Two Astronauts Who Beat The Odds To Get Into Space

Getting into space is never a guarantee for an astronaut. Heck, getting into an astronaut program can be tough, as Koichi Wakata and Rick Mastracchio told Universe Today.

The crewmates on Expedition 38/39 are supposed to head to the International Space Station in November. But they beat incredible odds to be selected in the first place. Wakata, who is with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), didn’t even have an astronaut program to join when he was a kid. Mastracchio (from NASA) did, but it took him nine years’ worth of applications to get in.

“When I was five years old, I saw the Apollo [11] lunar landing,” Wakata said. “This was before I was going to school, kindergarten timeframe. But there was no astronaut program in Japan, so I thought it was physically beyond my reach. It was something I longed for.”

With no Japanese astronauts to look up to, Wakata put himself in a related career: airplane engineering. Between 1989 and 1992, he worked as an aircraft structural engineer for Japan Airlines. It was while he was in this career that he saw a newspaper advertisement recruiting the first Japanese astronauts. He applied and was let in, first try.

JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata takes photos of Earth during Expedition 19/20 in 2009. Credit: NASA
JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata takes photos of Earth during Expedition 19/20 in 2009. Credit: NASA

“I was lucky to get into this program,” Wakata said. And now he has a new milestone in his sights: becoming the first Japanese commander of the International Space Station during Expedition 39. Wakata’s space experience includes operating every piece of robotics hardware currently on orbit, from the Canadarm to the Japanese Kibo robotic arm.

He also has extensive leadership training behind him, which helped him prepare for command. He was in charge of an underwater lab (called NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO) in 2006. Wakata also received National Outdoor Leadership training, which puts people in wilderness situations to test their skills.

Finally, Wakata also watched closely what his own spaceflight commanders did. He is a big admirer of Brian Duffy, who flew four times in space — including two of Wakata’s missions. “I learned a lot from him and I try to imitate what he did,” Wakata said.

Unlike Wakata, his crewmate Mastracchio was born in a country with a well-established astronaut program. That also meant, however, a lot of competition. Mastracchio made applications practically every year between 1987 and 1996. Every time he was turned down, he would look for a way to make himself better for the next round.

Rick Mastracchio takes a selfie during a spacewalk on STS-118. NASA's web page says the purpose was to have a photo of his helmet visor. Credit: NASA
Rick Mastracchio takes a selfie during a spacewalk on STS-118. NASA’s web page says the purpose was to have a photo of his helmet visor. Credit: NASA

“I tried not to do things to become an astronaut. I tried to do things that I thought would be interesting,” Mastracchio said. At the same time, those interesting things happened to be items that astronauts would find useful.

Hired in 1987 for Rockwell Shuttle Operations Company in Houston, Mastracchio then moved to NASA in 1990 as an engineer in the flight crew operations directorate. He earned a masters degree in physical science at the nearby University of Houston-Clear Lake in 1991. Mastracchio also got a pilot’s license.

Around the same time of another unsuccessful selection in 1994, Mastracchio switched jobs and became a flight controller in the front room of Mission Control. It’s hard to say if that made the difference, he acknowledged, but for what it’s worth he was selected in 1996. “I just gained more experience, over time, in different jobs,” he said.

Mastracchio has since flown three times into space, performing six spacewalks in that time. There are no further “outside” activities planned for him during Expedition 38/39, but he has trained as a backup just in case.

Why Is This Astronaut Working Survivor-Style In The Arctic?

This week, Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen is on his way to a remote island in the Canadian Arctic. We realize this sounds like the opening episode for Survivor, but his purpose up there is more scientific: to conduct field geology.

Geology work, and training for sample collection is not as easy as simply picking up whatever you see on the ground. It’s important to get a range of rocks that represent the geology of the area. You also need to photograph and otherwise document the area in such a way that geologists can learn more about how it was formed, among other duties.

A trained observer can come to preliminary conclusions while wandering around in the field, and possibly change his or her sample-gathering strategy in accordance with that. The Apollo moon missions were replete with examples of this, with one of the more famous ones perhaps being when Harrison Schmitt (who, unlike his colleagues, had a Ph.D. in geology) stumbled across some orange soil during Apollo 17. This was probably evidence of an ancient fire-fountain of lava on the moon.

But Schmitt certainly wasn’t expecting to see that when he walked on the surface. Check out his reaction around 1:50 in this video:

Field geology was a common feature among the Apollo astronauts, and it could come in handy for planetary exploration again some time: there is some chatter about bringing people to asteroids or (eventually) Mars in the coming decades.

Hansen will join a Western University group to study “impact cratering processes while learning methods and techniques for conducting geological fieldwork that can be applied to sites beyond our planet,” stated the Canadian Space Agency. To make it feel more space mission-like, the group will be working with limited supplies and support.

Geology training isn’t important just on the ground, but also in observing from space. As Hansen points out on this video, from time to time astronauts on the International Space Station are called upon to observe features from their orbital perches. If they understand the processes behind what they see, their descriptions, videos and photos will be more scientific.

Hansen will stay on Devon Island until about July 25, studying impact crater processes along with the rest of the team. Updates should be available on his Twitter feed as well as through the Canadian Space Agency.

And by the way, Canada was also useful to astronauts during the Apollo years. One famous geology site was at Sudbury, Ont. This website highlights the activities of the Apollo 16 crew, which was looking at craters in the area.

Source: Canadian Space Agency

Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser Gets Wings and Tail, Starts Ground Testing

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser successfully rolls through two tow tests at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California in preparation for future flight testing later this year.
Watch way cool Dream Chaser assembly video below![/caption]

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s winged Dream Chaser engineering test article is moving forward with a series of ground tests at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California that will soon lead to dramatic aerial flight tests throughout 2013.

Pathfinding tow tests on Dryden’s concrete runway aim to validate the performance of the vehicles’ nose skid, brakes, tires and other systems to prove that it can safely land an astronaut crew after surviving the searing re-entry from Earth orbit.

The Dream Chaser is one of the three types of private sector ‘space taxis’ being developed with NASA seed money to restore America’s capability to blast humans to Earth orbit from American soil – a capability which was totally lost following the forced shutdown of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in 2011.

Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS
Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS

For the initial ground tests, the engineering test article was pulled by a tow truck at 10 and 20 MPH. Later this month tow speeds will be ramped up to 40 to 60 MPH.

Final assembly of the Dream Chaser test vehicle was completed at Dryden with installation of the wings and tail, following shipment from SNC’s Space Systems headquarters in Louisville, Colo.

Watch this exciting minute-long, time-lapse video showing attachment of the wings and tail:

In the next phase later this year, Sierra Nevada will conduct airborne captive carry tests using an Erickson Skycrane helicopter.

Atmospheric drop tests of the engineering test article in an autonomous free flight mode for Approach and Landing Tests (ALT) will follow to check the aerodynamic handling.

The engineering test article is a full sized vehicle.

Dream Chaser is a reusable mini shuttle that launches from the Florida Space Coast atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and lands on the shuttle landing facility (SLF) runway at the Kennedy Space Center, like the Space Shuttle.

“It’s not outfitted for orbital flight. It is outfitted for atmospheric flight tests,” said Marc Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada Corp. vice president and SNC Space Systems chairman, to Universe Today.

“The best analogy is it’s very similar to what NASA did in the shuttle program with the Enterprise, creating a vehicle that would allow it to do significant flights whose design then would filter into the final vehicle for orbital flight,” Sirangelo told me.

NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center welcomes SNC’s Dream Chaser shrink wrapped engineering test article for a flight test program in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program this summer. Winds and tail were soon joined and ground testing has now begun. Credit: NASA/Tom Tschida Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/102020/sierra-nevada-dream-chaser-gets-wings-and-tail-starts-ground-testing/#ixzz2Yw1peNRJ
NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center welcomes SNC’s Dream Chaser shrink wrapped engineering test article for a flight test program in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program this summer. Winds and tail were soon joined and ground testing has now begun. Credit: NASA/Tom Tschida

Sierra Nevada Corp, along with Boeing and SpaceX are working with NASA in a public-private partnership using a combination of NASA seed money and company funds.

Each company was awarded contracts under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Initiative, or CCiCap, program, the third in a series of contracts aimed at kick starting the development of the private sector ‘space taxis’ to fly US and partner astronauts to and from low Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS).

“We are the emotional successors to the shuttle,” says Sirangelo. “Our target was to repatriate that industry back to the United States, and that’s what we’re doing.”

The combined value of NASA’s Phase 1 CCiCap contracts is about $1.1 Billion and runs through March 2014.

Phase 2 contract awards will eventually lead to actual flight units after a down selection to one or more of the companies.

Everything depends on NASA’s approved budget, which seems headed for steep cuts in excess of a billion dollars if the Republican dominated US House has its way.

Dream Chaser awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket
Dream Chaser awaits launch atop Atlas V rocket

The Commercial Crew program’s goal is to ensure the nation has safe, reliable and affordable crew transportation systems to space.

“Unique public-private partnerships like the one between NASA and Sierra Nevada Corporation are creating an industry capable of building the next generation of rockets and spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the scientific proving ground of low-Earth orbit,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations in Washington, in a statement.

“NASA centers around the country paved the way for 50 years of American human spaceflight, and they’re actively working with our partners to test innovative commercial space systems that will continue to ensure American leadership in exploration and discovery.”

All three commercial vehicles – the Boeing CST-100; SpaceX Dragon and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser – are designed to carry a crew of up to 7 astronauts and remain docked at the ISS for more than 6 months.

The first orbital flight test of the Dream Chaser is not expected before 2016 and could be further delayed if NASA’s commercial crew budget is again slashed by the Congress – as was done the past few years.

In the meantime, US astronauts are totally dependent on Russia’s Soyuz capsule for rides to the ISS. NASA must pay Russia upwards of $70 million per seat until the space taxis are ready for liftoff – perhaps in 2017.

“We have got to get Commercial Crew funded, or we’re going to be paying the Russians forever,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at Dryden. “Without Commercial Crew, we probably won’t have exploration.”

Concurrently, NASA is developing the Orion Crew capsule for missions to the Moon, Asteroids and beyond to Mars and other destinations in our Solar System -details here.

Ken Kremer

Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon.
Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser spacecraft landing on a traditional runway. Dream Chaser is being developed in collaboration with NASA's Commercial Crew Program during the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP).  Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.
Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser spacecraft landing on a traditional runway. Dream Chaser is being developed in collaboration with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program during the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP). Credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.

Armstrong’s Ohio Accent May Have Masked His Missing “A”

“That’s one small step for man… one giant leap for mankind.” And with those famous words astronaut Neil A. Armstrong awed the entire world on July 21, 1969, becoming the first human to set a booted foot upon a world other than our own. But the historic statement itself has caused no small bit of confusion and controversy over the years, from whether Armstrong came up with it on the spot (he didn’t) to what he actually said… small step for “man?” Where’s the “a?”

Although some have said that the article was left out or cut off (and admittedly it sure sounds that way to me) it turns out it’s probably been there the whole time, hidden behind Neil’s native Ohio accent.

According to a team of speech scientists and psychologists from Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing and The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus, it is entirely possible that Armstrong said what he had always claimed — though evidence indicates that most people are likely to hear “for man” instead of “for a man” on the Apollo 11 broadcast recordings.

By studying how speakers from Armstrong’s native central Ohio pronounce “for” and “for a,” the team’s results suggest that his “a” was acoustically blended into his “for.”

“Prior acoustic analyses of Neil Armstrong’s recording have established well that if the word ‘a’ was spoken, it was very short and was fully blended acoustically with the preceding word,” says Laura Dilley of Michigan State University. “If Armstrong actually did say ‘a,'” she continues, “it sounded something like ‘frrr(uh).'”

His blending of the two words, compounded with the poor sound quality of the television transmission, has made it difficult to corroborate his claim that the “a” is there.

“If Armstrong actually did say ‘a,’ it sounded something like ‘frrr(uh).'”

– Laura Dilley, Michigan State University

Dilley and her colleagues used a collection of recordings of conversational speech from 40 people raised in Columbus, Ohio, near Armstrong’s native town of Wapakoneta. Within this body of recordings, they found 191 cases of “for a.” They matched each of these to an instance of “for” as said by the same speaker and compared the relative duration. They also examined the duration of Armstrong’s “for (a”) from the lunar transmission.

The researchers found a large overlap between the relative duration of the “r” sound in “for” and “for a” using the Ohio speech data. The duration of the “frrr(uh)” in Armstrong’s recording was 0.127 seconds, which falls into the middle of this overlap. In other words, the researchers conclude, the lunar landing quote is highly compatible with either possible interpretation though it is probably slightly more likely to be perceived as “for” regardless of what Armstrong actually said.

Read more: Neil Armstrong Didn’t Lie About First Words on the Moon

Dilley says there may have been a “perfect storm of conditions” for the word “a” to have been spoken… but not heard.

“We’ve bolstered Neil Armstrong’s side of the story,” she says. “We feel we’ve partially vindicated him. But we’ll most likely never know for sure exactly what he said based on the acoustic information.”

(Personally, I feel that if the first man to walk on the Moon said he said “a,” then he said “a.”)

The team will present its work at the 21st International Congress on Acoustics June 2–7 in Montreal.

Source: EurekAlert

SpaceShipTwo Fires Rocket Engines for First Ever Supersonic Test Flight- Photos & Video

SpaceShipTwo fires her rocket motor in flight for 1st time on April 29, 2013. Credit: MarsScientific.com
Updated with more Photos & Video[/caption]

In a momentous and long awaited day in spaceflight, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) commercial spaceliner named “Enterprise” lit up her hybrid rocket engines in flight and reached supersonic speeds for the first time in history, today, Monday, April 29, 2013 – in the skies over the Mojave Desert in California.

“What a feeling to be on the ground with all the team in Mojave to witness Virgin Galactic go faster than the speed of sound,” wrote Virgin Galacic founder and owner, billionaire Sir Richard Branson, a short while ago.

Branson wants to bring the incomparable joys of human spaceflight– including weightlessness and spectacular views of the Earth’s curvature- to the masses. Thus making science fiction fantasies of the future like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Star Trek” a reality – TODAY!

“This is a momentous day and the single most important flight test to date for our Virgin Galactic program,” said Branson from the Mojave Air and Space Port. “What a feeling to be on the ground with all the team in Mojave to witness Virgin Galactic go faster than the speed of sound.”

ShaceShipTwo from Virgin Galactic fires its rocket engines for the first time in history on April 29, 2013 to achieve supersonic speed. Credit: Virgin Galactic
ShaceShipTwo from Virgin Galactic fires its rocket engines for the first time in history on April 29, 2013 to achieve supersonic speed. Credit: Virgin Galactic

The SpaceShipTwo test of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was conducted by builder Scaled Composites, led by famed aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, and Virgin Galactic.

With Scaled Composites test pilots Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury at the helm, the engine burn lasted about 16 seconds, exactly as planned and achieved a speed of Mach 1.2 – breaking the sound barrier!

Watch this video of today’s SS2 rocket test flight:

The test flight began at about 7:02 a.m. local California time as SpaceShipTwo took off from Mojave strapped to the belly of the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) mothership.

SS2 was released from the mothership at an altitude of 47,000 feet (14 km) some 45 minutes into the flight.

“The pilots triggered ignition of the rocket motor, causing the main oxidizer valve to open and igniters to fire within the fuel case. At this point, SS2 was propelled forward and upward to a maximum altitude of 55,000 feet [17 km],” said Virgin Galactic in a statement.

SS2 is powered by RocketMotorTwo, developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation – which is also constructing the manned DreamChaser mini shuttle ‘space taxi’ under contract to NASA and aiming to restart launches of American astronauts from American soil to low Earth orbit and the ISS.

Boom camera shot of SpaceShipTwo breaking the sound barrier.  Credit: Virgin Galactic
Boom camera shot of SpaceShipTwo breaking the sound barrier. Credit: Virgin Galactic

“The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date,” said Branson, who watched the flight from the grounds of Mojave.

The entire fight lasted about an hour with SS2 gliding back for a safe landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port to conclude the history making flight.

Until today’s engine firing, the SS2/WK2 aerial test flight program had been limited to captive carry and landing drop tests.

Branson’s near term goal is for SpaceShipTwo to fly to space – commonly defined as 62 miles (100 km) altitude – for the first time before year’s end, validate the vehicle with a rigorous test flight program of gradually expanding the flight envelope to insure full operability and safety and then carry the first revenue paying passengers to space thereafter from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

“For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight. Today’s supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end. We saw history in the making today and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved.”

Rumors that this rocket firing test flight was imminent had reached a fever pitch over the past few days, stoked by broad hints in open messages from Branson himself. So, a large group of Virgin employees and space enthusiasts were present today to witness the momentous event (see photos).

Sir Richard Branson hugs designer Burt Rutan as they are surrounded by employee's of Virgin Galactic, The SpaceShip Company and Scaled Composites watch as Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip2 streaks across the sky under rocket power, its first ever since the program began in 2005. Burt's wife Tonya Rutan is at right taking their photo. The spacecraft was dropped from its "mothership", WhiteKnight2 over the Mojave, CA area, April 29, 2013 at high altitude before firing its hybrid power motor. Virgin Galactic hopes to become the first commercial space venture to bring multiple passengers into space on a regular basis.
Sir Richard Branson hugs designer Burt Rutan as they are surrounded by employee’s of Virgin Galactic, The SpaceShip Company and Scaled Composites watch as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip2 streaks across the sky under rocket power, its first ever since the program began in 2005. Burt’s wife Tonya Rutan is at right taking their photo. The spacecraft was dropped from its “mothership”, WhiteKnight2 over the Mojave, CA area, April 29, 2013 at high altitude before firing its hybrid power motor. Virgin Galactic hopes to become the first commercial space venture to bring multiple passengers into space on a regular basis.

In the not too distant future, the purpose of SS2 is for everyday folks – not just highly trained astronauts – to experience spaceflight and out of this world views of the Earth below and the heavens above.

Eventually, human spaceflight could be as commonplace as flying aboard a commercial jetliner is today.

SpaceShipTwo can carry 8 people total; including a crew of two pilots and six passengers on suborbital missions to space.

Although SS2 cannot go into Earth orbit, Branson hopes that future varients will achieve orbit.

Branson himself will fly aboard the first commercial SS2 flight. Over 500 people have already plucked down over $200,000 to reserve the unprecedented choice seats.

“Like our hundreds of customers from around the world, my children and I cannot wait to get on board this fantastic vehicle for our own trip to space and am delighted that today’s milestone brings that day much closer,” said Branson.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation quickly lauded the Virgin Galactic team and issued this statement:

“The Commercial Spaceflight Federation congratulates the team at Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites for the first powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo today,” said CSF President Michael Lopez-Alegria.

“This incredible achievement is the direct result of the hard work and dedication by these two companies, as well as by RocketMotorTwo developer Sierra Nevada Corporation. Because of their efforts, we are one step closer to achieving safe, routine, and cost-effective access to space that will create abundant opportunities for space-based research and that will inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists. I applaud the team at Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites for their accomplishment, and the team at Mojave Air & Space Port for their efforts in creating a professional and safe testing environment.”

In this era of stingy federal funding and slashes to NASA’s budget, commercial spaceflight will play a major and increasing role in bringing down the high costs of access to space as well as enabling an expanding science exploration program and private commercial space exploitation programs to open up the High Frontier.

Other private companies like SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are already leading the charge with regards to the commercial space exploration race with their Falcon 9 and Antares commercial rockets – now launching crucial cargo for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS) since the retirement of the Space Shuttle orbiters in 2011.

Ken Kremer

New Scripps Research Ship Will Honor Astronaut Sally Ride

Dr. Sally K. Ride, physicist, NASA astronaut, and first American woman to fly in space, will be honored with a U.S. Navy research vessel bearing her name, which will be operated by and homeported at San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“Dr. Sally Ride inspired millions of people, especially young women and girls, to reach for the stars,” said U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. “Naming the Navy’s new ocean research vessel in her honor is a fitting tribute to her legacy of innovation and discovery.”

Dr. Ride died at her home in La Jolla on July 23, 2012, after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61.

Sally Ride was a NASA astronaut for 11 years before joining the UCSD faculty as a physics professor.
Sally Ride was a NASA astronaut for 11 years before joining the UCSD faculty as a physics professor and director of the California Space Institute.

Dr. Ride was selected for NASA’s astronaut corps in 1978 and became the first American woman in space aboard Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983. In 1989, she joined the faculty of UC San Diego as professor of physics and was director of the university’s California Space Institute.

“We are touched by the extraordinary honor that this ship is being named for Sally Ride, who, after serving our nation as a pioneering and accomplished astronaut, served on the faculty of UC San Diego for nearly two decades,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla in a Scripps press release. “Her commitment to teaching and inspiring young minds is legendary and we take tremendous pride in this prestigious and well-deserved honor for her legacy and for UC San Diego.”

According to Gary Robbins in an article for the San Diego Union-Tribune “It is common for a research vessel to be named after an explorer or scientist. Scripps’ current fleet of Navy-owned ships includes the Roger Revelle, which bears the name of the late UC San Diego scientist who helped pioneer the study of global warming. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Cape Cod, Mass. is getting a ship named R/V Neil Armstrong.”

Rendering of the R/V Sally Ride
Rendering of the R/V Sally Ride

Designed to operate globally, R/V Sally Ride will continue the Scripps legacy of conducting pioneering ocean exploration and research critical to our understanding of our planet, our oceans, and our atmosphere. As a shared-use, general-purpose ship, R/V Sally Ride will engage in a broad spectrum of research in physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and climate science, including research missions with relevance to the Navy.

As a seagoing laboratory supporting research and education, the new ship will feature modern research instrumentation to fuel scientific exploration, including mapping systems, sensors, and profilers that will investigate features from the seafloor to the atmosphere.

“I can’t think of a more perfect name for the Navy’s new research vessel. Dr. Ride was a trailblazer in every sense of the word in the fields of science and engineering. Dr. Ride’s namesake ship and its crew will continue her legacy of courage, determination, and spirit of discovery.”

– U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif.

R/V Sally Ride is currently under construction at Dakota Creek Industries Inc. in Anacortes, Washington, and is scheduled for launch in 2015.

Read more on the Scripps news site here, and watch a video on the naming of the vessel below:

Source: Scripps News

ESA Astronaut Will Visit Station for Months

ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter from Germany, will be the first to do a long-duration spaceflight. Image credit: ESA. Click to enlarge.
This July, ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter from Germany is about to become the first European to live and work on the International Space Station (ISS) on a long-duration mission.

ESA Director of Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration, Daniel Sacotte, recently signed an agreement on the mission with the Head of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Anatoli Perminov. “The agreement covers the ESA astronaut?s flight in a crew position originally planned for a Russian cosmonaut”, explained Sacotte, “and he will perform all the tasks originally allocated to the second Russian cosmonaut on board the ISS and, in addition, an ESA experimental programme.”

The agreement forms part of a set of bilateral understandings between Roscosmos and NASA and between ESA and NASA, enabling the implementation of the mission.

Thomas Reiter, the astronaut assigned to the mission, is a member of the European Astronaut Corps, based at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany. L?opold Eyharts, from France, a member of the same Corps, will be the back-up for this mission.

Reiter will reach the ISS on Space Shuttle flight STS-121 currently planned for next July, and return to Earth on flight STS-116 in February.

This will be Reiter’s second long-duration mission on board a space station, following his six-month stay on the Russian Mir, ten years ago, during the ESA Euromir 1995 mission.

“With the maiden flight of the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and the launch of the European laboratory Columbus, both in 2006, ESA is making important contributions to the ISS and its scientific capabilities and, consequently, we are assuming significant operational responsibilities in this programme. I am confident that this mission will give Europe a lot of operational experience and scientific results which will further prepare us for the exciting and challenging times ahead,” said Thomas Reiter.

“Moreover,” L?opold Eyharts pointed out, “as the back-up astronaut for this mission, I am receiving the same training as Thomas Reiter, which will be an excellent preparation for my tasks as prime astronaut for a future ESA mission to the ISS in connection with Columbus.”

Both astronauts are already in training for the mission in the various ISS training facilities at Houston, Moscow and Cologne, together with their Russian and American astronaut colleagues.

“For the first time, and as a test for later European long-duration missions to the ISS, mission preparation, training, operations and multilateral coordination will be carried out as far as possible through the multilateral decision-making and management structures established for ISS exploitation,” underlined ESA’s Mission Manager Aldo Petrivelli.

“This will be an excellent opportunity for testing coordination and cooperation between ground control and support centres like the Houston and Moscow Mission Control Centres, the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich (*), the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne and the various User Support and Operations Centres throughout Europe that will be involved in the mission. The operational teams from ESA, national space agencies, industry and research institutions in Europe will thus gain very useful operational experience, also for future Columbus system, subsystems and payload operations.”

Original Source: ESA News Release

Expedition 10 Lands Safely

After traveling more than 78 million miles aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 10 Commander and NASA ISS Science Officer Leroy Chiao and Flight Engineer Salizhan Sharipov returned to Earth today. With them was European Space Agency Astronaut Roberto Vittori, who had spent eight days aboard the orbiting complex doing research.

After a flawless descent by the ISS Soyuz 9 spacecraft, Chiao, Sharipov and Vittori landed on target in north-central Kazakhstan, about 53 miles (85 kilometers) northeast of Arkalyk, at 5:08 p.m. CDT. Recovery forces arrived at the site within minutes of the touchdown. The area was saturated from recent rains and melting winter snow, so the first members of the recovery team to reach the scene decided to fly the crew to Arkalyk to meet with remaining members of the recovery team.

The crew’s friends and families are expected to greet them upon their arrival at Star City, Russia, about eight hours after landing. Chiao and Sharipov will remain in Star City for a few weeks of post-flight debriefings and medical exams before returning to Houston in mid-May.

Chiao and Sharipov spent 192 days, 19 hours and 2 minutes in space. They launched on Oct. 13, on the same Soyuz spacecraft that brought them home. For six months, the pair maintained systems and conducted scientific research onboard the Station.

Among their accomplishments on the Station was replacing critical hardware in the Joint Quest Airlock, repairing U.S. spacesuits, submitting a scientific research paper on ultrasound use in space and voting for the first time in an American Presidential election from space. They completed two spacewalks, including experiment installation and tasks that prepared the Station for the arrival of a new European cargo ship next year.

Aboard the Station, the Expedition 11 crew, Commander Sergei Krikalev and Flight Engineer and NASA Station Science Officer John Phillips, are beginning a six-month mission that will include the resumption of Space Shuttle flights and two spacewalks from the Station. Expedition 11 is scheduled to return to Earth on Oct. 7, 2005.

Krikalev and Phillips will have light duty for the next three days as they rest after completing a busy handover period. For the past week, they have been learning about Station operations from the two men who called the ship home since October. Chiao and Sharipov briefed Krikalev and Phillips on day-to-day operations and gave them hands-on opportunities at Station maintenance: Chiao and Phillips restored functionality of the Quest for future spacewalks and practiced operating the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Information on the crew’s activities aboard the Station, future launch dates, as well as Station sighting opportunities from anywhere on the Earth, is available on the Internet at:

http://www.nasa.gov/station

Original Source: NASA News Release

Astronauts Running Low on Food

The International Space Station?s Expedition 10 crewmembers completed the first 50 days of their six-month mission this week, highlighted by a short flight in their Soyuz spacecraft.

To put the Station in the preferred configuration for two spacewalks out of the Russian Pirs Docking Compartment next year, Commander Leroy Chiao and Flight Engineer Salizhan Sharipov moved their ISS Soyuz 9 spacecraft Monday from Pirs to the Earth-facing docking port on the Zarya module during a 21-minute flight. The work to prepare the Station for possible autonomous operations, and then to reconfigure it for normal operations, stretched from Sunday afternoon until early Monday afternoon.

After getting off duty time Tuesday and Wednesday to rest, Chiao and Sharipov spent the rest of the week on routine maintenance tasks, such as the regeneration of filter cartridges in the Elektron oxygen generation system. They also completed audits of on board computer hardware and food as mission managers finalize the appropriate manifest for the next Russian cargo craft. The ISS Progress 16 spacecraft will ferry food, fuel, clothing and other supplies to the Station. The audit of food supplies aboard the Station confirmed that sufficient food remains for the crew until arrival of the next supply craft. Managers have adjusted the amount of food to be carried on the Progress, however, to ensure onboard stores are fully replenished.

Included in the cargo are three laptop computers that will return the Station Support Computer network to full functionality. This week, one of the computers that crewmembers use to access messages while working at the Zvezda module?s command post, failed. Another computer is being temporarily moved from Sharipov?s sleep station to the command post until the new laptops are delivered.

The new Progress cargo ship is targeted for launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:19 p.m. CST on Dec. 23 (2219 GMT), and is due to arrive at the Station just after 6 p.m. CST on Christmas night (0005 GMT on Dec. 26).

Chiao and Sharipov will spend time over the next three weeks loading unneeded materials from throughout the Station into the Progress currently mated to the Zvezda module. It will be undocked and deorbited on Dec. 22.

On Tuesday, Sharipov located a missing component of an American spacesuit?s cooling pump. The shim, a washer-shaped piece of metal that is custom fit for each spacesuit, was missing last month at a time when Chiao was repairing the spacesuit?s pump assembly. The shim was planned to be installed in a portion of the spacesuit in a pure oxygen environment to ensure it is in pristine condition and free of contamination. Spacewalk specialists at the Johnson Space Center decided further spacesuit repair attempts will utilize a new shim to be delivered on the upcoming Progress to avoid any potential contamination from the shim that was temporarily lost.

Information on the crew’s activities aboard the Space Station, future launch dates, as well as Station sighting opportunities from anywhere on the Earth, is available on the Internet at:

http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/

Details on Station science operations can be found on an Internet site administered by the Payload Operations Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., at:

http://scipoc.msfc.nasa.gov/

Original Source: NASA Status Report

Astronauts Move Soyuz on Station

Image credit: NASA
The Expedition 10 crewmembers are back inside the International Space Station after taking a short ride this morning. They flew their Soyuz spacecraft from one docking port to another to clear the way for two spacewalks next year.

Having configured Station systems for autonomous operation, Expedition 10 Flight Engineer and Soyuz Commander Salizhan Sharipov and Expedition 10 Commander Leroy Chiao undocked the Soyuz from the Station’s Pirs Docking Compartment at 4:32 a.m. EST, as they flew 225 miles over the southern Atlantic Ocean.

Sharipov, seated in the center seat of the Soyuz descent module compartment, and Chiao seated to his left, backed the capsule away from the Station approximately 98 feet. They flew the Soyuz laterally along the Station approximately 45 feet before rotating the craft 135 degrees to align it with the Earth-facing docking port on the adjacent Zarya module. The vehicle was held in position for eight minutes of station-keeping, ensuring correct alignment of docking mechanisms, before the crew began the final approach toward the Station.

Docking was at 4:53 a.m. EST, as the Soyuz and the Station passed over western Asia. Within minutes, hooks and latches engaged between the Soyuz and Zarya firmly linking the return vehicle and the Station. After a series of leak checks, the crew reentered the Station at 6:54 a.m. EST, and they began reconfiguring Station systems for normal operations.

Repositioning of the Soyuz cleared Pirs, which also serves as an airlock, for a pair of spacewalks by Chiao and Sharipov planned for early next year.

Information about crew activities on the Space Station, future launch dates and Station sighting opportunities from Earth, is available on the Internet at: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/

Details about Station science operations are available on the Internet from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., Payload Operations Center at: http://scipoc.msfc.nasa.gov/

For information about NASA and other agency missions, visit: http://www.nasa.gov

Original Source: NASA News Release