Smallest ISS Crew of the Decade Discusses Upcoming Mission

"Like an old married couple" was Jack Fischer's description of the camaraderie between himself and Fyodor Yurchikhin. The pair will launch in March 2017 for a six-month expedition to the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: Michael Galindo/AmericaSpace

“Like an old married couple” was Jack Fischer’s description of the camaraderie between himself and Fyodor Yurchikhin. The pair will launch in March 2017 for a six-month expedition to the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: Michael Galindo/AmericaSpace

You might be forgiven for thinking that one chair was missing at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, on the afternoon of Wednesday, 30 November, for only two seats are reserved for the next crew of the International Space Station (ISS). As reported previously by AmericaSpace, Russia recently decided to reduce the number of cosmonauts aboard the station in 2017 from three to two; in part due to ongoing problems getting its long-delayed Nauka (“Science”) laboratory module ready for flight. Scheduled to launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 27 March aboard Soyuz MS-04, veteran Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and “rookie” NASA flyer Jack Fischer will aim to perform the first “fast rendezvous” of a piloted vehicle in over a year and their six-month expedition will mark them out as the smallest ISS crew of the decade so far.

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Gateway to the Ring-Grazing Orbits: Cassini Conducts New Flybys of Titan and Enceladus

Cassini conducted its next-to-last flyby of Saturn's moon Titan today, in preparation of the Ring-Grazing Orbits has of its mission. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cassini conducted its next-to-last flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan yesterday, in preparation of the Ring-Grazing Orbits has of its mission. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As reported earlier this week, the Cassini spacecraft is now preparing to make a series of very close passes by the edges of Saturn’s rings, known as Ring-Grazing Orbits. Yesterday, Cassini conducted a close flyby of Saturn’s largest moon Titan; this is the second-to-last ever flyby of Titan before Cassini enters the Grand Finale phase of its mission, culminating in a deliberate plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on Sept. 15, 2017. During this flyby, Cassini focused on mapping the surface and surface temperatures and used Titan’s gravity to help place the spacecraft into the Ring-Grazing Orbits.

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'Because I'm Scared to Death': 25 Years Since the Shortened Mission of STS-44 (Part 2)

Fred Gregory leads the STS-44 crew out of the Operations & Checkout (O&C) Building at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), 25 years ago, this week. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Fred Gregory leads the STS-44 crew out of the Operations & Checkout (O&C) Building at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), 25 years ago, this week. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Twenty-five years ago, this week, what should have been the third-longest space shuttle mission of its time—and the longest Department of Defense piloted spaceflight—got underway with a rousing night-time liftoff from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Aboard Atlantis for STS-44, which launched on the evening of 24 November 1991, Commander Fred Gregory, Pilot Tom Henricks, and Mission Specialists Jim Voss, Story Musgrave, and Mario Runco were accompanied by a professional Army imagery analyst, named Tom Hennen. Their task was to spend almost 10 days in orbit, deploying a $300 million Defense Support Program (DSP) infrared early-warning satellite and supporting a range of experiments designed to demonstrate the ability of a human observer to identify selected targets on the ground.

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'Not a Dysfunctional Family': 25 Years Since the Shortened Mission of STS-44 (Part 1)

The Defense Support Program (DSP) satellite, attached to is Boeing-built Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) booster, is deployed from Atlantis' payload bay at the beginning of the STS-44 mission. Photo Credit: NASA

The Defense Support Program (DSP) satellite, attached to is Boeing-built Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) booster, is deployed from Atlantis’ payload bay at the beginning of the STS-44 mission. Photo Credit: NASA

A quarter-century has now elapsed since a space shuttle mission was forced to come home early, having already lost its original commander and gained a professional U.S. Army imagery analyst as a crew member. In November 1991, Atlantis and her six-strong STS-44 crew—Commander Fred Gregory, Pilot Tom Henricks, Mission Specialists Jim Voss, Story Musgrave, and Mario Runco, and Payload Specialist Tom Hennen—supported the deployment of a Defense Support Program (DSP) infrared early-warning satellite, as well as a multitude of military experiments. However, the failure of a critical piece of navigational equipment forced their 10-day voyage to be shortened and Atlantis returned to Earth after a week in orbit. Still, STS-44 retains a place as one of the longest Department of Defense-dedicated shuttle flights ever completed.

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Cassini Spacecraft Prepares for Incredible 'Ring-Grazing Orbits' at Saturn

View from Cassini of Saturn and its main rings. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

View from Cassini of Saturn and its main rings. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The Cassini mission to Saturn has been one of the most successful planetary missions ever, revealing the ringed giant and its moons as never before. Sadly, that mission is scheduled to end Sept. 15, 2017, and in preparation the spacecraft will be making some never-done-before maneuvers as it gets ready to take the final plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on that date, aka the Grand Finale. Next week, Cassini will perform one of these feats, flying just past the edge of Saturn’s main rings.

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Expedition 50 Crew to Celebrate Thanksgiving Aboard Space Station

Pictured during Expedition 42's Thanksgiving celebration in November 2014, today's feast will come after a busy workday for the Expedition 50 crew. Photo Credit: NASA

Pictured during Expedition 42’s Thanksgiving celebration in November 2014, today’s feast will come after a busy workday for the Expedition 50 crew. Photo Credit: NASA

The 50th skipper of the International Space Station (ISS) and the first woman to spend as many as three Thanksgivings away from the Home Planet—together with their four Russian and French crewmates—will tuck into smoked turkey and cherried blueberry cobbler today (Thursday, 24 November), after wrapping up a full workday aboard the orbital outpost. Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough and his crew of Russian cosmonauts Sergei Ryzhikov, Andrei Borisenko, and Oleg Novitsky, Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, and former NASA Chief Astronaut Peggy Whitson will continue an unbroken period of 16 years in which an American citizen has been in orbit on Thanksgiving.

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'Cracked and Tipped Over' Pluto Has a Subsurface Ocean: New Evidence From New Horizons

View of Sputnik Planitia on Pluto. This vast region of nitrogen ice provides clues that a subsurface ocean of liquid water exists on Pluto. Photo Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

View of Sputnik Planitia on Pluto. This vast region of nitrogen ice provides clues that a subsurface ocean of liquid water exists on Pluto. Photo Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Pluto, a tiny frigid world in the distant outskirts of the Solar System, has been full of surprises, as first revealed by the New Horizons spacecraft back in July 2015. Expected to be mostly a cold, geologically dead place, it has instead been shown to be quite the opposite. Yes, it’s bitterly cold of course, but New Horizons found ample evidence that it has also been geologically active in the past and in some ways still is. With tall mountains of solid water ice, ancient riverbeds carved by nitrogen rivers, vast plains, still-flowing glaciers of nitrogen ice, and possible ice volcanoes, Pluto is a wondrous world indeed. Another new finding makes it even more remarkable: evidence for a subsurface ocean of water. This had also been reported on previously by AmericaSpace, but the new update strengthens the case.

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A Flight of Changes: 20 Years Since the Record-Setting Mission of STS-80 (Part 2)

Upon touchdown on 7 December 1996, Columbia and her STS-80 crew set an empirical record for the longest single mission of the Space Shuttle Program. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Upon touchdown on 7 December 1996, Columbia and her STS-80 crew set an empirical record for the longest single mission of the Space Shuttle Program. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

When the crew of STS-80—launched 20 years ago, this week—were assigned to their mission in January 1996, theirs was expected to be one of the longest space shuttle flights in history. Commander Ken Cockrell, Pilot Kent Rominger, and Mission Specialists Tammy Jernigan, Tom Jones, and Story Musgrave were tasked with spending almost 16 days in orbit and would deploy and retrieve two free-flying satellites and execute a pair of spacewalks for International Space Station (ISS) precursor work. As outlined in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, STS-80 set a record as the first shuttle mission to conduct simultaneous rendezvous and proximity operations with two other spacecraft, forming a three-spacecraft “ballet” for several days around Thanksgiving in 1996. Yet the second half of their mission would bring a juxtaposition of triumph and disappointment.

For STS-80 has become known to history as one of only two shuttle flights—the other being STS-5 in November 1982—whose Extravehicular Activity (EVA) component was totally canceled, due to technical problems. When the crew was announced, it was intended that Jernigan and Jones would perform a pair of six-hour spacewalks to build experience, ahead of the “Wall of EVA” to build the ISS. “Of all the space station assembly missions coming up, probably more than 80 percent of them” required spacewalks, Jones said before the flight. “They’re going to depend on these concepts that we think we’ve gotten right, but we’ve got to prove.”

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ULA Launches Second Mission in Eight Days, Delivers GOES-R Weather Sentinel to Orbit

Long exposure view from Playalinda Beach tonight, United Launch Alliance's workhorse Atlas-V booster successfully lifted off at 6:42pm ET with NASA & NOAA's GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) satellite. Photo Credit: John Kraus / AmericaSpace

Long exposure view from Playalinda Beach tonight, United Launch Alliance’s workhorse Atlas-V booster successfully lifted off at 6:42pm ET with NASA & NOAA’s GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) satellite. Photo Credit: John Kraus / AmericaSpace

Just eight days after it boosted the WorldView-4 commercial Earth-watcher to orbit from the West Coast, United Launch Alliance (ULA) has despatched the latest Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite—initially known as “GOES-R”, but numerically redesignated “GOES-16” when it enters active service—from the East Coast. Liftoff of ULA’s workhorse Atlas V booster took place at 6:42 p.m. EST Saturday, 19 November, from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Blessed by near-perfect weather conditions, the mighty Atlas rose from Earth an hour later than scheduled, due to an issue with the booster and an issue on the Air Force 45th Space Wing controlled Eastern Range. Only two flights now remain on ULA’s 2016 manifest, with the next Wideband Global Satcom (WGS-8) and the EchoStar-19 commercial communications satellite expected to wrap up a busy year in December.

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Three-Spacecraft Ballet: 20 Years Since the Record-Setting Mission of STS-80 (Part 1)

Columbia roars to orbit on 19 November 1996, 20 years ago, today. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Columbia roars to orbit on 19 November 1996, 20 years ago, today. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Twenty years ago, today, on 19 November 1996, the longest space shuttle mission in history got underway with the spectacular liftoff of Columbia from Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. During almost 18 days in orbit, the STS-80 crew—Commander Ken Cockrell, Pilot Kent Rominger, and Mission Specialists Tammy Jernigan, Story Musgrave, and Tom Jones—simultaneously deployed and retrieved two separate spacecraft, supported a wide range of scientific and medical experiments, and narrowly missed out on performing a pair of critical EVAs to prepare for International Space Station (ISS) operations. In the words of Cockrell, STS-80 offered nothing less than a “warm-up” for the ISS era. And, indeed, four of the five members of Columbia’s crew would go on to assemble the fledgling station, later in their respective careers.

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