The Private Axiom-2 Mission is Almost Ready to Fly to the International Space Station

Axiom-2 crew from left to right: Mission Specialist Ali Alqarni, Mission Specialist Rayyanah Barnawi, Commander Dr. Peggy Whitson, and Pilot John Shoffner. (Credit: Axiom Space/Vytal/Chris Zuponcic)

SpaceX’s second private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Axiom-2 aka Ax-2, which is sponsored Axiom Space, received a “go” for launch from NASA on May 15 followed by a stamp of approval from Mother Nature on May 19, and finally a completion of the Launch Readiness Review (LRR) on May 20. Liftoff is currently scheduled for May 21 at 5:37pm EDT (2:37pm PDT) from NASA Kennedy Space Center’s historic launch complex 39A, which was the launch site for all crewed Apollo-Saturn V launches starting with Apollo 8, along with Skylab, dozens of Space Shuttle launches, and starting in 2017 with SpaceX.

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Axiom’s U.S.-Saudi Crew Approved for Private Mission to Space Station

Ax-2 crew portraits
The Ax-2 crew includes, from left, Peggy Whitson, John Shoffner, Ali AlQarni and Rayyanah Barnawi. (Axiom Space Photos)

NASA and its international partners have approved the crew lineup for Axiom Space’s second privately funded mission to the International Space Station — a lineup that includes the first Saudi woman cleared to go into orbit.

Two of the former crew members — former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner, a Tennessee business executive, race car driver and aviator — had previously been announced.

They’ll be joined by Ali AlQarni and Rayyannah Barnawi, representing Saudi Arabia’s national astronaut program. Only one other Saudi citizen — Sultan bin Salman Al Saud, who flew on the space shuttle Discovery in 1985 — has ever been in space. The 10-day Axiom Space mission, known as Ax-2, is currently scheduled for this spring.

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The International Space Station Gets a Clean Bill of Health. Despite a Few Opportunistic Microbes, the Station is “Safe” for Astronauts

In a recent study published in Microbiome, a team of researchers led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory conducted a five-year first-of-its-kind study investigating the microbiome (environmental profile) of the International Space Station (ISS). The purpose of the study was to address “the introduction and proliferation of potentially harmful microorganisms into the microbial communities of piloted spaceflight and how this could affect human health”, according to the paper.

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Space Tourists Have Booked Their Next Private Mission to the International Space Station

International Space Station
The International Space Station stretches out in an image captured by astronauts aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a fly-around in November 2021. Credit: NASA

In April of this year, the first all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station was successfully conducted when Axiom Space sent four non-NASA astronauts to space during the 17-day Axiom-1 Mission (Ax-1). Based on the endeavor’s success, NASA and Axiom Space have signed an agreement for the second such mission to the ISS, which will take place in the second quarter of 2023.

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Spacewalk Cut Short, Cosmonaut Told to “Drop Everything” and Go Back Into the Space Station

Flight Engineer Denis Matveev makes his way back inside the station after being instructed by Russian flight controllers to end the Aug. 17 spacewalk at the International Space Station due to a battery power issue on Artemyev’s Orlan spacesuit. Credit: NASA.

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.”

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Russia Says They Plan to Leave International Space Station after 2024

International Space Station
The International Space Station stretches out in an image captured by astronauts aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a fly-around in November 2021. Credit: NASA

According to Russia’s news agency Tass, leaders at Roscosmos have decided to withdraw from the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024. The report said that by that time, “all obligations to partners will be fulfilled.” Additionally, Russia said they want to build their own space station.

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Cygnus Boosts the International Space Station for the First Time. NASA Can Now Potentially Keep the Station Aloft Without Russia’s Progress Spacecraft

Cygnus docked to the International Space Station prior to performing an operational reboost. Image via Northrup Grumman.

Northrup Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft conducted a successful reboost of the International Space Station over the past weekend, on Saturday, June 25, 2022. The Cygnus NG-17 “Piers Sellers” is the first US-based spacecraft to provide a substantial orbital adjustment to the ISS since the space shuttles retired in 2011. Russia’s Progress cargo spacecraft has been the primary source for station reboosts, attitude control, and debris avoidance maneuvers.

“This reboost of the ISS using Cygnus adds a critical capability to help maintain and support the space station,” said Steve Krein, vice president, civil and commercial space, tactical space systems, Northrop Grumman, in a press release. “It also demonstrates the enormous capability Cygnus offers the ISS and future space exploration efforts.”

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Fire Acts Strangely in Microgravity. Astronauts Have Lit More Than 1,500 Fires on the Space Station to Figure Out Why

Ever since childhood, we were all told to never play with fire. Despite it being relevant to our everyday lives, to include heating our homes and water, cooking our food, producing electricity, and more, fire is extremely dangerous. We were all indoctrinated more with how to put out fires instead of how to start one. We’ve all been told about its destructive properties if mishandled, and that fire needs to be controlled. One of the perks of adulthood, and especially being a scientist, is you get paid to play with fire. Despite fire’s complexities, there’s still a lot we don’t know about its behavior. With more and more of humanity traveling to space and living in microgravity, it’s important to learn about how fire behaves in this unique environment to better prepare ourselves for worst case scenarios. But what if we could also control fire so it’s not as dangerous and less destructive to the environment back here on Earth?

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Spacesuits are Leaking Water and NASA is Holding off any Spacewalks Until They can Solve the Problem

NASA’s spacesuits are getting old. The extra-vehicular mobility units – EMUs for short – were designed and built for spacewalks outside NASA’s space shuttles, which flew for the last time in 2011. Nowadays, the EMUs are an integral part of maintaining and upgrading the International Space Station (ISS) exterior, providing the crew with the ability to live and work in the vacuum of space for extended periods of time (spacewalks regularly last from 6 to 8 hours). However, at the end of the most recent spacewalk on March 23, NASA astronaut Kayla Barron discovered water in the helmet of German astronaut Matthias Maurer while she helped him remove the suit.

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