The ISS gets an extension to 2030 to wrap up unfinished business

January 16th, 2022

ISS

Last week, NASA announced that the Biden-Harris Administration intends to extend International Space Station (ISS) operations through 2030, extending the US’s previous funding deadline by a few years.

“As more and more nations are active in space, it’s more important than ever that the United States continues to lead the world in growing international alliances and modeling rules and norms for the peaceful and responsible use of space,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a NASA statement Friday.

Funding for the ISS was previously set to expire in 2024, as per an act of Congress in 2014. But NASA anticipates that it will officially fund the ISS through 2030, says Robyn Gatens, director of the ISS for space operations.

The extension was unsurprising to Wendy Whitman Cobb, a professor of strategy and security studies at the US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies. “I think the plan has always been sort of to extend it,” she says. “Obviously, NASA funding is always sort of this political battle of sorts, and so Congress has only been willing to fund it out a certain number of years.”

The International Space Station’s mission: a history

The first parts of the ISS were launched into orbit in 1998, and it was constructed in lower-Earth orbit over the years, piece by piece, like an outer space Lego set. The 356-foot-long lab has hosted more than 3,000 research investigations over the past 24 years; studies include how to grow peas in space and how space travel affects itty-bitty baby squid.

'29 days on the edge:' What's next for NASA's newly launched James Webb Space Telescope

Launch kicked off a long journey for the $10 billion observatory.

NASA's next big space observatory is finally aloft, but it'll be a while before it starts its highly anticipated science mission.

The $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope launched atop an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana yesterday (Dec. 25), kicking off a long-delayed, potentially transformative mission to study the early universe, nearby exoplanets and more. Telescope team members (and the rest of us) will have to remain patient, however, for Webb has a lot of work to do before it gets up and running.

The telescope is headed for the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2 (L2), a gravitationally stable spot 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from our planet in the direction of Mars. It'll take 29 days for Webb to get there, and there will be lots of nail-biting action for the telescope along the way.

"The Webb observatory has 50 major deployments … and 178 release mechanisms to deploy those 50 parts," Webb Mission Systems Engineer Mike Menzel, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a deployment-explaining video called "29 Days on the Edge" that the agency posted in October.

"Every single one of them must work," Menzel said. "Unfolding Webb is hands-down the most complicated spacecraft activity we’ve ever done."

Webb has notched a few major milestones already. About half an hour after liftoff, for example, it deployed its solar panels and started soaking up energy from the sun. And last night, the big telescope performed a crucial 65-minute engine burn that put it on course for L2.

The following is a brief rundown of the big steps yet to come. (For more detail, see NASA's Webb deployment site.) The timelines given are approximate; Webb team members have stressed that the deployment schedule is flexible, so don't panic if the times and dates shift a bit, or if some things occur out of order.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR NASA’S NEWLY LAUNCHED JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE

December 20th, 2021

Dec 30th

Launch kicked off a long journey for the $10 billion observatory.

NASA's next big space observatory is finally aloft, but it'll be a while before it starts its highly anticipated science mission.

The $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope launched atop an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana yesterday (Dec. 25), kicking off a long-delayed, potentially transformative mission to study the early universe, nearby exoplanets and more. Telescope team members (and the rest of us) will have to remain patient, however, for Webb has a lot of work to do before it gets up and running.

The telescope is headed for the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2 (L2), a gravitationally stable spot 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from our planet in the direction of Mars. It'll take 29 days for Webb to get there, and there will be lots of nail-biting action for the telescope along the way.

"The Webb observatory has 50 major deployments … and 178 release mechanisms to deploy those 50 parts," Webb Mission Systems Engineer Mike Menzel, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a deployment-explaining video called "29 Days on the Edge" that the agency posted in October.

"Every single one of them must work," Menzel said. "Unfolding Webb is hands-down the most complicated spacecraft activity we’ve ever done."

Webb has notched a few major milestones already. About half an hour after liftoff, for example, it deployed its solar panels and started soaking up energy from the sun. And last night, the big telescope performed a crucial 65-minute engine burn that put it on course for L2.

The following is a brief rundown of the big steps yet to come. (For more detail, see NASA's Webb deployment site.) The timelines given are approximate; Webb team members have stressed that the deployment schedule is flexible, so don't panic if the times and dates shift a bit, or if some things occur out of order.

One day after launch, Webb will rotate its high-gain antenna toward Earth to further facilitate communications with its handlers. A day after that, the spacecraft will perform another engine burn to refine its trajectory toward L2. And three days after launch, the pallet holding Webb's huge sunshield — a five-layer structure designed to keep the infrared telescope and its instruments cool — will be lowered.

NORTH DAKOTA SPACE GRANT CONNECTS STUDENTS TO STEM RESEARCH THROUGH FELLOWSHIP BRIDGE PROGRAM

December 10th, 2021

That’s the Big Dipper. That’s the Little Dipper. And not so long ago, that’s about as deep as Lake Region State College graduate Liz Deckert wanted to dip into space science.

But that was before the kinesiology major and future chiropractor transferred this fall to the University of North Dakota, where she landed a NASA-funded Bridge Fellowship through the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium.

Now, just a few months into her junior year at UND, the space rookie from Devils Lake is doing cutting-edge research for NASA’s next-generation spacesuit.

More specifically, she’s testing upper mobility acceleration and range of motion for a spacesuit developed by Final Frontier Design, a company that already has three spacesuit components — boot, hip and waist joints — booked for the next trip to the moon. And though experts have questioned whether the mission will be ready for a 2025 launch, when it eventually does blast off, Artemis 3 is expected to be the first “crewed” lunar landing in more than half a century. The last one was Apollo 17 in 1972.

Read both UND Today articles on the NDSGC Bridge Fellowship program’s latest awardee, student Liz Deckert:

  1. http://blogs.und.edu/und-today/2021/12/space-grant-consortium-wants-to-boost-student-numbers/
  2. http://blogs.und.edu/und-today/2021/12/bridge-fellowship-connects-students-to-stem-research/

MAYBE DON’T BLOW UP SATELLITES IN SPACE

November 18th, 2021

Satalite

The astronauts were still asleep when NASA called the International Space Station. “Hey, Mark, good morning. Sorry for the early call,” a mission controller said in the early hours of Monday morning, speaking with Mark Vande Hei, one of four NASA astronauts on board. But the astronauts needed to get up, mission control said calmly, and move to the spacecraft docked to the station. They needed to be prepared to potentially escape and head back to Earth. This was an emergency.

NASA had just received word that a satellite had shattered into pieces. The cloud of debris was about to pass dangerously close to the space station, and everyone on board—four American astronauts, two Russian cosmonauts, and one German astronaut—had to hunker down.

NASA PUERTO RICO SPACE GRANT SUPPORTED STUDENT TEAM SENDS SATELLITE TO SPACE

September 2nd, 2021

After several years of hard work, a group of Puerto Rico students aim to see the launch of the first Puerto Rican-made satellite into space.

The group from the School of Engineering of the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Bayamón campus, have provided their CubeSat NanoRocks-2 project, known as PR-CuNaR2, to NASA to fly on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket when it looks to launch from Kennedy Space Center early Saturday morning.

The launch from KSC’s Launch Complex-39A is slated for 3:37 a.m. with a backup window of Sunday at 3:14 a.m.

This satellite is part of a scientific investigation by the university that began in 2013 with the design and construction prototype.

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Blue Origin will fly female aviator Wally Funk, one of the Mercury 13, on 1st crewed launch

July 1st, 2021

Wally Funk was one of 13 female aviators who lobbied for women to become astronauts in the early days of spaceflight.

Aviator Wally Funk wanted to be an astronaut in the earliest days of spaceflight. Sixty years later, on July 20, she'll finally go to space with Blue Origin.

Funk was one of 13 female aviators later dubbed the Mercury 13 who, in 1961, passed all the exams necessary for admission to NASA's astronaut corps and lobbied the federal government to send women into space. NASA and Congress demurred and women were excluded from becoming U.S. astronauts for more than a decade; Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space in 1983.

But, if all goes according to plan, in just three weeks, Funk will spend four minutes beyond the bounds of gravity. "I'll love every second of it," Funk said of her flight in a video released by Blue Origin. "I can hardly wait."

Funk was already a highly qualified aviator in 1961, and she's never lost her love of flying. "I've been flying forever and I have 19,600 flying hours," Funk said in the video, also citing her experience teaching more than 3,000 people to fly. "Everything that the FAA [the Federal Aviation Administration] has, I've got the license for."

In the video, she also remembers the disappointment she felt when NASA stood by its initial impulse to exclude women from the astronaut corps, despite the qualifying marks of the 13 women of the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs), and Funk's particularly outstanding results.

"They told me that I had done better and completed the work faster than any of the guys," Funk said. "I didn't think that I would ever get to go up."

Even after six decades, Funk won't quite reach orbit, although the 82-year-old will become the oldest person to visit space. Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle is a suborbital capsule designed to make brief, 11-minute flights that pass the boundary of space and during which passengers experience about four minutes of weightlessness.

(The capsule is named, of course, for the conveniently-male NASA astronaut Alan Shepard who became the first American in space in May 1961, although he didn't reach orbit until 1971, when he also walked on the moon as part of the Apollo 14 mission.)

Funk is flying at the invitation of Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, who will also be a passenger on the flight, along with his brother Mark and the as-yet-unnamed buyer of a $28 million seat auctioned off in June.

"No one has waited longer," Bezos wrote in an Instagram post on Thursday (July 1) announcing the addition to his crew. "It's time. Welcome to the crew, Wally. We’re excited to have you fly with us on July 20th as our honored guest."

JOHN MATHERS NOBEL SCHOLARS – CALL FOR APPLICATIONS

June 13th, 2021

John Mathers
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