Shenzhou-14 Astronauts Begin Their Mission of 6 Months in Space

The Shenzhou-14 mission, carrying three Chinese astronauts, docked successfully earlier this week with the Tiangong-3 space station. During their six-month mission on board the station, the new crew hopes to continue work on construction of the orbital Chinese outpost, which will be about one-fifth the size of the International Space Station.  

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Extended Trips to Space Alter the Brains of Astronauts

Astronaut Peggy Whitson in the International Space Station's Cupola during a 2017 tour of duty. Doctors are interested in how long periods in low gravity change an astronaut's brain. (NASA Photo)
Astronaut Peggy Whitson in the International Space Station’s Cupola during a 2017 tour of duty. Doctors are interested in how long periods in low gravity change an astronaut’s brain. (NASA Photo)

Going to space changes a person. We’ve known that ever since NASA and the former Soviet Union started sending people to space back in the mid-20th Century. Not only does that trip affect an astronaut’s outlook (just look what it did to William Shatner) but it changes their body. Space physicians continually study astronauts to understand just what happens to them in space. Their latest target? Astronaut brains.

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NASA Astronaut and Cosmonauts Land Safely Together in Kazakhstan

After much speculation and concern the past month whether Russia would allow a US astronaut to ride back to Earth in a Soyuz spacecraft, Mark Vande Hei and two cosmonauts landed safely in Kazakhstan on March 30.  

Mostly lost amid the political tensions due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Vande Hei quietly set a record for the longest single spaceflight by an American, at 355 days. Vande Hei eclipsed astronaut Scott Kelly’s seemingly more heralded long-duration mission on the International Space Station in 2015, when he and Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko spent 340 days in space. Cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov also spent 355 days on his first spaceflight, along with Vande Hei.

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Lasers Could Send Missions to Mars in Only 45 Days

NASA and China plan to mount crewed missions to Mars in the next decade. While this represents a tremendous leap in terms of space exploration, it also presents significant logistical and technological challenges. For starters, missions can only launch for Mars every 26 months when our two planets are at the closest points in their orbit to each other (during an “Opposition“). Using current technology, it would take six to nine months to transit from Earth to Mars.

Even with nuclear-thermal or nuclear-electric propulsion (NTP/NEP), a one-way transit could take 100 days to reach Mars. However, a team of researchers from Montreal’s McGill University assessed the potential of a laser-thermal propulsion system. According to their study, a spacecraft that relies on a novel propulsion system – where lasers are used to heat hydrogen fuel – could reduce transit times to Mars to just 45 days!

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Space Flight Destroys Your Red Blood Cells

It’s really true: space wants to kill us. And this time, space is trying to kill us from the inside out.

A new study on astronauts living on board the International Space Station shows that while in space, the astronauts’ bodies destroyed 54 percent more red blood cells than they normally would on Earth. Even one year after their flight and back on Earth, the symptoms of “space anemia” persisted in the 14 astronauts tested.

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What’s Next for Blue Origin After Today’s Successful Flight?

Early this morning, from their Launch Site One facility in West Texas, Blue Origin made history as it conducted the first crewed flight of its New Shepard launch vehicle. The crew consisted of four commercial astronauts: Blue Origin and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, aerospace pioneer Wally Funk, and 18-year old student from The Netherlands Oliver Daemon.

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Since There’s no Up or Down in Space, How do our Brains Deal With This?

Astronauts and cosmonauts in space have reported spatial disorientation problems, where they find it hard to get a sense of direction, or distinguish between what might be considered “up” or “down.”  This is called “Visual Reorientation Illusions” (VRIs) where the spacecraft floors, walls and ceiling surfaces can suddenly exchange subjective identities.

An extreme example of this came when one shuttle astronaut reported feeling like the room was rotating around him when he opened his eyes one morning. Other astronauts have reported briefly not knowing where they were during a spacewalk.

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White House Encourages NASA to Work on Space-Based Nuclear Power and Propulsion Systems

Nuclear-powered transit habitat

In what’s likely to be one of the last space policy initiatives of his administration, President Donald Trump has issued a directive that lays out a roadmap for nuclear power applications beyond Earth.

Space Policy Directive 6, released on December 16th, calls on NASA and other federal agencies to advance the development of in-space nuclear propulsion systems as well as a nuclear fission power system on the Moon.

“Space nuclear power and propulsion is a fundamentally enabling technology for American deep space missions to Mars and beyond,” Scott Pace, the executive secretary of the National Space Council, said in a White House news release. “The United States intends to remain the leader among spacefaring nations, applying nuclear power technology safely, securely and sustainably in space.”

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SpaceShipTwo’s First Powered Test Flight Since Move to New Mexico Fizzles Out

WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic lit up SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor for the first time in the skies over New Mexico today, but only for an instant before the engine shut down and the plane glided back to a safe landing at Spaceport America.

The flight test team had hoped that the SpaceShipTwo craft known as VSS Unity might make it all the way to the 50-mile space milestone with two test pilots at the controls. Unity has made it that high up twice before, in 2018 and 2019, when the test operation was based at Mojave Air and Space Port in California — but this was the first powered test flight planned since operations moved to Spaceport America.

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