In the history of spaceflight, only one nation has made contributions that rival or supersede those of the Soviet Union or Russia. While the Soviets are credited with making the historic firsts that launched the “Space Age“, the contributions made by Russian scientists predate this period considerably. In terms of theory, the history of Russian space exploration goes back to the 19th century.
However, as with the United States, the practice of sending missions to space did not begin until after World War II. It was at this time, during the fabled “Space Race” between the east and the west, that the Soviet Union conducted several pioneering missions in robotic and crewed spaceflight. These contributions have continued since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, ensuring Russia’s continued role as a superpower in space.
Between them, Foale and Ochoa flew to space a combined total of ten times – 6 for Foale and 4 for Ochoa.
They flew together as crewmates on the STS-56 space shuttle mission aboard Space Shuttle Discovery which launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on 8 April 1993.
The nine day STS-56 mission was Ochoa’s rookie flight and Foale’s second flight. It was the second of the shuttle’s ATLAS series of Earth science missions – dubbed Atlas-2 – whose purpose was to study the atmosphere and solar interactions.
“I was so happy to hear he and I were going to be inducted together,” Ochoa said during her acceptance speech. “He’d already had one mission and he passed along all kinds of helpful information that helped a rookie like me know where to focus and hopefully not be too surprised when the flight happened. Because being surprised in space is really not a good thing, as Mike found out.”
Ellen Ochoa counts as the first Hispanic woman to travel to space and currently serves as the 11th director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Michael Foale counts as the only U.S. astronaut to serve on both the International Space Station (ISS) and Russian space station Mir.
Foale was on board Mir in June 1997 during one of the worst disasters in space when an out of control unmanned Russian Progress cargo ship collided with the station’s Spektr module causing its air depressurization and sent Mir tumbling and rolling. He and his two Russian crewmates rapidly went into action to seal the leak, to stabilize and save Mir and themselves. He spent four months on Mir during the Mir 23 and Mir 24 missions.
Ochoa and Foale joined the ranks of 93 prestigious American space heroes who have previously received the same honor over the years since the U. S. Astronaut Hall of Fame was established in its current incarnation more than 30 years ago by the founders of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, the six surviving Mercury 7 astronauts.
The new duo comprise the 16th group of space shuttle astronauts to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Thus the Astronaut Hall of Fame now numbers 95 heroic and famous space explorers.
Foale and Ochoa unveiled their new ‘Hall of Fame’ commemorative plaques during the ceremony.
The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation has awarded more than $4 million in merit-based scholarships to more than 400 brilliant students since its inception.
Some 21 legendary NASA astronauts were on hand for the induction ceremony, including: Robert Cabana, Dan Brandenstein, Al Worden, Charlie Duke, Karol “Bo” Bobko, Brian Duffy, Scott Altman, Michael Bloomfield, Charles Bolden, Ken Bowersox, Curtis Brown, Michael Coats, Robert Crippen, Sam Durrance, Robert Gibson, Fred Gregory, Rhea Seddon, Brewster Shaw, Loren Shriver, Kathryn Thornton, and James Wetherbee.
Here is a description of their space flight accomplishments from NASA:
“Ochoa joined NASA in 1988 as a research engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California after earning a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University. She joined Johnson in 1990, when she was selected as an astronaut candidate. After completing astronaut training, she served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, conducting atmospheric studies to better understand the effect of solar activity on Earth’s climate and environment.
Ochoa has flown in space four times, including the STS-66, STS-96 and STS-110 missions, logging nearly 1,000 hours in orbit. She is Johnson’s first Hispanic director and its second female director. She also has served as the center’s deputy director and director of Flight Crew Operations.”
“Foale, whose hometown is Cambridge, England, earned a doctorate in laboratory astrophysics from the University of Cambridge, Queens’ College. A naturalized U.S. citizen, Foale was selected as an astronaut candidate in June 1987. Before his first spaceflight, he tested shuttle flight software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory simulator.
Foale was a crew member on six space missions, including STS-45, STS-56, STS-63, STS-84, STS-103 and Soyuz TMA-3. During STS-84, he helped reestablish the Russian Space Station Mir after it was degraded by a collision and depressurization. Foale logged more than 374 days in space, including four spacewalks totaling 22 hours and 44 minutes.
Foale also served as chief of the Astronaut Office Expedition Corps, assistant director (technical) of Johnson, and deputy associate administrator for exploration operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington. His last assignment at Johnson was as chief of the Soyuz Branch, Astronaut Office, supporting Soyuz and International Space Station operations and space suit development. Foale retired from NASA in 2013.”
Read this description of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction Process and Eligibility:
“Each year, inductees are selected by a committee of Hall of Fame astronauts, former NASA officials, flight directors, historians and journalists. The process is administered by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. To be eligible, an astronaut must have made his or her first flight at least 17 years before the induction. Candidates must be a U.S. citizen and a NASA-trained commander, pilot or mission specialist who has orbited the earth at least once.”
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
If you’ve watched any Ren and Stimpy cartoons, you know that one of the greatest hazards of spaceflight is “space madness”. Only exposure to the isolation and all pervasive radiation of deep space could drive an animated chihuahua into such a state of lunacy.
What will happen if they press the history eraser button? Maybe something good? Maybe something bad? I guess, we’ll never know.
Of course, Ren and Stimpy weren’t the first fictionalized account of people losing their marbles when they fly into the inky darkness of space. There were the Reavers from Firefly, that crazy Russian cosmonaut in Armageddon, almost everyone in the movie Sunshine, and it was the problem in every second episode of Star Trek.
According to movies and television, if you’ve got space madness, you and your crewmates are in for a rough ride. If you’re lucky, you merely hallucinate those familiar space sirens, begging you to take off your space helmet and join them for eternity on that asteroid over there.
But you’re just as likely to go homicidal, turning on your crewmates, killing them one by one as a dark sacrifice to the black hole that powers your ship’s stardrive. And whatever you do, don’t stare too long at that pulsar, with its hypnotic, rhythmic pulse. The isolation, the alien psycho-waves, dark whisperings from eldritch gods speak to you though the paper-thin membrane of sanity. If we go to space, does only madness await us?
If you’ve spent any time around human beings, you know that we’ve got our share of mental disease right here on Earth. You don’t have to travel to space to suffer depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.
Once we’re in orbit, or prancing about on the surface, of Mars, we’re going to experience our share of human physical and mental frailties. We’re going to take our basic humanity to space, including our brains.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18% of the US population, or 40 million Americans suffer from some variety of anxiety-related disorder. 6.7% of adults had a major, crippling depressive episode over the course of a year.
Unless we improve treatment outcomes for mental disorders here on Earth, we can expect to see similar outcomes in space. Especially once we make exploration a little safer, and we’re not concerned with our immediate exposure to the vacuum of space. But will going to space make things worse?
NASA has carried out two studies on astronaut psychological health studies. One for the cosmonauts and astronauts on the Mir space station, and a second study for the folks on the International Space Station. They tested both the folks in space as well as their ground support staff once a week, to see how they were doing.
Although they reported some tension, there was no loss in mood or group cohesion during the mission. The crews had better cohesion when they had an effective leader on board.
Isolation working in close quarters has been heavily studied here on Earth, with submarine crews and isolated groups at research bases in Antarctica.
Earlier this year, a crew of simulated Mars astronauts emerged, unharmed from a year-long isolation experiment in Hawaii. The six international crewmembers were part of the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation experiment, to see what would happen to potential Mars explorers, stuff on the surface of the red planet for a year.
They couldn’t leave their 110 square-meter (1,200 square-foot) habitat without a spacesuit on. What did they report? Mostly boredom. Some interpersonal issues. Now that they’re out, some are good friends, and others probably won’t stay in contact, or pay too much attention to them in their Facebook feed.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t seem like there’s too much of a risk from the isolation and close quarters. Well, nothing that we’re not used to dealing with as human beings.
But there is another problem that has revealed itself, and might be much more severe: space dementia. And we’re not talking about the song from Muse.
According to researchers from the University of California, Irvine, long term exposure to the radiation of deep space will cause significant damage to our fragile human brains. Or at least, that’s what happened to a group of rats bathed in radiation at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at New York’s Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Over time, the damage to their brains would cause astronauts to experience a type of dementia that causes anxiety. Brain cancer patients who receive radiation treatment are prone to this as well.
During the months and years of a Mars mission, astronauts would take a large dose of radiation, even with shielding, and the effects would be harmful to their bodies and to their brains. In fact, even when the astronauts return to Earth, their condition might worsen, with more anxiety, depression, memory problems, and a loss of decision making ability. This is a serious problem that needs to be solved if humans are going to live for a long time outside the Earth’s protective magnetosphere.
It turns out, science fiction space madness isn’t a real thing, it’s a plot device like warp drives, teleporters, and light sabers.
Isolation and close proximity isn’t much of a problem, we’ve dealt with it before, and we can still work with people, even though we hate them and the way they slurp their coffee, and lean back on their chair, even though that thing is totally going to break and they’re going to hurt themselves. And they won’t stop doing it, no matter how many times we ask them to stop.
Once again, radiation in space is a big problem. It’s out there, it’s everywhere, and we don’t have a great way to protect against it. Especially when it wrecks our brains.
Look up at the night sky, and what do you see? Space, glittering and gleaming in all its glory. Astronomically speaking, space is really quite close, lingering just on the other side of that thin layer we call an atmosphere. And if you think about it, Earth is little more than a tiny island in a sea of space. So it is quite literally all around us.
By definition, space is defined as being the point at which the Earth’s atmosphere ends, and the vacuum of space begins. But exactly how far away is that? How high do you need to travel before you can actually touch space? As you can probably imagine, with such a subjective definition, people tend to disagree on exactly where space begins.
The first official definition of space came from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the predecessor to NASA), who decided on the point where atmospheric pressure was less than one pound per square foot. This was the altitude that airplane control surfaces could no longer be used, and corresponded to roughly 81 kilometers (50 miles) above the Earth’s surface.
Any NASA test pilot or astronaut who crosses this altitude is awarded their astronaut wings. Shortly after that definition was passed, the aerospace engineer Theodore von Kármán calculated that above an altitude of 100 km, the atmosphere would be so thin that an aircraft would need to be traveling at orbital velocity to derive any lift.
This altitude was later adopted as the Karman Line by the World Air Sports Federation (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, FAI). And in 2012, when Felix Baumgartner broke the record for the highest freefall, he jumped from an altitude of 39 kilometers (24.23 mi), less than halfway to space (according to NASA’s definition).
By the same token, space is often defined as beginning at the lowest altitude at which satellites can maintain orbits for a reasonable time – which is approximately 160 kilometers (100 miles) above the surface. These varying definitions are complicated when one takes the definition of the word “atmosphere” into account.
When we talk about Earth’s atmosphere, we tend to think of the region where air pressure is still high enough to cause air resistance, or where the air is simply thick enough to breath. But in truth, Earth’s atmosphere is made up of five main layers – the Troposphere, the Stratosphere, the Mesosphere, the Thermosphere, and the Exosphere – the latter of which extend pretty far out into space.
The Thermosphere, the second highest layer of the atmosphere, extends from an altitude of about 80 km (50 mi) up to the thermopause, which is at an altitude of 500–1000 km (310–620 mi). The lower part of the thermosphere, – from 80 to 550 kilometers (50 to 342 mi) – contains the ionosphere, which is so named because it is here in the atmosphere that particles are ionized by solar radiation.
The outermost layer, known as the exosphere, extends out to an altitude of 10,000 km (6214 mi) above the planet. This layer is mainly composed of extremely low densities of hydrogen, helium and several heavier molecules (nitrogen, oxygen, CO²). The atoms and molecules are so far apart that the exosphere no longer behaves like a gas and the particles constantly escape into space.
It is here that Earth’s atmosphere truly merges with the emptiness of outer space, where there is no atmosphere. Hence why the majority of Earth’s satellites orbit within this region. Sometimes, the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis occur in the lower part of the exosphere, where they overlap into the thermosphere. But beyond that, there is no meteorological phenomena in this region.
Interplanetary vs. Interstellar:
Another important distinction when discussing space is the difference between that which lies between planets (interplanetary space) and that which lies between star systems (interstellar space) in our galaxy. But of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to space.
If one were to cast the net wider, there is also the space which lies between galaxies in the Universe (intergalactic space). In all cases, the definition involves regions where the concentration of matter is significantly lower than in other places – i.e. a region occupied centrally by a planet, star or galaxy.
In addition, in all three definitions, the measurements involved are beyond anything that we humans are accustomed to dealing with on a regular basis. Some scientists believe that space extends infinitely in all directions, while others believe that space is finite, but is unbounded and continuous (i.e. has no beginning and end).
In other words, there’s a reason they call it space – there’s just so much of it!
The exploration of space (that is to say, that which lies immediately beyond Earth’s atmosphere) began in earnest with what is known as the “Space Age“, This newfound age of exploration began with the United States and Soviet Union setting their sights on placing satellites and crewed modules into orbit.
The first major event of the Space Age took place on October 4th, 1957, with the launch ofSputnik 1 by the Soviet Union – the first artificial satellite to be launched into orbit. In response, then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act on July 29th, 1958, officially establishing NASA.
Immediately, NASA and the Soviet space program began taking the necessary steps towards creating manned spacecraft. By 1959, this competition resulted in the creation of the Soviet Vostok program and NASA’s Project Mercury. In the case of Vostok, this consisted of developing a space capsule that could be launched aboard an expendable carrier rocket.
Along with numerous unmanned tests, and a few using dogs, six Soviet pilots were selected by 1960 to be the first men to go into space. On April 12th, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched aboard the Vostok 1spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, and thus became the fist man to go into space (beating American Alan Shepard by just a few weeks).
On June 16th, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova was sent into orbit aboard the Vostok 6 craft (which was the final Vostok mission), and thus became the first woman to go into space. Meanwhile, NASA took over Project Mercury from the US Air Force and began developing their own crewed mission concept.
Designed to send a man into space using existing rockets, the program quickly adopted the concept of launching ballistic capsules into orbit. The first seven astronauts, nicknamed the “Mercury Seven“, were selected from from the Navy, Air Force and Marine test pilot programs.
On May 5th, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space aboard the Freedom 7 mission. Then, on February 20th, 1962, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to be launched into orbit by an Atlas launch vehicle as part of Friendship 7. Glenn completed three orbits of planet Earth, and three more orbital flights were made, culminating in L. Gordon Cooper’s 22-orbit flight aboard Faith 7, which flew on May 15th and 16th, 1963.
In the ensuing decades, both NASA and Soviets began to develop more complex, long-range crewed spacecraft. Once the “Race to the Moon” ended with the successful landing of Apollo 11 (followed by several more Apollo missions), the focus began to shift to establishing a permanent presence in space.
For the Russians, this led to the continued development of space station technology as part of the Salyut program. Between 1972 and 1991, they attempted to orbit seven separate stations. However, technical failures and a failure in one rocket’s second stage boosters caused the first three attempts after Salyut 1 to fail or result in the station’s orbits decaying after a short period.
However, by 1974, the Russians managed to successfully deploy Salyut 4, followed by three more stations that would remain in orbit for periods of between one and nine years. While all of the Salyuts were presented to the public as non-military scientific laboratories, some of them were actually covers for the military Almaz reconnaissance stations.
NASA also pursued the development of space station technology, which culminated in May of 1973 with the launch of Skylab, which would remain America’s first and only independently-built space station. During deployment, Skylab suffered severe damage, losing its thermal protection and one of its solar panels.
This required the first crew to rendezvous with the station and conduct repairs. Two more crews followed, and the station was occupied for a total of 171 days during its history of service. This ended in 1979 with the downing of the station over the Indian Ocean and parts of southern Australia.
By 1986, the Soviets once again took the lead in the creation of space stations with the deployment of Mir. Authorized in February 1976 by a government decree, the station was originally intended to be an improved model of the Salyut space stations. In time, it evolved into a station consisting of multiple modules and several ports for crewed Soyuz spacecraft and Progress cargo spaceships.
The core module was launched into orbit on February 19th, 1986; and between 1987 and 1996, all of the other modules would be deployed and attached. During its 15-years of service, Mir was visited by a total of 28 long-duration crews. Through a series of collaborative programs with other nations, the station would also be visited by crews from other Eastern Bloc nations, the European Space Agency (ESA), and NASA.
After a series of technical and structural problems caught up with the station, the Russian government announced in 2000 that it would decommission the space station. This began on Jan. 24th, 2001, when a Russian Progress cargo ship docked with the station and pushed it out of orbit. The station then entered the atmosphere and crashed into the South Pacific.
With the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, crew members have been delivered exclusively by Soyuz spacecraft in recent years. Since 2014, cooperation between NASA and Roscosmos has been suspended for most non-ISS activities due to tensions caused by the situation in the Ukraine.
However, in the past few years, indigenous launch capability has been restored to the US thanks to companies like SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and Blue Origin stepping in to fill the void with their private fleet of rockets.
The ISS has been continuously occupied for the past 15 years, having exceeded the previous record held by Mir; and has been visited by astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 different nations. The ISS program is expected to continue until at least 2020, but may be extended until 2028 or possibly longer, depending on the budget environment.
As you can clearly see, where our atmosphere ends and space begins is the subject of some debate. But thanks to decades of space exploration and launches, we have managed to come up with a working definition. But whatever the exact definition is, if you can get above 100 kilometers, you have definitely earned your astronaut wings!
The interior of Russian space station Mir was not known for its pizazz — US astronaut Jerry Linenger called it “as drab as a Moscow winter” — and it ended up being crowded and cluttered with all sorts of unused equipment and old experiments. So, Mir was an unlikely place for an art exhibit … and perhaps why it was called an “art intervention” by one of the artists.
In the video above you can see a green “creature” floating freely in the Mir space station, — all angles and corners — gently brushing against spacesuits stashed in a corner. The video then shows it pivoting in the air, flashing red and green with people occasionally batting at it.
While the Russians were able to accept the angular sculpture, there were precautions to ensure that the paint would not produce toxic out-gasses or otherwise harm the astronauts, Woods added, saying the sculpture was even dunked in an alcohol solution prior to launch to remove any germs.
Then there was an entire art exhibition on station in 1995, called Ars Ad Astra. From 171 works submitted from all over the world, 20 were chosen for a ride into orbit with Thomas Reiter, a German astronaut. The crew then selected one to keep on display on the station, sending the rest of them back to Earth for exhibitions all over Europe.
The winner was “When Dreams Are Born”, an artwork from the United States’ Elisabeth Caroll Smith showing two children playing near a reflection of the moon in the water.
Information about the two art exhibits, which were co-ordinated by the Swiss O.U.R.S. Project, was displayed at the Canadian Space Society annual summit in Ottawa, Canada Nov. 14 to 15.
The International Space Station has also played host to several art projects, including this light show, a music video by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, and dinosaur crafting from NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, among others.
Cargo resupply ships are vital for space exploration. These days they bring food, experiments and equipment to astronauts on the International Space Station. And in recent years, it hasn’t just been government agencies sending these things up; SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and (just this week) Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft brought up cargo of their own to station in recent months.
NASA just published a brief timeline of (real-life) cargo spacecraft, so we thought we’d adapt that information in pictorial form. Here are some of the prominent members of that elite group. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.
We love a good space debris mystery. Hey, who doesn’t, right? Regular readers of Universe Today know that it’s a shooting gallery out there, from meteor fireballs caught on dashboard cams to rogue space junk reentries lighting up our skies.
But an unusual story that made its rounds across the internet this past weekend caught our attention. What at first glance was a simple “Man finds space rock” story morphed into an extraordinary claim, which, in the words of the late great Carl Sagan, “demand extraordinary evidence.”
The find was made by Phil Green of Amesbury, Massachusetts. Mr. Green was searching the local riverbed for arrowheads when he came across the unusual find. The black pitted rock immediately struck him as something bizarre. It didn’t register as metallic to his metal detector, but Mr. Green kept it in his backyard for about five years until it was noticed by a friend.
“I didn’t really think much of it, and then a fellow came over, saw it and said that’s a meteor,” Green told local reporters.
From here, the story takes a strange turn. Green told local reporters that the rock was sent off for analysis, only to be returned to him just a few weeks ago. The analysis confirmed that the rock was indeed from space… sort of. It also stated that the vitreous material “shows a composition similar to that used in ballast by the Soviet space program starting in the mid-1980s.”
There are just a few problems with the tale. Mir reentered in 2001, six years before the 2007. A few articles do bother to note this, mentioning that Mir ended its career in the “so-called spacecraft cemetery of the southern Pacific Ocean,” about as far away from Massachusetts as you can get.
A few articles do also mention the possibility of a reentry of a Progress resupply vehicle being a potential source, or perhaps an unrelated Russian space vehicle.
But there seems to be a potential problem of the certification. Several articles state that the piece of debris coming from Mir was “confirmed by NASA.” However, Universe Today contacted NASA Chief Scientist for Orbital Debris Nicholas L. Johnson and NASA Headquarters official Joshua Buck, who both told us that no such NASA validation exists. Mr. Johnson went on to tell Universe Today that, “The NASA Orbital Debris Program Office has not been presented with any claim regarding debris from the Mir space station,” adding “I can tell you that it is not possible for debris from the Mir reentry to have landed in the U.S.”
A name that occasionally turns up in reports online as validating the find (withheld by request) also tells Universe Today that they had nothing to do with the discovery. Mr. Green or the original validation source have thus far been unavailable for comment.
We did uncover two documented reentries that occurred over the general region over the last few decades. One is the reentry of Mir-R 1986-017B (The rocket booster that launched the core module of Mir) seen from a trans-Atlantic airliner on February 24th 1986 about 500 kilometres off of the east coast of Newfoundland. Another possible suspect is the June 26/27th 2004 reentry of a SL-12 auxiliary rocket motor with the NORAD ID 1992-088E, seen to the west from New Jersey to Ontario.
Like the International Space Station, Mir was placed in a 51.6° inclined orbit. This made it accessible from the Baikonur Cosmodrome as well as visits from the U.S. Space Shuttle. Payloads going to and from the station would cover an identical ground track ranging from 51.6° north to south latitude.
The story is also reminiscent of the reentry of debris from Sputnik 4, which struck a small town in Wisconsin in 1962. This was analyzed by mineralogist Ursula Marvin and confirmed to be of Russian origin.
Probably the biggest question in our minds is: what links the object back to an errant Russian spacecraft? What do they use for ballast, anyhow? How did they arrive at the often quoted “85% certainty?” of the object’s origin?
Still, the find does look like something interesting. The pitting and the melted fusion crust are all reminiscent of reentry. We’ll keep researching this story, and for the time being we’ll leave it up to you, the diligent and insightful readers of Universe Today, to make up your own minds on this strange and interesting tale.
The storied history of the Mir space station includes collisions, a fire, and political change. But it also consists of unprecedented long-duration spaceflights and scientific studies – and without it, the International Space Station may never have been built. Nine ten years ago, the journey of the 15-year-old Russian space station ended. On March 23, 2001, Mir re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere near Nadi, Fiji, and fell into the South Pacific. The planned and controlled re-entry began when the engines of a cargo ship docked to Mir were fired causing the station’s orbit to brake, starting Mir’s descent. The video here shows both real and computer generated images of the breakup of the 143-ton station as it descended to Earth. Continue reading “Mir’s Fiery Re-entry, March 23, 2001”