Category Archives: Spaceflight

Space Is Hard, and So Are the Decks of Drone Ships

On Tuesday, April 14, SpaceX launched its Dragon cargo vehicle aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, sending over two tons of supplies up to the crew of the ISS. While the launch was a success and everything went smoothly for Dragon’s CRS-6 mission (despite a single day’s launch delay due to weather) the experimental landing of the Falcon 9’s first stage onto SpaceX’s autonomous drone ship named “Just Read the Instructions” didn’t work out so well… as you will see in the video above.

UPDATE 4/16: Here’s video footage of the landing attempt from the deck of the ship. So close!

After the landing attempt SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted “Rocket landed on droneship, but too hard for survival.” Yeah, now I see what he meant. It’s actually quite surreal to watch – definitely not something you see every day!

Still, it really wasn’t that far off (it did make it onto the ship!) and with a bit more tweaking this concept of a reusable first stage should soon become a reality for the company. It was only the second live attempt, after all, and SpaceX has six more launches to go in its CRS contract with NASA. CRS-7 is slated to launch on June 19…perhaps third time’s the charm?

Watch the launch of the CRS-6 mission below.
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NASA’s Next Era Will Rely on Robots

NASA's Robonaut2 faces off with an astronaut in a space suit (NASA/JSC)

NASA’s Robonaut2 faces off with an astronaut in a space suit (NASA/JSC)

NASA’s Shuttle era may be over but its robotic era is in full swing. With robots having long performed the bulk of our exploration across the Solar System, on the surface of Mars, and now assisting astronauts in low-Earth orbit, we’re now also on the verge of having robots doing work for us on the Moon, on asteroids, and even augmenting natural human capabilities to levels otherwise unattainable – especially in the alien environments found outside of Earth.

“This is probably one of the most exciting times to be working at NASA,” said Terry Fong, director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at Ames Research Center. “Regardless of where NASA goes, robots are going to be there. If humans go back to the Moon, or to an asteroid, or Mars, robots are going with them.”

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An Absolutely Epic Photo of Humans Returning From Space

The Expedition 42 Soyuz capsule descending via parachute to land in Kazakhstan on March 12, 2015. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The Expedition 42 Soyuz capsule descending via parachute to land in Kazakhstan on March 12, 2015. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

It almost doesn’t look real but it is: the return of three humans aboard a Soyuz TMA-14M capsule after spending nearly six months aboard the ISS as part of Expedition 41/42, captured on camera by NASA photographer Bill Ingalls during their sunlit descent via parachute. The Soyuz landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan at 10:07 p.m. EDT March 11 / 02:07 UTC March 12. The landing site may have been in dense fog, but above the clouds the view was simply amazing!

Aboard the Soyuz TMA-14 were cosmonauts Elena Serova, Alexander Samokutyaev, and NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore. See more photos from the descent and landing on the NASA HQ Photo album on Flickr here.

Could Humans Set Up Camp in Martian Lava Tubes?

Pits like this, seen in a HiRISE image, may one day be entrances to human bases on Mars. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Pits like this, seen in a HiRISE image, may one day be entrances to human bases on Mars. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

The concept of off-world habitation has been getting extra attention recently, especially with the announcement of 100 semi-finalists selected for the MarsOne “mission” (quotes because there’s more than a small amount of doubt that it will ever really take off – pun intended) and world-famous astronauts like Buzz Aldrin unabashedly telling us to “get our asses to Mars.” But even if we did manage to send a set of human derrières to the Red Planet, where would they call home? Building a safe habitation for humans for any sort of long term stay would be a time-intensive and expensive challenge, to say the least, and the environment of Mars – regardless of how much it might look like the deserts of Arizona or Utah in pictures – is harsh, unforgiving, and downright inhospitable for people.  A lot of protection against the Martian elements would have to be built into modules for living and working, especially the extreme daily (and seasonal, depending on latitude) temperature changes and exposure to both solar and cosmic radiation. Protection equals mass, and mass equals fuel, and fuel equals more mass… and more money. What if there were a way for humans to set up base somewhere that radiation exposure and temperature variations could be mitigated? Somewhere like an easily-accessible cave where Mars itself could provide safe shelter to astronauts?

(Hey, it worked well for humans in the past.)

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Astronaut Ron Garan Says Let’s Set Up a Moon Base First

Ron Garan: "I think we have a long, long way to go to get to Mars." (HuffPost LIVE)

Ron Garan: “I think we have a long, long way to go to get to Mars.” (HuffPost LIVE)

Former NASA astronaut Ron Garan was recently interviewed for Huffington Post’s LIVE broadcast. Ron talked about his new book The Orbital Perspective (read my review here) along with what it was like to be an astronaut and the way his experiences changed his views of life on Earth. (He also live-narrated some of the work being done at the time of the interview outside the ISS during EVA 30!)

In addition to talking about astronaut stuff, Ron weighed in on the human exploration of Mars, recently brought into the spotlight – for better or worse – with the announcement of 100 finalists by the Dutch MarsOne company, which has aspirations of creating the first human colony on the Red Planet. Ron says that while it will be important for us to venture out into the Solar System, really the next logical step would be to establish a permanent presence on our own Moon first.

“This is our closest neighbor, it’s three days away… There are so many things that could be done on the Moon that would have tremendous benefit.”
– Ron Garan, NASA astronaut

You can watch the entire video here, and share what you think in the poll below – should we go back to the Moon first? Or head right on out to Mars?

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Long Before it Captured a Comet, Rosetta Caught These Views of Mars

"Selfie" of Rosetta captured as it passed Mars in Feb. 2007

“Selfie” of Rosetta captured as it passed Mars in Feb. 2007. Credits: CIVA/Philae/ESARosetta. Edited by J. Major.

These days the world is looking in awe at the incredible images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft. But it took Rosetta over ten years to arrive at the comet, during which time it got some great views of other worlds in our Solar System as well: Earth (a couple of times), the asteroids Lutetia and 2867 Steins, and, on this day in 2007, Mars!

The image above was captured by the Philae lander riding aboard Rosetta as the two spacecraft passed just 1,000 km (621 miles) over Mars on Feb. 24-25, 2007. The image shows one of Rosetta’s 14-meter (50-foot) -long solar panels with the surface of Mars below, showing the Mawrth Vallis region in the planet’s northern lowlands.

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