Russian and US flight controllers decided to cut short a spacewalk by two cosmonauts outside the International Space Station yesterday after voltage fluctuations in Oleg Artemyev’s Orlan spacesuit caused concern. About halfway into a scheduled seven-hour EVA, Artemeyev was repeatedly ordered to drop what he was working on and return to ISS’s airlock.
“Drop everything and start going back right away,” was one of the translated messages heard during a NASA livestream of the spacewalk. “Oleg, you must return to the airlock as soon as possible because if you lose power, it is not only the pumps and the fan, you will lose comm. You have to go back.”
About a month ago, Russian forces invaded Ukraine, placing NATO on high alert and creating a shock wave felt around the world. One place that has been particularly resilient to the effects of this conflict is the International Space Station (ISS). Even as tensions mount and the heads of space agencies engage in an online war of words, astronauts and cosmonauts continue to work and live together in orbit.
On the other hand, there have been some clear attempts to drag the ISS into political turmoil. Case in point: the recent photo that shows three Russian cosmonauts wearing bright yellow and blue jumpsuits, the colors of the Ukrainian flag! Depending on who you ask, this was either a display of unity with the people of Ukraine or just a coincidence. Opinions vary, but this was likely nothing more than oddly fortuitous.
One under-appreciated space asset is the photography skills of the Russian cosmonauts on board the International Space Station. They are extremely skillful photographers who don’t get the same recognition as their astronaut counterparts in their Earth observation skills. In particular, they have taken some stunning high-oblique shots of objects close to the horizon, with almost an 3-D effect.
In the history of spaceflight, only one nation has made contributions that rival or supersede those of the Soviet Union or Russia. While the Soviets are credited with making the historic firsts that launched the “Space Age“, the contributions made by Russian scientists predate this period considerably. In terms of theory, the history of Russian space exploration goes back to the 19th century.
However, as with the United States, the practice of sending missions to space did not begin until after World War II. It was at this time, during the fabled “Space Race” between the east and the west, that the Soviet Union conducted several pioneering missions in robotic and crewed spaceflight. These contributions have continued since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, ensuring Russia’s continued role as a superpower in space.
NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Joe Acaba and Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos launched aboard the Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan overnight at 5:17 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, (2127 GMT), or 3:17 a.m. Baikonur time Wednesday, Sept. 13, on the Expedition 53 mission.
Following the flawless launch and achieving orbit the three man crew executed a perfect four orbit, six hour rendezvous and arrived at the orbiting laboratory complex at 10:55 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Sept. 12, (or Wednesday, Sept. 13, Kazakh time) where they will carry out a jam packed schedule of scientific research in a wide array of fields.
The entire launch sequence aboard the Soyuz rocket performed flawlessly and delivered the Soyuz capsule to its targeted preliminary orbit eight minutes and 45 seconds after liftoff followed by the opening of the vehicles pair of life giving solar arrays and communications antennas.
The whole event from launch to docking was broadcast live on NASA TV.
Soyuz reached the ISS after a rapid series of orbit raising maneuvers over four orbits and six hours to successfully complete all the rendezvous and docking procedures to attach to the station at the Russian Poisk module.
“Contact! We have mechanical contact,” radioed Misurkin.
After conducting leak and safety checks the new trio opened the hatches between the Soyuz spacecraft and station at 1:08 a.m. EDT this morning, Sept. 13 and floated into the million pound orbiting outpost.
The arrival of Vande Hei, Acaba and Misurkin restores the station’s multinational habitation to a full complement of six astronaut and cosmonaut crewmembers.
They join Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik of NASA and Flight Engineers Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency).
The station had been temporarily reduced to a staff of three for 10 days following the departure of the Expedition 52 crew including record setting Whitson, NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and veteran cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos.
This is the rookie flight for Vande Hei, the second for Misurkin and the third for Acaba. They will remain aboard the station for a planned five month long ISS expedition continuing into early 2018.
Vande Hei was selected as an astronaut in 2009. Misurkin previously flew to the station on the Expedition 35/36 increments in 2013. Acaba was selected as an astronaut in 2004. He flew on space shuttle mission STS 119 and conducted two spacewalks – as well as on the Expedition 31/32 increments in 2012 and has logged a total of 138 days in space.
Originally the Soyuz MS-06 was only to fly with a two person crew – Vande Hei and Misurkin after the Russians decided to reduce their cosmonaut crew from three to two to save money.
Acaba was added to the crew only in March of this year when NASA and Roscosmos brokered an agreement to fill the empty seat with a NASA astronaut, under an arrangement worked out for 5 astronauts seats on Soyuz through a procurement by Boeing, as compensation for an unrelated matter.
The Russian cosmonaut crew cutback enabled Whitson’s mission extension by three months and also proved to be a boon for NASA and science research. It enabled the US/partner USOS crew complement to be enlarged from three to four full time astronauts much earlier than expected.
This allowed NASA to about double the weekly time devoted to research aboard station – a feat not expected to happen until America’s commercial crew vehicles, namely Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon – finally begin inaugural launches next year from the Kennedy Space Center in mid-2018.
With Acaba and Vande Hei now on orbit joining Bresnik and Nespoli, the USOS crew stands at four and will continue.
The six crewmembers will carry out research supporting more than 250 experiments in astrophysics, biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.
“During Expedition 53, researchers will study the cosmic ray particles, demonstrate the benefits of manufacturing fiber optic filaments in microgravity, investigate targeted therapies to improve muscle atrophy and explore the abilities of a new drug to accelerate bone repair,” says NASA.
Among the key investigations involves research on cosmic ray particles reaching Earth using ISS-CREAM, examining effects on the musculoskeletal system and exploring targeted therapies for slowing or reversal of muscle atrophy with Rodent Research 6 (RR-6), demonstrating the benefits of manufacturing fiber optic filaments in a microgravity environment with the Optical Fiber Production in Microgravity (Made in Space Fiber Optics) hardware, and working on drugs and materials for accelerating bone repair with the Synthetic Bone experiment to develop more effective treatments for patients with osteoporosis.
Bresnik, Ryazanskiy and Nespoli are scheduled to remain aboard the station until December. Whereas Vande Hei, Acaba and Misurkin are slated to return in February 2018.
Watch this cool Roscosmos video showing rollout of the Soyuz rocket to the Baikonur launch pad and erection in advance of launch. Credit: Roscosmos
Meanwhile one of the first tasks of the new trio will be to assist with the departure of the SpaceX Dragon CRS-12 spacecraft upcoming this Sunday, Sept 17.
Dragon will be detached from the Harmony module using the stations Canadian-built robotic arm on Sunday and released for a splashdown and retrieval in the Pacific Ocean Sunday morning. It is carrying some hardware items as well as scores of science samples.
NASA TV will cover the release activities beginning Sunday at 4:30 a.m. EDT.
Watch for Ken’s onsite space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
The International Space Station (ISS) achieved 15 years of a continuous human presence in orbit, as of today, Nov. 2, aboard the football field sized research laboratory ever since the first Russian/American crew of three cosmonauts and astronauts comprising Expedition 1 arrived in a Soyuz capsule at the then much tinier infant orbiting complex on Nov. 2, 2000.
The ISS was only made possible by over two decades of peaceful and friendly international cooperation by the most powerful nations on Earth on a scale rarely seen.
“I believe the International Space Station should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden last week during remarks to the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC., on October 28, 2015.
“Exploration has taught us more than we have ever known about our Universe and our place in it.”
“The ISS has already taught us what’s possible when tens of thousands of people across 15 countries collaborate so that human beings from different nations can live and work in space together.”
“Yet, for all these accomplishments, when you consider all the possibilities ahead of us you can only reach one conclusion; We are just getting started!”
“No better place to celebrate #15YearsOnStation! #HappyBday, @space_station! Thanks for the hospitality! #YearInSpace.” tweeted NASA astronaut Scott Kelly from the ISS today along with a crew portrait.
The space station is the largest engineering and construction project in space combining the funding, hardware, knowhow, talents and crews from 5 space agencies and 15 countries – NASA, Roscomos, ESA (European Space Agency), JAXA (Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).
The collaborative work in space has transcended our differences here on Earth and points the way forward to an optimistic future that benefits all humanity.
The station orbits at an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth. It measures 357 feet (109 meters) end-to-end and has an internal pressurized volume of 32,333 cubic feet, equivalent to that of a Boeing 747.
The uninterrupted human presence on the station all began when Expedition 1 docked at the outpost on Nov. 2, 2000, with its first residents including Commander William Shepherd of NASA and cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko of Roscosmos.
For the first station trio in November 2000, the vehicle included three modules; the Zarya module and the Zvezda service module from Russia and the Unity module from the US.
Over the past 15 years, after more than 115 construction and logistics flight, the station has grown by leaps and bounds from its small initial configuration of only three pressurized modules from Russian and America into a sprawling million pound orbiting outpost sporting a habitable volume the size of a six bedroom house, with additional new modules and hardware from Europe, Japan and Canada.
The ISS has been visited by over 220 people from 17 countries.
The “1 Year ISS crew” reflects the international cooperation that made the station possible and comprises current ISS commander NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, who are now just past the half way mark of their mission.
“Over the weekend, I called NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who is currently halfway through his one-year mission aboard the International Space Station, to congratulate him on setting the American records for both cumulative and continuous days in space,” Bolden said in a NASA statement released today.
“I also took the opportunity to congratulate Commander Kelly — and the rest of the space station crew — for being part of a remarkable moment 5,478 days in the making: the 15th anniversary of continuous human presence aboard the space station.”
The complete Expedition 45 crew members include Station Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Flight Engineers Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Volkov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineer Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
For the first nine years, the station was home to crews of two or three. Starting in 2009 the crew size was doubled to a permanent crew of six humans after the habitable volume, research facilities, equipment and supporting provisions had grown sufficiently.
“Humans have been living in space aboard the International Space Station 24-7-365 since Nov. 2, 2000. That’s 15 Thanksgivings, New Years, and holiday seasons astronauts have spent away from their families. 15 years of constant support from Mission Control Houston. And 15 years of peaceful international living in space,” says NASA.
The US contributed and built the largest number of segments of the space station, followed by Russia.
NASA’s Space Shuttles hauled the US segments aloft inside the orbiters huge payload bay, starting from the first construction mission in 1998 carrying the Unity module to the final shuttle flight STS-135 in 2011, which marked the completion of construction and retirement of the shuttles.
With the shuttle orbiters now sitting in museums and no longer flying, the Russian Soyuz capsule is the only means of transporting crews to the space station and back.
The longevity of the ISS was recently extended from 2020 to 2024 after approval from President Obama. Most of the partners nations have also agreed to the extension. Many in the space community believe the station hardware is quite resilient and hope for further extensions to 2028 and beyond.
“The International Space Station, which President Obama has extended through 2024, is a testament to the ingenuity and boundless imagination of the human spirit. The work being done on board is an essential part of NASA’s journey to Mars, which will bring American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s,” says Bolden.
“For 15 years, humanity’s reach has extended beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Since 2000, human beings have been living continuously aboard the space station, where they have been working off-the-Earth for the benefit of Earth, advancing scientific knowledge, demonstrating new technologies, and making research breakthroughs that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space.”
A key part of enabling long duration space missions to Mars is the 1 Year ISS Mission.
In coming years, additional new pressurized modules and science labs will be added by Russia and the US.
And NASA says the stations crew size will expand to seven after the US commercial Starliner and Dragon space taxis from Boeing and SpaceX start flying in 2017.
NASA is now developing the new Orion crew capsule and mammoth Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift rocket to send astronauts to deep space destination including the Moon, asteroids and the Red Planet.
In the meantime, Kelly and his crew are also surely looking forward to the arrival of the next Orbital ATKCygnus resupply ship carrying science experiments, provisions, spare parts, food and other goodies after it blasts off from Florida on Dec. 3 – detailed in my story here.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
There have been many astronauts who have made tremendous contributions to our knowledge of space. But asking “who is the most famous?” is somewhat tricky. For one, its a bit subjective. And second, it can be hard to objectively measure just how important and individuals contributions really are. Surely, all astronauts are deserving of recognition and respect for their bravery and contributions to the pursuit of knowledge.
Nevertheless, in the course of human space exploration, some names do stand out more than others. And some have made such immense contributions that their names will live on long after we too have passed away. So without further ado, here are just a few of the most famous astronauts, along with a list of their accomplishments.
As the first man to ever go into space, no list of famous astronauts would be complete without Yuri Gagarin. Born in the village of Klushino in the Smolensk Oblast on March 9th, 1934, Gagarin was drafted into the Soviet Air Force in 1955 and trained in the use of jet fighters. In 1960, he was selected alongside 19 other pilots to join the newly-formed Soviet Space Program.
Gagarin was further selected to become part of the Sochi Six, an elite group of cosmonauts who formed the backbone of the Vostok program. Due to his training, physical size (as the spacecraft were quite cramped), and favor amongst his peers, Gagarin was selected to be the first human cosmonaut (they had already sent dogs) to make the journey.
On April 12th, 1961, Gagarin was launched aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, and thus became the fist man to go into space. During reentry, Gagarin claimed to have whistled “The Motherland Hears, The Motherland Knows”, and reportedly said, “I don’t see any God up here” when he reached suborbital altitude (which was falsely attributed).
Afterwards, he toured the world and became a celebrity at home, commemorated with stamps, statues, and the renaming of his ancestral village to Gagarin. The 12th of April is also known as “Cosmonauts Day” in Russia and many former Soviet-states in his honor.
Gagarin died during a routine training exercise in March 27th, 1968. The details of his death were not released until June of 2013, when a declassified report indicated that Gagarin’s death was caused by the error of another pilot.
Alan B. Shepard Jr.:
In addition to being an astronaut and one of the Mercury Seven – the first seven pilots selected by NASA to go into space – Shepard was also the first American man to go into space. He was born November 18th, 1923 in Pebble, California and graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree. While in the Navy, Shepard became a fighter pilot and served aboard several aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean.
In 1959, he was selected as one of 110 military test pilots to join NASA. As 0ne of the seven Mercury astronauts, Shepard was selected to be the first to go up on May 5th, 1961. Known as the Freedom 7mission, this flight placed him into a suborbital flight around Earth. Unfortunately, Alan was beaten into space by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin by only a few weeks, and hence became the first American to go into space.
Shepard went on to lead other missions, including the Apollo 14mission – which was the third mission to land on the Moon. While on the lunar surface, he was photographed playing a round of golf and hit two balls across the surface. After leaving NASA, he became a successful businessman. He died of leukemia on July 21st, 1998, five weeks before the death of his wife of 53 years.
Another famous Russian cosmonaut, Tereshkova is also internationally renowned for being the first woman to go into space. Born in the village of Maslennikovo in central Russia on March 6th, 1937, Tereshkova became interested in parachuting from a young age and began training at the local aeroclub.
After Gagarin’s historic flight in 1961, the Soviets hopes to also be the first country to put a woman into space. On 16 February 1962, Valentina Tereshkova was selected to join the female cosmonaut corps, and was selected amongst hundreds to be one of five women who would go into space.
In addition to her expertise in parachuting (which was essential since Vostok pilots were to parachute from the capsule after reentry), her background as a “proletariat”, and the fact that her father was a war hero from the Russo-Finnish War, led to her being selected.
Her mission, Vostok 6, took place on June 16th, 1963. During her flight, Tereshkova orbited Earth forty-eight times, kept a flight log and took photographs that would prove useful to atmospheric studies. Aside from some nausea (which she later claimed was the result of spoiled food!) she maintained herself for the full three days and parachuted down during re-entry, landing a bit hard and bruising her face.
After returning home, Tereshkova went on to become a cosmonaut engineer and spent the rest of her life in key political positions. She married fellow cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev and had a daughter. After her flight, the women’s corps was dissolved. Vostok 6 was to be the last of the Vostok flights, and it would be nineteen years before another woman would go into space (see Sally Ride, below).
John Glenn Jr.:
Colonel Glenn, USMC (retired) was a Marine Corps fighter pilot and a test pilot before becoming an astronaut. Due to his experience, he was chosen by NASA to be part of the Mercury Seven in 1959. On February 20, 1962, Glenn flew the Friendship 7 mission, and thus became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth and the fifth person to go into space.
For his contributions to spaceflight, John Glenn earned the Space Congressional Medal of Honor. After an extensive career as an astronaut, Glenn retired from NASA on January 16th, 1964, to enter politics. He won his first bid to become a US Senator in 1974, representing Ohio for the Democratic Party, and was reelected numerous times before retiring in January of 1999.
With the death of Scott Carpenter on October 10, 2013, he became the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven. He was also the only astronaut to fly in both the Mercury and Space Shuttle programs – at age 77, he flew as a Payload Specialist on Discovery mission (STS-95). For his history of service, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
Neil Armstrong is arguably the most famous astronauts, and indeed one of the most famous people that has ever lived. As commander of the historic Apollo 11 mission, he will forever be remembered as the first man to ever walk on a body other than Earth. Born on August 5th, 1930, in Wapakoneta, Ohio, he graduated from Purdue University and served the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics High-Speed Flight Station before becoming an astronaut.
In accordance with the Holloway Plan, Neil studied at Purdue for two years and then committed to three years of military service as a naval aviator before completing his degree. During this time, he trained in the use of jet aircraft and became a test pilot at Andrews Air Force base, meeting such personalities as Chuck Yeager.
In 1962, when NASA was looking to create a second group of astronauts (after the Mercury 7), Armstrong joined and became part of the Gemini program. He flew two missions, as the command pilot and back-up command pilot for Gemini 8 and Gemini 11 (both in 1966), before being offered a spot with the Apollo program.
On July 16th, 1969, Armstrong went into space aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft, alongside “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins. On the 20th, after the lunar module set down on the surface, he became the first person to walk on the Moon. As he stepped onto the lunar surface, Armstrong uttered the famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
After retiring from NASA in 1971, Armstrong completed his master’s degree in aerospace engineering, became a professor at the University of Cincinnati, and a private businessman.
On Augusts 25th, 2012, he died at the age of 82 after suffering complications from coronary artery bypass surgery. On September 14th, his cremated remains were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean during a burial-at-sea ceremony aboard the USS Philippine Sea.
For his accomplishments, Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.
James Lovell Jr.:
Lovell was born on March 25th, 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. Like Shepard, he graduated from the US Naval Academy and served as a pilot before becoming one of the Mercury Seven. Over the course of his career, he flew several missions into space and served in multiple roles. The first was as the pilot of the Apollo 8 command module, which was the first spacecraft to enter lunar orbit.
He also served as backup commander during the Gemini 12 mission, which included a rendezvous with another manned spacecraft. However, he is most famous for his role as commander the Apollo 13 mission, which suffered a critical failure en route to the Moon but was brought back safely due to the efforts of her crew and the ground control team.
Lovell is a recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is one of only 24 people to have flown to the Moon, the first of only three people to fly to the Moon twice, and the only one to have flown there twice without making a landing. Lovell was also the first person to fly in space four times.
Dr. Sally Ride:
Sally Ride became renowned in the 1980s for being one of the first women to go into space. Though Russians had already sent up two female astronauts – Valentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982) – Ride was the first American female astronaut to make the journey. Born on May 26th, 1951, in La Jolla, California, Ride received her doctorate from Stanford University before joining NASA in 1978.
On June 18th, 1983, she became the first American female astronaut to go into space as part of the STS-7 mission that flew aboard the space shuttle Challenger. While in orbit, the five-person crew deployed two communications satellites and Ride became the first woman to use the robot arm (aka. Canadarm).
Her second space flight was in 1984, also on board the Challenger. In 1986, Ride was named to the Rogers Commission, which was charged with investigating the space shuttle Challenger disaster. In 2003, she would serve on the committee investigating the space shuttle Columbia disaster, and was the only person to serve on both.
Ride retired from NASA in 1987 as a professor of physics and continued to teach until her death in 2012 from pancreatic cancer. For her service, she was given numerous awards, which included the National Space Society’s von Braun Award, two NASA Space Flight Medals, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Last, but certainly not least, there’s Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut, pilot and engineer who became famous for his rendition of “Space Oddity” while serving as the commander of the International Space Station. Born on August 29th, 1959 in Sarnia, Ontario, Hadfield became interesting in flying at a young age and in becoming an astronaut when he watched the televised Apollo 11 landing at age nine.
After graduating from high school, Hadfield joined the Canadian Armed Forces and spent two years at Royal Roads Military College followed by two years at the Royal Military College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1982. He then became a fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, flying missions for NORAD. He also flew as a test pilot out of Andrews Air Force Base as part of an officer exchange.
In 1992, Hadfield became part of the Canadian Space Agency and was assigned to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, as a technical and safety specialist for Shuttle Operations Development. He participated in two space missions – STS-74 and STS-100 in 1995 and 2001, respectively – as a Mission Specialist. These missions involved rendezvousing with Mir and the ISS.
On December 19th 2012, Hadfield launched in the Soyuz TMA-07M flight for a long duration stay on board the ISS as part of Expedition 35. He became the first Canadian to command the ISS when the crew of Expedition 34 departed in March 2013, and received significant media exposure due to his extensive use of social media to promote space exploration.
Forbes described Hadfield as “perhaps the most social media savvy astronaut ever to leave Earth”. His promotional activities included a collaboration with Ed Robertson of The Barenaked Ladies and the Wexford Gleeks, singing “Is Somebody Singing?“(I.S.S.) via Skype. The broadcast of this event was a major media sensation, as was his rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity“, which he sung shortly before departing the station in May 2013.
For his service, Hadfield has received numerous honors, including the Order of Canada in 2014, the Vanier Award in 2001, NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 2002, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. He is also the only Canadian to have received both a military and civilian Meritorious Service Cross, the military medal in 2001 and the civilian one in 2013.
The six person crew hailing from the US, Italy and Russia were allowed to open the sealed hatch to the U.S. segment later this afternoon after it was determined that the ammonia leak was quite fortunately a false alarm.
No ammonia leak was actually detected. But the crew and mission control had to shut down some non essential station systems on the US segment in the interim.
All the Expedition 42 crew members were safe and in good health and never in danger, reported NASA.
The station crews and mission control teams must constantly be prepared and train for the unexpected and how to deal with potential emergencies, such as today’s threat of a serious chemical leak.
After a thorough review of the situation by the International Space Station mission management team, the crew were given the OK by flight controllers to head back.
They returned inside at 3:05 p.m. EST. Taking no chances, they wore protective masks and sampled the cabin atmosphere and reported no indications of any ammonia.
Fears that a leak had been detected resulted from the sounding of an alarm at around 4 a.m. EST.
The alarm forced Expedition 42 station commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts of NASA and Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency to don protective gas masks and move quickly into the Russian segment, sealing the hatch behind them to the US segment.
Inside the Russian segment, they joined the remainder of Expedition 42, namely cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov from Russia, also living and working aboard the ISS and rounding out the crew of four men and two women.
“The alarm is part of the environmental systems software on the station designed to monitor the cabin’s atmosphere. At the same time, the station’s protection software shut down one of two redundant cooling loops (Thermal Control System Loop B),” NASA said in an update.
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.
Ammonia is a gas at room temperature that is extremely dangerous to inhale or when it comes in contact with skin, eyes and internal organs.
Precautions must be taken if a leak is feared in a confined space such as the ISS. It has about the same habitable volume as a four bedroom house.
As a professional chemist, I’ve worked frequently with ammonia in research and development labs and manufacturing plants and know the dangers firsthand. It can cause severe burns and irritations and worse.
There have been prior ammonia leaks aboard the ISS facility that forced a partial evacuation similar to today’s incident.
The ISS has been continuously occupied by humans for 15 years.
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 and serve as lifeboats.
Fortunately, the perceived ammonia leak this morning was not real and apparently was caused by a false alarm.
“This morning’s alarm is suspected to have been caused by a transient error message in one of the station’s computer relay systems, called a multiplexer-demultiplexer. A subsequent action to turn that relay box off and back on cleared the error message and the relay box is reported by flight controllers to be in good operating condition,” according to a NASA statement.
“Meanwhile, flight controllers are continuing to analyze data in an effort to determine what triggered the alarm that set today’s actions in motion.”
“Work to reactivate cooling loop B on the station will continue throughout the night and into the day Thursday. The crew members are expected to resume a normal complement of research activities on Thursday as well.”
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).
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:
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 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!
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.
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.
Ever since the first relay for the 1936 summer Olympic games in Berlin, Olympic torches have traditionally been used to carry a burning flame — symbolically and physically — from Greece to the host country’s stadium. These journeys, undertaken by privileged individuals and athletes from around the world, span months and many thousands of miles… but this year, the fire illuminating the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia will be ignited with a torch that has truly traveled around the globe — many times, in fact.
On Nov. 6, 2013 (Nov. 7 UT) a Soyuz TMA-11M rocket launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan ferrying the Expedition 38/39 crew to the ISS. Along with their mission supplies and personal items, the crew members brought along something special: a torch for the 2014 Olympics.
The torch was brought into space two days later by Expedition 38 crew members Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazanskiy during an EVA on Nov. 9, and handed off from one cosmonaut to the other in a symbolic relay in orbit, the first to be carried out 265 miles above the planet traveling 17,500 mph. (Watch a video of the EVA below.)
I say “symbolic” because the torch was not lit during its time aboard the ISS or, obviously, while in space. (Open flames are highly frowned upon aboard Station!) Still, it was the first time in history an Olympic torch, a symbol of peace, human achievement, and international cooperation, has been brought aboard the Space Station — which itself represents the same noble values.
Considering the ISS travels around the Earth 16 times each day, and the torch spent nearly four days in space, that’s one well-traveled fire bearer!
The spacefaring torch was carried back to Earth with Expedition 37 crew members Karen Nyberg of NASA, Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian Federal Space Agency, and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency on Sunday, Nov. 10. And while the actual Olympic flame had continued to be carried by torchbearers across more than 40,000 miles through 2,900 towns and villages in Russia, it will be that particular spacefaring torch that will be used to light the 2014 Olympic cauldron during the Opening Ceremony in Sochi on Feb. 7.
“As the torch is used to light the Olympic flame in Sochi, and symbolizes harmony and goodwill throughout the games, the space station will remain one of the brightest objects in the night sky, a beacon of international cooperation and research providing tangible benefits for all humanity.” (NASA)
Read more in a recent NASA news article here, and learn more about the 2014 Sochi Olympic torch here.