Groot & Rocket Raccoon Get Their Own Mission Patch

In 2011, the US government created the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to manage the US National Laboratory aboard the International Space Station,. With the purpose of ensuring that research opportunities provided by the ISS are used to their full potential, CASIS also seeks to inspire new generations of students to become involved in STEMs research and space exploration.

With the next generation in mind, CASIS recently announced the creation of a new mission patch that is sure to appeal to sci-fi fans and space enthusiasts! The patch features Groot and Rocket Raccoon, two characters from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, and was designed by Marvel Comic’s Custom Solution Group. For the remainder of 2016, it will represent all payloads that are destined for the ISS’  US National Laboratory.

The announcement came at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con, where tens of thousands of fans were gathered to witness the latest from their favorite sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book franchises. In between all the trailers and fanfare, members of CASIS held a panel discussion to talk about their collaboration with Marvel, and explained why it was these two Guardians characters that were selected to promote activities aboard the ISS.

This mission patch, featuring Groot and Rocket Racoon, will adorn all cargo going to CASIS labs in 2016. Credit: iss-casis.org
This mission patch, featuring Groot and Rocket Racoon, will adorn all cargo going to CASIS labs in 2016. Credit: iss-casis.org

As Patrick O’Neill, a representative of CASIS, was quoted by The Verge as saying: “These are characters who have a bit of a space-based background to begin with. So both of [these] characters already embody some of the characteristics associated with what’s happening on the space station.”

The patch – which was designed by famed Marvel artist “Juan Doe” – features Groot and Rocket Racoon staring up at the ISS, which is floating overhead. In and around them, stars that are made to look like the flames from the Guardian of the Galaxy shield are positioned. In addition to being artistically creative, the symbolism could not be more clear: pop-culture icons and the ISS National Lab coming together to raise awareness about important scientific research!

During 2016, the U.S. National Lab plans to conduct over 100 science investigations aboard the ISS, with experiments involving the physical and material sciences, technological development, Earth observation and student inquiries. Thanks to its partnership with Marvel, the Guardians-inspired patch will adorn every payload that is sent to the ISS as part of these research initiatives.

Obviously, this partnership has been a good way for Marvel to promote one of the latest installments in its cinematic universe (not to mention its upcoming sequel). But for CASIS, it was also an opportunity to draw attention to the work of the U.S. National Lab. Traditionally, CASIS is responsible for providing seed money to research projects and product development. But a major aspect of their work also includes providing expertise, access, support, and educational outreach.

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), shown here as part of the ISS. Credit: iss-casis.org
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), shown here as part of the ISS. Credit: iss-casis.org

As Ken Shields, the CASIS Director of Operations and Educational Opportunities, said in a CASIS press release:

“A major mission for us here at CASIS is to find unique and innovative ways to bring notoriety to the ISS National Laboratory and the research that is being conducted on our orbiting laboratory. There are very few brands in the world who have as large an impact as Marvel, and we are thrilled to partner with them on this project and look forward to Rocket and Groot inspiring a new generation of researchers interested in the space station.”

Later this year, CASIS also hopes to use these characters in an upcoming educational flight contest intended to inspire children to become the next generation of scientists and engineers. News of the mission patch also came amidst announcements that Rocket and Groot will be star in their own Rocket Raccoon and Groot comic, and will be returning to the big screen next summer for Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

Obviously, this is going to be a good year for a certain tree alien and hyper-raccoon! And be sure to check out this video of the creation of the new mission patch, courtesy of CASIS:

Further Reading: iss-casis.org

Small Spacecraft Ejected from Space Station Airlock Will Provide Same-Day, On-Demand Parcel Delivery

Getting to the International Space Station is no easy task. Generally speaking, it involves loading up a space capsule with several tons of cargo and then expending millions of liters of fuel to get it into orbit. This process is time consuming and very expensive. And what if astronauts want to send some things back? Currently, their only option for return capability is provided by the same cargo capsules that are sent up to them.

Which means that the only way the ISS can send things back to Earth is for us to spend several million dollars sending a return vehicle up to them. Luckily, this is about to change, thanks to a project known as the Terrestrial Return Vehicle (TRV).

The TRV represents a collaborative effort between NASA and CASIS, the non-profit Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, which was recently endowed  with the responsibility of making sure that we make good use of the US laboratory aboard the ISS. Towards this end, they have contracted with Intuitive Machines – a Texas-based private space firm – to create a return vehicle that will enable the on-demand, rapid return of experiments from the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory.

“I believe with this new ‘on demand’ delivery capability for returning scientific samples to earth we will extend the viability of the ISS National Laboratory as a research platform for commercial benefit,” Steve Altemus, the president of Intuitive Machines, told Universe Today via email. “The principle investigators and scientists engaged in microgravity research in space can now begin to imagine new and different experiments and methodologies enabled by returning samples on a nearly daily basis and landing them precisely and gently on the Earth.”

The proposed TRV is a small, wingless capsule that can be loaded up with samples and ejected from the airlock in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), guaranteeing delivery back to Earth in under 24 hours. From the outside, the design looks a little like the Space Shuttle, or the Boeing X-37B space plane. Minus the stubby wings, of course.

Credit: NASA
The International Space Station. Credit: NASA

For the ISS crews, having these vehicles on hand will be a major boon for research, allowing for the delivery of critical or perishable samples to Earth laboratories in a timely manner. A number of these TRV’s will be shipped to the ISS – presumably as part of a normal cargo run using a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

Once there, the process for using them to make deliveries will be quite straightforward. First, astronauts will load them with the scientific samples they intend to send home. Then, they will push them out the airlock and shunt them out into space using the Station’s Japanese-made robotic arm.

The TRV will then return to Earth much like any other spacecraft, descending through the atmosphere and eventually deploying a parachute to slow it down from supersonic speeds. Another larger parachute will deploy once it’s closer to the ground and bring it safely down to a landing site in Utah.

This return trip will take six hours, and since the ISS orbits the Earth about 15 times a day, the total delivery time should always be less than 24 hours. This will be especially useful considering that a number of scientific experiments take place on the International Space Station, mainly because the zero-gravity environment is more ideal for growing cell cultures in three dimensions.

Getting a TRV from the Space Station back to Earth. Credit: Intuitive Machines (some images courtesy of NASA)
Getting a TRV from the Space Station back to Earth. Credit: Intuitive Machines (some images courtesy of NASA)

“The International Space Station, with its unique microgravity laboratories and crew, enables research over a wide range of disciplines from physics through biology,” said Dr. David Wolf, a research scientist and former astronaut. “This small payload return capability will provide controlled conditions and flexible choices for timely sample analysis. The scientific team will be able to much more efficiently adjust experimental parameters in response to results, exploit unique results, and correct problems encountered.”

In short, if astronauts are busy testing techniques for bioprinting organs or developing new types of pharmaceuticals, they would certainly prefer to send the samples produced straight back to Earth rather than being forced to wait weeks for a cargo ship to arrive.

However, beyond facilitating the research efforts of astronauts, Intuitive Machines sees the TRV as a means of enabling new and exciting research aboard the ISS National Laboratory, as well as opening the door for commercial ventures in space.

Currently, Intuitive Machines plans to provide its TRV technology to a wide range of customers – including scientific, academic, commercial, and government interests. It is their hope that the new same-day capability will enable increased utilization of the ISS as a national laboratory, and improve the commercialization opportunities of experiments for terrestrial benefit.

The first batch of TRVs is scheduled to be sent up to the ISS in 2016. At first, they will be used strictly to return scientific samples – but apparently, a version that would be capable of returning live rodents is also in the works.

Further Reading: Intuitive Machines