Category Archives: NASA

Astronauts Identified Air Leak in International Space Station Using Tea Leaves

Anyone who saw Apollo 13 can appreciate that sometimes all the advanced science and engineering utilized to get our brave men and women into space pales in comparison to the ingenuity often required to keep them there safely. Recently, the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) was alerted to a small air leak in the Zverzda module of the ISS. This area includes sleeping quarters, a kitchen, and a bathroom.

A specialist from the Russian Mission Control Center told a cosmonaut to use tea leaves in the microgravity environment to pinpoint the leaks. As the tea leaves were suspended in the environment, they were slowly drawn towards what was revealed to be a small crack in the hull of the module. The crack, which was measured at 0.2 mm in diameter, was found on an ISS wall. Once the crack was located, the crew used adhesive tape made of a temperature-resistant material to cover it, serving as a short-term fix.

Down the road, more durable equipment will be delivered to the ISS to help patch the crack and perform checks to ensure there are no additional leaks.

The NASA equivalent to duct tape is considered a temporary, but safe replacement. The current leak of 0.4 mm of mercury per day is significantly lower than the 0.5 mm/minute that would be needed to register as an emergency.

Read more and watch the video from Thomas Insights…

NASA Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the Inaugural Space Shuttle (STS-1)

The Space Shuttle Columbia began a new era of human spaceflight when STS-1 lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 12, 1981, for the inaugural flight of the nation’s Space Shuttle Program. To mark the occasion, NASA is providing historical b-roll footage of the launch and landing as well as recently recorded soundbites from retired astronaut Bob Crippen.

Aboard the spacecraft were commander John W. Young and pilot Crippen. The flight was a test mission and the first time a shuttle was flown to space. Columbia lifted off at 7 a.m. from Launch Pad 39A and was NASA’s first crewed mission since the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975. The launch occurred 20 years to the day after the first human launch when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited Earth in the Vostok 1 capsule on April 12, 1961. Columbia concluded STS-1 on April 14, 1981, with a touchdown at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a 54-hour mission.

The mission objective was to demonstrate the safe launch into orbit and safe return of the orbiter and crew. The mission also verified the combined performance of the entire shuttle vehicle, orbiter, solid rocket boosters, and external tank. Payloads included the Developmental Flight Instrumentation (DFI) and the Aerodynamic Coefficient Identifications Package (ACIP) pallet containing equipment for recording temperatures, pressures, and acceleration levels at various points on the spacecraft.

Between the first launch in 1981 and the final landing on July 21, 2011, NASA’s space shuttle fleet – Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour – flew 135 missions, helped construct the International Space Station, and inspired generations.

As humanity’s first reusable spacecraft, the space shuttle pushed the bounds of discovery ever farther, requiring not only advanced technologies but the tremendous effort of a vast workforce.

Crippen spoke via computer for a recent episode of NASA’s Rocket Ranch podcast. During the interview, Crippen discusses his experience as STS-1 pilot, the spacecraft’s historic launch and landing, the discovery of missing heat tiles during the mission, and the shuttle program legacy. Soundbites from that interview, along with historical photos and b-roll footage, can be found on NASA image site using the links below.  

For videos, click HERE and HERE. All photos and videos are courtesy of NASA.

The ‘Great’ Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

Skywatchers are in for an end-of-year treat. What has become known popularly as the “Christmas Star” is an especially vibrant planetary conjunction easily visible in the evening sky over the next two weeks as the bright planets Jupiter and Saturn come together, culminating on the night of Dec. 21.

In 1610, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei pointed his telescope to the night sky, discovering the four moons of Jupiter – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. In that same year, Galileo also discovered a strange oval surrounding Saturn, which later observations determined to be its rings. These discoveries changed how people understood the far reaches of our solar system.

Thirteen years later, in 1623, the solar system’s two giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn, traveled together across the sky. Jupiter caught up to and passed Saturn, in an astronomical event known as a “Great Conjunction.”  

“You can imagine the solar system to be a racetrack, with each of the planets as a runner in their own lane and the Earth toward the center of the stadium,” said Henry Throop, astronomer in the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “From our vantage point, we’ll be able to be to see Jupiter on the inside lane, approaching Saturn all month and finally overtaking it on December 21.”

The planets regularly appear to pass each other in the solar system, with the positions of Jupiter and Saturn being aligned in the sky about once every 20 years.

What makes this year’s spectacle so rare, then? It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night, as it will for 2020, allowing nearly everyone around the world to witness this “great conjunction.”

The closest alignment will appear just a tenth of a degree apart and last for a few days. On the 21st, they will appear so close that a pinkie finger at arm’s length will easily cover both planets in the sky. The planets will be easy to see with the unaided eye by looking toward the southwest just after sunset.

From our vantage point on Earth the huge gas giants will appear very close together, but they will remain hundreds of millions of miles apart in space. And while the conjunction is happening on the same day as the winter solstice, the timing is merely a coincidence, based on the orbits of the planets and the tilt of the Earth.

“Conjunctions like this could happen on any day of the year, depending on where the planets are in their orbits,” said Throop. “The date of the conjunction is determined by the positions of Jupiter, Saturn, and the Earth in their paths around the Sun, while the date of the solstice is determined by the tilt of Earth’s axis. The solstice is the longest night of the year, so this rare coincidence will give people a great chance to go outside and see the solar system.”

Want to learn when and where to look up? Join Throop as he talks about the “Great Conjunction” on #NASAScience Live Thursday, Dec. 17. Submit your questions by using #askNASA. The NASA Science Live episode will air live at 3 p.m. EST Thursday on NASA Television and the agency’s website, along with the NASA FacebookYouTube, and Periscope channels.

For those who would like to see this phenomenon for themselves, here’s what to do: 

  • Find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky, such as a field or park. Jupiter and Saturn are bright, so they can be seen even from most cities.
  • An hour after sunset, look to the southwestern sky. Jupiter will look like a bright star and be easily visible. Saturn will be slightly fainter and will appear slightly above and to the left of Jupiter until December 21, when Jupiter will overtake it and they will reverse positions in the sky.
  • The planets can be seen with the unaided eye, but if you have binoculars or a small telescope, you may be able to see Jupiter’s four large moons orbiting the giant planet.

Each night, the two planets will appear closer low in the southwest in the hour after sunset as illustrated in the below graphic:

For more information and tips for getting a good photo of this phenomenon, click HERE.