Weekly Links

Down to Earth

The US Senate has started putting together their version of the 2017 budget, including appropriations for NASA.

The satellite internet startup OneWeb has announced they will build a factory in Florida.

China’s unmanned research capsule, SJ-10, successfully ended last week when it landed in Mongolia under parachute.

SpaceX has moved their latest recovered Falcon 9 booster back to their hangar in Florida. Follow the link for some pictures and video.

In Orbit

The European Space Agency has been trying to launch an Earth-observing satellite, Sentinel-1B, since Friday. They have been delayed twice by weather but they hope for a successful launch later today at just after 5 PM Eastern.

ISS astronaut Tim Peake virtually ran the London marathon this morning.

Around the Solar System

The New Horizons team has officially submitted their Kuiper Belt Extended Mission (KEM) to have the probe flyby the distant object MU69.

Beautiful pictures from Dawn’s low-altitude “mapping orbit” at Ceres give is a good idea of what’s really going on in those “bright spots” on the asteroid.

And here’s an amazing shadowless view of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

April 24, 2016 8:28 am

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Buzz Aldrin has published a new book titled “No Dream is Too High.”

United Launch Alliance and Bigelow Aerospace have announced a new partnership. Bigelow will launch their enormous BA-330 expandable module on a ULA Atlas rocket.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 recovered first stage returned to port last week after landing on a droneship the week before. Check out the pictures.

An online auction for a camera lens used on the moon during Apollo 15 is now open.

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, who was in the news last year for pledging millions of dollars to SETI, has announced his plan for a robotic interestellar mission called Breakthrough Starshot.

The last external tank from the Space Shuttle program left Michoud in Louisiana last week on an ocean voyage to California, where it will become a part of the display with Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Orbital ATK and Intelsat have struck a deal that may lead to the first commercial use of “robotic satellite servicing”.

In Orbit

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope unexpected entered emergency mode last week, but has since been successfully recovered. The cause of the event is still being investigated.

The new Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was installed on the Node 3 module of ISS on Saturday. Here is a time-lapse of it being moved from the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft via the robotic arm.

It’s been a while since I have shared links to some of my favorite tweets from ISS here. The three US astronauts onboard have been furiously posting beautiful pictures of Earth pretty much every day. Here are just a few recent ones from just the past couple of days.

And here is a quick video from Jeff Williams showing us around the cupola and their cameras.

Around the Solar System

This is pretty cool. An amateur astronomer captured a video of a fireball in Jupiter’s atmosphere, as a large asteroid or some other object slammed into the planet.

April 17, 2016 12:03 pm

Weekly Links

Obviously the huge news this week is the successful launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the return to flight of the Dragon capsule and a successful landing on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS). See the “In Orbit” section for more details!

Down to Earth

Blue Origin achieved an impressive feat last week, flying the same suborbital New Shepard rocket for the third time since November.

Following a rocket anomaly in the launch of a Cygnus resupply craft last month the ULA Atlas V rocket is grounded.

Accomplished NASA astronaut, and current NASA science chief, John Grunsfeld, will be retiring.

Roscosmos is selling the perennially financially troubled venture Sea Launch.

In Orbit

There have been 4 orbital launches since my last blog update on March 27. Here they are in chronological order: China launched a single Beidou navigation satellite on March 29, Russia launched a Progress resupply craft from Baikonaur on March 31, China launched a microgravity science payload on April 6, and of course SpaceX launched a Dragon resupply capsule on April 8.

The flawless Falcon 9 ascent and capsule deploy was overshadowed by SpaceX achieving the impressive feat of recovering the rocket’s first stage on the ASDS, out in the Atlantic Ocean. This video says it all.

This delivery of cargo aboard Dragon will wrap up a very busy time period aboard ISS. Starting with the Soyuz undocking at the beginning of March, which brought Scott Kelly home and started Expedition 47, there have been 6 different visiting vehicle events, with Dragon being the third cargo resupply in 2 weeks.

One of the payloads aboard Dragon that everyone is excited about is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM. Here is a simple infographic about BEAM (via Parabolic Arc).

Around the Solar System

Meanwhile, on Mars, NASA’s rovers are quietly doing science. Check out this panorama from Curiosity. On the other side of the planet, Opportunity has been exploring Marathon Valley and braving slopes above 30 degrees tilt in the name of science.

April 9, 2016 12:05 am

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

NASA’s Dawn mission was awarded the prestigious Collier Trophy.

Former NASA astronaut Janet Kavandi is the new director of Glenn Research Center in Ohio.

WIRED sent a guy to spend a day at JSC learning what it’s like to be an astronaut. The short video is fun and probably fairly informative for non-space geeks.

In Orbit

Lots of launch activity in the past two weeks. Of the five total launches, I’ll get the two less interesting ones out of the way first: on March 13, a Russian Earth observation mission launched from Baikonaur and then on March 24, a Russian military mission launched from Plesetsk. Both were on Soyuz rockets.

The other three launches are much more interesting. First, on March 14 the much anticipated ExoMars mission launched on a Proton rocket from Baikonaur. The Mars exploration mission is currently safely in solar orbit on its way to an October rendezvous.

On March 18, another Soyuz rocket launched from Baikonaur, but this time carrying 3 people. Aleksey Ovchinin, Oleg Skripochka, and Jeff Williams had an uneventful launch, rendezvous, and docking with the ISS. Or at least, as uneventful as those sorts of things go!

Lastly, an Atlas V rocket launched from Florida on March 23 carrying a Cygnus cargo freighter. Cygnus, named the S.S. Rick Husband by Orbital ATK, arrived (also uneventfully) at ISS on Saturday morning.

Unfortunately, it sounds like Japan’s Astro-H X-ray observatory may have been lost only weeks after it launched in February.

Around the Solar System

Check out this picture of the tallest mountains on Saturn’s moon Titan.

Here’s some awesome new close-up imagery of the “bright spots” on Ceres.

Newly released analysis of New Horizons data indicates that Pluto may have had periods of high atmospheric pressure in the past, which allowed liquid nitrogen to flow in rivers on its surface.

March 27, 2016 11:21 pm

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

The joint Russian-European Mars mission, ExoMars, has been prepped for launch and is on the pad in Kazakhstan. Launch is Monday, March 14.

Speaking of Mars, NASA’s delayed InSight lander has been granted a mission extension for a new launch date in 2018.

Blue Origin invited several journalists to tour their headquarters near Seattle, Washington last week. Some new details about their future spaceflight plans were revealed.

In Orbit

Two successful orbital launches this past week: a communications satellite launched by ESA from Korou and a navigation satellite launched by ISRO from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India.

Next week, on March 18, three ISS astronauts will launch aboard Soyuz TMA-20M from Kazakhstan to join Expedition 47. Here’s the NASA TV schedule for the launch. NASA astronaut Jeff Williams has been active on Twitter during flight preparations, posting short “video blogs” like this one:

Meanwhile, Scott Kelly has been video blogging his return to Earth:

Be sure to always follow all of NASA’s astronauts on Twitter – but especially those in space – because they are always sharing something exciting!

Around the Solar System

A solar eclipse thrilled people in Oceania last week. For those of us who don’t live on an island in the Pacific, we can still enjoy these views from NASA’s DSCOVR satellite.

NASA’s New Horizons probe has discovered “methane snow” on Pluto’s mountain peaks.

March 11, 2016 2:30 pm

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Former Space Shuttle astronaut and commander Don Williams passed away on February 23rd at 74. Read about his impressive career at CollectSpace.

Orbital ATK’s S.S. Deke Slayton departed the ISS on February 20 after a successful two-month mission.

NASA received a record number of applicants to the astronaut class of 2017.

Ron Garan, former NASA astronaut, has been named the chief pilot at World View, which aims to launch tourists to the edge of space in a balloon.

Virgin Galactic unveiled their latest spaceship, the second version of their SpaceShipTwo. They hope to start their flight test campaign soon, but no new target date for commercial flights was announced.

China has announced that they plan to launch their next space station later this year.

In Orbit

Earlier this week, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly returned safely from his 340 day mission aboard ISS. Before he left, he had a little fun with a costume his brother sent up to him:

You can see all the pictures that Scott took while onboard the ISS here (and there a lot!).

SpaceX finally had another successful launch, after several scrubs over the past week or two. On Friday, March 4th, a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the SES-9 payload launched from Florida. It was their first launch since January and second of the year. The first stage attempted a landing on their Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) but had a hard landing.

March 4, 2016 10:30 pm

Weekly Links

Down To Earth

Two space shuttle astronauts, Brian Duffy and Scott Parazynski, were recently inducted into the astronaut hall of fame.

Apollo astronaut and moonwalker, Edgar Mitchell, died at the age of 85.

Former President George H.W. Bush (Bush 41) visited Johnson Space Center and talked to the ISS astronauts from the Mission Control Center.

All of the segments of the primary mirror to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) have been assembled!

The Laser Interferometer Gravity-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has detected “gravitational waves”, which is what it was designed to do. This is a basically a new way to see the universe – like the first time an X-Ray observatory was put into space and returned data. Not only that, it validates parts of Einstein’s theories. Here are some brief articles from Phil Plait and Sean Carroll, who explain it well.

Check out this amazing zero-gravity music video by Ok Go, which doesn’t use any digital effects. Wow!

Curators at the Smithsonian recently did a 3D scan of the inside of the Apollo 11 Command ModuleColumbia, and found previously unknown handwritten notes on the walls.

Astronaut Kevin Ford has retired from NASA.

The new SpaceX “transporter erector” at pad 39A in Florida is pretty cool looking.

In Orbit

A number of rocket launches since my last post in late January: a Chinese rocket launched one of their navigation satellites (Beidou), a ULA Atlas V launched a GPS satellite, a Russian Soyuz rocket launched one of their navigation satellites (GLONASS), a ULA Delta IV launched a secret USA reconnaissance office payload, and lastly North Korea launched something.

This brings the worldwide launch cadence for the year up to 10 so far, or almost 2 per week. We are still waiting for the first SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of the year, which should be before March.

Veteran cosmonauts Sergey Volkov and Yuri Malenchenko conducted a successful spacewalk on the Russian Segment of the ISS.

Around the Solar System

The European Space Agency has announced that they are no longer attempting to send commands to the lost Philae lander, which has not transmitted from the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in months.

China has released some new photos of the moon from it’s Yutu rover mission (the rover died some time ago).

February 12, 2016 9:28 pm

Home base report – HERA IX mission day 9

I don’t usually use this blog to post personal stuff. I’m actually quite happy with how not bloggy my blog is. However, there is something pretty cool going on in my personal life this month: my wife is locked up in a NASA simulation pretending to be an astronaut on her way to an asteroid. That’s pretty cool, so I’ll make an exception for some non-standard blogginess.

The HERA IX crew is still locked inside their habitat in Building 220 and JSC and hasn’t come out since they entered last Monday evening. Tonight will be their 10th night of 31 on their indoor camping trip. They are cut off not just physically but also virtually, with no outside communication besides mission control and a weekly family phone call. This is because one of the many experiments for this year’s HERA campaign has to do with the psychological and interpersonal aspects of being isolated with your fellow astronauts away from friends and family. If they were constantly connected via email, text message, or other forms of the internet, they could escape from that isolation and the data would not be the same.

Unfortunately, this means we can’t hear from Leah and the rest of the crew about how they are doing! The last private family call I had with Leah, or Mission Specialist 2, was last Friday. At the time, they were on mission day 4 and the crew was doing quite well. Leah said the food was very good and that everyone was getting along. The food they get to eat is the very same food that the ISS astronauts eat from the JSC food lab. In addition, they are testing out some new types of food that may get used for future Orion exploration missions because they are denser, thus saving weight.

Leah said that they had been so busy that they hadn’t had much time for down time like watching movies and reading books. Mission day 6, this past Sunday, was their first full day off so they may have got a little more relaxing in, unless mission control had some unplanned surprises for them like emergency drills! They are simulating as many aspects of spaceflight as possible including emergency drills, spacecraft maneuvers, spacewalks, and human experimentation. Just like the astronauts onboard ISS, they are doing experiments on themselves which involve saliva and blood samples, activity tracking, and all kinds of psychological and cognitive tests. Unlike the astronauts onboard ISS, they are wired up even more to get as much data s possible. Since Leah and her crew do not have real science to conduct like up on ISS, they are free to be encumbered by all kinds of trackers all over their body, including heart rate monitors, temperature sensors, and more.

Meanwhile, I’ve been left alone at home with the dog, trying to pretend my wife is really an astronaut in space. Honestly, it really doesn’t feel like that. It does feel like she’s far away – even though I can see building 220 from my desk. What it really feels like is that she’s on deployment with the military or on some other kind of dangerous job where I can’t talk to her much. I know she is quite safe, and could come home anytime if she wanted, but I at least have a small inkling now of both what it’s like to be an astronaut’s spouse and also a military spouse. You really have to respect families that have this kind of separation as a normal part of their life.

The meat of the mission is about to start. On mission day 11, this Friday, I get another private phone call with Leah (yay!) but then the HERA IX crew will go into radio silence for twelve days. The middle portion of the mission will involve a simulated communications delay with mission control as they are on “approach” to asteroid Geographos in deep space. In order to preserve the illusion, no private family calls will be allowed during the comm delay part of the mission. Their conversations with mission control will take at least several minutes round trip for every thing they say. That is going to feel like true isolation!

So while I’ll be at home feeling a bit lonely, Leah will be getting to some of the most exciting parts of the mission! When they get to Geographos, they get to do their simulated EVAs and pick up asteroid samples for scientific testing. Leah is designated as “EV1″ and gets to use the virtual reality gear to do her “spacewalk”. Pretty cool!

I can’t help but be proud of my wife and the whole HERA IX crew. It’s one thing to sit at home reading spaceflight news and tweeting about it. Getting to work in mission control and monitor spacecraft health and status data is of course awesome… but all of that feels quite silly compared to putting oneself out there as a test subject and sacrificing personal comfort to help collect data that will be used to further exploration, which is exactly what the HERA IX crew is doing. I can’t wait for Leah to come home but at the moment, I wouldn’t rather her be anywhere else than where she is right now on the front lines of NASA’s Human Research Program. Go #HERAIX!

Update: Here’s an interview with HERA project manager Lesa Spence

February 3, 2016 11:07 pm

Weekly Links

It’s been a busy two weeks since my last news post. Among other things, my wife started her “space mission” (not a real space mission) and I won’t see her again for another 26 days. See my last post before this one for some details on what she is doing. I also travelled to Huntsville, Alabama for a work meeting at Marshall Spaceflight Center this week. Now that I am back home and it is just me and the dog, it’s time to figure out what’s been going on out there in the world of spaceflight during the second half of January.

Down to Earth

Probably the biggest news was the successful reflight of the New Shepard rocket by Blue Origin. The same booster that flew suborbital and returned safely back in November was flown again on a similar mission profile on January 22nd. Here’s their shiny video:

SpaceX had some videos too, but not as shiny as exciting. First was this hover test of the new Dragon capsule:

Second was a parachute test:

In Orbit

There were 3 launches since the SpaceX Faclon 9 launch back on January 17th. First was an Indian PSLV rocket, launched on the 20th with one of their own navigation satellites. Second, a European Ariane 5 rocket launched on the 27nd with an Intelsat communications satellite. Lastly, a Proton rocket launched from Kazakhstan earlier today with an Eutelsat communications satellite.

Meanwhile in the category of fluff pieces, someone at Gizmodo has dubbed the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft the “cutest” cargo hauler to the space station.

Aboard the ISS, the Tims are really getting into the swing of things with their Earth photography. Along with Scott Kelly, the stream of pictures on Twitter from the three of them has been quite good, including some good shots of the snow covered East Coast last weekend. Here are some of my favorites.

Oh and this was a cool thing from Scott Kelly also:

Around the Solar System

Check out this incredible picture of a Martian sand dune from the Curiosity rover:

Namib dune, Mars

Out There

Unfortunately, there may not actually be a planet orbiting in the Alpha Centauri system… or at least, the previous research that hinted at one may be wrong (but who knows, there may be one there anyway).

Fortunately, there is good news to counteract the bad: new mathematical models indicate there may be a new large planet orbiting far beyond Pluto. Astronomers are busy turning on various search campaigns to see if they can find the theoretical world.

January 29, 2016 11:54 pm

Guest post – my wife the “astronaut”

I am super excited to be able to share that my wife is Mission Specialist 2 in the next mission in NASA’s Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) habitat. HERA IX (as in, the 9th HERA mission) is a 30-day experiment with four women which started today. Below I have reproduced her blog posts from Facebook which she posted throughout the first eight days of their experience. Things got really busy last Friday and so her last post was from Thursday. The crew entered the habitat earlier this evening and from here on out they will have no outside contact besides “mission control” so we will have to wait until the end of the mission for further updates! I’m sure she will share her experiences once she is out: she is on Twitter @HERA_IX_MS2.

Also, here is an article from her crewmate @julielynnwong (also on Twitter). And here is a first floor tour and second floor tour of the habitat.

HERA Training – Day 1 – January 12, 2016

Day 1 of HERA training is complete! Some of the details of everything I saw and did today are already a blur, as tends to happen when you receive a ton of new information at once, but for me the most important and memorable milestone of today was meeting my fellow crew-mates. Unlike previous HERA missions that have typically consisted of two male and two female crew members, our mission is four women. I knew this prior to today, along with the other crew members names and only very superficial information about them that had emerged over an email chain in which we designed our crew patch (stay tuned for the grand reveal some time next week). I am thrilled to report that the other three women seem pretty awesome! The four of us took no time at all to fall into an easy, silly dynamic with each other. The four of us come from relatively different backgrounds, so it was interesting to watch each of us get giddy-enthusiastic about different aspects of our mission that reflected our individual backgrounds.

As for those things we were getting excited about: I definitely have a better understanding of what we’ll actually be doing with our 30 days in the habitat. The parts of the day-to-day mission that I’m most jazzed for are building a robotic rover (should be simpler than tearing apart Robonaut, right?) and performing the ECLSS In-Flight Maintenance. We will also be doing experiments with sea monkeys, plants, and a 3D printer. Beyond experiments, a lot of our time will be spent training for the “EVAs” we’ll be performing once we reach the asteroid. For these EVAs, two of the crew members will stay inside the habitat and pilot our MMSEV (Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle) to bring us from the habitat to the asteroid. Meanwhile, the other crew-mate and myself will be released from the robotic arm of the vehicle and use jet packs to get us to the specific parts of the asteroid that are considered the highest priorities for sample return. Of course, we’re not actually on an asteroid but rather in the airlock wearing virtual reality gear; after spending just 30 minutes in the VR gear today learning how the controller manipulated each degree of freedom, I definitely can see how real this whole mission can feel when all is said and done!

Meeting my crew mates and spending a lot of the day in the habitat today made this whole experience feel a lot more “real.” There were several moments when we could look at each other and say something along the lines of “this is so weird . . . but so awesome!” That sentiment pretty much sums up how I’m feeling about it all now. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

HERA Training – Day 2 – January 13, 2016

Another day of training is complete, and I’m even more excited for this upcoming HERA mission than I was yesterday! I’m definitely learning a lot of awesome new things, and the crewmates continue to get to know each other, figure out what we’re getting ourselves into, and laugh a LOT.

This morning started off with team-building activity that was a board game in which we’re all living in a space habitat and we have to work together taking turns to move our tokens to different rooms/pods where we can draw fight aliens and draw weapon/skill cards required to repair broken systems of our spacecraft. We spent a good chunk of the time figuring out the rules, and then ran out of time right when we started to get the hang of it, so we convinced the HERA people to let us bring the game into the habitat with us and promised that at the end of our mission, we’d be super awesome at it. Throughout all of this, a NASA psychologist who does crew psych conferences and did a lot of our psych screenings was sitting at the end of the table watching but not saying anything. I’m definitely intrigued as to what observations she had watching us interact as a group!

Following that, we met with a group of faculty/grad students from GA Tech who are conducting a suite of team dynamic experiments. The main one that we’ll do throughout our mission is designing/planning construction of water wells for a Martian colony. The four HERA crew mates will work with an eight-person mission control team in GA to form a 12-person task force to create the optimal design. The task force is broken down into four teams of three, and then each person is a different specialist within the team. My team is the Robotics and Rovers team, and my specialty is drilling, so I’ll be using their research GUI to figure out my preferences for creating a water well in a way that strictly optimizes drilling (soil type, accessibility for rovers, water reservoir depth, etc.), and then they’re going to watch how the entire team of 12 negotiates/compromises to create the optimal Martian water system.

After meeting with the GA Tech group (and taking a picture with them and our crew because they asked if we could join their group pictures since we’re the “celebrities”?!), we had a training session using the Robotic Work Station to control the SSRMS (a.k.a. Canadarm2).

Driving the SSRMS to attempt to grapple an HTV from the Robotics Work Station in our habitat
Following a quick lunch break, we returned to the habitat for some more EVA training. Being in the VR gear and feeling like I’m actually flying around an asteroid is definitely my favorite part of all this so far — pretty much as soon as I get out of the gear, I’m craving being back in it flying around more! Today they gave me and the other EVA crew more difficult tasks to try. One of us would look at a paper map of the area of the asteroid site with specific rocks/craters to sample, and that person would have to fly high enough above the asteroid to get a good perspective and then guide the other crew member to the area of interest. The crew on the surface would have to position themselves in the appropriate orientation for the specific type of sampling, call out the sampling they were performing using the specific voice protocol that the HERA team prefers, and then fly up to meet the first EVA crew and swap roles. Apparently the asteroid model we’re using is based on real images of a portion of a real asteroid that has been mapped, and for the EVAs during our mission we’re going to have actual planetary geologists there helping to set the sample priorities for each site and evaluating the images we collect.

The last activity of the day was learning all about microbial growth. Yep, we went from flying around on an asteroid to seeing disgusting fungi and bacteria that grow all around us. After a brief science lesson with words I haven’t heard since my biology class in 9th grade, we went back into the habitat to practice collecting surface and air microbial samples in petri dishes.

Just keep swabbin’, just keep swabbin’
After we nailed our swabbing technique, the instructor told us we’d store the samples for 5 days and then bring them back out to report on what type of growth we saw. This is around where I lost any semblance of pretending to keep my cool around disgusting looking things. This is also one of many times I got to see our individual backgrounds/interests emerge in interesting ways — myself and the other engineer on our crew were thoroughly grossed out, and the two science-y crewmates were completely loving it. Looking forward to training day 3!


HERA Training – Day 3 – January 14, 2016

First, I’m excited about the first photo below, and I haven’t actually even seen it in real life yet (photo credit to my fearless commander Michelle Courtney!) When I left training this afternoon, I saw someone in the building setting up a monitor outside our habitat, but didn’t really think anything about it until I got home and saw that Michelle had posted this picture. The monitor is showing our mission patch! I’ll post a better picture of the patch later on and share what the different elements of the design signify, but for now it’s just really exciting to see the patch we worked together to design in front of the habitat that will soon be our home.

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Showing off my real time heart beat data from my Astroskin shirt and headband

One cool thing we learned about/played with today is a CSA experiment called Astroskin. Astroskin is a pretty amazing piece of wearable technology that monitors heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, blood oxygen levels, breathing rate, and activity. All of these measurements are sent to our iPads via bluetooth. The whole system consists of a stretchy tank top (think Spanx/running shirt kind of thing) and a headband which connects to a battery pack that fits in a pocket in the shirt. We’re all wearing these for a full 24 hours now to collect baseline data, so we got to spend the day looking like interesting hybrids of pirates/80s divas/really awesome people (ok, maybe nobody thought we looked like really awesome people, but oh well!) I think the Astroskin project is super interesting and has a ton of awesome potential uses. Check out their website here if you feel like learning more: http://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/scienc…

Our wrists match Scott Kelly’s wrist!

After the Astroskin activity, we had a bit of free time before the next activity, so I took the girls over to building 9 to see a quick Robonaut demo and get a look at the rovers/mockups over there. We took the picture above when we passed a cardboard cutout of Scott Kelly and noticed he’s wearing the same watch that we’ve been wearing the past couple days (and will wear for our whole time in the habitat). This watch tracks sleep/activity as well as red-blue-green light levels. As someone who hasn’t always been the best sleeper, I’m definitely intrigued to see what impacts specific levels of different light colors actually have on sleep quality.

Pay no attention to the phlebotomist behind the curtain!

The last activity we did today was learn how the blood draws during our mission will work. 10 minutes before this picture was taken, the other EVA crew and myself had been in this airlock wearing the VR gear collecting asteroid samples, and now it’s being used to collect blood samples. In an effort to maintain the isolation of the experiment but also not require the crew members to perform blood draw, the HERA team has come up with a clever solution of dividting the airlock in half with a curtain and having a phlebotomist on the other side of the curtain. This way they can draw our blood but we will never actually see or talk to them.

HERA Training – Day 4 – January 15, 2016

Our HERA crew has officially survived the first week of training, and while I can’t speak for the other amazing women on my crew, I can definitely say I’m still having a whole lot of fun!

This morning started off with fam sessions for a whole bunch of cognition tests that will be used throughout the mission. These were all basically puzzles involving recognizing patterns, colors, numbers, shapes, and tones and then measuring our accuracy and speed of answering. Today was an intro to the different tests, and then we’ll collect baseline scores next week, and then I presume will use these after particular events in the mission to see how people react to and manage stressful situations.

Fierce Business Casual Wonder Woman and her Robot

During a break between tests, Flight Engineer Julielynn busted out an awesome set of STEM/girl power Legos. The picture above is what we made for my Lego alter-ego: I named her Fierce Business-Casual Wonder Woman. Check out some other Lego pictures she took:

Lego Ladies

After the cognition tests, we met with some NASA Food Technology people who brought us samples of food bars that are going to be an experiment on our mission. This group was tasked with the goal of reducing food mass by 10% for Orion compared to ISS, so we’ll be eating a low mass, calorie dense breakfast bar for some days of our mission. The PI who explained the food bars to us stressed several times that they’d like us to eat a whole bar for breakfast, but understood if we couldn’t finish the whole thing (and asked that we weigh the remaining portion of the bar for their records). As she was talking, I was thinking to myself that I’m a great eater, rarely meet a meal I can’t finish — definitely have never met a breakfast bar I couldn’t finish. She proceeded to bring out a couple samples of the different flavors, and showed us the size of one bar. It looked maybe slightly bigger than your average granola bar, I’m still not getting why so much stress was put on trying to finish a bar if we can. We then proceed to have 1 sample of each of the 4 flavors we’ll have during our mission (Banana Nut, Orange Cranberry, Jalapeno, and BBQ):

Well, it turns out the experts knew what they were talking about warning us about not being able to finish a full bar! After eating these 4 small samples, I was full enough to skip lunch and didn’t eat anything else for the rest of the afternoon — a feat I don’t accomplish after eating my regular whole lunch on most days!

Nom nom nom!

The afternoon began with another EVA practice session. These continue to be my absolute favorite thing each day! Our tasks are getting more complex as we all get more familiar with the system/controllers. My fellow EVA crew mate and I had a few minutes in this practice session where we were attached to the robotic arms of our exploration vehicle while the IVA crew maneuvered the vehicle to a second site. Basically, we were just sitting for a few minutes in our VR gear watching the asteroid go by under us. While we were in this waiting period, we were both talking about how these VR EVAs feel so real and how we’ve both had a hard time explaining to people just how cool it is. Unfortunately I can’t post any fun pictures of this since everything I see is in the VR goggles, but until I can figure out how to better explain this experience, y’all will just have to take my word for it that it’s SUPER cool!
LaShelle using the ultrasound machine to measure how much blood my ol’ ticker is pumping

The last activity of the day was an Ultrasound fam session. After a bit of a learning curve (all the first couple ultrasound images really looked like a big blob of nothingness to me. Some of my crew mates saw birds, some saw aliens — we were supposed to see a candy cane?), we all had successful runs of finding the right target area of a crew mate’s heart and operating the crazy computer to collect the appropriate data. So far this is the activity that has felt the least natural to me (with the other end of the spectrum being a voice-loop protocol lesson yesterday, along with a time-delay robotic operations experiment yesterday where they began by asking how many hours of lifetime robot operation I’d had), but we’ll get another practice session next week and I’m confident that I’ll get it. Our team really came together well for during this ultrasound activity to help each other figure it out, and we definitely shared plenty of giggles along the way. Along with a borderline-delirious crackup session afterwards as we wrapped up for the day. I definitely think it’s an encouraging sign if we can continue responding to potentially stressful situations and exhaustion with lots of laughs!

We have the weekend off from training with the exception of several surveys (oh so many surveys! I may have accidentally said that I was a male who was born today on a survey today…), then one more week of training next week, then it’s go time to begin our month in the habitat!

HERA Training – Day 5 – January 18, 2016

Exactly 1 week from now, my crewmates and I will have just ingressed our habitat and closed the hatch! Things started feeling real when Ben casually mentioned something we should remember to buy next Sunday at our weekly grocery shopping trip, and I suddenly realized that our Sunday grocery shopping trip next week wouldn’t affect me. I guess we’re really doing this!

Anyway, today’s training consisted of additional sessions of some things we learned last week as well as a couple new things. My morning started off with a session on the Robotic Work Station playing with the simulator to grapple an HTV (Japanese spaceship) with the SSRMS (Canadarm2). Last week we were introduced to the simulator software and hardware controllers as a group, and then this morning I got a one-on-one session to get to drive and grapple the HTV 12 different times! It was super fun, but also really challenging in ways I hadn’t anticipated just from watching other crew do it. I’ll definitely have an increased appreciation the next time I’m watching a real ISS crew do it from MCC.

After that, I had an EEG training session. For this experiment, I’ll stick a bunch of sticky electrode things at different places on my face (and torso, for ground/control measurements), and then a headband with laser emitters/receivers will shoot lasers into my brain as I sleep and track which portions of my brain are active based on the wavelength of signal that’s received. I probably butchered that explanation, but I think anything with lasers is cool, sleep studies are cool, and brain stuff is cool, so I’m totally down for being a lab rat in an experiment combining the three!

Sticking electrodes onto specific locations on my face and then wiring up the lasers!

After the EEG familiarization session, I quickly peeled off the electrodes and lasers from my head to run right into the airlock to put the VR gear on for another EVA practice session. “Flying” around the asteroid was fun, like always, but nothing terribly new to report here on that.

After EVA practice, we did a whole bunch of cognition studies and surveys. There’s definitely a wide range of material tested in all of these cognition studies — I’m super intrigued into what data the researchers are pulling from these and if they’re finding neat patterns/trends. Hopefully my matching patterns, shapes and sizes over and over will help them learn something really cool!

Only 4 more training days to go and then the real mission starts next Monday!

HERA Training – Day 6 – January 19, 2016

Just a quick update today, since I only had 2 hours of HERA stuff this morning and then I got to play in a sim for my actual OSO job.

This morning started out with another saliva sample and our first blood draw. The following picture is me getting my blood drawn through our crazy curtain setup while sucking on a cotton thing for my saliva sample — multitasking allows me to stop fasting quicker and get to breakfast/coffee!

Byebye blood and saliva!

 Next Julielynn and I spent our few free minutes taking some pictures in the hab, and the picture below is one of my favorites. Probably also the only day I’ll color-coordinate my shirt to the hab.

Who needs to take the lift to the second level when there’s a ladder to climb?!

Lastly, we did more cognition tests. This time the scores were actually recorded instead of just being fam sessions. In the picture below, I’m doing a test where I have to identify low/medium/high pitched sounds, then small/medium/large triangles, and then different combinations of sound/sight variations. Let me tell you, this sounds pretty simple and for one or two questions it is, but after (what felt like) a bajillion of them, the brain can definitely get a little funky!

Low pitch, big triangle . . . no wait! high pitch, small triangle!

After doing about an hour of cognition testing (in the hab, where most of our training has been . . . with the hatch wide open), LaShelle and I turned to leave and saw the hatch was closed for the first time. After a minor freak-out of realizing this would soon be our reality, we staged a re-creation of our freak-out, attempting to pound our way out.

Let us ouuuuuuut!!! Oh, the door’s unlocked?

The last bit of exciting news is that our embroidered crew patches showed up today. I learned that I suck at ironing, but thanks to google hangout advice from my crew mates and an awesome husband, I now have a shirt with our patch on it. We’re taking a crew picture tomorrow, so stay tuned for that!

HERA Training – Day 7 – January 20, 2016

We have shirts with our patch on them! That was definitely a big element contributing to the excitement of the day. I love the picture above — it’s the wall in the conference room where we’ve been doing a lot of our training, but I like to think it’s our HERA crew just chilling on the moon.

Anyway, today started with pregnancy tests and cool skeleton bone scan things (again, I’m sure I’m butchering the science, but all I know is I lay on a bed for a few minutes and then got to see a full scan of my bones/muscles/fat, so what can ya do).

After returning from the JSC clinic, we took our official crew photo with our snazzy new shirts!


The rest of the morning was spent meeting with a PI who set us up with yet another heart rate monitor, a slightly different EEG than we played with previously, and some lumosity brain teasers.

Check out my cool new brain-scannin’ hat!


Watching my brain waves

After lunch, we were introduced to some of our (sim) emergency drill training that we’ll do throughout the mission — expected protocol and responses for vehicle emergencies such as fire, rapid depressurization, toxic contaminant release, etc., and then also how to distinguish between alarms for these simulated emergencies and alarms for actual fires/toxic atmosphere, which hopefully we never experience in our habitat!

The last super exciting bit of the day was a fam session with the glove box and tests we’ll perform on the asteroid samples we collect on our EVAs. We will follow procedures to clean and setup the glove box, ensure all hoses and electrical connectors are properly mated, depressurize the glove box to vacuum, and then perform a series of different tests and measurements on the samples.

And one last picture from today, not of something that was scheduled or particularly eventful, but was still an “oh wow” moment for me. I had to go into the Mission Control room to hunt down one of our trainers for something, and this was my first time in there. The picture below shows just how many cameras they’ll be able to watch me on during this thing!

Smile — you’re on camera!

I’ve known all along that people would be watching my every move, but something about seeing this made that fact set in just a little bit more.

As we get closer to our “launch” day, my excitement for this mission continues to grow. I feel so fortunate to be on this journey with my crew mates, and I definitely think we’ll find an awesome balance of having fun together but also successfully completely our mission objectives. I’ve found almost every single experiment we’ve seen to be hugely interesting, and I feel so honored to be part of a team that’s figuring out some pretty amazing things about human spaceflight and humans in general. So much coordination has gone into planning all of our training and mission objectives, and so many PIs are hoping we perform our tasks and experiments adequately for them to collect valid data.

My realization of just how much of an honor and privilege it is to be part of this mission has grown and grown throughout training, and I can only imagine how this sense of awe will continue to expand once we’re really off on our mission to our asteroid. I’m definitely looking forward to what’s to come in the next several weeks!

HERA Training – Day 8 – January 21, 2016
Only 1 more full day of training before our “launch”! I actually took 0 pictures of our training today, which I attribute to a combination of 2 factors:
First, today was all repeat sessions of things we’d previously learned — meaning we’re actually capturing baseline and not just going through the motions of fam sessions. Science has begun!
Second, hanging out in the habitat, watching my brain signals from an electrode “hat” I’m wearing, grabbling an HTV with the SSRMS, and hanging out with my crew mates are all things that are starting to feel “normal”, and I no longer feel the need to capture all of these super-crazy-never-going-to-happen-again moments. I think this means we’re ready to start our actual mission . . . or at least as ready as we’ll ever be!
So, I say I took 0 pictures during training today, and this is true. But, I did take a couple pictures of what I did after our training today, which was having a Functional MRI performed on my brain. One of the experiments is monitoring how the performance and size of our hippocampus changes throughout our mission. This research team has previously done these tests on researchers in antarctica and said they found some pretty interesting results, so I hope my hippocampus give them good results too.
Since in our society, we often put too much emphasis on women’s bodies, I say let’s check out this woman’s brains too! Take a look:

mmmmmm…. brains!

I love how crazy my eyeballs look in the left image (top of the screen, on either side of my nose sticking up towards the top of the picture) and how you can see the connections between them and my brain. Obviously, I’m not a doctor and have no idea what I’m looking at, but I like the eyeballs.
Tomorrow we’ll cover everything else we still need to know, and then it’s off to a “farewell” happy hour tomorrow evening, some last minute packing Sunday, and then it’s Go time Monday!!
January 25, 2016 10:52 pm