UPDATE 2: Crew’s Space Station Docking Delayed Two Days Due To Glitch

Update, 10:13 p.m. EDT: Tonight’s docking with the International Space Station will not happen because one of the engine firings scheduled to happen did not take place when it was supposed to. The crew is safe, according to NASA, and going to a standard backup plan that should bring the craft to the station on Thursday (2 days from now). Roscosmos is examining the issue. We will provide updates as warranted.

Update, 6:43 p.m. EDT: The Soyuz is on its way to space after an on-time launch — and by the way, astronauts saw it leave from the space station! It’s en route and NASA is still expecting an arrival around 11:04 p.m. EDT., which you can watch live on NASA TV above.

Despite tensions on the ground between the United States and Russia, officials say that it’s business as usual on the International Space Station. The three people launching to space today, in fact, are from both countries: Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and Steve Swanson from NASA.

As has been the habit lately, the Expedition 39/40 crew will take a faster route to the International Space Station that see launch and docking happen in the same day, should all go to plan. It all begins with the launch at 5:17 p.m. EDT (9:17 p.m. UTC) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, with docking scheduled to happen at 11:04 p.m. EDT (3:04 a.m. UTC).

Bear in mind that schedules are subject to change, so it’s a good idea to watch NASA TV (see video above) well before each milestone to see if things are happening on time. Once the crew arrives at station, one big question is if they’ll do spacewalks when they get there.

Last July, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano experienced a severe water leak in his NASA spacesuit that sent the crew scrambling back to the station. While Parmitano emerged physically all right, the agency opened an investigation and suspended all non-essential activities. A report was issued in February and the agency pledged to deal with all the urgent items quickly.

Spacewalks are planned for Expedition 40, but only if these urgent items are cleared in time for that. (That expedition begins in May and will include NASA astronauts Alex Gerst, Reid Wiseman and Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev.)

Seen From Space! Crew’s Rocket Launch Spotted By NASA Astronaut In Orbit

Seriously, how cool is this picture? The International Space Station crew caught an incredible view of their three future crewmates rocketing up to meet them today around 5:17 p.m. EDT (9:17 p.m. UTC).

Expedition 39’s Rick Mastracchio (from NASA) shared this on Twitter, casually mentioning that he will expect more crewmates to arrive later today. Upon the rocket were Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos).

Check out the launch video and some NASA pictures of the activities below the jump. (Update, 10:21 p.m. EDT: One of the engine firings did not take place as planned, meaning the astronauts will not dock with the station as planned tonight. The crew is safe and doing a standard backup plan that will bring them to the station on Thursday. We will provide updates as the situation progresses.)

 

 

 

 

 

‘Yesterday’s Coffee’: Drinking Urine In Space Could Preview Mars Exploration Techniques

“Here on board the ISS, we turn yesterday’s coffee into tomorrow’s coffee” is a slogan that sounds a little like a Don Draper-led advertising campaign. Seriously, though, it’s a nifty way in which Expedition 39 commander Koichi Wakata describes in this video (also embedded below) how the astronauts drink purified urine on the station.

The water is perfectly hygienic once it runs through the system, and moreover, it could be a useful trick for future space colonists to remember.

Water is heavy, at about 8.3 pounds per gallon (or roughly 1 kg/liter) at room temperature. And astronauts in space do need to go through a lot of it to prevent dehydration and other illnesses. Throw in demanding activities such as exercising two hours a day or going on a spacewalk, and you can see how quickly people in space go through it.

Everything sent into space has an associated launch cost with it, and space engineers are always looking for ways to shave a few grams here or there. By installing the water purification system (which was completed in 2009 with Wakata on board), NASA said it would be able to reduce the amount sent up to station.

When people speak of space colonies on the Moon or Mars, they often talk about landing them near a large source of water ice and then using that to help support the people working there. As NASA once wrote in a worksheet, “Until an orbiting grocery store is opened, recycling of water and air will be crucial for crew survival.”

Check out Wakata’s explanation of the water recycling system below. For more information on recycling water in Mars colonies, one source to start with could be T. A. Heppenheimer’s “Colonies In Space”, published on the National Space Society website.

Why Flower Bouquets Regularly Show Up In NASA Mission Control

Three red roses and a white one. The flower bouquet sitting in NASA Mission Control right now in Houston is one of a series that has appeared with every single mission since 1988 — a small gift from a Texas family whose members are long-standing fans of space exploration.

The first bouquet showed up on landing day for the first flight (STS-26) after the shuttle Challenger explosion. And bouquets have continued for every flight since, a gift that NASA is glad to see when it arrives.

“It means a lot to the team here in Houston,” NASA spokesperson Josh Byerly said in the YouTube video above, an excerpt from a broadcast on NASA TV. “We’re big on tradition here at NASA, and we are very happy that this tradition continues.”

Each red rose symbolizes a member of an expedition crew — in this case, Expedition 39/40‘s Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos). The white one is a symbol of all of the astronauts who have lost their lives, such as those in the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia disasters.

Four years ago, when the 100th bouquet came to Mission Control, a flight director from STS-26 described what happened when he saw the flowers in 1988.

“When I first walked into the control room I noticed them right away, because it was so different, and I walked over and read the card,” stated Milt Heflin, who was a shuttle flight director at the time. “It was very simple, saying congratulations and wishing everyone the best on the mission. It was signed but it didn’t have any contact information for the senders.”

Helfin did manage to track down the family — Mark, Terry and daughter MacKenzie — and over the years, the Sheltons received cards of thanks and invitations to see launches and Mission Control.

The Shelton family during a visit to NASA Mission Control in Houston in 1990. From left, NASA's Steve Stitch, Terry Shelton, Mark Shelton and daughter MacKenzie.  They have been sending flowers to NASA regularly since shuttle mission STS-26 in 1988. Credit: NASA
The Shelton family during a visit to NASA Mission Control in Houston in 1990. From left, NASA’s Steve Stitch, Terry Shelton, Mark Shelton and daughter MacKenzie. They have been sending flowers to NASA regularly since shuttle mission STS-26 in 1988. Credit: NASA

“I didn’t actually decide to do it until the day the STS-26 mission was to land, and I didn’t know that I even could get it done in time,” Mark Shelton stated, who added he first became interested in space after a childhood visit to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston in the 1960s.

“I called information to find a florist near the space center, and then I asked the florist if they could deliver roses to Mission Control. At first they said they couldn’t do it … but then they said they would try.”

The attempt succeeded, obviously, and with each mission new flowers arrive. The bouquets are now including participation from a “second” generation, Byerly said in the video, saying that they now come from the Sheltons and the Murphys.

Space Station Astronauts Land Tonight — Here’s How To Watch Live

UPDATE: The Expedition 38 crew landed safely at about 11:24 p.m. EDT (3:24 a.m. UTC) on March 11. You can catch the highlights of the crew extraction at this NASA video.

They fixed a broken space station and participated in a space Olympic torch relay. And now that they’ve spent their allotted six months in space, it’s time for Expedition 38 to come home.

The action starts today around 4:30 p.m. EDT (8:30 p.m. UTC) with the hatch closure ceremony, which you can watch in the video, with landing expected at 11:24 p.m. EDT (3:24 a.m. UTC). We have full details of the schedule below the jump.

Expedition 38’s landing crew includes Russian astronauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy, and NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins. Kotov was the one in charge of the station while four spacewalks and hundreds of experiments took place, not to mention visits from three vehicles. This past weekend, he passed the baton to Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, making Wakata the first person from his country to assume control of station.

Farewells and hatch closure will start around 4:30 p.m. EDT (8:30 p.m. UTC) on NASA Television, with undocking occurring at 8:02 p.m. EDT (12:02 a.m. UTC.) As usual, the crew will be in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for the landing, making their way back to an area near Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. The deorbit burn will take place around 10:30 p.m. EDT (2:30 a.m. UTC), and landing at 11:24 p.m. EDT (3:24 a.m. UTC).

We recommend you tune into NASA TV slightly before each of these events, and to expect that the timing might be variable as mission events warrant. NASA’s full schedule (in central time) is at the bottom of this story.

Screenshot from NASA TV of the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft arriving at the International Space Station.
Screenshot from NASA TV of the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft arriving at the International Space Station.

expedition 38 landing

BUDGET 2015: Ukraine Crisis Not Disrupting Russian Soyuz Flights, NASA Admin Says

Astronauts are expected to leave the International Space Station on schedule next week, and training continues on the ground, despite a crisis in Ukraine that is disrupting American and Russian relations, NASA’s administrator said on Tuesday (March 4).

Russian troops moved into the Crimea region of Ukraine last week, triggering condemnation from the United States and other International Space Station partners. At least one ISS participant, Canada, has removed its ambassador from Moscow.

“Everything is nominal right now in our relationship with the Russians. We continue to monitor the situation,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a conference call with reporters.

“The safety of our crews and our assets that has not changed. Safety is the No. 1 of NASA’s core values, so we are constantly doing contingency planning on the International Space Station for emergencies that might arise,” Bolden added, citing the emergency ammonia pump replacement in December as one such example.

“Those are the kinds of things we are always planning for, and in terms of the situation on the ground, we will go into contingency planning for that as the situation dictates. But right now, we don’t see any reason to do so,” he said.

Structure arms for Soyuz TMA-11M (the launching vehicle for Expedition 38) raise into place in this long-exposure photograph taken in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Structure arms for Soyuz TMA-11M (the launching vehicle for Expedition 38) raise into place in this long-exposure photograph taken in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Russian Soyuz is currently the only way that NASA can bring humans to the space station, although the agency is developing a commercial crew program to start lifting off astronauts from American soil again in 2017. The Soyuz missions depart and return from Kazakhstan under an agreement Russia has with the former Soviet Union republic.

Expedition 38 (which includes Russia’s Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy, and NASA’s Michael Hopkins) is expected to depart the space station March 10. Expedition 39 is scheduled to head to the ISS March 25.

Bolden avoided questions asking what sorts of contingencies NASA would consider if tensions escalated, saying the agency would evaluate that situation if it occurs.

The administrator delivered his comments as part of a conference call concerning NASA’s 2015 budget, which would increase funding for the commercial crew program to $848.3 million, up 21% from a planned $696 million in 2014. Proposals are currently being evaluated and little was said about CCP, except to note that the amount of funding would allow the program to have “competition”, implying multiple companies will be funded.

 Russian Soyuz spacecraft, docked to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA.
Russian Soyuz spacecraft, docked to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA.

Russia was a key partner in the station’s construction from the beginning. It launched the first component (Zarya) to space in 1998, and the station today includes several other Russian modules and docking ports. Additionally, the Russians perform their own spacewalks using the Russian Orlan spacesuit. Cosmonauts also form a large percentage of ISS crews under space station utilization agreements.

NASA collaborations with Russia in space began with the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975, and expanded under an agreement that saw several shuttles dock with the Mir space station (and NASA astronauts train in Russia) in the 1990s.

Will Spacewalks Happen On Expedition 40? NASA Undecided Due To Leak Investigation

Remember those snorkels and pads astronauts used during the ammonia pump replacement on station this past December? The new measures went a long way to helping astronauts stay safe if another helmet water leak happens, but at the same time, NASA is eager to find the cause so they know how it happened and how to prevent it.

Two maintenance spacewalks are planned for Expedition 40, but they’re not necessarily going forward yet. NASA has traced the issue to a fan pump separator, but there’s another issue, explained expedition commander Steve Swanson: where the particulates in the water came from. Perhaps they were from a filter, or perhaps from the water system itself. So NASA is reserving spacewalks on a need-only basis until more is known.

“That was the problem. Now, we’ve got to find out where that came from,” Swanson said in a phone interview with Universe Today from Houston to preview Expedition 39/40’s mission, which launches in late March. Joining the two-time shuttle astronaut will be two other people, including Alexander Skvortsov. The Russian cosmonaut commanded Expedition 24 in 2010, which experienced a similar ammonia leak to the one that was just repaired a few months ago.

Expedition 39/40 cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov during a 2010 mission to the International Space Station, when he served as commander of Expedition 24.  In the background is NASA astronaut NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson. Credit: NASA
Expedition 39/40 cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov during a 2010 mission to the International Space Station, when he served as commander of Expedition 24. In the background is NASA astronaut NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson. Credit: NASA

While leaks and spacewalks are the items that grab headlines when it comes to spaceflight, one of the major goals of the International Space Station is more subtle. Researchers hope to understand how spaceflight affects the human body during long-duration missions. (This will be a major focus of a one-year mission to station in 2015.) Through a translator, Skvortsov explained that the recent decision to extend station’s operations to at least 2024 will be a help for research of this kind.

“It is great that they have expanded the station until 2024 at least, and it will be very beneficial to the science programs and projects we have on board,” he said in Russian. “I hope that it will be extended even further. It will depend on the condition of the station.”

Rounding out the crew will be Oleg Artemyev, a first-time cosmonaut who has participated in precursor isolation experiments to the Mars 500 mission that saw a crew of people simulate a mission to Mars.

Expedition 39 is expected to launch March 26, 2014 from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The crew will join orbiting spacefarers Koichi Wakata (who will command Expedition 39, a first for Japan), Rick Mastracchio (who participated in the ammonia pump swap-out) and Mikhail Tyurin.

The Expedition 39/40 crew at a NASA press conference in January 2014. From left, Oleg Artemyev, Alexander Skvortsov and Steve Swanson. Credit: NASA
The Expedition 39/40 crew at a NASA press conference in January 2014. From left, Oleg Artemyev, Alexander Skvortsov and Steve Swanson. Credit: NASA

Can The International Space Station Fit Bigger Astronaut Crews?

Things are a little more crowded than usual in the International Space Station. For a few days, nine astronauts and cosmonauts are floating in the cramped quarters of the orbiting complex. Typical crew sizes range between three and six. How did the astronauts find room to work and sleep?

“One of the things we had to do was make space for them,” said European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano in a rare press conference today (Nov. 8) from orbit, which included participation from Universe Today. He then explained a procedure where the astronauts swapped a Soyuz crew spacecraft from one Russian docking port to another a few days before Expedition 38/39’s crew arrived on board on Thursday. This cleared the way for three more people to arrive.

“We [also] had to adjust for emergency procedures. All of our procedures are trained and worked for a group of six. We had to work on a way to respond if something happened.” As for sleeping, it was decided the six people already on board, “as seniority, would stay in the crew quarters.” The newer astronauts have temporary sleeping arrangements in other modules until the ranks thin out a bit on Sunday.

So this works for a short while, but what about the long-term? Could the station handle having nine people there for weeks at a time, rather than six, and would there be enough science work to go around?

Luca Parmitano controlled the K-10 rover from space on July 26, 2013. Credit: NASA Television (screencap)
Luca Parmitano controlling the K-10 rover from space on July 26, 2013 in a test intended to see how well astronauts in a spacecraft can communicate with rovers on the surface. This information could be used for missions far in the future. Credit: NASA Television (screencap)

“I think, absolutely, moving to nine people is doable and in terms of the science would be fantastic,” NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg said. The station partners had experience with increasing crews before, she added, as for several years a regular space station rotation was only three astronauts during construction. Bumping up to the current maximum of six was a “big jump.”

“One of the things to be concerned about our environmental control system, our CO2 [carbon dioxide scrubbing] system … and also the consumables and the supplies we need,” she added. “Making up the science for us to do would be very doable. I think the hard part would be getting the systems to accommodate nine people.”

Parmitano, Nyberg and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin plan to return to Earth Sunday, but a busy weekend lies ahead. On Saturday, Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency) flight engineers Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency will start a spacewalk around 9:30 a.m. EST (2:30 p.m. UTC) if all goes to plan.

Expedition 38/39 poses with the Olympic torch that they brought into orbit with them in November 2013 as part of the relay for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. From left, Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, and Rick Mastracchio of NASA. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Expedition 38/39 poses with the Olympic torch that they brought into orbit with them in November 2013 as part of the relay for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. From left, Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, and Rick Mastracchio of NASA. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

As part of the Olympic torch relay ahead of the Sochi games in 2014, they will briefly bring the Olympic torch outside with them, unlit, before doing some outside maintenance.

“After the photo opportunity, Kotov and Ryazanskiy will prepare a pointing platform on the hull of the station’s Zvezda service module for the installation of a high resolution camera system in December, relocate … a foot restraint for use on future spacewalks and deactivate an experiment package,” NASA stated in a Thursday press release.

Several journalists were unable to ask questions during the NASA portion of the press conference, which included participation from countries covered by NASA, the European Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and Roscosmos (the Russian Federal Space Agency).

“We had a failure in a crucial component in the phone bridge,” NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries told Universe Today following the media event. They don’t know what component failed, but most of the journalists were unable to hear the moderator or the astronauts.

“A piece of equipment picked the wrong time to fail,” Humphries said

NASA will do a thorough investigation before holding another event like this to make sure it works for everyone.

Here’s a replay of the news conference: