Various Health Studies and Dragon CRS-6 Preparations Highlight Busy Week for Expedition 43

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) takes a break to enjoy the view earlier this week. Photo via Twitter @Astro Samantha

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) takes a break to enjoy the view earlier this week. Photo via Twitter @Astro Samantha

The six people who make up the Expedition 43 crew in orbit on the International Space Station (ISS) kept busy this week with a full schedule of work to accomplish a variety of science experiments, all the while making final preparations for an upcoming cargo delivery with the SpaceX CRS-6 Dragon.

One Year mission crew members, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, took a series of beginning measurements via ultrasound scan for their flight day 10 Ocular health exams, assisted by crew medical officers European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and cosmonaut Gennady Pedalka. As their bodies take time getting used to space, taking measurements during this period is crucial to establish baselines so that the evolution of their health can be accurately analyzed during the year they remain living in space. The Prospective Observational Study of Ocular Health in ISS Crews (Ocular Health) investigation has been an ongoing research study for many years on the ISS, but this is the first time it has been done on-orbit with a Russian subject and operator.

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Dawn of an Era: Remembering Shuttle Columbia's Maiden Launch

 

Thirty-four years ago, today, at dawn, Columbia roared into orbit, heralding the dawn of a new era in U.S. space exploration. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Thirty-four years ago, today, at dawn, Columbia roared into orbit, heralding the dawn of a new era in U.S. space exploration. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Thirty-four years ago, today, on 12 April 1981, the first winged orbital space vehicle carrying human pilots was launched from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Aboard Columbia for STS-1—the long-awaited maiden voyage of the shuttle era—were Commander John Young and Pilot Bob Crippen, tasked with spending two days evaluating the performance of the most complex manned spacecraft in history. Since it was formally approved for development, almost a decade earlier, the reusable shuttle had been directed to a mandate of flying routinely, transporting satellites, laboratories, and people into low-Earth orbit, but before it could be declared “operational” it would have to perform four Orbital Flight Test (OFT) missions, of which STS-1 was the first.

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'Main B Bus Undervolt': 45 Years Since the Unlucky Voyage of Apollo 13 (Part 2)

Apollo 13's Latin motto of "Ex Luna, Scientia" ("From the Moon, Knowledge") highlighted this mission as a voyage of exploration and scientific endeavor. Image Credit: NASA

Apollo 13’s Latin motto of “Ex Luna, Scientia” (“From the Moon, Knowledge”) highlighted this mission as a voyage of exploration and scientific endeavor. Image Credit: NASA

Forty-five years ago, yesterday, on Saturday, 11 April 1970, the third piloted mission to deposit human explorers onto the surface of the Moon got underway, with a spectacular launch from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace article, Apollo 13 suffered from its fair share of misfortunes ahead of launch, when a case of German measles forced NASA to replace Command Module Pilot (CMP) Ken Mattingly with his backup, Jack Swigert, only days before leaving Earth. A shutdown of the center engine of the Saturn V booster added another moment of drama, but by 13 April—two days into their four-day voyage through cislunar space to the Moon—the mission seemed to be proceeding according to schedule.

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SpaceX Approaches 50-Percent Complete on NASA Contract as CRS-6 Dragon Prepares for Monday Launch

Landing legs at the base of the SpaceX Falcon-9 CRS-6 booster, which is scheduled to launch to the ISS for NASA (and attempt to land on an offshore barge) on April 13. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Landing legs at the base of the SpaceX Falcon-9 CRS-6 booster, which is scheduled to launch to the ISS for NASA (and attempt to land on an offshore barge) on April 13. Photo Credit: SpaceX

More than six years after signing the $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) agreement with NASA to deliver 12 Dragon cargo missions and a total of 44,000 pounds (20,000 kg) of payloads, experiments, and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX—the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch operator—will hit 50-percent-complete on its initial contractual obligation next week, when it delivers its sixth dedicated mission toward the orbital outpost. Liftoff of the company’s homegrown Falcon 9 v1.1 booster and the CRS-6 Dragon is scheduled to occur from the storied Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., during an “instantaneous” window which opens at 4:33 p.m. EDT Monday, 13 April. An on-time launch will produce a rendezvous, capture, and berthing at the space station Wednesday morning. If SpaceX is unable to meet this window, it has Eastern Range clearance to recycle 24 hours for a backup attempt at 4:10 p.m. EDT Tuesday, 14 April, which will in turn push back the berthing time to Thursday.

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Third Time's the Charm? SpaceX Rocket-Landing Pad Sets Sail for Monday Booster Landing Attempt

Illustration of a SpaceX Falcon-9 booster with its landing legs and hypersonic grid fins deployed for a landing attempt. Image Credit: SpaceX

Illustration of a SpaceX Falcon-9 booster with its landing legs and hypersonic grid fins deployed for a landing attempt. Image Credit: SpaceX

It’s now T-2 days until the scheduled launch of SpaceX’s next Falcon-9 rocket, which will boost the sixth dedicated Dragon cargo resupply mission (CRS-6) to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Operating under the language of a $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, signed between NASA and SpaceX back in December 2008, the mission will deliver about 4,390 pounds (1,990 kg) of provisions, payloads, tools, and scientific experiments to the space station’s incumbent Expedition 43 crew.

Read our summary of the CRS-6 payload manifest HERE.

However, the opening minutes of Monday’s flight will be monitored with particular closeness, because SpaceX has another goal in mind as well: landing the first stage of their Falcon-9 v1.1 rocket on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean. The landing barge for the CRS-6 booster, named “Just Read The Instructions,” departed Jacksonville, Fla., at around 3:30 a.m. EDT this morning (April 11), headed for the rocket’s expected landing location 200-300 miles offshore.

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'Bored to Tears': 45 Years Since the Unlucky Voyage of Apollo 13 (Part 1)

Apollo 13's Jim Lovell and Fred Haise discuss their April 1970 ordeal during last month's 45th anniversary commemorative event at San Diego Air & Space Museum. Photo Credit: Robert C. Fisher / AmericaSpace

Apollo 13’s Jim Lovell and Fred Haise discuss their April 1970 ordeal during last month’s 45th anniversary commemorative event at San Diego Air & Space Museum. Photo Credit: Robert C. Fisher / AmericaSpace

By the spring of 1970, six months had passed since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin triumphantly fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. Their steps on the flat plain of the Sea of Tranquility remain the most remarkable accomplishment of our species, yet the extent to which the public—once enamored by the possibilities of space travel—grew weary and apathetic toward the exploration of the Moon is equally remarkable. When Apollo 12 flew in November 1969, few were watching. Fewer still were expected to tune in when Apollo 13 launched toward the lunar highlands on 11 April 1970, 45 years ago today, heading for a hilly place known as Fra Mauro, thought to contain material evidence from the Moon’s geological youth. The thrill had gone, and Americans were more preoccupied with ending an unpopular war in Vietnam and starting a new war on poverty in their own country. The voyage of Apollo 13, for a few days, refocused the world’s attention on space.

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US Warns China to Halt ASAT Threats as Defense Dept. Reorganizes for Improved Space Warfare Capability

China's first solid propellant launcher, the Long March-11 rocket, is a likely ASAT booster. Photo Credit: CALT

China’s first solid propellant launcher, the Long March-11 rocket, is a likely ASAT booster. Photo Credit: CALT

Significant changes are underway in U.S. military space operations due to the growing threat from Chinese anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons and the exponential growth in lightsats and CubeSats that threaten to “darken the sky,” consuming huge bandwidth while also raising new satellite collision dangers.

Once again the Obama Administration, through its military space commanders, has openly warned China to halt ASAT threats to U.S. and allied civil and military spacecraft.

These issues will be major topics of discussion at the 31st Space Foundation Symposium in Colorado Springs next week.

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Rosetta Team Completely Rethinking Comet Close Encounter Strategy

This single frame Rosetta navigation camera image was taken from a distance of 77.8 km from the centre of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 22 March 2015. The image has a resolution of 6.6 m/pixel and measures 6 x 6 km. The image is cropped, and processed to bring out the details of the comet's activity.  Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

This single frame Rosetta navigation camera image was taken from a distance of 77.8 km from the centre of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 22 March 2015. The image has a resolution of 6.6 m/pixel and measures 6 x 6 km. The image is cropped and processed to bring out the details of the comet’s activity. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

The operations team leading Europe’s fabulously successful Rosetta mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is now “rethinking” the strategy on how they will approach the spewing ice ball during future flybys, after impacts from a hail of debris strikes caused the probe to be “confused” and then enter “safe mode” and shut down the science instruments during the probe’s harrowing close encounter with the alien wanderer in late-March.

“We are rethinking how we go about ‘orbiting’ the comet,” Matt Taylor, Rosetta project scientist, told AmericaSpace in the wake of the significant navigation issues experienced by the spacecraft after it flew within 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) of the surface of comet 67P on March 30.

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Buried Glaciers Have Enough Ice to Cover Entire Surface of Mars, According to New Study

Image of dust-covered glaciers on Mars from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express. The glaciers are composed of water ice. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

Image of dust-covered glaciers on Mars from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express. The glaciers are composed of water ice. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

When the topic of ice on Mars comes up, the first thing that usually comes to mind are the polar ice caps which are prominent even in small telescopes. There is, however, ice elsewhere on the planet as well, such as beneath the surface in the mid-latitudes, covered by dust. Now, a new study has revealed the extent of these subsurface glaciers and the amount of frozen water they contain.

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NASA's New Horizons Begins Pluto Approach Phase-2 for July Encounter

Artist's concept of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft during closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The spacecraft has enetered Approach Phase 2 earlier this month, swinging the mission's science observations into high gear. Image Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)

Artist’s concept of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The spacecraft has enetered Approach Phase 2 earlier this month, swinging the mission’s science observations into high gear. Image Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)

If one were to characterise NASA’s New Horizons mission, it would be fitting to call it the ultimate exercise in patience. Having spent almost a decade in the conceptual phase, the Pluto-bound spacecraft was eventually launched in January 2006 on a speedy trajectory toward the Solar System’s distant and unexplored region of small icy bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune, known as the Kuiper Belt. Having broken the record for the fastest man-made object to ever leave our planet—with an Earth-relative speed of 58,536 km/h—New Horizons nevertheless spent the better part of nine years quietly traversing the interplanetary void in order to reach its ultimate destination. Finally, following a journey of more than 4.5 billion km, the spacecraft emerged from its electronic hibernation one last time on Dec. 6 of last year, just in time to begin preparing for the final leg of its approach toward Pluto in mid-January, while marking the official start of the mission’s first Pluto encounter stage, called Approach Phase 1. Now, with less than 100 days remaining before New Horizons flies through the Pluto system on July 14, the mission has marked another milestone on its way to the distant dwarf planet by advancing to Approach Phase 2, during which Pluto science observations will start to swing into high gear.

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