Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will be berthed to the Tranquility Node of the International Space Station for a two-year demonstration. It will be the first private space habitat of its kind. Credit: Bigelow Aerospace
In early 2013, NASA awarded Bigelow Aerospace with a $17.8 million contract to develop an expandable space habitat. Now, the agency and the Nevada-based aerospace company are looking to launch the module to the International Space Station (ISS) sometime this year. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will be berthed to the Tranquility Node of the space station for a minimum two-year technology demonstration. NASA recently visited the facility in Las Vegas for an event celebrating the completion of BEAM’s major milestones before the module is shipped off to the Kennedy Space Center for launch.
Continue reading Bigelow Aerospace Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) Completes Major Milestones
Five decades have now passed since humanity’s first foray beyond the confines of their pressurized spacecraft and into the airless void beyond. Photo Credit: NASA
Fifty years ago, today, on 18 March 1965, a 30-year-old Soviet cosmonaut named Alexei Leonov became the first human in history to depart the confines of his spacecraft in a pressurized suit and float freely into the limitless void beyond. As described in two previous AmericaSpace history articles—available here and here—Leonov spent 12 minutes outside the Voskhod 2 spacecraft, tumbling in the void, as part of the latest in a line of Soviet spectaculars, designed to outdo the United States. It had long been apparent that spacewalking, or “Extravehicular Activity” (EVA), was a central tenet of Project Gemini that NASA needed to master, before sending humans to the Moon in fulfilment of President John F. Kennedy’s bold challenge. The first U.S. spacewalk, by astronaut Ed White, occurred a few weeks later, in June 1965, and ushered in a new technology which would see humans explore the surface of the Moon, weld, repair, and upgrade satellites and space telescopes, work in untethered conditions, and build one of the brightest objects in Earth’s skies: the International Space Station (ISS).
Continue reading ‘Working a Monkey Board': The First 50 Years of Spacewalking (Part 1)
Unmanned version of Sierra Nevada Corporation Dream Chaser space plan proposal for NASA cargo resupply contract docks at the International Space Station. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation
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Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is vigorously pushing ahead with an unmanned cargo version of their Dream Chaser space plane that is aimed at fulfilling NASA’s ongoing needs for carrying critical supplies to the crews serving aboard the International Space Station (ISS), despite recently losing NASA’s commercial crew contract to develop a manned “space taxi” version to carry our astronaut crews to the orbiting outpost.
Continue reading Sierra Nevada Proposes Unmanned Dream Chaser Space Plane for Space Station Resupply
Under the command of Terry Virts (far right), Expedition 43 will continue until mid-May. From left are Gennadi Padalka, Scott Kelly, Anton Shkaplerov, Samantha Cristoforetti, Mikhail Kornienko and Virts. Photo Credit: NASA
Only a week after the safe return to Earth of Soyuz TMA-14M and its crew of Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev and Yelena Serova and U.S. astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore—wrapping up a highly successful Expedition 42—the torch has been passed to a new team of spacefarers from three nations to keep the International Space Station (ISS) operational into mid-2015. Under the command of NASA’s Terry Virts, the new Expedition 43 presently consists of Russia’s Anton Shkaplerov and Italy’s first woman in space, Samantha Cristoforetti, although their number is expected to expand to six later this month, when Soyuz TMA-16M launches with new crewmembers Gennadi Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly to begin the first year-long mission of the ISS era. As described by Virts in last week’s change-of-command ceremony, Expedition 43 promises to be “a short expedition, but it’s going to be busy”.
Continue reading ‘Off On the Right Foot': Expedition 43 Underway at Space Station
NASA’s Opportunity Rover scans along a spectacular overlook towards Marathon Valley on March 3, 2015, showing flat-faced rocks exhibiting a completely new composition from others examined earlier. Marathon Valley and Martian cliffs on Endeavour crater hold deposits of water altered clay minerals. This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3948 (March 3, 2015) and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo
NASA’s long-lived Opportunity rover has discovered a matchless patch of purplish, blocky rocks at a spectacular mountaintop overlook that are unlike anything encountered before during her amazing 11-year science expedition across the alien terrain of the Red Planet.
Opportunity found the intriguing colored rocks—“different from any ever measured before”—last month while driving to an overlook near the summit of Cape Tribulation to survey “Marathon Valley,” her long-term science destination.
Continue reading Whoa! Opportunity Discovers Matchless Purplish Rocks at Spectacular Mars Overlook
Norm Thagard and Bonnie Dunbar participate in Soyuz-TM training in October 1994. Photo Credit: NASA
Twenty years ago, this week, the first U.S. astronaut in history was launched in a non-U.S. spacecraft, from a non-U.S. nation, with a crew entirely composed of non-U.S. comrades. Four-time shuttle veteran Norm Thagard had spent more than a year training for NASA’s first long-duration “increment” to the Russian Mir space station and was destined to spend almost four months—a total of 115 days—in orbit, longer than any previous U.S. astronaut. In doing so, Thagard would soundly surpass the 84-day U.S. endurance record, set at the end of the final Skylab mission, back in February 1974, and his experience would lay the groundwork for dozens of his fellow Americans to embark on flights in excess of 100 days. His achievement is all the more important in this 20th anniversary month of his flight, for March 2015 will also see the launch of astronaut Scott Kelly on the United States’ first year-long mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Continue reading ‘As Long As It’s Not a Hurricane': 20 Years Since the Record-Setting Mission of Norm Thagard (Part 2)
Artist’s concept shows Jupiter spacecraft and Exoliner cargo carrier with NASA’s Orion crew capsule in a Lockheed Martin dual use conceptual proposal for commercial missions to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) and deep space exploration missions to the Moon and Mars. Credit: Lockheed Martin
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL — The competition for NASA’s next round of space station resupply contracts is heating up as more companies enter the high stakes fray to determine which ones will be selected to fulfill NASA’s critical needs to keep the Earth orbiting outpost stocked and humming with essential provisions, gear, spare parts, and research investigations.
In the case of Lockheed Martin, managers unveiled “Jupiter” in what amounts to a dual use space freighter proposal that simultaneously meets NASA’s ongoing requirements for periodic station resupply as well as augmenting NASA’s Orion crew capsule with an evolvable container design that serves as the foundation for an enlarged pressurized area that would enable future deep space journeys by astronauts to the Moon, asteroids, and Mars.
Continue reading Lockheed Proposes Dual Use ‘Jupiter’ Space Freighter for Station Resupply and Deep Space Exploration
From HubbleSite: “NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope observed a pair of auroral belts encircling the Jovian moon Ganymede. The belts were observed in ultraviolet light by the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph and are colored blue in this illustration. They are overlaid on a visible-light image of Ganymede taken by NASA’s Galileo orbiter. The locations of the glowing aurorae are determined by the moon’s magnetic field, and therefore provide a probe of the moon’s interior, where the magnetic field is generated. The amount of rocking of the magnetic field, caused by its interaction with Jupiter’s own immense magnetosphere, provides evidence that the moon has a subsurface ocean of saline water.” Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Saur (University of Cologne, Germany)
Water is the building block of life, and evidence of it suggests the possibility of life on other worlds. This week, one of the Great Observatories may have unlocked the key to life on a distant, strange world. The Hubble Space Telescope (HST), which will soon enter its 25th year of operation, recently added another feather to its illustrious cap: its observations have shown strong evidence that a large underground saltwater ocean may possibly exist within Jupiter’s biggest moon, the icy Ganymede. While scientists have suspected since the 1970s that this may have been the case, this week NASA announced that the amount of “rocking” by the moon’s magnetic field supports the idea of such an ocean. Joachim Saur of Germany’s University of Cologne, who led the team that made this finding, enthused, “Our new HST observations provide the best evidence to date for the existence of an ocean on Ganymede.”
Continue reading Hubble Shows Evidence of Large Underground Ocean on Ganymede
Twenty years ago, this week, NASA astronaut Norm Thagard embarked on the United States’ first long-duration space station expedition in more than two decades. Photo Credit: NASA
Today, in 2015, it seems hard to imagine U.S. astronauts being totally unaccustomed to long-duration spaceflight. Over the past two decades, around 50 Americans—from civilian medical doctors to biochemists and engineers to physicists, and from Army and Coast Guard officers to Air Force test pilots and Naval aviators—have embarked on missions in excess of 100 days in length. Only two weeks ago, on 3 March, astronaut Terry Virts proudly tweeted news of his own passage through the magical “100 Days” of his six-month incumbency of the International Space Station (ISS). Although greatly surpassed by many of Russia’s cosmonauts, the long-flying U.S. astronauts have established empirical space endurance records for female spacefarers, and, with Scott Kelly expected to launch in two weeks’ time on the first year-long ISS mission, it seems that Americans will continue to press this experience envelope.
Continue reading ‘To Live Like Russians': 20 Years Since the Record-Setting Mission of Norm Thagard (Part 1)
Cutaway view depicting the interior of Enceladus. Water, salts, organics, and methane make their way from the hydrothermal vents on the ocean bottom to the surface through cracks in the icy crust, erupting as geysers. Image Credit: NASA/JPL
The deep oceans on Earth are teeming with life, despite the cold and darkness, thanks to hydrothermal vents which provide needed heat and nutrients in an otherwise rather uncomfortable environment. Now, the first evidence has been found for current hydrothermal activity elsewhere in the Solar System: on the ocean bottom of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
Continue reading Cassini Finds Evidence for Hydrothermal Activity on Saturn’s Moon Enceladus