Category Archives: Spaceflight

Check out Atmospheric Breakup: a Webcomic About the ISS

Webcomic "Atmospheric Breakup" by Andy Warner featuring Ron Garan and the ISS (Source: The Nib)

Webcomic “Atmospheric Breakup” by Andy Warner featuring Ron Garan and the ISS (Source: The Nib)

The International Space Station is the result of an amazing collaboration of many countries and countless individuals from around the world, a research lab and symbol of global peace and partnership put together in space. But recent and growing political tension between the two biggest contributors to the ISS – the United States and Russia – are casting doubt on the status of Station’s future. Will Russia continue its support of the ISS? Or will they build their own space station like some reports have suggested? And if so, what will happen to the current Station?

Ron Garan, former NASA astronaut and ISS crew member, humanitarian, and author of the new book The Orbital Perspective, is featured in a webcomic by Andy Warner (perhaps in honor of Free Comic Book Day?) called “Atmospheric Breakup,” which addresses the significance of the ISS and the challenges facing its future. Check it out on The Nib by clicking the link below or the image above.

By continuing to spread the word about the importance of international collaboration, Ron is showing us that real superheroes wear blue flight suits!

Read the full comic on The Nib here.

Goodbye, MESSENGER. You May Be Gone But You Won’t Be Forgotten!

Artist’s rendering of MESSENGER in orbit around Mercury. (NASA/JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY/CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF WASHINGTON)

Artist’s rendering of MESSENGER in orbit around Mercury. Credit: NASA/JHU APL/Carnegie Institution of Washington.

At 3:34 p.m. EDT (19:34 UTC) today, April 30, 2015, after more than ten years in space – and four of them in orbit –  the MESSENGER spacecraft’s operational life came to a conclusive end when it impacted the surface of Mercury, as planned.

After revealing the surface of the innermost planet like no mission ever before, MESSENGER’s last act was to contribute one more crater to Mercury’s battered and Sun-scoured face.

The impact site was out of view (and thus out of communication range) of Earth at the time, but based on the spacecraft’s trajectory and time when its signal was last received it’s known that it very likely struck a low ridge just north of a basin named Shakespeare, near 54.5 degrees north latitude and 210.1 degrees east longitude.

Colliding at a velocity of 8,700 mph, MESSENGER’s impact is estimated to have made a crater about 52 feet (16 meters) across.

“Going out with a bang as it impacts the surface of Mercury, we are celebrating MESSENGER as more than a successful mission,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “The MESSENGER mission will continue to provide scientists with a bonanza of new results as we begin the next phase of this mission – analyzing the exciting data already in the archives, and unraveling the mysteries of Mercury.”

See MESSENGER’s very last transmitted image below.

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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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