News Article | March 3, 2016
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly successfully returned to Earth on Tuesday after spending 340 days in space onboard the International Space Station (ISS). He is now set to take part in several studies that will help researchers find out more about the potential of man for long-term space travel. Kelly, along with Russian cosmonauts and fellow ISS crew members Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov, boarded a Soyuz TMA-18M space capsule for the trip back to the planet. They were able to make a touchdown near a remote town called Zhezkazgan in the Kazakhstan steppes on Tuesday at 11:26 p.m. Eastern. According to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, Kelly's year-long stay on the ISS has helped advance their research on deep space exploration as well as in their preparation for the planned journey to Mars. By becoming the first NASA astronaut to spend a year in space, Bolden said Kelly has helped their efforts make a giant leap toward sending people to the Red Planet. Kelly is now on his way back to the United States from Kazakhstan. He is expected to arrive in Houston on Thursday at 12:55 a.m. Eastern based on his current travel plan. He will be welcomed home by Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. John P. Holdren, senior presidential adviser for science and technology, NASA chief Bolden and Mark Kelly, his twin brother and fellow NASA astronaut. Kelly will discuss his space mission as well as address questions from members of the press on Friday afternoon. Kelly began his long career in the United States Armed Forces when he received a commission after graduating from the State University of New York Maritime College in 1987. After serving as a Naval Aviator at the Naval Air Station Chase Field in Texas, he was later stationed at the Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia where he learned how to pilot an F-14 fighter jet. During his time in the U.S. Navy, he was able to record more than 8,000 flight-hours piloting 40 different aircraft and to take part in the first use of a new digital control system to fly an F-14. In 1996, NASA chose astronaut Kelly to participate in its space program and assigned him to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston in order to receive training. After participating in three spaceflights and recording more than 180 days in space, he served as a pilot on the STS-103 servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1999 and as the Mission Commander on the STS-118 mission aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour to the ISS in 2007. Kelly was also a part of several missions to the orbital facility including ISS Expedition 5, ISS Expedition 25 and ISS Expedition 26. In 2012, Kelly was selected by the American space agency to be its representative for the year-long mission to the ISS. He was joined by Kornienko who represented the Russian Federal Space Agency. The program was developed by NASA in cooperation with Roscosmos and other international partners. Its goal was to help advance research on the impact of spaceflight on human health. Kelly and Kornienko performed several experiments while onboard the ISS to find out how the human body is able to react and adapt to the environment in space. The findings from these studies will be used to develop new measures that will lessen the various risks often associated with spaceflight. Kelly's identical twin brother, Mark, will also be assessed to serve as the ground control subject for NASA's study on the genetic impact of spaceflight. NASA hopes it will be able to use data from Kelly and Kornienko's year-long stay on the ISS to make necessary preparations for the space agency's planned manned mission to Mars.
The first phase of the ExoMars mission, a joint project between the European Space Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency designed to search for alien life on Mars, kicked off Monday morning. A robotic probe launched from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:31 GMT, according to The Guardian. The vessel will circle Mars in hopes of discovering the origin of methane gas that has been found on the planet. Sensors built into the spacecraft will help scientists scan for complex hydrocarbons or sulfur dioxide to determine if the methane comes from inorganic or organic sources like potential alien microbes. The rocket is said to reach Mars in seven months. A six-wheeled rover is scheduled for launch in 2018.
Michel Denis, ExoMars flight director at the European Space Operations, Center in Darmstadt, Germany, said that the two craft were many kilometers apart at the time of the breakup, so the explosion wouldn't have posed a risk. Still, the mission team won't be 100% certain until all the science instruments are completely checked over in the coming weeks. All went well during the takeoff and final separation of the probe, but then something odd happened. Breeze-M was supposed to separate cleanly into two pieces—the main body and a detachable fuel tank—and maneuver itself to a graveyard or "junk" orbit, where rockets and spacecraft are placed at the end of their useful lives, so they don't cause trouble with operational satellites. But instead of two pieces, tracking photos taken at the OASI Observatory in Brazil not long after the stage and probe separated show a cloud of debris, suggesting an explosion occurred that shattered the booster to pieces. It wouldn't be the first time a Russian Breeze-M blew up. According to Russian space observer Anatoly Zak in a recent article in Popular Mechanics, a Breeze-M that delivered a Russian spy satellite into orbit last December exploded on January 16. Propellant in one of its fuel tanks may not have been properly vented into space; heated by the sun, the tank's contents likely combusted and ripped the stage apart. A similar incident occurred in October 2012. For now, we'll embrace the good news that the spacecraft, which houses the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Schiaparelli lander, are underway to Mars and in good health. ExoMars is a joint venture between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). One of the mission's key goals is to follow up on the methane detection made by ESA's Mars Express probe in 2004 to understand where the gas comes from. Mars' atmosphere is 95% carbon dioxide with the remaining 5% divided among nitrogen, argon, oxygen and others including small amounts of methane, a gas that on Earth is produced largely by living creatures. Scientists want to know how martian methane got into the atmosphere. Was it produced by biology or geology? Methane, unless it is continuously produced by a source, only survives in the Martian atmosphere for a few hundreds of years because it quickly breaks down to form water and carbon dioxide. Something is refilling the atmosphere with methane but what? TGO will also look at potential sources of other trace gases such as volcanoes and map the planet's surface. It can also detect buried water-ice deposits, which, along with locations identified as sources of the trace gases, could influence the choice of landing sites of future missions. The orbiter will also act as a data relay for the second ExoMars mission—a rover and stationary surface science platform scheduled for launch in May 2018 and arriving in early 2019. On October 16, when the spacecraft is still 559,000 miles (900,000 kilometers) from the Red Planet, the Schiaparelli lander will separate from the orbiter and three days later parachute down to the Martian surface. The orbiter will take measurements of the planet's atmosphere (including methane) as well as any atmospheric electrical fields. Mars is a popular place. There are currently five active orbiters there: two European (Mars Express and Mars Odyssey), two American (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MAVEN), one Indian (Mars Orbiter Mission) and two rovers (Opportunity and Curiosity) with another lander and orbiter en route!
News Article | January 26, 2015
Boeing and SpaceX have completed initial milestones as the two companies work toward providing NASA with the first new American crew transport vehicles in decades. Today, in a live event at Johnson Space Center in Houston that was broadcast online, NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX provided the first new information about the Commercial Crew Program since the space agency chose the two companies as the providers of future crew vehicles. The upshot: Boeing has made major progress towards the design of its program’s ground control technology, while SpaceX has built most of a system for aborting launches while still on the pad. In addition, NASA estimates that the per-seat cost of an American manned mission to the International Space Station is likely to come in at around $58 million, and that when the development is completed, the space agency will have invested about $5 billion towards ending America’s reliance on Russian transportation. “I don’t ever want to have to write another check to Ruscosmos,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden said today, speaking of the Russian Federal Space Agency. In September, NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX as the two contractors to build America’s next crew transportation vehicle, a package that includes spacecrafts, rockets, and more. The so-called space taxis — Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft — will carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), allowing the United States to cease contracting with the Russians for all crew transport missions into space. The plan is for NASA to begin making manned trips to the ISS using these spacecraft by 2017. The contracts left a third company that had bid to be involved in the space taxi program, Sierra Nevada, out of luck. Earlier this month, the U.S. government denied a protest by Sierra Nevada that the space taxi bidding process had been unfair. Until now, said Kathy Lueders, the manager of the Commercial Crew Program, NASA has been unable to issue much in the way of updates on the efforts due to the protest. But with that out of the way, the space agency, and its partners, can now begin to move forward, she said. During today’s event, Boeing Space Exploration vice president and general manager John Elbon said Boeing has completed the critical design review of the ground segment of its CST-100 program. That includes the mission operations systems, the control center, and the training systems — including the trainers, simulators, and ground software used to plan, train, and fly the crew, he said. In addition, Boeing has begun construction on the crew access tower for the Atlas V rocket, which the company will use to launch the CST-100 into space. Boeing has also begun the remodeling and modernization of the manufacturing facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida where the hardware that will form the test CST-100 will be built and delivered later this year. He also said Boeing plans on delivering the flight software later this summer, as well as a simulator running it, and that 26 of the 34 flight displays will be included, allowing the crews to interface with the system. Elbon said Boeing will undergo a “critical design review” in March that, if everything goes well, will allow the company to move forward with manufacturing the CST-100. For its part, SpaceX has completed a certification baseline review, said Gwynne Shotwell, the company’s president and COO. SpaceX has also largely completed a build of a pad abort vehicle, Shotwell said, and will conduct a pad abort test in the next month or so. The company anticipates sending an uncrewed mission to the Space Station in late 2016, and the first manned Dragon mission “shortly” thereafter, in 2017, she said. SpaceX plans on making more than 50 flights of the Falcon 9 — the rocket that will transport the Dragon capsule — before ultimately carrying the first crew, Shotwell said. She also said that although SpaceX ultimately wants to be do propulsive landings of the Dragon, the company will be certifying water landings first. Although Boeing and SpaceX are both providing NASA commercial crew transport services, the space agency is expected to send the CST-100 to the Space Station prior to the Dragon, said Lueders. That’s because of the differences in lead times of the two programs and the time required to ready the services. Ultimately, while the initial goals of the commercial crew transport program is to take astronauts to the ISS on American-made and owned vehicles, the long game is Mars. Everything the program is working on, said Bolden, the NASA administrator, is about getting us to Mars. And while people have said for years that getting to Mars is 20 years in the future, Bolden said that for the first time, he believes that timeframe is no longer true. Thanks to progress being done on America’s commercial crew transport program, Bolden said, “I think we’re on the verge of breaking the 20-year mark.”
News Article | March 16, 2015
This photo of Cosmonaut Elena Serova taken by NASA's Bill Ingalls on March 12th 2015 is a wonderful example of the so called Accidental Renaissance. What is Accidental Renaissance? When a press photograph's remarkably well composed by using the Golden Ratio, and the figures, the poses and the lights are so beautiful, that the whole photo is feel like a classical painting. The photo above shows Expedition 42 Cosmonaut Elena Serova of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) being carried into the terrain vehicle (ATV), shortly after she and NASA Astronaut Barry Wilmore of NASA and Alexander Samokutyaev of Roscosmos landed in their Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. Serova and her colleagues returned after almost six months aboard the International Space Station. Serova, covered in that heavy blue blanket, definitely looks like Saint Mary, who's often depicted as a beautiful young woman wearing a similar blue robe and head-kerchief. The five men carrying the tired and weak cosmonaut are placed along the Fibonacci-spiral almost perfectly, while Serova herself is placed on the first cut, with her resting hands in the middle of the Golden section. A space age masterpiece it is. Sorry, couldn't resist.