Christina Koch Returns to Earth After Longest Ever Spaceflight by a Woman

Astronaut Christina Koch smiles as she gives a “thumbs up” sign shortly after being extracted from the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship that brought her home after 328 days in space. Credit: NASA TV

A new record for the longest single space mission ever undertaken by a woman was triumphantly set earlier today (Thursday, 6 February), when NASA’s Christina Koch returned safely to Earth aboard Soyuz MS-13, a few weeks shy of a full year since she left Earth for her off-planet home on the International Space Station (ISS).

Flying shoulder-to-shoulder with seasoned Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Skvortsov and Italy’s most experienced astronaut Luca Parmitano, Koch touched down near Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan at 3:12 p.m. local time (4:12 a.m. EST) to complete a voyage of 328 days, in which she orbited Earth 5,248 times, a journey of 139 million miles, roughly the equivalent of 291 trips to the Moon and back.



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By Even A Centimeter: Remembering the Near-Mir Mission, 25 Years On (Part 1)

The Mir space station, as viewed by the crew of STS-63. Photo Credit: NASA

A quarter-century ago this month, in February 1995, the astronauts (and a single cosmonaut) of shuttle Discovery roared into the night on a mission which performed the first rendezvous with Russia’s Mir space station. During their eight days in space, the men and women of STS-63—Commander Jim Wetherbee, Pilot Eileen Collins and Mission Specialists Bernard Harris, Mike Foale, Vladimir Titov and the late Janice Voss—approached to within 33 feet (10 meters) of the iconic orbital outpost, which would host several U.S. long-duration residents and no fewer than nine visiting shuttle crews between 1995 and 1998.

Yet STS-63 encompassed far more than that, with scientific research in a pressurized laboratory in Discovery’s payload bay, deployment and retrieval of a free-flying solar physics satellite, the first spacewalk by British and African-American astronauts and the first female pilot of the shuttle era.



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Lock the Doors: Remembering Columbia's Final Homecoming, OTD in 2003

As evidenced by the clock on the main screen at 14:15:05 GMT (9:15:05 am EST) on 1 February 2003, this view of a tense Mission Control was acquired a quarter of an hour after the first sign of trouble…and a minute ahead of Columbia’s expected landing. By now, everyone was aware that all hope was gone and contingency procedures were in effect. Photo Credit: NASA

For 16 days in January 2003, the seven men and women of shuttle Columbia’s STS-107 crew—Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Mission Specialists Dave Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Mike Anderson and Laurel Clark and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon of Israel—worked around-the-clock to complete 80 scientific experiments spanning a variety of disciplines from life sciences to fluid physics and from materials research to Earth observations. Eighty-seven missions since the loss of Challenger, they had serviced the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) four times and had begun building the sprawling International Space Station (ISS) in low-Earth orbit.

The shuttle remained an inherently dangerous vehicle, although the robustness of the four surviving orbiters—Discovery, Atlantis, Columbia herself and the “baby” of the fleet, Endeavour—had been amply demonstrated and their shortcomings were well-understood. Or so it seemed. Those shortcomings came home to roost with horrifying suddenness on the morning of 1 February 2003.



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SpaceX Launches Starlink-3, Wraps Up Dramatic Month of Missions

SpaceX launched their third set of operational Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral on Jan 29, 2020, followed by landing of the rocket on the company’s offshore ASDS. Photos: SpaceX

For the sixth time in just over a year, SpaceX has launched a Falcon 9 core on a third occasion, following Wednesday’s rousing 9:06 a.m. EST liftoff of the veteran B1051 booster, together with a sparkling-new second stage and the latest batch of 60 Starlink low-orbiting internet communications satellites.

Coming only a few days after the triumphant In-Flight Abort Test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft—whose success was tempered by the intentional destruction of the four-times-flown B1046 core—this latest flight is the third SpaceX launch of January and marks an impressive start to a busy 2020 manifest.



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Remembering Challenger's Lost Innocence, OTD in 1986

A poignant image of a fragment from Challenger’s shattered body, bearing the fallen craft’s name. Photo Credit: NASA

For those of us of a certain age, there can be few more horrific images imprinted upon our long-term memories than the sight of shuttle Challenger exploding in the sky above Cape Canaveral on 28 January 1986. For me, a nine-year-old boy growing up in England, the event was played out live on television and the sheer enormity of the tragedy was difficult to comprehend.

The loss of Challenger and her seven astronauts—Commander Dick Scobee, Pilot Mike Smith, Mission Specialists Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik and Ron McNair and Payload Specialists Greg Jarvis and schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe—totally reshaped the subsequent history of the shuttle program. An innocence, astronaut Robert “Hoot” Gibson once said, was lost that day.



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SpaceX Falcon 9 Starlink 3 launch video

SpaceX launched the fourth batch of 60 Starlink satellites from LC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 9:07am Eastern on 29th January 2020.

Video Credit: SpaceX

Remembering The Fire, Project Apollo's Worst Day

The Apollo 1 crew consisted of (from left) Command Pilot Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White and Pilot Roger Chaffee. Photo Credit: NASA

More than five decades ago, tonight, one of the worst tragedies in the history of U.S. space exploration unfolded with horrifying suddenness on Pad 34 at Cape Kennedy in Florida. “The Fire”—as it infamously became known—tore through the Command Module (CM) of the Apollo 1 spacecraft, during a “plugs-out” ground test on the evening of 27 January 1967, killing astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.

It was a disaster that almost halted President John F. Kennedy’s pledge to land a man on the Moon before the decade’s end and, even today, the loss of Grissom and his men leaves a dark stain on the glory of the Apollo program.



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ULA Clears Launch Dress Rehearsal for Solar Orbiter, now Encapsulated for Feb 7 Liftoff

ESA’s Solar Orbiter (left) is ready for launch next month on an ambitious scientific mission to observe and unlock long asked mysteries of our life-giving star. NASA has science instruments onboard, and ULA’s workhorse Atlas V rocket, which just underwent a successful WDR (right), will be responsible for getting the mission off Earth. Photos: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace (left) / ULA (right)

After a long and launchless six weeks, United Launch Alliance (ULA) has moved a step nearer to sending Europe’s Solar Orbiter on its multi-year voyage to study the Sun at closer range, in greater detail and from higher heliographic latitudes than ever before. The giant Atlas V booster assigned to the mission has wrapped up a smooth fueled (or “wet”) dress rehearsal (WDR) at Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

“NASA requires a WDR for missions with limited launch opportunities such as those to planets and the Sun,” says NASA. “WDRs allow us to test the rocket early in an effort to mitigate issues that could result in a missed opportunity for launch.”



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Remembering Shuttle Discovery's Miracle Mission 51C, 35 Years On (Part 2)

Discovery touches down at the Kennedy Space Center on 27 January 1985, following the shortest operational flight in the shuttle’s 30-year history. Photo Credit: NASA

Thirty-five years ago, this week, the crew of shuttle Discovery—Apollo veteran Ken Mattingly, together with “rookie” astronauts Loren Shriver, Jim Buchli and Ellison Onizuka and Air Force Manned Spaceflight Engineer (MSE) Gary Payton—flew Mission 51C, the first wholly classified voyage of the Space Shuttle era. As outlined in last week’s AmericaSpace history article, it was conducted in near-total secrecy and even the precise launch time did not become clear to the general public until the countdown clock emerged from its pre-planned hold at T-9 minutes. Until then, spectators at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida beheld a blank face on the famous clock.

Then, at 2:41 p.m. EST on 24 January 1985, the blackout ended abruptly with a statement: “T-9 minutes and counting. The launch events are now being controlled by the ground launch sequencer…”



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SpaceX to Launch 3rd Mission This Month on Monday with 60 More Starlink Satellites

After successfully boosting Crew Dragon’s Demo-1 mission in March 2019 (left), followed by Canada’s Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) last June (right), Falcon 9 rocket ‘B1051’ stands ready for its third orbital launch on Monday with Starlink-3 from Cape Canaveral. Photo Credit: John Studwell /AmericaSpace.com / SpaceX (right)

Only days after triumphantly completing its long-awaited In-Flight Abort Test—destroying a long-serving booster, parachuting an unmanned Crew Dragon to a safe splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean and clearing a significant milestone on the road to returning U.S. astronauts to space aboard U.S. spacecraft, atop U.S. rockets and from U.S. soil—SpaceX aims to launch another Falcon 9 at 9:49 a.m. EST on Monday, 27 January, to continue CEO Elon Musk’s campaign to emplace thousands of Starlink internet communications satellites into low-Earth orbit by the mid-2020s.

The veteran Falcon 9 core tailnumbered “B1051” has been earmarked for this launch, having previously flown on two occasions for the Crew Dragon Demo-1 flight from the East Coast in March 2019, followed by last June’s Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) from the West Coast.



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