Category Archives: Space News

To the Moon and Back With Michael Collins, 1930-2021

By Buzz Aldrin

Finding words is hard. The death at age 90 of Michael Collins, command-module pilot for Apollo 11, is the loss of a friend, an unswerving patriot and an intrepid explorer. Neil Armstrong and I were blessed to have had Mike as our crew mate on America’s first manned mission to the moon’s surface, in July 1969. No one is more responsible for our success—taking us out and bringing us home safely—than Mike.

What Mike gave our nation is hard to express. He was a fearless test pilot, inveterate scholar, cheerful crewmate; he was calm under pressure, self-disciplined, knew every detail of the Columbia command module. He was also a lifelong friend, focused on others and often hardest on himself.

Mike’s book, “Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys” (1974), is detailed and aptly named. A gifted writer, Mike put into words the extraordinariness of our shared experience—his, Neil’s, mine and our nation’s. He focused on the mission, team, nation and journey, less on himself.

Mike was the one who orbited the moon 30 times alone, focused on us, making sure we stayed close. He was the one who, on Gemini 10 in 1966, walked in space and proved orbital rendezvous with another spacecraft, a vital step in America’s eventual moon missions. And Mike was first among friends—gracious, self-deprecating and always quick with a smile.

Read more from the WSJ….

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.

NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins, Crew Mates Arrive Safely at Space Station

Photo Credit: (NASA/GCTC/Andrey Shelepin)

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and two Russian cosmonauts arrived aboard the International Space Station on Oct. 14, returning a medical researcher to the orbiting laboratory ahead of the 20th anniversary of uninterrupted human presence in space.

Docking of the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft to the station’s Rassvet module occurred at 4:48 a.m. EDT, after a two-orbit, three-hour flight, bringing Rubins, Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov to the orbiting laboratory. The Soyuz spacecraft launched Wednesday at 1:45 a.m. (10:45 a.m. Kazakhstan time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Rubins, Ryzhikov, and Kud-Sverchkov join Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who have been aboard the complex since April. NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live coverage of the hatch opening beginning at 6 a.m.

Ryzhikov will become the commander when Expedition 64 begins Wednesday, Oct. 21, with the departure of Cassidy, Vagner, and Ivanishin following their six-month stay. The change of command ceremony with all crew members is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 4:15 p.m. and will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

This is the second spaceflight for Rubins and Ryzhikov and the first for Kud-Sverchkov, who will live and work aboard the outpost for six months. The trio will conduct research in technology development, Earth science, biology, human research and more.

During Rubins’ first spaceflight in 2016, she became the first person to sequence DNA in space. Rubins earned a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from the University of California, San Diego, and a doctorate in cancer biology from Stanford University’s Medical School Biochemistry Department and Microbiology and Immunology Department, Palo Alto, California.

Research conducted in microgravity helps NASA prepare for long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars and contributes to improvements for life on Earth.

During Expedition 64, the crew will grow by four more members with the arrival of Crew-1 aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon on the first operational commercial mission to the space station, returning the capability to regularly launch humans from America for the first time since retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011. Crew-1 is currently targeted for launch in November.

As the International Space Station approaches the 20th anniversary of continuous human presence, astronauts continue to test technologies, perform science and develop the skills needed to explore farther from Earth aboard the orbiting laboratory. As a global endeavor, 241 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity destination that has hosted more than 3,000 research and educational investigations from researchers in 108 countries and areas.

Follow Rubins during her space mission on Facebook and Instagram

Learn more about space station activities by following @space_station, and @ISS_Research on Twitter, as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts and the space station blog.

Editor’s Corner: NASA veteran shares stories about his 40+ years at the agency

By Stacey Doud

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Baker

On September 17, 2019, retired NASA employee Herb Baker gave a talk at University of Texas at Arlington about his 42-year career at the space agency. Most of his work was performed at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, but he also helped out at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, as well as NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.

Baker holds a business degree, not one in engineering. “I can assure you that you don’t need an engineering degree to work for NASA. They’re always looking for good people from a variety of fields,” he said.

Baker basically followed in the footsteps of his mother, who also had a long career at NASA. “My first involvement with NASA was as a high school student working for the TV networks covering the early Apollo mission doing mostly ‘grunt work,’” he said. “During those missions, my main job was to take reels of film and drive them up to Houston’s Intercontinental Airport from the Johnson Space Center campus twice every day, which is about an hour’s drive each way. Of course, this was a time before the Internet, so this was the only way to get things done. From the Houston airport, the film was sent to New York City so it could be used for the evening news,” Baker explained.

Basically, Baker was a “Jack of All Trades” during his 42 years at NASA. He worked as support on almost every flight from the first Space Shuttle flight to the International Space Station (ISS) to the Orion project, which is NASA’s hope to get men to Mars by 2030, to the attempts to develop commercial space flight.

He had some funny and interesting stories to tell.

He explained several superstitions that the astronauts and cosmonauts have developed over time. “Believe it or not, yes, those cosmonauts are urinating on the bus tires,” Baker said as he showed a PowerPoint slide. “They do this because Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin did this before his first flight, which was successful, and so they consider it good luck. This is the bus that will take them to the launch pad.”

Another popular ritual is for the astronauts to eat steak and scrambled eggs for breakfast on the morning of their scheduled flight.

While it may seem silly to some, NASA respects crew superstitions so much that when STS-13 (Space Transportation System, the way NASA used to identify shuttle flights) was the next number to use, they changed the name to STS-41C. However, the crew decided that they didn’t want superstition to rule their thinking, so they made their own patch that read STS-13 on a black cat, with a space shuttle flying under the cat, which was completely different from the “official” flight patch.

Baker also recalled that employees on the JSC campus were invited to come taste test astronaut food if they had a spare hour. He was given some “space guacamole” and was asked to rate it from one to five on a variety of aspects, such as taste and texture.

“I never pass up guacamole at restaurants,” Baker said. “But this guacamole tasted terrible.”

He went back a couple of weeks later and saw that a new version of guacamole was being tested. Again, he found it less than satisfactory. After one more go around, he said, “If you served it to me now, I’d say it’s okay. It’s tolerable. But when I came back a week later, it had been taken off the menu altogether. Do you know how hard it is to keep guacamole fresh? It kept turning brown quickly, as avocados generally do.”

Baker brought a mock-up of a space suit, and watched as students tried it on.

“I can’t believe how thick these gloves are,” said one student. “The rest of the suit is not so heavy, but I know it’s not technically a real suit.”

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A student tries on the mock-up space suit

Baker was at UT-Arlington by invitation of the North Texas branch of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc., which works with students as well as professionals in those fields.

Recently retired, Baker spends his time giving talks around the country, giving tours of Space Center Houston and performing with the Clear Creek Community Theater in Nassau Bay, Texas.

Chris Kraft, NASA’s first flight director, dies at 95

By Amanda Jackson, CNN

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NASA Mission Control founder Chris Kraft in the old Mission Control at Johnson Space Center in 2011.

Chris Kraft, NASA’s first flight director, died Monday, two days after the agency celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, according to NASA. He was 95.

“America has truly lost a national treasure today with the passing of one of NASA’s earliest pioneers — flight director Chris Kraft,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement. “We send our deepest condolences to the Kraft family. Chris was one of the core team members that helped our nation put humans in space and on the Moon, and his legacy is immeasurable.”

Read more from CNN…

New movie points to NASA errors in ‘The Challenger Disaster’

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The Challenger Disaster is the true story of the night before the Challenger explosion in 1986 when a hot headed engineer leads a desperate attempt to stop the launch and the subsequent cover up and whistle blowing. This is the 2nd film by Nathan VonMinden.

Now available on iTunes and Amazon.

Remembering the space shuttle Challenger

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The crew of Space Shuttle Challenger. Left to right are Sharon Christa McAuliffe; Gregory Jarvis; Judith A. Resnik; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee; Ronald E. McNair; Mike J. Smith; and Ellison S. Onizuka. (Image Credit: NASA)

 – It was 33 years ago this coming Monday that NASA’s space shuttle Challenger, carrying Christa McAuliffe, the nation’s first teacher-turned-astronaut, along with six other crew members, exploded just 73 seconds after liftoff.

But until now, nobody’s ever talked about a special prayer that was offered inside McAuliffe’s public school– a prayer that helped provide ballast to a bewildered and grieving faculty.

Against the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky on an unseasonably cold and icy Florida morning, the 25th shuttle mission had already endured three delays before finally launching at 11:38 A.M. on January 28, 1986.

Read more from FOX 4 News…

NASA Progresses Toward SpaceX Resupply Mission to Space Station

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The BEAM is lifted into SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft for transport to the ISS (Photo: SpaceX)

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), developed for NASA by Bigelow Aerospace, is lifted into SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft for transport to the International Space Station when the spacecraft launches at 4:43 p.m. Friday, April 8, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida

NASA provider SpaceX is scheduled to launch its eighth Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station on Friday, April 8. NASA Television coverage of the launch begins at 3:30 p.m. EDT.

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft is targeted to lift off on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket at 4:43 p.m. from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida, carrying science research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory in support of the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.

NASA TV also will air two briefings on Thursday, April 7. At 1 p.m., scientists and researchers will discuss some of the investigations to be delivered to the station, followed by a briefing by mission managers at 3:30 p.m. The briefings also will stream live on the agency’s website.

About 10 minutes after launch, Dragon will reach its preliminary orbit, deploy its solar arrays and begin a carefully choreographed series of thruster firings to reach the space station.

The spacecraft will arrive at the station Sunday, April 10, at which time NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake will use the station’s robotic arm to capture the Dragon spacecraft. Ground commands will be sent from Houston to the station’s arm to install Dragon on the bottom side of the Harmony module for its stay at the space station. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will begin at 5:30 a.m. on NASA TV, with installation set to begin at 9:30 a.m.

The following day, the crew will pressurize the space between the station and Dragon and open the hatch between the two spacecraft.

The Dragon spacecraft will deliver almost 7,000 pounds of supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital outpost and its crew. The cargo includes the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which will be attached to the space station to test the use of an expandable space habitat in microgravity. Scheduled to return to Earth in May, the Dragon spacecraft will bring back biological samples from astronauts, including those collected during NASA’s one-year mission.

The new experiments arriving to the station will help investigators study muscle atrophy and bone loss in space, use microgravity to seek insight into the interactions of particle flows at the nanoscale level and use protein crystal growth in microgravity to help in the design of new drugs to fight disease.

Dragon is scheduled to return to Earth on May 11. About five-and-a-half hours after it leaves the station, it will splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California.

Media at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will have the opportunity to participate in special tours and briefings on April 7 and 8, as well as view the launch. The deadline for media to apply for accreditation for this launch has passed. For more information about media accreditation, contact Jennifer Horner at 321-867-6598 or jennifer.p.horner@nasa.gov.

If the launch does not occur on Friday, April 8, the next launch opportunity is 4:20 p.m. Saturday, April 9, with NASA TV coverage starting at 3:15 p.m.

For an updated schedule of prelaunch briefings, events and NASA TV coverage, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/content/spacex-crs-8-briefings-and-events

For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

Learn more about the SpaceX mission to the International Space Station at:

http://www.nasa.gov/spacex