20th September 2021

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — After three days in space, SpaceX’s first all-civilian crew returned to Earth tonight, splashing down off the Florida coast to end a historic mission. 

“It’s been an amazing ride for everyone,” Inspiration4 mission director Kip O’Keefe said in a post-splashdown news conference. “We couldn’t ask for a more successful mission.”

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience gently landed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida tonight (Sept. 18) at 7:06 p.m. EDT (2306 GMT) marking the end of the Inspiration4 mission, a private spaceflight that launched four civilians into orbit earlier this week. 

The flight was part of a massive fundraising effort for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Jared Isaacman, billionaire and four of Shift4 Payments, purchased the flight from SpaceX in order to raise $200 million for childhood cancer research. 

“Inspiration4, on behalf of SpaceX, welcome to planet Earth,” Kris Young, Space Operations Director at SpaceX mission control, told the crew after their successful splashdown. “Your mission has shown the world that space is for all of us, and that everyday people can make extraordinary impacts in the world around them. Thank you for sharing your leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity — and congratulations.”

“Thanks so much, SpaceX. It was a heck of a ride for us,” Isaacman replied. “We’re just getting started.”

Source: https://www.space.com/spacex-inspiration4-returns-to-earth

Sept 12th 2021

Sept. 12, 1992: Mae Jemison Becomes 1st African-American woman in space

On Sept. 12, 1992, NASA astronaut Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to go to space.

In NASA’s early days, women and people of color were never selected to go to space. NASA didn’t send a woman to space until the seventh space shuttle mission in 1983. The first African-American man NASA launched into space flew on the following mission that same year.

Nine years later, NASA finally selected an African-American woman to fly on STS-47, the 50th space shuttle mission. Jemison was a trained engineer and licensed physician who served in the Peace Corps before applying to become an astronaut.

She worked as a mission specialist on STS-47 and logged over 190 hours in space. STS-47 was her only mission. In 1993, she retired from NASA and went on to found her own company, the Jemison Group, which is a technology consulting firm.

Source: https://www.space.com/39251-on-this-day-in-space.html

29th August 2021

The James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s next great observatory, passes final ground tests

By Tereza Pultarova 2 days ago

After years of delays, the most powerful space telescope ever built is ready for its trip to space.

NASA and its partners working on the James Webb Space Telescope have completed their final tests of the giant observatory and are now preparing it for a trip to a South American spaceport for a launch later this year.

Conceived more than 30 years ago as a successor of the then new Hubble Space Telescope, James Webb will be the largest observatory ever to be put in orbit. It is designed to use its infrared eyes to peer further into the universe’s history than ever before. With its 6.5-meter in diameter gold-plated mirror, the telescope will attempt to answer questions about the formation of first stars and galaxies out of the darkness of the early universe. 

At 44 feet (13.2 meters) long and 14 feet (4.2 m) wide, the telescope is about the size of a large tractor-trailer truck, fitted with intricate sun shades that could cover a tennis court once unfolded.

The program faced many delays, not just due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but seems finally on track to start producing ground-breaking astronomical observations. The testing, which took place at the facilities of prime contractor Northrop Grumman in California, made sure that nothing would go wrong with the more than $10 billion spacecraft during launch and once in space. 

“NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has reached a major turning point on its path toward launch with the completion of final observatory integration and testing,” Gregory Robinson, Webb’s program director at NASA headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. “We have a tremendously dedicated workforce who brought us to the finish line, and we are very excited to see that Webb is ready for launch and will soon be on that science journey.”

The engineering teams must now ensure that the 7.2-ton (6.5 metric tonnes) telescope makes it safely to the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. NASA said in the statement that shipping preparations will be completed in September. James Webb will then make the journey from California by sea, sealed in a 100-foot-long (30 meters) security container. It will pass through the Panama Canal and reach Kourou at least 55 days before the launch date, according to a statement by the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA, NASA’s partner in the James Webb Space Telescope project, is providing the launch aboard its seasoned Ariane 5 rocket, which is considered one of the most reliable launch vehicles currently available. 

In parallel with the transportation, teams at Webb’s Mission Operations Center (MOC) at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore will continue testing the complex communications network that will ensure that commands can be relayed to the precious telescope swiftly and seamlessly. 

Once in Kourou, the telescope will undergo further prelaunch checks before being fueled and then mated on top of Ariane 5. 

“After completing the final steps of the James Webb Space Telescope’s testing regimen, I can’t help but see the reflections of the thousands of individuals who have dedicated so much of their lives to Webb, every time I look at that beautiful gold mirror,” Bill Ochs, Webb project manager for NASA Goddard, said in the statement.

The telescope will observe the Universe undisturbed by any terrestrial influences from a vantage point around the so-called Lagrangian Point 2 (L2). Located some 900,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth, L2 is one of five points around the sun and Earth where the gravitational forces of both bodies are in balance. A spacecraft located in one of those points orbits the sun together with Earth and maintains a stable position with respect to the planet. The famous Hubble, in comparison, orbits the Earth at the altitude of only 330 miles (545 km).

There is however, still one question standing in the way of the grand telescope’s mission: its name, given to honor the 1960s NASA administrator James Webb. Webb, who’s been largely credited with the success of the agency’s Apollo moon exploration program, was also a great proponent of science. But according to allegations, he also created another legacy —  that of homophobia and persecution of LGBT experts. The journal Nature recently reported that NASA is investigating Webb’s past transgression to see whether there is sufficient ground to remove the honour of having the greatest astronomical observatory of all time named after him. 

Source: https://www.space.com/james-webb-space-telescope-testing-complete

July 18, 1980: India launches 1st indigenous satellite

On July 18, 1980, India launched its first satellite into orbit. This made India the seventh nation to launch an indigenously built satellite.

The Rohini RS-1 satellite lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center at 8 a.m. local time. It was a small, experimental satellite weighing only about 77 lbs. (35 kilograms), and its primary purpose was to test out their new Satellite Launch Vehicle, or SLV-3 rocket.

This was a monumental mission for the Indian Space Research Organization, not just because they launched their own satellite, but also because they successfully launched the SLV-3 for the very first time.

Source: https://www.space.com/39251-on-this-day-in-space.html

June 21st 2021

Two astronauts working outside the International Space Station successfully rolled out a new type of solar array, providing the orbiting outpost with its first power boost in decades.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency conducted a six-hour and 28-minute extravehicular activity (EVA) on Sunday (June 20), to finish the installation and deployment of the first International Space Station (ISS) Roll-Out Solar Array (iROSA). The two Expedition 65 crewmates resumed work where they had left off on a spacewalk on Wednesday (June 16), by overcoming an interference issue that initially prevented them from unfolding the array fully.

“Yeah! It has been engaged! Woohoo!” Pesquet exclaimed after the array was aligned with its mounting bracket. At the advice of Mission Control, Pesquet and Kimbrough used wire ties and tethers to assist in fully extending the 20-foot-long (6 meter), 750-lb. (340 kilograms) assembly.

The astronauts then secured bolts and ran cables to the new array, the latter tying the iROSA into the same power channel (P6/2B) as the 20-year-old legacy array that it was installed to augment on the far left (port) side of the station’s backbone truss. For safety concerns, the spacewalkers waited until the space station was in a nighttime pass to connect the electrical cables.

The station’s eight original arrays have begun showing degraded power output as they have exceed their 15-year design life. The new roll-out solar arrays are being installed in front of, and partially overlaying, six of the older arrays. When used in tandem, the upgraded system will be capable of increasing the station’s electricity supply by 20 to 30 percent.

“These new ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays are pretty fantastic. It is pretty incredible to see the material they are [made] out of, for one,” Kimbrough said in a recent NASA interview. “They are this lightweight, flexible composite blanket material that can get stowed very compactly, but when it is rolled out and deployed, it can bring in a lot of sunlight, which in our case will give us a lot of power for the station.”

The first pair of the new arrays were launched in the unpressurized “trunk” of the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft that arrived at the space station on June 5. The IROSAs were built by Deployable Space Systems (DSS) and were configured for launch and installation on the station by Boeing.

Unlike the legacy arrays, no motor was needed to deploy the iROSA to its 63-foot (19 meter) length. After Pesquet released two final bolts, the potential energy held by the array’s rolled-up carbon composite booms was enough to unroll the array. The entire process took about six minutes.

“Good news you two. As you can probably see most of what we can see, we are tracking a full and good deploy of that solar array,” Jenni Sidey, a Canadian Space Agency astronaut serving as the ground intravehicular officer in Mission Control in Houston, radioed Pesquet and Kimbrough once the deployment was complete. “So well done both of you.”

“Congratulations to everyone involved in that project,” replied Pesquet.

In addition to ensuring that the space station has enough power, the iROSAs are also serving as a test for NASA’s Artemis Gateway to be deployed in orbit around the moon. The Gateway’s planned arrays will be longer and be deployed remotely but otherwise will use the same technology from the same company.

Sunday’s EVA was originally intended to install and deploy the second iROSA on the P6 truss’ 4B power channel array. With the first iROSA now extended, Kimbrough and Pesquet were able to work on some “get-ahead” tasks for their next spacewalk together, now scheduled for Friday (June 25) to install and deploy the second array.

This was the 240th spacewalk in support of space station assembly. The EVA, which began at 7:42 a.m. and ended at 2:10 p.m. EDT (1142 to 1810 GMT), was the eighth for Kimbrough and the fourth for Pesquet. The pair arrived at the station as members of SpaceX’s Crew-2 aboard Dragon Endeavour in April.

Kimbrough has now spent 52 hours and 43 minutes on spacewalks. Pesquet has logged 26 hours and 15 minutes.

Source: https://www.space.com/spacewalking-astronauts-roll-out-new-space-station-solar-arrays

June 6th 2021, Endeavour Launches On Mission To ISS

On June 5, 2002, the space shuttle Endeavour launched on the STS-111 mission from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station.

The launch was originally scheduled for May 30, but was delayed first by bad weather and then by technical issues on Endeavour. After a part was replaced, the shuttle was ready for launch on June 5.

The STS-111 crew included commander Kenneth Cockrell, pilot Paul Lockhart mission specialists Franklin Chang-Diaz and Philippe Perrin (of the French space agency CNES), as well as the Expedition 5 crewmembers Valeri Korzun of Roscosmos, Peggy Whitson of NASA and Sergei Treschev of Roscosmos.

Endeavour’s 14-day STS-111 mission delivered supplies to the ISS, and rotated the astronaut crew aboard the space station, exchanging three Expedition 4 crewmembers for three Expedition 5 crewmembers.

Source: https://www.space.com/39251-on-this-day-in-space.html

May 9, 2003: Japan launches Hayabusa mission to asteroid

On May 9, 2003, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched the first-ever asteroid sample return mission, Hayabusa. This was also the first mission to land on an asteroid.

Hayabusa would spend about two years chasing down a near-Earth asteroid called 25143 Itokawa. It then landed on the asteroid, scooped up some samples, and returned to Earth in 2010. Hayabusa may have accomplished its mission, but it was also constantly plagued with technical difficulties.

The problems started six months after the launch, when a huge solar flare damaged the solar arrays. This reduced the amount of power the solar panels could supply to its ion engines, so it look an extra three months to reach the asteroid.

After finally getting there, Hayabusa tried to drop off a tiny robotic lander called MINERVA, but it drifted off into space without even touching the asteroid. Hayabusa itself made two separate landing attempts, both of which were riddled with problems that put the spacecraft into safe mode. But somehow it still managed to bring some asteroid dust back to Earth.

Source: https://www.space.com/39251-on-this-day-in-space.html

3rd May 2021

From Micheal Collins 1974 book, Carrying the Fire:

“I don’t mean to deny a feeling of solitude. It is there, reinforced by the fact that radio contact with the Earth abruptly cuts off at the instant I disappear behind the moon. I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God only knows what on this side. I feel this powerfully ― not as fear or loneliness ― but as awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation. I like the feeling. Outside my window I can see stars — and that is all. Where I know the moon to be, there is simply a black void; the moon’s presence is defined solely by the absence of stars. To compare the sensation with something terrestrial, perhaps being alone in a skiff in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a pitch-black night would most nearly approximate my situation.”

RIP Micheal Collins