Crazy Space Christmases: Moon Readings, Food Cans And Emergency Repairs

If you think the upside-down Christmas tree above is bizarre — that’s one of the latest activities of Expedition 42 astronauts in space right now — think back to the history of other holidays in orbit.

We’ve seen a vital telescope undergo repairs, an emergency replacement of part of a space station’s cooling system, and even a tree made of food cans. Learn more about these fun holiday times below.

Reading from above the moon (Apollo 8, 1969)

In this famous reading from the Bible, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders shared their experience looking at the Moon on Dec. 24, 1968. The Apollo 8 crew was the first to venture to lunar orbit, just seven months before the Apollo 11 crew made it all the way to the surface.

Food can “Christmas tree” (Skylab 4, 1973)

A "Christmas tree" created out of food cans by the Skylab 4 crew in 1973. Credit: NASA
A “Christmas tree” created out of food cans by the Skylab 4 crew in 1973. Credit: NASA

Living on the Skylab station taught astronauts the value of improvisation, such as when the first crew (under NASA’s instructions) repaired a sunshield to stop electronics and people from roasting inside. Skylab 4 took the creativity to Christmas when they created a tree out of food cans.

Hubble Space Telescope repair (STS-103, 1999)

The Hubble Space Telescope during a 1999 repair mission with STS-103 crew members Mike Foale (left, for NASA) and Claude Nicollier (European Space Agency). Credit: NASA
The Hubble Space Telescope during a 1999 repair mission with STS-103 crew members Mike Foale (left, for NASA) and Claude Nicollier (European Space Agency). Credit: NASA

When the Hubble Space Telescope was in hibernation due to a failed gyroscope, the STS-103 crew made repairs in December 1999 that culminated with the final spacewalk on Christmas Day. The telescope remains in great shape to this day, following another repair mission in 2009.

First Christmas on the International Space Station (Expedition 1, 2000)

The Expedition 1 crew with fresh oranges on the International Space Station in December 2000. From left, Yuri Gidzenko (Roscosmos), Bill Shepherd (NASA) and Sergei Krikalev (Roscosmos). Credit: NASA
The Expedition 1 crew with fresh oranges on the International Space Station in December 2000. From left, Yuri Gidzenko (Roscosmos), Bill Shepherd (NASA) and Sergei Krikalev (Roscosmos). Credit: NASA

The Expedition 1 crew was the first on the International Space Station to spend Christmas in orbit. “On this night, we would like to share with all-our good fortune on this space adventure; our wonder and excitement as we gaze on the Earth’s splendor; and our strong sense — that the human spirit to do, to explore, to discover — has no limit,” the crew said in a statement on Christmas Eve, in part.

Ammonia tank replacement (Expedition 38, 2013)

Just last year, an ammonia tank failure crippled a bunch of systems on the International Space Station and forced spacewalkers outside to fix the problem, in the middle of a leaky suit investigation. The astronauts made the final repairs ahead of schedule, on Christmas Eve.

Powerful Philippines Typhoon Spotted From Space As 1 Million Flee Homes

As a million people fled their homes in the Philippines, astronauts on the International Space Station could clearly see the cause of the disruption — Typhoon Hagupit, which struck the chain of Asian islands this weekend.

“This storm looks incredibly dangerous — praying for the people of the Philippines,” wrote Expedition 42 astronaut Terry Virts in one of a series of pictures he tweeted from space yesterday (Dec. 6). Three deaths have been reported in media so far in the Philippines due to the storm.

While the Guardian said the typhoon is the biggest to hit the area this year, reports say it’s not as big as Super-Typhoon Haiyan, which killed thousands last year. Winds from Hagupit were reported at 106 miles per hour (170 kilometers per hour) in the central Philippines. The BBC says that the Red Cross is now trying to reach the affected areas to give aid.

The Category 3 storm is called “Ruby” among the locals. As always, weather agencies around the world are providing forecasts as they can through satellite imagery. Virts sent several pictures from space, which you can see below.

Rocket Remains? Video Shows ‘Pieces Of Whatever’ Flaming High Above Belgrade

Just before dawn on Wednesday (Nov. 26), a pilot in Belgrade caught this stunning video of a “huge number of glowing pieces of whatever” breaking up in the atmosphere above.

You know what this is? A rocket, most likely! It’s the upper stage for the Soyuz that launched three people to space on Sunday (Nov. 23), the European Space Agency says.

Continue reading “Rocket Remains? Video Shows ‘Pieces Of Whatever’ Flaming High Above Belgrade”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch Three Humans Take A Flawless Ride To Space Yesterday

And now we have six people in space again — including the first-ever Italian woman to reach orbit. Samantha Cristoforetti has been delighting people worldwide with her behind-the-scenes training posts as she prepares for her “Futura” mission, which will see her spend 5.5 months on the International Space Station with her crewmates. We have the NASA video from the big day above, and some photos from the launch below.

Cristoforetti has been sharing Spotify playlists and amusing tweets with more than 131,000 Twitter followers, not to mention people on Flickr and Google Plus. Her sense of humor and eye for the unusual will make for a fun few months in orbit along with the rest of her crew, NASA’s Terry Virts and Russia’s Anton Shkaplerov.

On station for their arrival last night was the second half of their crew:  Barry Wilmore (NASA), Elena Serova (Russia) and Alexander Samoukutyaev (Russia). And in March 2015, a big event occurs: the first one-year mission on the International Space Station will begin with the arrival of the next crew.

The launch took place at 4:01 p.m. EDT (9:01 p.m. UTC) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket.

 

Prior to the launch of Expedition 42 in November 2014, Samantha Cristoforetti (left, European Space Agency) speaks with a loved one through the glass at a pre-launch press conference. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Prior to the launch of Expedition 42 in November 2014, Samantha Cristoforetti (left, European Space Agency) speaks with a loved one through the glass at a pre-launch press conference. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Prior to the launch of Expedition 42 in November 2014, Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos, center) visits with a family member (at right) through the glass at a pre-flight press conference. In the background are his crewmates, from left: Terry Virts (NASA) Samantha Cristoforetti (ESA). Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Prior to the launch of Expedition 42 in November 2014, Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos, center) visits with a family member (at right) through the glass at a pre-flight press conference. In the background are his crewmates, from left: Terry Virts (NASA) Samantha Cristoforetti (ESA). Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

NASA Aims To Slash Space Shipping Costs With Shiny 3-D Printer

Need a part on the International Space Station? You’re going to have to wait for that. That is, wait for the next spaceship to arrive with the critical tool to make a repair, or replace something that broke. You can imagine how that slows down NASA’s desire for science on the orbiting laboratory.

Enter the first orbiting “machine shop”: a 3-D printer that was just installed in the station’s Columbus laboratory this week. If the printer works as planned, astronauts will be able to make simple things based on instructions from the ground. Over time, the agency hopes this will save time and money, and reduce the need to rely on shipments from Earth. And keep an eye out in 2015: two other 3-D printers are scheduled to join it.

As NASA aims to send astronauts to an asteroid and perhaps to Mars, the need to manufacture parts on site is critical. Sending a valve to Phobos isn’t an easy proposition. Much better that future crews will make stuff on the spot, and NASA says the space station will be a good spot to test this kind of stuff out. Adding motivation is a National Research Council report from this summer urging NASA to start 3-D printing testing as soon as possible, since the station (as of yet) is only funded by all partners through 2020. Negotiations are ongoing to extend that to 2024.

In November 2014, NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore installed a 3-D printer made by Made in Space in the Columbus laboratory's Microgravity Science Glovebox on the International Space  Station. Credit: NASA TV
In November 2014, NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore installed a 3-D printer made by Made in Space in the Columbus laboratory’s Microgravity Science Glovebox on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV

“Additive manufacturing with 3-D printers will allow space crews to be less reliant on supply missions from Earth and lead to sustainable, self-reliant exploration missions where resupply is difficult and costly,” stated Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s advanced explorations systems division at NASA headquarters in Washington. “The space station provides the optimal place to perfect this technology in microgravity.”

But don’t get too excited yet; astronauts aren’t going to make screwdrivers right away. The first step will be calibrating the printer. Then, the first files (mainly test coupons) will be printed and sent back to Earth to make sure they meet up to standards compared to identical samples printed on the ground with the same printer.

Made In Space Inc. manufactured this printer (which arrived on station in September) with the aim of sending up a more advanced version in 2015. In a statement, the company said it is “gratified” that the printer is ready to go in space. Any science collected on it will inform the design of the new printer, “which will enable a fast and cost-effective way for people to get hardware to space,” the company added.

And guess what: there is yet another printer that will be launched to the space station next year. Called the POP3D Portable On-Board Printer, the European Space Agency promises that the tiny machine — less than half the diameter of a basketball — will be able to print a plastic part in about half an hour.

The prime contractor for this printer is Italian company Altran. POP3D will reach the station in the first half of next year, ideally while Italy’s Samantha Cristoforetti is still doing her Futura mission in space (which starts this Sunday, if the launch schedule holds.)

Magical Images From Two Prolific Astronaut Tweeters Doing Their First Spacewalk

What happens when you send two prolific social media astronauts out on a spacewalk? The best photos ever. Reid Wiseman (NASA) and Alexander Gerst (European Space Agency) both participated in their first extra-vehicular activity yesterday, and sent back amazing pictures of what the view looked like outside their visors.

Their comments are also fun: “reasonably INSANE” and “learning to fly” are among the phrases they put on Twitter, which you can see in the photo gallery below. The spacewalkers accomplished the major task of yesterday’s spacewalk, placing a failed International Space Station pump module in a permanent location, and doing a couple of minor maintenance tasks.

And here’s a bonus for those who scrolled to the end of this post — the first Vine video posted real-time during a spacewalk! This comes courtesy of NASA’s account. Click on the video to access the audio, which is Reid Wiseman exclaiming on the view over southern South America.

The Answer is Expedition 42

Don’t panic! NASA has been creating some great posters for their missions and Expedition crews to the International Space Stations, and this newest one will warm the heart of any Douglas Adams fan. As we all know, 42 is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. Right now, the first half of the Expedition 42 crew has a targeted launch date of Nov. 23, 2014.

Featuring (from left to right):

Terry Virts and Anton Shkaplerov as Zaphod Beeblebrox
Aleksandr Samokutyayev as Humma Kavula
Barry “Butch” Wilmore as Arthur Dent
Elena Serova as Ford Prefect
Samantha Cristoforetti as Trillian

Guest star: Robonaut, as Marvin the Paranoid Android

Samantha Cristoforetti posted this image on her Flickr page and said the family of Douglas Adams gave the crew permission to do the photo-shoot for this poster, and added that the Point-of-View gun is not Photoshopped, but a real creation.

You can find out more about Expedition 42 here.

Find all the crew posters at the NASA Spaceflight Awareness product page. And try not to download too many! They’re all great.