Borderline Cat 5 Hurricane Joaquin Spied from International Space Station

As the powerful category 4 Hurricane Joaquin was pounding the Bahamas and packing winds of over 130 mph, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly captured a stunning photo of Joaquin on Friday morning, Oct. 2 from his perch aboard the International Space Station (ISS). As of today, Oct. 3. Joaquin has gained strength to 150 mph and is a borderline Cat 5 storm!

Coincidentally, Kelly snapped the photo within hours of the milestone 100th straight successful rocket launch by United Launch Alliance (ULA) on Oct. 2, of the firms Atlas V rocket carrying Mexico’s next generation Morelos-3 communications satellite from Florida to orbit.

Kelly’s spectacular storm photo shows the eye of Hurricane Joaquin over the Caribbean and off the US eastern seaboard with the limb of the Earth and our atmosphere in beautiful detail.

Huge thunderstorms can been off to the north of the immense category 4 storm.

And as of today, Saturday, Oct. 3, Hurricane Joaquin has further strengthened and is now packing maximum sustained winds of 150 MPH or 240 KM/H, according to the latest advisory issued by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) as of 5 p.m. EDT.

Kelly posted the Oct. 2 photo of Joaquin with this caption on his twitter account:

“Early morning shot of Hurricane #Joaquin from @space_station before reaching #Bahamas. Hope all is safe. #YearInSpace.”

Two of the stations solar panels are seen in the photo as well as portions of the US east coast including Florida.

The latest NHC forecast shows Joaquin veering away from the US East Coast. But it’s still creating hurricane force winds and high waves that is threatening Bermuda.

“SEVERE HURRICANE JOAQUIN THREATENING BERMUDA,” said the NHC today.

It is moving northeast at 45 degrees at 17 MPH or 28 KM/H.

Kelly snapped another telling view of Joaquin on Thursday, Oct. 1 showing the Bahamas and Miami in the field of view.

Kelly tweeted; “#HurricaneJoaquin churns over the #Bahamas with #Miami in the field of view from @Space_Station.”

#HurricaneJoaquin churns over the #Bahamas with #Miami in the field of view from @Space_Station #YearInSpace.  Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly
#HurricaneJoaquin churns over the #Bahamas with #Miami in the field of view from @Space_Station #YearInSpace. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

Scott Kelly is a member of the first ever 1 year ISS mission crew comprising Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

They arrived at the ISS in March and had just reached the midpoint of their nearly 12 month stay aimed at conducting research to explore the impact of long term stays in space on the human body and aid NASA’s long term plans for a human ‘Journey to Mars’ in the 2030s.

NASA and NOAA satellites are keeping constant watch on the progress of the powerful Hurricane Joaquin, that earlier had the potential to barrel towards tens of millions of US coastal residents.

Here’s another stunning view of Hurricane Joaquin taken by the GOES-West satellite on Oct. 1.

This stunning image of Hurricane Joaquin is from NOAA's GOES West satellite on Oct. 1 2015. Many portions of the eastern U.S. are currently experiencing heavy rains and gusty winds associated with a frontal system.   Credit: NOAA
This stunning image of Hurricane Joaquin is from NOAA’s GOES West satellite on Oct. 1 2015. Many portions of the eastern U.S. are currently experiencing heavy rains and gusty winds associated with a frontal system. Credit: NOAA

This visible image from NASA’s Aqua satellite shows Hurricane Joaquin over Bahamas on Oct. 1.

NASA's Aqua satellite captured this visible image of Hurricane Joaquin over Bahamas on Oct. 1 at 17:55 UTC (1:55 p.m. EDT).  Credits: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team
NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this visible image of Hurricane Joaquin over Bahamas on Oct. 1 at 17:55 UTC (1:55 p.m. EDT). Credits: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA Discovers Salty Liquid Water Flows Intermittently on Mars Today, Bolstering Chance for Life

These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. Recently, planetary scientists detected hydrated salts on these slopes at Hale crater, corroborating their original hypothesis that the streaks are indeed formed by liquid water. The blue color seen upslope of the dark streaks are thought not to be related to their formation, but instead are from the presence of the mineral pyroxene.

The image is produced by draping an orthorectified Infrared-Red-Blue/Green(IRB)) false color image on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM). This model was produced by researchers at the University of Arizona, much like the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). The vertical exaggeration is 1.5.

NASA and Mars planetary scientists announced today (Sept. 28) that salty “liquid water flows intermittently” across multiple spots on the surface of today’s Mars – trumpeting a major scientific discovery with far reaching implications regarding the search for life beyond Earth and bolstering the chances for the possible existence of present day Martian microbes.

Utilizing spectroscopic measurements and imaging gathered by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), researchers found the first strong evidence confirming that briny water flows on the Red Planet today along dark streaks moving downhill on crater slopes and mountain sides, during warmer seasons.

“Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past. Today we announce that under certain circumstances, liquid water has been found on Mars,” said Jim Green, NASA Planetary Science Director at NASA Headquarters, at a media briefing held today, Sept 28.

“When you look at Earth, water is an essential ingredient. Everywhere we go where there’s liquid water, whether its deep in the Earth or in the arid regions, we find life. This is tremendously exciting.”

“We haven’t been able to answer the question – does life exist beyond Earth? But following the water is a critical element of that. We now have great opportunities to be in the right locations on Mars to thoroughly investigate that,” Green elaborated.

“Water! Strong evidence that liquid water flows on present-day Mars,” NASA officials tweeted about the discovery.

The evidence comes in the form of the detection of mysterious dark streaks, as long as 100 meters, showing signatures of hydrated salt minerals periodically flowing in liquid water down steep slopes on the Red Planet that “appear to ebb and flow over time.”

The source of the water is likely from the shallow subsurface or possibly absorbed from the atmosphere.

Dark narrow streaks called recurring slope lineae emanating out of the walls of Garni crater on Mars. The dark streaks here are up to few hundred meters in length. They are hypothesized to be formed by flow of briny liquid water on Mars. The image is produced by draping an orthorectified (RED) image (ESP_031059_1685) on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the same site produced by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). Vertical exaggeration is 1.5.    Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Dark narrow streaks called recurring slope lineae emanating out of the walls of Garni crater on Mars. The dark streaks here are up to few hundred meters in length. They are hypothesized to be formed by flow of briny liquid water on Mars. The image is produced by draping an orthorectified (RED) image (ESP_031059_1685) on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the same site produced by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). Vertical exaggeration is 1.5. Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Water is a key prerequisite for the formation and evolution of life as we know it. So the new finding significantly bolsters the chances that present day extant life could exist on the Red Planet.

“Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

“This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water — albeit briny — is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

“This increases the chance that life could exist on Mars today,” noted Grunsfeld.

The data were gathered by and the conclusions are based on using two scientific instruments – the high resolution imaging spectrometer on MRO known as High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), as well as MRO’s mineral mapping Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).

The mysterious dark streaks of downhill flows are known as recurring slope lineae (RSL).

They were first detected in 2010 at dozens of sites on the sun facing slopes of deep craters by Lujendra Ojha, then a University of Arizona undergraduate student.

The new finding is highly significant because until today’s announcement, there was no strong evidence that liquid water could actually exist on the Martian surface because the atmospheric pressure was thought to be far too low – its less than one percent of Earth’s.

The flow of water is occasional and not permanent, seasonally variable and dependent on having just the right mix of atmospheric, temperature and surface conditions with salt deposits on Mars.

Portions of Mars were covered with an ocean of water billions of years ago when the planet was far warmer and more hospitable to life. But it underwent a dramatic climate change some 3 billion years ago and lost most of that water.

The RSL with flowing water appear in at least three different locations on Mars – including Hale crater, Horowitz crater and Palikir crater – when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius). They appear during warm seasons, fade in cooler seasons and disappear during colder times.

Pure surface water ice would simply sublimate and evaporate away as the temperature rises. Mixing in surface salts lowers the melting point of ice, thereby allowing the water to potentially liquefy on Mars surface for a certain period of time rather than sublimating rapidly away.

“These are dark streaks that form in late spring, grow through the summer and then disappear in the fall,” said Michael Meyer lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, at the media briefing.

Years of painstaking effort and laboratory work was required to verify and corroborate the finding of flowing liquid water.

“It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface of this cold, desert planet,” said Meyer. “It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future.”

The dark, narrow streaks flowing downhill on Mars at sites such as this portion of Horowitz Crater are inferred to be formed by seasonal flow of water on modern-day Mars. The streaks are roughly the length of a football field. These dark features on the slopes are called "recurring slope lineae" or RSL. The imaging and topographical information in this processed view come from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.   Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
The dark, narrow streaks flowing downhill on Mars at sites such as this portion of Horowitz Crater are inferred to be formed by seasonal flow of water on modern-day Mars. The streaks are roughly the length of a football field. These dark features on the slopes are called “recurring slope lineae” or RSL. The imaging and topographical information in this processed view come from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Along with the media announcement, the researchers published their findings today in a refereed scientific paper in the Sept. 28 issue of Nature Geoscience.

“We found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks,” said Lujendra Ojha, now at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, and lead author of the Sept. 28 publication in Nature Geoscience.

The scientists “interpret the spectral signatures as caused by hydrated minerals called perchlorates.”

Ojha said the chemical signatures from CRISM were most consistent with the detection of mixtures of magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate, based on lab experiments.

“Some perchlorates have been shown to keep liquids from freezing even when conditions are as cold as minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 70 Celsius).”

Perchlorates have previously been detected in Martian soil by two of NASA’s surface missions – the Phoenix lander and the Curiosity rover. There is also some evidence that NASA’s Viking missions in the 1970s measured signatures of these salts.

On Earth concentration of perchlorates are found in deserts.

This also marks the first time perchlorates have been identified from Mars orbit.

Locations of RSL features on Mars
Locations of RSL features on Mars

NASA’s overriding agency wide goal is to send humans on a ‘Journey to Mars’ in the 2030s.

So NASA astronaut Mark Kelly exclaimed that he was also super excited about the findings, from his perch serving as Commander aboard the International Space Station (ISS), where he is a member of the first ever “1 Year ISS Mission Crew” aimed at learning how the human body will adapt to the long term missions required to send astronauts to Mars and back.

“One reason why NASA’s discovery of liquid water on #Mars is so exciting: we know anywhere there’s water on Earth, there’s some form of life,” Kelly tweeted today from on board the ISS, upon hearing today’s news.

The discovery of liquid water on Mars could also be a boon to future astronauts who could use it as a natural resource to ‘live off the land’ for sustenance and to make rocket fuel.

“If going to Mars on my Year In Space, I’d arrive soon to find water! H20 > rocket fuel, which means I could find my way back home too!,” Kelly wrote on his Facebook page.

“When most people talk about water on Mars, they’re usually talking about ancient water or frozen water,” Ojha explained.

“Now we know there’s more to the story. This is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Matt Damon of ‘The Martian’ Explains NASA’s Journey to Mars – ISS Crew Previews Film on Orbit

Video caption: ‘The Martian’ Star Matt Damon Discusses NASA’s Journey to Mars. Credit: NASA

The excitement is building for the worldwide movie premiere of ‘The Martian’ on Oct. 2.

Based on the bestselling book by Andy Weir, ‘The Martian’ tells the story of how NASA astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, is accidentally stranded on the surface of Mars during a future manned expedition, after a sudden and unexpectedly fierce dust storm forces the rest of the crew to quickly evacuate after they believe he is dead.

In the video above, Matt Damon discusses NASA’s ongoing real life efforts focused on turning science fiction dreams into reality and sending astronauts to Mars.

Watney actually survived the storm but lost contact with NASA. The film recounts his ingenious years long struggle to survive, figure out how to tell NASA he is alive and send a rescue crew before he starves to death on a planet where nothing grows. Watney’s predicament is a survival lesson to all including NASA.

‘The Martian’ was written by Andy Weir in 2010 and has now been produced as a major Hollywood motion picture starring world famous actor Matt Damon and directed by the world famous director Ridley Scott from 20th Century Fox.

NASA’s overriding strategic goal is to send humans on a ‘Journey to Mars’ by the 2030s.

‘The Martian’ is a rather realistic portrayal of how NASA might accomplish the ‘Journey to Mars.’

“Sending people to Mars and returning them safely is the challenge of a generation,” says Damon in the video.

“The boot prints of astronauts will follow the rover tracks [of NASA’s Curiosity rover] thanks to innovations happening today.”

“NASA’s Journey to Mars begins on the International Space Station (ISS) .. where we are learning how humans can thrive over long periods without gravity.”

The current six person crew serving aboard the ISS even got a sneak preview of The Martian this past weekend!

Gleeful NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, commander of the Expedition 45 crew, just tweeted a photo of the crew watching ‘The Martian’ while soaring some 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth.

“Watched @MartianMovie on @Space_Station last night! Today working towards our #JourneyToMars during my #YearInSpace!” tweeted NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.

Kelly comprises one half of the first ever ‘1 Year ISS Crew’ along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, aimed at determining the long term physical and psychological effects on the human body of people living and working in the weightlessness of space.

The 1 Year ISS mission is an important data gathering milestone on the human road to Mars since the round trip time to the Red Planet and back will take approximately 3 years or more.

In order to send astronauts to the Red Planet, NASA is now developing the mammoth Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift booster and the Orion crew capsule to propel astronauts farther than ever before on the Journey to Mars.

The first unmanned test flight of SLS/Orion is slated for Nov. 2018. The first manned flight could occur between 2021 and 2023 – read my new report here.

“The Journey to Mars will forever change our history books … and expand our human presence deeper into the solar system,” says Damon.

THE MARTIAN features a star studded cast that includes Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover.

Matt Damon stars as NASA astronaut Mark Watney in ‘The Martian.' Credit: 20th Century Fox
Matt Damon stars as NASA astronaut Mark Watney in ‘The Martian.’ Credit: 20th Century Fox

“NASA has endorsed “The Martian’” Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Sciences, told Universe Today. Green served as technical consultant on the film.

I have read the book (I’m a professional chemist) and highly recommend it to everyone.

The Martian is all about how Watney uses his botany and chemistry skills to “Science the Sh.. out of it” to grow food and survive.

Learning how to live of the land will be a key hurdle towards enabling long term space voyages.

Kelly and his ISS cremates took a big first step towards putting that theory into practice when they recently grew, harvested and ate the first space grown NASA lettuce on the ISS using the Veggie experimental rack – detailed in my recent story here.

NASA Astronauts Kjell Lindgren (center) and Scott Kelly (right) and Kimiya Yui (left) of Japan consume space grown food for the first time ever, from the aboard the  from the Veggie plant growth system on the International Space Station.  Credit: NASA TV
NASA Astronauts Kjell Lindgren (center) and Scott Kelly (right) and Kimiya Yui (left) of Japan consume space grown food for the first time ever, from the Veggie plant growth system on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV

Here’s the second official trailer of “The Martian:

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Veggie demonstration apparatus growing red romaine lettuce under LED lights in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Veggie demonstration apparatus growing red romaine lettuce under LED lights in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Spectacular Image Showcases Space Station Transiting the Sun with 9 Member Crew

The International Space Station transits the sun on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015 with an enhanced crew of nine, as seen from Shenandoah National Park, Front Royal, VA in this composite image by NASA photographer Bill Ingalls. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Story/photos updated[/caption]

A spectacular new image taken from Earth showcases the International Space Station (ISS) transiting our Sun this past weekend, as the orbiting outpost is temporarily home to an enlarged crew of nine persons hailing from five nations.

The beautiful composite view of the ISS transiting the sun is shown above. It was released by NASA today, Sept. 8, and was created by combining a rapid fire series of five images taken on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015 from Shenandoah National Park, Front Royal, VA, by renowned NASA photographer Bill Ingalls.

Ingalls is NASA’s top photographer for numerous space launches and NASA events worldwide.

Exquisitely careful planning is required to capture events such as this solar transit which is over in barely the wink of an eye.

The ISS was hurtling along at about 5 miles per second which has a rarely beef up complement of nine humans serving aboard for a short period of barely a week time.

The cosmonauts and astronaut crew currently aboard comprises two Americans, four Russians, and one each from Japan, Denmark and Kazakhstan; namely NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren: Russian Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko, Sergey Volkov, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, Danish Astronaut Andreas Mogensen, and Kazakhstan Cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov.

The nine-member space station crew takes questions from journalists around the world on Sept. 8, 2015. Credit: NASA TV
The nine-member space station crew takes questions from journalists around the world on Sept. 8, 2015. Credit: NASA TV

They arrived aboard three different Russian Soyuz capsules.

Among the crew are the first ever 1 year ISS mission crew comprising Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko.

They arrived at the ISS in March and are now about half way through their nearly 12 month stay aimed at conducting research to explore the impact of long term stays in space on the human body and aid NASA’s long term plans for a human ‘Journey to Mars’ in the 2030s.

Kelly assumed command of the ISS on Saturday when it was formally handed over in a ceremony by Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka – who will soon depart for the voyage back home after completing his six month stint.

This marks Kelly’s second time serving as ISS commander. He was also a NASA Space Shuttle commander.

Mogensen and Aimbetov are first time space flyers and part of a short term 10 day taxi mission.

Along with Soyuz commander Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos, they launched to the ISS aboard the Soyuz TMA-18M from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan this past Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015 and docked two days later on Friday, Sept. 4.

Mogensen and Aimbetov will undock from the station on Friday, Sept. 11 along with Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka as Soyuz commander, the human with the distinction of the most time in space. Altogether Padalka will have accumulated 879 days in space over five missions, four on the space station and one on Russia’s Mir.

Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos, Andreas Mogensen of ESA (European Space Agency) and Aidyn Aimbetov of the Kazakh Space Agency launched aboard Soyuz TMA-18M from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 12:37 a.m. EDT on Wednesday (10:37 a.m. in Baikonur).  Credits: NASA TV
Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos, Andreas Mogensen of ESA (European Space Agency) and Aidyn Aimbetov of the Kazakh Space Agency launched aboard Soyuz TMA-18M from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 12:37 a.m. EDT on Wednesday (10:37 a.m. in Baikonur). Credits: NASA TV

Since the forced retirement of NASA’s shuttle orbiters in 2011, US astronauts have been totally dependent on the Russians for trips to space and back.

Boeing and SpaceX are now building America’s next human spaceships under contracts awarded by NASA.

‘Starliner’ is the new name of Boeing’s CST-100 commercial crew transportation spaceship – as announced during the Grand Opening event for the craft’s manufacturing facility held at the Kennedy Space Center on Friday, Sept 4. 2015 and attended by Universe Today. Read my story – here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Danny – First Atlantic Hurricane of 2015 as Seen from Space Station by Scott Kelly

Hurricane Danny, the first Atlantic Ocean hurricane of the 2015 season has been caught on camera by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, in a beautiful image taken on Thursday, August 20 at 6 a.m. EDT from his glorious perch aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Poking majestically down at the sprawling hurricane is the space stations Canadian-built robotic arm that will be used by Kelly in a few days to grapple Kounotori, the Japanese cargo ship launched earlier this week and berth it at a docking port.

Kelly is nearly five months into his year-long stay aboard the ISS and is a prolific photographer of the natural wonders of our home planet.

“Hurricane Danny. Keeping an eye on you from the International Space Station. Looks like you’re 1st in the Atlantic this year. Stay safe below! #YearInSpace,” wrote Kelly on his Facebook and twitter pages.

Danny had risen to a Category 3 hurricane by Friday afternoon, August 21, with winds over 115 mph and was moving westward in the Central Atlantic Ocean towards the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean.

By 11 a.m. EDT (1500 UTC) on Friday, August 21, the eye of Hurricane Danny was located near latitude 14.0 North, longitude 48.2 West, according to NASA. The center of Danny was about 930 miles (1,195 km) east of the Leeward Islands. With maximum sustained winds of near 105 mph (165 kph), Danny was a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

By 8:00 p.m. Friday evening, Friday, the National Hurricane Center said Danny was located over the central tropical Atlantic Ocean about 800 miles east of the Leeward Islands.

Late this evening at 11 p.m., the National Hurricane Center said it had weakened slightly back to a Category 2 storm with maximum winds of 110 mph and was located at 14.8°N and 49.8°W while moving west northwest at 10 mph.

The NASA GOES-East animation below combines visible and infrared imagery showing Hurricane Danny’s movement in the eastern and central Atlantic Ocean from Aug. 18 to 21, 2015.

Video caption: Hurricane Danny Seen By GOES-East. This animation of visible and infrared imagery of Hurricane Danny in the Central Atlantic Ocean was taken from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite from Aug. 18 to 21. Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center think it may weaken over the next few days as it heads towards the Caribbean islands.

“Vertical shear is expected to increase further during the next couple of days, which should allow drier air in the surrounding environment to penetrate into Danny’s circulation. Therefore,there is no change in the thinking that Danny should weaken as it approaches and moves across the Leeward Islands and the Greater Antilles during the forecast period.”

Danny could reach Puerto Rico by Monday in a weakened state.

Although it’s still far away from the US, it’s not expected to impact the East Coast but that could change.

If Danny were to take aim at the US, it could impact plans to launch the Air Force MUOS-4 satellite on Aug. 31 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by United Launch Alliance (ULA).

Here’s a map showing the current location:

Hurricane Danny location on Aug. 21, 2015. Credit: National Hurricane Center
Hurricane Danny location on Aug. 21, 2015. Credit: National Hurricane Center

On Aug. 19, NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission core satellite passed over Danny and analyzed the structure of its rainfall, as seen in this image.

On Aug. 19, 2015 GPM saw Danny's rain structure was still asymmetric as noted by the large rain band (identified by the green arc indicating moderate rain) being located mainly on the eastern side of the storm. Within this rain band, GPM detected rain rates of up to 73.9 mm/hour (shown in darker red).Credits: SSAI/NASA, Hal Pierce
On Aug. 19, 2015 GPM saw Danny’s rain structure was still asymmetric as noted by the large rain band (identified by the green arc indicating moderate rain) being located mainly on the eastern side of the storm. Within this rain band, GPM detected rain rates of up to 73.9 mm/hour (shown in darker red).Credits: SSAI/NASA, Hal Pierce

A research team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, created a 3-D rendering of Danny using data from the GPM DPR (Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar) instrument.

“GPM showed that Danny was still in the process of becoming organized. The rain structure was still very asymmetric as noted by a large rain band being located mainly on the eastern side of the storm. Within this rain band, GPM detected rain rates of up to 73.9 mm/hour. At the time of this image, Danny was still a minimal tropical storm with sustained winds estimated at 50 mph by the National Hurricane Center (NHC),” said officials.

And dont forget that you can watch Commander Scott Kelly and his five international crew mates on a regular basis as they soar overhead. Just click on NASA’s Spot the Station link and plug in your location.

ISS crosses the Big Dipper over NJ.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ISS crosses the Big Dipper over NJ. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Yummy! ISS Astronauts Eat First Space-Grown Food

Video caption: That’s one small bite for a man, one giant leaf for mankind: NASA Astronauts Scott Kelly, Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui of Japan sample the fruits of their labor after harvesting a crop of “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce from the Veggie plant growth system on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV

Going where no astronauts have gone before, a trio of “space farmers” living aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have just become the first humans ever to eat food grown in space!

The gleeful munchers downed the freshly harvested crop of blood red colored “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce salad during a live webcast today, Monday, August 10, direct from the Earth orbiting outpost soaring some 250 miles (400 km) above the home planet.

“Woo hoo ! …. Cheers!” exclaimed the eager Expedition 44 astronauts comprising Kjell Lindgren, Scott Kelly and Kimiya Yui, at the moment of truth, as they consumed the fruits of their own labor.

“It was one small bite for man, one giant leap for #NASAVEGGIE and our #JourneytoMars. #YearInSpace,” tweeted Kelly.

The momentous salad eating event took place at 12:26 EDT from beside the innovative and groundbreaking “Veggie” plant growth system, housed inside the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory located at the end of the US section of the ISS.

“That’s awesome!” said Lindgren with a broad smile – to the audible crunchy sounds of chewing on the freshly cut space lettuce.

“Tastes good!” replied Kelly, upon happily consuming the red leafed vegetable. He is now in the 5th month of his planned 1 Year mission aboard the ISS.

“Chomp! Our first veggies were harvested & consumed by astronauts in space!” tweeted NASA.

They all welcomed the opportunity to sample some freshly grown space produce from their miniature “ space farm.” Resident ISS crewmembers have been waiting for the “GO” to eat for some time.

“It tastes like arugula,” added Kelly, as they first tried the lettuce plain, as a control taste test of the virgin crop to get “the full effect.”

“It’s fresh,” Lindgren responded.

Then they doused quickly it with some oil and vinegar for flavor comparison.

“After trying the lettuce plain, @astro_kjell and @StationCDRKelly added oil & vinegar!” NASA tweeted.

Lindgren had carefully and methodically snipped away about half of the lettuce crop, on live NASA TV – which had grown to quite a size under the carefully maintained conditions inside “Veggie.”

He then cleaned “the leafy greens” by placing them between citric acid-based, food safe sanitizing wipes before the taste test.

After momentarily bagging the harvest, he distributed samples to his “tastemates” and the fun began.

“It’s wonderful to eat fresh food on the ISS, which is a lot of white and aluminum and it’s kind of a sterile environment,” said Kelly.

So this was quite different.

“It’s really fun to see green, growing things in here that we’re intentionally growing for sustenance. So we sure appreciate this payload and the opportunity to grow and eat and harvest these crops.”

The joyful trio saved some for the produce for their three Russian station colleagues to try later – Oleg Kononenko, Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko. Two of the Russian cosmonauts, Expedition 44 commander Padalka and Kelly’s 1 year crew mate Kornienko, were conducting a spacewalk today, simultaneously to the lettuce taste testing.

This "Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce was grown inside the Veggie plant growth system on the ISS and eaten on August 10, 2015 by the station crew.  The goal was to test hardware for growing vegetables and other plants to be harvested and eaten by astronauts in space.  Credits: NASA TV
This “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce was grown inside the Veggie plant growth system on the ISS and eaten on August 10, 2015 by the station crew. The goal was to test hardware for growing vegetables and other plants to be harvested and eaten by astronauts in space. Credits: NASA TV

Another portion was set aside “to be packaged and frozen on the station until it can be returned to Earth for scientific analysis,” said NASA.

Although some vegetables have been grown before on the station, including prior crops of lettuce from “Veggie,” today marked the first time that any astronauts were “officially” granted “permission” to eat the fruits of their labor. Russian cosmonauts have eaten their station crops in the past. It’s a mystery whether any partner crewmates surreptitiously tasted some of the Russian produce.

And it not just for fun. In fact growing edible space food marks a significant new milestone towards enabling deep space human exploration, as explained by Kelly.

“Having lived on the space station for a while, I understand the logistical complexity of having people work in space for long periods and the supply chain that’s required to keep us going,” Kelly remarked.

“If we’re ever going to go to Mars someday, and we will, we’re going to have a spacecraft that is much more self sustainable with regard to its food supply.”

Experiments like these are critical for NASA’s plans to send humans on a “Journey to Mars” in the 2030s.

The “Journey to Mars” and back is likely to take well over two years and resupply is not possible. Crews will have to grow at least a portion of their own food and today’s experiment helps pave the human path to the Red Planet.

The “Veggie” experiment was developed by Orbital Technologies Corp. (ORBITEC) in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Veggie-01 apparatus was thoroughly tested at Kennedy before flight. It was delivered, along with two sets of pillows containing the romaine seeds and one set of zinnias, to the ISS by the SpaceX-3 Dragon cargo resupply mission launched in April 2014.

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren displays the  “Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce grown inside the Veggie plant growth system on the ISS prior to harvesting and consumption on August 10, 2015.  Credit: NASA TV
NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren displays the “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce grown inside the Veggie plant growth system on the ISS prior to harvesting and consumption on August 10, 2015. Credit: NASA TV

The lettuce crop inside the Veggie-01 plant pillows were activated by Kelly on July 8. They were grown for 33 days before being harvested today. The seeds had been stored dormant on the station for some 15 months since arriving aboard the SpaceX-3 Dragon, according to NASA.

The collapsible and expandable Veggie unit features a flat panel light bank that includes red, blue and green LEDs for plant growth and crew observation.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Veggie demonstration apparatus growing red romaine lettuce under LED lights in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Veggie demonstration apparatus growing red romaine lettuce under LED lights in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Russian Progress Supply Freighter Docks at Space Station, Ending String of International Launch Failures

Over three tons of much needed supplies and equipment finally reached the crew living aboard the International Space Station (ISS), when an unmanned and highly anticipated Russian Progress cargo ship successfully docked at the orbiting outpost early this morning, Sunday July 5, at 3:11 a.m. EDT (10:11 MSK, Moscow local time)- to all the partners relief.

This follows two straight international resupply launch failures that significantly crimped the stations stockpiles and abruptly impacted upcoming crew rotations and station launches throughout the remainder of 2015.

Today’s arrival of Russia’s Progress 60 (Progress M-28M) logistics vehicle ended a string of Russian and American resupply mission failures that began some two months ago with the devastating Soyuz rocket launch failure of the prior Progress 59 ship on April 28, and continued with the mid-air explosion of a commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 and unpiloted SpaceX Dragon CRS-7 cargo ship exactly one week ago on June 28.

The Progress 60 was automatically docked at an earth facing port on the Russian “Pirs” docking module on the Russian segment of the ISS – that finally puts the station on the road to recovery with a stockpile of 6100 pounds (2770 kg) of new fuel, food, oxygen, research experiments and gear.

“The operation was carried out in an automated mode,” according to Russian Mission Control near Moscow.

The docking operation was conducted under the guidance of the Russian ISS Expedition 44 commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineer Mikhail Kornienko as well as experts at the Russian Mission Control Center, as the vehicles were soaring about 251 miles (400 km) over the south Pacific, southeast of New Zealand. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is also aboard, rounding out the current three man crew.

The ISS Progress 60 cargo craft is seen just a few minutes away from docking to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV
The ISS Progress 60 cargo craft is seen just a few minutes away from docking to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV

The successful docking came two days after the blastoff of the unmanned Progress 60 cargo freighter atop a Soyuz-U booster from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 3. This signifies the restoration of Russia’s critical cargo lifeline to the ISS and was like celebrating Christmas in July.

“Guys, congratulations. your cargo vehicle has arrived,” said Russian flight director Vladimir Solovyev from Russian mission control.

“We congratulate you as well,” cosmonaut Gennady Padalka replied from inside the station’s Russian-built Zvezda command module. “Thanks so much for sending it our way. It feels like Christmas in July.”

The station is totally dependent on a regular train of supply runs from the partner nations on Earth to operate with a crew and conduct research investigations that will aid in sending humans to deep space destinations.

The ISS Progress 60 cargo craft is now docked to the Pirs docking compartment. Credit: NASA TV
The ISS Progress 60 cargo craft is now docked to the Pirs docking compartment shown in this schematic. Credit: NASA TV

America’s cargo lifeline is currently on hold following the dual launch failures of both US commercial supply trains to low Earth orbit- involving the SpaceX Falcon 9 last week and the catastrophic Orbital ATK Antares/Cygnus Orb-3 mission launch disaster on October 28, 2014 which I saw at NASA Wallops.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon exploded barely two minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. The rocket disintegrated in mere moments as I watched from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

All told, an unprecedented trio of launch failures with three different American and Russian rockets took place over the past eight months.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spaceship dazzled in the moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 but were soon doomed to a sudden catastrophic destruction barely two minutes later in the inset photo (left).  Composite image includes up close launch photo taken from pad camera set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and mid-air explosion photo taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida as rocket was streaking to the International Space Station (ISS) on CRS-7 cargo resupply mission.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spaceship dazzled in the moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 but were soon doomed to a sudden catastrophic destruction barely two minutes later in the inset photo (left). Composite image includes up close launch photo taken from pad camera set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and mid-air explosion photo taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida as rocket was streaking to the International Space Station (ISS) on CRS-7 cargo resupply mission. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Progress 60 resupply ship was loaded with over three tons of food, fuel, oxygen, science experiments, water and supplies on a crucial mission for the International Space Station crew to keep them stocked with urgently needed life support provisions and science experiments in the wake of the twin launch failures in April and June.

The ISS Progress M-28M (Progress 60) cargo craft is seen just a few minutes away from successful docking to the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos
The ISS Progress M-28M (Progress 60) cargo craft is seen just a few minutes away from successful docking to the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos
The ship delivered approximately 1,146 pounds (520 kg) of propellant, 105 pounds (48 kg) of oxygen, 926 pounds (420 kg) of water and 3,071 pounds (1393 kg) pounds of crew supplies, provisions, research equipment, science experiments, student experiments, tools and spare parts and parcels for the crew.

The Progress was stuffed with 100 kg of additional food stocks to make up for the losses suffered from the twin Russian Progress 59 and SpaceX CRS-7 failures.

“As for food, 430 kilos of foodstuffs will be delivered to the ISS or 100 kilos more than the amount delivered by the previous spacecraft,” noted Mission Control.

“The Progress space freighter will deliver more food than usual so that it will suffice for everyone,” Alexander Agureyev, chief of the ISS crew nourishment department at the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems, told the Russian news agency TASS.

Progress 60 is scheduled to remain docked to Pirs for the next four months.

In the wake of the trio of American and Russian launch failures, the crew currently enjoys only about four months of reserves compared to the more desirable six months stockpile in case of launch mishaps.

Progress 60 will extend the station supplies by about a month’s time.

The next cargo ship now slated to launch is the Japanese HTV-5 on August 16.

Blastoff of the Russian Progress 60 resupply ship to the ISS from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 3, 2015. Credit: Roscosmos
Blastoff of the Russian Progress 60 resupply ship to the ISS from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 3, 2015. Credit: Roscosmos

The SpaceX CRS-7 Dragon was packed with over 4,000 pounds (1987 kg) of research experiments, an EVA spacesuit, water filtration equipment, spare parts, gear, computer equipment, high pressure tanks of oxygen and nitrogen supply gases, food, water and clothing for the astronaut and cosmonaut crews comprising Expeditions 44 and 45.

These included critical materials for the science and research investigations for the first ever one-year crew to serve aboard the ISS – comprising NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

The Dragon was also packed with the first of two new International Docking Adapters (IDS’s) required for the new commercial crew space taxis being built by Boeing and SpaceX to dock at the ISS starting in 2017.

The next crewed launch to the station is set for July 22 aboard a Soyuz capsule with with an international trio comprising NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Their flight was delayed from May 26 after the Progress 59 launch failure to ensure that there are no issues with the Soyuz rocket booster that will boost them to the ISS.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Russian Progress Launch Restores Critical Cargo Lifeline to Space Station

Blastoff of the Russian Progress 60 resupply ship to the ISS from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 3, 2015. Credit: Roscosmos
Story updated[/caption]

A sigh of relief was heard worldwide with today’s (July 3) successful launch to orbit of the unmanned Progress 60 cargo freighter atop a Soyuz-U booster from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, signifying the restoration of Russia’s critical cargo lifeline to the International Space Station (ISS), some two months after the devastating launch failure of the prior Progress 59 spaceship on April 28.

Friday’s triumphant Progress launch also comes just five days after America’s cargo deliveries to the ISS were put on hold following the spectacular failure of a commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from the Florida Space Coast on Sunday, June 28, carrying the unpiloted SpaceX Dragon CRS-7 which broke up in flight.

The Progress 60 resupply ship, also known as Progress M-28M, was loaded with over three tons of food, fuel, oxygen, science experiments, water and supplies on a crucial mission for the International Space Station crew to keep them stocked with urgently needed life support provisions and science experiments in the wake of the twin launch failures in April and June.

The Soyuz-U carrier rocket launched Progress into blue skies at 10:55 a.m. local time in Baikonur (12:55 a.m. EDT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch was webcast live on NASA TV.

“Everything went by the book,” said NASA commentator Rob Navias during the webcast. “Everything is nominal.”

The ISS Progress 60 resupply ship streak to orbit after on time launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 3, 2015. Credit: Roscosmos
The ISS Progress 60 resupply ship streak to orbit after on time launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 3, 2015. Credit: Roscosmos

The International Space Station was flying about 249 miles over northwestern Sudan, near the border with Egypt and Libya, at the moment of liftoff. Note: See an exquisite photo of the Egyptian pyramid photographed from the ISS in my recent story – here.

After successfully separating from the third stage Progress reach its preliminary orbit less than 10 minutes after launch from Baikonur and deployed its solar arrays and navigational antennas as planned.

Live video was received from Progress after achieving orbit showing a beautiful view of the Earth below.

A camera from the Progress spacecraft shows the Earth below as it begins its two day trip to the space station. Credit: NASA TV
A camera from the Progress spacecraft shows the Earth below as it begins its two day trip to the space station. Credit: NASA TV

A two day chase of 34 orbits of Earth over the next two days will bring the cargo craft to the vicinity of the station for a planned docking to the Russian segment of the orbiting laboratory at 3:13 a.m. Sunday, July 5.

NASA TV will provide live coverage of the arrival and docking operation to the Pirs Docking Compartment starting at 2:30 a.m. EDT on Sunday, July 5.

Watch live on NASA TV and online at http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka are currently living and working aboard the station as the initial trio of Expedition 44 following the safe departure and landing of the three person Expedition 43 crew in mid June.

Kelly and Kornienko comprise the first ever 1 Year Crew to serve aboard the ISS and are about three months into their stay in space.

In the span of just the past eight months, three launches of unmanned cargo delivery runs to the space station have failed involving both American and Russian rockets.

The cargo ships function as a railroad to space and function as the lifeline to keep the station continuously crewed and functioning. Without periodic resupply by visiting vehicles from the partner nations the ISS cannot continue to operate.

The Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus Orb 3 mission exploded in a massive and frightening fireball on October 28, 2014 which I witnessed from the press site from NASA Wallops in Virginia.

The Russian Soyuz/Progress 59 mission failed after the cargo vessel separated from the Soyuz booster rockets third stage and spun wildly out of control on April 28, 2015 and eventually crashed weeks later during an uncontrolled plummet back to Earth over the ocean on May 8. The loss was traced to an abnormal third stage separation event.

Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, switched this Progress vehicle to an older version of the Soyuz rocket which had a different third stage configuration that was not involved in the April failure.

The ISS Progress 60 resupply ship launches on time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Credit: NASA TV
The ISS Progress 60 resupply ship launches on time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Credit: NASA TV

Russian officials decided to move up the launch by about a month from its originally planned launch date in August in order to restock the station crew with critically needed supplies as soon as practical.

Following Sundays SpaceX cargo launch failure, the over 6100 pounds of new supplies on Progress are urgently needed more than ever before. Loaded aboard are 1,146 pounds (520 kg) of propellant, 105 pounds (48 kg) of oxygen, 926 pounds (420 kg) of water and 3,071 pounds (1393 kg) pounds of crew supplies, provisions, research equipment, science experiments, tools and spare parts and parcels for the crew.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spaceship dazzled in the moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 but were soon doomed to a sudden catastrophic destruction barely two minutes later in the inset photo (left).  Composite image includes up close launch photo taken from pad camera set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and mid-air explosion photo taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida as rocket was streaking to the International Space Station (ISS) on CRS-7 cargo resupply mission.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spaceship dazzled in the moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 but were soon doomed to a sudden catastrophic destruction barely two minutes later in the inset photo (left). Composite image includes up close launch photo taken from pad camera set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and mid-air explosion photo taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida as rocket was streaking to the International Space Station (ISS) on CRS-7 cargo resupply mission. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

In the wake of the trio of American and Russian launch failures, the crews current enjoy only about four month of supplies reserves compared to the more desirable six months stockpile in case of launch mishaps.

Progress 60 will extend the station supplies by about a month’s time.

The SpaceX CRS-7 Dragon was loaded with over 4,000 pounds (1987 kg) of research experiments, an EVA spacesuit, water filtration equipment, spare parts, gear, computer equipment, high pressure tanks of oxygen and nitrogen supply gases, food, water and clothing for the astronaut and cosmonaut crews comprising Expeditions 44 and 45.

These included critical materials for the science and research investigations for the first ever one-year crew to serve aboard the ISS – comprising Kelly and Kornienko.

The Dragon was also packed with the first of two new International Docking Adapters (IDS’s) required for the new commercial crew space taxis to dock at the ISS starting in 2017.

The three cargo launch failures so close together are unprecedented in the history of the ISS program over the past two decades.

The next cargo ship now slated to launch is the Japanese HTV-5 on August 16.

Antares descended into hellish inferno after first stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Antares descended into hellish inferno after first stage propulsion system at base of Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded moments after blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Record Setting Italian Female Astronaut and ISS Crewmates Land in Sunny Kazakhstan

An international crew comprising a Russian cosmonaut, a US astronaut and an Italian astronaut who accomplished a record setting flight for time in space by a female, departed the International Space Station (ISS) earlier today, June 11, and safely landed in sunny and warm Kazakhstan tucked inside their Russia Soyuz ferry ship after a successful and extended 199-day mission devoted to science and station upgrades.

The multinational trio comprising Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) undocked from the orbiting outposts Russian Rassvet module as scheduled in the Soyuz TMA-15M spaceship at 6:20 a.m. EDT while soaring some 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Mongolia.

A four-minute 40-second deorbit burn at 8:51 a.m EDT slowed the craft for the fiery reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The crew touched down just a few hours after undocking at 9:44 a.m. EDT (7:44 p.m., Kazakh time), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan on the steppes of Kazakhstan, about an hour and a half before sundown in delightfully summer weather. Temperatures today were in the 80s, but they are ‘bone chilling’ in the winter months.

Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) touched down at 9:44 a.m. EDT (7:44 p.m., Kazakh time), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.  Credits: NASA TV
Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) touched down at 9:44 a.m. EDT (7:44 p.m., Kazakh time), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. Credits: NASA TV

The Expedition 43 flight was extended at the last minute due to the surprise launch failure of a Russian rocket carrying a station bound Progress resupply ship in late April.

The Progress 59 cargo vessel, also known as Progress M-27M, spun wildly out of control as it separated from the Soyuz-2.1A carrier rocket. The freighter and all its 2.5 tons of contents fpr the crew were destroyed during an uncontrolled plummet as its crashed back to Earth on May 8.

The Soyuz/Progress 59 failure had far reaching consequences and resulted in a postponement of virtually all Russian crew and cargo flights to the ISS for the remainder of 2015, as announced this week by Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency.

One result is that Cristoforetti now holds the single mission record for a female astronaut, of nearly 200 days.

Expedition 43 was extended by about a month in the wake of the launch failure of the Progress 59 cargo vessel, which quickly cascaded into an extended mission from its originally planned length of about 170 days to 199+ days.

The Soyuz is only certified to stay on orbit for 200 days. So the return home delayed as much as possible to minimize the time when the ISS reverts to only a three person crew – and consequently reduced time for research.

This past weekend on June 6, Cristoforetti surpassed the female astronaut record of 194 days, 18 hours and 2 minutes established by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams on a prior station flight back in 2007.

Cristoforetti, of the European Space Agency (ESA), is on her first ever space flight also counts as she also counts as Italy’s first female astronaut.

The station departure and parachute assisted soft landing was shown during a live webcast on NASA TV.

“The landing was on time and on target after over 199 days in space,” said NASA commentator Rob Navius.

“Everything went by the book for an on target touchdown. The crew is safely back on Earth!”

Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency in Star Trek uniform as SpaceX Dragon arrives at the International Space Station on April 17, 2015. Credit: NASA
Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency in Star Trek uniform as SpaceX Dragon arrives at the International Space Station on April 17, 2015. Credit: NASA

In the final stages of the return to Earth, the Soyuz descent module glided down safely using a single mammoth orange and white parachute, aided by braking rockets in the final moments just a few feet above ground.

The Soyuz landed upright, which eased the extraction of the crew. Russian recovery team members hoisted all three up and out from the cramped capsule.

Soyuz commander Anton Shkaplerov was hauled up first, followed by Samantha Cristoforetti and finally Terry Virts.

All three crewmembers were healthy and happy, each signaling their elation with a joyous ‘thumbs up.’

After preliminary medical checks, the crew were flown by helicopter to a staging base at Karaganda. From there they split up. Shkaplerov heads back to Moscow and Star City. Cristoforetti and Virts fly to Mission Control in Houston.

During their time aloft, the crew completed several critical spacewalks, technology demonstrations, and hundreds of scientific experiments spanning multiple disciplines, including human and plant biology,” according to NASA.

Among the research experiments conducted were “participation in the demonstration of new, cutting-edge technologies such as the Synthetic Muscle experiment, a test of a new polymer that contracts and expands similar to real muscle. This technology has the potential for future use on robots, enabling them to perform tasks that require considerable dexterity but are too dangerous to be performed by humans in space.”

“The crew engaged in a number of biological studies, including one investigation to better understand the risks of in-flight infections and another studying the effects microgravity has on bone health during long-duration spaceflight. The Micro-5 study used a small roundworm and a microbe that causes food poisoning in humans to study the risk of infectious diseases in space, which is critical for ensuring crew health, safety and performance during long-duration missions. The Osteo-4 study investigated bone loss in space, which has applications not only for astronauts on long-duration missions, but also for people on Earth affected by osteoporosis and other bone disorders.”

Three cargo flights also arrived at the ISS carrying many tons of essential supplies, research equipment, science experiments, gear, spare parts, food, water, clothing.

The resupply freighters included the Russian Progress in February 2015 as well as two SpaceX Dragon cargo ships on the CRS-5 and CRS-6 flights in January and April.

Expedition 43 commander Terry Virts of NASA, left, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), center, and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from European Space Agency (ESA) sit in chairs outside the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft just minutes after they landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Virtz, Shkaplerov, and Cristoforetti are returning after more than six months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 42 and 43 crews. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Expedition 43 commander Terry Virts of NASA, left, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), center, and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from European Space Agency (ESA) sit in chairs outside the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft just minutes after they landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Virts, Shkaplerov, and Cristoforetti are returning after more than six months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 42 and 43 crews. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

With the return of Virts crew, the new Expedition 44 begins and comprises NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko, the two members of the first “ISS 1 Year Mission” as well as cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.

Padalka now assumes command of the station for a record setting fourth time. And he’ll soon be setting another record. In late June, he will break the all time record for cumulative time in space currently held by cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev of 803 days on six space flights.

When Padalka returns to Earth around September 10 in the Soyuz TMA-16M ship, that brought the 1 Year crew to the ISS, he will have been in space for a grand total of over 877 days over five flights.

The next cargo ferry flight involves NASA’s next contracted unmanned Dragon cargo mission by commercial provider SpaceX on the CRS-7 flight.

Dragon CRS-7 is now slated for liftoff on June 26. Watch for my onsite reports from KSC.

The Dragon will be carrying critical US equipment, known as the International Docking Adapter (IDA), enabling docking by the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 astronaut transporters – due for first crewed launches in 2017.

The most recent unmanned Dragon cargo CRS-6 mission concluded with a Pacific Ocean splashdown on May 21.

The International Space Station, photographed by the crew of STS-132 as they disembarked. Credit: NASA
The International Space Station, photographed by the crew of STS-132 as they disembarked. Credit: NASA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Expedition 43 crews rests post landing  on Thursday, June 11, 2015, Terry Virts of NASA, comprising cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and record setting Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from European Space Agency (ESA).  Credit: NASA
Expedition 43 crews rests post landing on Thursday, June 11, 2015, Terry Virts of NASA, comprising cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and record setting Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from European Space Agency (ESA). Credit: NASA

Longest Woman Spaceflyer to Return as Russia Reshuffles Station Launches After Rocket Failure

The longest space mission in history by a female astronaut is now set to conclude on Thursday, following Russia’s confirmation of a significant reshuffling of the crew and cargo flight manifest to the International Space Station (ISS) for the remainder of 2015 – all in the wake of the unexpected Russian launch failure of a station bound Progress resupply ship in late April with far reaching consequences.

The record setting flight of approximately 200 days by Italian spaceflyer Samantha Cristoforetti, along with her two Expedition 43 crewmates, will come to an end on Thursday, June 11, when the trio are set to undock and depart the station aboard their Russian Soyuz crew capsule and return back to Earth a few hours later.

NASA TV coverage begins at 6 a.m. EDT on June 11.

Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, officially announced today, June 9, a revamped schedule changing the launch dates of several upcoming crewed launches this year to the Earth orbiting outpost.

Launch dates for the next three Progress cargo flights have also been adjusted.

The next three person ISS crew will now launch between July 23 to 25 on the Soyuz TMA-17M capsule from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The exact timing of the Expedition 44 launch using a Russian Soyuz-FG booster is yet to be determined.

The International Space Station, photographed by the crew of STS-132 as they disembarked. Credit: NASA
The International Space Station, photographed by the crew of STS-132 as they disembarked. Credit: NASA

Soon after the Progress mishap, the Expedition 43 mission was extended by about a month so as to minimize the period when the ISS is staffed by only a reduced crew of three people aboard – since the blastoff of the next crew was simultaneously delayed by Roscosmos by about two months from May to late July.

Indeed Cristoforetti’s endurance record only came about as a result of the very late mission extension ordered by Roscosmos, so the agency could investigate the root cause of the recent launch failure of the Russian Progress 59 freighter that spun wildly out of control soon after blastoff on April 28 on a Soyuz-2.1A carrier rocket.

Roscosmos determined that the Progress failure was caused by an “abnormal separation of the 3rd stage and the cargo vehicle” along with “associated frequency dynamic characteristics.”

The Expedition 43 crew comprising of Cristoforetti, NASA astronaut and current station commander Terry Virts, and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov had been scheduled to head back home around May 13. The trio have been working and living aboard the complex since November 2014.

The 38-year old Cristoforetti actually broke the current space flight endurance record for a female astronaut during this past weekend on Saturday, June 6, when she eclipsed the record of 194 days, 18 hours and 2 minutes established by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams on a prior station flight back in 2007.

Cristoforetti, of the European Space Agency (ESA), also counts as Italy’s first female astronaut.

The Progress 59 cargo vessel, also known as Progress M-27M, along with all its 2.5 tons of contents were destroyed during an uncontrolled plummet back to Earth on May 8.

NASA astronaut Terry Virts (left) Commander of Expedition 43 on the International Space Station along with crewmates Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov (center) and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on May 6, 2015 perform a checkout of their Russian Soyuz spacesuits in preparation for the journey back to Earth - now set for June 11, 2015.  Credits: NASA
NASA astronaut Terry Virts (left) Commander of Expedition 43 on the International Space Station along with crewmates Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov (center) and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on May 6, 2015 perform a checkout of their Russian Soyuz spacesuits in preparation for the journey back to Earth – now set for June 11, 2015. Credits: NASA

Roscosmos announced that they are accelerating the planned launch of the next planned Progress 60 (or M-28M) from August 6 up to July 3 on a Soyuz-U carrier rocket, which is different from the problematic Soyuz-2.1A rocket.

Following the Soyuz crew launch in late July, the next Soyuz will blastoff on Sept. 1 for a 10 day taxi mission on the TMA-18M capsule with cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen. After British opera singer Sarah Brightman withdrew from participating as a space tourist, a new third crew member will be named soon by Roscosmos.

The final crewed Soyuz of 2015 with the TMA-19M capsule has been postponed from Nov. 20 to Dec. 15.

Also in the mix is the launch of NASA’s next contracted unmanned Dragon cargo mission by commercial provider SpaceX on the CRS-7 flight. Dragon CRS-7 is now slated for liftoff on June 26. Watch for my onsite reports from KSC.

The most recent unmanned Dragon cargo CRS-6 mission concluded with a Pacific Ocean splashdown on May 21.

The Dragon will be carrying critical US equipment, known as the IDA, enabling docking by the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 astronaut transporters – due for first crewed launches in 2017.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti enjoys a drink from the new ISSpresso machine. The espresso device allows crews to make tea, coffee, broth, or other hot beverages they might enjoy.  Credit: NASA
ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti enjoys a drink from the new ISSpresso machine. The espresso device allows crews to make tea, coffee, broth, or other hot beverages they might enjoy. Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka will remain aboard the station after the Virts crew returns to begin Expedition 44.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer