Exploring the Outer Solar System Takes Power, Here’s a Way to Miniaturize Nuclear Batteries for Deep Space

Color-enhanced image of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft taken in July 2015. More thorough exploration of the outer Solar System will require efficient power systems for spacecraft. (Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) / Southwest Research Institute (SwRI))

As science and technology advance, we’re asking our space missions to deliver more and more results. NASA’s MSL Curiosity and Perseverance rovers illustrate this fact. Perseverance is an exceptionally exquisite assemblage of technologies. These cutting-edge rovers need a lot of power to fulfill their tasks, and that means bulky and expensive power sources.

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Axiom’s Next Trip to the ISS Will Carry the First Saudi Woman in Space

Illustration: SpaceX Crew Dragon at ISS
An illustration shows SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule approaching the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

Axiom Space says it’s working with the Saudi Space Commission to send two spacefliers from the Arab kingdom, including the first Saudi woman to go into orbit, to the International Space Station as early as next year.

The inclusion of a female astronaut is particularly notable for Saudi Arabia — where women were forbidden to drive motor vehicles until 2018, and where the status of women is still a controversial subject.

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Socks, The Final Frontier

ISS026-E-011334 (18 Dec. 2010) --- NASA astronaut Catherine (Cady) Coleman, Expedition 26 flight engineer, is pictured with a stowage container and its contents in the Harmony node of the International Space Station.
ISS026-E-011334 (18 Dec. 2010) --- NASA astronaut Catherine (Cady) Coleman, Expedition 26 flight engineer, is pictured with a stowage container and its contents in the Harmony node of the International Space Station.

What is the greatest challenge facing humans as we prepare for the first crewed missions to Mars? Solar and cosmic radiation? Atrophying bone and muscle? Growing food? How about laundry? It’s strange but true, right now we don’t have a way to clean laundry in space.

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DNA From Star Trek’s Original Doctor Will Ride to the Final Frontier

Star Trek actors at Enterprise rollout
In 1976, the crew of the original "Star Trek" TV show attended the rollout of the prototype space shuttle Enterprise in California. In the front row, from left: NASA Administrator James Fletcher, DeForest Kelley ("Bones"), George Takei ("Sulu"), Nichelle Nichols ("Uhura"), Leonard Nimoy ("Spock"), series creator Gene Roddenberry and Walter Koenig ("Chekov"). Photo Credit: NASA

A memorial spaceflight paying tribute to the cast and crew of the original “Star Trek” TV show has just added another star to the passenger list.

DeForest Kelley — who played Leonard “Bones” McCoy, the Starship Enterprise’s physician — will be represented by a thimble-sized sample of DNA on next year’s “Enterprise Flight.” Kelley passed away in 1999 at the age of 79, but the DNA was extracted from a hair sample that was preserved after his death.

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Godspeed, Uhura: A Bit of Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols Will Go to Space

Nichelle Nichols at NASA Mission Control
Star Trek's Nichelle Nichols visited NASA in 1977 to support an astronaut recruitment campaign. (NASA Photo)

Nichelle Nichols, who blazed a trail for Black actors as Lieutenant Uhura on the original “Star Trek,” never got to go to space while she was alive — but her ashes and her DNA are due to reach the final frontier as early as this year.

The symbolic samples are scheduled to fly beyond the moon, along with the ashes of other dearly departed Star Trek pioneers such as James Doohan (“Scotty”); Majel Barrett Roddenberry (“Nurse Chapel”); the TV series’ creator, Gene Roddenberry; and visual-effects wizard Douglas Trumbull.

To top it all off, Nichols’ memorial journey will begin with the launch of a Vulcan rocket. “I’m sure she would have much preferred to go on the shuttle,” said her son, Kyle Johnson, “but this was a pretty close second.”

The “Enterprise” memorial mission is being organized by Houston-based Celestis, which has been making arrangements to fly its customers’ cremated remains for a quarter-century. A gram of Nichols’ ashes, plus DNA samples taken from her and from Johnson, will be among the secondary payloads for United Launch Alliance’s first Vulcan Centaur mission, set for no earlier than December.

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Many Astronauts Never Recover all of their Bone Density after Returning to Earth

In his book, Endurance, astronaut Scott Kelly described the arduous task of readjusting to life on Earth after spending a year in space. As part of NASA’s Twins Study, Kelly lived and worked aboard the International Space Station (ISS) while his identical twin (astronaut Mark Kelly) remained on Earth. While the results of this study revealed how prolonged exposure to microgravity could lead to all manner of physiological changes, the long and painful recovery Kelly described in his book painted a much more personal and candid picture.

As it turns out, astronauts who spend extended periods in space may never fully recover. At least, that is the conclusion reached by an international team led by the University of Calgary after they assessed the bone strength of multiple astronauts before and after they went to space. They found that after twelve months of recovery, the astronaut’s bones had not regenerated completely. These findings could have significant implications for proposed future missions, many of which involve long-duration stays in space, on the Moon, and Mars.

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

Screen image captured at Beijing Aerospace Control Center on June 5, 2022 shows three Chinese astronauts, Chen Dong (C), Liu Yang (R) and Cai Xuzhe, waving after entering the space station core module Tianhe. (Xinhua/Li Xin)

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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NASA Will Rent Future Spacesuits From Longtime Supplier and Newcomer

Moonwalker wearing Collins Aerospace spacesuit
An artist's conception shows the spacesuit made by the Collins Aerospace team. (Collins Photo)

NASA has struck deals with two commercial teams to provide the spacesuits destined for use when astronauts return to the moon by as early as 2025 — and there’s an extra twist that might have sounded alien to the Apollo moonwalkers a half-century ago. This time, NASA won’t own the suits.

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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

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei is seen outside the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft after he landed with Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

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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