'Easier to Destroy Than Create': 15 Years Since STS-105 (Part 2)

STS-105 Mission Specialist Dan Barry translates along the U.S. Destiny lab during one of the flight's two EVAs. Photo Credit: NASA

STS-105 Mission Specialist Dan Barry translates along the U.S. Destiny lab during one of the flight’s two EVAs. Photo Credit: NASA

Fifteen years have now passed since Shuttle Discovery dropped off and picked up crew members at the International Space Station (ISS) and supported a pair of Extravehicular Activities (EVAs) to transition the multi-national outpost toward a state of full utilization. By August 2001, the U.S. “core” of the station—its Destiny lab, its Unity node, its Canadarm2 robotic arm, its Quest airlock, and its first gigantic set of power-producing solar arrays—were in place, thereby wrapping up “Phase II” of the ISS Program and enabling the science-focused Phase III to begin. With the arrival of Expedition 3 Commander Frank Culbertson of NASA and his Russian flights engineers Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin, science was to take center-stage, with the arrival of key research facilities aboard STS-105.

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Nearly There: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Being Readied for Sept. 8 Launch

An artist's rendering of OSIRIS-REx at asteroid 101955 Bennu. Image Credit: NASA

An artist’s rendering of OSIRIS-REx at asteroid 101955 Bennu. Image Credit: NASA

The last decade has proven to be watershed years for deep space exploration. While the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft proved a small lander could be set down upon a rocky comet, other missions including NASA’s Curiosity rover, Dawn, and New Horizons showed that humanity could explore both known and strange new foreign worlds. Most recently, the space agency’s Juno spacecraft entered Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, and is set to return data and images illuminating the origins of our Solar System.

Continuing the past few years’ breakthroughs, the third spacecraft in NASA’s New Frontiers Program (behind New Horizons and Juno), called the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (better known as OSIRIS-REx), is less than two weeks from its scheduled launch date. The spacecraft and launch vehicle both continue to be readied as NASA gears up for yet another pioneering deep space mission. This mission will serve to be NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission in its history.

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'To Train a Mission': 15 Years Since STS-105 (Part 1)

Fifteen years have now passed since STS-105 exchanged crews and supplies at the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: NASA

Fifteen years have now passed since STS-105 exchanged crews and supplies at the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: NASA

Fifteen years ago, this month, 10 astronauts and cosmonauts from the United States and Russia celebrated 1,000 days of orbital operations for the International Space Station (ISS). In August 2001, Shuttle Discovery’s STS-105 astronauts—Commander Scott “Doc” Horowitz, Pilot Rick “C.J.” Sturckow, and Mission Specialists Pat Forrester and Dan Barry—delivered the third resident crew to the fledgling outpost, supported a pair of critical EVAs, and returned to Earth with its outgoing second crew. Additionally, STS-105 transported over 7,000 pounds (4,000 kg) of equipment and supplies to the space station, aboard the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM).

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Can We Send a Probe to Proxima Centauri? Yes, But it May Get Banged Up on the Way There

Artist's conception of a Starshot spacecraft, a tiny circuit board-like wafer attached to a solar sail. Image Credit: breakthroughinitiatives.org

Artist’s conception of a Breakthrough Starshot spacecraft, a tiny circuit board-like “wafer” attached to a lightsail. Image Credit: Breakthrough Initiatives

Now that we know the closest star system to us has at least one planet, an Earth-mass and potentially habitable one at that, there is one big question a lot of people are asking: Can we go there? Could we send a probe to Proxima Centauri? The answer is … maybe. There have long been ideas and plans for such a mission, but now that at least one planet has been verified there, interest is at an all-time high. It’s doable, but not necessarily easy.

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Pale Red Dot: Astronomers Discover Potentially Habitable Exoplanet Orbiting Nearest Star

Artist's conception of what Proxima b might look like. It is just slightly more massive than Earth and orbits in its star's habitable zone. Temperatures might allow liquid water to exist on its surface. A potentially habitable world, it is also now the closest known exoplanet. Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Artist’s conception of what Proxima b might look like. It is just slightly more massive than Earth and orbits in its star’s habitable zone. Temperatures might allow liquid water to exist on its surface. A potentially habitable world, it is also now the closest known exoplanet. Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Astronomers today announced one of the most exciting exoplanet discoveries yet: an Earth-mass rocky world orbiting the nearest star to the Sun, Proxima Centauri. There had been hints before of such a world, but nothing was confirmed, until now. The planet, called Proxima b, is not only just slightly more massive than Earth, it orbits within the star’s “habitable zone.” The estimated temperatures of the planet could allow liquid water to exist on its surface. Not only is this planet potentially habitable, depending on other factors, it is also now the closest known exoplanet.

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NASA's Europa Mission Facing Possible Budget Cuts in 2017

Artist's conception of the Europa Clipper spacecraft near Europa. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s conception of the Europa Clipper spacecraft near Europa. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

For a long time now, there has been growing interest in sending a mission back to Jupiter to better study one moon in particular: Europa. Previous missions such as Voyager and Galileo showed us this world up close for the first time, revealing a place that maybe, just maybe, is home to some kind of life. On the outside, Europa is cold and frozen, like an airless version of Antarctica, with its surface completely composed of ice. But deeper down, as those probes found, there is a global ocean of water deeper than any oceans on Earth. In more recent years and months, a new NASA mission to Europa has finally started to take shape, with a launch tentatively scheduled for 2022. As often happens, however, the mission is facing possible budget cuts in 2017.

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Record-Breaker Jeff Williams to Become America's Most Experienced Astronaut Tomorrow

In the wee hours of tomorrow morning (Wednesday), Jeff Williams will become the United States' most flight-experienced astronaut. Photo Credit: NASA

In the wee hours of tomorrow morning (Wednesday), Jeff Williams will become the United States’ most flight-experienced astronaut. Photo Credit: NASA

At 4:56 a.m. EDT tomorrow (Wednesday, 24 August), NASA astronaut Jeff Williams—the incumbent skipper of Expedition 48, aboard the International Space Station (ISS)—will officially become the United States’ most seasoned spacefarer. He will eclipse the previous record-holder, Scott Kelly, as he passes a cumulative total of 520 days, 10 hours, and 30 minutes in space, across four flights. Williams, who last week also became the United States’ oldest spacewalker, is scheduled to return to Earth late on 6 September, wrapping up a career total of 534 days in space. When placed into context, this elevates Williams from his current place as the United States’ second most-experienced astronaut into first place and on the “world list” from No. 19 to No. 14. Standing ahead of him are a cadre of Soviet and Russian cosmonauts, with 878-day veteran Gennadi Padalka topping the list.

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'An Even Better Friend': 45 Years Since the Apollo 17 Decision (Part 2)

Forty-five years ago, this month, the names of the final crew of lunar explorers of the 20th century were announced. Photo Credit: NASA

Forty-five years ago, this month, the names of the final crew of lunar explorers of the 20th century were announced. Photo Credit: NASA

Forty-five years ago, this month, NASA made the decision which would close out human exploration of the lunar surface for more than two generations: the selection of the final crew to journey to the Moon. As outlined in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, scathing budget cuts in the wake of Apollo 11—and finally realized after the Apollo 13 near-disaster—saw the final “H-series” and final “J-series” exploration missions deleted from the manifest. When the remaining missions were renumbered Apollos 15 through 17, this led to the two “lost” missions being popularly (but incorrectly) remembered as Apollos 18 and 19.

And the loss of Apollo 18 dealt a specific blow to the three men who might have formed its prime crew: the Apollo 15 backup crew of Commander Dick Gordon, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Vance Brand, and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Harrison “Jack” Schmitt. For Schmitt was the only geologist-astronaut in NASA’s corps at the time and NASA had found itself under intense pressure from the scientific community to fly him on one of the lunar landing missions. With Apollo 18 gone, the only way to do that was to place Schmitt onto the final planned flight, Apollo 17 … which spelled particularly ugly news for the LMP of that mission, Joe Engle.

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'I Didn't Feel Any Obligation': 45 Years Since the Apollo 17 Decision (Part 1)

As Project Apollo wore on, the intensity of lobbying by the scientific community to get geologist-astronaut Jack Schmitt to the Moon increased. Originally assigned to the Apollo 15 backup crew, Schmitt might have flown Apollo 18, prior to a sweeping cancelation of the final missions in the program. Photo Credit: NASA

As Project Apollo wore on, the intensity of lobbying by the scientific community to get geologist-astronaut Jack Schmitt to the Moon increased. Originally assigned to the Apollo 15 backup crew, Schmitt might have flown Apollo 18, prior to a sweeping cancelation of the final missions in the program. Photo Credit: NASA

For almost five decades, we humans have been forced to content ourselves with the knowledge that, despite living on a blue-white marble with seven billion other souls, a mere handful of our number—just 12—have traveled across the 240,000 miles (380,000 km) cislunar gulf to walk on the dusty surface of the Moon. From Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” to Buzz Aldrin’s “magnificent desolation” and from Pete Conrad’s “Whoopie” to Jack Schmitt singing about his stroll on the Moon, it is hard to imagine that almost a half-century has passed since human voices last crackled back to Earth from our closest celestial neighbor. And 45 years ago, this month, only days after the triumphant return of the Apollo 15 crew, the names of the last human explorers to visit the Moon for at least the next two human generations were announced to the world.

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Space Station Open for Commercial Crew, As EVA-36 Team Installs IDA-2

The International Docking Adapter (IDA)-2 was installed onto Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA)-2, at the forward end of the space station's Harmony node. Image Credit: NASA

The International Docking Adapter (IDA)-2 was installed onto Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA)-2, at the forward end of the space station’s Harmony node. Image Credit: NASA

More than sixty months since it last saw the arrival of a human-piloted vehicle, Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA)-2 at the extreme forward “end” of the International Space Station (ISS) has taken a step closer to soon accommodating another manned spacecraft. On Friday, 19 August, Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins—assisted from inside the station by their Japanese crewmate Takuya Onishi—installed the first of two Boeing-built International Docking Adapters (IDAs). These will provide primary and backup docking capabilities for NASA’s Commercial Crew partners, which should see SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner returning U.S. personnel to low-Earth orbit, aboard U.S.-built spacecraft, and from U.S. soil, for the first time since the end of the Space Shuttle era.

Williams and Rubins moved with impressive briskness through their tasks, working ahead of the timeline, and after the IDA-2 installation was completed they were assigned a number of “get-ahead” tasks. However, a slight loss of communications capability in Williams’ suit prompted Mission Control to call it a day and U.S. EVA-36 came to an end after five hours and 58 minutes.

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