electric propulsion system, the new thrusters use electricity and xenon for propulsion, and might lead to the creation of more "agile" satellites if tested successfully.

Little space plane, big mission.
(Image courtesy foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com.)

Also aboard are a host of materials science experiments, including over 100 different materials that are being tested against the rigors of space.  Such tests help NASA to better identify what types of materials are best suited for future satellites, probes, telescopes, and other spacefaring projects.  These "investigations" are among the first that are being conducted independently of the flight operations that concerned the viability of the space plane alone.

"With the demonstrated success of the first three missions, we're able to shift our focus from initial checkouts of the vehicle to testing of experimental payloads," said Randy Walden, director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.



The X-37B is also known as the OTV (Orbital Test Vehicle.)  According to CBS, it is 28 feet long, 9.5 feet tall, and has a wingspan of 15 feet.  On April 13th, it was awarded the Space Foundation's 2015 Space Excellence Award, "for significantly advancing the state of the art for reusable spacecraft and on-orbit operations, with the design, development, test and orbital operation of the X-37B space flight vehicle over three missions totaling 1,367 days in space."

With an accolade like that, who'd want to keep things a secret?  The X-37B will be returning to orbit on May 20th, launching on an Atlas V 501 booster.  Safe spaceflight, you spectacular secret!


Are those suits to protect the ground crew from alien pathogens
due to X-37B stowaways trying to invade Earth?
Shhh...that's still part of the secret.
(Image courtesy space.com.)


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Space Station Sunday: Marooned And Typhooned

Good afternoon, space fans!  It has been an interesting week in orbit...

Typhoon Dolphin blows over southern Japan.
(Image courtesy Samantha Cristoforetti.)


The biggest space story this week is somewhat stunning:  due to Russia's concern about the control problems manifested in the loss of the Progress 59 cargo craft, the return of three of the ISS crew will now be delayed until June.  According to the New York Times, NASA astronaut Terry Virts, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, who were supposed to return to Earth this week, will have to wait several more weeks to enjoy the warm embrace of gravity again.


Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti won't be able to visit Venice for a while...
but here's a cool picture of it that she took dallo spazio (from space.)

Furthermore, the new crew of NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will be spirited to space in late July, not late May, as originally intended.  Still, better safe than sorry, when it comes to spaceflight.

Regarding supplies for the astronauts, NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said, “We keep plenty of supplies on the space station so we can have the flexibility to do something like this."  Plenty of provisions remain on-hand for the ISS crew, despite the loss of the Progress 59.  A fresh SpaceX resupply ship is due to arrive on June 19th.

Another astro-adventurer currently postponing a trip to the ISS is actress/singer Sarah Brightman.  According to the Daily Mail, she too was concerned about the condition of the Russian launch craft, but decided to delay her own extra-planetary tour for personal reasons.

Brightman, training above Russia.  She certainly appears committed.
(Image courtesy dialymail.co.uk.)

A statement released Wednesday explained, "Ms. Brightman said that for personal family reasons her intentions have had to change and she is postponing her cosmonaut training and flight plans at this time...She would like to express her extreme gratitude to Roscosmos, Energia, GCTC (Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center), Star City, NASA and all the cosmonauts and astronauts, for their support during this exciting time in her life."

Speculation arose that Brightman had not raised the tens of millions of dollars for the flight, or had not passed the extensive training with enough distinction.  Eric Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures, Ltd. (the organization who had set Brightman up with Roscosmos), shot down some of these claims, explaining,  "We've seen firsthand her dedication to every aspect of her space flight training and to date, has passed all of her training and medical tests.  We applaud her determination and we'll continue to support her as she pursues a future space flight opportunity."

NASA astronauts Terry Virts and Scott Kelly spoke openly about the delay in spacecraft arrivals, as well as other interesting elements of space station life in a video interview with Time this week.




Outside of the launch drama, scientific business continued apace on the ISS.  The SpaceX Dragon was packed up to return completed experiments to earth on May 21st, and a variety of maintenance tasks were also completed.  In addition to upkeep of the various experiments already underway on the station, Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and One-Year crew member Mikhail Kornienko also studied acoustic techniques to be able to quickly locate micrometeoroid impacts, which despite their small size can still cause serious damage to the station’s exterior. 

Astronaut Cristoforetti, who is admittedly excited to be staying in space, snapped some amazing images of the Dolphin typhoon wreaking havoc on Earth, just south of Japan.


The Dolphin typhoon must be like a rollercoaster for actual dolphins.
(Image courtesy Samantha Cristoforetti.)

That's all for this week, space fans!  Tune in next time to see how the return of the Dragon went, and news on how the brave Expedition 43 crew plans on making it back home!  See you soon...watch this space!

Missing Earth's craziness for a while longer isn't so bad, though.
For example, check out these dust clouds over the American midwest!
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.)

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Space Station Sunday: Crew Cuts, A Crew Capsule, And The Death Of Progress 59

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's what was up this week aboard our favorite orbital outpost!

Subtropical storm Ana, off the east coast of the U.S., spins up some stunning imagery.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)



NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Terry Virts spent time replacing components in the ISS's Carbon Dioxide Removal Assemblies (CDRA), which keep the atmosphere in the space station well-regulated for human breathing.  Kelly also collected data from several acoustic dosimeters, which measure noise in the station.  All in all, the ISS atmosphere stayed clean of too much carbon dioxide and too much noise.

The station crew also spent time photographing the phases of the moon, part of a project that is lasting for a 29-day cycle.  This moon-map will aid in the calibration of a navigational device intended for NASA's upcoming Orion spacecraft, which will transport the first humans to Mars.  It will also allow navigators of future spacecraft to use the moon and the stars to orient themselves, should other navigational equipment suffer problems.  A time-honored tradition that has been in place since the days of ancient mariners, now the same techniques can be applied to the future in space!


A crescent moon, as seen from the ISS.
(Image courtesy www.esa.int.)

Remember that crazy mishap with the Progress 59 cargo craft missing its mark?  Well, it wasn't hijacked by aliens for its delicious space-food cargo.  Roscosmos reported that it reentered the atmosphere on Thursday, at 10:04 PM EDT over the central Pacific Ocean.  Neither the ISS crew nor anyone on Earth was placed in danger due to the mishap, and NASA reports that the crew are well-supplied even beyond the arrival of the next cargo shipment.


And that's all she flew.  The Progress 59 disintegrates above the Pacific Ocean.
(Image courtesy article.wn.com.)


Three of the crew, including commander Terry Virts, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov will be returning to Earth next week, and conducted safety tests on their Sokol space suits in preparation for their descent.  Virts also helped out his Russian comrades with fresh haircuts.


L-R Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, Commander Terry Virts, and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov
keeping it fly in micro-G.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Speaking of travelling to and from the Earth, a SpaceX crew capsule launch test proved successful on Wednesday, after launching from Cape Canaveral and conducting a mile-high liftoff test.  According to Spaceflight Today, the capsule was fueled by eight SuperDraco rocket thrusters that provided 120,000 pounds of thrust, propelling the craft to 100 miles per hour in only 1.2 seconds.  A top speed of 345 m.p.h. was achieved.  A human-sized test dummy rode aboard, which tests indicate would have been just fine had it been a live person.


Aww, what a cute little spaceship!  The SpaceX crew capsule launches from Cape Canaveral.
(Image courtesy airforcetimes.com.)

SpaceX’s founder and CEO Elon Musk extolled, “It was a great outcome...had there been people on-board, they would have been in great shape.”

SpaceX declared the flight a success, and Musk said it "bodes well" for future launches.  The company plans to launch manned crew capsules to the ISS in 2017.


The unmanned crew capsule in action.  Congratulations, SpaceX!
(Image courtesy sqribly.com.)

Also focused on the future is the continued excellence of the One Year Crew - astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, who are living aboard the ISS for a year for the glory of science.  Kelly spoke with "The Today Show" this week via video feed, and discussed his mission.  Check out the full video:




That's all for this week, space fans!  Check us out next week to find out how three spacefarers make their way back down dirt-side.  Watch this space!



Kelly's focus on station science is critical, but he still finds time to capture amazing images
like this windblown sand-scape on Earth.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)


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The Biggest Skyscraper Yet: U.A.E. Sets Sights On Mars

Worldwide, many people have looked to the skies, considering if humanity's future could lead us there.  The planet Mars has recently gained attention as a possible attractive option for this.  Some people want to rush into a Martian endeavor with no real means of achieving it, while others ask for ideas and offer rewards so that good plans may be formulated.  And now, there's a new player in interplanetary politics...

Marslims?
(Image courtesy www.thenational.ae.)


Today at a conference in Dubai, plans were outlined for the United Arab Emirates to launch a probe to Mars in 2020.  As reported by the Washington Post, the plan, which was initially concocted last year, will entail an unmanned orbiter called "Hope" ("al-Amal" in Arabic) launching from Earth and eventually taking laps around Mars, studying the atmosphere and relaying data.

No camels were harmed in the making of this space mission.  Hopefully.
(Image courtesy gulfnews.com.)


Outside of a few satellites orbiting Earth, this will be the first of this kind of major space mission for the Arab world.

“This mission to Mars is really for the hope of the Arab world and will send them a message to say you can be better, you can improve your country,” explained Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Emirates’ vice president and prime minister.


No word on whether "Hope" will be gold-plated or diamond-studded, as is fashion in Dubai.
(Image courtesy www.madeindubai.info.)

The project will be staffed entirely by Emiratis, in an effort to expand their science and technology status on the world stage.  The 2020 launch will coincide with Dubai's hosting of the World Expo, although the probe will take 7-9 months to reach Mars.  It is then expected to remain in orbit until 2023, documenting various features such as canyons, volcanoes, atmospheric conditions, and other observations that could bring insight on the red planet.


The probe will also assess as to whether the U.A.E. could maybe slap a few of these up there.
(Image courtesy emirates247.com.)

Sheikh Mohammed was enthusiastic about the mission for myriad reasons, telling The National:

"The mission will send three important messages.  The first is for the world: that Arab civilisation once played a great role in contributing to human knowledge and will play that role again.

“The second is to our Arab brethren: that nothing is impossible and that we can compete with the greatest of nations in the race for knowledge.

“The third is for those who strive to reach the highest of peaks: set no limits to your ambitions and you can even reach space.”

Now that we're racing rivals, can NASA please get a little bigger budget?
(Image courtesy multivu.com.)

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Space Station Sunday: Science And Progress

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's the latest news from 220 miles above Earth.

Astronaut Scott Kelly enjoys "Saturday morning coffee with my old friend, Planet Earth."
The coffee is contained in the silver pouch on the right.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly/NASA.gov.) 



This week, an unmanned resupply cargo ship was supposed to dock with the ISS, but unfortunately was lost beyond control shortly after separating from its rocket booster.  The launch of the Russian Progress 59 cargo craft occurred on Tuesday in Kazahkstan.  Although Russian mission control tried to track the resupply ship over the next day thereafter, they were unable to regain propulsive control, and eventually all hope for the docking was scrubbed.

Well, at least it looked cool on the way out.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly took the news with characteristic aplomb, reporting from the ISS via video that, "The important thing is hardware can be replaced, and we'll replace all that hardware, and we'll continue to operate the space station."

Despite being loaded with 6,000 pounds of food, fuel, and supplies, the reentry of the Progress 59 craft will pose no threat to either the ISS or humans on earth.  More info is available here.

The empty docking port which would have held the Progress 59.
Though the ISS got no Progress spacecraft, there was still plenty of progress ON the spacecraft...
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)

Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti spent some time this week explaining how mass, gravity, and freefall work in space.  Get your space education on thanks to her video below:


                                                   
                                                 
She also captured some more lovely images of earth life from space, such as the frozen waters off of Canada:



And this "fairy tale landscape" from Patagonia...



Astronaut Cristoforetti also snagged a spectacular shot of a "moonrise" as seen by the ISS:



Even amidst all this beauty, the station's scientists continued their work unabated.  ISS commander Terry Virts worked on the Robotic Refueling mission, which will use the station's dexterous mechanical arm to provide servicing to visiting spacecraft (without astronauts having to undergo extravehicular activity.)  Certain satellites could also be remedied for anomalies thanks to this technology.

The crew also worked on the Sprint study, which uses high-intensity exercise to prevent muscle, bone, and cardiovascular deterioration in micro-gravity.

And of course, astronaut Scott Kelly's "Year In Space" mission continues with flying colors.  His adventures, as well as other elements of ISS life, were discussed in this Science Friday podcast.

That's all for this week, space fans!  Tune in next time, and maybe we'll find out where that darn Russian cargo ship floated off to (or at least where it came hurtling back through the atmosphere in a ball of flames!)  Watch this space!


Astronaut Kelly stirred some creative speculation after posting this image on his facebook with the caption:
"Some people see images in clouds. I see images on Earth. What do you see in these patterns?"
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.gov.)







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Message Received: NASA's Messenger Probe Crashes Into Mercury After Four Years In Orbit


Having served admirably as an interplanetary diplomat between Earth and Mercury, NASA's Messenger probe went out in a blaze of glory yesterday, crashing into the planet it had spent years documenting...

Composite shots of Mercury, courtesy the Messenger.  Colors added for awesomeness.
(Image courtesy huffingtonpost.com.)



The Messenger orbiter had spent ten years total on its mission, with four of those years being spent in the orbit of Mercury.  Its name is an acronym for "MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging", a fine amalgamation of the many services the adept orbiter provided.


We got the message, loud and clear.  Thanks, Messenger!
(Image courtesy thenewsminute.com.)

According to space.com, at 15:26 EST yesterday, the Messenger crashed into the surface of Mercury. The 10-foot-wide spacecraft traveled at 8,750 m.p.h to meet its demise, and dug a crater approximately 52 feet wide for its grave (a process NASA calls "lithobraking.") As the crash occurred on the side of Mercury facing away from the Earth, NASA officials could not determine the exact location or impact size of the final moments of Messenger.

Roughly the terrain of the area where Messenger went down in its blaze of glory.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Launched on August 3rd, 2004, the Messenger cost $450 million and was the first man-made satellite to explore the planet. It arrived on March 17th, 2011, and subsequently brought back a wealth of information back on the solar system's smallest planet.  In addition to meticulously mapping the planet, Messenger discovered that the shadowy poles of Mercury were covered in water ice, and also that the planet has an oddly offset magnetic field.

Five new craters were identified and named thanks to Messenger's latest imagery grabs.
(Image courtesy astronomynow.com.)

John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, was quoted by CNN regarding the mission's success, saying, "For the first time in history we now have real knowledge about the planet Mercury that shows it to be a fascinating world as part of our diverse solar system."

The final image captured before Messenger's crash yesterday.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Over a quarter of a million images were captured by the orbiter, as well as a wealth of information from its seven onboard instruments.  The next slated mission to Mercury will be a joint European-Japanese endeavor, the Bepi-Columbo orbiter, launching in 2017 and reaching Mercury's orbit by 2024.  If you want to observe Mercury for yourself, it will be visible in the night sky around dusk until near the end of May.  And we all shine on...


A composite "family portrait" of the planets of the solar system,
comprised of  34 images captured by Messenger.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday: Robot Muscles Get Ripped, New Coffee Cups Get Sipped

Good afternoon, space fans!  It's been another fascinatingly productive week on the ISS.  Here's what's up!

Friday marked the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Telescope.  Keep shooting those stars!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Thanks to the recent arrival of the Space X Dragon capsule, the ISS crew had their hands full this week, putting in over 60 hours of research on their various projects which will be sent back to Earth on the same Dragon capsule in May.  Experiments involving osteocytes, nematodes, and more were analyzed by the crew.

One new experiment is particularly interesting: the assessment of synthetic muscles made from carbon fiber that may one day power robots in micro-gravity.  The carbon fibers are actually electroactive polymers that respond to electrical impulses (and reversal thereof) to expand and contract.  Having already been exposed to various harsh elements on earth, the samples sent to the ISS were created with a variety of additives and coatings, and will be examined for solar or cosmic radiation damage after 90 days of exposure in space.  This will help determine how best they could serve in a harsh environment like deep space, although the fibers could also help injured humans on Earth.

Dr. Lenore Rasmussen, the founder of Ras Labs (the creator of the robot muscles) explained, "I envisioned designing something as delicate as a human hand with customized motion and control for an individual's needs, restoring mobility and freedom to those who have been injured."

A sample of synthetic space muscle.
(Image courtesy theengineer.co.uk.)

With the ability to withstand temperatures as cold as the depths of space (-450 degrees Fahrenheit) to above the boiling point of water (275 degrees Fahrenheit), the synthetically-buff robots could work in space other other dangerous environments (like nuclear cleanup sites) while maintaining a range of motion.  Since the synthetic muscle fibers directly convert energy to motion, a whole new paradigm for streamlining moving machines could now be in force.  And where better to take it to the extreme than the ISS?

However, even astronauts want to chill a bit after working on all this scrupulous science, and now they can enjoy a proper coffee break, just like back on Earth!  Thanks to the arrival of the ISSpresso machine, the ISS crew can brew up all kinds of hot beverages including regular coffee, tea, and espresso.  One fascinating facet of this is a new type of coffee cup, initially designed by astronaut Don Pettit while he was aboard the ISS in 2008.

Astronaut Pettit had rigged up the original coffee cup prototype from some spare plastic on the ISS,
and now it's an official thing.  Yay, innovation!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The cups, which are made from a lightweight, flexible polymer, enable astronauts to sip coffee out of a semi-normal vessel and not a pouch with a straw.  Experiments regarding fluid dynamics and surface tension in micro-gravity led to the breakthrough (basically because Pettit just really wanted a regular cup of coffee.)  The cups function by allowing the lips to make a seal on one end, and to let the user's nose hover over the bowl of the vessel to experience the aromas therein.

These cups are not only a fun and "normal" thing to make ISS crewmembers feel at home, but also can save a significant amount of space (since all other beverages are packed in bags that must be retained and returned to earth after use.)  The cups could cut down on launch weight (saving room for more science) and are even able to be made on the fly by the station's onboard 3-D printer.  Cheers to that!

Sip like a spaceman:  new micro-gravity coffee cups.
(Image courtesy wired.com.)

In other news, astronaut Scott Kelly, now well underway on his One Year Crew mission, has made his spacey sojourn even more interesting for the viewers at home.  Kelly will be posting images of the Earth that he captures from the ISS, and posting them on his Twitter.  Earthlings will then guess the geography, and the first correct reply as to where over the world Kelly shot the pic from will win a photo of the geographical feature autographed by Kelly when he returns home.  More details on the contest can be found here.

Want to revel in ISS goodness every day of the week?  Check out their updated new website here.  All about that space!

That's all for this week, Earthlings.  Tune in next week for more orbital awesomeness...watch this space!


The ISS celebrated Earth Day (4.22.15) in fine form.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday: Enjoying Coffee And Baseball, Just Like Back Home (Plus A Dragon)


Happy Sunday, space fans!  Here's what was floating around on orbit this week.

*Yoink!*  The Canadarm-2 snags the SpaceX Dragon resupply craft.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.)



The SpaceX Dragon launch last Tuesday proved a resounding success, where despite a day-long weather delay in launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Dragon finally traveled for two days to reach the ISS at 06:33 on Friday.  It was grappled onto the Harmony module via the Canadarm-2 robotic arm, (wo)manned by ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti (or, as she tweeted, "A #Dragon came knocking at our door. Thought it'd be nice to grab it & see what's in it.")  On Saturday, the crew began unpacking the two-ton payload of scientific cargo and other supplies.

NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Terry Virts in their "Dragon slaying gear" (a.k.a. vehicle entry protection equipment.)
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.)

Among the items delivered were materials for the Rodent Research-2 Experiment,  which assesses the nature of viral infections and possible cures in a microgravity environment.  This research will prove critical to future spacefarers who venture beyond our solar system and need to keep their health and immune systems in top order.

A particularly useful bit of comfort machinery was shipped up as well:  the first espresso machine in space.  The "ISSpresso", created by the Italian coffee connoisseurs at Lavazza,  can concoct espresso, coffee, tea, consomme and other hot beverages to keep the astronauts sharp at all hours (which is helpful, when you see sixteen sunrises a day!)

The best science needs the best fuel.
(Image courtesy nge.jp.)

The Falcon 9 rocket, which propelled the Dragon into orbit, underwent an interesting experiment upon its detachment from the Dragon craft.  Like the previous Falcon 9, controllers on the ground attempted to land it on a barge in the open ocean.

Without problems, there's no prosperity.  They'll get it eventually.
(Image courtesy spaceflightnow.com.)

Well, that's why rocket science is a generally-known high standard of difficulty.  The SpaceX team intends to try the barge landing again in the future.  Reusable rockets could mean cheaper and more expedient space trips for the generations to come...we already had some awesome shuttles, and we can do it again!


Meanwhile, in orbit..."HERE COMES THE COFFEE.  YESSSS."
The ISS crew watches the SpaceX Dragon launch from some unique perspectives.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.)

In addition to the new supplies and delicious space caffeine, Astronaut Terry Virts celebrated another nice element of Earth life this week.  Namely, the 68th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first baseball game.  Virts, who has been photographing major league baseball stadiums from orbit, said that Robinson had been a hero of his since childhood - not just for his athletic prowess, but for what he meant as a human being to the cultural development of America.

"Jackie, alongside his wife Rachel, opened up a world of opportunities that had been closed to so many Americans simply because of the color of their skin.  What he did took courage - a lot of courage.  He had to endure things that most of us could not imagine, and he had to do it while maintaining composure that most of us couldn't begin to muster...they earned the respect not only of our nation, but also the respect of the world.  And through their courage, they continued America's journey of racial equality that was so long overdue, but so important in our history."

Such a nice tribute to both the past and the future.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Virts also released some sweet GoPro footage of his last spacewalk, which makes orbit look objectively outstanding (like, even more so than usual.)  Think you'd have the guts to float outside the ISS like this, all while working with wires?


                                      Your move, gnarly Earthbound skiiers and surfers.


That's all for this week, Earthlings.  Tune in next time to hear the next great hits from the stars above this rock!  Watch this space!


The Dragon dominates a wintry landscape en route to orbit.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Space Station Sunday: New Experiments And A Fresh Dragon

Good afternoon, space fans!  It's been another fascinating week aboard our favorite orbital outpost.  Here's what's up...

Chilling over the Himalayas earlier this week.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.)



Today, a static fire test was completed as part of preparations for tomorrow's SpaceX cargo resupply launch.  A CRS-6 rocket will bear a SpaceX Dragon cargo craft to the ISS, with the launch slated for 4:33 PM EST tomorrow.  SpaceX will air the launch live, with coverage starting at 4:15.  The mission, which is the sixth of its kind for SpaceX, will include cargo for life science, physical science, material science, and commercial experiments.

No fires, other than the intended launch-induced ones for the SpaceX.
(Image courtesy SpaceX.)

One important study that will be carried out (thanks to the deliveries from the Dragon) is an analysis of osteocyte cultures (bone cells) that will arrive on the ISS for the first time ever.  Since previous residents of the space station have showed a loss of bone mass when studied after their return to earth, scientists are experimenting to find out why this happens.  

“We are investigating how osteocytes – the most abundant cells in the adult skeleton – both sense and respond to changes in mechanical forces, as achieved aboard the space station,” explained National Institutes of Health (NIH) grantee Paola Divieti Pajevic, M.D., Ph.D.  “If we can figure out bone loss in the extreme conditions of space, we could figure out how to make more bone or counteract bone loss in astronauts.  This has applications to millions of people on Earth who are affected by osteoporosis and related fractures.”

Ossum.
(Image courtesy pinterest.com.)

Osteocyte cells function by sensing mechanical forces as they are applied to the body, and subsequently sending biological responses to other cells to create or remove more bone.  On the ISS, the cells (housed in "bioreactor" protective enclosures) will be frozen at different intervals, thus stopping cell progress and allowing researchers to deduce exact points at which the cells adapt differently.


Of course, on the ISS, even eating breakfast looks like a serious science experiment.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.)

Another new experiment that deals with how to maintain and improve optimum astronaut function in space is the Fine Motor Skills experiment, which will use iPad tablets to assess how well astronauts are able to operate smaller-scale devices (particularly computers) during prolonged spaceflight.  The astronauts will be tested on four types of tasks: pointing, dragging, tracing, and pinch-rotating images on the tablets.  This will enable researchers to determine if extended stays in microgravity significantly inhibit accuracy in astronauts' fine motor skills, and if so, how dramatically.  For Earthlings, this research and its results could be used as a diagnostic or rehabilitation process for those with impaired motor skills, according to NASA doctor Tina Holden.  

In other news, the station crew practiced an emergency drill this week in collaboration with mission controllers in Houston and Moscow.  The scenario put the astronauts through practice for a sudden depressurization of the ISS.  Keeping in practice for emergency scenarios is crucial for effective and efficient responses, which reduce the "demiseability" factor of a mission tremendously.

The Twin Study of astronaut Scott Kelly and his brother Mark continued apace, gathering data and observations from the continued mission of one earthbound and one spacefaring twin.  Kelly, who has been adapting well to his life on the ISS (where he'll be residing for much of the next year, stalkable via #YearInSpace), also captured a lovely image of Manhattan from space yesterday evening.

Long shadows over Jersey and lower Manhattan.  Cool, how our tall buildings are visible from orbit.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.)

And Kelly's not the only one capturing cool images.  On Instagram, NASA astronaut Terry Virts has been documenting, among other things, every major league baseball park from space.  You can follow this mission via #ISSPlayBall.  You can also follow his adventures on Twitter.


Sorry Missouri, but you look much cooler from space.
(Image courtesy Terry Virts / NASA.)

Speaking of adventures, if you want to know more about the science taking place aboard the ISS, a collection of free ISS research guides have been released by NASA.  Current titles include Technology Demonstration, Microbial Research, Earth Observations, Space Environmental Effects, and Plant Science.  New titles will follow soon, featuring topics like Rodent Research, Fluid Physics, and Combustion Science.

That's all for this week, space fans!  We'll see you next week with updates on the SpaceX Dragon launch as well as all the best news from low-earth orbit...watch this space!


Happy Anniversary of manned spaceflight!
54 years ago today, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space.
Celebrate his achievements (and all that followed) in stellar style!
(Image courtesy bbc.co.uk.)


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We've Had An Orbiting Nuke In Space For 50 Years. Deal With It.

Uh...please don't freak out about this?

No seriously, promise you won't be weird about it?

Okay.  Happy 50th birthday to our orbiting nuclear reactor.

It's weird how 1960s ads make everything seem fun.
(Image courtesy flickr.com.)



Sooooo yeah.  This week marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of SNAP-10A, which has been orbiting the earth and totally not raining death down on any of our heads for a lovely half of a century now.

SNAP, an acronym for "Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power", was (according to Gizmodo) initially sent up to assess the feasibility of nuclear power used from an orbital platform.  This Strangelovian space nuke has been chilling 500 kilometers up there ever since, and given its current orbital trajectory, will likely stay there for the next 3,000-odd years.

If you see this hurtling through the atmosphere towards you, run.
(Image courtesy commons.wikimedia.org.)

SNAP was initially among a program boasting a host of radioisotope thermoelectric generators, which harness the power of a decaying element (like plutonium-238) for heat.  Similar probes like Voyager and Curiosity have utilized this power.  However, SNAP is different, in that it is a true reactor with a controlled fission reaction occurring inside.  This reaction was remotely triggered when the device hit orbit on April 3rd, 1965.

The achievement was lauded by the city of Los Angeles, because California is weird.
(Image courtesy en.wikipedia.org.)

Unfortunately, despite bearing enough uranium to give SNAP 600 watts of power over a year, the electrical system soon died, and that left SNAP stranded.  And worse, decaying.  Beginning in 1979, obvious-enough chunks had begun fallen off of SNAP, prompting NASA to report,“Six more anomalous events occur in the next 6 years, releasing nearly 50 trackable pieces. Release of radioactives is possible but not confirmed.”

Safety (and more importantly, funding) matters have kept future American orbital-nuclear plans grounded, but that didn't stop Russia.  Their radioactive recon satellite, Kosmos 954, suffered a malfunction of its onboard nuclear reactor, causing nuclear fallout to rain down on Canada during the satellite's reentry in 1978.


Schematic for Kosmos 954's reactor.  Just a little bit of Russian death from above.
(Image courtesy wikipedia.org.)

This could probably make for a dramatic rescue mission from the International Space Station astronauts if things ever went really wrong, but we hope it doesn't come to that.  Those guys are busy enough.  We Earthlings will just have to be happy that, at least for now, such strange science projects are simply left on-planet...

Well, at least we get points for creativity with our giant nuclear space-timebomb, right?
(Image courtesy dspace.uah.es.)

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Space Station Sunday: A Super-Productive Workweek And A Supertyphoon

Good afternoon, space fans!  With the historic One Year Crew of astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko now safely aboard the ISS, their monumental mission is now well underway...  

Happy Easter from the ISS!
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly / NASA.)
  
Kelly and Kornienko were intervewed by NASA spokesman Rob Navias in a video recorded on April 1st.  They were enthusiastic about their efforts thus far, as well as for what the future holds.  Some interesting excerpts included:

Kelly:  "The ride to orbit was impressive, as it always is...once I get aboard the space station, it felt like I was visiting an old home - felt very comfortable - but there is a lot of work to be done here, and the pace of work at times can be hectic...we were supposed to have the weekend off, but we really spent those two days moving in, so we've basically been working since we got here."

Kornienko:  "The time flies a little slower here, but as far as our psychological compatibility, we have been working really hard on the ground to work that out, and we have lots and lots of support, and our psychological success is a given. I am very sure about our success, and I'm sure that we will not have even a modicum of any psychological issues."

Kelly:  "Right now I'm just kinda taking it day by day...I'm looking a little bit towards the next major event...I'm just trying to take it day by day, pace myself...keeping my energy level up...a good/life work balance is important, and that's even more important on the space station."

Kelly:  "We're all been doing great work up here, we're one big team...it's more than just Misha and I...the international partnership, in my mind, is one of the high points of this international space station."

The full video is available below, or in high-def here.


The signoff-backflip is our favorite part.


Meanwhile, on Monday April 13th, a SpaceX Dragon capsule will fly to the ISS aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  The launch is slated for 4:33PM EST and will be covered by NASA TV starting at 3:30.  The capsule will arrive at the ISS next Wednesday, where ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and NASA astronaut Terry Virts will use the Canadarm robotic mechanism to "grapple" the Dragon for docking.

This mission will be the sixth SpaceX commerical resupply venture, and the seventh that features a Dragon capsule.  The Dragon will bear 4,300 pounds of equipment and supplies to the ISS, where it will reside for five weeks before being reloaded with experiments and other material to be safely sent home.

Until then, the crew have been participating in their usual array of experiments, including orientation for the new crew and training in emergency medical procedures (during which Kelly quipped on his Facebook, "Maybe the one thing you don’t mind your crew mates being better than you at.")  Kelly also provided saliva samples for initial data in the groundbreaking Twins Study that he and his Earthbound twin brother Scott are participating in.  The crew also set up materials for a rodent research study and gathered data for a study that focuses on ocular health in space.

Looking sharp, spacefarers!  Keep up the good work!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

As part of the space-based monitoring of Earthly weather conditions, some stunning images were captured of last week's Supertyphoon Maysak.  The storm, which broke over the Philippines and reached Category 5 hurricane status, was watched over by the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) and Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellites, which are co-managed by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA.)  The satellites indicated that the Maysak reached wind speeds of 85 knots (98 m.p.h.) and had rainfall of up to 2 inches per hour.


That's one serious whirlpool.
(Image courtesy Samantha Cristoforetti / NASA.)

More images and video of Maysak, as seen from the ISS, are available here at mashable.com.

That's all for this week, space fans!  Tune in next time for all the best news offplanet has to offer!  Watch this space!

Earth: sometimes even scarier than living in space.
(Images courtesy NASA / www.dailymail.uk.)



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Space Station Sunday: EXTRA! EXTRA! Aliens Proven Real; Have Crush On Scott Kelly

In a stunning scientific breakthrough today, the astronauts aboard the International Space Station confirmed that extraterrestrial life is not only now an established fact, but that two such alien entities had been brought aboard the ship.

Chess games with the creatures had previously only been attempted by video uplink,
due to their unique rules involving eating the still-beating heart of the loser.
(Image courtesy collectspace.com.)

After receiving radio signals from an unknown origin for several months, the astronauts had considered that the data may have been a glitch on the new high-frequency receiver installed during Expedition 39.  However, engineers at the Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland secretly analyzed the information and concluded that the signals were indeed a form of communication, indicating the impending arrival of the extraterrestrial creatures.  The first message, decoded from a complex cipher, read simply, "SUP".

Amid laughter overheard in the background of one later transmission,
the aliens also took responsibility for using an orbiting laser to "blaze up" a variety of crop circles.
(Image courtesy funny-pictures.picphotos.net.)

The otherworldly beings, who are said to look humanoid but have a strong odor of peppermint, then continued to communicate, establishing numerous visual rendezvous occasions but never entering Earth's atmosphere or the ISS itself.  Videos of these rendezvous are widely available on youtube, and formal apologies have been issued from all who ridiculed the footage.



Furthermore, in an amazing interstellar story of friendship, the creatures indicated they would be re-appearing in time to visit with astronaut Scott Kelly when he returned to the ISS, citing reasons such as the fact he would routinely jettison candy bars out the airlock as peace offerings for them during initial attempts at contact in 2011.  Also, one of the apparently-female aliens blushed when explaining that Kelly once apparently blew her a kiss, as seen through the ISS cupola windows.

The aliens, who have no concept of twins in their race, also found it impressive
that Kelly was considered important enough to have been cloned.
(Image courtesy cbsnews.com.)

Two emissaries from the aliens' mission entered the Quest airlock on the ISS at 06:30 this morning and, after having air-composition tests assure the ISS crew that the beings were not toxic, they were allowed into the station.  After sharing a game of chess and playing frisbee with some tortillas, the aliens expressed their admiration and extreme affection for astronaut Kelly, which they indicated in their traditional manner of lightly drumming their fingers on his shaved head and humming what reportedly sounded oddly like Elvis's "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You."  They expressed their joy at the fact that Kelly intends to remain in space for the next year.


The aliens' messages had previously been decoded to reveal that they found Astronaut Kelly "dreamy."
(Image courtesy youdontknowjersey.com.)

After several hours of press conferences with Earth, the creatures then retreated to their ship and vanished, leaving only a bootleg copy of the Voyager record behind with a request to "please send up some more of your planet's rock-and-roll music...it pleases our Grand High Emperor Presley."  As the astronauts discovered, these extraterrestrial creatures were able to develop faster-than-light travel, but couldn't match human ingenuity when it came to the evolution of rocking out.


The aliens had reportedly played "Johnny B. Goode" an estimated 1.3 trillion times
since obtaining the record, and have latched onto all Earth rock radio signals since.
(Image courtesy boingboing.com.)

More information and links to various NASA press releases can be found here.

Other extraordinary news stories from today:

-CERN proves the existence of the Force!

-Google releases "Actual Cloud" platform!

-Uber launches a boat service!

-Voltron cat condo!

The aGupieWare team wishes everyone a safe and entertaining April Fool's Day.
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Space Station Sunday: The "One Year Crew" Is Up And Running (Well, Floating)


Good evening, space fans!  It's been a very successful week for spacefaring.  Here's what's up!


Dear Mars: we're thinking about you.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

On Friday, the historic "One Year Crew" launched to the International Space Station from Baikonur Kosmodrome, Kazahkstan.  Comprised of NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, the three blasted off at 3:42 PM EDT.  They docked safely at the ISS about six hours later at 9:33 PM, and after airlock depressurization, the hatch was opened at 10:45, and the new crew entered their high-up home.

Then, in a tradition held by all aliens, they immediately wanted to phone home.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

For Kelly and Kornienko, they will be living aboard the installation for the next 342 days - the first time a two-man mission of this magnitude has been undertaken.  Padalka is slated to return home in September, but will do so after having accrued the most non-consecutive time spent in space by a human.  The three join (top row above, left to right) ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, and NASA astronaut/current ISS commander Terry Virts aboard their orbital abode.


                              Astronaut Kelly explains the finer points of rocking out in a rocket.
                                                            (Video by ASAP Science.)


According to NASA, the One Year Crew will undertake "several hundred experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science — research that impacts life on Earth."  Fascinatingly, the experiments that Kelly conducts on the ISS will be mirrored on Earth by his twin brother Mark (who is also an astronaut) in an intensive long-term bid to compare data between subjects on Earth and in space.

TIME magazine has commenced a series of videos chronicling the Kelly brothers' adventures.

The Soyuz rocket that ferried up the One Year Crew.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The mission will be chronicled via numerous online sources,  including at NASA, on Twitter at #YearInSpace and #ISS.  Astronaut Kelly also maintains Twitter and Instagram accounts.  All sorts of strange and interesting facts might come to light!


And so it begins.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The current configuration of the ISS holds two Progress unmanned vehicles and two Soyuz capsules. One Soyuz will next be used for the return of the Expedition 43 crew in May.

The current parking situation at the ISS.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

In other ISS news, it was announced this week that America and Russia plan to team up on building a new international space station after the decommissioning of the current ISS, slated for 2024.  According to Discovery News, the two nations will work together on the project along with other current ISS collaborators.  Roscosmos chief Igor Kormarov was quoted as saying, "We agreed that the group of countries taking part in the ISS project will work on the future project of a new orbital station."  They are "open" to the idea of new nations joining the project as well.

This news was augmented by NASA director Charles Bolden expressing interest that the two nations collaborate on a future Mars mission.


If Kelly (middle) and Kornienko (top) can survive a year in space together,
Earth-bound (and maybe Mars-bound) Russians and Americans could have a brighter future.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


That's all for this week, space fans!  Check up with us next week to see how the One Year Crew's first hundred-odd spins around the planet went...watch this space!


Friday's blastoff at Baikonur.
Get ready, Mars, one of these rockets will have your name on it soon!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)




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Rocket From Russia: Space Tourism Back In Action For 2018

With the tomorrow's launch of The One Year Crew as an experiment in sustained spacefaring, many civilians are wondering when we get to have a turn.  Fear not, prospective astro-adventurers...Russia may have your ticket to fly...

A Soyuz rocket in action.  Feel like taking a spin?
(Image courtesy darkroom.baltimoresun.com.)



According to theverge.com, Russia's national space agency Roscosmos has announced its intent to re-establish their space tourism program in 2018.  The program is an attempt to continue obtaining funds for Russia's manned spaceflight programs, as NASA (who currently pay top dollar to send astronauts in Russian Soyuz capsules to the International Space Station) has shifted their focus to companies like SpaceX and Boeing.

Russia had previously sent eight private space tourists to the ISS between 2001 and 2009, but stopped when the ISS crew was expanded from three to six astronauts.  Since NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA/ASC), and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) all needed seats on the Soyuz after NASA's space shuttle program concluded in 2011, the tourist trips were called off.

No time for visitors and games...too much work to be done aboard the ISS!
(Image courtesy en.chessbase.com.)

Now, thanks to NASA's privatized initiatives, Russia will use their extra space to bring people to space.  NASA and Roscosmos may sign another deal regarding use of the Soyuz in 2018, but as the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing CST-100 will be operational by then, it may well herald the end of the two nations' rocket-carpool.

According to a press release from the Russian news agency Tass, a ticket to the ISS (with astronaut training included) currently runs around $76 million.  Totally worth it though, right?

Space ticket:  $76 million.  Space experience?  Priceless.
(Image courtesy launiusr.wordpress.com.)

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Space Station Sunday: The "One Year Crew" Saddles Up For Space


Good afternoon, space fans!  It was a (relatively) quiet week on the International Space Station, but that's just because some serious scientific strides are about to take place!

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko,
the "One Year Crew", prepare to leave Earth for an extended space stay.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)



On Wednesday, in preparation for this Friday's arrival of three very important new crewmembers, the current ISS crew raised the orbit of the space station by firing the engines of the docked ISS Progress 58 spacecraft for 4 minutes and 18 seconds.  This new, higher orbit will facilitate the docking of Expedition 44's Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft, which will bear the "One Year Crew" of NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka to the ISS.

The One Year Crew will be on the front lines (well, front orbit) of an unprecedented scientific study to assess the extended durability of humans living in space.  Biological, psychological, and other important aspects of the astronauts' lives will be scrupulously studied as Kelly and Kornienko spend a full year aboard the ISS.  Padalka too is no spacefaring slouch - when his sojourn as station commander is complete, he will hold the record for most cumulative time spent in space by a human.

Most intriguingly, Kelly's mission on the ISS will be mirrored on Earth thanks to his twin brother Mark, who is also an astronaut and former resident of the ISS.  The brothers spoke with ABC News about the research, repercussions, and road to future long-duration manned missions that will stem from their unique and extraordinary experience.

Mark (with mustache) gets "the easy part", while Scott gets "the fun part."
(Image courtesy commons.wikimedia.org.)

As an integral intro to the mission, Dr. John Charles, of NASA's Human Research Program, explained this week how humans have continued to push the bounds of viability in a micro-gravity space environment.  Speaking in a video for NASA, he said:

  "We have always in the life sciences assumed that the next increment of duration is where the cliff is, where the brick wall is that we're going to run into, and so far we've really not seen it.  So far, the human body has proved remarkably adaptable to the most novel environmental situation that is possible to conceive of, and that is the absence of gravity.  

   Gravity has influenced everything on the earth in terms of biology from the very beginning of biological time, and now we're finding that those resources that the body has to take care of itself in different attitudes, different postures, different environments on the ground, are also pretty good for living in the absence of gravity, as long as you maintain pressure, and temperature, and food, and things like that.  So we are not yet encountering the cliff...there's no 'Here Be Dragons' on the map."    

Over 270 experiments will be carried out over the duration of Expeditions 43-44.  One interesting focus of research will be how prolonged exposure to micro-gravity affects astronauts' eyes and vision, which has been shown to occasionally and temporarily deteriorate, possibly due to differences in pressure and blood flow to the head in space.  A video from NASA regarding this research explains more!


This isn't a simulation of space-induced vision decline...it's imagery from last week's solar eclipse!
(Image courtesy Samantha Cristoforetti.)

In other news, a solar eclipse was captured from a window on the ISS by ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.  The eclipse occurred Friday morning and will be followed by a lunar eclipse on April 4th.

Cristoforetti also kept busy this week by working on the TripleLux-B experiment, which assesses the effects spaceflight and space-based radiation have on immune systems at the cellular level.

Finally, astronaut and recent ISS Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore, who returned safely from space last week, answered questions about his mission on gizmodo.com.  One particularly lovely response regarding his experience illuminated the striking similarities of human life:

  "When I think about life, you can see cities, you can't see people but you know there is so much going on down there - people hurting, playing, etc. - you can see lights and you know that means there are people. I am curious and always wondering... what are they doing? How are they doing? Even in the middle of the Sahara desert I would see lights and wonder what those people are doing."

Thanks for shining a light on scientific discoveries that will benefit all of those Earthlings, Butch.

For those who want to watch some serious space spectacularity unfold in real-time, you can tune in to NASA TV on Friday for all the pre-launch, launch, and docking coverage of the One Year Crew's historic mission.  Safe spaceflight, gentlemen!  We'll be eagerly awaiting to hear what discoveries and daily intrigues occur during your expedition.  Watch this space!

Game faces for space:  Kelly and Kornienko are good to go!
(Image courtesy rocketstem.org.)


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Mars Barred: "Mars One" Reality Show A Spacefaring Scam


Sure, the idea has tremendous allure: pick a group of random and possibly strange humans, send them to a faraway untouched planet, and record the whole thing for the entertainment of Earthlings.  The "Mars One" reality show intends to do exactly this.  The problem?  Science isn't on their side...







Since the announcement went out in 2012, seeking Martian colonists (all of whom were required to pay an application fee to even be considered), fascination has followed the project.  Can we really have humans live on Mars?  Won't they have to be tremendously skilled and resourceful (not just some weirdos cast for reality show drama?) Why hasn't NASA, the European Space Agency, Roscosmos, or any of Earth's other space programs attempted this?

The answer is simple:  it just can't happen yet.  Our best science still says it's too significant a stretch.

One massively improbable step for a man,
one brutal televised faceplant for mankind (if they even get that far.)
(Image courtesy subscribe.ru.)

According to MNN.com,  a serious scientist has had enough of the Mars One shenanigans.  Dr. Joseph Roche, a Ph.D in physics and astrophysics and a professor at Trinity College's School of Education in Dublin, was selected as one of the 100 finalists, but says the "selection" was really propelled by contestants purchasing Mars One merchandise. Roche claims that the Mars One team plans to raise their necessary $6 billion rocket ticket via "T-shirts, hoodies, and posters," as well as from the aspiring astronauts who should "kindly donate 75 percent of their speaking fees back to the organization."

 If the moon was really fabricated from fermented curd, as lore states, maybe this organization should have gone there instead, because their astro-business tactics are massively cheesy.

Even cheesier than this image.  Seriously, $6 billion from t-shirts and talks?
(Image courtesy cosmoquest.org.)

The Mars One mission timeline puts them on Mars in a decade.  Yet no habitation pods have been sent up and parachuted in from orbit, no robots (other than NASA's rovers) have been airlifted in to scout specific terrain (let alone start terraforming or doing anything for forward-thinking fortifications), no major water sources have been identified for supply, and even rocket technology isn't on-point enough for a mission that'd take months just to arrive at the destination.

Not to mention the humans.  It's already been established that whoever gets sent up will stay there...but these aren't people who are going to pioneer an empire.  The selected candidates who've been shown to the public are not brilliant biologists, chemists, geologists, medical doctors, botanists, or even actual astronauts.  Even less brilliant is their CEO, Bas Lansdorp, who is anticipating that his little red wagon-train will be "worth up to 10 Olympic Games' [worth] of media revenue, which is $45 billion."

That's about as likely as getting greeted by these guys.  Although that is probably how aliens would feel.
(Image courtesy artaksyonova.wordpress.com)


So by 2025, will Mars One's project just be one very expensive movie set, or will they actually make a go of Martian migration?  The failure will likely fall not too far in the future.  Make no mistake, Mars is a tempting target for research and maybe even a remote outpost...but not on "made for TV" terms.

You don't have to take our word for it.  Actual scientists at MIT already did the math, and assuming all went inexplicably, irrationally well, the Mars One team would still likely live under 70 days once they landed.  Maybe we should just stick to reality shows about people doing weird competitions in the jungle, or guys who yell at people to make bars and kitchens nicer.  Sure, it's not Shakespeare, but at least they're not scamsters who sling sketchy science for spoils.


Even if we did successfully colonize, this perturbing problem remains.
STILL WANNA GO?
(Image courtesy zmescience.com.)


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Space Station Sunday: Space Falls And Baseballs


Good evening, space fans!  Welcome to this week's observations on outstanding news from orbit.

Welcome home, Expedition 42!
(Image courtesy NASA/Bill Ingalls.)



Congratulations are in order for the three crewmembers of Expedition 42, which concluded successfully on Wednesday.  ISS Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore and cosmonauts Yelena Serova and Alexander Samokutyaev landed safely near Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan and were extracted from their Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft with no complications.

Expedition 42's Soyuz spacecraft, headed for home.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov)

Their ride home from the ISS took approximately 3.5 hours after undocking from the ISS over southern Mongolia.  A NASA-issued timeline of the deorbit was as follows:

9:16 PM - Deorbit burn of the Soyuz engines, 4 minutes and 41 seconds in duration.  (This is what propels the spacecraft back towards Earth.)

9:20 PM - Deorbit burn complete.

9:42 PM - Soyuz module separation (altitude: 87 miles above Earth.)

9:45 PM - Soyuz atmospheric reentry (altitude: 62 miles above Earth.)

9:53 PM - Command to open Soyuz parachute (altitude:  6.5 miles above Earth.)

10:07 PM - Expedition 42's Soyuz TMA-14M lands safely, southeast of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.

Subzero and supine, but safe:  the Expedition 42 astronauts recline
until they can regain their "Earth legs" in regular gravity again.
(Image courtesy flickr.com.)

Expedition 42 mission lasted 168 days and included three major spacewalks from Commander Wilmore (along with his crewmate Terry Virts.)  Additionally, cosmonaut Serova had been a unique addition to the station, having been Russia's first female to work aboard the ISS, and only their fourth woman in space in their nation's history.

And she even kept her eyebrows neatly plucked while up there.  What a lady!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Before leaving the ISS, Wilmore handed over command of the station to his compatriot Virts, explaining, "As we say in the Navy, you have the helm!"  Despite the fact that Virts is a colonel in the Air Force (possibly making this a lighthearted inter-branch jab from Wilmore, a captain in the Navy), he has taken the helm with aplomb.


Altogether, 258 investigations were carried out during the Expedition 41-42 mission, ranging from small but crucial experiments like CubeSats, running all the way up to working with the station's Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.  CubeSats are very small satellites that are currently being launched once per month via the Japanese airlock.  The most recent "flock", released earlier this week, contained 28 of these satellites, measuring a mere 4" by 4" by 12" each.

Some cute little CubeSats go about their mission.
(Image courtesy puscaspuscas.blogspot.com.)

These mini-satellites provide near-realtime imagery to various sources on Earth, rather than larger, more expensive satellites that require major initiatives and time-consuming issues to align them into desired place.  The CubeSats, by comparison, aim for a 24 hour data turnaround.  Their small size and relative affordability make them an attractive option for student groups as well as private organizations.  Despite their diminutive size, the CubeSats have a resolution of 10-15 feet per pixel, making it possible to identify specific swaths of Earth imagery, such as a single tree canopy or other areas of interest to science, business, and more.

Other Expedition 42 science experiments including Butch blowing bubbles, which are apparently the same in space.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Another focus of Expedition 41-42 research included work on the Gene Lab, a "protein data bank" containing data from various organisms regarding how their genes change in micro-G, according to NASA's Dr. Vic Cooley.  Constant additions will be made to the data bank, including information from organisms that are hatched/born in space as well as those that are grown on earth and flown to the ISS.

Of course, lots of amazing imagery was captured by the astronauts, but some very particular pics were taken of the moon as part of the mission.  The moon imagery requirements the astronauts fulfilled are to be used as a backup for navigation by starlight, much as how ancient mariners used to find their way.  Since atmospheric distortion from Earth was unable to get in the way, the ISS crew took photos of space including the moon to use as a brightness calibration for star visibility.  The star charts are intended for use as backup should any long-duration space missions have catastrophic navigational issues.

Other science that got sent home on the Soyuz included data from radiation dosimeters aboard the ISS, as well as information from a study on the regenerative properties of worms living in micro-gravity.  Both studies will be assessed concerning their possible impacts for humans in space.


Stars of the stars.  Congratulations on a successful mission, Expedition 42!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Meanwhile, back on the home planet, astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka are gearing up for their March 27th flight to the ISS.  Kelly and Kornienko are part of a groundbreaking (spacebreaking?) study in which the pair will spend a full year on the space station.  Kelly is of particular interest in this experiment, as a "control" experiment will be concurrently carried out on earth with his twin brother, Mark.  Comparisons and contrasts will be made between the biology of the two men to determine the myriad ways that extensive spaceflight can impact the human body.  The mission is being devotedly documented by NASA, with a cache of information already available regarding the One Year Mission.  Updates will also be documented on Twitter at #YearInSpace.

Finally, while acting as the interim ISS Commander, Terry Virts has got a special mission all of his own.  A serious sports fan, Virts intends to photograph every major league baseball stadium from his box seats in the sky.  Virts intends to post photos from 250 miles above all of the 28 MLB stadiums, challenging fans to identify their parks of preference from multiple-choice lineups.  Virts hopes to raise awareness of space science and the ISS's utter awesomeness via the project, which will appear on his Twitter and Instagram feeds as well as under #ISSPlayBall.

An Orioles fan, Virts rocks a Baltimore jersey aboard the ISS.
(Image courtesy m.mlb.com.)

That's all for this week, space fans!  Tune in next Sunday for more news from Earth's greatest orbital outpost.  Watch this space!

Lovely day for a landing!  Expedition 42's Soyuz spacecraft floats homeward.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

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Because Buzz! Master Moonman's New Space Race Game Debuts

Buzz Aldrin has had an amazing life:  West Point cadet, pilot, NASA astronaut, second man on the moon, and current Martian space initiative devotee.  Now, you can share some of his astro-adventures thanks to Aldrin's new iPad game, Space Program Manager - Road To The Moon...

Saddle up, rocket jockeys!
(Image courtesy store.steampowered.com.)



The game's main theme is the American-Soviet space race of the 1950s and '60s.  Beginning with Russia's Sputnik satellite program, the political and scientific competition propelled an international technology boom that culminated in the famously daring Apollo moon mission of 1969.  According to pocketgamer.uk, this new turn-based game offers numerous entertaining options for trying your hand at this style of spacefaring.


Failed physics?  Don't worry, you can still mess around with rocket ships this way!
(Image courtesy jeuxcapt.com.)

Players can take on the role of either America or Russia's space agency to compete in managing budgets, creating and testing new technology, commissioning your crew, and ultimately launching a mission to the moon before your foes do.  If you simply want to enjoy the process of reaching the stars, you can play as the fictional Global Space Agency to reach short-term goals that will lead you skyward.  Casual players can also enjoy a Sandbox mode.


And you won't even be called before the House Un-American Activities Committee
or shot for treason if you choose to help the Russians!
(Image courtesy dome.fi.) 

While the game was developed by the famous Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, it offers more than just moon mastery.  You can also work on associated aeronautic adventures like the X-15 and the PKA space planes, the Sputnik satellite, various manned spacecraft including the Mercury, Voskhod, Apollo and Soyuz projects, and even take the Mars Viking probe out for a spin. Speculative test projects that never saw the light of day (let alone the stars) are also up for action in the game.

The game was developed by Slitherine in conjunction with Dr. Aldrin.  It can be downloaded here for $9.99.  One small click for a man...onward and upward!

We're aliens that invaded another celestial body.  Deal with it.
(Image courtesy Buzz Aldrin / facebook.com.)

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Thinking Green On The Red Planet: Dry Ice Engine Could Propel Spaceships To Mars


Mars has emerged as a major spacefaring destination for the coming decades, but ideas on how to get there are still up in the air (well, lack of air, technically.)  Now, a new idea that would utilize sustainable Martian resources for fuel has got scientists gassed to head to the red planet...

An image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows abundant dry ice deposits.
Could this be the new rocket fuel?
(Image courtesy socialphy.com.)

 



According to gizmag.com, Northumbria and Edinburgh universities have been developing a carbon dioxide-based engine to fuel a mission to Mars.  Using the physics of the Leidenfrost effect, the abundant dry ice deposits on Mars could be used to propel a spaceship, without the crew needing to haul along extra fuel for the trip home.

Lots of dry ice (a.k.a. possible fuel), just chilling on Mars.
(Image courtesy pinterest.com.)


The Leidenfrost effect involves bringing a liquid into contact with a surface significantly hotter than its own boiling point.  A small portion of the liquid vaporizes, creating an insulating layer of steam that levitates the liquid while protecting it from some of the heat.  An everyday example of this would be watching a droplet of water skitter across a hot frying pan.  The phenomenon is exacerbated when the surface is ridged, effectively propelling the water over the tops of the surface.


A droplet dances over a ridged surface.
(Image courtesy thehigherlearning.com.)

Scientists floated a block of dry ice over a surface with circular ridges, which created a turbine effect causing the block of ice to consistently rotate.  Attaching magnets and copper coils to the dry ice created an electric motor that generated alternating current as it spun.  This breakthrough is considered to be the first time that the Leidenfrost effect has been used for propulsion or to create energy.

A small-scale example of the Leidenfrost effect.  Not your usual power source!
(Image courtesy flickr.com.)

Dr. Rodrigo Ledesma-Aguilar, a co-author of the Northumbria research, explained, "Carbon dioxide plays a similar role on Mars as water does on Earth...It is a widely available resource which undergoes cyclic phase changes under the natural Martian temperature variations. Perhaps future power stations on Mars will exploit such a resource to harvest energy as dry-ice blocks evaporate, or to channel the chemical energy extracted from other carbon-based sources, such as methane gas."

Early American pioneers had steamboats and steam engine trains; early Martian pioneers might have this!
(Image courtesy vr-zone.com.)

For humanity's future to transcend our earthly bonds, we'll need to continue thinking like this - not just outside the box, but outside the conventional uses of physics of our home planet.  Sustainable clean energy is just as important when building a new world on Mars as it is in saving our world here on Earth.  Now, the possibilities for pioneering mean re-exploring our known scientific universe as well as our unknown prospective challenges further out in the galaxy.

The Leidenfrost engine, keeping it cool.
(Image courtesy phys.org.)


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Space Station Sunday: Space Swap


Good afternoon, space fans!  After all of the excitement with last week's spacewalks, the ISS crew are pleased with their results, but several of them are also ready to return back home.  A very special crew is set to replace the Expedition 42 team...

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko
pay a traditional pre-flight tribute in front of St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


Over the last two weeks, ISS commander Butch Wilmore and flight engineer Terry Virts completed three successful spacewalks to install cable, antennae, and other important elements for the continued improvement of the space station.  Now, with Wilmore's role in the mission winding down, the crew prepared for three members' departure with tests of the Quest airlock as well as preparations for the Soyuz descent module.

Ain't nothin' but a micro-g thing:  Flight Engineer Terry Virts at work last week.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Wilmore, along with cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Yelena Serova, will be returning back home to Earth on Wednesday.  Their anticipated arrival will land them near the Baikonur Kosmodrome in Kazahkstan, which was also their point of departure several months ago.  In their place, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly along cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Soyuz TMA-16M Commander Gennady Padalka will head to space in their place on March 27th.  Kelly and Kornienko, the "One Year Crew", will spend an entire year on the ISS for the benefits of science and humanity.
A major cache of information on the crew's intents for the upcoming mission can be found here.

In other ISS news this week, a deployment of CubeSats occurred successfully, dispatching the small satellites into Earth's upper atmosphere.  The sixteen satellites, which were launched from the Japanese Kibo module on the ISS, will be positioned to provide an array of data, including capturing innovative photographs of earth, and using microwave scanners to assess major weather phenomena in 3D.

CubeSats, out and about.
(Image courtesy spacenews.com.)

Today, for International Womens' Day, NASA paid tribute to ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and Russian cosmonaut Yelena Serova, both of whom are currently serving on the ISS.  An interesting analysis of male vs. female adaptability to microgravity is underway, although serious results will require more women to spend time in space.  Right now, these two women are just as capable as their male counterparts aboard the ISS, where they "perform experiments in disciplines that range from technology development, physical sciences, human research, biology and biotechnology to Earth observations." They also engage in routine maintenance as well as educational outreach programs while on the job. Great work, ladies!

BFFs (Best Floating Friends) Serova and Cristoforetti, representing Earth's females in space.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Speaking of change in elements on the ISS, check out this examination of how liquids freeze into solids in micro-g.  Yes, many of us are tired of winter at this point, but it's still interesting to learn how exactly these properties process themselves into the microstructures that we are able to observe.  Cool.  

That's all for this week, space fans!  Tune in next time to see how Expedition 42's landing went, and what's up next for the ISS crew!  Watch this space!

                                      The ISS chases the full moon over the Gulf Of Mexico.
                                  Video by the homeward-bound Commander Butch Wilmore.
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Space Station Sunday: Spacewalk On The Wild Side


Good evening, space fans!  What a successful week for space station stories...

All good in the orbital hood.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)


This week, to complete work initiated during last week's spacewalk, ISS Commander Butch Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts made two more spacewalks (also known as EVAs or "extravehicular activities") with resounding success.


They're so good at this, they can do it upside down.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

The spacewalk conducted on Wednesday, which was the second of three, had astronauts Wilmore and Virts routing more cable outside the ISS, as well as lubricating the Canadarm2, which is an important robotic "grabber" mechanism for docking spacecraft upon arrival to the ISS.  ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti "choreographed" the EVA and operated the Canadarm2 from inside the station.

At the end of the EVA, during "repress" (the repressurization of the airlock), a small quantity of water was found inside Virts' space helmet.  According to NASA, the 15 mL of water was suspected to be the result of “sublimator water carryover”, where a small amount of residual water in the sublimator cooling component can condense during the repress process.  NASA's lead EVA officer Alex Kanelakos explained that up to 50 mL of water can accrue in this manner, and that it was not a danger to Virts or to the equipment in his spacesuit.


Flight Engineer and 3-time spacewalker Terry Virts is totally down with being this far up.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Today's spacewalk, concluded at 12:30 pm EST, had Commander Wilmore and astronaut Virts complete the installation of 400 feet of cable, as well as antennae to be used for the Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles system (C2V2.) This system will be used to communicate with both the SpaceX Dragon crew capsule and the Boeing CST-100 crew transportation capsule during future docking rendezvous with the ISS.


"Trick or treat!"  Astronaut Virts at the Quest airlock.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Today's 5 hour, 38 minute spacewalk was the fourth for Wilmore and the third for Virts (who has undertaken all three of those missions in only the last two weeks...well done!)  This was the highest number of consecutive EVAs completed in a short time since the usage of the space shuttle to the ISS was in effect.  Overall since its construction, ISS astronauts have spent 1,171 hours and 29 minutes conducting space station assembly and maintenance over the course of 187 spacewalks.


Walk like a {space}man:  
"The Cable Guys" Wilmore and Virts pose with their spacesuits before heading outside for round 3.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

On Saturday, Virts made a special tribute to deceased "Star Trek" star Leonard Nimoy as the ISS passed over Boston, which was Nimoy's birthplace.  The ever-logical character of Spock was respected by many NASA astronauts, particularly for his intelligent sayings such as, "Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end."


Prosperous.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

In other news inside the ISS, the "Drain Brain" study got some new data this week from ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.  The experiment analyzes the nature of blood flow between the brain and the heart in micro-gravity, which could lead to a better understanding of neurological issues (such as unexplained headaches) experienced by astronauts.  The tool used to conduct the experiment is also of use back on the homeplanet, where it can monitor various cardiovascular and neurological issues for patients in regular earth gravity.

Stay tuned for some significant space spectacularity coming up soon...on March 27th, the One Year Crew of Expedition 43 will launch from the Baikonur Kosmod