Engineers participate in testing to evaluate procedures to recover crews from Orion after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on future missions. The training took place at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Caption and Credit: NASA
After spending a long period of time traveling in the vacuum of space, astronauts returning to Earth will enter the Earth’s atmosphere at over 20,000 mph and splashdown in the middle of the ocean. Their mission will not be deemed successful, however, until they safely make it back to land, and astronauts at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston recently spent three days practicing safe exit strategies for their return from deep space in the Orion spacecraft.
Continue reading Astronauts Practice Orion Crew Recovery as Aerojet Completes Major Subsystems Review for EM-1 Spacecraft
A ULA Atlas-v rocket thunders skyward from Cape Canaveral AFS with a top-secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office on April 10 2014. Mission NROL-67. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace
With the dust having barely settled on the East Coast, following the Oct. 2 pre-dawn liftoff of its 100th mission—carrying Mexico’s Morelos-3 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, Fla., United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully flew its second Atlas-V booster in less than a week, as the classified NROL-55 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office successfully rocketed out of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on Thursday, 8 October. This launch represented the seventh Atlas V mission of the year, with yet another expected to deliver the Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF-11 satellite into orbit on 30 October. It marked the first occasion that as many as three Atlas Vs have flown within a single month.
As ULA heads into the dawn of its 10th year of operations, it can also look ahead to a full slate of U.S. Government and NASA payloads aboard its fleet of Atlas V, Delta IV, and Delta II vehicles, together with a critical new role as a Commercial Crew launch provider for Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft from 2017 onward and the new Vulcan booster, which is tracking a maiden voyage in 2019.
Continue reading First Hundred, Next Hundred: ULA Celebrates Centenary, Readies for Challenges Ahead
Mounted atop its IUS and PAM-S boosters, Ulysses departs Earth at the start of its odyssey to explore the Sun. Image Credit: NASA
Dick Richards enjoyed a sound night’s sleep on 5 October 1990. In the astronaut crew quarters at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, he was only hours away from commanding his first shuttle mission—having previously served as Pilot on STS-28, a classified Department of Defense flight a year earlier, which had returned to Earth with a blob of hypersonic gunge on his window—and bring to an end a lengthy series of delays which impacted two of NASA’s fleet of three orbiters. Before bedding down for what he expected to be his final night on Earth, before launching on Discovery on STS-41, Richards had specifically asked to be awakened if any issues should arise. None did, and 6 October dawned fine over the marshy landscape. During the four days of STS-41, which took place 25 years ago, this week, Richards and his four crewmates successfully launched the shuttle’s fastest-ever Earth-departing payload: the joint U.S./European Ulysses spacecraft, bound for no fewer than three exploratory voyages over the Sun’s north and south poles.
Continue reading ‘On its Way’: 25 Years Since STS-41 Sent Ulysses to the Sun (Part 2)
As part of its research and development efforts on in-situ resource utilisation, NASA has recently announced the In-Situ Materials Challenge which seeks proposals from the public on converting in-situ extraterrestrial materials into structural elements that would be useful for human deep space missions. Image Credit: NASA
In the much-advertised Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster movie ‘The Martian’ which is already taking viewers by storm one week after its theatrical release, a stranded NASA astronaut on Mars struggles to survive alone on the Red Planet while using local resources to stay alive. In ways this fictional portrayal of in-situ resource utilisation on another planet is in the realm of possibility for the future in real life, and NASA is actively working on ways to turn this highly promising concept from vision to reality.
To that end, the US space agency has recently issued a request for proposals for its In-Situ Materials Challenge, inviting the public to submit designs for systems that could construct structural elements from materials that are native on the Moon, Mars and other extraterrestrial destinations.
Continue reading NASA Seeks Public’s Help Designing Ways for Astronauts to Live off the Land on Mars
Ulysses drifts serenely above Earth in the moments after deployment on 6 October 1990, 25 years ago, this week. Shortly after this image was taken, the attached Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) and Payload Assist Module (PAM)-S boosters would propel the craft faster than any previous man-made object out of Earth’s gravitational clutches. Photo Credit: NASA
A quarter-century ago, this week, in October 1990, the crew of STS-41—Commander Dick Richards, Pilot Bob Cabana, and Mission Specialists Bruce Melnick, Bill Shepherd, and Tom Akers—successfully launched the shuttle’s fastest-ever Earth-departing payload, the joint U.S./European Ulysses spacecraft, bound for an extended period of exploration of the Sun’s poles. Over the following 19 years, until the end of its life in June 2009, Ulysses would successfully perform passages over the north and south poles of the Sun on no fewer than three occasions, as well as serendipitously passing through the coma tails of three comets and repeatedly observing Jupiter from afar. As for Discovery’s crew on STS-41, their mission came after six frustrating months of delay, following a series of hydrogen leaks, involving her sister shuttles Columbia and Atlantis.
Continue reading Many Twists and Turns: 25 Years Since STS-41 Sent Ulysses to the Sun (Part 1)
Sedimentary strata at the base of Mount Sharp as seen at the Kimberly location. The strata in the foreground dip toward Mount Sharp, providing evidence of the former lake-filled depression that used to exist before most of the mountain formed. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Last week there was the exciting news that Mars still has flows of briny water occurring now, and this week there is more water-related news: additional findings from the Curiosity rover that the huge Gale crater was once a lake or series of lakes a long time ago. Curiosity had already found evidence that there used to be shallow lakes and streams in this area, but the new data confirms this and suggests that the lake(s) once filled Gale crater and were long-lasting, explaining the formation of Mount Sharp in the middle of the crater and also providing a potentially habitable environment for life.
Continue reading Curiosity Rover Confirms Ancient Lake(s) in Gale Crater on Mars
Virgin Galactic’s CEO, George Whitesides, in front of the second SpaceShipTwo as he congratulates the team in Mojave after completing another important milestone in the process of assembling and integrating the second SpaceShipTwo – Weight on Wheels. Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo, a reusable suborbital “spaceplane” for flying tourists and other paying customers to the edge of space and back, is coming together in Mojave, Calif. The major build of the spaceship itself, which is being led by The Spaceship Company, a subsidiary of Virgin Galactic, is expected to be complete “soon, within months,” according to Virgin Galactic’s CEO George Whitesides, speaking at the 2015 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) this week in Las Cruces, N.M.
“We’re now working to integrate all the systems into the vehicle: the plumbing, the electrical, the pneumatics and other systems,” said Whitesides, stressing that Virgin Galactic is working toward internal schedules but not willing to commit publicly to a firm Return-to-Flight (RTF) test date just yet.
Continue reading Virgin Galactic’s New SpaceshipTwo Nearing Completion as Return to Flight Tests Push to 2016
Hubble and VLT images of the “ripples” within the debris disk surrounding the young star AU Microscopii. Image Credit: ESO/NASA/ESA
Planetary debris disks, or protoplanetary disks, are some of the most interesting phenomena in astronomy – these giant clouds of dust and gas surrounding young stars are the birthplaces of new planets. Now, astronomers studying one of these disks have found structures never seen before, giant “ripples” which are arch-like or wave-like in appearance.
Continue reading Unusual Fast-Moving ‘Ripples’ Discovered in Planetary Debris Disk Surrounding Nearby Star
The blue skies of Pluto, as seen in this image from New Horizons. Pluto is backlit by the Sun, revealing the multilayered hazes in the atmosphere. Soot-like particles in the atmosphere scatter sunlight in a way that the atmosphere appears blue, similar to what happens on Earth. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
As new images and data continue to be sent back from the New Horizons spacecraft, scientists have quickly learned that Pluto is a world full of surprises. Today, the mission team revealed that Pluto indeed is a weirdly colorful place – the latest images show blue skies and red water ice. Almost like home, although not quite.
Continue reading A Colorful World: New Images of Pluto Show Blue Skies and Red Water Ice
Engineers in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, recently tested the mechanisms that will connect future commercial crew spacecraft with the second International Docking Adapter. IDA-2, as it’s called, will be taken to the space station on a future cargo resupply mission. It will be one of two connection points for commercial crew spacecraft visiting the orbiting laboratory. The systems and targets for IDA-2 are set to be put through extensive tests with both Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon before the adapter is loaded for launch.
Caption and Credit: NASA/Charles Babir
A manned American spacecraft has not docked with the International Space Station (ISS) in over four years, but that is bound to change. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon are the future spacecraft that will transport NASA astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit (LEO). These private companies are busy developing their spacecraft for future manned missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program; meanwhile, engineers are testing the unit responsible for connecting the next generation spacecraft to the orbiting laboratory. Once installed, the International Docking Adapter (IDA) will serve as an entryway to a new future in America’s space program aboard the ISS, and there will be two of these adapters on the ISS to dock visiting spacecraft.
Continue reading Space Station International Docking Adapter Undergoes Tests for Starliner and Crew Dragon