Archive for the ‘astronauts’ Category

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.

Weekly Links

Down To Earth

This week NASA finally announced the winners of the next Commercial Resupply Services contract, or CRS-2. This is the contract currently held by SpaceX and Orbital ATK to delivery cargo to the ISS. The contract was rebid for flights starting in the 2019 timeframe. NASA made the exciting decision to give the contract to all three remaining companies: SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada.

This was a good week for SpaceX, beyond just the cargo award. To get people excited, they released this video recap of their successful launch and landing last month:

Then they performed a “static fire” test of the recovered booster. The results were reportedly good with some anomalies.

And thirdly, SpaceX launched the Jason-3 satellite for NOAA on Sunday from their California launch site. The satellite reached orbit successfully, but the first stage recovery attempt – which was on a barge instead of a landing pad in this case – was close but unsuccessful. Here’s some information from NASA about the Jason-3 mission if you are interested. If you want even more, AmericaSpace has an interview with the Project Scientist.

And here’s some awesome video of the touchdown (I’ll add it as an embedded Vine below whenever it is posted there).

In Orbit

China also had a successful orbital launch today with a telecommunications satellite for Belarus. The SpaceX and Chinese launches are the first two flights of the new year.

Meanwhile, on the space station, the “Tims,” astronauts Tim Kopra and Tim Peake, went out for a spacewalk on Friday to repair one of the ISS power channels that malfunctions last November (while I was on shift, in fact). The EVA was successful in its main objective but had to be terminated early due to unexpected water accumulating in Tim Kopra’s helmet.

Around the Solar System

The European Space Agency attempted to contact the Philae lander, on comet 67P-C/G, but it is still nonresponsive. As the comet gets farther from the sun in its orbit and the light levels decrease, the chance of the little probe waking up are quickly diminishing.

The JUNO spacecraft, on its way to Jupiter, has broken the “distance record” for a solar powered spacecraft, according to Spaceflight Insider.

Weekly Links

Down To Earth

The European Space Agency published a thought-provoking video about the future of lunar exploration.

Here is some interesting PR from the aspiring asteroid mining company Planetary Resources. At the Consumer Electronics Show they revealed a prototype that they 3D printed from a meteorite.

SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 launch will be from Vandenberg in California on January 17th. The rocket will be carrying the NOAA’s Jason-3 satellite. In addition, SpaceX will attempt to recover the first stage on their autonomous drone ship.

The United States Postal Service will issue new stamps with images of the New Horizons spacecraft and Pluto.

Speaking of New Horizons, that NASA team has won the annual Goddard Memorial Trophy.

NASA has officially organized a new Planetary Defense Coordination Office for overall management of projects for detection and characterization of Near Earth Objects (NEOs).

In Orbit

Next Friday “the Tims” (astronauts Tim Peake and Tim Kopra) will get to do a spacewalk.

Around the Solar System

On Mars, the Curiosity rover has driven right up to a 13 foot tall sand dune and is sending us some pretty cool pictures.

Also on Mars, the long-lived Opportunity rover is celebrating 12 Earth-years on the surface.

2015 Summary Link Dump

The last year was full of spacey goodness. Some things were expected – even long anticipated – like space probes Dawn and New Horizons arriving at their targets. Other things were a complete surprise, like the loss of SpaceX’s seventh commercial flight to ISS and the discovery of flowing water on the surface of Mars. All-in-all, there was a lot to follow and talk about. Thus, I am putting together one or more “year in review” blog posts to give my perspective on what has happened and what’s to come. In the meantime, you can enjoy other people’s thoughts of 2015 in spaceflight through the links I have gathered below. Happy new year!

Wikipedia Stats

As usual, I love to lean on the “year in spaceflight” pages on Wikipedia. The folks that put these together do a thorough job. If we look at the 2015 in spaceflight page, we see that the human race is maintaining our high flight rate, with 82 successful orbital launches out of 87 attempts. These numbers have been steadily growing for years. Here is the last decade’s successful launches numbers, starting with 2005: 52, 62, 63, 66, 73, 70, 78, 72, 77, 88, 82. As I wrote in last week’s Weekly Links post, Russia had the most launches with 26 and their Soyuz rocket is by far the most dominant, at 17 launches. However, their two failures this year make it hard to call Soyuz both the most dominant and most reliable. China launches 19 of their Long March family of rockets with no failures.

Using the “list of spaceflight records” we can see some changes in the list for total time in space. Most notably, Gennady Padalka spent 167 days on ISS during Expedition 43/44, his 5th spaceflight, to put him at the top spot for most spaceflown human ever. He has spent 879 days of his life in space. Also notable is Anton Shkaplerov, who returned to Earth during Expedition 43 and is at the 32 spot, Oleg Kononenko, who returned during Expedition 45 and holds the 13 spot with 533 days, and Yuri Malenchenko and Sergey Volkov who are currently in space and hold the 7 and 31 spots respectively.

The other notable record that was broken this year is “longest single flight by a woman” (which is on the list of spaceflight records page), broken this year by Samantha Cristoforetti, partly because her crew got stuck on ISS a little bit longer after the loss of a Progress resupply flight in May.

Summary Posts

AmericaSpace

AmericaSpace, but on planetary science.

AmericaSpace’s compilation video of launches:

And here’s a series of four year in review posts from NASA Spaceflight:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Government Agency PR

NASA’s summary of 2015. With video below.

NASA’s top 15 images of Earth from ISS (if you are a real photography or geography nut, you will want to click “read more” on each picture).

ESA year in pictures.

ESA highlights video.

Top Space Stories of 2015

Space.com’s list.

Phil Plait’s list.

Huffington Post.

US News and World Report.

Other Lists

Best pictures from the Curiosity rover.

Top science stories from NYT.

Top science stories from Science Magazine.

Google’s “a year in search” video.

Ars Technica top science images.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

The US federal budget bill for 2016 (referred to as the “omnibus bill”), which has been signed into law by the President, is good news for NASA, with over a $1 billion budget increase for next year.

NASA has confirmed with ESA that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will launch to space aboard an Ariane 5 rocket in 2018. Basically, they signed the contract to pay for the launch. Meanwhile, the JWST mirror installation has been ongoing at Goddard Spaceflight Center (GSFC) in Maryland.

NASA’s next mission to Mars, the InSight lander (not a rover), was delivered to the launch site in California. However, the launch will be delayed, probably about two years, due to an issue with the spacecraft. Here’s the press release from NASA.

NASA ordered a second Boeing CST-100 Starliner flight to ISS. The first crewed mission is expected sometime in 2017.

In Orbit

Other than the InSight delay, the year is wrapping up nicely with some successes. Since my last post on the 13th, there were 6 orbital launches, all successful. The launches included the arrival of the rest of the Expedition 46 crew on ISS, with Malenchenko, Kopra, and Peake aboard. Also an Indian commercial launch, a Chinese dark matter telescope, and a European launch of two Galileo satellites, which is their equivalent to the GPS system.

December 21st was a big day with the last two of those six launches as well as an emergency ISS spacewalk to fix the stuck Mobile Transporter. The spacewalk went fine. Meanwhile, Russia launched a Progress resupply mission to the ISS, which docks on the 23rd, and SpaceX made their return to flight launch of the Falcon 9 rocket with a commercial launch for Orbcomm. In addition to successfully returning to flight and launching the first of their upgraded version 1.2 Falcon 9, the first stage was successfully landed back at the landing site for the first time. Here’s a video:

And here’s some photos of the booster on the landing pad the morning after.

Album review: Chris Hadfield’s Space Sessions

The most viewed video of the International Space Station is certainly Chris Hadfield’s rendition of the David Bowie song Space Oddity, filmed while he was aboard the station in 2013. That music video was a surprise and a revelation for both the public and many within the space industry. Hadfield showed that it is possible to both be a stoic no-nonsense fighter pilot astronaut and also a creative, thoughtful and emotional artist. Other astronauts have tried to travel that road, such as Alan Bean, who is an accomplished painter, but never before with the kind of public attention Hadfield’s music video garnered. Hadfield’s personality combined with the video’s novelty and production value is captivating. The music video, which was taken down for a time until some copyright issues were resolved, now has 27 million views on YouTube.

What most of us didn’t realize at the time was that Hadfield is far from a one-trick pony. While he was busy commanding the ISS during his last spaceflight, he was quietly writing and recording music in his spare time. A collection of 12 songs, all recorded in space, has now been released as the aptly named Space Sessions: Songs from a Tin Can. All but the familiar Space Oddity track are original songs. If you are hoping that the first musical album recorded in space will be a window into the soul of an experienced and mature explorer, then you should just go order Space Sessions now without reading any further. Hadfield delivers in spades.

The album starts out strong and upbeat with three tracks very clearly about the experience of launching into space and seeing the Earth from orbit for the first time. The opening track, Big Smoke, was actually written by Hadfield in 1994, two years after his selection as a CSA astronaut, but before his first spaceflight, STS-74. The joy and anticipation of a young astronaut looking forward to his first flight comes through clearly in all of the songs lyrics, such as

“Big Smoke/ Carry precious cargo/ Show us how to live and how to dream”

Tracks 2 and 3 have similar upbeat themes about spaceflight but are unique in their own way. Beyond the Terra is about reaching orbit and looking back at the Earth, while Feet Up is more of a cheerful expression of the adventure of spaceflight with simple but honest lyrics:

“Can’t put my feet up/ Can’t hold my lunch down/ Turning the sound up/ I start to spin round/ Can’t stand on my own two feet/ I just float away/ I took a ride on the hot hot seat/ Now I’m ready to play/ Far away”

From there the album slows down and gets somewhat more thoughtful through the middle section. Songs such as I Wonder If She and Space Lullaby cut to the core of the emotions of being an explorer far from home thinking of loved ones. There are even songs not about spaceflight at all, such as Window on my Mind, which tells a story of a cross country road trip. This variety is one of the strengths of the album that makes it much more than its novelty might suggest. Space Sessions is first an autobiographical expression through music. It would not have the impact it does if it was 12 straight tracks about what it feels like to fly in a rocket.

One of my favorite tracks is Daughter of My Sins, which, according to the booklet, was conceived, written, and recorded all during a single day of work aboard the space station. Hadfield recorded the songs for the album in a makeshift “studio” which was really just his tiny sleep station in Node 2 with an acoustic guitar and a microphone hooked up to his iPad. The day he wrote Daughter of My Sins he kept sneaking off to his sleep station during breaks in his work day to jot down lyrics and then recorded it in the evening. It is fun to imagine than maybe the song was written on a day that I was on console quietly watching over the station’s guidance systems while he worked.

After reading my description of how the album was made, you may think that maybe the production value is low. While the vocal and acoustic guitar tracks are genuinely recorded in space, Hadfield has added professional production and full instrumentation to most tracks, giving his writing a chance to fully shine, and it works great. I found that on most of the tracks the added instrumentation highlights rather than drowns Hadfield’s performance. My favorite example of this is on the second to last track, Ride That Lightning, which uses piano and choir vocals to create a great gospel inspired feel.

The only exception is that I think his Christmas carol, Jewel in the Night, would have been even more hauntingly beautiful if it was left just with Hadfield’s own vocals and guitar track, allowing the subtle echo of sounds on the space station throughout the song.

I guess if you don’t like acoustic guitar folk music, you might not enjoy this album. Most of these songs are best listened to carefully, not simply played as background music. The booklet that comes with the CD adds important insight into each song – including who wrote it (some are cowritten with Hadfield’s brother), when it was written, and for most a brief discussion of the inspiration or idea behind the song.

This album is automatically an answer to an obscure trivia question “who was the first person to record an album in space?” but I think the longterm impact of Space Sessions will be much more than that. When the histories are written about the ISS program, an important piece will be how the astronauts living in orbit day in and day out shared their experiences with the public openly and in real-time, something no spacefarers had done before.  Hadfield’s music blends the technical and emotional in a way that challenges our preconceptions of what an astronaut should be. If people ever do live on Mars, they will take Hadfield’s music with them.

If you’re not convinced, you can listen to many of the songs from the album on YouTube at Hadfield’s official channel. A few examples are below. The CD is produced in Canada so it is an import for US buyers, but can be easily ordered on Amazon for about $14.

Book Review: Ride and Armstrong biographies

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In 2014, new biographies were published about America’s two most well-known space heroes: Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride. Just like their subjects, the two books are very different. However, they share an intriguing similarity in that they were both written by close friends of Armstrong and Ride who also happen to be award-winning journalists. This style of book (if we can call it a style) lends itself to an interesting middle-ground between an outright autobiography (which Armstrong and Ride never wrote – both shying away from the spotlight) and the distance of a more traditionally researched biography. I think it is fair to expect from a biography written by a friend of the subject a certain level of insight as well as new information or stories. In the end, only one of these books really delivers on that front.

(As you read my review, keep in mind I have never read the previous Armstrong biography, First Man)

Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight is by Jay Barbree, who is a well known journalist in space circles. His credentials are nothing to scoff at: NASA awarded him in 1995 as the only journalist to report on all 100 manned spaceflights.. Thus, it is not surprising that Barbree’s relationship with Armstrong goes all the way back to the early 1960s – Armstrong apparently even carried a memento to the moon for him on Apollo 11. Unfortunately, Barbree has tried to right a book for far too general an audience, and leaves out a lot of personal insights that might have been interesting to people that already have a good background on the history of NASA and the space program.

A Life of Flight opens with a thrilling telling of Armstrong’s ejection over Korea in the early 1950s and moves from there directly into his career with NACA and then later NASA. The story of Armstrong’s work before the astronaut corps – especially his time at Edwards – is very interesting and deserving of the time. However, leaving out his even earlier life leaves something to be desired as far as knowing the man. Barbree then rushes us into Armstrong’s selection as an astronaut in 1962 and from here the narrative goes downhill, in my opinion. Barbree’s choice of tone for the book from here on out is to try to give us Armstrong’s perspective and thoughts on all of the events of the space program, even those for which Armstrong as tangentially related. While I believe Barbree probably really did know Neil’s thoughts on all of these events, the choice of tense to tell the story as if we are seeing the entire space program unfold through Neil’s eyes comes off as a bit campy and although much of it may be accurate, many of the direct quotations are certainly based loosely on recollections at best.

Overall, A Life of Flight gives a good overview of the Gemini and Apollo programs and the life of Neil Armstrong for readers that may not already be well read on the history of NASA. For me, I felt myself constantly wishing Barbree would get on with it and when he would get through the things I can read in other more traditional space histories and learn what Armstrong the man was really like. Unfortunately, that book I was hoping for never materialized before the final chapter, when Barbree outlines his political views on the current state of the space program (going as far as to even mention political figures), an unfortunate choice, as it will quickly date itself after just one or two election cycles.

I was very happy to find that Sally Ride: America’s First Woman In Space by Lynn Sherr, does indeed deliver. Sherr has less experience with space reporting but covered the Space Shuttle program in depth for ABC in the 80s. Like, Barbree and Armstrong, Sherr and Ride met early in Ride’s NASA career, during Sherr’s first trip to Houston in 1981. They became fast friends after their first interview there at JSC. Despite their close friendship, Sherr did not even know the truth about some aspects of Ride’s private life until after she passed in 2012. The effect this had on her emotionally comes through in the book, as she struggles to understand a woman who was at once both so close and so distant.

If you don’t like biographies that spend time on a person’s lineage and background before they were famous, then you may actually like the Armstrong book more, as Sally Ride spends almost 100 pages on Ride’s family, youth, upbringing, and education before she is recruited at NASA as part of the first Space Shuttle class of astronauts in the late 1970s. However, Ride was an intriguing personality and a tough nut to crack, without understanding how she got there – and it was a bit of a windy road – the reader would lose much of what makes Ride such an enigma. What I love about Sherr’s biography is that she is not soft on telling us about Ride’s faults – she was often standoffish, hard to get close to, and kept to herself. This fits with what others have said about her: Mullane does not paint himself as a fan of Ride in his own memoir Riding Rockets. But with her unique position as a lifelong friend, Sherr is able to also give us a balanced view of Ride’s commitment and loyalty to friends who made it into her inner circle.

It may be unfair in some ways to compare these two books. Sally Ride was a symbol of social change, almost gaining all of her fame merely by being selected as an astronaut before she ever flew. We didn’t know it until recently, but not only did she break through gender barriers but she was breaking through barriers of sexual orientation, as well. By contrast, Neil Armstrong was just another white male test pilot in the 1950s and 1960s. While he is a true American hero in his own right, and wore his fame with a quiet dignity, his story does not have the same power as that of Sally Ride.

Sally Ride had me riveted the entire time, while A Life of Flight had me constantly wondering when I would learn something new. If you are a space geek – and let’s face it, you are or you wouldn’t be reading this – you are going to want to read Sally Ride but you might want to skip Barbree’s offering and go pick up First Man instead, which is on my 2016 reading list.

You can get both books I have reviewed here for reasonable prices on Amazon (links below).

Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight

Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

The current head of JPL for 15 years, Charles Elachi, is retiring. Here’s a brief but good interview with him from Pasadena Star News.

NASA has delayed its decision to award ISS cargo flight contracts starting in 2018 until next year. The current contracts being fulfilled by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences run out in a few years and 5 companies have submitted proposals for the new award (SpaceX, Orbital, Sierra Nevada, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin).

NASA will be accepting applications for a new class of astronauts starting December 14th.

In Orbit

Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren completed their second of two planned spacewalks during their ISS mission this past Friday.

In orbital rocket news, China had two launches last week: first, a communication satellite on November 3rd and a military reconnaissance satellite on November 8th, bringing their total on the year to 14 with no failures. For comparison, the USA is 16 for 18, Russia is 19 for 21, and ESA is 7 for 7.

A new US Air Force rocket, intended for small payloads, was supposed to reach orbit from the Hawaiian Island of Kauai last week, but had an anomaly on ascent and was lost.

Speaking of rockets, a submarine-launched missile test was seen by many residents on the US west coast on Saturday evening, November 7th.

Around the Solar System

Newly-announced findings from NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft are helping scientists determine what happened to Mars’ atmosphere. Mars has no powerful magnetic field like Earth, so it is suspected that the solar wind has been blasting Mars’ atmosphere away into space over the eons.

The New Horizons spacecraft has now completed all four course correction burns needed (assuming they are all on target) to get to object 2014 MU69 in 2019.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Check out this innovative moving ISS tracker someone built.

Chris Hadfield is releasing an album of songs he recorded while on ISS. Here’s a music video of Feet Up off the album.

In Orbit

All of the big events last week up at the ISS went fine. First, on Monday, HTV5 rendezvoused with the station on time and was captured with Canadarm-2. Later in the week, the crew of Soyuz TMA-16M strapped into their re-entry couches for a quick 30 minute fly around to change docking ports. Here’s an awesome time lapse of the “relocate”.

A few orbital rocket launches this past week, but none related to the ISS program. Here’s a rundown of the three launches from three different nations: India launched a communications satellite on a GSLV rocket, China launched a military satellite on a Long March 4C rocket, and Russia launched a commercial communications satellite on a Proton rocket. An Atlas V was supposed to launch from Florida with a military satellite but was delayed due to tropical storm Erika.

Here’s a nice animation by ESA about astronaut Andreas Mogensen’s flight to ISS next week. Soyuz TMA-18M is slated to launch with the next ISS crew on Wednesday, September 2.

As usual, lots of good photos from the ISS were posted to Twitter by the current crew, including some great shots of active tropical storms and hurricanes. Here’s a selection.

Around the Solar System

NASA’s New Horizons probe will flyby a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 in 2019. The final selection of the Pluto probes next target was announced last week.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Veteran astronaut Steve Swanson, who flew on the space shuttle and commanded the ISS last year, is retiring from NASA. According to his Wikipedia page, he has spent an impressive 195 days in space with almost 28 hours of spacewalk time across 5 EVAs. This leaves NASA with 45 active astronauts (which doesn’t count ESA and JAXA astronauts who are qualified to fly to ISS).

Last week an important engine test in the development of the new SLS rocket was conducted at Stennis Space Center. The RS-25 engine was run for almost a full ten minuets. Here’s a video (test starts at 31:15).

In Orbit

Last Monday, August 10th, two Russian Cosmonauts went outside the ISS for a spacewalk. Padalka and Kornienko spent about five and a half hours outside. It was Padalka’s tenth spacewalk, which should put him nicely on this list once it is updated.

Later in the week, on Friday morning, a Russian Progress cargo craft undocked from the aft port of the ISS. That port will be empty until Soyuz 42S does a “relocate” from the Poisk port later this fall. The relocate is needed to free up Poisk for the docking of the next Soyuz. There will be three Soyuz onboard for a direct handover this fall.

Some cool stuff happened inside the ISS this past week as well. The astronauts were able to eat some red romaine lettuce grown on the space station in the “VEGGIE” experiment.

Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui did some remote robotics experiments.

The launch of the next ISS resupply flight from Japan has been delayed to Monday, due to bad weather.

Also in ISS cargo news, Orbital Sciences announced they will launch not just one but two or more of their Cygnus cargo resupply missions on someone else’s rocket. Orbital is working hard to recertify their Antares rocket with new Russian engines, following the loss of one of their rockets last October. In the meantime, they are buying Atlas V rockets from United Launch Alliance in order to fulfill their NASA contract.

Around the Solar System

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has reached perihelion (closest point to the sun), which has made the comet rather “active”. Check out these images from Rosetta, in orbit about the comet.

How cool is this? There is evidence of cryovolcanism (ice volcanoes) on Pluto.

Speaking of Pluto, here’s an awesome simulation of the New Horizons flyby in real-time, based on actually imagery from the spacecraft.

If you love the ins and outs of Martian rover exploration, here’s a comprehensive update on what the Curiosity rover has been up to.