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.

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

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.”

Continue reading “White House Encourages NASA to Work on Space-Based Nuclear Power and Propulsion Systems”

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.

Continue reading “SpaceShipTwo’s First Powered Test Flight Since Move to New Mexico Fizzles Out”

Scientists Have Developed a Way to Make Human Skin More Protected from Space Radiation

Earth is a radiation cocoon. Inside that cocoon, the atmosphere and the magnetosphere keep us mostly safe from the Sun’s radiaition. Some ultraviolet light gets through, and can damage us. But reasonable precautions like simply minimizing exposure can keep the Sun’s radiation at bay.

But space is a different matter altogether. Among the many hazards it poses to astronauts, ever-present radiation is one that needs a solution.

Now a team of researchers have developed a new biomaterial to protect astronauts.

Continue reading “Scientists Have Developed a Way to Make Human Skin More Protected from Space Radiation”

Crew Dragon Will Be Launching on May 27th

NASA and SpaceX are targeting May 27, 2020 for an historic mission: the launch of the first astronauts on the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, with the destination as the International Space Station (ISS). The crew, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, are scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:32 pm EDT that day from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. If all goes well, the Crew Dragon will autonomously dock with the space station about 24 hours later.

Continue reading “Crew Dragon Will Be Launching on May 27th”

Even More Things That Saved Apollo 13: The Nail-biting Re-entry Sequence

50 years ago today, on April 17, 1970, the crew of Apollo 13 came home. Safely. Successfully.

The world breathed a collective sigh of relief as they watched NASA turn a disaster into one of the most dramatic happy-endings ever.

The flight of Apollo 13 was unlike any other Apollo mission, and the final hours of the flight – preparing for and implementing the reentry to Earth – was unlike any other, as well.

Continue reading “Even More Things That Saved Apollo 13: The Nail-biting Re-entry Sequence”

Even More Things That Saved Apollo 13: Charging the Batteries

Following the explosion of an oxygen tank in Apollo 13’s Service Module on April 13, 1970, approximately 56 hours into the mission, the situation was bleak. With the Command Module (CM) without any power, the Lunar Module (LM) was activated as a life boat to sustain the crew. The task ahead – to save the spacecraft and the crew, and get them home again — would require an incredible amount of innovation by both the Apollo 13 astronauts and the engineers back on Earth.

The explosion caused the loss of the main source for oxygen, water, and most importantly, electrical power for the CM. With only 15 minutes of power left in the CM, astronaut Jack Swigert powered down the CM while Jim Lovell and Fred Haise got the LM up and running.

For engineers on the ground, one of the biggest concerns was maintaining enough electrical power in the LM and then creating enough power in the CM to power it back up again for reentry to Earth.

Continue reading “Even More Things That Saved Apollo 13: Charging the Batteries”

Even More Things That Saved Apollo 13, part 1: The Barbecue Roll

Apollo 13 was supposed to be the third mission to land humans on the Moon. But on the night of April 13th, 1970, an oxygen tank in Apollo 13’s Service Module exploded. And so began the most perilous but eventually triumphant situation ever encountered in human spaceflight.

The explosion crippled the Apollo 13 Command Module and endangered the lives of astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert. During the four days that followed, thousands of people back on Earth worked around the clock to ensure the astronauts’ safe return.

Continue reading “Even More Things That Saved Apollo 13, part 1: The Barbecue Roll”

SpaceX Has Requested Permission to Fly Starship as Early as March

In September of 2019, SpaceX unveiled the first Starship prototype, the first of several test vehicles that would validate the design of the next-generation spacecraft that would fulfill Musk’s promise of making commercial flights to the Moon and Mars. And while there was a bit of a setback in November of 2019 after the Mk. 1 suffered a structural failure, Musk indicated that the company would be moving forward with other prototypes.

As Musk explained at the time, this would consist of the Mk. 3 prototype conducting an orbital test flight to an altitude of 100 km (62 mi) sometime in 2020. According to recent filings made with the FCC, this test could be happening as early as mid-March and will involve the vehicle launching from the company’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas, and flying to an altitude of 20 km (12.6 mi) before landing.

Continue reading “SpaceX Has Requested Permission to Fly Starship as Early as March”