SpaceX Dragon Arrives at Space Station with Tons of Earth and Human Science Experiments

SpaceX’s Dragon CRS-10 cargo vehicle is attached to the International Space Station on Feb 23, 2017 after early morning capture by astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet using the robotic arm and subsequent berthing at Earth facing port on the Harmony module. It will stay for a month. Credit: NASA

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A SpaceX Dragon supply ship jam packed with more than 2.5 tons of critical science gear, crew supplies and 40 mice successfully arrived this morning at the International Space Station (ISS) – where six humans from the US, Russia and France are living and working aboard.

Dragon reached the station four days after it was launched from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Sunday, Feb. 19 on the first Falcon 9 rocket ever to blast off from historic launch pad 39A in a blaze of glory.

Astronauts Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and station commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA deftly maneuvered the space station’s 57.7-foot (17.6-meter) Canadian-built Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and flawlessly capture the Dragon CRS-10 spacecraft at about 5:44 a.m. EST early Thursday, after it arrived at the station.

The SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon is pictured in the grips of the Canadarm2 shortly after its capture by astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet on Feb. 23, 2017. Credit: NASA TV

Pesquet and Kimbrough were working at the robotics work station inside the seven windowed Cupola module as they monitored Dragon’s approach for capture by the grappling snares on the terminus of the robotic arm this morning as the station was soaring over the northwest coast of Australia.

“Looks like we have a great Dragon capture,” said capcom astronaut Mike Hopkins.

“We want to congratulate all the teams working around the world for the successful arrival,” said Pesquet.

The million pound station is orbiting approximately 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon supply ship launched on Feb. 19, 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida successfully arrives at the International Space Station on Feb. 23, 2017 for capture and berthing at station port on the Harmony module. Credit: NASA

The commercial Dragon cargo freighter arrived about 16 minutes earlier than originally planned.

The duo were assisted by experienced NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. The 57 year old Whitson will soon set a record for most time spent in space by an American on April 24.

The gumdrop shaped Dragon cargo freighter slowly and methodically approached the station and the capture point through the required approach corridor during the final stages of the orbital chase.

After hovering at the capture point in free drift at a distance of about 34 feet (11 m) from the orbiting outpost, the crew members extended the robotic arm and Dragon was successfully plucked from free space using Canardarm2 at the grapple fixture located on the side of the supply ship.

The entire thrilling approach and grappling sequence was broadcast live on NASA TV.

SpaceX Dragon arrives at the 30 meter hold point during final approach to International Space Station on Feb. 23, 2017 for capture and berthing at station port on the Harmony module. Credit: NASA

Robotics officers on the ground at the NASA’s Johnson Space Center then took over and berthed Dragon to the Earth facing port on the Harmony module at about 8 a.m. as the mated craft were soaring over central America.

16 latches and bolts on the stations Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) will hold Dragon firmly in place for a hard mate to the stations Harmony module.

4 gangs of 4 bolts were driven into place with ground commands from the robotics officer to firmly bolt Dragon to the nadir port on Harmony.

The second stage capture and Dragon installation was confrmed at 8:12 a.m. Feb 23 as the craft were flying over the US East Coast.

“Today’s’ re-rendezvous has gone by the book,” said NASA commentator Rob Navias.

“Dragon systems are in excellent shape.”

“There have been no issues and everything has gone as planned.”

“Today was smooth sailing as Dragon arrived below the space station and maneuvered its way through a carefully choreographed procedure to the grapple position for rendezvous and capture.”

“Dragon is now firmly attached to the International Space Station and the crew will begin unloading critical science payloads and supplies this afternoon.”

“Today’s’ re-rendezvous has gone by the book,” said NASA commentator Rob Navias.

“Dragon systems are in excellent shape.”

“There have been no issues and everything has gone as planned.”

Yesterday’s rendezvous was automatically aborted when a bad bit of navigational data was uplinked to Dragons relative GPS navigation system as it was about 0.7 miles below the station.

“The Dragon’s computers received an incorrect navigational update, triggering an automatic wave off. Dragon was sent on a “racetrack” trajectory in front of, above and behind the station for today’s second rendezvous attempt.”

There was never any danger to the crew, space station or Dragon. It merely arrived a day later than planned as it is fully equipped to do if needed.

The SpaceX Dragon was successfully installed to the Harmony module a few hours after it was captured with the Canadarm2 by the crew on Feb 23, 2017. This artists concept shows the location of several visiting vehicles including Dragon, Soyuz and BEAM expandable module. Credit: NASA

CRS-10 counts as the company’s tenth scheduled flight to deliver supplies, science experiments and technology demonstrations to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Dragon is the first of two cargo craft arriving at the station over two consecutive days.

The unpiloted Russian Progress 66 supply ship launched yesterday from Baikonur is slated to arrive early Friday morning with 2.9 tons of supplies. It will automatically dock at the Pirs docking module at about 3:45 a.m., with a trio of Russian cosmonauts monitoring all the action.

After conducting leak checks, the crew plans to open the hatch to Dragon later today.

They will quickly begin removing the highest priority science investigations and gear first.

Dragon will remain at the station for about 30 days.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship rests horizontal atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 17 Feb 2017 as work crews use the access room to load ‘late stow’ science experiments aboard Dragon – as seen from inside the pad perimeter. This is the first rocket launched from pad 39A since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in July 2011. Liftoff of the CRS-10 mission occurred on 19 Feb 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

1000 pounds of ‘late stow’ experiments were loaded the day before the originally planned Feb. 18 liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Dragon was successfully launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center atop the 213-foot-tall (65-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 9:38 a.m. EST on Feb. 19, 2017 from historic Launch Complex 39A to low Earth orbit.

Raindrops keep falling on the lens, as inaugural SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon disappears into the low hanging rain clouds at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after liftoff from pad 39A on Feb. 19, 2017. Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission is delivering over 5000 pounds of science and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Dragon is carrying more than 5500 pounds of equipment, gear, food, crew supplies, hardware and NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) ozone mapping science payload in support of the Expedition 50 and 51 crew members.

SAGE III will measure stratospheric ozone, aerosols, and other trace gases by locking onto the sun or moon and scanning a thin profile of the atmosphere. It is one of NASA’s longest running earth science programs.

Engineers at work processing NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III, or SAGE III instrument inside the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today in December 2016. Technicians are working in a super-clean ‘tent’ built in the SSPF high bay to protect SAGE III’s special optics and process the Ozone mapper for upcoming launch on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo flight to the International Space Station in early 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The LIS lightning mapper will measure the amount, rate and energy of lightning as it strikes around the world from the altitude of the ISS as it orbits Earth. Its data will complement that from the recently orbited GLM lighting mapper lofted to geosynchronous aboard the NASA/NOAA GOES-R spacecraft instrument.

NASA’s RAVEN experiment will test autonomous docking technologies for spacecraft.

SAGE III and RAVEN were stowed in the Dragon’s unpressurized truck.

The research supplies and equipment brought up by Dragon will support over 250 scientific investigations to advance knowledge about the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges astronauts face during long-duration spaceflight.

The 40 mice will be used in a wound healing experiment to test therapies in microgravity.

An advanced plant growth habitat will launch soon to test better technologies for growing crops in space that could contribute to astronauts nutrition on long duration spaceflights.

SpaceX Dragon CRS-10 Cargo manifest from NASA:

TOTAL CARGO: 5489.5 lbs. / 2490 kg

TOTAL PRESSURIZED CARGO WITH PACKAGING: 3373.1 lbs. / 1530 kg

• Science Investigations 1613.8 lbs. / 732 kg
• Crew Supplies 652.6 lbs. / 296 kg
• Vehicle Hardware 842.2 lbs. / 382 kg
• Spacewalk Equipment 22.0 lbs. / 10 kg
• Computer Resources 24.2 lbs. / 11 kg
• Russian Hardware 48.5 lbs. / 22 kg

UNPRESSURIZED

• SAGE-III & STP-H5 Lightning Imaging Sensor 2116.4 lbs. / 960 kg

Historic maiden blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center) at 9:38 a.m. EDT on Feb 19, 2017, on Dragon CRS-10 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite CRS-10 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.

Ken Kremer

Merry Christmas From Space 2016

All six members of the Expedition 50 crew aboard the International Space Station celebrated the holidays together with a festive meal on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2016  Image Credit: NASA
All six members of the Expedition 50 crew aboard the International Space Station celebrated the holidays together with a festive meal on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2016. Image Credit: NASA

As we celebrate the Christmas tidings of 2016 here on Earth, a lucky multinational crew of astronauts and cosmonauts celebrate the festive season floating in Zero-G while living and working together in space aboard the Earth orbiting International Space Station (ISS) complex – peacefully cooperating to benefit all humanity.

Today, Dec. 25, 2016, the six person Expedition 50 crew of five men and one woman marked the joyous holiday of Christ’s birth by gathering for a festive meal in space – as billions of Earthlings celebrated this Christmas season of giving, remembrance and peace to all here on our home planet.

This year is an especially noteworthy Space Christmas because it counts as Expedition 50. This is the 50th crew to reside on board since the space station began operating with permanent occupancy by rotating crews all the way back to 1998.

The Expedition 50 crew currently comprises of people from three nations supporting the ISS – namely the US, Russia and France; Commander Shane Kimbrough from NASA and flight engineers Andrey Borisenko (Roscosmos), Sergey Ryzhikov (Roscosmos), Thomas Pesquet (ESA), Peggy Whitson (NASA), and Oleg Novitskiy (Roscosmos).

Here a short video of holiday greetings from a trio of crew members explaining what Christmas in Space means to them:

Video Caption: Space Station Crew Celebrates the Holidays Aboard the Orbital Lab. Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency discussed their thoughts about being in space during the holidays and how they plan to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s in a downlink. Credit: NASA

“Hello from the Expedition 50 Crew! We’d like to share what Christmas means to us,” said Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough.

“For me it’s a lot about family,” said Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough. “We always travel to meet up with our family which is dispersed across the country. And we go home to Georgia and Florida … quite abit to meet up. Always a great time to get together and share with each other.”

“Although its typically thought of a season to get things, we in our family think about the giving aspect. Giving of our many talents and resources. Especially to those less fortunate.”

Kimbrough arrived on the complex in October, followed a month later by Whitson and Pesquet in November.

They were all launched aboard Russian Soyuz capsules from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA sent holiday greetings and festive imagery from the cupola on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: NASA.
Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA sent holiday greetings and festive imagery from the cupola on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: NASA.

And Peggy Whitson especially has a lot to celebrate in space!

Because not only is Whitson currently enjoying her third long-duration flight aboard the station – as an Expedition 50 flight engineer. Soon she will become the first woman to command the station twice ! That momentous event happens when she assumes the role of Space Station Commander early in 2017 during the start of Expedition 51.

“In addition to family, there is another very important aspect to being on the ISS,” said Whitson.

“That is seeing the planet as a whole. It actually reinforces I think, that fact that we should live as one people and strive for peace.”

“I second the comments already made. I grew up in a family of 25 cousins,” said ESA’s Thomas Pesquet. “The only time we could catch up was around Christmas time…. So I always looked forward to that, although this year I can’t be with them of course … and will think of them.”

“I am making the most of this opportunity to look at the Earth. Reflect about what Christmas means to us as individuals and to the world in general. And we will have a good time on board the ISS and share a Christmas meal together.”

Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA sent holiday greetings and festive imagery from the Japanese Kibo laboratory module on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: NASA
Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA sent holiday greetings and festive imagery from the Japanese Kibo laboratory module on Dec. 18, 2016. Credit: NASA

The crew is enjoying a light weekend of work and a day off tomorrow, Dec. 26.

After that they begin preparing for a pair of spacewalks in the new year by Kimbrough and Whitson – scheduled for Jan. 6 and 13. The crew is checking the spacesuits by testing the water among other activities.

The goal of the excursions is to “complete the replacement of old nickel-hydrogen batteries with new lithium-ion batteries on the station’s truss structure,” says NASA.

Research work also continues.

“Whitson, who is spending her second Christmas in space, and Pesquet drew blood, urine and saliva samples for the Fluid Shifts study. That experiment investigates the upward flow of body fluids in space potentially causing lasting vision changes in astronauts.”

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson floats through the Unity module aboard the International Space Station. On her third long-duration flight aboard the station, Whitson will become the first woman to command the station twice when she assumes the role during Expedition 51. Credit: NASA

Among other activities, the crew is also unloading 4.5 tons of internal and external cargo, gear and fresh food – including six lithium-ion batteries – from Japan’s sixth H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-6), which recently arrived at the ISS on Dec 13.

The next regular US cargo delivery is likely to be in March 2017, when an unmanned Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo freighter is slated to launch on a ULA Atlas V from Cape Canaveral. A Cygnus was also launched on a ULA Atlas V in March 2016.

A Cygnus cargo spacecraft named the SS Rick Husband is being prepared inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for upcoming Orbital ATK CRS-6/OA-6 mission to deliver hardware and supplies to the International Space Station. Cygnus is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX also hopes to resume Dragon cargo launches sometime in the new year after they resolve the issues that led to the destruction of a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Sept. 1 during fueling operations at pad 40 on the Cape.

Meanwhile Roscosmos continues to investigate the causes of the failed launch of the unmanned Russian Progress 65 resupply ship on Dec. 1 due to a 3rd stage anomaly.

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

Ken Kremer

ESA Regrets Not Buying Windshield Insurance

It is known as the Cupola, an observation and work area that was installed aboard the International Space Station in 2010. In addition to giving the crew ample visibility to support the control of the Station’s robotic arms, it is also the best seat in the house when it comes to viewing Earth, celestial objects and visiting vehicles. Little wonder then why sp many breathtaking pictures have been taken from inside it over the years.

So you can imagine how frustrating it must be for the crew when a tiny artificial object (aka. space debris) collides with the Cupola’s windows and causes it to chip. And thanks to astronaut Tim Peake and a recent photo he chose to share with the world, people here on Earth are able to see just how this looks from the receiving end for the first time.

Continue reading “ESA Regrets Not Buying Windshield Insurance”

Return of the SpaceX-3 Dragon to Earth Caps Super Science Mission for NASA

SpaceX-3 Dragon commercial cargo freighter was detached from the ISS at 8 AM EDT on May 18, 2014 and released by station crew at 9:26 AM for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean with science samples and cargo. Credit: NASA
Story updated[/caption]

The 30 day flight of the SpaceX-3 Dragon commercial cargo freighter loaded with a huge cache of precious NASA science experiments including a freezer packed with research samples ended today with a spectacular departure from the orbiting lab complex soaring some 266 miles (428 km) above Earth.

Update 3:05 PM EDT May 18: SpaceX confirms successful splashdown at 3:05 p.m. EDT today.

“Splashdown is confirmed!! Welcome home, Dragon!”

Robotics officers at Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center detached Dragon from the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module at 8 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT) this morning, Sunday, May 18, 2014 using the stations Canadian-built robotic arm.

Engineers had earlier unbolted all 16 hooks and latches firmly connecting the vehicle to the station in preparation.

NASA astronaut Steve Swanson then commanded the gum dropped shaped Dragon capsule’s release from Canadarm2 as planned at 9:26 a.m. EDT (1326 GMT) while the pair were flying majestically over southern Australia.

The undocking operation was shown live on NASA TV.

The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft was in the grips of the Canadarm2 before being released for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.  Credit: NASA
The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft was in the grips of the Canadarm2 before being released for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: NASA

Swanson was assisted by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov as the US- Russian team were working together inside the domed Cupola module.

Following the cargo ships release by the 57 foot long arms grappling snares, Swanson carefully maneuvered the arm back and away from Dragon as it moved ever so slowly in free drift mode.

It was already four feet distant within three minutes of release.

Three departure burns by the Dragon’s Draco maneuvering thrusters followed quickly in succession and occurred precisely on time at 9:29, 9:30 and 9:38 a.m. EST.

Dragon exited the 200 meter wide keep out zone – an imaginary bubble around the station with highly restricted access – at the conclusion of the 3rd departure burn.

“The Dragon mission went very well. It was very nice to have a vehicle take science equipment to the station, and maybe some day even humans,” Swanson radioed after the safe and successful departure was completed.

“Thanks to everyone who worked on the Dragon mission.”

The private SpaceX Dragon spent a total of 28 days attached to the ISS.

The six person international crew from Russia, the US and Japan on Expeditions 39 and 40 unloaded some 2.5 tons of supplies aboard and then repacked it for the voyage home.

The SpaceX resupply capsule is carrying back about 3500 pounds of spacewalk equipment, vehicle hardware, science samples from human research, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations and education activities, as well as no longer needed trash.

“The space station is our springboard to deep space and the science samples returned to Earth are critical to improving our knowledge of how space affects humans who live and work there for long durations,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

“Now that Dragon has returned, scientists can complete their analyses, so we can see how results may impact future human space exploration or provide direct benefits to people on Earth.”

Among the research investigations conducted that returned samples in the cargo hold were an examination of the decreased effectives of antibiotics in space, better growth of plants in space, T-Cell activation in aging and causes of human immune system depression in the microgravity environment.

The 10 minute long deorbit burn took place as scheduled at 2:10 p.m. EDT (1810 GMT) today.

Dragon returned to Earth for a triple parachute assisted splash down today at around 3:02 p.m. EDT (19:02 GMT) in the Pacific Ocean – some 300 miles west of Baja California.

Dragon is free flying after release from ISS at 9:26 a.m. EDT on May 18, 2014. Credit: NASA
Dragon is free flying after release from ISS at 9:26 a.m. EDT on May 18, 2014. Credit: NASA

It will be retrieved by recovery boats commissioned by SpaceX. The science cargo will be extracted and then delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center within 48 hours.

Dragon thundered to orbit atop SpaceX’s powerful new Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket on April 18, from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

This unmanned Dragon delivered about 4600 pounds of cargo to the ISS including over 150 science experiments, a pair of hi tech legs for Robonaut 2, a high definition Earth observing imaging camera suite (HDEV), the laser optical communications experiment (OPALS), the VEGGIE lettuce growing experiment as well as essential gear, spare parts, crew provisions, food, clothing and supplies to the six person crews living and working aboard in low Earth orbit.

Robonaut 2 engineering model equipped with new legs like those heading to the ISS on upcoming SpaceX CRS-3 launch were on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 15, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Robonaut 2 engineering model equipped with new legs like those delivered to the ISS on the SpaceX CRS-3 launch were on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on March 15, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

It reached the ISS on April 20 for berthing.

Dragon is the only unmanned resupply vessel supply that also returns cargo back to Earth.

The SpaceX-3 mission marks the company’s third resupply mission to the ISS under the $1.6 Billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the ISS during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016.

The SpaceX Dragon is among a trio of American vehicles, including the Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser vying to restore America’s capability to fly humans to Earth orbit and the space station by late 2017, using seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) in a public/private partnership. The next round of contracts will be awarded by NASA about late summer 2014.

Another significant milestone was the apparently successful attempt by SpaceX to accomplish a controlled soft landing of the Falcon 9 boosters first stage in the Atlantic Ocean for eventual recovery and reuse. It was a first step in a guided 1st stage soft landing back at the Cape.

The next unmanned US cargo mission to the ISS is set for early morning on June 10 with the launch of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus freighter atop an Antares booster from a launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Boeing, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

………

Ken’s upcoming presentation: Mercy College, NY, May 19: “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars” and “NASA’s Future Crewed Spaceships.”

10 Awesome Images of the Space Station’s Cupola

There’s a panoramic window on the International Space Station named after the observation decks that old-time train cabooses had.

The Cupola, as it’s known, includes six side windows and a big one in the center. An astronaut floating nearby can see 1,000 km of Earth below him or her. It’s the ultimate spot to keep an eye on a hurricane, or provide guidance to a crewmate wrestling the robotic Canadarm2 towards an incoming spacecraft.

Hard to believe it’s been three years since the astronauts on STS-130 installed it in February 2010. Below, check out the best of astronaut photography of or from the Cupola since that time.

From the outside, the cupola looks like an extraterrestrial spacecraft. That's Douglas Wheelock (Expedition 25) inside the window. Credit: NASA
From the outside, the cupola looks like a flying saucer. That’s Douglas Wheelock (Expedition 25) inside the window. Credit: NASA
A green tint from an aurora is seen out the Cupola over the southern Indian Ocean. Credit: NASA
A green tint from an aurora is seen out the Cupola over the southern Indian Ocean. Credit: NASA
Canadarm2 makes some moves towards Japan's robotic H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-3) during Expedition 32. Credit: NASA
Canadarm2 makes some moves towards Japan’s robotic H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-3) during Expedition 32. Credit: NASA
The Cupola provides a portal to 215 million years in the past: The Manicouagan impact crater in northern Québec shows up nearly in the center of the main Cupola window. Credit: NASA
The Cupola provides a portal to 215 million years in the past: The Manicouagan impact crater in northern Québec shows up nearly in the center of the main Cupola window. Credit: NASA
The STS-131 crew somehow organizes themselves on the small window in microgravity. Pictured are Commander Alan Poindexter, Pilot James P. Dutton Jr. and Mission Specialists Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Rick Mastracchio, Naoko Yamazaki, Clayton Anderson and Stephanie Wilson. Credit: NASA
The STS-131 crew somehow organizes themselves on the small window in microgravity. Pictured are Commander Alan Poindexter, Pilot James P. Dutton Jr. and Mission Specialists Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Rick Mastracchio, Naoko Yamazaki, Clayton Anderson and Stephanie Wilson. Credit: NASA
NASA astronaut Ron Garan looking down at a night view of Australia from the International Space Station's cupola..
NASA astronaut Ron Garan looking down at a night view of Australia from the International Space Station’s cupola..
An Expedition 27 crewmember captured this cyclone over the north Pacific. Told you it's a good view. Credit: NASA
An Expedition 27 crewmember captured this cyclone over the north Pacific. Told you it’s a good view. Credit: NASA
The end effector -- or grappler -- at the end of the Space Station's Canadarm 2 robotic arm is visible out the main window of the Cupola, with a view of our beautiful blue planet below. Credit: NASA.
The end effector — or grappler — at the end of the Space Station’s Canadarm 2 robotic arm is visible out the main window of the Cupola, with a view of our beautiful blue planet below. Credit: NASA.
STS-130's Nicolas Patrick casually hanging out beneath the cupola after helping install it. Credit: NASA
STS-130’s Nicholas Patrick casually hanging out beneath the cupola after helping install it. Credit: NASA

There have also been some stunning filmed timelapses from the Cupola, such as this one:

A Sci-Fi View from the ISS

What an awesome image of the Cupola on the International Space Station, with a view of Earth whizzing by! But, is the astronaut-photographer on the outside looking in, or on the inside looking out of the Cupola? We know it is taken from the inside, with a view of the Pacific Ocean near Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, but it offers a stunning and futuristic — if not somewhat perplexing — perspective. It was captured at 04:59 GMT June 26, 2012. Credit: NASA

H/T: Fragile Oasis on Facebook.

Amazing Panorama of Western Europe at Night from Space Station

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An amazing panorama revealing Western Europe’s ‘Cities at Night’ with hardware from the stations robotic ‘hand’ and solar arrays in the foreground was captured by the crew in a beautiful new image showing millions of Earth’s inhabitants from the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS).

The sweeping panoramic vista shows several Western European countries starting with the British Isles partially obscured by twin solar arrays at left, the North Sea at left center, Belgium and the Netherlands (Holland) at bottom center, and the Scandinavian land mass at right center by the hand, or end effector, of the Canadian-built ISS robotic arm known as the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) or Canadarm2.

European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers gazing at Earth from the Cupola dome of the ISS

Coincidentally European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers from Holland (photo at left) is currently aboard the ISS, soaring some 400 kilometers (250 miles) overhead.

The panoramic image was taken by the ISS residents on January 22, 2012.

The Expedition 30 crew of six men currently serving aboard the ISS (photo below) hail from the US, Russia and Holland.

NASA astronaut Dan Burbank is the commander of Expedition 30 and recently snapped awesome photos of Comet Lovejoy.

“Cities at Night” – Here’s a portion of a relevant ISS Blog post from NASA astronaut Don Pettit on Jan. 27, 2012:

“Cities at night are different from their drab daytime counterparts. They present a most spectacular display that rivals a Broadway marquee. And cities around the world are different. Some show blue-green, while others show yellow-orange. Some have rectangular grids, while others look like a fractal-snapshot from Mandelbrot space.”

“Patterns in the countryside are different in Europe, North America, and South America. In space, you can see political boundaries that show up only at night. As if a beacon for humanity, Las Vegas is truly the brightest spot on Earth. Cities at night may very well be the most beautiful unintentional consequence of human activity,” writes NASA astronaut Don Pettit currently residing aboard the ISS.

Comet Lovejoy on 22 Dec. 2011 from the International Space Station. Comet Lovejoy is visible near Earth’s horizon in this nighttime image photographed by NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, Expedition 30 commander, onboard the International Space Station on Dec. 22, 2011. Credit: NASA/Dan Burbank
Expedition 30 Crew: Pictured on the front row are NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, commander; and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, flight engineer. Pictured from the left (back row) are Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin; along with European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers and NASA astronaut Don Pettit, all flight engineers. Photo credit: NASA and International Space Station partners

Countdown to Yuri’s Night and the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight !

Celebrate Yuri’s Night on April 12, 2011 -- 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight
On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (left, on the way to the launch pad) became the first human in space, making a 108-minute orbital flight in his Vostok 1 spacecraft.
Newspapers like The Huntsville Times (right) trumpeted Gagarin's accomplishment.
Credit: NASA
Send Ken your Yuri’s Night event reports and photos

Mark your calendars. April 12, 2011 marks the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight and Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s astonishing First Orbit of our precious planet Earth on April 12, 1961. Gagarin was the first human to enter outer space and see what no one else had ever witnessed – our commonly shared Earth as a planet and beautiful blue globe with no borders.

Space enthusiasts worldwide are celebrating this watershed moment in Human history at a network of over 400 “Yuri’s Night” parties taking place in more than 70 countries on 6 continents and 2 worlds, according to the official “Yuri’s Night” website.

Gagarin’s flight took place in the midst of the inflammatory Cold War rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States and shocked the world into new realities. The Space Race led to the first lunar landing by the United States and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moons surface in 1969. Eventually, the world’s superpowers beat swords into plowshares and united their efforts to build the International Space Station.

Yuri Gagarin - first human in space. Credit: Russian Archives
Yuri Gagarin was the first person to boldly leave the bonds of Earth’s gravity and thus became the first “Spaceman”. Gagarin blasted off inside the bell-shaped Vostok 1 spaceship from the launch pad at Baikonur at 9:07 a.m, Moscow time (607 UTC) to begin the era of human spaceflight.

Gagarin flew around the Earth in a single orbit at an altitude of 302 kilometers (187 miles). The flight lasted 108 minutes and safely ended when he descended back and parachuted to the ground, just north of the Caspian Sea. At the age of 27, Gagarin was instantly transformed into a worldwide hero. After the momentous flight he soon embarked on an international tour.

20 years later on April 12, 1981, NASA’s first space shuttle blasted off on the STS-1 mission on a daring test flight with astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen strapped inside Space Shuttle Columbia.

Russian postcard featuring Yuri Gagarin

The first “Yuri’s Night – World Space Party” was held on April 12, 2001 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Gagarin’s spaceflight. Over 10,000 people attended 64 events located worldwide. The goal was to inspire people, increase awareness and support for space exploration across the globe and foster the spread of new ideas to broaden our access to space.

“Yuri’s Night” has been growing in popularity every year. Events range in size from a few folks to numbers in the thousands. Attendees range from astronauts and cosmonauts, NASA and global space agency officials and reps, scientists and engineers, famous actors, playwrights, writers, artists, athletes and musicians to just everyday folks and kids of all ages and backgrounds. Everyone can get involved.

Yuri Gagarin in orbit
In honor of the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight, documentary film maker Christopher Riley conceived and created a film titled “First Orbit” to try and show the approximate view of Earth that Gagarin actually saw. There is only scant footage of Gagarin’s actual flight and he himself took no pictures of the Earth from orbit.

“First Orbit” recreates much of the view of the Earth’s surface that Gagarin would have seen fifty years ago. Mostly he flew over the world oceans as well as the Soviet Union and Africa.

Riley collaborated with the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, chiefly Paolo Nespoli of ESA, who took film footage from the new 7 windowed Cupola as the station matched the actual flight path of Gagarin and Vostok 1 as closely as possible. The free film celebrates 50 years of human spaceflight.

“First Orbit” premiers worldwide on YouTube in a special global streaming event for Yuri’s Night on April 12 . Watch the short trailer below, with original and stirring music by Philip Sheppard.

Orbital flight path of Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961
Gagarin’s call sign was Cedar or Kder - which means Siberian Pine in Russian. Map courtesy of Sven Grahn

It’s easy and free to register your local party at the Yuri’s Night event website. There is still time to register your Yuri’s Night party – Indeed the list has grown as I typed out this story !

Some events are already set to kick off this weekend. I’ll be presenting at an interactive and free Yuri’s Night evening event in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, about Gagarin’s flight and my experiences with the space shuttle and what‘s beyond.

Send Ken your “Yuri’s Night” event photos/short report to post in a round up story at Universe Today about the global festivities celebrating the historic achievement of Yuri Gagarin. Email kremerken at yahoo dot com

First Orbit Trailer II

Russian built Mini Research Module MRM-1 launched aboard US Space Shuttle Atlantis in May 2010.
Shuttle Atlantis delivered MRM-1 (known as Rassvet) to the International Space Station.
MRM-1 undergoes final prelaunch processing inside clean room at Astrotech Space Operations Facility in Florida. Docking port to ISS is protected by red colored covering. Equipment airlock for experiments at top. Russian Flag mounted at left.
Rassvet underscores the cooperation that exists today, in stark contrast to their rivalry during the Cold War. Russia, the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada have now united their space exploration efforts to build the International Space Station. The worlds space powers cooperate in other space exploration projects today as well that venture to the Moon, Mars and beyond to Deep Space. Credit: Ken Kremer

Read Ken’s other stories about Yuri Gagarin and Yuri’s Night:
Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 Photo Album – 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight
Stirring Video Tributes to Yuri Gagarin

Yuri’s Night Website
Yuri’s Night Party list
Yuri’s Night Party with Ken in Princeton Junction, NJ, USA
First Orbit Website
STS-1 NASA Mission Website
Ken Kremer

Stunning Image, Heartfelt Poetry Could Become Icons of Space Age

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Undoubtedly, this picture has what it takes to become an iconic image of human spaceflight, much like Apollo 8’s Earthrise or Bruce McCandless’ untethered spacewalk. Here, astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson looks down at Earth from the Cupola on the International Space Station, likely reflecting on both her home and her home in space. Everyone I know who has seen this image has just melted, with a sigh that says, “Oh, wow — that is just amazing!” (It made today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day.) My initial thoughts were that this is the one of the most poetic image of human spaceflight I have ever seen. And sure enough, Stuart Atkinson (the guy who I nominate at the Poet Laureate of Space) was inspired by this image, too. He has written a magnificent, heartfelt poem that captures the spirit –as well as the technology — of this image, and very likely sums up Caldwell Dyson’s thoughts as she gazes out the Cupola windows.

Read “Blue” by Stuart Atkinson:

BLUE

Ignoring the tsunami of technology humming behind her,
The chaos of cameras, computers and calculators
Covering the walls, she shuts her eyes and smiles.
This isn’t what she imagined as a girl.
In all those classroom daydreams she always saw herself
Looking down – or up – at the world from high above – or below –
Beside a plate-sized portal, straining to glimpse
Some small portion of the planet spinning silently beyond
The scratched and fingerprint-smeared glass, unable to see
More than mere hints of the colours, shadows and shapes
Shown in all the books and magazines…

But this…

Earth is there… everywhere…
A ball of burning blue close enough to touch.
Painted on the heavens in all its Van Gogh glory
It fills the sky, overflows her sight,
A startling Stargate of colour in an ocean of emptiness.
Even with her eyes closed she still sees its azure glow,
Feels its sapphire shades blazing in the ink-black night.
In the work-day-over darkness, Earthlight
Washes her face like cool rain as painfully beautiful
Whirls and whorls of milk-white cloud swirl
O’er the world below and she knows, in her aching
Heart, that long after she has returned to Terra,
To walk barefoot on its dew-drenched grass and
Splash in its ocean’s surging surf a part of her
Will always be here, at this window, gazing down
Upon the Earth.

© Stuart Atkinson 2010

Thanks to Stu for allowing us to publish his poem, a Universe Today exclusive! To see more of his poetry and imagery, check out his websites, Cumbrian Sky, and Road to Endeavour.

Astronauts Open New Window on the Universe

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“Let there be light! Cupola windows open toward Sahara desert. Priceless!” Tweeted ISS astronaut Soichi Noguchi from the ISS.

It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the opening on the windows of the new Cupola on the International Space Station. And it was incredible.

“As expected, the view through window seven is absolutely spectacular,” ISS commander Jeff Williams said. “When we have the others around it open, it will give us a view of the entire globe. Absolutely incredible.”

Shutters are opened on the new Cupola on the ISS. Credit: NASA TV

The new $27 million bay window was uncovered during the third EVA of the STS-130 mission by spacewalkers Nick Patrick and Bob Behnken, who removed the protective launch covers and bolts. Then, from the inside, each of the seven shutters was cranked opened and closed one at a time, to test the view — and the shutters. In case there were any problems, the astronauts out on EVA could help close the shutters.

Later, all the shutters were opened at once for the full view. “I don’t think space station’s ever going to be the same after this,” Mission Control radioed to the ISS.

The new observation deck will allow astronauts unprecedented 360-degree views of Earth and space, while providing a new location for robotic operations where astronauts inside the ISS can actually watch directly what they doing with the CanadArm2 on the ISS, instead of completely relying on computer inputs and camera views. The Cupola is attached to the nadir, or Earth–facing port of the new Tranquility node, a $380 million addition to the station that was delivered to the ISS on the current space shuttle mission.

Built by the Italian space agency, the Cupola is 1.5 meters (5 feet) tall and about 3 meters (10 feet) in diameter. Six rectangular windows encircle the dome, with a large circular window in the middle.

Mission managers said at a press conference last week that the windows will remain shuttered most of the time to protect the 4-pane fused silica glass from micrometeroid strikes. The large central window shutter may be allowed to opened more frequently since it is facing towards Earth and away from potential incoming space debris.

Nancy peeks through a model of the Cupola that was at Kennedy Space Center. Image by Robin Hobson.

A model of the Cupola was set up at the press room at Kennedy Space Center. I asked about the windows and the potential of problems if they are hit by micrometeroids, and was told that if the windows are dinged or significantly damaged, they can be repaired or replaced on orbit. There are spare window assemblies built, but they aren’t currently on the ISS nor are there plans to bring them up, for now. For minor damage, the shutters would be closed until the repairs could be done. For major damage, the Cupola has a hatch, so there is the potential to close off Cupola, but mission managers said that option has a very low likelihood of occurring.