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NASA, Axiom Agree to First Private Astronaut Mission on Space Station
May 10th, 2021
NASA and Axiom Space have signed an order for the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station to take place no earlier than January 2022.
“We are excited to see more people have access to spaceflight through this first private astronaut mission to the space station,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA Headquarters. “One of our original goals with the Commercial Crew Program, and again with our Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development Program, is that our providers have customers other than NASA to grow a commercial economy in low-Earth orbit.”
The spaceflight, designated as Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and travel to the International Space Station. Once docked, the Axiom astronauts are scheduled to spend eight days aboard the orbiting laboratory. NASA and Axiom mission planners will coordinate in-orbit activities for the private astronauts to conduct in coordination with space station crew members and flight controllers on the ground.
Axiom will purchase services for the mission from NASA, such as crew supplies, cargo delivery to space, storage, and other in-orbit resources for daily use. NASA will purchase from Axiom the capability to return scientific samples that must be kept cold in transit back to Earth.
“The first private crew to visit the International Space Station is a watershed moment in humanity’s expansion off the planet and we are glad to partner with NASA in making it happen,” said Axiom President and CEO Michael Suffredini. “A thriving commercial marketplace in low-Earth orbit begins with expanding access to serious, nontraditional users and that is exactly the aim of our private astronaut missions.”
NASA has opened up the space station for commercial activities, including private astronaut missions, as part of its plan to develop a robust and competitive economy in low-Earth orbit. The agency’s needs to achieve that goal – such as research on the effects of the space environment on humans, technology development, and in-flight crew testing – will remain in place after the retirement of the International Space Station. Commercial entities can meet those needs, providing destinations and transportation capabilities. Enabling Ax-1 is an important step to stimulate demand for commercial human spaceflight services so NASA can be one of many customers in low-Earth orbit.
For the Ax-1 mission, Axiom has proposed Michael López-Alegría, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe as prime crew members. These private astronauts will be reviewed by NASA and its international partners, as is standard for any space station crew, and undergo NASA medical qualification testing to be approved for flight. López-Alegría will serve as the mission commander, with Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner as backups.
Once the proposed crew passes review and qualification, the four members will train for their flight with NASA, international partners, and SpaceX, which Axiom has contracted as launch provider for transportation to the space station. Trainers will familiarize the private astronauts with systems, procedures, and emergency preparedness for the space station and the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Based on current mission planning, training is scheduled to begin this summer.
The development and growth of the low-Earth orbit economy continues. In January 2020, NASA selected Axiom to provide at least one habitable commercial module to be attached to the forward port of the International Space Station’s Harmony node in late 2024. Most recently, NASA announced the agency is seeking input from industry on future commercial low-Earth orbit destinations that will provide services, such as crew training, scientific research, and advanced systems development for both government and private-sector astronauts and customers.
For more than 20 years, NASA has supported a continuous U.S. human presence in low-Earth orbit. The agency's goal is a low-Earth orbit marketplace where NASA is one of many customers, and the private sector leads the way. This strategy will provide services the government needs at a lower cost, enabling the agency to focus on its Artemis missions to the Moon and on to Mars while continuing to use low-Earth orbit as a training and proving ground for those deep space missions.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Heads for Earth with Asteroid Sample
May 10th, 2021
After nearly five years in space, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is on its way back to Earth with an abundance of rocks and dust from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.
On Monday, May 10, at 4:23 p.m. EDT the spacecraft fired its main engines full throttle for seven minutes – its most significant maneuver since it arrived at Bennu in 2018. This burn thrust the spacecraft away from the asteroid at 600 miles per hour (nearly 1,000 kilometers per hour), setting it on a 2.5-year cruise towards Earth.
After releasing the sample capsule, OSIRIS-REx will have completed its primary mission. It will fire its engines to fly by Earth safely, putting it on a trajectory to circle the sun inside of Venus’ orbit.
After orbiting the Sun twice, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is due to reach Earth Sept. 24, 2023. Upon return, the capsule containing pieces of Bennu will separate from the rest of the spacecraft and enter Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule will parachute to the Utah Test and Training Range in Utah's West Desert, where scientists will be waiting to retrieve it.
“OSIRIS-REx’s many accomplishments demonstrated the daring and innovate way in which exploration unfolds in real time,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters. “The team rose to the challenge, and now we have a primordial piece of our solar system headed back to Earth where many generations of researchers can unlock its secrets.”
To realize the mission’s multi-year plan, a dozen navigation engineers made calculations and wrote computer code to instruct the spacecraft when and how to push itself away from Bennu. After departing from Bennu, getting the sample to Earth safely is the team’s next critical goal. This includes planning future maneuvers to keep the spacecraft on course throughout its journey.
“Our whole mindset has been, ‘Where are we in space relative to Bennu?’” said Mike Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Now our mindset has shifted to ‘Where is the spacecraft in relation to Earth?’”
The navigation cameras that helped orient the spacecraft in relation to Bennu were turned off April 9, after snapping their last images of the asteroid. With Bennu in the rearview mirror, engineers are using NASA’s Deep Space Network of global spacecraft communications facilities to steer the OSIRIS-REx by sending it radio signals. By measuring the frequency of the waves returned from the spacecraft transponder, engineers can tell how fast OSIRIS-REx is moving. Engineers measure how long it takes for radio signals to get from the spacecraft back to Earth in order to determine its location.
Exceeding Mission Expectations
The May 10 departure date was precisely timed based on the alignment of Bennu with Earth. The goal of the return maneuver is to get the spacecraft within about 6,000 miles (approximately 10,000 kilometers) of Earth in September 2023. Although OSIRIS-REx still has plenty of fuel remaining, the team is trying to preserve as much as possible for a potential extended mission to another asteroid after returning the sample capsule to Earth. The team will investigate the feasibility of such a mission this summer.
The spacecraft’s course will be determined mainly by the Sun’s gravity, but engineers will need to occasionally make small course adjustments via engine burns.
“We need to do regular corrections to bring the trajectory increasingly closer to Earth’s atmosphere for the sample release, and to account for small errors that might have accumulated since the last burn,” said Peter Antreasian, OSIRIS-REx navigation lead at KinetX Aerospace, which is based in Simi Valley, California.
New York Students to Hear from NASA Astronauts on Space Station
May 4th, 2021
Students from New York will have an opportunity this week to hear from NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The Earth-to-space call will air live at 10:30 a.m. EDT Thursday, May 6, on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.
NASA astronaut Megan McArthur and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet will answer prerecorded video questions from students involved in the State University of New York-Plattsburgh’s Shine On! program. The Shine On! curriculum aims to encourage resilient, confident girls by teaching media literacy, communication skills, and character strengths. The in-flight education downlink will be the highlight of a daylong STEM conference for more than 5,000 students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade from across New York state.
The event will be virtual. Media interested in covering it should contact Emily Slattery at: 914-563-4296 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Teachers interested in registering for the virtual conference should visit:
Linking students directly to astronauts aboard the space station provides unique, authentic experiences designed to enhance student learning, performance, and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Astronauts living in space on the orbiting laboratory communicate with NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston 24 hours a day through the Space Network’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites.
For more than 20 years, astronauts have continuously lived and worked on the space station, testing technologies, performing research, and developing the skills needed to explore farther from Earth. Through NASA’s Artemis program, the agency will return astronauts to the Moon, with eventual human exploration of Mars. Inspiring the next generation of explorers – the Artemis Generation – ensures America will continue to lead in space exploration and discovery.
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 Astronauts Headed to International Space Station
April 23rd, 2021
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 astronauts are in orbit following their early morning launch bound for the International Space Station for the second commercial crew rotation mission aboard the microgravity laboratory. The international crew of astronauts lifted off at 5:49 a.m. EDT Friday from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket propelled the Crew Dragon spacecraft with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, along with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, into orbit to begin a six-month science mission on the space station.
During Crew Dragon’s flight, SpaceX will command the spacecraft from its mission control center in Hawthorne, California, and NASA teams will monitor space station operations throughout the flight from Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“It has been an incredible year for NASA and our Commercial Crew Program, with three crewed launches to the space station since last May,” said NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “This is another important milestone for NASA, SpaceX, and our international partners at ESA and JAXA, and for the future of scientific research on board the space station. It will be an exciting moment to see our crews greet one another on station for our first crew handover under the Commercial Crew Program.”
The Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endeavour, will dock autonomously to the forward port of the station’s Harmony module about 5:10 a.m. Saturday, April 24. NASA Television, the NASA App, and the agency’s website are providing ongoing live coverage through docking, hatch opening, and the ceremony to welcome the crew aboard the orbital outpost.
“I’m really proud of the SpaceX team and honored to be partnered with NASA and helping JAXA and ESA as well,” said Elon Musk, Chief Engineer at SpaceX. “We’re thrilled to be a part of advancing human spaceflight and looking forward to going beyond Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars and helping make humanity a space-faring civilization and a multi-planet species one day.”
The Crew-2 mission is the second of six crewed missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. This mission has several firsts, including:
- First commercial crew mission to fly two international partners;
- First commercial crew handover between astronauts on the space station as Crew-1 and Crew-2 astronauts will spend about five days together on station before Crew-1 returns to Earth;
- First reuse of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket on a crew mission –Crew Dragon Endeavour flew the historic Demo-2 mission and the Falcon 9 flew astronauts on the Crew-1 mission; and,
- First time two commercial crew spacecraft will be docked to station at the same time.
“When I see a launch I immediately think of what it took to reach this milestone and the dedication of all the people who made it happen,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “There’s obviously a long way to go, but now we can celebrate the Crew-2 launch and look forward to seeing them join their other Expedition 65 colleagues as we prepare to bring Crew-1 home next week.”
Kimbrough, McArthur, Hoshide, and Pesquet will join the Expedition 65 crew of Shannon Walker, Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Mark Vande Hei of NASA, as well as Soichi Noguchi of JAXA and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov. For a short time, the number of crew on the space station will increase to 11 people until Crew-1 astronauts Walker, Hopkins, Glover, and Noguchi return a few days later.
The is the second commercial crew mission to fly a JAXA astronaut. When Hoshide joins astronaut Noguchi during the commercial crew handover period, it will mark the first time two JAXA astronauts are on station at the same time.
NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover Extracts First Oxygen from Red Planet
April 21st, 2021
The growing list of “firsts” for Perseverance, NASA’s newest six-wheeled robot on the Martian surface, includes converting some of the Red Planet’s thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into oxygen. A toaster-size, experimental instrument aboard Perseverance called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) accomplished the task. The test took place April 20, the 60th Martian day, or sol, since the mission landed Feb. 18.
While the technology demonstration is just getting started, it could pave the way for science fiction to become science fact – isolating and storing oxygen on Mars to help power rockets that could lift astronauts off the planet’s surface. Such devices also might one day provide breathable air for astronauts themselves. MOXIE is an exploration technology investigation – as is the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) weather station – and is sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.
“This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for STMD. “MOXIE has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars. Oxygen isn’t just the stuff we breathe. Rocket propellant depends on oxygen, and future explorers will depend on producing propellant on Mars to make the trip home.”
For rockets or astronauts, oxygen is key, said MOXIE’s principal investigator, Michael Hecht of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Haystack Observatory.
To burn its fuel, a rocket must have more oxygen by weight. Getting four astronauts off the Martian surface on a future mission would require approximately 15,000 pounds (7 metric tons) of rocket fuel and 55,000 pounds (25 metric tons) of oxygen. In contrast, astronauts living and working on Mars would require far less oxygen to breathe. “The astronauts who spend a year on the surface will maybe use one metric ton between them,” Hecht said.
Hauling 25 metric tons of oxygen from Earth to Mars would be an arduous task. Transporting a one-ton oxygen converter – a larger, more powerful descendant of MOXIE that could produce those 25 tons – would be far more economical and practical.
Mars’ atmosphere is 96% carbon dioxide. MOXIE works by separating oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, which are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. A waste product, carbon monoxide, is emitted into the Martian atmosphere.
The conversion process requires high levels of heat to reach a temperature of approximately 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit (800 Celsius). To accommodate this, the MOXIE unit is made with heat-tolerant materials. These include 3D-printed nickel alloy parts, which heat and cool the gases flowing through it, and a lightweight aerogel that helps hold in the heat. A thin gold coating on the outside of MOXIE reflects infrared heat, keeping it from radiating outward and potentially damaging other parts of Perseverance.
NASA to Provide Live Coverage of Space Station Crew Landing
April 13th, 2021
Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Kate Rubins of NASA and two Roscosmos cosmonauts are scheduled to end their mission on the International Space Station Friday, April 16. Coverage of departure from the station and landing on Earth will air live on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.
Rubins, along with Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, will close the hatch to the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft at 6:10 p.m. EDT to begin the journey back to Earth. The trio will undock from the space-facing port of the station’s Poisk module at 9:34 p.m., heading for a parachute-assisted landing at 12:56 a.m. (10:56 a.m. Kazakhstan time) Saturday, April 17, on the steppe of Kazakhstan, southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan.
The three crew members will wrap up a 185-day mission spanning 2,960 orbits of Earth and 78.4 million miles. Rubins is completing her second flight, with 300 cumulative days in space. Ryzhikov is completing his second spaceflight, with 358 cumulative days. This was Kud-Sverchkov’s first spaceflight.
In advance of Soyuz departure coverage, station commander Ryzhikov will hand over command of the station to NASA astronaut Shannon Walker during a change of command ceremony. The event will air live on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the agency’s website beginning at 3:45 p.m. Thursday, April 15.
On Friday, April 16, coverage of the farewells and hatch closure for the departing crew members will begin at 5:45 p.m., followed by undocking coverage at 9:15 p.m., with coverage of the Soyuz deorbit burn and landing beginning at 11:30 p.m.
At the time of undocking, Expedition 65 will formally begin aboard the station, with new station commander Walker, NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, and Mark Vande Hei, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov.
Later this month, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 members – NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet – will join the Expedition 65 members aboard the station.
After landing, the Soyuz MS-17 crew will split up, with Rubins returning to her home in Houston, while the cosmonauts fly back to their training base in Star City, Russia.
Learn more about space station activities by following @space_station, and @ISS_Research on Twitter, as well as t
NASA’s Mars Helicopter to Make First Flight Attempt Sunday
April 9th, 2021
NASA Invites Public to Take Flight With Ingenuity Mars Helicopter
April 6th, 2021
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is two days away from making humanity’s first attempt at powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet. If all proceeds as planned, the 4-pound (1.8-kg) rotorcraft is expected to take off from Mars’ Jezero Crater Sunday, April 11, at 12:30 p.m. local Mars solar time (10:54 p.m. EDT, 7:54 p.m. PDT), hovering 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface for up to 30 seconds. Mission control specialists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California expect to receive the first data from the first flight attempt the following morning at around 4:15 a.m. EDT (1:15 a.m. PDT). NASA TV will air live coverage of the team as they receive the data, with commentary beginning at 3:30 a.m. EDT (12:30 a.m. PDT).
“While Ingenuity carries no science instruments, the little helicopter is already making its presence felt across the world, as future leaders follow its progress toward an unprecedented first flight,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters. “We do tech demos like this to push the envelope of our experience and provide something on which the next missions and the next generation can build. Just as Ingenuity was inspired by the Wright brothers, future explorers will take off using both the data and inspiration from this mission.”
The Mars Helicopter is a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration. If Ingenuity were to encounter difficulties during its 30-sol (Martian day) mission, it would not impact the science gathering of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover mission.
Flying in a controlled manner on Mars is far more difficult than flying on Earth. Even though gravity on Mars is about one-third that of Earth’s, the helicopter must fly with the assistance of an atmosphere whose pressure at the surface is only 1% that of Earth. If successful, engineers will gain invaluable in-flight data at Mars for comparison to the modeling, simulations, and tests performed back here on Earth. NASA also will gain its first hands-on experience operating a rotorcraft remotely at Mars. These data sets will be invaluable for potential future Mars missions that could enlist next-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations.
“From day one of this project our team has had to overcome a wide array of seemingly insurmountable technical challenges,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at JPL. “And here we are – safely on Mars – on the eve of our first flight attempt. We got this far with a never-say-die attitude, a lot of friends from many different technical disciplines, and an agency that likes to turn far-out ideas into reality.”
NASA is targeting no earlier than Sunday, April 11, for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s first attempt at powered, controlled flight on another planet. To mark a month of Ingenuity flights, the agency will host several events to bring people along for the ride.
A livestream confirming Ingenuity’s first flight is targeted to begin around 3:30 a.m. EDT Monday, April 12, on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website, and will livestream on multiple agency social media platforms, including the JPL YouTube and Facebook channels.
Ingenuity arrived at Mars’ Jezero Crater Feb. 18, attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover. The helicopter is a technology demonstration with a planned test flight duration of up to 31 days (30 Mars days, or sols). The rover will provide support during flight operations, taking images, collecting environmental data, and hosting the base station that enables the helicopter to communicate with mission controllers on Earth.
The flight date may shift as engineers work on the deployments, preflight checks, and vehicle positioning of both Perseverance and Ingenuity. Timing for events will be updated as needed, and the latest schedule will be available on the helicopter’s Watch Online webpage:
News Briefing and Televised Event Schedule
Virtual media briefings before and after Ingenuity’s first flight attempt and the livestream coverage of the flight attempt will originate from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
A preflight briefing at 1 p.m. EDT (10 a.m. PDT) Friday, April 9, will provide the latest details on the helicopter’s operations and what to expect on the first flight day.
Briefing participants are expected to include:
- Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, NASA Headquarters
- MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager, JPL
- Tim Canham, Ingenuity operations lead, JPL
- Amelia Quon, Ingenuity chamber test engineer, JPL
- Elsa Jensen, Mastcam-Z uplink operations lead, Malin Space Science Systems
If the helicopter flies on Sunday, April 11, as expected, the livestream will show the helicopter team analyzing the first test flight data in JPL’s Space Flight Operations Facility beginning at 3:30 a.m. EDT (12:30 a.m. PDT) Monday, April 12.
A postflight briefing is expected to take place at 11 a.m. EDT (8 a.m. PDT) Monday, April 12.
Members of the media who wish to participate in the briefings by telephone must provide their name and affiliation at least two hours before each briefing to Rexana Vizza at: email@example.com.
The public and the media also may ask questions on social media during the briefings and livestream using #MarsHelicopter.
Additional Media Opportunities
Live shots and remote live interviews via Zoom will be offered in English and Spanish from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. EDT (3 to 10 a.m. PDT) Friday, April 9. To book a live shot window, media should complete and submit the form available at:
Interview requests outside that window can be arranged by calling JPL’s Digital News and Media Office at 818-354-5011 or completing the form available at:
Public and Student Opportunities
On Thursday, April 8, at 1 p.m. EDT (10 a.m. PDT), students can watch a special conversation with members of the rover and helicopter teams on the NASA-JPL Edu YouTube channel and NASA TV.
A series of informal talks, titled, “Taking Flight: How Girls Can Grow Up to Be Engineers,” will take place Thursday, April 15; Thursday, April 22; and Thursday, April 29; at 4 p.m. EDT (1 p.m. PDT) each day, with exact dates and times based on Ingenuity’s first flight. The talks will focus on helping girls chart a path to engineering and provide invitations to special events for girls and women interested in the field.
More About Ingenuity
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter technology demonstration is supported by NASA’s Science, Aeronautics Research, and Space Technology mission directorates. JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations for Ingenuity and the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.
Follow Ingenuity via the @NASA, @NASAJPL, and @NASAMars Twitter accounts; NASA and NASAPersevere Facebook accounts; and NASA Instagram account. Join the conversation, ask questions, and get answers online by using #MarsHelicopter.
Watch Next Space Station Crew Launch Live on NASA TV, NASA App
April 5th, 2021
Three space travelers, including NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, are poised to launch Friday, April 9, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station. NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app will provide comprehensive prelaunch and launch-to-docking coverage.
Joining Vande Hei aboard the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft will be Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy and Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos for launch at 3:42 a.m. EDT (12:42 p.m. Kazakhstan time) on a two-orbit, three-hour journey to dock to the station’s Rassvet module. Launch coverage will begin at 2:45 a.m. This will be the second spaceflight for Vande Hei, the third for Novitskiy, and the first for Dubrov. The launch comes three days before the 60th anniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s launch to become the first human in space and the 40th anniversary of the first launch of NASA’s space shuttle.
The trio will join the Expedition 64 crew including NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins, who arrived on the station with Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos in October 2020, and the crew of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience – NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, as well as Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi – who have been in orbit since November.
The spacecraft will dock to the station at 7:07 a.m., with coverage of rendezvous and docking beginning at 6:15 a.m. About two hours after docking, hatches between the Soyuz and the station will open, and the 10 crew members will greet each other. NASA TV coverage of hatch opening and any remarks by the crew or flight controllers on Earth will begin at 8:30 a.m.
Vande Hei, Novitskiy, and Dubrov will be part of Expeditions 64 and 65. The departure of Rubins, Ryzhikov, and Kud-Sverchkov on Friday, April 16, will mark the start of the new expedition.
Video of the crew’s pre-launch activities in Baikonur will air on NASA TV in the days preceding launch, beginning Monday, April 5.
The Expeditions 64 and 65 crews will continue work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science, and Earth science aboard the International Space Station, humanity’s only permanently occupied microgravity laboratory.
NASA Mega Moon Rocket Passes Key Test, Readies for Launch
March 18th, 2021
The largest rocket element NASA has ever built, the core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, fired its four RS-25 engines for 8 minutes and 19 seconds Thursday at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The successful test, known as a hot fire, is a critical milestone ahead of the agency’s Artemis I mission, which will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a test flight around the Moon and back to Earth, paving the way for future Artemis missions with astronauts.
Engineers designed the eight-part Green Run test campaign to gradually bring the SLS core stage to life for the first time, culminating with the hot fire. The team will use data from the tests to validate the core stage design for flight.
“The SLS is the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built, and during today’s test the core stage of the rocket generated more than 1.6 million pounds of thrust within seven seconds. The SLS is an incredible feat of engineering and the only rocket capable of powering America’s next-generation missions that will place the first woman and the next man on the Moon,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “Today’s successful hot fire test of the core stage for the SLS is an important milestone in NASA’s goal to return humans to the lunar surface – and beyond.”
NASA previously conducted a hot fire test of the SLS core stage Jan. 16. The four RS-25 engines fired together for the first time for about one minute before the test ended earlier than planned. Following data analysis, NASA determined a second, longer hot fire test would provide valuable data to help verify the core stage design for flight, while posing minimal risk to the Artemis I core stage.
During the second hot fire test, the stage fired the engines for a little more than eight minutes, just like it will during every Artemis launch to the Moon. The longer duration hot fire tested a variety of operational conditions, including moving the four engines in specific patterns to direct thrust and powering the engines up to 109% power, throttling down and back up, as they will during flight.
“This longer hot fire test provided the wealth of data we needed to ensure the SLS core stage can power every SLS rocket successfully,” said John Honeycutt, manager for the SLS Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “During this test, the team conducted new operations with the core stage for the first time, repeated some critical operations, and recorded test data that will help us verify the core stage is ready for the first and future SLS flights for NASA’s Artemis program.”
The two propellant tanks in the SLS core stage collectively hold more than 733,000 gallons of supercold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to help fuel the RS-25 engines at the bottom of the stage. The core stage has a complex network of flight software and avionics systems designed to help fly, track, and steer the rocket during launch and flight. Prior tests in the Green Run test series evaluated the integrated functionality and performance of the core stage’s avionics systems, propulsion systems, and hydraulic systems.
“Today is a great day for NASA, Stennis and this nation’s human space exploration program. This final test in the Green Run series represents a major milestone for this nation’s return to the Moon and eventual mission to Mars,” said Stennis Center Director Richard Gilbrech. “So many people across the agency and the nation contributed to this SLS core stage, but special recognition is due to the blended team of test operators, engineers, and support personnel for an exemplary effort in conducting the test today.”
Test teams at Stennis supervised a network of 114 tanker trucks and six propellant barges that provided liquid propellant through the B-2 Test Stand to the core stage. Test teams also delivered operational electrical power, supplied more than 330,000 gallons of water per minute to the stand’s flame deflector, and monitored structural interfaces of both the hardware and the stand.
Testing the SLS rocket’s core stage is a combined effort for NASA and its industry partners. Boeing is the prime contractor for the core stage and Aerojet Rocketdyne is the prime contractor for the RS-25 engines.
Next, the core stage for SLS will be refurbished, then shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There, the core stage will be assembled with the solid rocket boosters and other parts of the rocket and NASA’s Orion spacecraft on the mobile launcher inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy in preparation for Artemis I.
SLS, Orion, and the ground systems at Kennedy, along with the human landing system and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon on a single mission. The exploration of the Moon with NASA’s Artemis program includes preparations to send astronauts to Mars as part of America’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.
NASA to Host Virtual Symposium Exploring Rise of Commercial Space
March 15th, 2021
From activities in low-Earth orbit to NASA’s Artemis program, the commercial space industry has emerged as an innovator in areas of space access, commerce, and exploration. In an effort to address the growth of commercial space over the past decades and inform the relationship between government and industry for the future, NASA will host a virtual event Wednesday, March 17, through Friday, March 19, with a final session Thursday, March 25.
NASA and the Rise of Commercial Space: A Symposium Examining the Definition(s) and Context(s) of Commercial Space will address such topics as legal and entrepreneurial frameworks, advancements during the space shuttle era, and new trajectories, while examining the historical context surrounding questions such as “How will humanity explore the Moon and Mars?” and, more fundamentally, how to define commercial space.
The program begins Wednesday, March 17, with a keynote talk by Eric Berger, senior space editor at Ars Technica, on the early days of SpaceX. Two days of panel discussions follow on Thursday, March 18, and Friday, March 19, featuring keynote talks by Ken Davidian of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation and NASA Chief Economist Alexander MacDonald, author of “The Long Space Age: The Economic Origins of Space Exploration from Colonial America to the Cold War.” The final session, on Thursday, March 25, is a collaboration between NASA, the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, and the University of Alabama Huntsville, and will feature a keynote talk by Steve Lee of Astrosat.
The event is free and open to the public. No registration is required to attend sessions –simply click on the WebEx links located on the program webpage to login during each day of the symposium. For questions related to the event, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
NASA’s Perseverance Drives on Mars’ Terrain for First Time
March 5th, 2021
NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover performed its first drive on Mars March 4, covering 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) across the Martian landscape. The drive served as a mobility test that marks just one of many milestones as team members check out and calibrate every system, subsystem, and instrument on Perseverance. Once the rover begins pursuing its science goals, regular commutes extending 656 feet (200 meters) or more are expected.
“When it comes to wheeled vehicles on other planets, there are few first-time events that measure up in significance to that of the first drive,” said Anais Zarifian, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mobility test bed engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “This was our first chance to ‘kick the tires’ and take Perseverance out for a spin. The rover’s six-wheel drive responded superbly. We are now confident our drive system is good to go, capable of taking us wherever the science leads us over the next two years.”
The drive, which lasted about 33 minutes, propelled the rover forward 13 feet (4 meters), where it then turned in place 150 degrees to the left and backed up 8 feet (2.5 meters) into its new temporary parking space. To help better understand the dynamics of a retrorocket landing on the Red Planet, engineers used Perseverance’s Navigation and Hazard Avoidance Cameras to image the spot where Perseverance touched down, dispersing Martian dust with plumes from its engines.
More Than Roving
The rover’s mobility system is not the only thing getting a test drive during this period of initial checkouts. On Feb. 26 – Perseverance’s eighth Martian day, or sol, since landing – mission controllers completed a software update, replacing the computer program that helped land Perseverance with one they will rely on to investigate the planet.
More recently, the controllers checked out Perseverance’s Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) and Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instruments, and deployed the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) instrument’s two wind sensors, which extend out from the rover’s mast. Another significant milestone occurred on March 2, or sol 12, when engineers unstowed the rover’s 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm for the first time, flexing each of its five joints over the course of two hours.
“Tuesday’s first test of the robotic arm was a big moment for us,” said Robert Hogg, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover deputy mission manager. “That’s the main tool the science team will use to do close-up examination of the geologic features of Jezero Crater, and then we’ll drill and sample the ones they find the most interesting. When we got confirmation of the robotic arm flexing its muscles, including images of it working beautifully after its long trip to Mars – well, it made my day.”
Upcoming events and evaluations include more detailed testing and calibration of science instruments, sending the rover on longer drives, and jettisoning covers that shield both the adaptive caching assembly (part of the rover’s Sample Caching System) and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during landing. The experimental flight test program for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will also take place during the rover’s commissioning.
Through it all, the rover is sending down images from the most advanced suite of cameras ever to travel to Mars. The mission’s cameras have already sent about 7,000 images. On Earth, Perseverance’s imagery flows through the powerful Deep Space Network (DSN), managed by NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program. In space, several Mars orbiters play an equally important role.
“Orbiter support for downlink of data has been a real gamechanger,” said Justin Maki, chief engineer for imaging and the imaging scientist for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at JPL. “When you see a beautiful image from Jezero, consider that it took a whole team of Martians to get it to you. Every picture from Perseverance is relayed by either the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter, or NASA’s MAVEN, Mars Odyssey, or Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They are important partners in our explorations and our discoveries.”
The sheer volume of imagery and data already coming down on this mission has been a welcome bounty for Matt Wallace, who recalls waiting anxiously for the first images to trickle in during NASA’s first Mars rover mission, Sojourner, which explored Mars in 1997. On March 3, Wallace became the mission’s new project manager. He replaced John McNamee, who is stepping down as he intended, after helming the project for nearly a decade.
“John has provided unwavering support to me and every member of the project for over a decade,” said Wallace. “He has left his mark on this mission and team, and it has been my privilege to not only call him boss but also my friend.”
Touchdown Site Named
With Perseverance departing from its touchdown site, mission team scientists have memorialized the spot, informally naming it for the late science fiction author Octavia E. Butler. The groundbreaking author and Pasadena, California, native was the first African American woman to win both the Hugo Award and Nebula Award, and she was the first science fiction writer honored with a MacArthur Fellowship. The location where Perseverance began its mission on Mars now bears the name “Octavia E. Butler Landing."
Official scientific names for places and objects throughout the solar system – including asteroids, comets, and locations on planets – are designated by the International Astronomical Union. Scientists working with NASA’s Mars rovers have traditionally given unofficial nicknames to various geological features, which they can use as references in scientific papers.
“Butler’s protagonists embody determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission and its theme of overcoming challenges,” said Kathryn Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist for Perseverance. “Butler inspired and influenced the planetary science community and many beyond, including those typically under-represented in STEM fields.”
“I can think of no better person to mark this historic landing site than Octavia E. Butler, who not only grew up next door to JPL in Pasadena, but she also inspired millions with her visions of a science-based future,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science. “Her guiding principle, ‘When using science, do so accurately,’ is what the science team at NASA is all about. Her work continues to inspire today’s scientists and engineers across the globe – all in the name of a bolder, more equitable future for all.”
Butler, who died in 2006, authored such notable works as “Kindred,” “Bloodchild,” “Speech Sounds,” “Parable of the Sower,” “Parable of the Talents,” and the “Patternist” series. Her writing explores themes of race, gender, equality, and humanity, and her works are as relevant today as they were when originally written and published.
More About the Mission
A key objective of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
NASA to Discuss Second Hot Fire Test of Rocket for Artemis Moon Missions
Feb 23rd, 2021
NASA will host a media teleconference at 9 a.m. EST Friday, Feb.19, to discuss the final test in the Green Run testing series for the core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that will launch the agency’s Artemis I mission.
The team is targeting Thursday, Feb. 25, for the test, known as the hot fire, to take place at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The target date will be confirmed following a test readiness review later this week.
Audio of the teleconference will stream live on the agency’s website.
For the test, engineers will power up all the core stage systems, load more than 700,000 gallons of cryogenic, or supercold, propellant into the tanks, and fire all four engines at the same time to simulate the rocket’s core stage operation during launch.
On Jan. 16, NASA conducted the first hot fire of the Artemis I core stage. All four RS-25 engines ignited successfully, but the test experienced an early shutdown after about 67 seconds due to conservative test parameters. After evaluating data from the first hot fire and the seven prior Green Run tests, NASA and core stage lead contractor Boeing determined that a second, longer hot fire test would provide valuable data to help certify the core stage for flight and pose minimal risk to the Artemis I core stage.
Participating in the briefing are:
- Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, NASA Headquarters
- John Honeycutt, SLS program manager, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center
- Julie Bassler, SLS stages manager, Marshall
- Ryan McKibben, Green Run test conductor, Stennis
- Johnny Heflin, SLS liquid engines manager, Marshall
- John Shannon, vice president and SLS program manager, Boeing
- Jeff Zotti, RS-25 program director, Aerojet Rocketdyne
To participate in the teleconference, media must contact Kathryn Hambleton at email@example.com by 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, for dial-in information.
The Green Run test series is a comprehensive assessment of the rocket’s core stage prior to SLS launching Artemis missions to the Moon. The core stage includes the liquid hydrogen tank and liquid oxygen tank, four RS-25 engines, plumbing, and the computers, electronics, and avionics that serve as the “brains” of the rocket.
The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I will test the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system ahead of crewed flights to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA is working to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon to pave the way for sustainable exploration at the Moon and future missions to Mars.
NASA to Host Briefings, Interviews for Next Crew Rotation Mission with SpaceX
Feb 22nd, 2021
NASA will highlight the second crew rotation flight of a U.S. commercial spacecraft with astronauts to the International Space Station with a pair of news conferences beginning 12:30 p.m. EST Monday, March 1. The briefings, which will take place at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, will air live on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website. The full astronaut crew flying on the mission also will be available for interviews.
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission will carry astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, Akihiko Hoshide of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket to the space station. The mission is scheduled to launch no earlier than April 20 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
All media participation in these news conferences and interviews will be remote; no media will be accommodated at any NASA site. To participate in the briefings by phone or to request an interview with the crew members, reporters must contact Johnson's newsroom at 281-483-5111 or firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 12 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 25.
Briefings and participants include (all times Eastern):
12:30 p.m. – Crew-2 Mission Overview News Conference with the following participants:
- Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, NASA Headquarters
- Steve Stich, manager, Commercial Crew Program, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center
- Joel Montalbano, manager, International Space Station, Johnson
- Benji Reed, senior director, Human Spaceflight Programs, SpaceX
- Junichi Sakai, manager, International Space Station, JAXA
- David Parker, director, Human and Robotic Exploration, ESA
2 p.m. – Crew News Conference with the following participants:
- Astronaut Shane Kimbrough, spacecraft commander, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission
- Astronaut Megan McArthur, pilot, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission
- Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, mission specialist, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission
- Astronaut Thomas Pesquet, mission specialist, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission
3:30 p.m. – Round Robin Crew Interviews
- Crew-2 astronauts will be available for a limited number of remote interviews following the news conference.
Shane Kimbrough is commander of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the Crew-2 mission. Kimbrough is responsible for all phases of flight, from launch to re-entry. He also will serve as an Expedition 65 flight engineer aboard the station. Selected as a NASA astronaut in 2004, Kimbrough first launched aboard space shuttle Endeavour for a visit to the station on the STS-126 mission in 2008, then aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for Expedition 49/50 in 2016. He has spent a total of 189 days in space, and performed six spacewalks. Kimbrough also is a retired U.S. Army colonel and earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and a master’s degree in operations research from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
Megan McArthur is the pilot of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and second-in-command for the mission. McArthur is responsible for spacecraft systems and performance. She also will be a long-duration space station crew member, making her first trip to the space station. Selected as an astronaut in 2000, McArthur launched on space shuttle Atlantis as a mission specialist on STS-125, the final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, in 2009. McArthur operated the shuttle’s robotic arm over the course of the 12 days, 21 hours she spent in space, capturing the telescope and moving crew members during the five spacewalks needed to repair and upgrade it. She holds a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a doctorate in oceanography from the University of California, San Diego.
Akihiko Hoshide is a mission specialist for Crew-2. As a mission specialist, he will work closely with the commander and pilot to monitor the vehicle during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight. Once aboard the station, Hoshide will become a flight engineer for Expedition 65. Hoshide joined the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA, currently JAXA) in 1992 and was selected as an astronaut candidate in February 1999. Hoshide is a veteran of two spaceflights. In June 2008, he flew to the International Space Station on the STS-124 mission to deliver the Japanese Experiment Module "Kibo" to the International Space Station. From July to November 2012, he stayed on the space station for 124 days as a flight engineer for the Expedition 32/33 mission. The Crew Dragon will be the third spacecraft that Noguchi has flown to the orbiting laboratory.
Thomas Pesquet will also be a mission specialist for Crew-2, working with the commander and pilot to monitor the vehicle during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight. Pesquet also will become a long-duration crew member aboard the space station. He was selected as an astronaut candidate by ESA in May 2009 and worked as a Eurocom, communicating with astronauts during spaceflights from the mission control center. He previously flew as part of Expeditions 50 and 51, launching aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and spending 196 days in space. His mission also included two spacewalks to maintain the station: one to replace batteries on an electrical channel, and one to fix a cooling leak and service the robotic arm.
NASA Announces New Role of Senior Climate Advisor
Feb 7th, 2021
In an effort to ensure effective fulfillment of the Biden Administration’s climate science objectives for NASA, the agency has established a new position of senior climate advisor and selected Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, to serve in the role in an acting capacity until a permanent appointment is made.
“This position will provide NASA leadership critical insights and recommendations for the agency’s full spectrum of science, technology, and infrastructure programs related to climate,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “This will enable the agency to more effectively align our efforts to help meet the administration’s goals for addressing climate change.”
Climate adaptation and mitigation efforts cannot succeed without robust climate observations and research. With more than two dozen satellites and instruments observing key climate indicators, NASA is the premier agency in observing and understanding changes to the Earth. Furthermore, NASA enjoys broad public support and trust, lending credibility to its climate observations.
“The complexities of climate processes still are not fully understood, and climate adaptation and mitigation efforts cannot succeed without robust climate observations, data, and research” said acting NASA Chief of Staff Bhavya Lal. “The appointment of Gavin Schmidt will help ensure that the Biden Administration has the crucial data to implement and track its plan toward the path to achieve net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050, and a healthier, safer, more prosperous planet for our children.”
As a representative of the agency’s strategic science objectives and accomplishments, the senior climate advisor will advocate for NASA climate investments in the context of broader government agendas and work closely with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget.
NASA Invites Media to Next Space Station Cargo Launch With Northrop Grumman
Jan 22, 2021
Media accreditation is open for the launch from Virginia of Northrop Grumman’s 15th commercial resupply services mission to deliver NASA science investigations, supplies, and equipment to the International Space Station aboard its Cygnus spacecraft.
Northrop Grumman is targeting liftoff of its Antares rocket for no earlier than 12:36 p.m. EST Saturday, Feb. 20, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, NASA will credential a limited number of media to cover the Antares launch from Wallops.
Both U.S. and U.S.-based international media must apply by 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2. All accreditation requests must be sent to Keith Koehler at email@example.com. International media from outside the United States will not be permitted to register for accreditation for this launch.
Each resupply mission to the station delivers scientific investigations in the areas of biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, physical sciences, and technology development and demonstrations.
Research investigations launching to the orbiting laboratory aboard this Cygnus include:
- The Spaceborne Computer-2 from Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which aims to demonstrate that current Earth-based data processing of space station experimental data can be performed in orbit
- An experiment studying muscle strength in worms
- |An investigation into how microgravity may optimize the production of artificial retinas
Cargo resupply from U.S. companies ensures a national capability to deliver critical science research to the space station, significantly increasing NASA's ability to conduct new investigations at the only laboratory in space.
NASA TV Coverage Set for Upcoming Spacewalks, Preview News Conference
Jan 19th, 2021
Two NASA astronauts are scheduled to venture outside the International Space Station Wednesday, Jan. 27, and Monday, Feb. 1, for a pair of spacewalks to finish installing a European science platform and complete long-term battery upgrade work. NASA will preview the work during a news conference at 3 p.m. EST Friday, Jan. 22, from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Live coverage of the preview briefing and spacewalks will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website.
Reporters who wish to participate by telephone must call Johnson's newsroom at 281-483-5111 to RSVP no later than 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21. Reporters will not be invited to attend briefings in person at NASA centers due to safety restrictions related to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Those following the briefing on social media may ask questions using #AskNASA.
News conference participants will be:
- Kenny Todd, deputy manager, International Space Station Program
- Rick Henfling, Jan. 27 spacewalk flight director
- Sarah Korona, Jan. 27 spacewalk officer
- Vincent Lacourt, Feb. 1 spacewalk flight director
- Sandy Fletcher, Feb. 1 spacewalk officer
NASA Television and the agency’s website will broadcast the spacewalks with live coverage beginning at 5:30 a.m. on the day of each spacewalk. The spacewalks will begin about 7 a.m. and will last about six and a half hours.
NASA Flight Engineers Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover, who flew to the space station aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft, will conduct both spacewalks, which will be the 233rd and 234th in support of space station assembly, maintenance, and upgrades.
The Jan. 27 spacewalk will focus on completing cable and antenna rigging for the “Bartolomeo” science payloads platform outside the ESA (European Space Agency) Columbus module. The duo also will configure a Ka-band terminal that will enable an independent, high-bandwidth communication link to European ground stations. After completing the upgrades on the Columbus module, Hopkins and Glover will remove a grapple fixture bracket on the far port (left) truss in preparation for future power system upgrades.
The Feb. 1 spacewalk will address a variety of tasks, including installation of a final lithium-ion battery adapter plate on the port 4 (P4) truss that will wrap up battery replacement work begun in January 2017. Hopkins and Glover will remove another grapple fixture bracket on the same truss segment, replace an external camera on the starboard truss, install a new high-definition camera on the Destiny laboratory, and replace components for the Japanese robotic arm’s camera system outside the Kibo module.
Hopkins will be extravehicular crew member 1 (EV 1) for both spacewalks, wearing a spacesuit with red stripes, and Glover will be extravehicular crew member 2 (EV 2), wearing a spacesuit with no stripes. These will be the third and fourth spacewalks in Hopkins’ career, and the first and second for Glover.
These two spacewalks are scheduled to be followed by two additional spacewalks in the near future. During the third spacewalk, Glover and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will work outside the station to prepare its power system for the installation of new solar arrays to augment the station’s existing power supply. For the fourth spacewalk, Rubins and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi will continue upgrading station components. Another briefing will be scheduled to preview the next two spacewalks after the dates are set.
For more than 20 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. As a global endeavor, 242 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 3,000 research investigations from researchers in 108 countries and areas.
NASA, NSF Sign Agreement to Advance Space, Earth, Biological, Physical Sciences
January 11th, 2021
NASA and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) have signed a memorandum of understanding affirming the agencies’ intent to continue their longstanding partnership in mutually beneficial research activities advancing space, Earth, biological, and physical sciences to further U.S. national space policy and promote the progress of science.
The agreement addresses a broad range of research and activities in many areas of science, engineering, and education central to the missions of both agencies.
“When you look at the vast array of disciplines that make up NASA’s mission, there isn’t a single one that isn’t somehow informed by our partnership with NSF,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We look forward to continued collaboration on areas of research here on Earth and in space – including aboard the International Space Station – as well as inspiring the next generation of STEM professionals.”
Over the years, NASA and NSF have enjoyed a successful cooperative relationship that has supported further research and understanding related to a variety of disciplines, including research activities related to astrophysics, astrochemistry, planetary science, astrobiology, and heliophysics that aim to understand space weather, exoplanets, gravitational waves, and the origins of life.
For example, NASA and NSF have collaborated on field work and research activities in Antarctica and Greenland through NSF-managed stations and facilities, including research on Antarctica’s ice sheet, investigations using high-altitude scientific balloon platforms launched from McMurdo Station, the collection and profiling of ancient meteorites that have impacted the Antarctic ice sheet, and communications infrastructure support for Antarctic research stations.
The agencies also have engaged in field campaigns to address fundamental Earth system science, as well as Earth system modeling, remote sensing, and ocean and climate monitoring activities. Collaborations also have included activities related to the National Robotics, Cyber-Physical Systems and Digital Library initiatives, as well as supporting educational engagement activities, such as the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment program and the Center for Chemical Evolution.
NASA Approves Heliophysics Missions to Explore Sun, Earth’s Aurora
January 5th, 2020
NASA has approved two heliophysics missions to explore the Sun and the system that drives space weather near Earth. Together, NASA’s contribution to the Extreme Ultraviolet High-Throughput Spectroscopic Telescope Epsilon Mission, or EUVST, and the Electrojet Zeeman Imaging Explorer, or EZIE, will help us understand the Sun and Earth as an interconnected system.
Understanding the physics that drive the solar wind and solar explosions – including solar flares and coronal mass ejections – could one day help scientists predict these events, which can impact human technology and explorers in space.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) leads the Extreme Ultraviolet High-Throughput Spectroscopic Telescope (EUVST) Epsilon Mission (Solar-C EUVST Mission), along with other international partners. Targeted for launch in 2026, EUVST is a solar telescope that will study how the solar atmosphere releases solar wind and drives eruptions of solar material. These phenomena propagate out from the Sun and influence the space radiation environment throughout the solar system. NASA’s hardware contributions to the mission include an intensified UV detector and support electronics, spectrograph components, a guide telescope, software, and a slit-jaw imaging system to provide context for the spectrographic measurement. The budget for NASA contributions to EUVST is $55 million. The principal investigator for the NASA contribution to EUVST is Harry Warren at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington.
The Electrojet Zeeman Imaging Explorer (EZIE) will study electric currents in Earth’s atmosphere linking aurora to the Earth’s magnetosphere – one piece of Earth’s complicated space weather system, which responds to solar activity and other factors. The Auroral Electrojet (AE) index is a common measure of geomagnetic activity levels, even though the details of the structure of these currents is not understood. EZIE will launch no earlier than June 2024. The total budget for the EZIE mission is $53.3 million. The principal investigator for the mission is Jeng-Hwa (Sam) Yee at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
NASA Discoveries, R&D, Moon to Mars Exploration Plans Persevere in 2020
December 21st, 2020
In 2020, NASA made significant progress on America’s Moon to Mars exploration strategy, met mission objectives for the Artemis program, achieved significant scientific advancements to benefit humanity, and returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States, all while agency teams acted quickly to assist the national COVID-19 response.
“NASA has impressed the nation with our resilience and persistence during the pandemic,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We made history with a U.S. commercial partner, made groundbreaking discoveries, advanced science, furthered aeronautics research and technology development, and even joined in the fight against COVID-19. We met an incredibly challenging year with incredible achievements and established a path for continued success.”
The space agency’s aid to the federal pandemic response included development of a surface decontamination system, a ventilator developed by engineers in just 37 days, and an oxygen helmet to treat COVID-19 patients.
In 2020, astronauts launched from American soil to the International Space Station for the first time since 2011 and, for the first time ever, on an American commercial spacecraft. The return of crewed launches to U.S. shores arrived during the 20th year of a continuous human presence aboard the space station, enabling more critical science to prepare for future Artemis missions.
NASA advanced its plan for a robotic and human return to the Moon under the Artemis program, is on track for its first two robotic deliveries next year, named astronauts to the Artemis Team, and identified science priorities and activities for the Artemis III mission to land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface in 2024.
NASA Awards Contract for Project and Engineering Support Services
Dec 14th, 2020
NASA has selected Millennium Engineering and Integration Services LLC of Arlington, Virginia, for a contract providing support for flight and mission projects, including all advanced engineering capabilities needed to support the research and development mission at the agency's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
The period of performance will begin Monday, Feb. 1, and consists of a 60-day phase-in period, a two-year base period, and three one-year option periods.
This task order has a maximum value of $168,031,583.
Millennium Engineering and Integration Services will provide on-site services in integrally related disciplines and functions including the following areas:
- Systems engineering
- Design and development
- Assembly and integration
- Mission concept and design
- Mission operations
- Project management and proposal development, primarily in support of the center's Programs and Projects Directorate and Engineering Directorate.
NASA Breaking News
Are We Alone?
In 2020 NASA's next Mars rover mission will be underway and the rover will be flying to the Red Planet searching for possible post existent life.
At a glance, it looks a lot like its predecessor, the Curiosity Mars rover. But there's no doubt it's a souped-up science machine: It has seven new instruments, redesigned wheels and more autonomy. A drill will capture rock cores, while a caching system with a miniature robotic arm will seal up these samples. Then, they'll be deposited on the Martian surface for possible pickup by a future mission.
This new hardware is being developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, which manages the mission for the agency. It includes the Mars 2020 mission's cruise stage, which will fly the rover through space, and the descent stage, a rocket-powered "sky crane" that will lower it to the planet's surface. Both of these stages have recently moved into JPL's Spacecraft Assembly Facility.
Are We Alone?
Mars 2020 relies heavily on the system designs and spare hardware previously created for Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012. Roughly 85 percent of the new rover's mass is based on this "heritage hardware."
"The fact that so much of the hardware has already been designed -- or even already exists -- is a major advantage for this mission," said Jim Watzin, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. "It saves us money, time and most of all, reduces risk."
Despite its similarities to Mars Science Laboratory, the new mission has very different goals. Mars 2020's instruments will seek signs of ancient life by studying terrain that is now inhospitable, but once held flowing rivers and lakes, more than 3.5 billion years ago.
To achieve these new goals, the rover has a suite of cutting-edge science instruments. It will seek out biosignatures on a microbial scale: An X-ray spectrometer will target spots as small as a grain of table salt, while an ultraviolet laser will detect the "glow" from excited rings of carbon atoms. A ground-penetrating radar will be the first instrument to look under the surface of Mars, mapping layers of rock, water and ice up to 30 feet (10 meters) deep, depending on the material
The rover is getting some upgraded Curiosity hardware, including color cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that can vaporize rocks and soil to analyze their chemistry.
"Our next instruments will build on the success of MSL, which was a proving ground for new technology," said George Tahu, NASA's Mars 2020 program executive. "These will gather science data in ways that weren't possible before."
The mission will also undertake a marathon sample hunt: The rover team will try to drill at least 20 rock cores, and possibly as many as 30 or 40, for possible future return to Earth.
"Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer," said Ken Farley of JPL, Mars 2020's project scientist. "What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we're alone in the universe."
JPL is also developing a crucial new landing technology called terrain-relative navigation. As the descent stage approaches the Martian surface, it will use computer vision to compare the landscape with pre-loaded terrain maps. This technology will guide the descent stage to safe landing sites, correcting its course along the way.
A related technology called the range trigger will use location and velocity to determine when to fire the spacecraft's parachute. That change will narrow the landing ellipse by more than 50 percent.
"Terrain-relative navigation enables us to go to sites that were ruled too risky for Curiosity to explore," said Al Chen of JPL, the Mars 2020 entry, descent and landing lead. "The range trigger lets us land closer to areas of scientific interest, shaving miles -- potentially as much as a year -- off a rover's journey."
This approach to minimizing landing errors will be critical in guiding any future mission dedicated to retrieving the Mars 2020 samples, Chen said.
Site selection has been another milestone for the mission. In February, the science community narrowed the list of potential landing sites from eight to three. Those three remaining sites represent fundamentally different environments that could have harbored primitive life: an ancient lakebed called Jezero Crater; Northeast Syrtis, where warm waters may have chemically interacted with subsurface rocks; and a possible hot springs at Columbia Hills.
All three sites have rich geology and may potentially harbor signs of past microbial life. A final landing site decision is still more than a year away.
"In the coming years, the 2020 science team will be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites," Farley said. "It is by far the most important decision we have ahead of us."