To Save A Space Station: The Unrealized Rescue of Skylab, 40 Years On

Visiting space stations is, and always has been, a complex and challenging endeavor; yet to the layman in the street it carries an element of the “ordinary” these days, as the world sees crews of astronauts and cosmonauts launched periodically throughout the year to begin multi-month increments aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Late in 2019, if all goes well, the first crews will rise from U.S. soil aboard the long-awaited Commercial Crew vehicles. But a very definitive line exists between “visiting” a space station and “rescuing” one from potential, impending disaster. The Soviets did it triumphantly to salvage their out-of-control Salyut 7 in June 1985. And 40 years ago, this fall, had history played out more kindly, the Space Shuttle might have carried out a daring and dramatic rescue of the ailing Skylab space station. Had it flown as intended, a whole new history of the shuttle program could have unfolded.



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Artemis Updates

Integrated Lunar Lander at Shackleton Crater. Image: NASA

We are returning to the Moon by 2024, declared Vice-President Mike Pence in a March 26th announcement and the program, NASA Administrator Bridenstine announced on May 13th will be called Project Artemis.

But, unlike previous efforts to return to the Moon that required years of development and construction of elements before actually flying, making them in reality dead-on-arrival, NASA and its contractors are today fortunately well along in building flight hardware for Artemis 1, our first lunar orbit mission, and until recently known as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), as well as for Artemis 2, formerly Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2). Congress‘ consistency in pursuing space policy goals and supporting authorization law over the last 14 years, starting with the NASA Authorization Act of 20051 and continuing through 20082, 20103, and 20174, as well as annual appropriations from 2011 through 2019, has ensured that, as stated in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, “…[the] United State government has its own transportation to access space”5 in order to, as reaffirmed in the National Aeronautics And Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017, promote its “…leadership in the exploration and utilization of space….”6



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EVAs and More on 'Sixty-Four: Remembering STS-64, 25 Years On (Part 2)

A quarter-century ago, this month, the crew of Discovery trialed virtually all of the Space Shuttle’s myriad capabilities: science and technology, satellite deployment, rendezvous and retrieval and—arguably most dramatic of all—spacewalking. As detailed in last weekend’s AmericaSpace history feature, STS-64 in September 1994 was notable in that it featured the first evaluation of the Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue (SAFER), a self-rescue tool which would permit spacewalkers to recover from becoming detached from their tether during an Extravehicular Activity (EVA). True to its name, SAFER would indeed offer a “safer” means of going about spacewalking and after astronauts Mark Lee and Carl Meade first tested it on STS-64 it has since entered operational service and its descendants are today used during EVAs aboard the International Space Station (ISS).



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Flying Free With Meade and Lee: Remembering STS-64, 25 Years On (Part 1)

Twenty-five years ago, this month, STS-64 astronauts Mark Lee (pictured here) and Carl Meade performed the first untethered spacewalk with the Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue (SAFER). Photo Credit: NASA

On 123 occasions between March 1965 and September 1994, astronauts and cosmonauts had clambered outside their spacecraft and maneuvered themselves around in the harsh and unforgiving vacuum of space. They had used handhelds, tethers and specialized backpacks to prevent them from losing physical contact with their vehicles and inadvertently floating away into the void. But when STS-64 astronauts Mark Lee and Carl Meade ventured outside shuttle Discovery’s airlock on the morning of 16 September 1994—a quarter-century ago, this month—they wore something quite different and wholly new on their space suits. Known as the Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue (SAFER), it provided a self-rescue tool for its wearer and its descendants are today routinely used by spacewalkers aboard the International Space Station (ISS).



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Visiting Saturn: 40 Years Since Pioneer 11's Mission to Giant Ringed Planet

Pioneer 11 became the first robotic visitor to Saturn, passing the ringed world in September 1979. Photo Credit: NASA

Spectacular Saturn—the Solar System’s second-largest planet—has been known to humanity for millennia, although only in the last few centuries since the invention of the telescope has its nature and its glorious system of rings entered popular consciousness and become better understood. Today, of course, following the visitations of the Voyager probes and more recently the multi-year tour by the joint U.S./European Cassini mission, we know more about Saturn than ever before. Yet 40 years ago today, on 1 September 1979, human eyes glimpsed the planetary “Bringer of Old Age” close-up and in mesmerizing detail for the first time, all thanks to a spacecraft which was intended as a backup to another.



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NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Now Fully Assembled for 2021 Launch

View od the fully assembled James Webb Space Telescope. The sunshield and unitized pallet structures (UPSs) that fold up around the telescope for launch, are partially deployed to enable telescope installation. Photo Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) just took another big step towards completion, as the two halves it was currently in were connected together for the first time at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Redondo Beach, California.



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8 New Repeating Fast Radio Bursts Detected from Beyond Our Galaxy

The CHIME radio telescope in south-western British Columbia, Canada. CHIME has detected eight new repeating Fast Radio Bursts. Photo Credit: CHIME

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are one of the most mysterious phenomena in astronomy. They are extremely brief radio signals coming from deep space, beyond our galaxy, and so far, scientists still don’t know what is causing them.M ost of the FRBs have been one-off bursts, and only two to date had been seen to repeat, making them even odder.

But now, scientists have detected eight more repeating FRBs. They were found using the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope in south-western British Columbia. The CHIME telescope is located at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO), a national facility for astronomy operated by the National Research Council of Canada.



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CRS-18 Dragon Wraps Up Month-Long Mission; Returns Science Samples to Earth

More than a month since its arrival, SpaceX’s CRS-18 Dragon cargo ship departed the International Space Station (ISS) and returned to Earth earlier today (Tuesday), bringing around 2,700 pounds (1,225 kg) of experiments and payloads back home and into the hands of eager research teams. The Dragon was released by the station’s 57.7-foot-long (17.6-meter) Canadarm2 robotic arm at 10:59 a.m. EDT, whilst flying 256 miles (412 km) over the Pacific Ocean. At the controls of Canadarm2 was Robotics Officer (ROBO) David Gruntz in the Mission Control Center (MCC) at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, whilst Expedition 60 astronaut Christina Koch provided monitoring of Dragon’s departure from her perch in the space station’s multi-windowed cupola. A few hours later, Dragon performed an on-time de-orbit maneuver and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 1:21 p.m. PDT (4:21 p.m. EDT), some 300 miles (480 km) southwest of Long Beach, Calif.



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Shrinking Triton: Remembering Voyager 2's Encounter With Neptune, 30 Years On (Part 4)

Neptune, as seen by Voyager 2 in 1989. No other missions have yet returned to this enigmatic world. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL

READ Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of AmericaSpace’s Neptune 30th anniversary commemorative feature.

Thirty years ago today, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft swept silently over the royal-blue clouds of Neptune at the ragged edge of our Solar System and revealed a world unlike any other: a world of wild weather, a reservoir of energy and a place quite unlike its near-twin, Uranus. As outlined in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history feature, the tiny spacecraft’s observations of Neptune turned up many more questions than answers; as would its close passage by one of the Solar System’s strangest moons, Triton.



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Wild World: Remembering Voyager 2's Encounter With Neptune, 30 Years On (Part 3)

The Great Dark Spot and Bright Companion, together with the chevron-like “Scooter” are visible in this Voyager 2 image of Neptune. Photo Credit: NASA

READ Part 1 and Part 2 of AmericaSpace’s Neptune 30th anniversary commemorative feature.

Thirty years ago this weekend, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft swept silently above Neptune’s royal-blue cloud-tops and revealed a world on the ragged edge of the Solar System which yielded more questions than answers and more mysteries than solutions. Coming 42 months after it passed Neptune’s near-twin, Uranus, it was expected that the two giant planets—so akin to one another in size and chemical composition—would share many similarities. Yet whilst Uranus proved to be a quiet world, with a misleadingly calm atmosphere, it became abundantly clear in the months prior to Voyager 2’s visit that Neptune was quite the opposite. Its dynamic atmosphere sprang into the worldwide headlines in early 1989, when NASA revealed the discovery of large cloud structures. These far-off observations corroborated similar Earth-based studies, but more was to come as the tiny spacecraft drew closer.



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