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27 Aug 14 4:50:00 GMT
27 Aug 14 0:50:00 EDT

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Claude Nicollier, First Swiss Astronaut and Europe's First Shuttle Spacewalker, Turns 70 Today

Despite being Switzerland's first spacewalker, Claude Nicollier wore a U.S. flag (as opposed to the Swiss flag) on the arm of his space suit during his EVA to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in December 1999. Photo Credit: NASA

Despite being Switzerland’s first spacewalker, Claude Nicollier wore a U.S. flag (as opposed to the Swiss flag) on the arm of his space suit during his EVA to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in December 1999. Photo Credit: NASA

Claude Nicollier—who became Switzerland’s first and so far only space traveler, the first non-U.S. shuttle mission specialist, the first European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut to perform a spacewalk from the shuttle, and the first non-American and non-Russian to participate in as many as four discrete spaceflights—celebrates his 70th birthday today (Tuesday, 2 September). During the course of a remarkable career, which began in December 1977, Nicollier served as a member of two Hubble Space Telescope (HST) servicing crews, including the first, and aboard both Tethered Satellite System (TSS) flights. In his subsequent professional life, Nicollier worked in the astronaut office’s EVA Branch and was Lead ESA astronaut at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, before his retirement in 2007.

Continue reading Claude Nicollier, First Swiss Astronaut and Europe’s First Shuttle Spacewalker, Turns 70 Today

NASA's Van Allen Probes Going Strong After Two Years of Studying Earth's Radiation Belts

NASA's Van Allen Probes orbit through two giant radiation belts surrounding Earth. Recently, the probes discovered a third radiation belt. Their observations help explain how particles in the belts can be sped up to nearly the speed of light. Image Caption and Credit: NASA

NASA’s Van Allen Probes orbit through two giant radiation belts surrounding Earth. In the time since launching two years ago, the probes have discovered a third radiation belt, and other observations have helped explain how particles in the belts can be sped up to nearly the speed of light.
Image Caption and Credit: NASA

It’s been two years now since NASA launched their twin Van Allen probes to explore the mysteries of Earth’s hazardous radiation belts and study the Sun’s influence on space weather phenomenon in Earth’s near-space environment. In the time since, the mission has been declared an overwhelming success, making numerous discoveries and answering many questions that have baffled scientists for decades. Now, with the mission surpassing its two-year expected time frame, both spacecraft are still going strong and are expected to continue delivering more ground-breaking science for years to come.

Continue reading NASA’s Van Allen Probes Going Strong After Two Years of Studying Earth’s Radiation Belts

Living On the Edge: Life Under the Ice (Part 1)

After drilling through the 800-meter-thick ice sheet that covers subglacial lake Whillans in western Antarctica, a US research team discovered a thriving microbial ecosystem on the lake floor that hasn't been reached by sunlight possibly for up to a million years. The image shows the view down the bore hole as the drill melted its way through the ice. Image Credit: Reed Scherer/Northern Illinois University

After drilling through the 800-meter-thick ice sheet that covers subglacial Lake Whillans in western Antarctica, a U.S. research team discovered a thriving microbial ecosystem on the lake floor that hasn’t been reached by sunlight possibly for up to a million years. The image shows the view down the bore hole as the drill melted its way through the ice. Image Credit: Reed Scherer/Northern Illinois University

Is there life elsewhere in the Universe? Attempts at answering that age-old question have been increasingly linked in recent years with the continuing discoveries of ecosystems in places on Earth that were previously thought of as overtly inhospitable to any forms of life. The growing realisation during the last few decades that a new category of microorganisms, called extremophiles, thrive in environments that would be detrimental to any other life forms on Earth has led to a paradigm shift in our view of life, forcing us to reconsider the definition of habitable environments on Earth as well as in other places in the Universe. A new fascinating study, published earlier this month detailing the surprising discovery of a whole new microbial ecosystem in the waters and sediments of the subglacial Lake Whillans in Antarctica, further showcases the tenacity of life on Earth, while offering valuable insights into the possibility of life on other similar environments in the outer Solar System, like the ice-covered oceans that are thought to exist on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Continue reading Living On the Edge: Life Under the Ice (Part 1)

Dream Chaser’s SUV-Like Flexibility and Runway Landing Offer Competitive Advantages: One-on-One Interview With SNC VP Mark Sirangelo (Part 5)

Astronaut crew exits commercial Dream Chaser after touchdown at Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) or other commercial runways,  on return from ISS mission in this artists concept. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)

Astronaut crew exits commercial Dream Chaser after touchdown at Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) or other commercial runways, on return from ISS mission in this artist’s concept. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)
Story updated

The winged Dream Chaser’s “SUV-like” flexibility to act as both a crew transporter and “specialized research laboratory,” combined with a global “runway landing capability,” offer significant competitive advantages in terms of science and safety in the “new space race” to quickly develop a cost-effective “space taxi” for NASA, Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems, told AmericaSpace in concluding Part 5 of our exclusive, one-on-one interview series.

Continue reading Dream Chaser’s SUV-Like Flexibility and Runway Landing Offer Competitive Advantages: One-on-One Interview With SNC VP Mark Sirangelo (Part 5)

'Icebusters': 30 Years Since the Maiden Voyage of Shuttle Discovery (Part 2)

Discovery powers towards orbit on the morning of 30 August 1984, 30 years ago today. Photo Credit: NASA

Discovery powers toward orbit on the morning of 30 August 1984, 30 years ago today. Photo Credit: NASA

Thirty years ago, this week, the Shuttle Discovery—which would become, in time, the most-flown member of NASA’s fleet of orbiters—embarked on her maiden space voyage, launching from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on 30 August 1984. Aboard Discovery were Commander Hank Hartsfield, Pilot Mike Coats, Mission Specialists Mike Mullane, Steve Hawley, and Judy Resnik, and Payload Specialist Charlie Walker. During their six days in space, they became the first shuttle crew to deploy as many as three commercial satellites, they extended an experimental solar array “wing,” and they became forever known to history as “The Icebusters.” However, as described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, the 41D mission had already experienced more than its fair share of excitement, before Discovery even departed the launch pad.

Continue reading ‘Icebusters’: 30 Years Since the Maiden Voyage of Shuttle Discovery (Part 2)

'You'd Be Booked Up': 30 Years Since the Maiden Voyage of Shuttle Discovery (Part 1)

Hank Hartsfield (bottom center), surrounded by his STS-41D crewmates on the maiden voyage of Discovery in August 1984. Photo Credit: NASA

Hank Hartsfield (bottom center), surrounded by his STS-41D crewmates on the maiden voyage of Discovery in August 1984. Photo Credit: NASA

Thirty years ago, today (30 August 1984), the Shuttle Discovery—which would become, in time, the most-flown member of NASA’s fleet of orbiters—embarked on her maiden space voyage, launching from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Aboard Discovery were Commander Hank Hartsfield, Pilot Mike Coats, Mission Specialists Mike Mullane, Steve Hawley, and Judy Resnik, and Payload Specialist Charlie Walker. During their six days in space, they became the first shuttle crew to deploy as many as three commercial satellites, they extended an experimental solar array “wing,” and they became forever known to history as “The Icebusters.” However, as described in a previous AmericaSpace history article, the 41D mission had already experienced more than its fair share of excitement, before Discovery even departed the launch pad.

Continue reading ‘You’d Be Booked Up’: 30 Years Since the Maiden Voyage of Shuttle Discovery (Part 1)

For Jack Swigert, On His 83rd Birthday

John L. "Jack" Swigert, pictured in a 1971 NASA photo. Photo Credit: NASA

John L. “Jack” Swigert, pictured in a 1971 NASA photo. Photo Credit: NASA

In 2011, waiting for STS-133 to launch on a sunny February afternoon in Titusville, Fla., an out-of-town visitor inquired about Apollo astronauts while talking to a former Cape worker in the proximity of the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum, formerly located on the city’s Main Street. She brings up the name “Jack Swigert,” and an embarrassed giggle erupts from the elderly gentleman. “Well, some of those boys were wilder than others,” the man says, smiling broadly and shaking his head, undoubtedly remembering the long-dead astronaut’s adventures in bachelorhood.

Continue reading For Jack Swigert, On His 83rd Birthday

Astronomers Witness Asteroid Smash-Up Around Sun-Like Star

Artist's conception of an asteroid collision around the Sun-like star NGC 2547-ID8. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s conception of an asteroid collision around the Sun-like star NGC 2547-ID8. Such impacts around young stars lead to planetary formation later on. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Solar systems, including ours, are thought to begin as massive clouds of dust and gas surrounding young stars; over billions of years, planets form from repeated impacts of rocky debris. Asteroids and comets are left-over chunks of debris from that process which didn’t coalesce together. Such debris clouds, or protoplanetary disks, have been found around many young stars. These are solar systems still in their infancy. Now, astronomers have been able to observe the actual collision between two large rocky bodies, most likely asteroids, in a protoplanetary disk surrounding a young, Sun-like star 1,200 light-years away.

Continue reading Astronomers Witness Asteroid Smash-Up Around Sun-Like Star

Global Partnerships Pave Path Forward for Private International Dream Chaser for Multiple Purposes: One-on-One Interview With SNC VP Mark Sirangelo (Part 4)

Global partnerships could one day lead to European or Japanese versions of the Dream Chaser docking at the ISS in this artists concept.  Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)

Global partnerships could one day lead to European or Japanese versions of the Dream Chaser docking at the ISS in this artist’s concept. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)

By amassing “global partnerships with 21 space agencies,” the private Dream Chaser space plane has a solid foundation and “a path to continue” forward, Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems, told AmericaSpace in Part 4 of our exclusive, one-on-one interview about the company’s efforts to build a cost-effective and potentially international version of their “astronaut taxi” to the International Space Station (ISS), as well as multiple exciting missions beyond!

Continue reading Global Partnerships Pave Path Forward for Private International Dream Chaser for Multiple Purposes: One-on-One Interview With SNC VP Mark Sirangelo (Part 4)

Endearing and Enthusiastic: 30 Years Since NASA's Teacher in Space Project

Mission 51L Commander Dick Scobee talks to schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe about the instrumentation of the shuttle's flight deck during pre-launch training. Photo Credit: NASA

Mission 51L Commander Dick Scobee talks to schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe about the instrumentation of the shuttle’s flight deck during pre-launch training. Photo Credit: NASA

Thirty years ago, yesterday, on 27 August 1984, one of the most momentous—and, as circumstances would transpire, also tragic—events in space history unfolded, when President Ronald Reagan announced the Teacher in Space Project (TISP) and directed NASA to find a gifted educator with the ability to communicate his or her enthusiasm to ground-based students from the orbiting shuttle. Over the course of the following months, more than 11,000 U.S. teachers applied and were assessed, culminating in July 1985 with the selection of Christa McAuliffe, a social studies educator from Concord, N.H. Her fateful launch aboard Challenger on Mission 51L on 28 January 1986 brought the shuttle program to its knees, but the spirit of McAuliffe’s unrealized voyage endured and finally came to pass in August 2007, when her backup, Barbara Morgan, flew as a fully-fledged mission specialist on STS-118.

Continue reading Endearing and Enthusiastic: 30 Years Since NASA’s Teacher in Space Project