SpaceX Dragon at ISS for Six Months

SpaceX Crew-1 (also known as USCV-1 or simply Crew-1) is the first operational crewed flight of a Crew Dragon spacecraft. It is also the first crewed night launch by the United States since that of STS-130 in February 2010. The Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience launched on 16 November 2020 at 00:27:17 UTC on a Falcon 9 from the Kennedy Space Center, LC-39A, carrying NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker along with JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, all members of the Expedition 64 crew. The mission is the second overall crewed orbital flight of the Crew Dragon.

Crew-1 is the first operational mission to the International Space Station in the Commercial Crew Program. Originally designated “USCV-1” by NASA in 2012, the launch date was delayed several times from the original date of November 2016. The mission is expected to last 180 days, meaning the flight will return to Earth sometime around May 2021. Resilience is expected to return to Earth via splashdown for reuse for another future mission.

Nasa SpaceX launch: Astronaut crew heads to orbit

Timelapse of rocket launchIMAGE
The rocket left the Kennedy Space Center in Florida

Four astronauts – three from the US and one from Japan – have launched from Florida on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The crew rode to orbit in a rocket and capsule provided by the SpaceX company.

It’s only the second time the firm has supplied the service.

The US space agency Nasa has said it is now entering a new era in which routine astronaut journeys to low-Earth orbit are being conducted by commercial providers.

The four individuals making their way up to the ISS are the Americans Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and the highly experienced Japanese space agency (Jaxa) astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

By participating in this mission, Noguchi becomes only the third person in history to leave Earth in three different types of space vehicle, having previously flown on Soyuz and shuttle hardware.

The traditional “walk-out”: The suited crew waved to family and friends
The capsule
Presentational white space

The crew’s Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule left the pad at the Kennedy Space Center at 19:27 local time (00:27 GMT, Monday).

It will take just over a day to reach the station. A docking with the orbiting platform is set for about 0400 GMT on Tuesday.

SpaceX has signed contracts with Nasa valued in excess of $3bn (£2.3bn) to develop, test and fly an astronaut taxi service.

As part of this relationship, the company ran a demonstration mission in May in which astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken were taken to the station and then returned safely to Earth.

The contracted arrangements also call for six “operational”, or routine, missions – this flight being the first.

Nasa has a similar deal with the Boeing aerospace company, although its service is more than a year behind SpaceX.

The ascent
Presentational white space

The agency says its new model of contracting out transportation to low-Earth orbit is saving billions of dollars in procurement costs.

It intends to use these economies to fund its Moon and Mars ambitions. To that end, Nasa is close to testing the giant new rocket it has commissioned to take astronauts back to the lunar surface, a goal it hopes to attain in 2024, or soon after.

Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi will stay on the ISS for six months.

Just before they return to Earth, they’ll be joined aloft by another SpaceX-launched crew for a brief handover.

Nasa retired its winged space shuttles in 2011. In the intervening years, it’s been buying seats for its astronauts on Russian Soyuz vehicles.

This purchase option will now close in favour of the new American-sourced taxis. But US astronauts will continue to go to the station on Soyuz from time to time – it’s just that no money will change hands.

Instead, Russian cosmonauts will get flights in the American capsules in exchange.

Soichi NoguchiIMAGE
Soichi Noguchi has now flown in a SpaceX Dragon, a Soyuz capsule and a space shuttle

The new crew will have at least four spacewalks to perform in their time at the station.

In one of those walks, they will install the first significant UK industrial contribution to the platform.

This is the Colka communications terminal. Made by MDA UK, the radio equipment will enable astronauts to connect with scientists and family on Earth at home broadband speeds.

ColKa will be fixed to the exterior of Europe’s ISS research module, Columbus.

The antenna terminal
The British antenna terminal will be attached to the station during a spacewalk

The Only Man to Be Buried on the Moon

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Eugene Shoemaker (Source: Atlas Obscura)

Humanity has seen only a handful of people that actually had the honor to step on earth’s natural satellite, but at present, there is only one person who is “buried” on an astronomical body orbiting Earth. The name of the soul that now rests on the Moon is Eugene Shoemaker, an astrogeologist who had worked with NASA since the 1960s and became famous when a comet that crashed on Jupiter in 1994 received his name (Shoemaker-Levy Comet).

The reason this comet became so famous is that this was the first time in human history that we had the chance to witness a planetary collision. This event was mainly reported by Eugene Shoemaker and David Levy, hence the two monikers within the comet’s name.

A long-lived passion

As an astrogeologist, he had always been fascinated by space and the idea of humans colonizing the earth’s natural satellite. Eugene was also schooled in the world of geology and this is where he used both of high interests to research the Moon and prepare astronauts for the type of soil/rock they would land on. As much as he loved the idea of traveling to the Moon he always knew that he may not be able to make it as he was the brain and not the muscle of NASA.

He was also very famous in the United States not only due to his intensive studies of craters around the state but also for founding the Program for archeological studies within the US in the 1960s. All of his knowledge was a very valuable element in the success of the Apollo missions and other NASA projects. In fact, the origins of what’s now known as Meteor Crater in Arizona had been uncertain before his Ph.D. dissertation settled the matter. This was the same crater that most astronauts that took part in the Apollo missions were trained in as it was quite similar to the terrain on the Moon.

The better the astronauts understood the terrain they were about to face the better they could get prepared for what was ahead. Getting to the Moon was only half of the mission. As mentioned before, Eugene’s long dream since he first approached astronomy was to go to the Moon to see our beautiful world from a different perspective. However, his focus was on his own work, he knew he was more valuable as an astronomist and geologist than as an astronaut.

Reaching his final destination

Sadly, his life was cut short due to a car accident that took place on the 18th of July 1997. However, this wasn’t going to be Eugene’s final journey. A close work colleague had the idea to actually send his corpse to the Moon as she knew this was his life-long dream. NASA thought that this was a very good idea to show their appreciation for his work over the years. His body was cremated as transporting his ashes would have been much easier than transporting his corpse.

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Eugene Shoemaker and his team also led geology field trips for astronauts-in-training in 1967. (Source: Science Source)

His ashes were loaded on the Lunar Prospector, a rocket which launched on the 6th of January 1998 with the goal of reaching the South pole of the Moon. Eugene Shoemaker’s ashes were inside a special polycarbonate capsule produced by a company called Celestis that was actually specializing in sending dead people to space but never onto the Moon. The outside of the capsule was marked with his name, his date of birth, and date of death as well as a picture of him training astronauts in a geology field trip (the same picture you can see above).

The Luna prospector reached the moon on the 31st of July 1999. On the same day, they launched the capsule containing Shoemaker’s ashes which crashed onto the moon, thus “burying” Eugene Shoemaker in the place he had always wanted to reach.


Atacama Large Millimeter Array

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is an astronomical interferometer of 66 radio telescopes in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, which observe electromagnetic radiation at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths. The array has been constructed on the 5,000 m (16,000 ft) elevation Chajnantor plateau – near the Llano de Chajnantor Observatory and the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment. This location was chosen for its high elevation and low humidity, factors which are crucial to reduce noise and decrease signal attenuation due to Earth’s atmosphere. ALMA is expected to provide insight on star birth during the early Stelliferous era and detailed imaging of local star and planet formation.

ALMA is an international partnership among Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Chile. Costing about US$1.4 billion, it is the most expensive ground-based telescope in operation. ALMA began scientific observations in the second half of 2011 and the first images were released to the press on 3 October 2011. The array has been fully operational since March 2013.





The initial ALMA array is composed of 66 high-precision antennas, and operates at wavelengths of 3.6 to 0.32 millimeters (31 to 1000 GHz). The array has much higher sensitivity and higher resolution than earlier submillimeter telescopes such as the single-dish James Clerk Maxwell Telescope or existing interferometer networks such as the Submillimeter Array or the Institut de Radio Astronomie Millimétrique (IRAM) Plateau de Bure facility.

The antennas can be moved across the desert plateau over distances from 150 m to 16 km, which will give ALMA a powerful variable “zoom”, similar in its concept to that employed at the centimetre-wavelength Very Large Array (VLA) site in New Mexico, United States.

The high sensitivity is mainly achieved through the large numbers of antenna dishes that will make up the array.

The telescopes were provided by the European, North American and East Asian partners of ALMA. The American and European partners each provided twenty-five 12-meter diameter antennas, that compose the main array. The participating East Asian countries are contributing 16 antennas (four 12-meter diameter and twelve 7-meter diameter antennas) in the form of the Atacama Compact Array (ACA), which is part of the enhanced ALMA.




The complex was built primarily by European, U.S., Japanese, and Canadian companies and universities. Three prototype antennas have undergone evaluation at the Very Large Array since 2002.

General Dynamics C4 Systems and its SATCOM Technologies division was contracted by Associated Universities, Inc. to provide twenty-five of the 12 m antennas, while European manufacturer Thales Alenia Space provided the other twenty-five principal antennas (in the largest-ever European industrial contract in ground-based astronomy). Japan constructed 16 Antennas. The first antenna was delivered in 2008, the last in 2011.




The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan (NINS) in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan. ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA. Its current director since February 2018 is Sean Dougherty.




What is ALMA?

Half of all light in the universe is in millimeter-wavelength light between the far infrared and radio waves. ALMA can detect this light, which is emitted by cool objects and distant objects. It’s possible thanks to the telescope’s location at 16,400 feet in the driest desert on Earth, and because of the incredible precision of its 66 antennas.

All  telescopes are limited in their angular resolution by the ratio of their aperture to the wavelength they observe, explained Michael Thornburn, head of the ALMA department of engineering. ALMA is an aperture synthesis telescope.

“We cannot make a single aperture 15 kilometers across, so we do it in pieces,” he said. “The signals from individual dishes are combined to build up the image from a single large aperture.”

Radio signals from distant cosmic sources arrive at each dish at ever-so-slightly different times, and these are combined with the signals from every other antenna. This technique, interferometry, allows ALMA to operate like a single huge dish with an adaptable radius.

In a carefully choreographed ballet, each dish moves in unison with the others to change the telescope’s observing area. Along with moving in place, giant transporter trucks, specially designed for the dishes, can pick them up and cart them across the Chajnantor Plateau to one of 192 concrete pads. At their greatest distance apart–16 kilometers–ALMA’s angular resolution will be equivalent to the Hubble Space Telescope, Peck said.

ALMA is observing sources that are 10 times weaker than those observed with other arrays, explained Pierre Cox, ALMA’s incoming director. This is key to ALMA’s capability for observing phenomena like star formation, he said.

“Future observations should allow us to detect dark matter substructure and shed light on its nature,” he added.

There’s much more to learn about how ALMA works, and why astronomers are so excited about it–stay tuned for more dispatches from the Atacama.



Moon Bases

Discovery of water in the soil at the lunar poles by Chandrayaan-1 (ISRO) in 2008–09 renewed interest in the Moon, after NASA missions in the 1990s suggested the presence of lunar ice. Locating a colony at one of the lunar poles would also avoid the problem of long lunar nights—about 354 hours long, half a lunar month—and allow the colony to take advantage of the continuous sunlight there for generating solar power.

Permanent human habitation on a planetary body other than the Earth is one of science fiction’s most prevalent themes. As technology has advanced, and concerns about the future of humanity on Earth have increased, the vision of space colonization as an achievable and worthwhile goal has gained momentum. Because of its proximity to Earth, the Moon is seen by many as the best and most obvious location for the first permanent human space colony. Currently, the main problem hindering the development of such a colony is the high cost of human spaceflight.

There are also several projects that have been proposed for tourism on the Moon in the near future by private space companies.

The notion of a lunar colony originated before the Space Age. In 1638, Bishop John Wilkins wrote A Discourse Concerning a New World and Another Planet, in which he predicted a human colony on the Moon. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935), among others, also suggested such a step.

From the 1950s onwards, a number of more concrete concepts and designs have been suggested by scientists, engineers and others. In 1954, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke proposed a lunar base of inflatable modules covered in lunar dust for insulation. A spaceship assembled in low Earth orbit would launch to the Moon, and astronauts would set up the igloo-like modules and an inflatable radio mast. Subsequent steps would include the establishment of a larger, permanent dome; an algae-based air purifier; a nuclear reactor for the provision of power; and electromagnetic cannons to launch cargo and fuel to interplanetary vessels in space.

In 1959, John S. Rinehart suggested that the safest design would be a structure that could “[float] in a stationary ocean of dust”, since there were, at the time this concept was outlined, theories that there could be mile-deep dust oceans on the Moon. The proposed design consisted of a half-cylinder with half-domes at both ends, with a micrometeoroid shield placed above the base.

The United States space administration NASA has requested an increase in the 2020 budget of $1.6 billion, in order to make another crewed mission to the Moon by 2024, followed by a sustained presence on the Moon by 2028. NASA is ready to announce plans to bring together a Commercial Human Lander Awards for Artemis Missions on the Moon. This specific program, “The Artemis Program,” encompasses NASA’s overview for lunar exploration plans. This announcement will go over the first in a series of many more to come complex missions. Artemis I will start off as an un-crewed flight test to demonstrate the capabilities of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft. The first flight with a crew will be Artemis II, closely followed by Artemis III that will actually land crew on the moon by the end of 2024 using a new commercially-procured Human Landing System (HLS). They hope to develop a sustainable lunar exploration program starting from 2028.

Artist’s impression of a manned lunar base. Permanently-manned bases on the Moon have been proposed to support a manned mission to the planet Mars. The low-gravity environment on the Moon could allow materials processing and construction projects that would be impractical on Earth. The objects and structures made on the Moon could be very easily launched into orbit for final construction of the Mars spaceship. The Moon has also been seen as an easy source of liquid oxygen. 

Billionaire Jeff Bezos has outlined his plans for a lunar base in the 2020s. Independently, SpaceX plans to send Starship to the Moon to establish a base.

In March 2019 NASA unveiled the Artemis program’s mission to send a crewed mission to the Moon by 2024, in response to a directive by President Trump, along with plans to establish an outpost in 2028. However, existing plans delay the proposed mission to 2028 with a base established in the 2030s.

There have been numerous proposals regarding habitat modules. The designs have evolved throughout the years as humankind’s knowledge about the Moon has grown, and as the technological possibilities have changed. The proposed habitats range from the actual spacecraft landers or their used fuel tanks, to inflatable modules of various shapes. Some hazards of the lunar environment such as sharp temperature shifts, lack of atmosphere or magnetic field (which means higher levels of radiation and micrometeoroids) and long nights, were unknown early on. Proposals have shifted as these hazards were recognized and taken into consideration.

Underground colonies
Some suggest building the lunar colony underground, which would give protection from radiation and micrometeoroids. This would also greatly reduce the risk of air leakage, as the colony would be fully sealed from the outside except for a few exits to the surface.

The construction of an underground base would probably be more complex; one of the first machines from Earth might be a remote-controlled excavating machine. Once created, some sort of hardening would be necessary to avoid collapse, possibly a spray-on concrete-like substance made from available materials. A more porous insulating material also made in-situ could then be applied. Rowley & Neudecker have suggested “melt-as-you-go” machines that would leave glassy internal surfaces. Mining methods such as the room and pillar might also be used. Inflatable self-sealing fabric habitats might then be put in place to retain air. Eventually an underground city can be constructed. Farms set up underground would need artificial sunlight. As an alternative to excavating, a lava tube could be covered and insulated, thus solving the problem of radiation exposure. An alternative solution is studied in Europe by students to excavate a habitat in the ice-filled craters of the Moon.

Russian Cosmonaut Causes Stir with Video of ‘Space Guests’

A Russian cosmonaut aboard the International Space Station caused something of a stir when he recorded footage of a series of strange objects which he dubbed ‘space guests.’ The curious clip was reportedly filmed by Ivan Vagner, who was filming aurora borealis over the Atlantic Ocean between Australia and Antarctica when he noticed something peculiar. Posting the time-lapse footage to social media, he noted that there were five objects that suddenly appeared alongside the natural light phenomenon.

Calling the odd objects “space guests,” he asked his followers on Twitter “what do you think those are? Meteors, satellites, or…?” The ‘unspoken’ object being, of course, aliens. Suggesting that authorities in his home country were taking the sighting seriously, Vagner went on to reveal that “information was brought to the notice of Roscosmos management, the materials were sent to TsNIIMash and the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences for further analysis.”

As one might imagine, some UFO enthusiasts wondered if perhaps the cosmonaut had inadvertently captured footage of an alien craft. This speculation was fueled by a subsequent tweet from the Russian space agency in which they noted Vagner’s post and called it an “interesting and at the same time mysterious video.” However, upon further investigation, it would appear that the ‘visitors’ were most likely not of the extraterrestrial variety and, instead, were probably a group of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites which had been launched the day before the cosmonaut’s sighting.

Stunning Views of the Solar Eclipse

On Sunday, across a pathway that included parts of Africa and Asia, viewers were treated to a stunning “ring of fire” solar eclipse. In this “annular” eclipse which coincided with the Summer Solstice, the Moon passed between the Earth and the sun, revealing a thin outer ring of the fiery solar disc. Skywatchers were not bathed in total darkness, but astronomers have said it was like switching from a 500W bulb to a 30W one.

In the above combination photo, the eclipse is seen in various locations in India: (top L to R) Kurukshetra, Allahabad, Bangalore and (bottom L to R) Kolkata, New Delhi, Bangalore.



Company plans space tourism flights in high-altitude balloon

Researchers, armchair astronauts and even brides and grooms looking for an out-of-this-world wedding experience will be able to celebrate, collect data or simply enjoy the view from an altitude of 100,000 feet in a balloon-borne pressurized cabin, complete with a bar and a restroom, a space startup announced Thursday.

“Spaceship Neptune,” operated by a company called Space Perspective from leased facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, will carry eight passengers at a time on six-hour flights. The passenger cabin, lifted by a huge hydrogen-filled balloon, will climb at a sedate 12 mph to an altitude of about 30 miles high. That will be followed by a slow descent to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean where a recovery ship will be standing by to secure the cabin and crew.

Test flights carrying scientific research payloads are expected to begin in 2021. The first flights carrying passengers are expected within the next three-and-a-half years or so, with piloted test flights before that.

Space tourists enjoy the view from 100,000 feet in this artist’s impression of a ride aloft in Space Perspective’s balloon-borne “Neptune” crew cabin.SPACE PERSPECTIVE

While the company initially will operate out of the Florida spaceport, the system could be launched from multiple sites around the world, with Hawaii and Alaska near-term possibilities.

Ticket prices for crewed flights have not yet been set, but company officials said Thursday the initial cost will probably be in the neighborhood of $125,000 per passenger. That’s about half what space tourists can expect to pay for sub-orbital flights aboard rocket-powered spaceplanes like those being developed by Virgin Galactic, which are designed to reach altitudes of more than 50 miles.

Spaceship Neptune will fly well under that altitude and passengers will not experience weightlessness, but they will still be above 99% of Earth’s atmosphere, nearly twice as high as the supersonic Concorde once flew. And unlike shorter sub-orbital rocket flights that only spend a few minutes at the top of their trajectory, Neptune passengers will enjoy two hours at peak altitude, taking in the view through large, wrap-around windows.

“One of the amazing things about the design we’e been able to work up is the ability to have events, things like weddings, corporate events. I can’t wait to see spiritual leaders flying with political leaders,” said Space Perspective founder and co-CEO Taber MacCallum.

“I think we’re going to see a wide variety of flights. Science flights are going to be really interesting, mixing tourism and science. The imagination runs wild. We’re getting lots of interest in all types of great ideas.”

Space Perspective has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA and the company has arranged to lease a facility at the 3-mile-long runway once used by returning space shuttles. Neptune flights will be regulated by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Spaceflight.

An artist’s impression of a Space Perspective balloon and crew module high above Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. The company plans to begin test flights from the Kennedy Space Center next year.SPACE PERSPECTIVE

“Space Perspective is bringing a fundamentally new capability to the Cape, which will enhance the offering we have in Florida for space-related research and tourism,” Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello said in a statement. “Its presence here in Florida creates not just job and supply chain opportunities, but opportunities for civilian astronauts to experience this planet Earth from the edge of space, a privilege previously available to only a few.”

MacCallum and co-CEO Jane Poynter said extensive market research showed untapped interest in such flights across a broad spectrum of users.

“When we take all the people that we want to take to the edge of space, we want them to really be able to experience what astronauts talk about, seeing the Earth in space (and) doing it comfortably, gently and accessibly,” Poynter said during a teleconference.

“There’ll be eight people at a time, with a crew member in the capsule. And of course, you’ll be able to connect with your friends on the ground. And we’ll have some really great communication systems so that we can have all kinds of live events up there as well. The whole capsule has been designed to be really flexible to allow for all kinds of things to go on and up in the space environment.”

As for weddings, she said Neptune will provide “the best place to get married, ever.”