Gorgeous Sunrises, Auroras, Landscapes, and More from Space Station Crew

The Expedition 42 crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) continues to delight us with stunning views of ‘Our Beautiful Earth from Space.’

Here’s a collection of a few of the newest sunrises, auroras, landscapes, nightlights, and more snapshots from the multinational crew of six astronauts and cosmonauts living and working aboard the ISS orbiting some 250 miles (400 kilometers) overhead.

And don’t forget that at sunset tonight (Feb. 8), a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is due to blastoff at 6:10 p.m., EST, if all goes well carrying the DSCOVR space weather satellite about a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away to the L1 Lagrange point.

The Falcon 9 will blastoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, pictured below:

From Key West to the Gulf of Mexico and #Atlanta, a very nice, clear, half moonlit night.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts.   KSC and Cape Canaveral launch pads along Florida east coast at right.
From Key West to the Gulf of Mexico and #Atlanta, a very nice, clear, half moonlit night. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts.
KSC and Cape Canaveral launch pads along Florida east coast at right.

Tens of millions of you are included in the lead sunrise photo of the U.S. East Coast – taken by ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti perched aboard the orbiting lab complex.

And here’s a “speechless sunrise” taken today by NASA astronaut Terry Virts. We agree!

#speechless from this #sunrise.   Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
#speechless from this #sunrise. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
Always happy to see this lovely sight that has become familiar in #Patagonia.  Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
Always happy to see this lovely sight that has become familiar in #Patagonia. Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
This, on the contrary, I've seen only once: the Strait of Magellan and la Tierra del Fuego free of clouds!  Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
This, on the contrary, I’ve seen only once: the Strait of Magellan and la Tierra del Fuego free of clouds! Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
#Moscow shining like a bright star under the aurora.    Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
#Moscow shining like a bright star under the aurora. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
#aurora over Anchorage and Fairbanks #Alaska.   Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
#aurora over Anchorage and Fairbanks #Alaska. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

The current six person crew includes astronauts and cosmonauts from three nations; America, Russia and Italy including four men and two women serving aboard the massive orbiting lab complex.

They comprise Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts from NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti from the European Space Agency (ESA) and cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov from Russia.

Brazilian clouds showing off their #majesty.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
Brazilian clouds showing off their #majesty. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
L+72/73: Logbook. Wow, this has been a busy week! But we can still catch up a little bit...  ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti
L+72/73: Logbook. Wow, this has been a busy week! But we can still catch up a little bit… ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti

L+72/73: Logbook. Wow, this has been a busy week! But we can still catch up a little bit… ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti
….https://plus.google.com/app/basic/stream/z12iczzoqovhfdo2z23odnbwmz3cir0ox04?cbp=1hmsp4t51xmr3&sview=27&cid=5&soc-app=115&soc-platform=1&spath=%2Fapp%2Fbasic%2F%2BSamanthaCristoforetti%2Fposts …

Soyuz- everyone’s ride to space and back!

#soyuz #earth #beauty.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
#soyuz #earth #beauty. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

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

Ken Kremer

'I wish I could bring all of you up to see this!'  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
‘I wish I could bring all of you up to see this!’ Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos
ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos

Ammonia Leak Alarm on the ISS Forces Evacuation of US Side, Crew Safe

Breaking News: A possible ammonia leak aboard the US side of the International Space Station (ISS) has forced a partial evacuation of the entire crew to the Russian side earlier this morning, Wednesday, Jan. 14.

All six crew members from the US, Italy and Russia are safe and in good shape at this time, says NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency.

Hatches between the US and Russian segments were sealed shut, pending further analysis.

Read my late day update – here.

Mission controllers are in the process of assessing whether it’s a real leak or a false alarm due to a faulty sensor or a computer problem. It’s not completely clear at this time.

The latest indications at 11 a.m. EST, Jan. 14, are that it may be a false alarm, says NASA.

“The security of a crew was guaranteed thanks to correct actions of the cosmonauts, astronauts and the crew of the Mission control centres in Moscow and Houston. Further plan of actions in the US modules must be prepared in Houston,” according to Roscosmos.

“For now NASA colleagues are analyzing situation”, – noted the head of Russian Mission Control Centre Maxim Matushin

Ammonia is a toxic substance used as a coolant in the stations complex cooling system that is an essential requirement to continued operation of the station.

There have been prior ammonia leaks aboard the ISS facility.

NASA announced that an alarm sounded in the US segment at about 4 a.m. EST. indicating a possible ammonia leak. As a result, all six Expedition 42 astronauts and cosmonauts evacuated the US segment.

“Flight controllers in Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston saw an increase in pressure in the station’s water loop for thermal control system B then later saw a cabin pressure increase that could be indicative of an ammonia leak in the worst case scenario,” according to a NASA announcement.

Therefore as a precaution after the alarm sounded earlier today, the crew was directed to isolate themselves in the Russian segment this morning while teams are evaluating the situation. The crew powered down non-essential equipment in the U.S. segment of the station according to established procedures, said NASA.

“In an exchange at 7:02 a.m. with Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore of NASA, spacecraft communicator James Kelly said flight controllers were analyzing their data but said it is not yet known if the alarm was actually triggered by a leak or whether the situation was caused by a faulty sensor or by a problem in a computer relay box that sends data and commands to various systems on the station.”

The evacuation comes just two days after a commercial SpaceX Dragon cargo freighter successfully rendezvoused and berthed at the station on Monday, Jan. 11.

The SpaceX Dragon is attached to the Harmony module. Credit: NASA TV
This view shows the US side of the ISS that was evacuated today, Jan. 14, 2015, by the crew due to possible ammonia leak. The SpaceX CRS-5 Dragon is attached to the Harmony module. Credit: NASA TV

The ISS has been continuously occupied by humans for 15 years.

The current six person crew includes astronauts and cosmonauts from three nations; America, Russia and Italy including four men and two women serving aboard the massive orbiting lab complex.

They comprise Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts from NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti from the European Space Agency (ESA) and cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov from Russia.

ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos
ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos

In the case of a life threatening emergency, the crew can rapidly abandon the station aboard the two docked Russian Soyuz capsules. They hold three persons each.

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

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Dragon Captured at Station Loaded with Critical Supplies and Science

The commercial SpaceX cargo Dragon, loaded with over 2.6 tons of critically needed supplies and science experiments, was captured by the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) this morning (Jan. 12) while soaring over the Mediterranean Sea.

The SpaceX Dragon CRS-5 cargo vessel arrived at the station following a flawless two day orbital pursuit and spectacular nighttime blastoff atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 on Jan. 10 at 4:47 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Note: This breaking news story is being updated. Check back frequently for updates.

Dragon was successfully berthed and bolted into place a few hours later at 8:54 a.m. EST.

Working at the robotics work station inside the seven windowed domed cupola, Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore of NASA, with the assistance of Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency, successfully captured the Dragon spacecraft with the station’s Canadian-built robotic arm at 5:54 a.m. EST.

Wilmore grappled Dragon with the station’s 57-foot-long (17-meter-long) robotic arm at 5:54 a.m. EST, about 18 minutes ahead of schedule, in an operation shown live on NASA TV, back-dropped by breathtaking views of “our beautiful Earth” passing by some 260 miles (410 kilometers) below.

Among the goodies aboard are belated Christmas presents for the crew. The Falcon 9 and Dragon were originally scheduled to liftoff in December and arrive in time for the Christmas festivities.

The cargo freighter flew beneath the station to arrive at the capture point 32 feet (10 meters) away. Dragon’s thrusters were disabled at the time of grappling.

Robotics officers at Houston Mission Control then began remotely maneuvering the arm to berth Dragon at the Earth-facing port on the station’s Harmony module starting at 7:45 a.m. EST.

Dragon is being attached via the common berthing mechanism (CBM) using four gangs of four bolts apiece to accomplish a hard mate to Harmony. The overall grappling and berthing process requires a few hours.

Dragon was successfully berthed and bolted into place at 8:54 a.m. EST and its now part of the space station.

The crew will conduct leak pressure checks, remove the docking mechanism and open the hatch later today or tomorrow.

#Dragon is about 90 feet from #ISS, closing in on its capture point.  Credit: NASA TV
#Dragon is about 90 feet from #ISS, closing in on its capture point. Credit: NASA TV

CRS-5 marks the company’s fifth operational resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Overall this is the sixth Dragon to arrive at the ISS.

The ISS cannot function without regular deliveries of fresh cargo by station partners from Earth.

The Dragon CRS-5 spacecraft is loaded with over 5108 pounds (2317 kg) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing, and assorted research gear for the six person crew serving aboard the ISS.

Among the payloads is the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a remote-sensing laser instrument to measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates and aerosols in the atmosphere that directly impact the global climate.

CATS is loaded aboard the unpressurized trunk of Dragon.

Also loaded onboard are 17 student experiments known collectively as the “Yankee Clipper” mission. The experiments are sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, which oversees the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) in partnership with NanoRacks LLC.

The launch marked the first US commercial resupply launch since the catastrophic destruction of an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Cygnus Orb-3 spacecraft bound for the ISS which exploded unexpectedly after launch from NASA Wallops, VA, on Oct. 28, 2014.

The US supply train to the ISS is now wholly dependent on SpaceX until Cygnus flights are resumed, hopefully by late 2015, on an alternate rocket, the Atlas V.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl, carrying the Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station.   Credit: John Studwell/AmericaSpace
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, carrying the Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station. Credit: John Studwell/AmericaSpace

Dragon will remain attached to the ISS for about four weeks until Feb. 10.

SpaceX also had a secondary objective of recovering the Falcon 9 booster’s first stage via an unprecedented precision guided landing on an ocean-going “drone.”

The history making attempt at recovering the Falcon 9 first stage was a first of its kind experiment to accomplish a pinpoint soft landing of a rocket onto a tiny platform in the middle of a vast ocean using a rocket assisted descent.

In my opinion the experiment was “a very good first step towards the bold company goal of recovery and re-usability in the future” as I wrote in my post launch report here at Universe Today.

Listen to my live radio interview with BBC 5LIVE conducted Saturday night, discussing SpaceX’s first attempt to land and return their Falcon-9 booster.

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

Ken Kremer

The SpaceX Dragon is attached to the Harmony module. Credit: NASA TV
The SpaceX Dragon is attached to the Harmony module. Credit: NASA TV

Good Morning, Space Station … A Dragon Soars Soon!

Good Morning, Space Station!

It’s sunrise from space – one of 16 that occur daily as the massive lab complex orbits the Earth about every 90 minutes while traveling swiftly at about 17,500 mph and an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers).

Just stare in amazement at this gorgeous sunrise view of “Our Beautiful Earth” taken earlier today, Jan. 3, 2015, aboard the International Space Station (ISS) by crewmate and NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore.

And smack dab in the middle is the Canadian-built robotic arm that will soon snatch a soaring Dragon!

Wilmore is the commander of the ISS Expedition 42 crew of six astronauts and cosmonauts hailing from three nations: America, Russia and Italy.

He is accompanied by astronauts Terry Virts from NASA and Samantha Cristoforetti from the European Space Agency (ESA) as well as by cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov from Russia.

All told the crew of four men and two women see 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets each day. During the daylight periods, temperatures reach 200 ºC, while temperatures plunge drastically during the night periods to -200 ºC.

Here’s another beautiful ISS sunset view captured on Christmas by Terry Virts:

Astronaut Terry Virts on the International Space Station shared this beautiful sunrise image on Twitter saying "Sunrise on Christmas morning - better than any present I could ask for!!!!"  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
Astronaut Terry Virts on the International Space Station shared this beautiful sunrise image on Twitter saying “Sunrise on Christmas morning – better than any present I could ask for!!!!” Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

Virts tweeted the picture and wrote: “Sunrise on Christmas morning – better than any present I could ask for!!!!”

Another treasure from Virts shows the many splendid glorious colors of Earth seen from space but not from the ground:

“In space you see intense colors, shades of blue that I’d never seen before,” says NASA astronaut Terry Virts. Credit: NASA/@astro_terry
Sunset Over the Gulf of Mexico
“In space you see intense colors, shades of blue that I’d never seen before,” says NASA astronaut Terry Virts. Credit: NASA/@astro_terry

“In space you see intense colors, shades of blue that I’d never seen before,” says Virts from his social media accounts (http://instagram.com/astro_terry/) (http://instagram.com/iss).

“It’s been said a thousand times but it’s true: There are no borders that you can see from space, just one beautiful planet,” he says. “If everyone saw the Earth through that lens I think it would be a much better place.”

And many of the crews best images are taken from or of the 7 windowed Cupola.

Here’s an ultra cool shot of Butch waving Hi!

“Hi from the cupola!” #AstroButch.  Credit: NASA/ISS
“Hi from the cupola!” #AstroButch. Credit: NASA/ISS

And they all eagerly await the launch and arrival of a Dragon! Indeed it’s the SpaceX cargo Dragon currently slated for liftoff in three days on Tuesday, Jan. 6.

Weather odds are currently 60% favorable for launch of the unmanned space station resupply ship on the SpaceX CRS-5 mission.

The launch was postponed from Dec. 19 when a static fire test of the first stage engines on Dec. 17 shut down prematurely.

A second static fire test of the SpaceX Falcon 9 went the full duration of approximately 3 seconds and cleared the path for a liftoff attempt after the Christmas holidays.

New countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center displays SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission and recent Orion ocean recovery at the Press Site viewing area on Dec. 18, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
New countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center displays SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission and recent Orion ocean recovery at the Press Site viewing area on Dec. 18, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

CRS-5 is slated to blast off at 6:20 a.m. EST Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA Television live launch coverage begins at 5 a.m. EST.

Assuming all goes well, Dragon will rendezvous at the ISS on Thursday, Jan. 8, for grappling and berthing by the astronauts maneuvering the 57 foot-long (22 m) Canadian built robotic arm.

Remember that you can always try and catch of glimpse of the ISS flying overhead by checking NASA’s Spot the Station website with a complete list of locations.

It’s easy to plug in and determine visibilities in your area worldwide.

And don’t forget to catch up on the Christmas holiday and New Year’s 2015 imagery and festivities from the station crews in my recent stories – here, here and here.

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

Ken Kremer

Happy New Year! Celebrating from space with @AstroTerry.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
Happy New Year! Celebrating from space with @AstroTerry. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos
ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos

Star Trekking: We Humans Can Beam Tools Into Space Without A Transporter

In the 1960s, we thought the best way of sending stuff between Earth and space was through a transporter. These days, turns out all it takes is an e-mail and a special 3-D printer. The first tool created in space, a rachet, was made last week on the International Space Station using plans beamed from Earth. Now, we get to see if it actually works.

The printer has been active for a few weeks, making test items that had already been done on Earth. But for this particular item, manufacturer Made In Space chose to take an additional risk: creating a tool from plans that were done almost at the last minute, similar to how a real mission would work when astronauts have a sudden need for a part.

“Made In Space uplinked a design which did not exist when the printer was launched. In fact the ratchet was designed, qualified, tested, and printed in space in less than a week,” the company wrote on its blog.

NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore (Expedition 42 commander on the International Space Station) holds the first 3-D printed part made in space, which was created on Nov. 25, 2014. Credit: NASA
NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore (Expedition 42 commander on the International Space Station) holds the first 3-D printed part made in space, which was created on Nov. 25, 2014. Credit: NASA

And it wasn’t as simple as just sending up the plans and hoping for the best. NASA had to give the safety thumbs-up before it went up there. Also, the plans (once sent to the space station) were verified as okay to go by Made In Space engineers before the crew got the okay to print last week.

The rachet took about four hours to print in space, which is a heck of a lot faster than sitting around waiting for a cargo ship — especially when said ship is delayed, as what happened recently to the SpaceX Dragon that was supposed to launch on Friday (Dec. 19) and has now been pushed back to at least Jan. 6.

While the rachet could be of use for simple repairs in space, it won’t be staying up there long. Just as with all the other parts printed so far, it’s going to be sent back to Earth for analysis to make sure it can stand up to the rigors of a space mission. Made In Space will soon have a more robust printer going up to station, and wants to make sure all the kinks are worked out before then.

Source: Made In Space

Here’s The First 3-D Part Printed In Space. Where Will That Take Us Next?

Here’s the 22nd-century version of breaking the surly bonds of Earth: NASA and private company Made In Space have just collaborated on the first 3-D printed part in space, ever.

The milestone yesterday (Nov. 25) is a baby step towards off-Earth manufacturing, but the implications are huge. If these testbeds prove effective enough, eventually we can think of creating these parts in other destinations such as the Moon, or an asteroid, or even Mars.

“We look at the operation of the 3-D printer as a transformative moment, not just for space development, but for the capability of our species to live away from Earth,” stated Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made In Space — the company that developed the printer.

There are still kinks to be worked out, however. The “part adhesion” on the tray after the piece was created had a bond that was mightier than controllers anticipated, which could mean that bonding is different in microgravity. A second calibration coupon should be created shortly as controllers make adjustments to the process.

Artist's conception of a lunar dome based on 3-D printing. Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners
Artist’s conception of a lunar dome based on 3-D printing. Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners

We’ll see several of these “test coupons” manufactured in the next few months and then sent back to Earth for more detailed analysis. Meanwhile, we have two more 3-D printers to look forward to in space: one created by the Italians that should arrive while their citizen, Samantha Cristoforetti, is still on station (she just arrived a few days ago) and a second one created by Made In Space that is supposed to commercialize the process.

The idea of 3-D printing has been discussed extensively in the media by both NASA and the European Space Agency in the past year or so. ESA has released media speculating on how additive manufacturing could be used to create Moon bases at some distant date. Meanwhile, NASA has talked about perhaps creating food using a 3-D printer.

If additive manufacturing takes off, so to speak, it could reduce shipping costs from Earth to the International Space Station because controllers could just send up a set of instructions to replace a part or tool. But NASA should move quickly to test this stuff out, according to a recent National Research Council report; the station is approved for operations only until 2020 (so far), which leaves only about five years or so to do testing before agencies possibly move to other destinations.

Gallery: NASA Astronauts Spacewalk Boldly Into The Void, Finishing Vital Repairs

What a view! NASA’s Reid Wiseman and Butch Wilmore spacewalked successfully yesterday (Oct. 15) for more than 6.5 hours, replacing a faulty camera as well as a broken power regulator that was reducing the amount of power available on the International Space Station. The astronauts also shifted equipment to get ready for some bigger upgrades on station to prepare for commercial spacecraft arriving in 2017.

Check out the stunning pictures from the spacewalk below.