Archive for the ‘NASA’ Category

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Andy Weir, author of the smash hit The Martian released his second novel, Artemis.

Sierra Nevada released video of last week’s successful glide flight of their Dream Chaser space plan:

A long-lost Omega astronaut watch from the Apollo era has been recovered and returned to the Smithsonian.

In Orbit

The Cygnus cargo freighter that launched last week, arrived at the ISS successfully on November 14.

Two rocket launches last week:

Around the Solar System

A new study in Nature analyzes Pluto’s hazy atmosphere and offers an explanation for the planet being colder than expected ( minus 300 deg F instead of minus 280 deg F).

Out There

A newly discovered exoplanet, Ross 128 b, is only 11 light years away and could be in the habitable zone of the red dwarf star it orbits.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Sierra Nevada Corporation completed a successful free-flight landing test of their Dream Chase space plane. The test was the first free-flight since 2013, when they had a landing gear issue during their first test.

XCOR Aerospace, a company that spent over a decade trying to develop their own space plane, has filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy (i.e., their assets will be auctioned off).

Another veteran astronaut of the Apollo era has passed away. Apollo 12 Command Module Pilot Dick Gordon died last week at 88 years old. In addition to orbiting the moon, Gordon flew on the Gemini 11 mission with Pete Conrad and later worked on the Space Shuttle program.

During an engine test last week, SpaceX had an incident with a qualification unit of their new Merlin engine design. The engine basically blew up but no one was injured.

If you get up before dawn tomorrow, you will have a chance to see a conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter. They will rise very close together in the East.

In Orbit

Three orbital rocket launches since my last post:

  • November 5 – China launched two new Beidou navigation satellites.
  • November 8 – ESA launched a Vega rocket carrying an earth-observing satellite for Morocco.
  • November 12 – Orbital ATK launched an Antares rocket from Virginia carrying a Cygnus cargo freighter to the International Space Station. It will arrive on station Tuesday morning.

Around the Solar system

You can vote on a name for the small object 2014 MU69, which will be visited by the New Horizons probe in early 2019.

A study gives new explanation to why Saturn’s watery moon Enceladus is so geologically active.

Seventeen Years

Last Thursday, November 2nd, the ISS passed the milestone of 17 years of crewed flight. The launch of Expedition 1, now nearly two decades in the past, was a great way to kick of the new millennium for us space geeks. The significance of that event will only be truly known in retrospect. If our continuous presence continues through the ISS program’s entire length – into the 2020s and hopefully beyond – it will have been a huge achievement. If some future unbuilt space station continues the record, leaving us as a space-faring species for generations to come – the launch of Expedition 1 could perhaps be remembered as a turning point for our species. But that legacy is yet to be written.

I wrote about this same event in this post from 2012, when I had been working at NASA’s Johnson space center for only about 4 years. At the time, those years felt significant – a third of the crewed mission! Now five years later, that share has increased to a number that scares me – half. I have been working on ISS for half of its crewed mission. As long as we are talking numbers, it’s also been about a third of my life.

It scares me because with all of that experience, you might think that I am an expert on spacecraft operations. You probably would think that the ISS operations team as a whole are collectively geniuses in that respect, that we knock down pretty much every problem that comes up with ease. But the truth is we are still exploring. There are still ways to use a space station we have yet to try and experiments we have yet to run. Only in the past few years have we started to master the idea of deploying small satellites from the ISS. We are yet to truly utilize the idea of additive manufacturing in space. On a personal level, there are many lessons about teamwork and leadership and overcoming failure I have yet to learn. When Gene Kranz called mission control a leadership laboratory, it was not hype. All of the leadership experience that was on my resume coming out of college pales in comparison to what I have learned as part of a spaceflight operations team. And that’s because there are still problems to solve that I have gained skills by helping to overcome.

The world has many challenges today, some of them unknown at the time that the ISS mission began at the dawn of this century. The relentless pace of globalization and improvements in communication technology put us at a crossroads with respect to social structures, security, sovereignty, and our pursuit of the truth. To say nothing of humanity’s growing population and challenges we must confront with our changing climate. Some might say things are worse today than in 2000. Others will point out the clear advances in science, medicine, and communication that make life better for many. This up-and-down trend of history is what has made me even more certain that projects like the ISS are fundamentally important to our pursuit of positive solutions.

The ISS does not stand alone. Major multinational scientific and engineering projects existed before the space station and will continue after. One of the best examples is CERN – the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The design and construction of the LHC could only have been made positive with such an impressive peaceful cooperation between many nations. The Human Genome Project is another success story, not to mention the many international large astronomical observatories around the world. I like these projects not just because they make amazing scientific discoveries and foster peaceful international collaboration. I also like how they transcend the changing tides of politics and rise above changing administrations. The ISS, for instance, was conceived in its first version more than 5 US presidential administrations ago. It has been continuously occupied by astronauts now during 4 presidencies.

This longevity should give us hope. Hope that despite the feeling of “one step forward two steps backwards” we sometimes get from following politics, that it is possible for us to build something together that can stand the test of time. The ISS is certainly not the longest lasting example, but the ISS should have special symbolism for us. The ISS is not just a scientific endeavor or an engineering testbed, it also challenges the frontier of human experience (just ask Scott Kelly) while specifically calling us to imagine more and more ambitious voyages into deep space. To take the space stations mission seriously is to have an optimistic outlook.

One of my idols, Bill Nye, says it best when he says that “space exploration brings out the best in us.” It is for this reason that after 9 years here, I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else, and that I hope the ISS can go on for 17 more years. We are far from done learning from this unique laboratory in low Earth orbit. It’s hard to imagine where we will be in ten, twenty, or thirty years. History takes many unpredictable twists and turns. But I hope that the legacy started by the launch of Expedition 1 will go on, and that we never come back down the Earth.

 

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Skylab and Space Shuttle astronaut Paul Weitz has died at 85 years old.

The 2018 US Olympic Snowboard team will wear uniforms inspired by NASA spacesuits.

Saudi Arabia has agreed to invest $1 billion dollars in Virgin Galactic.

In Orbit

In rocket news, there were only two orbital launches since my last post on October 21:

Around the Solar Systems

NASA’s robotic probe Dawn has received an official mission extension to stay in orbit around the asteroid Ceres.

Out There

Astronomers at an observatory in Chile have discovered an unusual exoplanet orbiting a dwarf star. The planet is larger than Jupiter and is 25% the size of its host star, the highest known planet-to-star ratio yet discovered.

The Pan-STARRS-1 observatory in Hawaii detected a small rocky body hurtling into our solar system from interstellar space. The asteroid (or should it be called something else?) poses no risk to Earth. Follow the link for a cool animation of its orbit.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

LEGO is releasing a “women of NASA” set.

The Apollo 11 capsule Columbia has started its around the country tour with a new exhibit at Space Center Houston: Destination Moon.

This Lyft commercial referencing the Apollo program is cute, but is missing a shout out to Michael Collins.

Jeff Bezos’ company, Blue Origin, conducted the first test fire of their new BE-4 rocket engine.

In Orbit

The ISS Expedition 53 crew completed the second and third spacewalks in their October series. All planned tasks were completed successfully, leaving the space station with some new cameras and a repaired robotic arm. The rest of the year on ISS will be focused on science research, with some critical deliveries onboard a Cygnus resupply and SpaceX Dragon resupply.

Since my last post on October 9th, there have been four orbital rocket launches:

  • October 11 – SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying two geostationary communication satellites. The first stage was a previously flown booster and was recovered on a droneship.
  • October 13 – A Russian Rokot launched carrying an Earth obesrvation payload for ESA.
  • October 14 – A Soyuz rocket launched from Baikonaur carrying an unmanned Progress resupply bound for the ISS.
  • October 15 – ULA launched an Atlas V rocket carrying a national security payload for the NRO.

The Progress freighter docked successfully two days after launch.

Below are a few of the best pictures taken onboard the ISS from the past two weeks. If you want to help maintain the amazing archive of millions of pictures of Earth taken from ISS, now there’s a way! Check out Cosmo Quest’s new Image Detective project.

https://twitter.com/astro_paolo/status/920369795111051264

ISS astronauts tried to capitalize on a cultural craze down here on Earth with this recent video:

Out There

Hot on the heels of the Nobel Prize in Physics announcement, LIGO made another big discovery using gravitational waves: the first signal from the collision of two neutron stars was detected and confirmed. Phil Plait has a wonderful poetic post explaining what this means for our understanding of the universe.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Retired NASA astronaut Terry Virts has published a “coffee table book” of images he took while aboard the ISS during Expeditions 42 and 43.

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the discovery of gravitational waves by the LIGO team.

Canadian company MDA has acquired DigitalGlobe and the new merged corporation will be changing their name to Maxar Technologies. MDA is the company that build the Canadarms and DigitalGlobe is a major provider of orbital imagery for users like Google.

In Orbit

Three rocket launches since my last post. All of them occurred today, October 9th:

  • China launched a Long March 2D rocket carrying a Venezuelan satellite.
  • SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 10 new communication satellites for Iridium.
  • Japan launched an H-2A rocket carrying a native navigation satellite.

Things have been quite busy up on the ISS. Astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Randy Bresnik executed the first of a series of spacewalks last week to maintain the station’s robotic arm. They will go out again tomorrow, October 10th, to continue the work. Here are a few pictures from last week’s EVA:

NASA has announced plans to keep the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) on the ISS for longer than planned and use it as a logistics module.

Out There

A recent study of “Tabby’s Star” using NASA’s orbiting observatories Spitzer and Swift has a new theory for the unexplained dips in brightness: dust. The new hypothesis is compelling because the telescopes detected differences in the dimming at different wavelengths, which implies something transparent like dust.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

U.S. Vice President Pence visited NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama last week. Pence spoke to the crew onboard the ISS from the Payload Operations Center, as part of his tour.

Check out this amazing video of a Soyuz re-entry over Kazakhstan taken from onboard a nearby airplane.

NASA has announced that the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been delayed from late 2018 to early 2019.

NASA opened a new facility at the Langley Research Center named after Katherine Johnson, one of the central women profiled in the book and film Hidden Figures.

The latest crew of the HI-SEAS Mars simulation facility in Hawaii completed their 8-month mission.

In double Hawaii news this week, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) approved the construction permit for the long-debated Thirty Meter Telescope to be built on Maunakea.

At the International Astronautical Congress, SpaceX CEO gave a 45 minute presentation updating the public on his company’s plans for future rocket designs and Mars exploration. Here is the full video of the talk:

In Orbit

Three orbital launches since my last post:

Weekly Links

Not as much news as usual this week. To tide you over, don’t forget to check out all the tweets from the crew of the ISS from time to time! Here is a direct link to a feed of all of their tweets.

Down to Earth

Aerospace giant Northrop Grumman has purchased Orbital ATK in an enormous $9.2 billion deal.

Australia announced at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide that they will be establishing their  space agency.

https://twitter.com/exploreplanets/status/912108822663020544

In Orbit

Two orbital rocket launches since last week:

On September 22nd, a Russian Soyuz rocket launched carrying a new GLONASS navigation satellite.

On September 24th, a ULA Atlas V rocket launched from California carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Around the Solar System

Check out this amazing image of Jupiter from NASA’s Juno probe.

NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid explorer conducted a close flyby of Earth to set up its orbital transit out to the asteroid belt, where it should reach its target next year.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

SpaceX’s CEO Elon Must tweeted this fun video compilation of the companies many rocket failures over the past few years. You can tell they are learning a lot of lessons that have led to their recent successes.

Meanwhile, their Dragon capsule which has been docked to the International Space Station for about a month will be returning to Earth Sunday.

In Orbit

Two rocket launches since my last post, both from Baikonaur Kazakhstan:

First, a Russian Proton rocket launched a Latin American communications satellite.

Then a Soyuz rocket carried three crew members to the International Space Station: Alexander Misurkin, Mark Vande Hei, and Joe Acaba. They joined their Expedition 53 crewmates early last week to make a full crew of 6 onboard.

Around the Solar System

The incomparable Cassini probe ended its mission this past Friday with a planned suicide dive into the clouds of Saturn. The probe was launched in 1997 and was one of the most successful planetary missions of all time, but it had finally run out of fuel. This Ars Technica article has a brief photo gallery of Cassini’s greatest hits.

One of Cassini’s last acts was a flyby of the moon Titan. Here are some pictures.

And here’s a gallery of photos from mission control at JPL during Cassini’s last day.

Or if you prefer silly things, here is actor Robert Picardo singing an opera parody about Cassini:

Weekly Links

I’m back from my own personal August recess and catching up on almost a month of space news. Here’s your headline dump for August 14 to September 9! A lot has happened

Down to Earth

The Trump Administration has named Oklahoma Congressman Jim Bridenstine as their nominee for NASA administrator.

The Chinese and European astronauts conducted a joint survival training exercise off the coast of China.

Sierra Nevada Corporation conducted a “captive carry” flight of their Dream Chaser spaceplane.

Last week an ESA Ariane 5 rocket had a pad abort. The agency is still investigating.

In Orbit

The Dragon capsule launched two days earlier docked with the ISS on August 16th.

The day after the cargo. arrival, cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy conducted a successful spacewalk to do space station maintenance as well as some small satellites deployments.

Then on September 3rd a Soyuz returned to Earth, safely carrying Jack Fischer, Peggy Whitson, and Fyodor Yurchikhin to the steppes of Kazakhstan. Both Yurchikhin and Whitson now have accumulated over 600 days in space.

Meanwhile on the ground, a dedicated team of flight controllers was riding out Hurricane Harvey in Houston’s Mission Control Center to ensure the successful undocking and return of the crew.

Speaking of hurricanes, the ISS crew has taken some incredible imagery of Irma has it makes its way across the Caribbean and now Florida.

Lots of launches while I was out. Here’s a worldwide rundown:

Around the Solar System

Congratulations to the engineers and scientists on the New Horizons project; the International Astronomical Union has selected many of their original choices for features on Pluto as official names!

Good news for Mars enthusiasts: there is new talk at NASA of planning a robotic Mars sample return mission for the middle of the 2020s.